A Christian Philosophy of Education
In the quest to develop a philosophy of education, the professional should “read widely in textbooks, journals, and other professional literature to get ideas and points of view” (Morrison, 2009, p. 23). However, in so doing, the educator may be left with the same sentiments of ancient wise man, Solomon, as recorded in Ecclesiastes 12:12: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness to the flesh” (English Standard Version [ESV]).
Fortunately, a text exists which provides not only an authoritative stance on education, but also one nation’s history of obedience and disobedience to these commands. When the ancient Israelites followed these instructions to properly educate their children, they prospered greatly, but when forsaking the proper instruction of their children, they caused their descendants to be destroyed for their lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6, ESV).
Upon additional evaluation of current research in education, it is clear that educational researchers are simply discovering that the best methodologies for education is what the holy Scriptures have commanded all along. This paper seeks to explain five primary educational concepts contained within Scripture from the perspective of the author, along with their clear Biblical and theoretical support.
I believe in knowable absolute truth, and thusly transmitting this truth should be the aim of education.
Speaking of God’s Word, Jesus said that it is “truth” (John 17:17, ESV) and, as the incarnate Word, Jesus Himself is truth (John 14:6, ESV). Additionally, it is only through knowing this truth (namely, Jesus), that the mind-darkening affects of sin are reversed, as taught in Romans 1:21 (ESV). Indeed, Scripture states that the fear of the Lord is described as “the beginning of all wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7, ESV) and that God is source of all wisdom, knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:6, ESV, e.g. Exodus 28:3 & Daniel 1:17 & 20, ESV). A denial of absolute truth is a rejection of Christ and an insult to His work in revealing Himself to the world.
Constructivism “refers to the view that knowledge is a human, social invention” (Colliver, 2000, pg 49), and therefore complete and accurate knowledge concerning truth is not knowable. Radical constructivism takes it one step further, believing that there is no absolute truth (Matthews, 1992, p. 2). Educationally, both emphasize the importance in group work and discussion to arrive at the socially constructed knowledge. However, a review of the research on such approach showed “only weak effects of cooperative learning compared to individual seat work, individual study and individual drill (Colliver, 2000, p. 51). Additionally, a denial of knowable absolute truth produces major difficulties in assessment and educational goals, as Olssen (1996) writes,
“Given that there are no independent epistemological criteria in terms of ‘truth’ by which to anchor their assessments, is the criterion simply ‘what the teacher thinks, or is it ‘the wisdom of the elders’, or perhaps the ‘current orthodoxy in the community? …and why should the community’s ‘constructions’ be preferable to those of the individual learner?” (p. 288).
Integration with Life
I believe in the need to integrate academic learning with real-life experiences, a term often referred to as “situated learning.” Slavin (2006) gives the simple definition of situated learning as: “learning that takes place in real-life, authentic tasks” (p. 245).
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 (ESV) states that children should learn, “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Theologian E.H. Merrill (2001) states that the use of opposite terms in this verse is “to express an all-encompassing concept”, thusly a child’s education should occur in every day life situations. Commenting on this verse, Adams (1984) states, “Truth must be integrated with life” (p. 103). Additionally, much of the commanded Israelite traditions and national symbols were for the explicit purpose of provoking questions in the children (e.g., Exodus 12:24-27, Deuteronomy 6:20-25 and Joshua 4:6). The answering of these questions greatly resembles the model of situated learning in which instruction follows experience in order to teach the skills or meaning of what was encountered in the situation.
The effectiveness of situated learning is already seen in many real-life situations. These include the use of “on the job” training offered by many companies even to students possessing higher education, the learning of a foreign language (Brown, Collins and Duguid, 1989, p. 33), and learning vocabulary words of one’s own language (Andresen, Boud, Cohen, p. 230). Additionally, situated learning employs two methods which have been shown to increase learning transfer: hugging, which “directly engage(s) the learners in approximations to the performances desired” (Perkins, 1992, p. 7) and bridging, which “encourages the making of abstractions, searches for possible connections, mindfulness, and metacognition” (Perkins, 1992, p. 7).
Role of Parents
I believe parents are their child’s primary teachers and thusly should take an active—and even prominent—role in their child’s education.
