An Art Form in Action
Being merely Christian doesn’t cut it.
It is not the case that being merely Christian in a Christian school naturally enables us to give our classes an intrinsic, scriptural reality. It takes work, energy, insight and wisdom. There is an element of revolutionary risk that must replace our natural bent towards the safety of simply being a good, or even excellent, teacher.
We can do everything right and still fall short of the standard that scripture demands of us. We can attend meetings faithfully, email every parent of our students, put assignments on the Internet and refresh bulletin boards weekly. Yet in doing all that we can quietly lack that elusive something that makes our teaching truly Christian.
Magic Bullets don’t exist.
There is no magic bullet that enables our teaching to transcend normalcy. It takes seeking, learning and experimenting. A plane of teaching exists, however, that makes the effort totally worthwhile. A plane of teaching exists on which students acquire knowledge, learn to think deeply and, more importantly, walk away having met God there.
That level of teaching exists when we envision our lessons more of an expression of an art form than a mechanistic regurgitation of curricular material. Whether we call the elusive quality that we seek Christian or Higher Order is irrelevant. Once we comprehend the fact that our teaching must embody more fundamental principles than curricular content, then we are taking the first step in producing truly educated students.
Never hide reality.
Education ultimately looks at and analyzes the real world. Even in the abstractness of mathematics or the aesthetic of music, the real world entwines with our intellectual musings. From that starting point, I postulate that truly transcendent teaching arises from the finality of how God looked at His created universe.
“God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.”
If God looked at His created world and called it “very good,” (Genesis 1:31) perhaps our observing and analyzing of that same creation ought to look for the same goodness. In our continuing quest for the integration of God’s Word into our classes, we’ve generally followed the progression from object lesson mentality to a more sophisticated inclusion of bigger principles and concepts into our lessons. In fact, it’s likely that each reader who is involved in Christian education has attended one or more workshops focused on how to accomplish this task of scriptural integration into various types of curricular content.
Abstract Realism is NOT an oxymoron.
Having done the same thing and spent many hours thinking about the issue, I’ve reached this conclusion. There exists a level of abstract realism that, when attained, produces lessons that are truly outstanding. By abstract realism I mean a concept that isn’t intuitively obvious, yet has a tangible reality that is integral to our true and continuing appreciation of God’s created universe.
When God created the world, everything was good, very good! Then came that fateful, sinning moment of disobedience by Adam and Eve. From that point on, perversions began to occur. Art became pornography, literature became evil, and music became country western… or something like that.
As that dividing perversion occurred we unfortunately turned the word Christian into an adjective rather than the noun that scripture clearly indicates. A Christian is who you are. By implication, then, we might assume that to speak of something as Christian music or Christian art is an artificially generated concept. We might better take the premise that there is simply art, simply music. Some of this art and music obviously glorifies God, some is obviously anti-God.
I’m going to make a flagrantly inflammatory statement. For years we’ve rather glibly said that we focus on our students’ needs and strive to produce people who are richer and stronger than they would have been without that intervention. Perhaps we’ve not seen the bigger picture, the picture that should hang visibly on the wall of public inspection, placed there for critical acclaim and enjoyment of those who pass by.
Now here’s the inflammatory statement. The student should not be the focus point of our teaching. I’ve begun to think that the true fruition of essential teaching comes when we present lessons that have within them the God-given creativity which reflects the glory of God. As the apostles preached the gospel and those who heard either responded or rejected, so it is with our students. We present God. We present Him in astronomy, in mathematics, in literature, maybe even in the excitement that a biology teacher shows about turtle droppings!
There is a greater focus.
Do you get it? The student might be the goal, but not the focus. The lesson, the God-glorifying lesson, is our aiming point. When that happens, when our individual lessons, our classroom presence, our enthusiasm all merge into that work of God-glorifying art. That’s when the students get it!
Just as we savor the visual excitement created by black and white images of stark and barren mountains captured by Ansel Adams or bask in the music of Johnny Cash, Bach or U2, our students should have the opportunity to inspect our own classroom artistic endeavors. Done properly, our artistry performed with the brush of classroom presence can genuinely reflect and reveal the Creator.
It’s a difficult task to teach students responsibility or to help them understand the quantum nature of the atom. Sometimes it’s a real battle to enthuse students with enough excitement to create excellence as they write papers or produce science fair projects. Preparing self-indulgent teens to perform well on the semi-sacred SAT’s is a daunting responsibility. Yet to think that my lessons should transcend those mechanistic outcomes almost overwhelms me.
As I see it, there are a series of starting points, some philosophical ideas and practical principles that will create an environment in which such artistry becomes possible.
First, each faculty member and administrator is a member of the team, the body. We are here at this time and in this place for this purpose. Each one brings something to the group that makes us all stronger.
Second, consistent individual study of the scriptures will never return empty. Our minds and hearts will become knowledgeable and confident in the principles and concepts that, when applied, produce Higher Order thinking and acting.
Next, continued prayer for the wisdom and courage to teach transcendently will always work as we move in the direction of understanding that teaching really is an art form.
If those are the philosophical principles there are also some nuts-and-bolts concepts that enable us to bring our students into a better and higher place.
- Relationships enable reception. Put simply, students and colleagues listen and respond actively when our relationships are positive and trusting.
- Classroom leadership is bigger and better than classroom management. (More about that later in this book)
- Curricular Comfort Creates Confidence. Wow! How’s that for alliteration?
- Serendipity follows imagination. As we expect positive things fueled by a creative imagination, events jump excitedly into God-ordained opportunities.
- We must really know and commit to our mission.
- We must savor the risk of teaching transcendently in order to anticipate the reward.
Art is only appreciated when it is displayed.
To enjoy the art of Monet, the music of Bach, the poetry of Sandburg requires an environment which allows the viewer to savor the moment, to inhale the beauty. The same is true in the classroom. All those pre-artistry events, the discipline, the content, the mechanics, they’re like the steps leading to the art display. They are the processes which make the final appreciation of a transcendent lesson possible.
Such is the role of classroom mechanics. They exist to create an environment in which our students have the opportunity to learn of God’s glory through the canvass of a math teacher’s art, to experience the music as a history teacher expounds with passion about civil rights or World War II.
The naturalist John Muir wasn’t a perfect person, likely not a Christian, a lousy husband, yet his immersion into the beauty of God’s created wilderness radically affected his actions. That immersion affected his actions to the extent that the world is different as a result of his passion.
What a thought to ponder… that our passion to reflect God’s glory in our classes might someday cause a student to see and know the Creator as Savior!