Article

Discerning the ‘isms’ in Teaching and Learning

(Editor’s Note: The original version of this piece was published in the November 2018 issue of the Christian Teachers Journal, an Australian publication. It is reprinted with permission. While it does not address the topic of professional development specifically, Dr. Partridge’s analysis of the role of behaviorism and cognitivism on Christian education provides a thoughtful lens through which we should examine our adoption of any broadly used educational practices, commonly learned through professional development, and the potential conflicts their unchecked implementation might have with the Christian worldview from which we teach.)

 

To understand the culture of a school or classroom, we need to look at the story about learning each is telling (Ritchart, p. 21)

Australian education is currently characterized by a focus on measurement and looking for evidence of “effective” quality teaching by closely examining student test results. Perhaps without many of us realizing, the rise of rational thinking in the last two centuries continues to shape how our society makes judgments about the quality and effectiveness of teaching. With the ability to record, review, and compare students’ learning through a range of tests with greater depth of analysis levels and over longer periods of time, technology has enabled the relationship between effective teaching and learning to be scrutinized more rigorously.

The connections are clear—if we increase resources for teaching, and then test the students’ learning, we ought to be able to know the value of the resources and efforts, and judge whether they are “working”! From a Christian understanding of what it means to be educated, such judgments only tell a portion of the story.

Clearly, it is not easy to test whether teachers have fostered students’ faith in and love for God or whether students understand their place in the biblical narrative. The allegiance of students’ hearts, their character development, and their love for others (along with the work of God through the Holy Spirit in their lives) cannot be assessed and measured so clearly.

Consumerism and the Christian School

Along with the increased focus on testing and effective teaching, our schools exist in a highly competitive market, driven by consumerism. Many parents who struggle to afford private education fees question the “value for money” that can be provided by the schools they are considering for their child’s enrolment. The ability to quickly compare schools’ academic data through increased testing and recording has added fuel to the consumerist education machine.

Consumerism and constant cycles of testing can lead to a focus on competition, marketing, paranoia, and unhealthy comparison—all increasing stress on the individual to continually perform. Individualistic practices will distort our Christian school communities, perhaps without us even realizing, as we seek to keep up with the competition around us.

I am not arguing that desires to assess the effectiveness of our resources and practices for improving student learning, along with the purposeful development of a culture of continuous improvement, have no place in Christian schools. It is important we are faithful with the resources God provides and faithful in our work at all times. I am, however, pointing out that we need to take time to engage discerningly with the latest statistics and educational trends flooding our inboxes, and with professional learning conferences, before we simply adopt them in our Christian schools. We need to consider what each new idea believes to be the goal of education—how it views the nature of the student, the role of the teacher, the understanding of the full biblical story of what it is to know and to learn—then see where it fits in God’s story of the world.

At the same time, we need to remember that all human ideas will be tainted and twisted by the fall to varying degrees. I recall again a favorite quote by Cornelius Plantinga: “Badness is twisted goodness, polluted goodness, divided goodness. But even after the twisting, polluting and dividing have happened, the goodness is still there” (52).

It is our role as educators to do the “untwisting” in our schools, shaping our teaching and learning practices in a direction that honors God and faithfully works toward fostering students’ growth to be all that God intends them to be. All things find their place in the biblical narrative (Col. 1:17–20).

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After serving for many years as Coordinator of Studies at Torrens Valley Christian School, Dr. Partridge is now the CEN State Executive Officer for South Australia and a member of the CEN professional learning team. Dr. Partridge is also a senior adjunct lecturer with the National Institute for Christian Education.