In order to successfully evaluate the paradigms of education, secular and Christian in particular, you have to admit your initial bias. We are all subject to patterns of thinking from centuries and decades ago even though those patterns are not at the forefront of our minds. With that being said, I have to admit at the beginning of this post that I am engulfed in a developing worldview that holds the Bible as the ultimate authority to all philosophical, psychological, and sociological aspects of any educational system. It is important to emphasize that I hold a developing worldview because this brings to light that: 1) I have not always had this worldview (before coming to faith in Christ) and 2) I understand that my worldview is growing along with my relationship with God. Since I have admitted my bias and intend to argue from that point of view, I only ask that you identify yours and be open-minded.
An initial question which must be answered once bias has been conceded is, should Christianity impact every facet of society at large and our personal lives? If the answer to that question is yes, then the stage is set for our conversation to begin. The worldview of a Christian educator is distinctly different from the worldview of a non-Christian educator and therefore the paradigms of education itself are also different. Let’s examine a few of the prevailing aspects of education and the subsequent implications of worldview upon them.
Perhaps one of the most prevailing notions in discussing education in America is pursuing the American dream. In this line of thought, education is a tool which is given to students so they can pursue what American values deem successful. A few of the goals a student might be able to better pursue through obtaining an education include: their future ambitions, better paying jobs and a life of comfort and ease. However, the pursuit of these goals must be scrutinized with the teachings of scripture and evaluated as potential goals of Christian education. Does Christian teaching align with the pursuit of the American dream and its educational implications? It is important to find balance as that question is answered. As Christians we are called to follow God’s will and abandon our own ambitions, to live lives of love toward God and our fellow-man (with great caution given to our love of money) and to take up our crosses in pursuit of God and his ways. The stark contrast between the values of our public educational system and the values of Christian teaching help us to ask difficult questions about our view of education. Certainly we are not called to be cynical, unpatriotic or condescending towards America in general or the educational system it espouses; however, believers must be willing to judge the prevailing philosophies of our time against the timeless truths of eternity.
Beyond the American dream and its effects on education are the philosophical ideas that impact our practical approaches to education. We need to think deeply about what we do in the classroom and what those actions are actually teaching our students about God, His word and the Christian life. For example, if we are eager advocates of incentives in our classrooms, have we considered that excessive rewards might actually encourage students to become apathetic towards the act of learning? By organizing our classrooms for short-term results through rewarding performance, it is possible to teach students that learning itself is not a valuable pursuit. Does Scripture support this? Is God honored through students who perform habitual acts of academics for a sticker or a lollipop? I can’t presume to answer these questions for you. However, they are worth thinking through because God is worthy of a well thought out philosophy of Christian education.
Another crucial part of education is the worldview of the educator. Posing a few questions in the form of opposing views can help us understand the differences and begin thinking about the practical effects.
Are students seen as sinners in need of a savior or as essentially good people in need of academic enlightenment?
Are teachers viewed as eternally responsible for that which they teach or as those accountable only to administrative teams?
Is truth relative to teacher and student discretion or is it timeless and tied to scripture?
Can all subjects be seen in light of Christ and his teachings or is teaching specifically designed to be devoid of Christ?
The answers to these questions raise countless more issues. As Christian educators these are issues we must be willing to think through. What other questions could you raise in order to assess the differences in worldview and educational practices?
So what distinguishes Christian education from education in general? Everything. While the limitations of this short post can by no means tackle this topic, I hope that it has raised questions that stir ones mind to think biblically about every facet of education. Thinking is the topic of the next post in this series and it has tremendous implications as well. Let me leave you with a profound quote and some recommended resources.
Sorta Christian Academy does not recognize the profound difference between a Christian school and a Christian church. The Christian school does not exist in order to conduct worship services, act as a mission agency, provide a mentoring and discipleship program for zealous young students, etc. The Christian school is not a church, or parachurch organization.
Sorta Christian Academy does not understand the fundamental antithesis between Christian culture and unbelieving culture. Consequently, most classes are taught in just the way they are taught in the government schools. The Christian element is “added” by means of a Bible class or chapel, as though God’s truth were some kind of condiment to spice up the autonomous food served up at the government schools. Thus, in most classes, the antithesis between light and dark is muddled. Does two and two make four whether God exists or not? When the average Christian cannot tell the answer, it is tragic; when the average teacher at a Christian school cannot tell you, it is inexcusable.
Sorta Christian Academy sees itself as a little sister of the government schools not really grown up yet. So, hat in hand, Sorta has asked some government-approved agency to come in and accredit its program. But if the government’s seal of approval were all that valuable, there would not be a market for private Christian schools in the first place. Nevertheless, because there is no biblical vision at Sorta, success is consequently measured by money, enrollment, buildings, basketball programs, and other things not essential for true education. Sorta is well on the way to finding out that accredited schools are, in principle, controlled schools—sitting in the government’s lap, and fed from a can.” (Repairing the Ruins, Douglas Wilson)
Foundational Issues in Christian Education – Robert W. Pazmino
Kingdom Education – Glen Schultz
Repairing the Ruins – Douglas Wilson
Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education
Making the Connections : How to Put Biblical Worldview Integration into Practice – Don Johnson & Christian Overman
Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plan’s, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes – Alfie Kohn (This is not from a Christian perspective but poses intriguing questions and calls for questioning our thinking)
Philosophy & Education: an introduction in Christian Perspective – George R. Knight
Orations on Philosophy and Education – Philip Melanchton (Melanchton was a contemporary of Martin Luther)
A Theology for Christian Education – James R. Estep Jr., Michael J. Anthony and Greg R. Allison
Chris (Michael Christopher) Dunn believes that God is worth his word being studied well and his desire is to study it seriously without taking himself too seriously. He teaches Bible at a private Christian School and serves as Director of Discipleship at Forest Hills Baptist Church in Wilson, NC. Follow him at @mcdunn85.