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Thinking philosophically in Christian education paths

At Tabor our undergraduate students finish their degree with the subject ‘Educational philosophy and Christian worldview’. Many students share at the end of the subject how it has cemented their faith, made them more confident and able to discuss their faith, or even brought them into a stronger faith if they were wavering.

They describe how learning to reason and think critically about ideas has actually highlighted the cohesion of Christianity for them, and equipped them to engage in discussion with others more confidently.

We begin with an understanding that discernment in our thinking is important: ‘The mind of a discerning person gains knowledge, while the ears of wise people seek out knowledge’ (Proverbs 18:15). We then work through a number of philosophies together, both traditional and modern and think about how they have impacted society and specifically education. This builds a respect and understanding for many contributive thinkers of the past (For example: Aristotle, Plato, Aquinas, Descartes, Augustine) and more importantly maps out constructive ways to see how the existence of God and His workmanship has been considered and evidenced. When considering modern philosophies it is the absence of God in the thinking or ‘godlessness’ and its impact which often leads to pivotal questions - what can humanity base their morality upon? How does human behavior reflect both a need for a constant and reliable gauge, and a pattern of moral failure? and show how unjust balances of power affect societies. We also look at how a range of philosophies have impacted their thinking. A philosophical system (defined by Plato) ‘is a fundamental idea or theory that is worked out for all aspects of experience’ (Miller & Jensen, 2004, p.69). As we work through a number of philosophies we can eventually see their deficits or inequities (even if they begin as quite appealing and promising!). Threaded through this journey as we discuss, question, and share our understanding is the emerging reality that the only philosophical system that can be worked out effectively for all aspects of life (and death) is Christianity. It is the only system ‘left standing’ after careful analysis.

Philosophy is also a pursuit for truth which begins with asking important questions. Philosophy provides a framework for rigorous, well constructed thinking through which pre-service teachers can examine their Christian faith. A pleasing and initially unexpected result is that they also feel equipped to engage with others about their faith as they are able to reason and respond constructively to questions and challenges. It seems a logical step to think about how a philosophical approach could work in schools and benefit students there? Philosophy is ‘the attempt to think rationally and critically about the most important questions’ (Miller & Jensen, 2004, p16). For this reason philosophy links us all – at some point in our lives we are likely to ask questions like: “Why do I exist?’, ‘What is my purpose?”, ‘Why do people suffer? among others. Teenagers will often begin thinking about these questions.

From a Christian perspective young people may be thinking about these questions in relation to their purpose in the world, and for God. Students at Primary level might be asking these questions too! Incorporating philosophy into Christian education provides frameworks for students from Primary level upwards to process ‘the important questions of life’. By positioning Christianity as a philosophical system in this context students can see its resilience and capacity to interact authentically with their lives and the lives of others. Philosophy is also a pursuit for truth which begins with asking important questions. This shared pursuit of truth as a goal can provide a platform to engage with different views respectfully. The answers to vital questions ultimately depend upon whether there is a loving God? In the subject this is presented as a pivotal crossroad. The answer to this question then affects every other question, and we can see that answering ‘yes’ (after looking philosophically at the existence of God) actually allows Christianity to unfold as it has a hopeful response for each question (even questions about suffering and death). This provides consolidation for those who believe, and for those who are wavering or agnostic it provides valuable opportunities for discussion. In a Christian school setting, exploring these philosophical questions alongside or embedded within biblical frameworks offers students opportunities to think and grow in their faith at their own pace and linked to their emerging understandings. Aside from the personal benefits, philosophy also relies upon critical thinking, which includes the ability to: understand logical connections between ideas; identify, construct and evaluate arguments; detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning; solve problems systematically; identify the relevance and importance of ideas, and reflect on the justification of one’s own beliefs and values (Lau & Chan, 2018). These skills are invaluable in many walks of life.

We finish our Philosophy subject looking at the writing of St. Augustine regarding Christian Education. It is poignant to see that Augustine’s beliefs about Christian education, written in the 4th century, ring true today: ‘..if the teacher is to succeed…his own behavior must be motivated by love of the subject he professes and of his students’ (Howie, 1969, pp.145-146). At the end of the subject, a number of pre-service teachers speak of consolidation, renewal or transformation in their thinking and understanding as a Christian - ‘Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God’ (Romans 12:2).

Victoria Warren

About Victoria Warren

Victoria Warren is Head of Undergraduate and Secondary Coordinator in the Education Faculty at Tabor.

Bibliography: Howie, G. (1969) St. Augustine: on Education. Chapter 5: The Art of the Teacher, pp 139-181. Miller, L. & Jensen, J.(2004), Questions that Matter: an invitation to philosophy, 5th Ed., McGraw Hill, NY. Lau, J., & Chan, J. (2018). What is critical thinking? Philosophy
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