I am turning the blog over this morning to my wife, Christie
As the new Sunday school teacher, I have spent the last few months becoming familiar with the LifeWay Sunday school curriculum. Having attended churches and/or classes in the past that did not use said curriculum this has been a new encounter for me. Much to my dismay, however, I have been somewhat disappointed with the material. Albeit, far from teaching heresy, the curriculum has been found lacking in areas of content, accuracy, and is obviously influenced by popular ideas of the day (pragmatism, open theism, etc.) If you haven’t already, read Jeff’s post about open theism in the LifeWay curriculum.
Tonight as I studied for Sunday’s lesson I browsed through the leader guide. I stumbled upon a section titled, How to Know if Your Teaching Makes a Difference by the biblical and instructional specialist of Leadership and Adult Publishing, LifeWay Church Resources, Betty Hassler. As I read her page and a half spread on “What to Avoid, What to Embrace, and But How Will I Know, I made a not-so-shocking discovery: LifeWay has once again submitted itself to unhelpful modern ideologies and philosophies.
As a graduate student in curriculum and instruction in an elementary education program, I like to consider myself well versed in popular teaching theory and philosophy, inasmuch as what is taught in our universities. As I initially ventured into the content of this article I grimaced at the encouraging of subjectivity in the Sunday school classroom. But as I read further on I began to recognize the familiar scent of the popular educational philosophy, Constructivism.
For those who may be so lucky as to have been spared from lengthy lectures of the ins and outs of Constructivism, allow me to explain, or, rather, have someone else who explains philosophies for a living explain. Nancy Pearcey, in Total Truth, explains how Constructivism is nothing more than the necessary application of Darwinist thinking to the realm of education. Philosopher John Dewey said knowledge was a social construction and so individuals should subjectively construct their own knowledge, rather than objectively receive it from others. Pearcey quotes an excellent description of Constructivism:
Constructivism does not assume the presence of an outside objective reality that is revealed to the learner, but rather that learners actively construct their own reality. (241)
According to this view of education, the learning process thus becomes highly subjective. Teachers are encouraged to not squish the young, fragile minds of children by correcting spelling, mathematical processes, or erred logic. Nor should they objectively present facts (goodbye lecture model) but should instead put students in an environment for creating their own knowledge using whatever manner or methods they choose. After all, it is their knowledge. Constructivists believe learning is merely discovering knowledge we already possess.
So, you may be wondering what led us down this rabbit trail. After all, this post does begin referencing Sunday school material, right? Yes, indeed it does and I promise we’re quickly approaching a connection as well as a point and conclusion. Keep in mind that some of what you’ll read is not necessarily the root of Constructionist theory but the fruit of it. Read with me, for just a moment, a portion of the previously mentioned article by Hassler:
(in reference to teaching Sunday school)
If you want learners to remember spiritual truths, avoid overusing these approaches: 1. Lecturing. Lecturettes are permissible if you are in a hurry to get content before members. But research has proven that we retain only a small portion of what we simply hear. Chart how much time you spend talking to learners. You might be surprised! Many teaching methods are simple to use and long-term in their effect. Get creative! Innovation will be remembered. For example: 1. Be aware of all five senses and use some of the less frequently used senses where appropriate. 2. Use pictures, charts, maps, and art projects where appropriate to supplement the verbal messages. 3. Consider using drama. On certain occasions, dressing in biblical garb and pretending to be Paul, Lydia, Daniel, or Ruth has merit. Use monologues-with or without costumes. Script a dialogue or lead a role-play from time to time. 4. Use real-life experiences. During favorable seasons, consider taking a field trip or invite a person who represents a ministry area or need to speak to your group. 5. Add multimedia. Audiotapes, CDs, videos, and other media enhance learning by getting us out of our pencil-and-paper ruts. (Learner Guide, Winter 2006-07, p. 60)
Teachers are also encouraged to use the following evaluation tools:
1. Open-ended questions. Questions that don’t have a “correct” or “right” answer tell you a lot about what adults really think. Be prepared to listen with open ears. Your purpose is to evaluate your teaching, not criticize their answers. 2. Case studies. Start a case study and leave the ending hanging. See how learners finish it. 3. Rating scales or opinionaires. These give learners the opportunity to express feelings about a topic or situation. (61)
I hope your mind is getting crowded with all the red flags that should be popping up. Pragmatism, anyone? Constructivist theory, anyone? Emergent overtones, anyone, anyone? Let’s take a closer look at what Hassler has to offer.
