My Teaching Ministry–Part II

Yesterday, I wrote about how I, much to my amazement, found myself becoming a teacher. As headmaster of a new Christian school in the late 1970s, I had both administrative and teaching responsibilities. I found out, though, that I had a lot to learn about real education.

We started that first year with a prepackaged program called Accelerated Christian Education (ACE). It made education “easy.” Students sat in their cubicles and filled out workbooks. They would then take exams at the end. If they passed, they went on to the next workbook. The teacher’s role was limited; he/she was perceived as little more than a facilitator, answering questions if the students ran into difficulty in the workbooks. The learning atmosphere was sterile, and as I think back on it now, I see that students were treated as little more than “units” in a cubicled classroom, cut off from one another.

At this juncture, we were introduced to an organization called The Foundation for American Christian Education, which was at that time located in San Francisco. I went to its training sessions and learned some valuable lessons on how to approach education both Biblically and philosophically. While it would take too long to explain all the facets of this organization’s philosophy of education, the key precepts can be
summarized by the Four R’s:

  • Research: diligently search the Scriptures for general principles that can be applied to all subjects; find sources for your subject from which you can develop your own curriculum so that you are not limited to what one particular textbook might say; make sure students are required to do their own independent research projects.
  • Reason: think through the linkage of those Biblical principles to your subject; use those principles as the basis for how you want your students to approach the subject; help them reason Biblically about the subject matter rather than simply learning isolated facts; provide assignments that aid in developing the students’ ability to think Biblically.
  • Relate: one must go beyond comprehension of a subject to how it is applied to life; everything we learn from a Biblical perspective has some application to the way we should live; many have knowledge, some have understanding, but few have wisdom; develop assignments that will guide students to the wisdom level.
  • Record: both teachers and students should keep a record of what they have learned so they can use it as a reference later; it would be a waste to go through these first three steps and not record the results; both teachers and students should build their own notebooks—portfolios would be the more trendy term nowadays—so they can always go back and review, as well as use what they have gained for future endeavors; this is particularly important for those who will choose to teach.

The short name for this philosophy is The Principle Approach. These concepts revolutionized my teaching as I incorporated them into my classes. I sought to ensure that Biblical principles became the foundation for all that I taught. These precepts continue to guide my thinking as to what constitutes genuine, effective education. I have little regard for standardized textbooks and use none in my courses. I develop all courses from my own research. My PowerPoints are not merely lists of information, but creative spurs to reflective thinking, and I have never used multiple-choice, true-false, or matching exams. In one way or another, I want students to write out what they have learned. The essay format, in my estimation, is the best method for leading students into thinking from a Biblically principled foundation. Essay exams require that students explain, thereby providing greater evidence of what they have learned through the connections they can make with the information they have received. I also try to tailor papers along that line, some devoted to research, others to help guide thinking via principles, and others to make application to life.

I must also insert here what may be perhaps the greatest lesson I took away from The Principle Approach: the goal is to inspire students with a love of learning. If you can create a hunger and thirst for knowledge from a Biblical basis, you have achieved what God seeks in the lives of your students.

After teaching these principles for a number of years, I decided to put them in book format, in what I hoped would be a primer and guide for Christians who seek to make Biblical principles the grid through which they view all of life. It’s a self-published book [frowned upon by academics], but it’s in its fourth edition and has sold, over time, a few thousand. I continue to receive feedback from new readers who say it has put things into perspective for them. It is available via Amazon, if you are interested in knowing more about these principles.

I transitioned from that Christian school to earning a doctorate in history, which then opened up opportunities to teach at the college/university level. More on that tomorrow.