Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Bible and the task of teaching, chapter 4

I'm continuing my discussion of this book by David I. Smith and John Shortt because I'm almost certain that few people are going to order or read it, and I think their ideas are worthy of being discussed among Christian educators--both homeschoolers and those involved with Christian schools.

The opening sentence of chapter 4 echoes the concerns of classical education from Plato to David Hicks (author of Norms & Nobility). "Is virtue necessary to learning?" Although classical education as such is never mentioned in this book, I find it intriguing that the Biblical approach to education is similar.

Schwen argues that we should understand learning itself as in part a moral affair, and not simply a matter of technique or cognitive processes. Learning, he argues, "depends not simply upon the possession of certain cognitive skills but also upon the possession of moral dispositions or virtues that enable inquiry to proceed." We should not therefore think of virtue as something added to learning in the form of character education, but rather as something intrinsic to learning."

And what virtue is requisite to learning--particularly to "inquiry"?



This basic virtue is essential to true classical education, and I suppose it should not be surprising to find that a Biblical approach to education requires it as well. Humility is essential to inquiry and knowledge, because the learner must admit that he does not know something, that he needs to be taught, that someone else may know more than he does, and that such a person should be attended to. Without such humility, our minds are closed.

There is much more in the chapter, of course, as the authors follow a line of reasoning that links virtues in education to the development of Christian propositions in every area of study. The previous chapter focused on Christian living, while this chapter is devoted to a discussion of Christian thinking. From a practical point of view, I like the way this chapter defines different aspects of educational thinking.

In sum, then, procedures are individual actions in the classroom, designs are repeatable patterns in the way teaching takes place, and approaches are the background beliefs, orientations, and commitments which give rise to one pattern rather than another.

Not all of the fundamental background beliefs can be proven logically, but those assumptions that we accept, on faith, as it were, underlie our approach. At the same time, the procedures and designs form the actual method by which we attempt to accomplish our beliefs in a practical way.


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