1) Avoid lecturing. Avoid lecturing!? Why, if lecturing has been an effective way for God’s teachers and preachers to forthtell His word for thousands of years, must we change now? Some might suggest that due to many factors, which I will not embark on discussing at this time at length but will briefly mention-mainly the decline of time devoted to the hearing and reading of words and the increase in the viewing of pictures- the mind of the modern man (or woman) processes information very differently than our ancestors. Hassler is correct when she cites research proving we only retain a small portion of what we hear. However, God chose to reveal His Word to all mankind for us to study and receive salvation, and in order to learn words, one must hear them taught. If it is true, then, that we have managed to rewire our brains and can no longer process information effectively through the hearing of words, then ought we to also alter the form in which we learn scripture? I say not. Rather, I would put forth that we need to endeavor to reteach our church members to learn effectively through the hearing of words. After all, Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of God.” If Hassler is correct in promoting a method of teaching Sunday school so as to be in conjunction with recent research, then it also follows that we ought to alter the form of preaching, as well, does it not? Of course, Pragmatism has been teaching many of our pastors this helpful lesson for a while- turning preaching God’s word into simply “having a talk,” or presenting dramatic skits instead, etc., etc.
2) Use all five senses. Where in scripture are we instructed to teach truth through the sense of smell? Or taste? Hassler even encourages us to “use some of the less frequently used senses.” Sunday’s lesson at my church covered Luke 2:-25-38 (Simeon and Anna). Should I have had my students taste the skin of an old person to try to understand what Simeon would taste like? Perhaps we could try to take a whiff of old sister Aunt Maude in order to better experience these verses? “Hey, sister Maude, could you come up to the front of the classroom for just a moment, please? We can’t really understand this passage about Anna without fully activating our senses.” Perhaps we should have asked to borrow a baby for tomorrow’s class. We can take turns holding it and repeating Simeon’s words as though the child were Jesus. We may better recall such a ridiculous lesson, but would truth have been taught? I think not.
3) Use drama. I won’t say much here. In fact, what I would like to say in jest would so closely mirror what Hassler offers in all seriousness regarding the use of drama, that I’ll choose instead to simply hold my tongue.
I will now skip ahead a bit, not so much because I like the idea of using personal experiences or using multimedia (next on the list). Rather because time is hardly my friend when I am attempting to convey a point (as you may have noticed by the oodles of text I have already submitted to you).
4) Open-ended questions. Please pay careful attention here. Did you notice how Hassler dismisses all objectivity? I am not to worry about right or wrong or criticize answers, simply allow individuals to tell what they think? I fear this line of thinking stems directly from Constructivist philosophy. After all, how are my students to construct their own knowledge if I tell them what they say or think is wrong? Gasp! They must be free from constraints of objective truth or they cannot properly create their own reality. MALARKY! There must be no room for such hideously absurd teaching methods in our churches. Not for Southern Baptists, who, last I heard, still clung to the objectivity of Scripture. Therefore, the philosophies that back our teaching methods must also reflect the content we teach. If we teach objective truths, why not teach as though we were?
5) Case studies leave the end hanging. Again, Constructivism. This is the same method we are taught to use in our secular mathematics classrooms. Do not provide a formula or answer. Let the student figure out his/her own way of solving the problem, regardless of the accuracy of the answer. Because in Constructivism, the accuracy of answers is not key. Constructivism seeks only to provide freedom for constructing one’s own individual answers.
6) Give learners the opportunity to express feelings. I hope I don’t come off as too harsh here, but I DON’T CARE WHAT ANYBODY’S FEELINGS ARE so long as I am teaching truth. I have had the wonderful misfortune of attending (and, dare I say, participating) in Bible studies where a scripture verse was read and the remaining hour spent with individuals taking turns expressing feelings and/or opinions about the meaning of the verse. Through God’s grace and revelation I came to see the complete and utter meaningless of such Bible “studies.” I am not denouncing the role of group discussion, where individuals are encouraged to ask questions and seek understanding and clarification. This is a crucial part to learning and I encourage it. However, what sister Maria feels about what Mary must have experienced when Simeon called her son a light to the Gentiles is completely irrelevant.
I need not say much more, for I hope I have said quite enough already. It is my hope to expose, not only wrong thinking, but a steady infiltration of secular philosophies into the publishing arm of our Southern Baptist Convention. Two weeks ago, while teaching a portion of our discipleship training classes, I was compelled to blatantly disagree with the teaching of the writer of the LifeWay DT material. Much to my comfort, many of our church members also found fault with the same ideas, and Jeff (our pastor) used the opportunity as an object lesson in discernment. While many churches are not yet ready to toss out the LifeWay material (I don’t mean to sound too harsh- it’s certainly not all bad), I encourage, better yet, implore you to read it using great discernment, for even us Southern Baptists lack the ability to perfectly refuse ideologically unbiblical cultural influences.