IS THIS SOUND PEDAGOGY?
Not so many months ago a pastor gave a talk to his young people on current trends in morals. After the talk a college student came up to his pastor and said something like this: “My, I enjoyed that; that was straight stuff. I was glad to hear what you had to say. I hear the other side five days a week.”
The pastor asked the young man what he meant. Well, he said that perhaps he had expressed himself a bit sharply. But, he had one professor who liked to say things in class that were quite different from and even contrary to the basic approach to spiritual and moral issues taught ill the church. “I guess he does this to make us think,” the student said; “but I wish he would teach us to think straight rather than give us that off-beat stuff.”
Was this student reporting a sound pedagogy? Is this a valid method of teaching in a school committed to the Christian faith? Such incidents as the one described above are not isolated, and one wonders at them. Let it be granted that this approach is used sometimes with the perfectly sincere intent to get the student to liberate himself from the ruts of cliche, prejudice and mere custom or conformity. Let it be granted that this approach may be earnestly used to lift the student to a higher and more solid basis for his religious convictions. And, let it be added, a legitimate aspect of a good liberal arts education is just such liberation and such enrichment of one’s thinking. The teacher should always be aware, however, of the extreme difficulty involved in disengaging the chaff from the kernel of truth and loyalty that is often present in that which is labelled cliche, prejudice, mere custom or conformity.
The question still remains; is this sound pedagogy? One might be able to say yes to that question if this method is used only as a part of a large pedagogical pattern whose major part is given to a positive teaching of the richer and deeper approach. But too often it is not so used. Too often the end result of this negative method is a question mark in the soul of the student rather than the period or the exclamation point that is the true badge of Christian affirmation. And on occasion this result is achieved by means of the snide remark, the crafty innuendo, or even delicate ridicule.
Is positive and dynamic commitment or conviction achieved in this way? I doubt it very much. Indeed, ways of life and thought different from those to which a school is committed cannot and may not be ignored. This brief article cannot justly be construed as a plea for hothouse education. But such differing ways of life and thought are to be considered finally (even though appreciatively) with a view to setting forth the more sharply by contrast the basically Christian understanding as this is confessed in a creedally oriented educational institution.
Teaching that which is false is hardly a good method by which to gain devotion to that which is true. But education by contrast is a sound pedagogical method. Of course, this method requires a sharp awareness of that contrast. Awareness of real and sharp difference between that which is true and that which is false is commonly the direct opposite of what is considered to be the proper academic mind. The academic mind is usually thought of as a mind that has no strong allegiance to any definite constructions called the “truth.” It is the unattached mind, the mind marked by tentativeness, not definite conviction. This mind likes to stay on the see-saw that keeps on the move with this slogan, “Well, there are several ways of looking at this question.”
The best directions I ever received while traveling came from a man who, as he sought to tell me just where to make the right turn in a complicated situation, indicated two points at which I might be deceived into making the wrong turn. In sports the instructor will often point out the wrong stance or the wrong grip or the wrong stroke in order to teach more pointedly the correct way. Instruction by contrast is often an especially vivid and effective type of pedagogy.
The element of contrast should be present especially when we deal with the more significant issues of life and thought. To be sure, Christian answers to specific questions are not always easily articulated. They are often not “pat” answers. But let the student always be very much aware of the teacher’s genuine commitment to the Word of God and to the confessional structure in which all the teaching is to take place. The student should sense that even when definite Christian answers cannot be given to certain specific questions that may come up, there is a wrestling on the part of the teacher to give the elements of a Christian approach to the question at hand, an approach that fully honors the light of the Word of God, the Bible. In this way our youth, often enamored of the novelty of that which is different, will be led to solid Christian conviction in a world where the father of lies is always seeking to lead astray the children of light.
CHRISTIANIZING THE PUBLIC SCHOOL?
Next to the hubbub raised by the civil rights agitation ranks the problem of education. True, it is less vocal, less demonstrative, but far more important.
Now that the Supreme Court has declared religion illegal in our public schools, Christian parents, indeed, all parents are confronted with an education for their children which is completely secular. A system of pagan or godless education is a more realistic description.
However, what makes the issue so incomprehensible is that religious denominations and prominent churchmen seem to be in complete agreement with the position taken. They oppose any and all who would at least put forth an effort to reverse the trend. Strange indeed that there are churches and religious leaders who dare to advocate education separated from religion.
Had we not better address ourselves once more to such questions as to what is education, and what is the aim of education? Does education consist of merely learning facts and figures? This writer was taught that education is character building, and that is done not by learning facts and figures, but by the interpretation of the facts. The moment one interprets facts he is confronted with the problems of religion. Can anyone understand how educated men can speak of education separated from religion? What kind of education is it that cannot deal with the problem of origins, the nature of reality, and the purpose of being? What kind of education is it that makes yesterday’s truth today’s heresy? What kind of education is it when a large graduating class in one of our modern universities is told that there are no absolutes in the world at the present time? Some of the criticisms of our educational system and philosophy have proved to be prophetic. Was it the voice of a critic or of a prophet who said some thirty years ago:
“We worship a process of education but sneer at its con· tent. We stress ‘methods’ and eagerly discard one method for another. Whither we go is of no concern but we must at least be energetically moving from where we are. We dare not profess loyalty to anything, for yesterday’s error may be today’s truth, yesterday’s heresy today’s orthodoxy, tomorrow will ridicule what was firmly established today, and we take refuge in proclaiming the relativity of everything. If you tire suspicious of it all you are a traditionalist, a reactionary, unenlightened, an obstructionist who has not caught the vision.”1
A school or educational system is judged by its finished products. To be permitted an old cliche, the tree is known by its fruits. At the turn of the century philosophers and educators cried: “Build schools and you can raze your prisons.” Well, we built the schools, and we must enlarge our prisons and build more of them. Promiscuity on the college campus is coming to be looked upon as normal. Illegitimacy is no longer a disgrace. Venereal disease among teen agers is the deep concern of the A.M.A. Violence and vandalism in our schools are commonplace. Assaults upon teachers, stabbings, even murder occur in the classrooms. Yes, the fruits are there for all to see.
