As we look around us, we observe increasing moral decline. Changes in our society introduce us to philosophies that blatantly counter biblical principles. Humanism and relativism are making their way into the ideologies of school systems. "Faith in the moral autonomy of individuals has resulted in a society that has lost its moral moorings" (Van Brummelen, 1994). How can we resist these trends? Christian schools must take a closer look at what we are doing to prepare our students for living in a degenerating society. As Christian school educators in North America or in other parts of the world, we recognize that our students need to be equipped to face the opposition they will inevitably encounter as they become an active part of society. But what is Christian school education? How is a Christian school different from a public school or another private but wholly academic school? Are Christian schools showing evidence of the differences?
Models of Christian school education
"Much of Christian education in the past has been secular education with a chocolate coating of Christianity" (Chadwick, 1990).
Three models of Christian school education must be at the forefront in this discussion. The first has been called the Triumphalist Model. This model came about in response to the belief that the secular ways of knowing (mainly through the sciences) were superior to the religious ways of knowing. Thus, the religious ways do not matter. The Christian triumphalist assumed that "the prevailing intellectual culture was hopelessly flawed by reason of its secular assumptions. Its naturalistic materialism would eventually lead to its self-destruction. Christianity, however, being true, would endure and triumph" (Hughes and Adrian, 1997). Learning, then, is viewed as subject to faith rather than as supportive of it.
The Value-Added Model takes a neutral position toward the culture of the day, assuming that secular and sacred knowledge operate separately and do not conflict. They do not change each other, but each can add dimensions to the other. The school day might start with prayer, possibly a Bible reading or devotions, and this beginning provides a blessing for the day's work. In the rest of the day, the Bible and God are rarely referred to. For some, this means adding the Bible to the curriculum as a subject, but still it is confined to that time period and not allowed to come out of its box. The rest of the curriculum is from the secular world.
The third model is the Integration Model. Its assumptions are rooted in the student's worldview or philosophy of life. It assumes that secular knowledge can be flawed and often distorts its outcomes. Christian assumptions can reverse that distortion and bring clarity to the subject, just as the secular (discovered knowledge) can add to the revealed knowledge of Christianity. Each is in need of the other. When they conflict, one must be revised (Hughes and Adrian, 1997). This is where worldview is most influential. "The term Christian has always referred to a worldview based on the Bible. Christian education cannot be based on a man-centered philosophy that is not consistent with Christianity" (Chadwick, 1990). Within this model it follows that the Christian school should have the Bible and its principles as the basis for teaching, learning, and curriculum.
"Historically, many Christian schools have started with fine motives and objectives, but these have not been conveyed to successive generations of parents. Before long such schools lose their vision and integrity, and have often degenerated into exclusive clubs which do no better job of preparing students for the real world than do modern public schools" (Edlin, 1994).
Christian school education defined
What does it mean to offer a Christian school education? If the word Christian connotes "little Christ," shouldn't the students in our Christian schools be taught how to be "little Christs" in every aspect of life? The mere fact that the faculty, staff, and student body are Christians does not mean the school will be Christian, although a Christian school cannot exist without such a composition. Nor is its existence as a Christian school based on the governing board. The Christian school is not primarily in the business of producing Christians, even though one focus of Christian education should be assuring that each student has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The Christian school is a God-centered training ground for our children, enabling them to grow in their relationship with Christ. Its purpose should be to glorify God by serving the home and church through making disciples (Chadwick, 1990). It should produce Christians capable of functioning within society and within the body of Christ. "Interpreting all of life through the lens of biblical truth is the focus of Christian education" (Eckel, 1998). Knowing these things, can we, in good conscience, allow ourselves to settle for anything less than the Integration Model described above?
How, then, do we make this happen? "Our culture has privatized Christian faith. Consequently, a Christian voice in society has become marginalized. Society around us assumes that Christian faith has little to say about life in a pluralistic society" (Van Brummelen, 1994). This assumption, of course, is not true. The Bible has everything to say about society. And the Christian faith is not just about individuals; it is also about entire nations. As educators, it is our responsibility to prepare our students to make a godly impact on this world, to think Christianly, and to be responsive disciples of Jesus Christ. This goal requires that we as individual educators, as well as our entire school, develop our own philosophy or worldview. "Education is…the process of acquiring significant learning experiences as well as the product of desired change of personality and behavior. To have genuine education, personal change and personality development are essential" (Chadwick 1990).
What this means for teachers
"Christian teachers are not teachers who happen to be Christians; they are Christian teachers" (Evearitt, 1999). Much of knowing in the spiritual realm comes through revelation. God revealed Himself to us through His Son. So, too, does He reveal Himself through what He has created. One responsibility of the Christian school teacher is to help students to understand what God has revealed through creation and to recognize that the main reason for knowing is to come to a knowledge of God (Lindsay, 1998). In every subject we should be focusing beyond a series of behavioral objectives and looking for ways to help students realize His revelations.
