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Why Bother with Christian Education?

February 12, 2018 by Admin

By Taylor Randle Hurt, Upper School Science Teacher

When I finished student teaching and began looking for jobs in the public school system, I came across an opening at an independent Christian school right here in Santa Barbara: Providence. They were looking for a high school teacher. A science teacher at a Christian school? That sounded oxymoronic to me. They take science seriously at a Christian school?

My view at the time was that Christian schooling was, at best, school as usual taught by a Christian faculty. I expected to find a year-long Christian camp with fun and games but no academic rigor. Even with these unfounded notions in my head, I chose to give Providence a try. After all, it was only one year I was signing up for. How bad could it be?

Looking back now, I realize I could not have known how good it could be. The decision to work at Providence set me on a course of discovery and wonder. My view of education has blossomed into something far larger than I could have anticipated.

Slowly, slowly, I have learned to put words to the differences between Christian education and modern secular education. What do you think the difference is? Isn’t chemistry just chemistry after all? Isn’t Spanish just Spanish?

There is no better place to start an understanding of Christian education than with the person of Jesus, the best educator this world has seen. We would be wise to consider what our foundation is, first and foremost, before we go about the business of educating children. Consider Jesus’s words at the conclusion of his Sermon on the Mount:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. (Matthew 7:24-27, NIV)

At Providence, we are unequivocal about both the foundation and the aim of our school. The foundation of our institution, and the foundation of knowledge itself, is the reality of God. Dallas Willard, in Renovation of the Heart, succinctly describes the Christian starting point:

There is a God. This is his world, and we with it. This God is totally good and totally competent. He comes to us in Jesus Christ, whom we can totally trust. He gives us a book and a history, through which his Spirit will lead us to all we need to know about him and about us.

Whether I am teaching Newton’s Laws or chemical stoichiometry, this foundation frames every topic ever discussed in my classroom. What has happened to our public schools, and society more generally, is the removal of the foundation of knowledge.

If the reality of God is our foundation, what is our aim, our mission?

Every parent and every school has a moral aim for the children in their care. Whether it is to be potty trained, to write MLA-style research papers, or to skillfully perform an acid-base titration, there are some common things we want students to be able to do. There also are character traits we want them to model and some we do not want them to have.

At Providence, our aim is nothing short of the total transformation of students into the likeness of Christ. We desire their minds to be renewed and their lives to be living sacrifices to the true and living God. We want to “deepen our personal commitment to the lordship of Jesus Christ by developing our academic excellence, personal character, appreciation for our national heritage, and leadership and service in the world” (Providence Mission Statement).

How do public schools approach students? Students are educated increasingly to be thinkers, specifically, empirical thinkers. Students are taught to be logical, rational, and scientific. However, public schools make the mistake of thinking that empirical thinking is “good thinking.”

Public schools have defined the realm of what is knowable narrowly to the realm of science. The only things that can really be true are empirical, the things that really exist are material and physical and observable. Thus, the goal of public schools is secularism. Religion, then, is a matter of preference and opinion not a matter of serious scholarship. We do not look to God for foundational truths, we look to science and empiricism. Thus Christianity is painted as illogical and anti-rational, if Christianity is even considered at all.

To be clear, I love science. It is my world. (I wear a bowtie every day!) I studied chemistry at UCSB. Empirical research and the tools of science are incredibly potent, beautiful, and exciting. Over the past five years of teaching chemistry, physics, and biology I have been overjoyed to share the wonder of exploring the natural world. However, I know science needs to be put in its place. A merely scientific approach to all of human existence falls short.

If I were a public school teacher, my job would be narrowly defined as a chemistry teacher. My foundation would be the history of science and my goal would be for students to understand chemical principles. This is not evil, but it is utterly lacking in its scope and epistemology. I would have no basis for or reason to educate the heart as well as the mind. What is science for? Why does science work? To what use do we study science? Without answering those foundational questions, students would leave my classroom with heads stuffed with knowledge about molecules and elements and their spirits and hearts left untouched.

Every day I get to interact with students as they are day by day building their lives. Students are making decisions about the foundation of their lives. Therefore, Providence faculty members have the high honor and obligation to present the very best ideas to students.

Presenting ideas is not enough, though. We must help students sift through ideas to find the best ideas, the true ideas, the most beautiful ideas. We do not stop there, however; we as faculty actually live out those ideas in the midst of students. We are plausibility structures.

Teachers themselves are buildings placed on the sure foundation of God. What is more, we are plausible structures, meaning, students can see our lives and say, “Yes, my life could be like that, too.” Ideas are not meant to stay locked on paper or trapped in the ephemeral recesses of our brain. These ideas are meant to be incarnated and lived out in this world. We want students to actually build good lives on a firm foundation. Our goal, for ourselves and our students, is to hear the words of Jesus and “put them into practice” resulting in a life “on the rock” (Matthew 7:24).

Our primary lesson plan at Providence is to live a life worthy of the Gospel. At school and at home and everywhere we go, we want to put on display a life with God. And I suppose this is for very empirical, observable, and rational reasons. We want students to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Taylor Randle Hurt teaches Upper School science courses at Providence in Santa Barbara and serves as Upper School technology coordinator. He earned a B.A. degree in chemistry and biochemistry from the University of California Santa Barbara through the College of Creative Studies. In addition, he was the first graduate of that college to complete a minor in science and math education at UCSB. He worked full time for a Christian non-profit organization (Cru, formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) serving one year at UCSB and one year in the Middle East. As a Robert Noyce Scholarship recipient, Mr. Hurt earned a teaching credential and a master’s of education degree from UCSB. He joined the Providence faculty in 2013.