Thursday, August 14, 2014

Reflection on the value of teaching from a Biblical worldview

This is a reflection I wrote on the importance of worldview in education (and the impossibility of "neutral" teaching) for one of my Master's courses:

And the house on the sand went SPLAT! While my NIV words this a bit differently, Jesus’ point remains the same: foundation matters. The core beliefs that we choose to build our lives around? These matter. Moreover, it is clear that there is always a foundation. We cannot help but build on something. This is why a claim of neutral teaching is as ludicrous as a carpenter claiming that they can build a mansion atop a cloud. No indeed, every teacher is building on something--some set of core beliefs which filter, shape and inform every aspect of our classroom. The popular claim of neutrality in public school education is not only impossible, but in fact destructive, and it is crucial for Christian teachers to make sure that the Bible provides the basis for their teaching. 

It is both fascinating and disheartening that the myth of a neutral public education persists. There are few in education today who would not acknowledge the influence of Dewey on modern public education. Even elementary school children pick up something of Dewey as they learn to navigate their school libraries. And, none can deny that Dewey himself was anything but neutral on the subject of religion. Why, then, do contemporary proponents of public education so effortlessly ignore the influence that Dewey’s anti-religious views have had on public education? Why do people, whether principal, professor, pupil, politician or parent find it so easy to take a carving knife to Dewey’s beliefs and demarcate those which have endured in education and those which haven’t?  Dr. Robert Marzano tried to do exactly this in a 1992 speech by separating Dewey’s worldview from his views of education. In another, later context, Marzano acknowledged that worldview and teaching are inextricably bound. One can almost hear the masses try to justify the discrepancy: Oh, of course, this is a logical thing to suggest in general... but surely it cannot be true in Dewey’s case! For some reason, this seems to be the predominant perspective on public education. Unfortunately, under the compelling guise of neutrality, faith has been trivialized by insistent and inconsistent removal from the classroom. Insistent because anything that whiffs of Christianity is swiftly stifled, and inconsistent because so many other worldviews are given time and consideration not given to Christianity. The result is that a century’s worth of children have received an education that they are told is fair and unbiased in its perspective, but which actually paints the world with colors disdainful of faith. Worldview and education are inseparable--what we believe shapes what we teach, how we teach, even why we teach. So what, then, are we teaching, as Christian educators? 

We criticize the compartmentalization conducted by Dewey’s followers as they draw a line between his personal beliefs and his teaching, and yet many Christian educators fall into the same trap. We pray, we do devotions, but then our actual teaching may be indistinguishable in practice from teaching in the public school classroom. I have some personal experience with this: in my first few years, I never intentionally started planning with Biblical principles in mind and as a result, had to tag on a Christian perspective later. Aside from those tags, which felt about as relevant as hangnails, my teaching was secular. This was perhaps the most meaningful discovery I made during the process of creating my curriculum map for one of my Master’s courses last summer: as I properly engaged in backward design for the first time, I realized that I was not allowing my beliefs to enter into the equation until far too late. The project offered a wake-up call and an opportunity to do better: for each unit, as I crafted my essential questions and enduring understandings, I tried to determine the Biblical perspectives which lay at the foundation of my own beliefs about each topic. When I made these principles a core part of my curriculum, they came up organically in class, and wove through the curriculum in a way that they hadn’t before. The Bible simply has to be our foundation, our starting place, as we build our curriculum. Of course, we have standards and goals that are given to us that we need to build around, but these are not antithetical to a Biblical worldview. Rather, our task is to interpret these goals through the lens of our Biblical worldview and let that drive our planning, our assessment and our instruction. 

Going forward, I am committed to making sure that my teaching is distinctly Christian and that I am actually fostering Christian thinking and Christian action rather than just stapling on a perfunctory Christian Post-it. My students will not remember everything that I teach. In fact, it’s likely that 10 years from now, much of the content will have escaped them. What they won’t forget is how I taught them; what will stick with them even years later is the foundation that I impart to them. I better make it good.


  1. Nate, your post reminded me of the book entitled "7 Men Who Rule The World From The Grave" by Dave Breese. Good book. Dewey was one of the 7 influential men mentioned in the book. Your students may not fully appreciate the benefits and the importance of learning from a biblical worldview, but hopefully, sooner rather than later, they will. Thanks for staying true to God's Word.

    Jim M.

  2. Jim, I will have to check out that book! Blessings on your family, and your time in America. I'll miss having your daughter in class this year, but with any luck, will teach your son two years from now!