Echoing Jesus in Thought, Word, and Deed
By Jim Favino, Upper School English Department Chair
Curriculum comes from the Latin word for “course,” or the mapped out race track between the starting point and the finish line. Like the race track, early scholars understood education as the thought process between a student’s starting point (their presuppositions) and ending point (the actions they would take). If we understand education to be defined by our foundational beliefs and the actions that are a result of those specific beliefs, then we see Christian education as a very different thing than secular education.
It should be noted that Christian education is not necessarily taught at a school that has “Christian” in its name, or in its core values, or has a required Bible class or has a chapel somewhere on campus. It is possible for a Christian-named school to be no more Christian than a secular school; a school can only be understood to be more or less Christian as it teaches and lives out its Christian ideals.
AUTHENTIC CHRISTIAN EDUCATION
My own introduction to a Christian education began the day my parents dropped me off at the Stony Brook School on Long Island, New York, for the second semester of my junior year. On that day, I met my new dorm master. We were not particularly alike: I played football and wrestled. He coached tennis. We were not particularly close while I was a student, in part because he was my dorm master and I was initially a troublemaker. At times, I imagine he may have been relieved if I had not returned after one of our breaks.
Although I have only seen him on rare occasions over the last 20 years, he is a titan in my life who I could never shake off if I would want to. It was his desire to engage me as a young man, his willingness to forgive me for my faults, his cheerful spirit, his eye for detail and insistence on accuracy, and his reliance on the Lord in the everyday happenings of life that I remembered when I left high school, and these qualities are now what I try to reflect as a teacher. He was not the only teacher who had such a moving impact on me, there were many. That was my experience: the men and women I met at that Christian school challenged me every day to consider who I served and why I did what I did. This was something that I had not experienced before.
The Educational Component of Christian Teaching
John H. Westerhoff III once quoted Tertullian’s maximum, “Christians are made (fashioned) not born!”
Westerhoff went on to say: “When asked how Christians are fashioned, the early church answered through catechesis. ‘Catechesis’ is a Greek word which literally means ‘to echo.’ When the Christians used it they meant to echo the Word, and the Word as a person, Jesus.” The idea of teaching the “echoing” of Jesus is understood in our evangelical churches but not so much in our thinking when it comes to education. It is essential for students to see and practice the Christian faith as it is applied to everyday life (at school). The absence of experiencing Christian application in their everyday life leaves many students with a dualistic world view; they associate Christianity with Bible study, church, and missions, and leave work, entertainment, and socialization to secular and cultural norms. It is true that more is caught than taught. This is why a student’s teachers ARE the lesson. The greatest lesson that we will ever teach is how we think, articulate, and respond to what we are confronted with in our daily lives.
Westerhoff went on to say that Christian teaching not only was about formation but also “education.” Education involves critical reflection on every aspect of our life in the light of the Gospel. It is a reforming process that assumes and necessitates growth and change. Many times people confuse education with “learning facts.” It is true that many facts and processes should be known, however, this is not education. Education is knowing what to do with facts: how to interact with them and where to apply these facts and processes in an ethical way. To do this, two truths are essential to the believer: evil exists and Truth can be known. If evil and Truth are only cultural constructions, then truthfully, Nietzsche was right and all we need to know is how to acquire for ourselves the most power for the longest possible time.
In the scheme of life, man is not measured by the amount of information he has acquired but rather by the actions that he takes - and actions are inherently moral. Because education is moral it should not be done sloppily, half-heartedly, or with an eye to protect personal idols. Christian education does not look to see what it can do for oneself but always looks outwardly, away from oneself: the doctor is to heal the sick, the judge is to procure justice for the oppressed, the builder is to construct usable space for people, the policeman to protect the innocent, the industrialist to create necessary products for his customer and by doing so, jobs for his employees. All jobs may have financial benefits and provide comforts, but the jobs themselves by nature are about the support and care of others. None of them are self-focused; all of them require daily ethical and moral decisions, making them impossible to do well without a deep-rooted, disciplined, encouraged and cultivated faith.
Christians believe that humans can engage the world by general revelation found in the material world and special revelation found in the word of God. This being true, ignoring what can be known or misapplying its principles can have catastrophic consequences. For the Christian then, good research and understanding is a necessity. Christian study should seek to understand Truth free of personal preference and advantage. This takes honesty, courage, humility, and a great deal of hard work. Its expectations for quality, accuracy, and depth should be high. The student’s work should be a spiritual activity because it’s a means of knowing and worshiping God. Being a Christian student is not someone who does perceivably “good” things, but one who understands the real consequences of their actions, and then acts in a way that will bring true help and relief to those around them.
As an older parent with grown children, my advice to younger families would be to put their children in situations where Christian role models will interact with them on a daily basis, where God’s word is integrated into their lives on a daily basis, where failure is seen as a primary step to change, and where the world is seen as a created place that we can navigate through honest observation, truth seeking, and precision of method.