Teaching to Justice, Citizenship, and Civic Virtue

I have benefitted from the writing and teaching Calvin education professor emerita Gloria Stronks for many years. She has written a number of books that have helped articulate what those of us involved in Christian education have been doing and ought to be doing. Her book A Vision with a Task, written with Doug Blomberg and others in the early nineties, gave Christian teachers a great way to think about their role and what they were trying to accomplish in school. It served as a wonderful discussion starter for many school faculties. Her more recent publications, with daughter and Whitworth University political science professor Julia Stronks, have given us a number of helpful books, including Christian Teachers in Public Schools, a book that is sixteen years old but still required reading in one of the courses I teach.

In A Vision with a Task, Stronks and Blomberg wrote that Christian teachers need to be conservers, discerners, and reformers. They cast a vision of a school culture that unwraps God’s gifts, shares each other’s burdens, and works for shalom. But, as Stronks and Stronks point out in their introduction to Teaching to Justice, Citizenship, and Civic Virtue, schools and children have changed. The children in our schools today, for example, have never experienced a time without war or the Internet. Technology has changed the way we gather information, the way we communicate, and it has changed how many of us teach. Stronks and Stronks address the question of how we can teach so that our students think seriously about how their faith affects their learning.

To do this, the authors use fictional teachers at a fictional Christian high school to have the kinds of discussions that faculty might have about the purpose of a Christian education. This school, Midland Christian High School, has a faculty that includes both veterans and rookies, although the rookies both come from other careers. This faculty engages in a yearlong series of discussions that were inspired by the Cardus Education Survey. These faculty discussions cover topics as wide-ranging as making judgments, what it means to be a good Christian citizen, engaging culture, and athletics.

We don’t just hear from the faculty, we also hear from a number of guests. Tom, the fictional principal of Midland Christian, has managed to have some experts—often professors from Christian colleges from across North America—visit with their faculty and help them think through some of the issues. For example, Diana Trotter, a Whitworth University theater professor, is introduced to talk about how she chooses dramas for performance at her Christian college.

Stronks and Stronks made an interesting decision in choosing to present the book in this format. There is an interesting mix of fictional and real people populating this book. Sometimes it is hard to tell who is real and who is not. For example, when Patricia Bruininks, the first guest, is introduced, we aren’t told that she is a professor at Whitworth University, only that she holds degrees from Hope College and from the University of Oregon. In reading this chapter, I first thought that Bruininks was another fictional character. As we are introduced to more and more experts, their credentials are mentioned in vague terms—perhaps because many of them are Whitworth faculty and the authors didn’t want this book to seem like it was just populated by Whitworth professors. It wasn’t until one of the experts was someone from my own institution that I realized that these actually are real people. What tripped me up is that the authors present conversations between the fictional high school faculty and the experts. This made me think that all the characters were fictional.

That made me wonder exactly how these conversations took place. Did the authors sit in on a conversation with actual high school faculty and the experts and attribute some of the teachers’ questions and comments to the fictional characters? One of the expert presenters in the book is one of the fictional characters, which made it even more difficult to keep straight who, exactly, we are hearing from.

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