Summing Up: The Big Picture of a Christ-Centered School

Summing Up: The Big Picture of a Christ-Centered School

Summing Up: The Big Picture of a Christ-Centered School.

Christ in the Center. “Jesus existed before time, matter and space. Everything was brought into being through him, and in him everything continues to exist, held together by him alone. He is the upholding principle of the whole scheme of creation, and in union with him all things find their proper place. Yes, Jesus holds it all together. And with Christ in the center, all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe, people and things, animals and atoms, get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmony.” (Colossians 1:6-7, MSG).

(1.) The Pedagogy of Love: Love is the chief distinctive of the Christian school’s mission and culture.

a.  “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.” (Galatians 4:6).

b. “I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.” (Wendell Berry).

c. “Active, genuine love is proof that we belong to the truth.” (1 John 3:19).

d. What could be more revolutionary than an educational program based on Love-Across-the-Curriculum? For, without love, Christian teaching is no better than a screeching playground whistle and amounts to empty noise. Without love, a Christian school achieves nothing eternally worthwhile. A Christ-centered school is a place where students love to learn and learn to love.

(2.) More Than Meets the Eye: A school of faith fixes its eyes on the unseen.

a. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know. Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7).

b. “In the life of the gospel, everything originates in and depends on what we cannot see and is worked out in what we can see.” (E. Peterson).

c. “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see… By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see.”  (Hebrews 11:1, 3).

d. “In this age, there is as much idolatry of intellect as there is of money – and the one is as much idolatry as the other.” (George MacDonald).

e. If tangible goals become ends in themselves, the unseen foundation crumbles. When a school is founded solely on the tangibles, education becomes a mere idol, knowledge becomes a futile “gathering of treasures,” and our Christian goals move from the unseen (in which we bear God’s image) to the seen (in which we make our own image).

f. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18).

g. “It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going.” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

(3.) Come Together: True learning is communal, personal, and relational.

a. “All of us together are smarter than any of us alone. A community of truth has pedagogical power because it allows students to do their learning together. Though we persist in believing that competition is the best way to motivate people to learn, students are far more motivated by the fact that their individual learning enables them to contribute to communal inquiry. Learning together also offers them a chance to look at reality through the eyes of others, instead of forcing them to process everything through their own limited vision.” (Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach).

b. “We are inescapably communal creatures. We are made in the image of a Trinitarian, communal God. We live and have our being in community.” (Rodney Clapp, A Peculiar People).

c. “The whole history of humanity has been corrupted, has been broken, because Adam conceived a false notion of God. He thought God was an independent, self-sufficient being, and in order to become like Him, he rebelled and disobeyed. He entrenched himself in solitude, while God was but a communion… God does not live alone. He exists only in relation. He needed to be several to be God. He needed to be several to be love.” (Louis Evely, We Dare To Say Our Father).

d. Distance learning is an oxymoron. True learning involves relationship, flesh and blood people, is up close and personal, and is not conducted by screens or mediated by technology. True learning is warm-blooded and incarnational.

e. “The first sin of a community is to turn its eyes from the One who called it to life. The second sin is to find itself beautiful and to believe itself to be a source of life. It if does this, it turns away from God and begins to compromise with society and the world. Communities which have set aside the inspiration of God to rely on their own power should know how to return humbly to demand His forgiveness.” (Jean Vanier, Community and Growth: Our Pilgrimage Together).

(4). Welcoming the Excluded: How schools can join the Jesus story.  

a. “Only when we do the Jesus truth in the Jesus way do we get the Jesus life. It is easier to talk about what Christians believe, the truth of the gospel formulated in doctrines and creeds. And it is easier to talk about what Christians do, the behavior that is appropriate to followers of Jesus, life as performance. But what tops the agenda for me is the Christian life as lived, lived with this sense of congruence between who Christ is and who I am. Christ is the way as well as the truth and the life. When we don’t do it His way, we mess up the truth and we miss out on the life.”  (Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places).

