Exploring a key teaching and learning issue

The Christian teacher in a secular religious school

By Kwemoi Kamary

Definition of the issue:

The issue of the Christian teacher in a secular school has to do with the involvement of a teacher who professes faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (a Christian), working in a school where Christian faith commitment is considered as either to have no influence in the affairs of the school or is non-existent. In such a context, there is high probability of varying, and sometimes conflicting ways of seeing and being in the world –worldview.

The issue of the Christian teacher in a secular school is significant issue in the 21st century because of the existence of the myth of neutrality among many teachers including those who are Christians. According to the contemporary postmodernism worldview, truth cannot be known. Also, in postmodernism, tolerance, pluralism and unity in multicultural societies is encouraged. But from a Christian perspective of a Christian teacher
, there is no religious neutrality in education (Edlin, 1999). The schools that consider themselves secular also have a worldview imbedded in its education system that not only informs, but also forms students.

The issue is also important because these existing worldviews may contradict that of the Christian teacher and his or her students as well. Characteristics of the contemporary worldviews in a secular school are reflected through the school’s way of doing things; its mission and vision; textbooks; curriculum and governing policies. How the Christian teacher, for instance, responds to the government school system, secularism, rationality, human goodness, freedom of association, autonomy, homosexuality, consumerism and war, would be different with other beliefs held by non-Christian teachers. Understanding how to respond to these issues in the 21st century is vital for any Christian teacher in a secular school.

  1. i. Dualism

Dualism is an approach to life which suggests that there are two ways seeing and being in the world, that is, sacred (ideal) and secular (natural). Plato is regarded as the father of modern dualism and was the centre of Greek thought (Edlin, 2009). In his thought, Plato emphasized the “spiritual world” over the secular one and those religious issues have nothing to do with things of this world including education. Dualism permeated the Western world and many parts of the world impacting the structure of education and schooling systems.

Dualism and the myth of neutrality have caused many people to think that things are just the way they are in a natural away free from philosophical assumptions. For instance, a secular school may see itself as neutral from religious commitment just because religious terms are not used and rituals are not observed. From this point of view, schooling is a neutral process and has nothing to do with the sacred realm.

  1. ii. Economic rationalism and commodification

Economic rationalism has led to commodification of education, that is, seeing the educational process as primarily leading to the production of labor as human capital for the economy (Hill, 2004) or a school being turned into a value or commodity producing enterprises (Rikowski, 2003). From this perspective, learning institutions are primarily seen as build on capitalist model of accumulation and education as commodity to be delivered merely cognitive beings. This approach of seeing students as empty vessels to be controlled by specific outcomes was fronted by developmental Psychologist Jean Piaget

iii revisionism..

Revisionism is the advocacy of the revision or alteration of an accepted, usually long-standing view, theory, or doctrine, especially a revision of historical events and movements (Dictionary.com). Owing to the various life views that exist in the 21st century, a particular group of people with a particular agenda may advocate them through textbooks by changing history in favor of their position. A Christian teacher in a secular school is likely to experience revisionism through school resources whose factual credibility has been tampered with. He or she therefore finds it challenging to work this environment and with tools with error from a Christian perspective.

Iv Rational objectivism and radical relativism

Contemporary postmodernism worldview especially in the Western education has two distinct characteristics: rational objectivism with its prominence stretching back to the Age of Modernism and radical relativism. In rational objectivism, education can be religiously neutral.

On the other hand, radical relativism is a view prominent in post-modernity and holds that truth cannot be known. Also, “there is no fixed point of reference within postmodern worldview” (Sampson, 1997 p. 39). From this perspective, since views on reality have been shaped largely by personal experience and by the arbitrary influence of one’s own history, society and culture, all points of view are alike subjective, and objective knowledge is an impossibility (Edlin, 2009).

