Education for Human Flourishing 2

IVP is publishing a series of books designed to help college students in a variety of disciplines integrate a Christian worldview into their approach to their discipline.

The first book in this series is by Paul Spears and Steven Loomis entitled  Education for Human Flourishing: A Christian Perspective. This book addresses the question of the integration of a Christian worldview with education and the philosophy of education. The book is directed toward K-12 teaching in particular, but can also apply to higher education.

Today I would like to focus on two questions – coming in part from the material in this book, in part from some of the discussion we have had on this blog in other contexts, and in part from my own experience.

What is the purpose and product of education?

What difference does a Christian world view make to the practice and purpose of education?

Scot has written here on the importance of an outcome based approach to education – in the University and in the Church. Certainly any instructor should have a clear view of the desired outcomes – otherwise the course is likely to resemble a meander to nowhere. But the  institutional (or governmental) imposition of external targets or outcomes seems too rigid – and standardized; or at least to be prone to the error of rigid standardization – a technical view of education.

Spears and Loomis spend a good deal of space in their book exploring the economy of information and the impact that this has on the social institutions of education. There is an emphasis on credentialing and standardization in a technical model of education popular today. The technical model streamlines production, works on economies of scale, decreases unpredictability, sets measurable targets and evaluates success in attaining the targets.

But this model loses sight of the student – teacher relationship, the importance and uniqueness of individuals.

Developing a student’s capacities, teaching for communion as opposed to compulsion, creating an atmosphere of genuine inclusion between educator and student – all of these have become problematic in today’s technical model of education. The institutional structure and environment does not easily support the development of capacity in communion. (p. 133)

In a later section they suggest that part of the problem is a tendency to look on “the teacher as technician and the student as commodity or product, essentially the raw material that is acted on and conditioned in behavioristic fashion.” Education is reduced to human capital development.

Consumerism – a variant in the technical view. In higher education this view of education often couples with the view of student as consumer. Colleges, by this definition, sell  information, credentials, and career advancement. This is a poor substitute for real education. This is a trend that concerns many educators. I have a colleague recently selected as the 2009 Carnegie Foundation Professor of the Year for Doctoral and Research Universities. In his acceptance speech he said that:

Educators should not only teach the examples, but also understand that they teach by example. The fact is: long after the details of “the stuff’ are gone, lessons that matter can linger and cling: the development of intellectual character, moral citizenship, interpersonal respect, mentorship, and leadership.


… the consumerist mindset drives a wedge between students and their fundamental interactions with each other, with professors, and with the outcomes from an authentic education.

Education is about humanness – it is about making peers out of students. Colleges and Universities don’t provide information – they produce creative, thinking, persons. The single most important factor in this process is relationship – the relationship between students and professors as people and the relationships amongst the students. Making a peer out of a student is an outcome, of course. But not one easily measured.

Later in the speech:

Students are not the customers; they are our younger “school siblings.” I wish we had a good word for it in English, because we need a way to talk about it in order to preserve it.

Despite what we hear in the news, our country’s education system has many other strengths, particularly how we inspire creativity and invention by encouraging people to color outside the lines. What concerns me about consumerism is that the pressure to use subject-matter testing performance as the sole measure of educational accomplishment is misplaced, threatens to minimize authentic education to a form of certification, and puts our strengths at risk.

Overemphasis of “achievement testing” and content definition leads to a technical approach to education where the instructor is viewed as  a technician and an interchangeable employee. There is a temptation to reduce education to what is measured in test-taking; the goal is to train for the test, to set standards and generate rankings. Tests (and papers) are necessary – but not for evaluation. Tests are an important part of the education and learning process.

This brings me back to the questions I posed above and a few others.

What do you think is the purpose and product of education, either K-12 or higher education? Are professional schools different?

What difference does a Christian world view make to the practice and purpose of education if any?

One final note and question:

This book by Spears and Loomis is an academic book – aimed at students of education – students who will teach and who will be involved in school administration and curriculum development. One of the commenters last week asked:

“My wife is a seventh grade science teacher. I would like to get a book of this topic for my wife and I, but perhaps a bit more accessible, (i.e. less like torture to read). Any suggestions?”

While I did not find the book torture, or even like torture to read, it is a fairly  deep and academic book – not light reading for the average teacher (or even professor). It is also not easy to dig into the content without discussion partners. So I have one final question.

Any good suggestions of books integrating faith with education practice written at a more accessible level?

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