Can our public schools be christianized? To ask the question is to answer it. Now that the Supreme Court has spoken, the enemies of Christianity will not rest until every vestige of the Christian religion will be banished. Santa Claus can enter at Christmas carols are taboo. No, you will not christianize the public school; the school wi.Il paganize your children. Education without religion means one thing: Banish God, but make room for the police. In some of our larger cities no teacher can feel safe in classroom or on playground unless there is an officer of the law within shouting distance. The voice of Dr. Charles Hodge, famous Princeton divine also was prophetic when some one hundred years ago he said:
“I am as sure as I am of Christ’s reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of education, separated from religion, as is now commonly proposed, will prove the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of anti-social nihilistic ethics, individual, social, and political, which this sin-rent world has ever seen.”
No truer words were ever spoken. Surely he never dreamed that his own denomination’s General Assembly in Omaha would endorse the position of education separated from religion. There is one biblical indictment that must be pronounced upon all who endorse this position, and that tragically includes religious leaders, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools….”
1. Dr. W. H. Jellema in The Calvin Forum.
THE CHRISTIAN AND THE COMING ELECTION
During the next few months the American nation will be in the throes of a vigorous election campaign. Already the rumbling of the huge political machines is reverberating across the land. Charges and counter-charges will be heard. Nor will the sound and fury die, until the issue is decided at the polls.
Politics for many who confess Christ is regarded as a dirty business.
It need hardly be argued that such an evaluation can· not pass the test of Scripture. Paul urges believers, even when threatened by persecution, to pray for those in high places. Our Lord Jesus has plainly commanded his own to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Such include not only our prayers but also intelligent interest and responsible activity. No one has the right before God to appropriate the blessings of living in a democratic order while considering it a bore to assess candidates and platforms and a waste of time to cast his vote. Such irresponsibility should be excoriated from our pulpits much more vigorously than seems to be the present practice. All of us, I’m sure, know too many people who pride themselves on a Calvinistic heritage but offer cheap excuses for absolving themselves of their duties as citizens.
What makes the forthcoming election most significant is the unique opportunity which it offers the voting public.
For years it has been maintained, and that with some show of right, that there is little difference between the platforms presented by the opposing presidential candidates. On both sides the temptation was great to play up only incidental differences. Nothing in the basic approach of the one party differed radically from that expounded by the other. Now we are told that we shall be faced with a real choice. And the indications at this time are that this will be true.
Raymond Moley has recently written a book entitled The Republican Opportunity in 1964. It deserves wide reading by all thoughtful Americans, irrespective of whether or not they agree with his contentions. In the preface he relates how the terms “conservative” and “liberal” have been twisted from their original meanings. Thereupon he seeks to define the principles and plans of the present-day American liberal in politics. These include the further extension of federal power in areas which until now have been the responsibility of the several states, local communities and private organizations. Welfare programs, so the liberal argues, should be greatly expanded. In addition, the federal government should spend millions upon millions for new responsibilities such as urban reconstruction, resource development, and area-development. All these, so it is argued, will promote economic growth and provide us in this nation with an almost universal prosperity. To this end, so the argument goes, we need the passage of additional hundreds of pieces of legislation—this in the face of the fact that during the last decade Congress has passed no less than 4,399 new laws, more than perhaps even the most competent lawyer can remember.
Against this trend the Republican candidate for the presidency, together with his supporters, has taken a clearcut position. It will hardly make him popular with large segments of the American people. It has, undoubtedly, endeared him to many others.
Yet the issues involved lie far deeper than the economic level.
What is really at stake is a choice between two quite well-defined and clearly-contrasting philosophies on the authority, competence and responsibility of the federal government in the structure of American political life. And to this issue every responsible Christian would do well to address himself.
On this matter the Scriptures have something to say, likely much more than most believers realize. We have been tempted to blunt our sensitivities to the relevant message of God’s Word for the totality of our lives by supposing that God isn’t concerned with much more than getting our souls into heaven when we die. This has helped to secularize our nation more than we care to admit. We must learn anew what the Bible means by “justice,” “truth,” “righteousness,” “mercy,” and “goodness,” also as these terms apply to human relations in the political dimensions of our day.
Of course the Bible isn’t going to tell us word for word whether we should vote Democrat or Republican. Nor will this issue be settled by a superficial appeal to one or two isolated Bible texts. The glory of the Scriptures lies in the pointed way in which they speak to us on the issues of showing true love to God and our neighbor—a love devoid of sheer sentimentality and vacuous verbosity which seeks also the welfare of all Our fellow-men in accordance with the demands of God’s revealed will.
It ought not be too much for Christians to address themselves with greater urgency and concern than ever before to the underlying issues. This will enable us to escape the pitfalls of taking over glibly whatever this or that newspaper. commentator or friend has said. This will prevent us also from falling into the awful sin of condemning any man unjustly or rashly. This will stimulate us to investigate once again the Constitution and Bill of Rights which are the bed-rock on which the United States was established. This will make our prayers for “all that are in high place,’ both today and in the coming years, more acceptable to the sovereign God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in whose hand lies the outcome of the November election and the future of the American people.