Over the course of this Faith & Science series, we’ve explored how to address important but delicate questions of science and faith in the classroom. Christy Hemphill shared with us how important it is to introduce students to potentially challenging topics like evolution, climate change, and bioethics within the supportive setting of a Christian school. April Maskiewicz Cordero offered three simple guidelines to promote mutual respect and gracious dialogue when discussing controversial topics in the classroom. Sarah Bodbyl Roels reminded us that so many of our students’ perceived conflicts between science and faith grow out of misconceptions about the nature of science, misconceptions we can help correct. Finally, we learned from Mark Witwer that teaching science Christianly is not just about what we teach but also how we teach it.
In this final piece, we are exploring how school leaders can make their schools a safe and spiritually supportive place for engaging questions of science and faith.
Why Engage Science & Faith Questions?
You might be wondering, “In a time of polarization and conflict in our countries and even our churches, is it even worth focusing on these controversial topics in our classrooms?” Having been both a student and a teacher at Christian K-12 schools, I can confidently say, “Yes, it is absolutely worth it.” Diving into these waters can help us achieve the following:
- Build a Strong Faith Foundation. Whether in college or beyond, students will encounter the science behind evolution, the age of the Earth, and climate change. These topics raise challenging questions that can undermine some students’ faith. Our goal as Christian educators is to prepare them to engage thoughtfully and faithfully with such questions. Let’s do just that by addressing science and faith topics while our students are still in our classrooms!
- Bring More Christian Voices to STEM Fields. Every year there are Christian students with deep interest and aptitude in STEM areas who decide not to pursue these paths because they have been told that science is fundamentally in conflict with their faith. By addressing and hopefully removing the tension from studying science, we will encourage more Christian students to pursue careers in STEM. In this arena, they can be ambassadors for Christ, serve their neighbors, and deepen their understanding of God and his world.
- Instill Christian Virtues. Today more than ever before, we want to produce students who can embody the Christian values of gracious dialogue, intellectual humility, and love for those who have views different than our own. These skills take practice to develop, and science classes provide a great context for these rehearsals. Teachers can model these skills and attitudes by creating a classroom environment where students feel safe, respected, and affirmed as they offer opposing viewpoints, confront their doubts and fears, and work toward deeper understanding together.
Your Role as a School Leader
The exciting yet challenging work of guiding students through science and faith discussions is done primarily by teachers in the classroom. But teachers can be truly successful only if they have the full support of their administration. So what does it look like for school leaders to help create and support this kind of teaching at their school?
First, the administration and faculty need to be unified in their approach to addressing these hard questions. That does not mean everyone needs to agree on what the answers to the hard questions are. But it does mean that everyone needs to agree on the foundational Christian truths they are affirming and on the educational goals established.
One move in this direction is to develop a school-wide science and learning statement explaining how potentially contentious science topics will be addressed in the classroom. This statement does not include position statements or any “right answers” to contested science and faith questions. Instead, the statement articulates the consistent approach your school and teachers will take when discussing controversial topics and the end goals for your students. Alignment and consistency are key. The last thing you want is for students to be told different, conflicting things about what the “correct Christian view” is from one class to the next. It is good for students to understand that committed Christians may hold different views on some of these topics.
Once you and your faculty are on the same page about your school’s approach, communicate proactively with parents. Parents care deeply about what their children are being taught in school–as they should! The last thing you want is for a parent to feel as if their child is being taught something behind their back. So proactively communicate the approach your school is taking to these questions no matter what course or teacher a student has. Then be willing to listen well and engage in gracious discussions about any questions or concerns parents have.
From here, your primary role as an educational leader will be to wholeheartedly support the faculty as they implement this approach. Teachers are the ones on the front lines of walking students through these delicate, sometimes uncomfortable, and occasional divisive conversations. They need you to have their back. Here are a few ways you can offer needed support:
- Consistently communicate and implement the school’s science and learning statement. You can share and discuss your school-wide statement at Open House, Back to School Night, and parent meetings. You can require teachers of relevant courses to include the statement in their syllabi and in online resources. The best way to resolve conflict, after all, is to keep it from developing in the first place.
- Make space in course scope & sequences for challenging topics. I know that syllabi are already packed and there is never enough instructional time to cover all the desired content. But as Christian educators, what higher priority is there than content that is both conceptually key to a discipline (like evolution) and has the ability to strengthen a students’ faith for years to come?
- Handle parent questions and concerns yourself. There will inevitably be parents with questions and concerns, but you can take a big burden off your teachers’ shoulders by encouraging them to send parents with concerns about the approach directly to you. If this is a school-wide policy, it is ultimately your job to answer for it, not the teachers’.
- Affirm to your teachers that their work is important and worthwhile. Let your teachers know that you recognize the difficulty of their task. Affirm to them that teaching these engagement skills is important and valuable for their students. A little recognition goes a long way in encouraging teachers to keep showing up and leaning in to their calling each and every day.
A Valuable Curriculum Resource
Stepping into topics like evolution, climate change, and bioethics can be a daunting task for even the most experienced teachers. So another great way that you can support teachers is to provide them with the Integrate faith and science curriculum from BioLogos.
Integrate was designed specifically for Christian teachers to supplement their current science textbooks with thoughtfully developed science and faith activities and discussions. The flexible, modular units bring Christ-centered faith, rigorous science, and gracious dialogue to your students as they explore the theological and ethical questions raised by modern science. The high school curriculum also helps students to actively cultivate Christian virtues such as humility, wisdom, and wonder. To learn more, check out https://biologos.org/integrate or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The world needs Christians to restore a right relationship between faith and science. We as Christian educators can be part of this process. May you and your students grow in your understanding of God as Creator and Sustainer, your wonder at the beauty and sophistication of the natural world, and your confidence that all truth is God’s truth.