HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
God in the Christian Classroom: Lessons for Jewish Day Schools
According to the official website of the Protestant Reformed Churches of America, Christian schools date back many centuries, with early schools based on “the Word of God” and fostering a close connection with the Church. Today, Christian schools continue to place God and the Bible at the center. Although, at first glance, their teachings and readings may seem foreign and inapplicable to us, by examining the philosophy of education related to the teaching of God in the schools, centered on eight main focuses, we at Jewish day schools can learn from the Christian tradition and modify their teachings to be more in line with our culture in order to enhance our own schools.
Focus 1: Recognize that God is the source of all truth and knowledge.
From Christian schools: In his Christian Education: Its Mandate and Mission, Ronald A. Horton states, “The whole body of Christian educational theory rests upon the recognition that all truth is of God…All truth, whether discerned or undiscerned by man, comes forth from a single source and, therefore, is one harmonious whole.” Paul W. Cates, in his A Christian Philosophy of Education, echoes this idea, stating, “The Biblical view of knowledge presupposes a source of all knowledge, for knowledge is dependent on truth; and truth, in turn, is dependent on God. All avenues of knowledge stem from God.”
For our own schools: God should be abundantly present in our schools, and students should be encouraged to develop their understanding of God. Schools could consider incorporating theology into the curriculum, looking at different perspectives of God and God’s actions, and encouraging students to engage in questions related to God. Students should be provided with a safe space to explore their own questions related to God and engage in a dialogue in order to better understand their own theologies.
Focus 2: Make biblical text the center of learning about God and life.
From Christian schools: If God is the ultimate source of truth, the Bible, then, is the ultimate work through which we learn about God. Horton states, “Students come to know God by studying His revelation of Himself in His Word and in His works…and, therefore, the Bible is the center of the Christian school curriculum. The Bible is not only the most important subject matter but also the source of the principles determining the other subject matters and the way in which they are taught.” In Walking with God: Christian Approaches to Teaching and Learning, Harro Van Brummelen explains, “The first way we use the Bible is to teach it as educational content. Particularly in Christian schools, the Bible functions as an object and field of study…It enriches their insight into God’s purpose and meaning for their lives.” Cates also echoes these assertions, stating, “Thus, the revelation of God must become the heart of the subject matter curriculum…It, as God’s primary revelation to man, must become the integrating and correlating factor in all that is thought and taught at the school.”
For our own schools: By focusing on the text throughout the curriculum and programming, our schools can work towards being “Jewish day schools” rather than “day schools with Judaic programs.” Although the biblical text forms the basis, Judaism is fortunate to have so many rich, relevant texts from which to learn. Rabbinic literature and modern commentary can be integrated in order to better understand what it means to be Jewish and how Judaism can serve as a framework for living.
Focus 3: Make God’s words and teachings relevant to the lives of today’s students.
From Christian schools: After accepting God as the ultimate source of truth and knowledge, based upon the Biblical text, the next step is to integrate His teachings into the students’ lives. Roy Zuck writes, in The Holy Spirit in Your Teaching, “Teachers are to relate God’s Word to the pupil’s experiences.” Brummelen continues, “Teachers and students need to seek to apply God-given truths to current contexts,” outlining the role of the teachers to “explore with our students how the truths of the Bible need to be interpreted and applied to today’s cultural situations and conditions.”
For our own schools: Traditional Jewish texts were written quite some time ago, yet the themes explored in these ancient texts are as relevant today as when they were written, often serving as the basis for the newest movies and books. The curriculum should place an emphasis on encouraging students to take the lessons they are learning and apply them to their own lives, reinforcing those lessons and allowing the students to internalize them.
Focus 4: Teach about God in every subject and throughout the school.
From Christian schools: By placing God’s teachings at the center of education, the study of the biblical text and its teachings naturally permeates the entire curriculum. As Cates explains, “The principles of biblical truth should be applied to and in all other subjects.” As such, he also suggests that “every teacher must know the Bible. Because the Word of God is relevant to all subjects.” Through the integration of God’s teachings, Christian schools connect God and His creations. As Horton explains, “Students learn how to apply, analyze, evaluate and appreciate based on God’s standards, not just something someone made up. For example, in Science, we know the world shows beautiful design and pattern, because it was created that way—and that impacts how we interact with that world. In Literature, students will learn to analyze the author’s meaning, comparing it with Christian values and beliefs—and that ability of critical analysis translates to many other areas of life.” Brummelen gives another example: “When you teach probability in mathematics, you can teach it as the story that life is full of unpredictable chances, and that you have to take advantage when things go your way.” This integration is echoed in the literature promoting various Christian schools. The website for Zephyrhills Christian Academy in Florida, for example, states that “everything that is taught is fully shaped by a Christian worldview—whether it is history, math, science, literature, or any other course. Since ‘worldview’ is your perspective on everything, Christian school students have a much greater chance of making the right choices that lead to success, because they know how God’s world works.”
