Paul D. Spear & Steven R. Loomis, Education For Human Flourishing: A Christian Perspective. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, September, 2009. 251 pp. Paperback, $22.00.
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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!
So far, I’ve been pretty impressed with IVP’s Christian Worldview Integration Series. I’ve read the book on communication, and here on the blog I’ve reviewed the books on business and literature and will have philosophy soon. You might guess from that list though which was my favorite.
That brings us to this volume in the series which is focused specifically on education. As a teacher, I thought I ought to give this one a good reading. Interestingly, though I didn’t catch it from the title, this book is more of a philosophy of education rather than a methodology of education.
In other words, in an effort to integrate the task of education into the Christian life, it necessary to ask questions about the purpose and values of education first before digging specifically into method.
And that is where Education For Human Flourishing fits in.
As authors Paul D. Spears and Steven R. Loomis state plainly:
The purpose of this book is to revive and ground a perennial philosophy of education that integrates essential tenets of the Christian faith. The text simultaneously reflects on the old and new, offering a new, critical, and integratively Christian educational agenda for a twenty-first-century global community, and secures this analysis within an appropriate framework of thought (p. 35).
To accomplish that, they set out in chapter 1 to revisit theological and philosophical anthropology. There they conclude that “a strong anthropology will be grounded in both philosophical and theological principles,” which leads to understanding that work in the classroom “transcends normal expectations of ‘meeting state standards'” (p. 68). Education fits into the larger project of the expanding kingdom of God, and Christian educators need to articulate their educational goals in a way that is in line with the biblical teaching on the nature of man.
Chapter 2 then moves on to survey various educational theories. It reads though much like an introductory philosophy class with brief discussions of metaphysics, logic, epistemology, and ethics, as well as interaction with the thought of Locke, Hume, and Kant. Each of these areas of thought have implications for the educational task, and the authors present a succinct survey
Chapter 3 focuses in on epistemology and examines the nature of justified, true, belief. In doing so, the authors help illuminate the interface of epidemiological models and educational practices. Or in other words, what you think of the nature of knowledge determines how you teach.
Chapter 4 marks a turning point. While the first 3 chapters “traced several important knowledge traditions vital to Christian thought and indispensable to a complete education,” the last 3 chapters “are an exercise in the ontology of education as a social institution” (p. 125). As they continue, “no philosophy of education is complete without an accounting of the reality of education as a social institution.” In chapter 4 specifically, they are hoping to equip Christian educators so they are prepared for the “double duty” of approaching “the broad field of education intelligently, integratively, and transcending present informational constraints,” and are simultaneously “unified in Christ’s passion for human beings and their full and complex development” (p. 157).
The specific gap that they are seeking is address is that “there does not appear to be an active, high-level apologetic for Christocentric knowledge informing the greater institution of education in the United States and worldwide.” This is because, in the author’s view, “Christian educators, it seems, do not care to bear the cost in self-development toward this end, nor do we care to take social risks” (p. 160). In other words, Christians have a great need to develop an ability to “call into question the institution and its direction,” and enter the profession “with eyes wide open” in order to “be better equipped to navigate the rough institutional terrain of education” (p. 169).
Chapter 5 then moves the discussion toward social ethics. The authors argue that Christian teachers can and should develop ways to integrate “Christocentric morality” and character education into their teaching practice. It is here that they note, though positivism might be dead in philosophy proper, it is alive and well in the education field and is shaping it at the institutional level (p. 189). In short positivism leads to an almost de-humanizing of the educational task where teacher is technician and the student’s performance is a commodity or product. In contrast, the authors see the task of education from a Christian perspective which entails it be more than simply imparting information but necessarily includes moral and character development. The balance of the chapter then presents a sketch of how Christian educators might create that kind of environment.
Finally, in chapter 6 the authors present an examination of educational policy and leadership and enivision ways that “Christian integrationists” can help to reform those areas. While other chapters have much practical import, this final chapter is perhaps the most practical. They focus on applications for public intellectuals, public school teachers, as well as Christian university profs. Here they dig further into ways that teachers can approach education in a distinctly Christian manner.
Overall, while I didn’t find this book to be the most riveting read, it is full of useful and important information for Christians in the education field. As I grow personally as a teacher, this will probably be a resource I refer back to often. Much like Paul’s letters, the first half of the book was intensely philosophical with hints of practical import, while the second half was more practically oriented, but still with a philosophical edge to it. This may deter some from digging in, but I think if you are taking your task as a Christian educator seriously, you ought to at least give Education For Human Flourishing a read.