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. 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 one’s 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.