For our own schools: Judaic and general studies should be integrated whenever possible. By learning in a more holistic fashion, students will be more able to apply concepts when relevant as opposed to restricted to certain subjects. Additionally, they will be more likely to see the teachings of Jewish texts, such as values and life lessons, as applicable to their own lives if they see them as applicable to subjects other than Jewish studies. In order to work towards this goal, schools could consider offering learning opportunities for faculty members so that they are more familiar with and more comfortable integrating selections from Jewish text and tradition.
Focus 5: Guide students towards understanding and doing the will of God as we are created in the image of God.
From Christian schools: By placing the biblical text and God at the center of the school curriculum, Christian schools work towards instilling a connection between God and their students’ roles in the world and actions towards others. As Horton explains, “The purpose of Christian education is the directing of the process of human development toward God’s objective for man: godliness of character and action.” He adds, “In endeavoring to fulfill the purpose of Christian education…the Christian school teaches…the imitation of God. Students learn of God so that they may imitate Him… To imitate God in His actions as well as in His attributes is to develop abilities into skills and to exercise them as instruments of God’s will.” Again Christian schools, such as Zephyrhills, echo this ideal: “Everything that is taught emphasizes man’s (and woman’s) special place in the world: we are created by God to love and be loved by Him, and to be stewards of the world He created.”
For our own schools: One of the primary roles of modern schooling is to prepare the students to be productive members of society, both in terms of their knowledge and skills, but also in terms of their contributions to society through their characters. Focusing on Jewish values and middot should be a priority, using the idea of all humans’ being created in God’s image as a guide. By looking at certain aspects of Judaism as a framework for living, especially when considering topics such as Jewish values in the context of treating those around us, students will continue to apply their learning to their own lives and make it their own through their actions.
Focus 6: Motivate communal action through God’s intervening grace.
From Christian schools: Based on the concept of the “fall of man” in Genesis 3, the curriculum is based around the idea of modeling God’s grace and forgiveness in actions as a motivator for student social action. Bob Goudzwaard shows, for example, how God’s intervening grace can cause individual and communal action to lead to a more peaceful and just world (Hope in Troubled Times). As Horton explains, “In following God [students] imitate both His nature and His works. The imitation of God’s nature results in holiness of character...The imitation of God’s works results in service.” Brummelen continues, “What is important here is that students begin to recognize that they are ‘actors,’ or participants, in Act 3 of this biblical story.”
For our own schools: As the old saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words,” so schools should seek opportunities for students to put their learning into action, really allowing them to take ownership and apply that learning. Although many Jewish day schools already include a community service requirement for graduation, the concept of service could also be brought into the school. Experiential educational components should be incorporated into the school curriculum, tied to the biblical texts with space for reflection and connection, enhancing and reinforcing student learning and also strengthening the community.
Focus 7: Aim for spiritual growth and connection with God as well as academic learning.
From Christian schools: As Zuck states, “Teachers are to rest satisfied with nothing less than spiritual results. A teacher must constantly test his teaching to see if it’s resulting in spiritual growth on the part of his pupils.” Horton elaborates, explaining, “As education in general begins with physical birth, Christian education proper begins with spiritual rebirth, when the life of God is communicated to the soul.” Horton elaborates, “This knowledge of God implies more than just knowledge about God…the knowledge of God that is unique to Christian education is a personal knowledge that...It follows that without a student body composed mainly of students possessing this personal knowledge of God, no school can legitimately be regarded as a Christian educational institution.”
For our own schools: Although academic achievements and grades do hold importance, focus in our schools should also be placed on the personal and spiritual development of the students, giving them ample time for reflection and growth without the pressures of qualitative measurement. Schools could consider implementing a portfolio system that could be tailored to the interests and needs of individual students and would help track the spiritual growth of students during their time at the school.
Focus 8: Embrace the challenge of teaching as God’s work.
From Christian schools: Teachers are really seen as agents of God, deeply connected to their roles and to God. As Zuck explains, “Remember that Christian education is a supernatural task. The presence of God’s Holy Spirit in teaching takes Christian education beyond mere programming, methodology, and techniques.” He continues, “Teachers must recognize that…It is God who does the teaching, a teacher is merely a channel of His grace, an instrument doing the planting and watering.”
For our own schools: Teaching, in any situation, is an immense responsibility. When dealing with spirituality and theology, however, that responsibility is elevated, so having a clear sense of self is essential. Teachers at Jewish day schools should have a clear sense of self and developed personal theology in order to be best situated to guide students in their own journeys. Additionally, schools could offer some training for teachers about talking to students about topics such as spirituality and theology, topics that can often lead to complicated discussions.
Those involved with Christian education have very similar goals to those of us in Jewish day school education. We all want for our students to be impacted positively by the education they receive, religious and secular, in our schools and for that impact to last long after they leave our classrooms. As such, Jewish day schools would be remiss if we did not consider the philosophies of education related to God implemented in Christian schools and think about how they could be adapted to our specific situations.
Dr. Sarah Levy is a teacher at Denver Jewish Day School in Denver, Colorado. email@example.com
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