The original version of this post appeared in the Christian Schools International Nurturing Faith Blog on November 25, 2013.
When I returned to Christian education in 1993 as a building principal, I was faced with the challenge of articulating the distinctiveness of a Christian education to present and potential parents. To that point, as a student in K-12 schools and as a teacher in two Christian school settings, I had not really thought a great deal about how Christian education was different. I had simply experienced it. I was aware of differences, having gone to a public university and having served in public education for seven of my twelve years to that point, but I had limited mental models to work from for further work.
My first exercise was to think of as many areas of difference in my experiences as I could, to analyze what category it might fit into, and then to synthesize the differences into categories of distinctiveness. What I arrived at are the concepts of curriculum, classroom, and community to describe how Christian schools should be distinctive. See this blog post for a visual of the three elements.
One of the reasons I felt we needed to have language around these concepts is that it would provide a way to discuss and further improve what we were doing in Christian education. Without such language we could basically talk in circles for days and not know where to begin or how to consider in focused ways what we are really talking about, let alone look for ways to improve distinctiveness.
Over the years I have written about the idea of flourishing as our desired outcome for Christian school students, including this series of blog posts in which I explore ten possible aspects of flourishing. We can work toward these aspects with students in the areas of curriculum, classroom, and community in a Christian school. While the areas of how to nurture student faith in classroom and community are clearer, I believe that our greater challenge is to consider how we nurture faith and flourishing in the area of curriculum.
I would like to suggest that if we go back to Wolterstorff’s definition of flourishing as a person being in harmony with nature, God, self, and neighbor, we can also then use those categories to consider how we might develop Truth-revealing curriculum units. I suggest the following correlation of the aspects of flourishing with possible curricular emphases.
Flourishing is accomplished in a curricular emphasis through:
Harmony with nature – I suggest the word “Wonder” to capture this aspect. Here we are helping the student to understand the “ABC’s” of God’s great creation: A – Awe, B – Beauty, C – Complexity, D – Design, E – Excellence, and so forth. As we consider the Wonder of nature, we are driven to our knees in worship of the Creator. True wisdom begins in wonder as we creatures consider our Creator and his marvelous creation – “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
Harmony with God – I suggest the word “Wisdom.” In this area we consider our purpose for being, what is wrong with the world, and how it has been made right through Jesus’ work. We help students to know the Truth so that in “your light we may see light,” and knowing the truth they may discern what is true, lovely, good, and right. We cultivate the discomfort that believers feel as they are in, but not of the world. We encourage students to raise prophetic voices against the brokenness of sin and alienation from God that is present in culture and society.
Harmony with self and man – I suggest the word “Work.” There are two aspects to this word – first of all we must educate in ways that help students identify whose they are, who they are, and what passions/gifts they have been given. Our learning processes must allow students to naturally unfold their “wiring” and help them discover their life call. Secondly, in the area of work we must help them understand that they are part of Christ’s work of the restoration of creation/mankind. Our learning experiences must serve to develop compassion for mankind at both the local and global level. “Work” then involves students understanding their passion to respond with compassion.
I hope these can be helpful terms as we work toward encouraging flourishing students and developing distinctive curricular units. In Christian schools we are able to begin our teaching and learning experiences with worship of the Creator; lead kids toward harmony with nature, God, self, and man; and end with the student’s desire to “offer their life as a living sacrifice.”