b. The narrative of Jesus’ story, the gospel momentum, is inclusive. Jesus’ life story on planet earth centered on the underdog; the riff-raff; the down-and-out; the misfits and outcasts; the excluded and rejected; the disadvantaged; those who needed an advocate; the marginalized; those who faced hurdles in life. In the spirit of “downward mobility” (Henri Nouwen), Jesus’ heart was magnanimous, oriented to “the least, the lost, and the left-out.” (Joel Green).

c. Wherever we go as Christians, whatever our calling or workplace, including education, we take the Jesus heart and mind with us. Our inclination will be to include, and our new natural desire will be to identify with those who are needy. We will reflexively say things like, Come to us, you who are academic misfits and find life in school burdensome. Let’s see if we can help. If we can’t do this, we’ll help you find someone who can. I’m sorry, but we aren’t equipped to serve you in the way you deserve.

d. “The greatest thing any person can do for another is to confirm the deepest thing in him or her – to take the time and have the discernment to see what is most deeply there inside, most fully that person, and then confirm it by recognizing and encouraging it.” (Martin Buber).

e. Yes, there is a price to pay for inclusive classrooms with a wide profile of educable students, whether with learning differences or health needs. It is hard work for a teacher to constantly enlarge the bag of tricks, to be inconvenienced, to do more research and training, to move outside a comfort zone, to be open to new challenges and vulnerabilities. And yet, this is the Jesus story, the gospel narrative. If we don’t do school the Jesus way, we will lose his truth and his life as well.

(5.) Words to the Wise: The goal of learning is wisdom and understanding.

a. “O come, thou Wisdom from on high. Who ord-‘rest all thing mightily. To us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.”  (O Come Emmanuel,” c. 9th century).

b. “Indeed, Wisdom shares the secrets of God’s knowledge, and she chooses what He will do. If in this life wealth is a desirable possession, what is more wealthy than Wisdom whose work is everywhere? Or if it be the intellect that is at work, whom more than she, who designs whatever exists? Or if it be uprightness you love, why, virtues are the fruit of her labors, since it is she who teaches temperance and prudence, justice and fortitude; nothing in life is more useful for human beings than
Wisdom.”
  (Book of Wisdom 8:4-8, NJB).

c. “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”  (T.S. Eliot, The Rock).

d. Wisdom: the practical art of living skillfully; moral understanding; practicing the truth in daily life; astute discernment; shrewd insight; using knowledge to make good decisions and to understand the world; a unified lifestyle of hearing and doing the Word.

e. Wisdom is not a mere accumulation of information, or the achieving of a high degree of self-advancement. Wisdom is not dependent on raw competence or intellectual giftedness. Understanding is not merely memorizing, or parroting back what the teacher wants to hear. Wisdom and understanding is the goal of education, not academic achievement, personal success, or school pride.

f. “By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations; by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.” (Proverbs 3: 19-20).

g. “Be clever as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16).

h. “The Lord will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation, wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.” (Isaiah 33:6).

(6.) Hard Work with a Light Spirit: On school as a craftsman’s workshop and a learner’s playground.

a. “The life of God is simultaneously work and rest, because all God does, working and resting, He does with the majestic ease of play.” (Augustine, Confessions).

b. “Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? You who are simple, gain prudence; you who are foolish, gain understanding… I was there when Yahweh set the heavens in place… when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.”  (Proverbs 8:1, 5, 27-31).

c. “Salvation must mean, in part, the marriage, or rather the remarriage, of work and play. And if we are already privy to foretastes of the Kingdom here and now, then signs of its fruition must appear in playful, felicitous labor.”  (Eugene McCarraher).

d. “It’s as if the Divine Majesty took delight to hide His works, in order to have them found out; and as if kings could not have a greater honor than to be God’s play-fellows in that game.” (Francis Bacon).

e. “It is not only possible to say a great deal in praise of play, it is really possible to say the highest things in praise of it. It might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task-garden; heaven is a playground.” (G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy).

f. A craftsman’s workshop is a disciplined, systematic approach to the art and craft of learning. Each student is an apprentice learner, and each teacher is a master learner. The goal is to acquire the basic tools of learning and to learn useful and inspiring knowledge.

g. A learner’s playground implies a joyful, focused and unhurried school culture, enabling each student to taste the delightful satisfaction of work well done. The classrooms encourage progress, not perfection, in a spirit of exploration and discovery. The school employs a rich, inspirational, creative curriculum, and provides time for physical exercise and play.

