A statue of William Ellery Channing in Touro Park, Newport, Rhode Island. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Why do people respond differently to various situations? Whether explicitly stated or not, people possess a series of categorized beliefs about God, reality, knowledge, ethics and man (Nash, 1992, 26), known as a philosophy of life or a worldview. “A worldview, then, is a conceptual scheme by which we consciously or unconsciously place or fit everything we believe and by which we interpret and judge reality” (Nash, 1992, 16). Though many people may not be able to articulate their worldview, they no doubt have one. One’s worldview is either explicitly learned through dialogue, literature and diligent instruction, or it is implicitly learned through culture, role models, and literature. Finally, worldviews are always evident by the manner in which a person conducts himself or herself; though it may be in direct opposition to their articulated worldview.
When a worldview is based upon something outside of the self, something impervious to the whims and changing desires of the individual, solidity is found. However, when a worldview is based upon the self and subject to the ever-changing sea of human desires, the worldview produces confusion, inconsistency and contradiction. With such a fluid worldview, succinct and adequate answers to the questions of morality, ethics, law, and mankind cannot be given; rather, answers are subjective and subservient to preference.
The impact of a worldview upon education can be clearly seen in a cursory observation since it is the function of a worldview that allows an individual to interpret data and events and to assign them significance. Thus, teaching occurs through the filter of an individual’s worldview. Accordingly, to error in one’s worldview creates a foundation for teaching destined for catastrophe.
Philosophy of Life
I have found that there are two aspects of a worldview that are crucial in the arena of education: our view of God and our view of man. Our view of man, ultimately deriving from our view of God, necessarily forms how we teach. To have an errant view of God and man is to implement an educational philosophy full of holes and inadequate for the task. It is not enough to have a convenient answer when the task of educating successive generations is at hand; it is imperative that the right view be ascertained in order that right answers may be given to students’ questions.
Due to the fact that I believe God to be the sovereign, transcendent yet immanent, creator and upholder of the universe, his word has final authority. The laws he has set forth and the redemption he has provided govern how I live, and how I live influences how I teach. Further, my view of God necessarily informs my view of man. Man was created as the pinnacle of creation, yet due to Adam and Eve’s sin, the image of God has been distorted in every way. It is only through the redemption of Christ, given by God not earned by man, that man is made whole again through the process of sanctification.
Our view of man determines how we teach our students, to the end that we either teach solely to their mind, or we teach to the heart while teaching the mind. When I was in college, my theology professor instilled in his students the idea that you could have a perfect and sound argument for Christianity, but in the end the heart of the individual would trump the mind. Therefore, we must teach to the heart as well as the mind if we are to be effective. If we merely teach to the mind, all we have done is create a knowledgeable sinner whose driving force is still in need of transformation.
Philosophy of Education
The development of my philosophy of education occurred primarily in college, though there were some grade school influences. It was during my time in college that I became profoundly aware of the fallen nature of man and the fact that only God has the power to change people. Unless God is directing our methods, our efforts are frivolous.
Further, two teachers were instrumental in my growth. First, my fifth and sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Green, who handled her class with such sincere care while remaining steadfast in her standards. From her example, I seek to model the same tender sternness. Second, my college theology professor, Mr. Smith, taught me to ask deep questions and to evaluate everything including my own beliefs. From his example, I seek to encourage my students to learn the reasons behind the answers they hold, not simply to know the answer. It is only through the exercise of rigorous questioning that our beliefs are honed and solidified as iron sharpens iron.
In recent decades, the purpose of education seems to have shift from aiding individuals to use their created potential and glorify God through the gifts man has been endowed with, to creating individuals in manners that society deems appropriate or necessary, thereby molding society in their image and dreams. Here are the days of using education to shape society and gone are the days of God honoring education in the public sector.
Man was created with certain faculties that set him apart from the animals. It is through the faculties of intellect and will that man is to rule and subdue the earth. Education therefore, is to give mankind the necessary information and strategies that enable him or her to reach their God-given potential as the pinnacle of creation. It is through the proper acquisition of the faculties man has been given, that he most glorifies God’s handiwork.
With this view in mind, what then is the role of teacher in the classroom? Today, the teacher in many instances seems to replace the parents as the developer of children. There are many reasons as to why this should never be, no matter the situation, but perhaps the most necessary reason is that God has given a role to parents that no teacher can fulfill. Rather, the teacher is to partner with the parents in order to bring about the best educational decisions and results. It is through the unity of the parents and teacher that a school can aim to inspire students to reach their God-given potential.
In 1840, William Ellery Channing said, “Easy, pleasant work does not make robust minds, does not give men a consciousness of their powers, does not train them to endurance, to perseverance, to steady force of will, that force without which all other acquisitions avail nothing (Bennett, 2011 ).” This quote has had a deep impact on how I develop my instructional methods and curriculum. I believe that we should ever lead our students to high goals and quality. It would be easy to simply cater to the student, but without the consistent stretching of their minds, students may fail to realize exactly what they are capable of. Too much of curriculum today is soft, seeking to foster the students’ creativity. Yet, there are ways to foster that creativity without creating a lax curriculum. Because I know that each student has been created by God and endowed for certain tasks on earth, I assume that each student has the ability within them to master any subject. Therefore, curriculum should be robust in an age appropriate manner, ever aiming to grow them in maturity and critical thinking.
How then should we assess such a curriculum? Should assessment be based solely upon exams? I postulate that exams, though helpful, should not be the only means to assess a student’s mastery of a subject. I realize that exams are beneficial and to do away with exams all together is foolhardy, but other creative means should be sought, such as projects, class presentations, and dialogue. Creating diverse evaluating methods allows students who may not excel at test taking to prove that they do genuinely know the material.
Finally, I believe that classroom management should be conducted in such a manner that students realize the teacher’s goal is not a mere acquiescence to rules. Through our classroom management, the grace and love of Christ should be evident. This does not discount the times when proper discipline is to be enacted, but under such circumstances, we are to foster proper understanding in the students by working with them through their discipline. Further, in these times, perhaps the best option is not a cut and dry consequence but working with the student to bring about maturity and responsibility. It is not for our benefit that we desire students to follow standards, but for their benefit and safety. It is through submission to the leaders God has placed over us, regardless of whether we agree with them or not, that we honor God.
In conclusion, our teaching practice is informed by our beliefs about God and man. If these areas are not held in accordance with Scripture, we hold to a philosophy that does not sufficiently instruct the individual or foster their God-given potential. It is absolutely imperative that the foundation of our teaching practice be securely rooted in Scripture. Only then can we properly inspire students to achieve their God-given potential through excellent academics and a Christian environment.