Christian Education

Teach Like a Girl

Doris Day in "Teacher's Pet," 1958.

Over the holidays, I took a bit of time away from writing. In a pastor’s family, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are one full-out sprint. There’s all the normal busyness as well as a full calendar of Advent-related activities—pageants, cookie exchanges, evening fellowships, and caroling. Once we hit Christmas Day, though, things tend to settle down, and I have time to visit with family and do extra reading.

One of the books I discovered over the holidays is a collection of vignettes about the women of the New Testament. I was prepping for this year’s women’s Bible study at church and like any good teacher (who is consistently running just shy of deadline), my first stop was the Amazon search engine. I typed in “Women of the New Testament” and one of the first entries was written by, of all people, Abraham Kuyper. Apparently in the midst of reforming turn-of-the-century Dutch society, establishing an entire branch of theology, and pastoring multiple congregations, Kuyper also had time to write on women of the Bible. (Abraham Kuyper: Statesman, Theologian, and Father of the Modern Women’s Bible Study?)

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Where Does the Seminary Fit in Relation to the Local Church?

This article discusses the relationship of the seminary to the local church. Specifically it argues for tangible recognition on the part of seminaries that the local church is the biblically designed co-center (along with the family) of biblical education. I advocate that acknowledgment include, wherever possible, a direct local church accountability, and ideally, a posture of working as a ministry of a local church, under that local church’s direct leadership.

On the importance of local church leadership of the seminary

One important reason for the decline of biblical education in the churches has been the seminary’s haste to take on responsibilities that are the jurisdiction of the church. As pastoral roles (regrettably) shift more and more toward corporate leadership, recruitment, and hospitality, and away from exegetical teaching and discipleship, the need for para-church organizations only increases. Local churches become less and less capable of fulfilling their biblical mandates, and thus become increasingly dependent upon seminaries in particular, for doctrinal and functional strategies and for filling their personnel needs.

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Cars and Christian Schools: Rigor and Leadership

Read the series so far.

Many outstanding Christian leaders received the most rigorous, comprehensive training available to them. Today’s Christian schools must be equally motivated to cultivate outstanding Christian thinkers and leaders, whatever their future paths.

To ensure the requisite academic depth, an assessment tool such as Bloom’s Taxonomy is useful. Developed as part of a landmark research study led by educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom, this tool ranks six learning objectives according to their relative sophistication. In ascending order, they are (2001 revision): Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating. Pondering this spectrum, one can readily categorize individual academic courses, schools, and even particular styles of Christian schooling.

From the outset, it should be evident that styles of Christian schooling markedly differ in their abilities to span this spectrum. The dividing line is often the type of curriculum used. Less effective are those which seek predetermined, pat answers. More effective are those which encourage independent thinking and originality. This does not mean ceasing to teach absolute Truth. It does mean allowing students to examine ideas pro and con, to ask difficult questions, to challenge tenuous conclusions, and even to sometimes respectfully disagree. This would be a departure from the instructional paradigm found at some Christian schools.

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Cars and Christian Schools: Concerning Curriculum

evosRead the series so far.

Henry Ford is widely associated with numerous familiar sayings, some of which he actually said. One that is contested, although Ford himself recounts it on page 72 of his 1922 autobiography, My Life and Work, is “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.” (Black paint was reportedly less expensive than other colors, and reputedly dried faster.) In retrospect, Ford’s directive was not strictly implemented. The Model T was available in several other colors for much of its production run.

Neglecting customer’s legitimate needs, wants, or expectations does not abet a sustainable business plan. When competition exists, businesses must continually strive to attract and retain customers. Competition expands choices; choices empower customers.

A third element of a Christian school that influences enrollment is its academic reputation. When given a viable choice, what conscientious parent would send his or her child to a Christian school not known for providing a quality education? The answer may be obvious, but the question is flawed. The problem is that few observers of Christian education can agree on what “quality” means.

