Helping Children Grow – Are We Forming, Are We Informing, or Is It Both?

Josh
Photo Credit: Sioux Center Christian School

I have several grandchildren who are in the early years of involvement in a number of different Christian schools. As I watch them develop through different experiences, challenges, and opportunities, I’m impacted again by the glorious privilege and honor we have as Christian parents and teachers to unpack the mysteries and wonder of God’s creation with our young ones. When we have the opportunity to explore the world through the language of words, the rhythms of music, the order of mathematics, or the artistry of human culture, we work together delving into patterns and information that can capture the imaginations of the young.  This also strengthens their sense of belonging and understanding as well as gives them a deeper concept of, and love for, our great Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer Heavenly Father.

Despite having to make substantial financial sacrifices, our grandchildren’s parents are thankful for the synergy when the school, home and church work together in nurturing these precious young family members that God has entrusted to our care.

Edlin
Grandad Edlin reading with two of his grandchildren

It’s such a delight to observe two of my six-year old grandsons, as they learn to read and gain an increasing understanding of God’s world around them (as they have become able to read street signs or signs in shop windows for example). It was wonderful to embrace a deeper participation by them at our extended family Christmas. Instead of just listening, they joined with Grandad in reading aloud for other family members from the Bible about the Incarnation.

Many readers are familiar with the insightful and helpful writings of J. K. A Smith. He has reminded us that worldview must be seen in its broader context not just as a cognitive idea, but as a way of life that reflects deeply-held, pre-theoretical loves as well as deliberate culture-shaping cognition. That’s why I talk about worldview not just as a way of seeing the world, but as a way of seeing and being in the world.

Smith also suggests that we have been high-jacked by a modernist agenda if we see education primarily as an act of transmitting information. He suggests that education is about forming, much more than it is merely about informing (Desiring the Kingdom, p.26.) According to Smith, schooling is about shaping certain kinds of people, and information and experiences are chosen by curriculum designers to reflect the primacy of this “forming” concept.

I think Smith has drawn our attention again to a key reality: education is never neutral. By its selection of materials, pedagogical patterns, and cultural forces (including governments) that force it in certain directions, education is manipulating a child’s exposure to reality in order to produce a certain outcome. It is seeking to form children into certain types of citizens. This is true of modernistic, content-centered education, as it is of laissez faire radical contructivist education. The classic movie Dead Poets Society makes this point very well. In other words, education that is forming, chooses information (both in terms of type and access) that reinforces the form that it wants children to develop into.

That’s why I am so thankful to have my grandchildren at Christian schools, nurtured by teachers with a heart for God and an understanding of what it means to teach Christianly. It’s also why I support the need for Christian educators and their schools, as an indispensable aspect of their profession, to commit to sustained, longitudinal, evaluated, and communal professional development that equips us to shape our classroom concepts and practices in a manner that is consistent with a biblical worldview.

This raises another key point about seeing education as formation: effective formation must SnipImage (002)occur in relationships. The attached front page cover from a recent computer magazine infers that computers can replace teachers. Computers certainly can assist teachers, but they cannot replace them. It’s not by mistake that Jesus claimed in Luke 6:40 that when a student is fully trained, he will be like his teacher. Jesus didn’t say that the student would become like the curriculum, or other teaching tools, important and all as they are. But at its heart, because education is about forming in a relational context, students become like their teachers. So choose, support, and train your teachers very carefully!

One of the great blessings of being a teacher of any age group, is to see “the lights come on” in our students’ eyes when they comprehend something new for the first time, or when they master a problem or challenge that they have been wrestling with. And when this forming occurs in a Christian school, as parents, grandparents, pastors, and teachers, we echo the affirmation of apostle John when we testify about how joyful it is when we see our children being formed in the truth and walking in it (3 John 1:4). Thank you Christian teachers for helping to form our young ones in this way.

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