|20 Christian Worldview Integration Part 6|
|Written by Greg Bitgood|
Hello Fellow Educators,
Welcome to podcast #20. This is part 6 of the discussion about of one of the most important tasks to discipleship-based Christian education; the integration of our Christian Worldview into everything we teach. I also want to remind you that we are still sending out free copies of my book, Disciplining this Generation for a Digital World, to anyone that sends us an email. I will have the details at the end of the podcast.
If you listened to last week’s podcast you would have heard about our trip to Russia. We will be returning there in August to conduct training with Russian teachers about online education and this very topic, how to integrate our Christian faith into our curriculum. What a time in history we live in: the former Soviet Union, the seat of communism is throwing off the chains of repression and opening its heart to a new way of seeing the world. Communism wasn’t just a political system it was a complete worldview that was ingrained in its people through worldview integration at the earliest stages of education. And now, from our humble little corner of the world, we may have a part to play in reshaping this vision for the Russian people. It continues to illustrate for me how crucial it is that we get this right, that we know what we are doing when shape the young minds God has given us to educate. In the classroom and the home school worldview is everything! This is the one thing we have to do right in order to succeed in our assignment as Christian educators.
Last week we talked about the three different approaches we must engage in to bring our Christian perspective and presuppositions to the subjects we teach such as Language, Math and Science, Applied Skills, etc. These three processes depend on how the presuppositions are already developed in the subjects themselves.
The first approach is what I call “Presuppositional Integration” where both the subject being taught and the Christian perspective already match up. An example would be certain forms of literature that already see the world from Christian perspective such as Dostoevsky’s classic novel, “Crime and Punishment ,“ revealing the power of the conscious in the spirit of man or Dr. Seus’s “The Lorax,” teaching about our stewardship of the earth. It is the role of the Christian educator to make those Biblical connections for the student.
I call the second approach Complementary Integration. This is where the subject matter being taught and the Christian worldview intersect on a number of levels but also are contrary in many places. An example of this might be found in Family Studies where the ideas of marriage and children are still central in the discussion but our culture and government is inserting ideas such as same sex marriage and other sexual deviations from the Biblical mandate of the family. It is the role of the Christian educator to highlight the cultural similarities to the Christian worldview while exposing and correcting the false presuppositions about the nature of sexuality and the family. This approach also takes into account disciplines that seemingly have no worldview integration. This really is never the case but people say to me all the time that there are neutral topics such as Math or Physical Education. Both of these disciplines reveal specific areas of our faith. I have often said that there are certain concepts about who God is that we cannot grasp unless we are able to think in the abstract pathways of mathematics. God is infinite, a concept that can only be illustrated in math. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and must be cared for and stewarded properly. This must become the foundation of our physical fitness curriculum and activities.
Finally the third aspect of integration is what I call Direct Interaction Integration. This is where the subject and our Christian presuppositions are diametrically opposed. Again, the obvious subjects would be modern Biology which is inculcated with evolutionary thought. Another example would be modern Psychology that refuses to see the fallen nature of man and the influence of evil spiritual forces upon the psyche of our modern experience. It is here that the Christian educator has to unravel these false presuppositions and almost completely rebuild the discipline with Christian presuppositions.
Let’s move forward and look at how to do the work of integration. I am inspired by a statement T.S. Elliot made in his work Christianity and Culture published in 1940, “The purpose of a Christian education would not be merely to make men and women pious Christians: a system which aimed too rigidly at this end alone would become only obscurantist. A Christian education must primarily teach people to be able to think in Christian categories.”
Any educator understands that there are always two aspects to education; theory and application. One could make a good argument that the differences between academic and application are contrived. What good are academics if they have no application and what good are skills if we have no context to use them for? I am forever telling my students why they need to know what I am teaching them. Nevertheless, we recognize there are significant pedagogical differences teaching History or Christian Studies than teaching computers or French. Studying history in our Social Studies curriculum does not always practically fit in some career path but it is absolutely necessary for the student to go on to politics, law or business. Conversely, arithmetic in its early stages is very skill based, memorizing numbers, symbols and equations, learning times tables. Nevertheless it becomes a very necessary skill that will eventually be the means to which the student will navigate the theoretical (academic) sciences. Our subjects tend to fall into these two categories and we have to take different things into consideration as we bring our Christian worldview into the process. Again William Hasker’s article Faith-Learning Integration: An Overview is very helpful in understanding these differences as they relate to how we evaluate our student’s learning: “the distinction is clearly seen in the criteria by which students are evaluated. A history major, for example, is better able to do all manner of things as a result of having studied history—practice law, for example, or serve in government, or administer a college. (If you doubt this, just ask your favourite historian!) But a graduating history major is not evaluated by her ability to do any of these things, but rather by her knowledge of history. The voice performance major, on the other hand, is expected to know a good deal of theory and music his-tory, but his program has been a failure if he knows all this but just can’t sing at all well. One discipline aims primarily at teaching its students to know something, the other at teaching them to do something.”
