Back in 1968, Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner published a book called Teaching as a Subversive Activity. It shook schooling to its roots; in some ways it advocated chopping off the roots. Remember its location in history. The late 1960s and early 1970s in North America were a hippie heyday: Woodstock, “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” “Let it all hang out, “Have it your way,” and burn the flag.
This book blasted traditional education: lectures killed the human spirit; storing up facts was trivial; logical thinking was deadening; students’ being inactive in seats dulled minds; teachers were teaching what one could see in the rear-view mirror and not preparing students for the future…which is where they would live! The writers compared schools to prisons and factories.
This is part two of a guest blog written by CSI partner Dr. Richard Edlin, the director of Edserv International in Warrawong, Australia. What follows are discussion points for Christian schools raised by the imagination perspective presented in the earlier blog. Each point merits further discussion and critique by stakeholders in Christian school communities.
- There is such a thing as a Christian imagination. Imagination is not inherently evil; it is a part of the very character of God that he has graciously gifted to humanity. The responsibility of Christian school communities, as they nurture children with the challenge of the lordship of Christ over all creation, is to explore every subject— including the way imagination contributes to every key learning area— from a biblically faithful worldview or metanarrative perspective.
This two-part guest blog is written by CSI partner and my good friend Dr. Richard Edlin, the director of Edserv International in Warrawong, Australia.
– Joel Westa
As created beings, one of our greatest treasures, perhaps the dearest fingerprint of God in us, is our ability to imagine. But inevitably, whenever I speak about the “biblical imagination” someone will object, “Isn’t the imagination a bad thing? Doesn’t the Bible say our imaginations are evil?”
— Michael Card, Christian musician
Panval Viaduct on an Indian postage stamp
Rajaram Bojji is a former managing director of the Konkan Railway Corporation. The Konkan railway line is 738 kilometers long on India’s west coast, linking Mangalore with Mumbai, and was completed in 1998. As an engineer, Bojji oversaw the construction of many sections of the line, including the famous 424 meters long and 67 meters tall Panval Nadi Viaduct near the port city of Ratnagiri beside the Arabian Sea.
As a part of his Extreme Railways television series, Chris Tarrant travelled the Konkan railway. During the filming, he interviewed Bojji, and together they inspected the Panval Viaduct, watching as a passenger train traversed its heights. In describing the marvel of the viaduct—the largest in all of India—Bojji said to Tarrant, “There must be some kind of divine spirit that makes humans imagine and do things that look impossible.”
Decades ago, while meandering through a magazine, I stopped at a letter to the editor, entitled something like “Jigsaw Puzzle Education.” The writer was troubled at the state of education, claiming that teachers were not connecting one fact or idea to another. His analogy went something like this: teachers ask students to learn that 2 + 2 = 4, but without any reference to the broader context of life.
He said that this way of teaching is similar to asking students to connect two pieces of a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle without ever seeing the picture on the box. Two facts may connect, but for the students, it has little meaning beyond that. The writer said it would be frustrating for students, seeing no sense in learning the tidbit connection without seeing how it fits in the whole picture.
As you begin your planning for professional development and goal setting for next school year, I would like to revisit the basics of biblical worldview. I invite all of you to assess your school in at least two important areas: to what extent do you intend to integrate worldview principles into your practice, and to what extent are you actually doing so?
A few weeks ago, when we were celebrating our family advent time and had lit the candle of hope, we all shared something that gives us hope. One of my daughters said, “Going to church gives me hope, because it makes me feel that I’m not alone in trying to follow Jesus. We’re all in this together with other people trying to do the same thing.” That statement has stuck with me and taken my mind and heart in all sorts of reflective directions. I’d like to share with you the strongest one:
I see my journey of faith as a grand adventure, the kind of adventure that will entail all sorts of unexpected mini adventures along the way: new awakenings of grace and wonder and times of distance and quiet that require a deep faith to move through. And all the while this deep hope of my place in the Christ story is centering the day-to-day of my life and calling me further on the adventure. All of that said, it may come as no surprise that I love J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I guess I see myself as a bit of a Bilbo Baggins, called (maybe even cajoled: “I don’t want any adventures. Not today. Thank you…”) to a grand journey with a grand goal when large parts of me would rather just stay in a place of comfort in my hobbit hole (suburban house, couch, fireplace, big screen TV, dark ale…you get the picture).
The 30-second ad showed a dad washing his car while his young son imitated him: soaping when the dad soaped, spraying when the dad sprayed, drying when the dad dried. Then dad sat down and leaned again a tire; so did the son. The dad pulled out a cigarette and lit it; the son took one and put it in his mouth. End of ad.
I recall this ad every time I think about the gap (sometime a chasm) between my preaching and practice in a Christian high school. Sponsored by the Mormon Church, the ad depicted how imitation is a powerful tool for learning, both for good and for ill. These days we use the term “follower” as a negative, e.g., “He’s just a follower,” like a student who follows the leader of a social group into trouble. Ralph Waldo Emerson, an America writer who celebrated “self,” said, “Imitation is suicide.” Likewise, Samuel Johnson claimed, “No man was ever great by imitation.” In education, imitation is in a recession; what’s taken its place is innovation, originality, and creativity. For the proponents, imitation is lazy, restricting, and deadening.
The comparison of a retailer and an educational institution may seem a bit strange. However, they have a lot in common, and there are some clear corollaries that can be instructive when considering the challenges and changes facing both sectors.
A quiz for leaders: multiple choice. Which one of these comparisons best captures your view of all children? A child is
- An empty bucket that needs to be filled with the water of knowledge.
- A cocoon wrapped in layers of blankets from which will emerge a butterfly.
- A diamond in the rough, flawed by sin and polished by grace and God’s hand to shine.
- A sheep that needs fences and shepherds to live well.
- A bulb that will become a beautiful flower if not stifled by “correction.”
“Some of the above” may be an option. However, almost all Christian schools, primarily through their leaders, develop programs (curricula) that emphasize one of these models more than others. In my experience (reading, watching, listening), most schools tend toward one of the following three notions about children.
You are likely familiar with the story of two bricklayers working on a large building. When each was asked what he was doing, one replied, “Just laying bricks.” The other said, “I am building a cathedral!” For leaders in Christian education, much of our work seems a lot like the first bricklayer’s. We may tend to focus on the means to the end, not the end itself.
It’s a matter of perspective, at least in part. Let me argue, however, that cathedral building is not simply a matter of how we perceive our work or its purpose. Often it is a matter of doing the proactive and intentional hard work of focusing on the end result, on our mission, on our reason for being.