Some would be satisfied with the most basic, conventional curriculum as long as a daily Bible class or chapel service is included. Others would presuppose an array of courses befitting the most storied New England prep schools. Impressive lists of required classes and extensive selections of electives are no guarantee of quality, however. Depth of instruction is as vital as breadth of instruction. Without sufficient academic depth and the critical-thinking skills it engenders, Christian schools may produce graduates more adept at rote memorization and recitation than at inquiry and discernment. This can have serious consequences.

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Cars and Christian Schools: The Rulebook

(Read the series so far.)

New features have revolutionized the experience of driving an automobile. Who would have imagined 30 years ago that a car could guide its driver with verbal, turn-by-turn instructions to get to unfamiliar destinations? What might have been considered science fiction then is now an in-dash feature even on many mass-market cars. Remote entry systems, airbags, backup sensors and cameras, stability control systems, and numerous other advancements in convenience, safety, and comfort have gone from nascent ideas in the minds of inventors to ordinary items on automotive equipment lists.

Certain features are now in such high demand among particular segments of buyers that persuading them to purchase a car lacking those features may be difficult or impossible. Try selling a car without air conditioning in Phoenix! It will eventually sell, but your market of potential buyers will be limited, and you will have to settle for receiving much less for it than could be expected for similar cars equipped with air conditioning. The twofold lesson is that many buyers may be willing and able to pay a higher price for certain features; but without those features they may not be willing to make the purchase at all, at any price.

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Cars and Christian Schools: Innovation and Imitation

(Read Part 1.)

Many Christian parents would like their children to receive both a thoroughly Christian and a rigorously academic (emphasis on both words) education, and don’t see any inherent conflict between these two objectives. This is one reason why Christian schools must distinguish themselves, and be more than simply “not the public schools.”

A case study

As a case study, there is a medium-sized city in the Midwest with three Christian schools, each of which offers grades K-12. School #1 was founded in the late 1970’s, and has less than 50 students. School #2 was founded in the early 1980’s, and has barely more than 50 students. Both of these schools historically struggle to maintain even those enrollment figures. School #3 is of comparatively more recent origin, having been founded in the early 1990’s. It is much larger than the other two schools, with over 350 students. It charges significantly higher tuition than schools #1 or #2, and it shows a pattern of recent, ongoing growth. What makes school #3 apparently prosper, while the other two schools barely stay afloat?

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Cars and Christian Schools: Time for Model A?

Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile. Contrary to popular belief, he didn’t invent the moving assembly line process either. What Henry Ford did was unite those two inventions to create the Model T, an affordable, practical automobile that satisfied a burgeoning public demand.

“Success,” it is said, “breeds success,” and soon competitors arose who imitated the methods and strategies of the Ford Motor Company. Offering different styles, features, and capabilities, they reduced Ford’s market dominance—even drawing away some of Ford’s earlier customers. These competitor’s products weren’t necessarily better; sometimes they were simply better suited to the tastes or needs of certain customers.

With its market share dwindling, the company belatedly took action, eventually emerging from its engineering & design studios with the Model A, a more advanced successor to the venerable “Tin Lizzie.” Once again, sales surged.

The period of years from roughly 1965 to 1990 is sometimes considered a sort of “Golden Age” for evangelical Christian schools in the United States. It is said that for a time new schools were opening at the rate of “two a day.”

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In Defense of Rules, Part 2

Quote-PhariseesRead Part 1

“Rules were meant to be broken,” an old adage goes. Christians tend to have a different attitude, but we recognize a kernel of truth in the folk wisdom. Rules are so often wrong-headed, excessive, or motivated by foolish fears or lust for power. Sometimes they get in the way of the very things they are intended to accomplish.

Christian ministries can have too many rules and develop a cold, offense-focused culture. They can also err by according some rules a spiritual significance and power they don’t possess. These problems require that we give serious thought to what rules we have and what they are really accomplishing. But we should not overreact to the excesses and errors, criticize rules systems too broadly and blame them for problems that have other causes.

In Part 1 of this series, I presented two arguments for valuing rules more than many fundamentalists and evangelicals are inclined to nowadays. Here, I’ll offer a third argument, then respond to some objections.

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