(7.) A Children’s Museum: In light of human nature, learning is holistic, multi-sensory, and experiential.

a. Consider the teaching tactics of Moses, as given by Yahweh: eating and fasting; listening and asking; smelling and seeing; reading and writing; touching and tasting; memorizing and discussing; stories and object lessons; imagining and symbolizing; practicing and experiencing.

b. “Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night; Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-9).

c. “Museums build on the best features of the intuitive learner… naturally curious, resourceful, integrating, adventuresome, energetic, imaginative, creative, and multi-sensory. (Howard Gardner, Harvard professor).

d. Imagine that every day at school a student took a trip to a museum (a Latin term meaning “a place for learned occupation“). The teacher would be the docent (Latin for “teacher“), and each student was the participant. The teacher would aim to provide a stimulating, thoughtful, multi-sensory learning atmosphere that was created solely to inspire students to learn. The students would accept the invitation to use their natural curiosity to explore and to experience the knowledge as creatively presented. The classroom would be dynamic, and the teacher would be a dynamo of learning. A museum-like element in the classroom can provide: meaningful projects culminating in satisfying final products to show what was learned; individual and group activities to learn a content area or skill; a variety of methods to make learning accessible to everyone, such as story, logic, games, first-hand experiences, discussions, demonstrations. Teachers and students, go in the construction business… build a museum.

e. “The special gifts of childhood are a tireless curiosity; a taste for marvel and adventure; a readiness to wonder, pity and admire; an intense imagination.” (C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy).

(8.) Connecting the Dots: In light of created reality, learning is integral, coherent, and contextual.

a. “Everything has been sundered from everything else, and everything has grown cold. This world is all one wild divorce court… Even now the color of a pebble, the smell of a flower, comes to our hearts with a kind of authority and certainty; as if they were fragments of a muddled message, or features of a forgotten face. To pour that fiery simplicity upon the whole of life is the only real aim of education.”  (G. K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World).

b. “Perhaps the most important contribution schools can make to the education of our youth is to give them a sense of coherence in their studies, a sense of purpose, meaning, and interconnectedness in what they learn. Modern education is failing because it has no moral, social or intellectual center.” (Neil Postman, Technopoly).

c. “Everything, I am profoundly convinced, is connected with everything else; the universe, my life, the past, the future, all this is a oneness, in which each part bears a relation to each other part. I see in the world, this phenomenal world, in nature, in the achievements of mankind, in myself, I see this mysterious connection, this oneness. There is nothing you can explore in all the universe which is not related to everything else.” (Malcom Muggeridge).

d. As impossible as this actually is, God’s eternal qualities have often been simplified to the Three Transcendents: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Since we have been made in God’s image, and we have the divine breath in us, transforming us through the Holy Spirit, we human beings need to focus on and grow in those same three qualities. Holding up the roof of love in a Christ-centered school are those three pillars: the pillar of truth, thus it is important that a school train each student’s intellect to think clearly; the pillar of goodness, with the school nurturing integrity in its students; and the pillar of beauty, putting the responsibility on the school to inspire the imagination of each student. If the Christian school is to embrace the wholeness of its students and reflect the very nature of the Lord, it is vital that they train the intellect, nurture character and integrity, and inspire the imagination.

One Reply to “Summing Up: The Big Picture of a Christ-Centered School”

  1. This is magnificent, Steve. I know it’s a culmination of all the hours, days and years of your thinking deeply along with many deep thinkers ( the quotes reflect this so beautifully)
    to capture the true essence of Christ centered education. I hope this masterpiece will have a much broader audience than your blog followers.

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