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The Nature of Christian Education

Wolterstorff begins his discussion of Christian education by insisting that humans are conscious beings who possess the ability to act freely and reasonably. They are born learners and absorbers of information. The process of learning and how that learning takes place is a part of human existence. In order for the Christian school to determine the “what and how” (Wolterstorff, 2002, 19) of learning, they must address the matter of curriculum and its purpose for the Christian community.

The curriculum, he argues, is the end result of certain decisions made about what will or will not be taught in a particular school. Proper decision-making regarding teaching materials and methods is critical if the curriculum is to serve the needs of the students and be of value to them as they seek to live a Christian life. (Wolterstorff, 2002, 20) The Christian life, in the context of the Reformed Christian school ideology, is first the life of a human who has a body and soul. It is one of faith in a personal God who requires loyal disciples and membership in the Christian community.

(Wolterstorff, 2002, 25) It is a life that can not be lived in isolation, for as a member of a fellowship of believers individuals are united in a common faith as they “witness” to the world. (Wolterstorff, 2002, 27) The Christian life must be conducted in the context of the real material world, yet Christian education must be devoted to the cultural hegemony of that world. The purpose of Christian education, according to Wolterstorff, is to prepare students to live a full Christian life. Chapter 2 Crucial Curriculum Concerns (p. 32)

Here Wolterstorff assesses some of the major problems in establishing a curriculum that serves the students for today and tomorrow. The tensions between actions and intended or stated goals that do not materialize are often the result of aims that are not constructed for the purpose of satisfying the stated goals. The Christian-Day School movement has been insular in the sense that educators often use “pious” language providing little possibility of making practical decisions and, as a result, their aims cannot be imagined or implemented.

Christian educational objectives must focus on curriculum development and teaching methods. (Wolterstorff, 2002, 33) But the school cannot focus solely on educational aims for they must prepare students to live a Christian life and they must learn to serve and live in society, albeit “a religiously united segment of society. ” (Wolterstorff, 35) The school must also serve their parent-constituents. Through communication and mutual respect, the Christian school must educate students and sustain the loyalty and support of parents who believe that their basic religious ideology is being transmitted to their children.

The education that the Christian Day School provides must be adequate. This agent of education must attract and retain competent staff while inspiring the unwavering support of parents and other constituents. In short, the Christian school must insist upon mutual communication with its community regarding best practices in religious matters. The school must aide their constituents in realizing that a holistic approach in complete keeping with God’s will and his word is the task of Christian educating.

Chapter 3 A Return to Basic Christian Education (p. 49) According to Wolterstorff, the purpose of an alternative school is to be an example through its own existence. It must allow for alternative views consistent with God’s purpose and the bible, and encourage Christian scholarship. Its purpose is to provide an alternate living style in a concrete way that transcends socially constructed categories. The success of the Christian schools is contingent upon a vibrant and vigilant Christian community.

The goals of American public schools and Christian schools are inharmonious and, therefore, the Christian community needs Christian schools to fulfill its mission in the world. The church and its followers are called to proclaim the gospel, to act in love and service, to show in their own lives evidence of their new lives in Jesus Christ. They must serve and educate the whole people, old and new members. Chapter 4 Between Isolation and Accommodation (p. 58) Wolterstorff believes that Christian schools should provide a different kind of education.

He is concerned about how best to accomplish this goal. He insists that the Christian school be a discipleship training place. (Wolterstorff, 2002, 60) They do what they can do in the real world in order to advance the cause of their redeemer. The Christian life and its education should not be conducted in isolation or adjust itself in order to accommodate the society. Christians should be participants while behaving as critical thinking disciples, evaluating every area of involvement but holding fast to the critical dimension of social involvement in the material world.

The Christian life in the Calvinist tradition operates between isolation and accommodation not independent of either position. (Wolterstorff, 2002, 62) Chapter 5 Beyond 1984 in Philosophy of Christian Education (p. 63) Wolterstorff begins his discussion by utilizing a past teacher, William Harry Jellema, a “master” teacher as he describes him, who argued that the most fundamental dynamic of society and culture is religious institutions. Jellema was convinced that the Christian mind was the way to guide students to civitas; an expression of cultural products but not the cultural product itself.

All education reflects some measure of civitas although claiming to be objective. Wolterstorff examines neo-Calvinist ideology and juxtaposes it with the Jelleman analysis. While he insists that one can be trained for civitas, the important question is how does the educating agent, in this case the Christian school, teach students to live in civitas or the Kingdom? Wolterstorff, 2002, 66-67) He concludes that the appropriate method is through teaching discipline, modeling, and providing reasons for expected actions.

(Wolterstorff, 2002, 81) The Christian education must prepare students for a life in the kingdom where the goal is to achieve Shalom and to be one with the Lord who is Jesus Christ. The Christian school must be a catalyst for living the Christian life on earth. Chapter 6 The School as Educative Agent (p. 84) Woltelstorff argues that educational leaders who are also Christians have focused their efforts primarily on the “curriculum content” and less on a student’s ability to use knowledge and practices in their everyday lives.

(Wolterstorff, 2002, 84) He insists that the school is a community of Christians whose purpose is to educate while displaying certain identifiable traits. At the same time, individuals who have the responsibility of teaching must make certain that the framework be two-fold. It must (1) mirror the gospel of Christ, and (2) meet the needs of the students in terms of content and methods. The education must be biblically true and useful. In order to shape tendencies through action, the Christian educator must reward and reprimand positive and negative behaviors, respectively, coupled with sufficient modeling.

The curriculum serves as one component in promoting the school as an agent of education. The Christian school must also be a loving community guided by affection and esteem for teachers who must possess the combination of academic competence and proper decorum, comportment, and temperament. While culture and society are intertwined, race, class, and gender are educationally relevant. The school must display qualities of a Christian life even as they serve in the material world as agents of education. Chapter 7 Teaching for Tomorrow Today (p. 91)

The objective of the teacher is to provide a nourishing and permissive arena where the student can identify and seek certain desires and interests. It relies upon the “god-centered” education, leading children to a life of keeping faith with God through “obedience” and a “chastened” attitude. Shalom is about living in enjoyment in one’s relationships. It is to have pleasure in the lives that one leads with God, in the natural surroundings, with one another, and with self. Its presence exists when these criteria are met.

While it seeks “harmonious” existence, it also demands justice in the context of an ethical and responsible community. (Wolterstorff, 2002, 103) Christian education is for those who desire to live in this manner, yet the decision to do so must be of one’s own choosing. Christian pedagogy involves leading and guiding the child toward a Christ-like way of operating in a material world. (Wolterstorff, 2002, 105) One must identify their calling and seek means to utilize it in a variety of occupational worlds.

The phenomenon of a calling is complex and has many strands. In order to address the matter of calling Christian educators must have a clear sense of Shalom and the social structure, a critical mind, and the ability to compare and contrast the requirements of Shalom with society to better identify the policies and practices that must be changed on remain. Finally, according to Wolterstorff, teaching must involve “witness-bearing, the act of showing students through personal experience the trials, tribulations, and joys of a journey toward Shalom.

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