What Makes a Curriculum "Christian"?

Can a “secular” curriculum be Christian? How do we go about discerning the merits of a curriculum in light of the vision of our Christian schools? In this post I explore some of the tools of discernment we can use related to curriculum and present a direction to strengthen future curricula.

I just read a Christian school’s statement of philosophy. It mentioned their Christian faculty, their concern for character, and their school’s sensitivity to parental concerns, but nowhere did it mention curriculum. Granted, elsewhere one would find that the school used curricular resources from ABeka, Bob Jones and others, but the question must be asked, “Could this school be said to have a Christian curriculum if it used books that were not published by Christian publishers?”

I say
yes! to the possibility, but no! to the desirability. Let me explain with an analogy from music. Recently, I asked my eleven year old son (who likes contemporary Christian music) whether “Mary Had a Little Lamb” was a Christian song or not. It led to a good discussion in which we concluded that since God is the author of music, all music is Christian unless it opposes His intentions. Thus, even the song about Mary’s lamb (that inspires minimal worship) is technically Christian. There is a spectrum of Christian music that provides everything from nursery rhyme fun to worship inspiration to theological revelation.

The parallel of music to curriculum is obvious. A curriculum that fails to mention God may be technically permissible in a Christian school, but surely it neglects many of the principles, priorities, and truths that are contained in a robust Christian curriculum. No school can teach “everything,” so every curriculum attempts to teach that which is considered true and “most valuable” to prepare a child for a particular vision of life. Though conflicts over “truth” make obvious distinctions between secular and Christian curriculums, different opinions as to what is “most valuable” lead to the widest curricular divides. Do nurturing Christian character and inspiring a love of art gain priority? Is a knowledge of history relevant to today’s problems? Or is it more important to make schooling more “passive” by teaching a child merely the “common basics” and allowing them wider latitude to choose their own character ideals and interests? Unfortunately, too few parents and educators stand back far enough from their curricular preconceptions of
what and how schools should teach to really seek to discern the Biblical truths, values, and principles that guide the formation of a Christian school’s curriculum.

The place curricular discernment begins is at an end vision. Public schools ask, “To be a productive citizen of the state and the nation, what common character, knowledge, and skills should we teach?” Their discernment is shaped less by local parents than by secular education research, education fads, politicians, and secular education philosophy. The latter shapes the curriculum in a manner that tacitly teaches that God is irrelevant to the process, subject-matter, and goals of learning and professional life.

We, on the other hand, envision helping children to “love God with all their hearts, souls and minds, and love their neighbors as themselves.” Thus, (as I said in a previous post) the curriculum must reveal God in meaningful and personal ways, and it should prepare children with the capacity, character, knowledge, and skills with which to love themselves and their neighbors. Given the professional and curricular freedom, wise and knowledgeable Christian teachers
can... and often times must use curricular materials from non-Christian sources, but the shortcomings of this practice are many. Most Christian educators attended secular schools, were trained to teach under secular models of education, are not philosophically oriented themselves, and lack the time to deeply revise a secular text. At best, Christian teachers take a secular curricular guide and drop parts while adding their own Christian commentary. In the end, “secular thinkers” have set the general trajectory of the curriculum, and the question of what “could have... should have been” is never addressed.

In conclusion, I believe the range of Christian curricular possibilities spans from “Mary had a Little Lamb” to “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” However, I strongly argue that the Body of Christ has far to go. The relatively few publishers that exist are to be commended for their heroic efforts and commitments, but more need to join in broader efforts that reflect the nuanced “life visions” of the Body. Christian colleges and universities need to support this effort. Too many merely publish and prepare teachers for secular schools, or they show a concern for Christian schooling by merely adding Christian commentary to their otherwise secularized programs.

The power of the curriculum within a school day should not be underestimated. When founded in God’s awesome wonder, wisdom, and goodness, the facts, the stories, the relationships, the values, and the life visions presented by a school’s curriculum hold the power to inspire the world changers of tomorrow!

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