Today we will look specifically at the integration in the theoretical subjects.
As the teacher develops the curriculum of a theoretical discipline their job is to incorporate integrative principles. They will often come at the subject from different starting points nevertheless these integrative principles should be evident in the process or we won’t have the “complete package.” More often than not, new teachers coming out of secular universities, armed with truths and ideologies, are beginning with the existing foundations within the disciplines they will teach. This means that the development of curriculum will probably start from the existing foundations within the discipline as opposed to starting with the Christian, Biblical viewpoint. In an ideal educational system this would be backwards. Ideally, teachers would learn the Christian foundations, then on to the various outworkings within the disciplines to be taught, then application. In the real world of education we find ourselves having to go back and reinterpret our disciplines and subjects and somehow find the congruence that integration provides. Special care for hermeneutical integrity must be exercised when educators find themselves reinterpreting the discipline. We must resist the persistent habit of trying to make the Word of God some how fit the discipline. We need to do all that we can to resist the bias that we have been trained under when a discipline has taught to us outside of good Biblical Integration.
In the book: The Craft of Christian Teaching, educator John van Dyk, includes a chapter entitled: “Discovering your Metaphor; what is your Teaching Style.” He uses two somewhat unrelated metaphors to describe the work of the Christian teacher: first a craftsman then a guide. By combining these two ideas I have come to love the metaphor of the Cartographer (map maker) as the ultimate “craftsman guide.”
As the teacher begins the journey of preparing a course of study they embark on the task much like the cartographer maps out the landscape. Their first priority is to survey the landscape to get the larger view and scope of what will be mapped. At this stage of curriculum development she must resist the tendency towards reductionism, a habit that almost all teachers fall into. Professor Albert-Laszlo Barabasi in his groundbreaking book on network structure in everything entitled; “Linked” helps us see the danger of this tendency: “Reductionism was the driving force behind much of the twentieth century’s scientific research. To comprehend nature, it tells us, we first must decipher its components. The assumption is that once we understand the parts, it will be easy to grasp the whole. Divide and conquer; the devil is in the details. Therefore, for decades we have been forced to see the world through its constituents. We have been trained to study atoms and superstrings to understand the universe; molecules to comprehend life; individual genes to understand complex human behaviour; prophets to see the origins of fads and religions. Now we are close to knowing just about everything there is to know about the pieces. But we are as far as we have ever been from understanding nature as a whole. Indeed, the reassembly turned out to be much harder than scientists anticipated.”
We must stand back and take the broad panoramic view of God and His attributes, creation, the fall of mankind, the redemptive work of Christ and the unending eternity before us. All truths must start here as their center for all truth finds its reality in Jesus Christ, (John 14:6, Col 1:15-16). As she views the landscape obvious routes and applications for the discipline being taught begin to emerge. It is at this point of emergence that our dependence upon the Holy Spirit (the Divine Teacher, John 14:26, 15:26) becomes invaluable. “He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). He will help us see the relationships between the various disciplines and the Scriptures. This is not to diminish the work of good scholarship and study. But when we strive for the big picture, for an objective perspective, we are really trying to see things from God’s viewpoint. In fact this is the ultimate goal of all Biblical integration.
Next our cartographer must draw out the obvious contours and pathways of her guiding map. The teacher needs to see the obvious interrelated aspects of the Bible to the subject matter. If she was teaching Language Arts, she would see and highlight that God himself uses language to create and He defines Himself as the Word (John 1:1). That man is a creature of speech and his first recorded activity with God involved naming the animals (Gen. 2:19). The fallen state of man precipitated the confusion of languages at Babel (Gen. 11) and so on. She would incorporate these critical pathways into her curriculum as foundational presuppositions to understanding language just as the cartographer creates his maps based upon the presuppositions of true north, elevation, latitude and longitude. If our worldview does not find its way into the basic presuppositions of the discipline being taught then we really don’t have Biblical Integration.
The third phase of mapping out curriculum involves direct statements of Scripture regarding the discipline itself. Just as our map maker might place arrows for directions or warnings as signposts on the map so the educator must include these Biblical directives in their curriculum. Continuing our example of language arts we can see a plethora of comments with direct implications in language and how we are to think and speak. (Proverbs 18:21 “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.”) In every discipline a Biblical ethic will emerge. The story of the tower of Babel teaches us that mastery of a discipline can facilitate a furtherance of our falleness. The scripture gives us explicit do’s and don’ts, rights and wrongs with the expression of language.
Now that our worldview map is drawn, it is the task of the teacher to guide the students through the discipline itself. To finish our metaphor, the teacher is now going to outline the starting point, the route and the finishing point on the map.
Next week we have a great example of Christian worldview integration in an interview I conducted with a group of four of our teachers who have embarked on one of the most exciting educational experiences of their careers. They combined Christian Studies with Comparative Civilizations and the history of Art. They combined all of this with a two week whirlwind tour of Italy and Greece with 15 of their students.
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