By David Balik: Dean of Faculty and Academic Affairs, Briarwood Christian School
The voices of religious minority groups in America are getting louder. The needs of impoverished and war-torn people in many countries are increasing, not decreasing. Also pressing in are the morals involved in conducting business globally, the ethics of medical research and eradication of disease, and the need for relevance in effective communication across cultures. Worldwide, and in our own communities, as some boundaries and walls are coming down, others are going up.
How do we prepare our students to understand and engage people, cultures, and contexts? How do we address the diverse voices of the interfaith world? What do we mean when we tell our students that Christianity is unique and true? To authentically teach and learn as Christians in today’s world, we must not fear the hard questions that lead to critical inquiry, but persistently ask them and seek answers.
With these convictions in mind, I attended Lexington Christian Academy’s “The Global Schoolhouse Conference” for its third biennial Cultivating Inquiry Across the Curriculum on April 10 & 11, 2008.
I found this forum to be immensely interesting and challenging at the same time. Like a good workout, there was an intensity in the presentations (and subsequent discussions) that stretched me in my own thinking: How do we prepare our students for the world they’ll live in?
In his key note address on Friday morning, Michael Evans (Assistant Director of Urban School Services of ACSI) spoke on “Equipping Leaders.” Evans’ fascinating and engaging lecture focused on the importance of the following statement:
Christian Schools must become more than safe havens in which children learn and relate to one another. They must become places of preparation to launch leaders into the world, prepared to advance the Kingdom of God in multiple arenas.
In other words, Evans contends that someone will be the next Oprah Winfrey 20 years from now, and someone will be the next President 40 years from now. The larger question then is: WHO will lead in the future and with WHAT agenda?
In order that our students stand a fighting chance in an ever-darkening world, Evans goes on to suggest four key areas where serious questions must be asked and answered.
1. Academic Questions:
Are we training the minds of our students (and teachers for that matter!) to think deeply, widely, openly, and with great strength? Thinking is not for wimps! My own children will complain from time to time that the teaching they are exposed to is designed to “program” them rather than to challenge their minds. (“Programmed idiots” is the actual term my eldest son will use.) How revealing! Are our students mere passive recipients of a dearth of content and information that we ask them to recite back to us, or are we engaging them in such a way that creates a Bloom-like environment of genuine analysis, careful evaluation, systematic verification, and critical thought?
When Paul wrote, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27) he had to have in mind growth and development that went way beyond the “mile wide and an inch deep” approach so many Christian Schools are guilty of today!
2. Biblical Questions:
As we train the mind to think deeply, widely, openly, and with great strength are we creating an environment in our schools where really hard questions can be asked? Are we cultivating spiritual inquiry in their lives that leads our students to ask: “God, what is your heart?” What is your plan for your heart to be realized in our world?”
Oh, that we as Christian school educators would emphasize more the fact that our Lord is looking for a life of faith and faithfulness not just facts and figures. What does the Lord require of us? To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. (Micah 6:8)
In his lecture entitled, “Science and Faith”, Dr. Gordon Hugenberger, (Ph.D., College of St. Paul and St. Mary and the Oxford Centre for Post-Graduate Hebrew Study) focused our attention on seven common misunderstandings which have caused unnecessary conflicts with science. A few examples are: the Bible does not require a small universe or a young earth. In addition, Hugenberger went into great detail in support of his belief that the Bible does not prohibit plant or animal death before the Fall, as well as the fact that it is likely that the 7-day framework of creation does not refer to a literal earthly week composed of seven 24-hour solar days, but refers instead to a heavenly week.
The fact that there are 9 major views of creation held by evangelicals today begs the question, “Are we truly engaging our students to consider other thoughtful (and largely respected) views as they relate to faith and learning?”
3. Cultural Questions:
As we look to instill in our students a sense of “other-centeredness”, how do we do that in such a way as to illicit authentic compassion and mercy rather than pity or an “I feel good because I did something” result. This call to consider God’s perspective on social justice and His world should cause our students to ask: What do I really know about the world around me? What are God’s concerns in the world as it relates to “the least of these?” (Matthew 25:40) What are the opportunities He created and how can I play a meaningful role in them? We must recognize and espouse a Christian world view that promotes active engagement in our culture, not isolationism. May we celebrate the diversity as well as the inter-connectedness that we share in this flat world in which we live, while at the same time encouraging and modeling for our students compassion and thoughtful action that leads to a long term, life-changing impact.
4. Leadership Questions:
Rather than majoring in “pre-wealth” like many young people heading to college these days, how can we challenge our students to understand what they will need to value once they go off to University? What will they need to be prepared to defend? Explain? Will we truly and adequately have prepared them to lead in positions of influence where Godly leadership is most needed? To do so requires a Christian education that produces intelligent young people with a moral compass who are strategic and intentional in their Kingdom activities! Tall order? You betcha! Can we do it? Of course. But it will require breaking away from the traditional, sage -on-the-stage-I-talk-you-listen-and-take-notes scenario that characterizes so many of our classrooms today.
In conclusion, I find it somewhat ironic that I left Boston last week with more questions than when I arrived! Perhaps that was the point of this intellectual exercise. However, as I continue to study and consider what it means to teach and think “Christianly”, I am incredibly thankful for the privilege of being able to be a part of the conversation as together we as Christian leaders move our schools towards greater depths of inquiry and as a result, meaningful change to the glory of God that will produce the next generation of leaders equipped and able to stand on their own ready to carry out the mission God has called them to!