Christian or secular textbooks?

textbooks - from timuiuc via Flickr

From time to time I get the question – should we use “Christian” or secular textbooks? I am careful how I answer because there may be a presumed “right” answer by the questioner. Frankly, I have potential issues with both approaches – let me explain further.

I start from the premise that all truth is God’s truth and that we see his truth, design, beauty, goodness, and handiwork in all created things. That said, a text (whether Christian or secular) reveals God’s truth, but in the case of a secular textbook may not point to it explicitly. There is no such thing as sacred and secular truth – all things cohere in Christ – truth is truth whether we acknowledge the source or not. 2+2=4 is what it is, however the difference is whether I point to man as having discovered it or whether this is a fact about how God has put together the universe. The best scientific findings, for example, simply point to the truth that God has embedded in creation. Science will continue to reveal God’s truth, whether it is acknowledged by man as having its origin in God or not. The condition of the human heart as we study it in literature and social studies, the reason for actions and decisions, etc. simply reveals the brokenness of man and his need for a Savior.

A key component, of course, is the teacher who is using the text. I could use a secular text in ways that point kids to God’s truth and also use that opportunity to discuss/critique a non-Christian view that is espoused and commonly held in the world’s thinking. Of course I could do the same with a Christian text. It would depend though on whether the Christian text thoughtfully examined and taught all viewpoints on a subject or was more of a “propaganda” tool. Unfortunately, there are poor quality Christian texts that fall into that category.

Another issue to consider with either scenario is whether you have teachers who are equipped to teach thoughtfully – they may not know how to teach a Christian worldview. They may then just use a poor, “propagandistic” Christian text or use a “secular” text and not be able to lead students in a thoughtful critique in either situation. In either scenario, the desire is that the teacher is well equipped theologically and philosophically to reveal and guide students into God’s truth. If the teacher is well equipped, the secular text may do a more complete job of revealing the secular bias that can then be thoughtfully critiqued through an avenue such as a thoughtful, faith-learning integrated essential question with a follow up assessment asking students to show thoughtful reflection.

Whether we use a “Christian” text or a secular text, two things are paramount to keep in mind:

First we must hire and train teachers who are passionate about their faith and are eager to learn more about how to help kids wrestle with the issues of life. We want teachers to thoughtfully and prayerfully share their own Christian perspective related to the subject matter. This perspective will be demonstrated within their curriculum by the kinds of unit/essential/driving questions that they ask of students and what kinds of things they ask students on assessments. If there is no written evidence of this in in curriculum maps or student assessments, one can rightfully question what worldview is being advanced.

Second, schools are sometimes careless about designing and constructing a quality curriculum that links mission and content and getting it in written form. It is not helpful to invest in teacher and curriculum development if what is developed is not recorded for later use. The assets of a school community, in terms of well developed learning experiences for students, may be walking out the door as experienced and gifted veteran teachers leave an institution without articulating what and how they taught. New teachers need these foundations to stand on and build from as they learn how to interpret the school mission through quality curriculum that demonstrates God’s timeless truth.


Filed under Biblical worldview, curriculum, distinctively Christian, mission development, resources, student assessments, student outcomes

5 responses to “Christian or secular textbooks?

  1. Hi Dan,
    Thanks for this piece on an important topic. The emphasis you place on teachers that are well trained both theologically and philosophically is a really important factor, which leads to my questions on teacher training.

    What are the differences in expected outcomes of a B.Ed at a secular vs. a religious college/university? Do teachers get an appropriate level of worldview training in their Christian school teacher’s certificate to cope with the questions you raise in your piece?

    I like the idea of older teachers mentoring the next generation, as you suggest in your last paragraph, but how would something like that work inter-nationally?

    One last question for you; If we can agree that our world is more complex today and that teachers need a greater level of understanding to assess implicit worldviews in both secular and Christian resource materials, is the current combination of B.Ed and Christian school teachers certificate enough training for teachers to cope with secularization and be mentors to both students and other teachers?

  2. Kim Mast

    I believe some secular textbooks may actually be written to make fun or or cheapen virtuous or moral thoughts and ideas. The authors may be intentionally working to conflict with traditional values taught at home. All truth is God’s truth, but young students cannot always discern whether something read is truth or not, in fact they may simply believe that if it is printed in a school text it must be true. There are textbook writers who have an “agenda”.

    • Michelle Nederlof

      Thank you for this article. As an educator, I have often thought we rely too heavily on the textbook as a tool for teaching. Textbooks are helpful, but should not be the only focus of learning.

      I think there are undeniable truths that God has given the science world. Us as Christian school teachers are called to help students discern what has been revealed and the theories created because of these truths.

      As Christian teachers, the best gift we can give students is to model an understanding of the text book, not a reliance. Giving students the opportunity to take their thinking outside the text book is where it really counts. What are the students in our Christian schools doing with the information they’ve received? Is the question we should ask. Learning shouldn’t end when the text book closes. After the text book is closed…true learning begins!

      • Bob Van Wieren

        Michelle’s comments are right on. In a world that is saturated with information, both in books and online, our students have to be nurtured to understand that not all truth is located in one source. Students have to learn to use multiple sources of information, at the level they can understand, to ferret out truth. Only a skilled Christian teacher, not a textbook, can bring students to this level of discernment. The textbook, whether Christian or secular, has to be one, and only one, tool in the toolbox of a Christian teacher who is rooted in God’s Word, excited about His creation, and passionate about teaching children and young people to see that all things hold together in Jesus. Michelle is right, the textbook is not the curriculum, it is just one tool of many to open up the wonders of God’s creation to developing minds.

      • Larry Lutgendorff

        I really appreciate these comments. Bob and Michelle reenforce what was pointed out in the main post by Dan that we need teachers who are passionate about communicating their faith. How do we ensure that all teachers in christian schools have that passion? I like the idea that a system for mentoring teachers be put in place. I’d like to hear more about how that might be structured.

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