Well, I'm excited to be diving into this book. I've heard it mentioned here and there over the past year and had the sense I should add it to my list of books to be read. Then when Brandy quoted it here, I had a major "aha" moment (more on that in a minute) and bumped it up on my list of reading priorities. When Mystie announced the book club, that just sealed the deal. So here I am. Right up front, I'm going to be honest and say I may not manage a post every single week. My blogging life ebbs and flows with my real life. J But, I will be reading along and hope to chime in with some thoughts here and there when I can.
Let me give you a little bit of background to start with: I am a teacher. I have a degree in elementary education from a Christian university. I taught for 4 years in a Christian international school for missionary children. And I am now a homeschooling mother of three, doing homeschool evaluations and consulting as part of a co-op program/umbrella school for missionary children in a different setting. Given that my entire adult life has been spent involved to some extent in the field of Christian education, it's something that is a passion and interest of mine.
For a long time – going all the way back to my classroom teaching days - there has been something about Christian education as it is typically practiced that didn't sit quite right with me. I've never cared for most of the specifically Christian textbook/workbook scripted-type curriculums, as they seemed kind of forced and shallow to me. The international school where I taught used mostly secular curriculum, with the caveat that we as Christian teachers were to provide the Christian focus by presenting the material from a Christian worldview. This was a better approach, I thought, but I still struggled with how to do it authentically. Years later when I started looking into homeschooling methods and came across Charlotte Mason, I appreciated her holistic view of education, but still couldn't really articulate what made that *better* than the way I was trained to teach.
It wasn't until I read the aforementioned post by Brandy that I was able to put my finger on what has always bothered me. She quotes Smith when he says in this introduction: "Behind every pedagogy is a philosophical anthropology." In other words, HOW we teach is (or at least should be) informed by what we fundamentally believe about the nature of people. Charlotte Mason tells us that children are born persons, created in the image of God, able to think and reason and feel and love, as opposed to rational animals that are mere sacs for information. I think pretty much ALL Christian educators would agree with this assessment. And yet so much of 'Christian' educational practice doesn't reflect this. We slap a Christian veneer on modern educational methods that actually reflect the latter anthropology. There is a disconnect. I don't think this is necessarily intentional on the part of Christian educators - I think it is more a matter of never having really thought about it. I know I never really did.
This is the question that Smith sets forth in his introduction: What *is* a distinctively Christian education? He contends that it goes further than simply teaching students to think from a Christian worldview, but that it is about the formation of whole people – not just their minds, but also their hearts and desires:
"...how we think about distinctly Christian education would not be primarily a matter of sorting out which Christian ideas to drop into eager and willing mind-receptacles; rather, it would become a matter of thinking about how a Christian education shapes us, forms us, molds us to be a certain kind of people whose hearts and passions and desires are aimed at the kingdom of God."
He goes on to pose other questions: What practices will effect this type of transformation? What should our educational practices look like if they are going to be an effective counter-formation to the allure of the world? What sorts of habits will be fostered by the rhythms and rituals of our lives? "Could we offer a Christian education that is loaded with all sorts of Christian ideas and information – and yet be offering a formation that runs counter to that vision?"
Smith puts forth the proposal that our educational practices should be founded in the practices of Christian worship. We need to think beyond the realm of intellect and recognize "education" is "formation" that takes place everywhere – not just in school - and involves our whole bodies and all of our senses - not just our minds. Environment and habits also play a role (hmm, sounds like what Charlotte is always trying to tell us!):
"…we need to adopt a paradigm of cultural critique and discernment that thinks even deeper than beliefs or worldviews and takes seriously the cultural role of formative practices – or what I'll describe in this book as liturgies."
Education – formation – must address the whole person in order to be truly effective. It must speak to our hearts and not just our minds:
"Being a disciple of Jesus is not primarily a matter of getting the right ideas and doctrines and beliefs into your head in order guarantee proper behavior; rather, it's a matter of being the kind of person who loves rightly – who loves God and neighbor and is oriented to the world by the primacy of that love. We are made to be such people by our immersion in the material practices of Christian worship – through affective impact, over time, of sights and smell in water and wine."
I'm looking forward to seeing how he unpacks these ideas.