The blank looks are what really scare me. As I conduct workshops across North America, I inquire what my audiences know about how to integrate faith and learning in curriculum. I probably could sort responses into three categories: 1) know what I am talking about and have thought about it and are doing it to some degree, 2) know what I am talking and know they should be doing it, but aren’t or are doing it very superficially, and 3) teachers who have little or no training, and really don’t know how to proceed. The disturbing trend over the last five years is that I am seeing the numbers in the first category decrease and the numbers in categories 2 and 3 increase. One of my next questions is if teachers have received any training in integrating faith and learning in curriculum, and again, I am seeing that teachers in Christian schools are coming from a wider variety of college settings and lack the background and foundational understandings needed.
I don’t mean to sound alarmist, but if we lose our ability to reveal God’s truth effectively through our teaching and learning, we are, as I state in the post below this, “one short generation” away from just becoming good Christian people who bring a pietistic, but not world transforming learning experience to our students. We must continue to articulate the master story of Jesus Christ and his creation in engaging ways that leads to personal transformation of our students’ lives and challenges them to a life of discipleship and engagement with God’s world! What does it take to do this effectively?
As I have observed master Christian teachers who do the best job of integrating faith and learning, I see several “astutenesses” and passions in their thinking and behavior.
- Spiritual passion – they are alive spiritually and their passion for Jesus Christ “oozes” out of them. Their students have no doubts about their commitment.
- Theological understanding – they demonstrate a deep understanding of Scripture and have personally worked through their own big picture understandings of how the master story works in our world.
- A student of their students – they know well the age of the student they are working with, what matters to them, how they think, what they believe, and what motivates them.
- Culturally aware – they understand what is going on in the world, are keen observers of how worldviews are lived out, offer a prophetic voice to challenge students about their passions and idols, and help students to not only interpret and translate culture, but to create alternative culture that reflects Biblical values.
- Masters of their discipline – they know their subject area well, are driven to learn more, know the controversies and issues connected with current thinking in the discipline, have reflected how this subject comes under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and know how to demonstrate and help students connect a Biblical perspective to the field of study.
What are you doing to articulate the master story? What are you doing to challenge others to become this kind of master teacher?
We are living in instant times. We are fixated on the newest and latest. Sometimes we forget how we have gotten to where we are. Since CSI just celebrated 90 years, I thought it might be a good time to consider some of the rich history that is ours to see what can be gained from the past for living in today’s times.
A book that I recently read was 22 Landmark Years, Christian Schools International, 1943 – 1965 written by John VanderArk, who served as Director of CSI from 1953-1977. The comments below are reflections and quotes from that source, published by Baker Books.
VanderArk begins his preface with a quote: “Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well (that) the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning…”. Would you be shocked if I told you that this was a September 26, 1642 letter explaining the reason for establishing Harvard College? He goes on to say that “the purposes of life and learning are essentially theological issues, and one’s theology is important. Consequently people who take their faith seriously wish to entrust the education of children to those of a similar faith.”
While there were schools started by various denominations, VanderArk states that many of them closed as civil education gained ascendancy and can’t truly be considered the forerunners of today’s Protestant Christian schools. He points out that the rise of secular education that focused students on national citizenship to the exclusion of the consciousness of the kingdom of God was a primary cause for the establishment of Christian schools. While many in the late nineteenth century were enamored by Enlightenment thinking that promoted the concept that “knowledge is power” and that man is the measure of all things, the Netherlands immigrants who began many of the schools in CSI thought otherwise. While they taught their children to appreciate their heritage and to embrace citizenship in their new country (whether Canada or the U.S.A) their focus for their children was on preparation to live and worship God above all in this world and the world to come.
We are linked to those who have gone before us and their story can both enlighten and encourage us. Their struggles are our struggles, just in different clothes. We seek to show students that all of life belongs to God, that no part of it can be understood apart its Creator. It is our turn to share the story. As VanderArk warns: “The distance between a goodly heritage and its extinction is but one short generation.” Let us be faithful!
Public education cannot and will not point children to God. Simply put, all education is religious in nature – it is either man centered or God centered. Public education cannot legally acknowledge God as creator and sustainer of life. Who can be thanked in a public school curriculum? Where is praise to be directed?
- Do you believe Sunday School and youth group alone can adequately provide a solid foundation for the faith formation of youth?
- Can kids truly be expected to be effective “salt and light” in public K – 12 education? (see my blog post of 4.28.08)
- When your church recognizes and prays for those adults who are nurturing faith of kids in your church, do you also recognize and pray for those “missionary teachers” in Christian day school and encourage them in their work?
- Kids are having less conversations about faith today according to Barna research. Where can kids best have conversations about faith on a daily basis and begin to understand how faith relates to all of life?
- Our first mission field is our own kids – what good is it to “save the world and lose our own soul”? (our kids as flesh of our flesh)
- A prime strategy in use in world mission outreach is to begin a Christian school right after establishing a church. It works – why do we not believe it to work in North America?
- Why do some of us pledge in our baptismal forms to do all in our power to raise children to love and serve the Lord and then not help provide Christian day school education for all families?
- Ask your pastor if he/she would have been better equipped for their work if he/she had been trained at a “public school” seminary or a Christian seminary and if not, ask them why any different approach should be used for kids and their spiritual training and development.
- Christian education and advocating for missions/evangelism are not antithetical – each of our children is a “mission project.” If faith is more caught than taught, don’t we want kids to have the most contact with adults who are living out their faith and showing how God is revealed through all of learning?
“Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7.