Monday, January 11, 2010

Teaching is more than Information Transfer

As a Christian educator, I spend a lot of time thinking about how teaching and Christianity go together. I’ve mentioned before an excellent little book by Al Wolters, Creation Regained, which sums up the basics of how a Reformed worldview affects one’s understanding of Creation and our purpose in it. If you aren’t sure how the Creation, the Fall, and the Gospel fit into everything we humans do on this planet, get a copy of Wolters’s book and chew through those 100 pages.

Likewise, if you’ve spent any time around a New Covenant School faculty member, you have probably heard us use the term “grace-based education” as an attempt to describe what we’re doing at NCS. Applying theology to the task of education leads us to apply the principles of redemptive grace in daily classroom living. It’s a work in progress. Check out the book Teaching Redemptively by Donovan Graham if you’re curious.

The Nature of Education

I’m normally not a big fan of using linguistics to defend a philosophical point, but even the word “education” itself serves as a witness to the communal nature of the task. From the Latin “e + ducere” – “to lead out” – we get our primary label for the work of leading children (mostly) from a state of ignorance and immaturity toward a greater understanding of the world around them and acquiring wisdom. Education demands both a learner and a teacher or model. Self-guided exploration may be very “educational” in one sense, but even a massive dose of it does not equal a balanced education.

If education were nothing more than transferring information from one brain to another, I could solve America’s education woes using Wikipedia articles and free nationwide wi-fi. If raw knowledge were enough to prepare a human being for life in God’s world, why all this emphasis in Scripture on attaining wisdom? Education that stops at knowledge-transfer merely prepares intelligent sinners for a life of rebellion. Like every other human activity, education carries heavy moral and religious overtones.

In fact, I’d like to argue that education (seen holistically as “preparation for living,” not merely gathering information that any 17-year-old can find using her iPhone and an Internet connection) is a subset of discipleship. If every activity of a human being is, in a sense, religious – either directed toward helping God’s Kingdom or rebelling against it – then education is all about worship and worldview.

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