Critique this worldview from a Biblical perspective

From a Christian perspective, there is no neutrality. All of life including education is a reflection of a faith commitment. For a Christian teacher, education starts from, and points at God. Education, whether in a religious or secular school is a formative rather than informative and aa holistic endeavor that involves the whole person and aims the core desires, primes and imagination (Smith 2009). In Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, Edlin (2009) asserts that it is a matter of the heart rather than mind though human knowledge is always shaped to some extent by human subjectivity.

A Christian worldview rejects Dualism. Dualism proposes two ways seeing and being in the world and that matters relating to faith, opinion and emotion are subjective and not based on facts and therefore exist in the sphere of individual conviction and personal belief (Edlin, 2009). That these are “sacred” issues with miniature place in the public milieu, while “secular” matters are those that science, observation and rationality can measure objectively as truth or false through scientific investigation. On the other hand, scripturally informed worldview takes a cosmogony perspective (Forsythe, 1991), in that the authority of God takes supreme over everything else (Wolters and Goheen, 2005); “over public opinion, over education, over child-rearing, over the media, and… all the powerful agencies in our culture by which our worldview is constantly being shaped” (p. 7). A Christian worldview also rejects, as a myth, the dualistic notion of neutrality proposes a Christian teacher’s responsibility of passing on the knowledge and philosophical constructs based on the authority of Scripture in all aspects of life.

From a Christian worldview perspective, teaching and learning begin and point to God. A Christian teacher can view education as a vital part of economic productivity but this productivity should not be the primary goal of education process To a Christian teacher in a secular school, his or her role is to engage culture truthfully and seeking the welfare of the school he or she works in. From a Christian worldview perspective, the Christian teacher recognizes that the world and all therein is a victim of the fall and in need of redemption. He or she therefore is tasked to bear the truth, who is Jesus Christ and therefore all his or her engagement are to be brought under the Lordship of Christ. From this point of view, the Christian teacher recognizes his or her colleagues as image bearers of God (Genesis 1.26-27), and seek to share the message of the Gospel with them.

From a Christian point of view, school resources are also fallen and should be critiqued in the light of the Scriptures. Revisionism for selfish interest is therefore unchristian. For a Christian teacher, truth is absolute and he is Jesus Christ. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

From a Christian worldview perspective, the subjectivity that informs scholarship is, at its deepest level, religious in nature. That is, the paradigms and worldviews that mould theoretical thought have not merely evolved to maturity under historical, social, and cultural influences. Paradigms and worldviews are the product of that fundamental and directing power of the religious impulse which lies at the very heart of humankind as Apostle Paul asserts in his sermon in Athens recorded in Acts 17. Religion is not merely one more element of human subjectivity standing alongside all the others; it is what shapes and moves them all.

Christian worldview perspective also rejects the relativism that can rise from paying inordinate attention to the subjective elements in human knowledge and knowing. We believe that there is a given order of creation that can be known, and that we are called in our scholarly work to give a faithful account of what we can perceive of that order. Though our knowing never occurs in a vacuum, and though our knowledge is always partial and imperfect (epistemic humility), genuine insight into the order of what has been can be achieved when perceived from a biblically faithful worldview perspective (Edlin, 2009 pp. 4, 5).

List of reference

Journalism. (2009). In Dictionary.com. Retrieved Novemeber 3, 2009, from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/journalism

Couldry, N. (2000a). The Place of media power: pilgrims and witnesses of the media age. London: Routledge.

Lum, Lydia. (2004, July). Black issues in higher education: cross-teaching funture journalism , pp. 20-22.

Oraro, K. (2009, July 20). The media is not innocent. Retrieved November 2, 2009, from Nation Media Group: http://www.ipsnews.net/africa/nota.asp?idnews=41049

Vygotsky, Lev. (1934). Thinking and speaking. Retrieved Novemeber 3, 2009, from http://www.marxists.org/archive/vygotsky/works/words/vygotsky.htm

Taylor, P. & Harris, J. (2008). Critical theories of mass media: then and now. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Moll, L. (Ed.). (1990). Vygotsky and education: instructional implications and applications of sociohistorical psychology. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Opiyo, Peter. (2009, January 24). Media most trusted institution in Kenya: Media Trust. The Standard Newspaper.

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