By examining teachers and their responsibilities, we realize the tremendous weight of the job. Teaching should not be treated lightly, or as though anyone can do it. A teacher is charged with distinct responsibilities that call for specific characteristics:
- Integrity (Titus 2:7)
- Knowledge of God's law as well as of the course content (Ezra 7:9, 7:11)
- Wisdom and an ability to impart knowledge; a desire to learn; truth and uprightness (Ecclesiastes 12:9-10)
As a result, the Bible says, "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly" names 3:1). Only those who have heard the clear call of God on their lives to be teachers should assume the task. The role of teachers, then, is twofold:
- To draw students into a learning community in which they learn to accept each other, work with each other, and develop their gifts and abilities as they acquire knowledge.
- To assess themselves continually to assure that they are learning and growing in the knowledge of the Word and of the material they are to teach. While having concern for each student, teachers must also find ways to bring the class together as imparters of knowledge, guides, and facilitators. Ideally, teachers are role models for the students, displaying Christlike characteristics that will motivate their students to desire the same kind of relationship with God. "But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness" (Hebrews 3:13, NIV).
Making a Biblically integrated curriculum
How do biblical principles become a part of the everyday curriculum? The first step is to examine what is presently being used in your school as curriculum. What are its qualities, both positive and negative? How does it fit with the Biblical principles we claim? Will we keep what we have and modify it, or will we throw it out completely and start with something new? These are all legitimate questions that need to be addressed by reexamining our worldview, or philosophy, and taking a close look at the students we are teaching.
Once we have determined what the discipline content will be, we need to identify related Biblical principles. What unit of study am I teaching? What are the basic concepts in the unit? Are there biblical principles to complement them? If not, why not? If there are, what are they, and how can I bring them to bear on the discipline concept? From this point we must weave the two together into an expanded concept. "An additional step here would be to have biblical support, or a rationale, that not only gives the biblical undergirding for the biblically integrated concept, but also the biblical framework for the concept from the Word of God" (Chadwick 1990).
From here we review the various lessons within the unit to determine how and when the integrated concept can be applied and woven into the students' lives. "This is the life-integrated concept and is now the step where the truth of the discipline has been woven together with the truth of the Word of God, and ultimately, this integrated concept is woven into the very life and fabric of our students" (Chadwick, 1990).
For example, a second-grade language arts unit could be biblically integrated in the following manner:
DC (discipline concept)
People change and grow physically, mentally, and emotionally.
BC (biblical concept)
God never changes. God expects people to change and grow. God is with us and directs those changes.
BIC (biblically integrated concept)
People grow and change physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, but our sovereign, unchanging God will be with us and direct those changes to make us into men and women He uses for His purposes.
BIC background information for teaching
1 Peter 2:2, 1 Samuel 10:6—We are expected to grow spiritually and emotionally as we follow God's leading.
James 1:17, Proverbs 17:17, Proverbs 18:24, John 15:13-14—God never changes. Jesus is our friend and sticks with us. He is closer than a brother. He will never leave us or forsake us.
Ephesians 3:20, Philippians 1:6—God is at work within us, changing us for His purposes.
Life Integration, with the emphasis on:
Effort needed to change Character qualities that should begin changing: caring for others and encouraging others Changing through overcoming fears
"Biblical truth must form the foundation and framework of every activity, attitude, decision, discussion, or lesson in the Christian school" (Eckel, 1998). Therefore, "We need to think through the relevance of our existing curriculum for preparing our students to impact our world for Christ" (McCullough and Egeler, 1999).
Applying it to the classroom
How does all this work out in the classroom? What are the evidences of a biblically integrated curriculum? Once we have established our own philosophy or world-view and are taking steps to model that in our classroom, we must become aware of ways we can encourage our students through our units of study to develop their own philosophy, or worldview. We do this by teaching them to think critically about the subject matter and helping them to begin formulating their own conclusions about how the subject matter affects their lives and what they should do with it. Returning to the example of an integrated language arts unit, let's examine some actual classroom applications. This unit uses an anthology that contains three stories related to children in the midst of change.
The first story, "Jasper Makes Music," brings out the idea that change is hard work, and that planning and creativity are often required before it actually comes about. After the students have read the story and the teacher has ensured their comprehension, she might devote one or two class sessions to the following activity:
Read Romans 12:2 and discuss it with the class, bringing out how change does not come easily, but some things do need to be changed, often the things we call habits. Ask the students to think of a habit or two that they need to change, write out a description of their habit, and draw a picture of themselves engaged in it. Then have them take time to think about how they could change, naming those who might help them, including God. Have them form groups of two or three to discuss creative ways to change and decide on one. Finally, they can write about making the change. In their paper they can refer to the verse and write a prayer asking God to help them change.