As the institution created to “fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28, ESV), parents have the God-given responsibility to teach and train their children. Deuteronomy 6:7-9 (ESV) explicitly commands parents to educate their children: “you shall teach them diligently to your children.” This commanded is additionally supported by Proverbs 22:6 and Ephesians 6:4 (ESV). No other institution is given such explicit Biblical commands to educate the next generation. Additionally, it is only parents who are able to truly provide an integrated education as teachers will not be with the child at all times, when they “sit in [their] house,” when they “lie down” and when they “rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7, ESV).
Beginning with Coleman’s 1966 findings that family background is a lead predictor in children’s academic achievement, there has been a huge influx in the amount of attention from researchers pertaining to the effects of parental involvement in their child’s education (Grolnick and Ryan, 1989, p. 143). Evaluating this body of research, one could easily arrive at the same conclusion as Hart and Risley (1995) concerning educational performance of those with communication disorders: “the differences are unrelated to income or ethnicity.” Rather, across lines of ethnicity, income, and parents’ education level, they found parental involvement as the number one predictor of children’s academic success (p. 210). Educational benefits of parental involvement also include:
- Higher student achievement scores (Yap & Enoki, 1995, p. 54-55);
- Children taking greater initiative to pursue their own academic activities outside of class, their level of care about getting a quality education, and their enjoyment of reading and their likelihood to volunteer for educational projects (Lewis Center for Educational Research, n.d., p. 6-7);
- Higher attendance rates (Epstein & Sheldon, 2002, p. 308); and
- Increase in students’ self-concept (Loffredo, Omizo & Hammet, 1984, p. 212).
I believe in tailoring instruction to an individual’s varying background knowledge, learning readiness, interests, abilities, and learning needs, a term known as differentiated instruction (Posner & Rudnitsky, 2006, p. 16).
Scripture is clear that each of us have been given unique giftings, which are from the same source and equal in value and importance:
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (Romans 12:4-7, ESV).
Therefore, these differences should be recognized, respected, and accommodated for. Additionally, Romans 15:1 states that we are to “bear with the failings of the weak” (ESV), further evidencing the need to accommodate for diverse learners. Scriptural examples of differential instruction is seen in the reading and explaining of the law to Israel (Nehemiah 8:1-8, ESV); Paul’s teaching of the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:1, ESV); and Paul’s instructions to Titus to gear teaching for specific duties based upon unique roles (Titus 2:1-10, ESV).
According to a study by Beecher and Sweeny (2008), differentiated instruction improves “students’ positive attitudes about school, increases engagement in learning, and improves achievement on district and state assessments” (p. 525). Additionally, research has shown differentiated instruction increases success in literacy (Tobin & McInnes, 2008, p. 4).
I believe teacher modeling is an important and effective method of education
Biblical examples of modeling include: God telling Solomon to walk in the example of his father (1 Kings 9:4, ESV); Solomon imploring his son to give attention to his ways (Proverbs 23:26, ESV); Paul’s explicit teaching style (1 Corinthians 4:16, 1 Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17, Philippians 4:9, 2 Thessalonians 3:7, 2 Thesalonians 3:9, ESV); and Paul’s command for pastors to serve as a model for those they teach (Titus 2: and 1 Peter 5:3). Jesus himself stated that modeling is the natural result of a teacher—student relationship: “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40, ESV).
Modeling is widely used in education, including fields of math, science, reading, and music (Haston, 2007, p. 26). Modeling is a natural learning method (Haston, 2007, p. 26), as Bandura, a leading proponent of modeling in education believed: “much of human learning is not shaped by its consequences but is more efficiently learned directly from a model” (Slavin, 2006, p. 154). Studies show the success of modeling in education, such as one which showed “substantial increases occurred in on-task behavior following the introduction of concurrent modeling” (Widdowson, & Dixon, 1996, p. 175).
Scripture provides an adequate guide for educational theory and is supported by modern research. Five foundational tenants of the Biblical theory of education include: the reality of knowable absolute truth, the importance of education being embedded in everyday experiences, the need for high parental involvement, the need for differentiated instruction, and the value of modeling.
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