Why can’t we operate like other schools and just teach rather than having to put so much time into this vision business?
Although I attended a Christian college in preparation for teaching in a Christian school, I recall that my main focus in the first few years of teaching was lesson preparation and just getting through the prescribed curriculum. I remember reading the introduction to some of the curriculum, especially social studies, knowing that I did not agree with its basic premise and consequently changing the focus so that God, rather than man, would be glorified. I have grown in my understanding of Christian education since that time, and the whole movement of Christian education has likewise grown and changed.
From the outset I knew, just like any teacher in a Christian school, that our teaching is to be different than that of a public, Jewish, or Muslim school. There is a reason we have “Christian” in our name. Every school–just like every business, institution, or organization—has a purpose, but that purpose is unique for each one. If one examines the vision of schools which operate under one umbrella (e.g., the public school system), we will find an overarching purpose or vision, but we will likely also find a vision unique to each particular school community. Like Christian schools, individual public schools have the expectation that teachers will incorporate the school’s vision into their teaching.
George Barna initially defined vision as “foresight with insight based on hindsight” and then more precisely defined it as, “a clear mental image of a preferable future imparted by God to His chosen servants and based on an accurate understanding of God, self and circumstances” (1992, 28). Although the vision of Christian schools is articulated in many different ways, the schools were originally established to glorify God. Parents desired consistency in what was taught in the home, church, and school. Today many Christian parents continue to make sacrifices so their children are taught in classrooms where Christ is Lord.
What an awesome privilege teachers have, both individually and communally, to use their God-given gifts to continue to articulate what educating Christianly really looks like in the classroom. How privileged we are that we are at this point in Christian school history that we can learn from many educators who have gone before us. We can be thankful for thinkers from the Reformed tradition of Christianity who have been busy in Christian day school education since the last half of the previous century. Christian educators such as Wolterstorff and Greene readily admit that educators do not arrive at the answer, the solution, or the formula for Christian education, but that the process of understanding and implementing Christian education is an ongoing one.
I have worked with both beginning and experienced educators taking courses on Christian perspectives on education where we struggled with the question, “How do we teach Christianly?” Since these courses were offered in the summer, some admitted they didn’t really want to be in class and would rather be on holidays with their families. At the conclusion, it is a different story. Most found it an exciting journey; a journey they would like to continue with the rest of the staff during the school year. By the end of the course, they are exploring how the vision is made practical in the day-to-day teaching and learning of the classroom. I have seen a similar response as teachers work together to plan curriculum units—a sign of good practitioners regardless of the school system. The communal sharing and learning is what makes the preparation for teaching so rewarding; the fact that their units reflect a vision consistent with their Christian beliefs and that of their school is praise to their Creator and Lord.
In conclusion, I believe the articulation of vision into action in the classroom is professional development expected of all teachers regardless of the school system. The rewards not only gratify the teacher and the students but also glorify the Gift-giver.
- Barna, George. 1992. The Power of Vision. Ventura, CA: Regal Books.
How do we develop a Christiana perspective on a changing world? How do we sort through and hold on to biblical truth?
Every generation has had to deal with changes, and on reviewing history, we see that each has dealt with change in its own way. Hindsight indicates that some of the understandings were incorrect. An example is the area of science, where new information proved a former hypothesis wrong. However, this should not hinder us as Christian educators from fulfilling our God-given tasks as prophet, priest, and king. In the Bible we read that God sent prophets to read the times. They not only reminded God’s people of what he had done for them, but clearly uncovered the present situation. They were to discern what was happening, voice God’s promises, and declare the requirements for repentance. Guided by the Holy Spirit they were to talk about what was to happen in the future, even if it was unpleasant.
As Christians, we are to examine every part of our world knowing that God is a sovereign God who has reconciled all things to himself through Christ. God created all things, and he still rules over all things even though sin has tainted everything. Some areas of the curriculum may offer challenges. Some areas may leave us gasping for air because we feel inadequate.
I believe an important part of education is examining and discussing the questions that students ask. Sometimes teachers create the questions about controversial issues, but we might have to rethink that process and deal with the students’ questions. Students could submit the questions at the beginning of the unit of study to facilitate inclusion. This could be done in the initial discussion about the topic where the students indicate what they know about the topic and what they would like to learn about the topic. Consideration has to be given to the developmental appropriateness of the topic. Time also has to be given for discussion of topics or issues that do not fit into the prescribed curriculum. A skilful teacher can also stimulate students to ask probing questions that ought to be asked—questions that deal with life and faith issues. Often student-generated questions lead to real learning. Sometimes the question can’t be fully answered, sometimes the answer leads to two opposing points of view, and sometimes there is no answer. Maybe it just has to remain as a question to ponder. Christians for centuries have dealt with recurring questions.
One of the reasons Christian schools needs teachers who study and know God’s Word is for times of learning such as this. Teachers do not need to know all the answers, for that would stifle discussion, but they need to be armed with knowledge of God’s Word in order to ask probing questions and redirect students so that together they can search the scripture. The Bible may not give specific answers to specific questions, but armed with tools such as accumulated Bible knowledge, a Bible concordance, and a reference Bible, teachers can point students in the right direction. Crucial to the process is respect for the student regardless of their point of view. A step in faith development is questioning “the faith of our fathers.” Students have to know that no question is a “dumb” question. They also have to know that their classroom is a safe place to ask questions or give their opinion. It is the teacher’s responsibility to create that safe place.
This can be a challenging road to take—far more challenging than lecturing and giving the answers. It can also be challenging because the school’s supporting community may not be ready to deal with unanswered or “unsafe” questions. They may not appreciate the action that students believe needs to be taken as a result of the discussion. The process may cause the students to ask questions that may disturb their present way of life and challenge parents to question theirs as well.
Our prophetic office calls us to be discerning of our times; we are to equip our students to be astute in their discernment of what is happening in the world. We go forward in this promise: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3–5).