The next story in the anthology, "Josefina Finds a Prince," centers around the idea of changes in character quality. The main character grows emotionally, becoming less selfish and learning to care about others. After reading and discussing the story, students can do the following activity to integrate biblical principles:
Using 1 Thessalonians 4:18 and 5:11 as references, the teacher discusses with the students the importance of Christians' encouraging others. As a class, they list people in their school or community who seem to need encouragement and discuss ways they could be encouragers to those people. Focusing on two or three of the people they listed, students set attainable goals for actively encouraging them, and then they follow through.
The third story in the anthology, "Ronald Morgan Goes to Bat," is about how fears can keep us from changing, while overcoming our fears will help us grow. Again, after reading and discussing the story, the teacher can use the following activity as an integration tool:
The students write out—either on a computer in fancy type or by hand in their own way—the following verses: Joshua 1:9, Psalm 46:1-2, and Psalm 91:5. Each verse should be on an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper. The verses can be posted in the students' rooms at home, carried in a notebook they use often, or put in a prominent place where they will see them every day. The teacher leads a discussion of fears, reiterating the fact that God is with us and there is no need to fear. The teacher should share a personal fear and how God helped him or her overcome it. The teacher challenges students to think of something they fear that others may not be afraid of and to write it down, including how they feel when they are faced with that fear. Then they think about how God could help them overcome that fear. What could they do? Who could help them do it? Again, the teacher encourages the class to write down their responses followed by a written prayer asking God to help them overcome the fear. At the end of the writing, the teacher asks the class to write down a date in the following week when they will go back and read what they have just written to assess their progress in overcoming their fear. Students should be encouraged to share the fear with at least one other person—ash;possibly their parents, a sibling, a close friend, or their teacher.
Looking closely at the way this unit was biblically integrated, we see that even though it was taken from a secular text, the stories were easily adapted to include biblical truths. All three of them lent themselves to a focus on God's work in the life of a Christian as he grows and changes, always turning to Him for direction and then applying what has been learned to daily life—-whether helping other people or asking others for help. "The school's curriculum will pose problems and raise questions about life and cultural issues. It will analyze them from a biblical perspective and help students discern the spirits of the age without assuming that Christians have all the answers. It will not avoid dealing with the effects of sin in society, but it will also proclaim hope in the future because God remains faithful forever" (Van Brummelen, 1994).
"Schools can deal openly with their students about the tension Christians experience of being in the world but not of it. They can address those areas of life from which we may have to withdraw as a Christian community" (Van Brummelen. 1994). The focus of each lesson should return to God: His absolute truth in respect to the topic and how we apply that truth to the topic in our daily lives. God should be an integral part of our lives as Christian teachers, and biblical integration the key to our teaching.
Jan Bentley is an MK educator who served in Indonesia for 16 years. Currently she is pursuing a master's degree at OU, preparing to provide professional development opportunities for MK educators on site.
Bowers, Joyce M., (ed). Raising Resilient MKs: Resources for Caregivers, Parents, and Teachers. Colorado Springs, Colorado: Association of Christian Schools International, 1998.
Chadwick, Ronald. Christian School Curriculum. Winona Lake, Indiana: BMH Books, 1990.
Eckel, Mark. "Why Do We Exist? Biblical Integration in Christian Schools" Online: www.acsi.org/services/publications. Christian School Education 2, no. 3, 1998-99.
Edlin, R.J. The Cause of Christian Education. Northport, Alabama: Vision Press, 1994.
Evearitt, Timothy C. "The Role of the Christian Teacher." Online: www.acsi.org/services/publications. Christian School Education 2, no. 3, 1998-99.
Hughes, Richard T. and William B. Adrian, eds. Models for Christian Higher Education: Strategies for Survival and Success in the Twenty-first Century. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1997.
Lindsey, Elaine M. A Curriculum Theory for Christian Schools. © Elaine Murray Lindsey, 1998.
McCullough, Joy D. and Daniel Egeler. "The Impact of a Worldview on the Instructional Program for Christian Schools." Christian School Education 3, no. 1 (1999-2000), pp.11-14.
Van Brummelen, Harro. Steppingstones to Curriculum: A Biblical Path. Seattle: Alta Vista College Press, 1994.
Van Brummelen, Harro. The Christian Philosophy of Education (selection). Online: www.bjup.com/resources. Bob Jones University, 1999.