Science in Christian Perspective
From: JASA 4 (June 1952):
*'Paper presented at the Sixth Annual Convention of the American Scientific Affiliation, New York, Auo-ust, 1951,
There is probably no subject appropriate for discussion by this group which is calculated to evoke more general response or stir up more emotional reaction than that chosen for this paper. Such a situation makes this presentation a difficult one but it has been attempted because of the vital importance of this topic and because of the interest evidenced in it on the part of large groups of Christians. Because we are all more or less familiar with schools we are inclined to feel qualified to pass judgment on modem education and educators. We need to remind ourselves, however, that as Christians we are especially obligated to become informed before we speak out on any subject. Too often we are content to oppose the efforts of those who exclude our Lord without or with inadequate scholarly rebuttal. We submit that our testimony will be more effective when we are able to propose alternative action superior to that with which we find fault. The purpose of this discussion is to point out some of the significant characteristics of modern education and to suggest the challenges it presents to thinking Christians.
At the risk of too great brevity we propose to
define modern education as the "science dealing with
the principles and practice of teaching and learning"
as it makes maximal use of the latest discoveries and
technical know-how in psychology and other related
fields. It is obvious that such a statement does not
exclude the philosophy of education but neither does
it restrict our discussion to that area. That Christians
can find litt * le in modern philosophies of education
with which to agree is axiomatic, for educators as a
group are no less unregenerate than are physicists,
anthropologists, or lawyers. We must be careful, however, not to criticize modern education simply because we cannot agree with the thinking of some leaders in the field. Our problem is to study the factual information available and to develop a philosophy in harmony with our Christian position. We further suggest that rather than to spend our
time and effort campaigning against humanism or secularism in our schools, it is for us to appraise the reason for this predicament and to set about rectifying it. Without minimizing the influence of leaders of agnostic or even atheistic persuasion, we should observe two factors which have contributed to this trend in modern education. There is little we can do to repair the damage already done except to insure the impossibility of its recurrence by taking steps
to correct these deficiencies.
The first factor is the lack of competent leadership in the field. This does not imply that there are no Christian leaders of significant standing in education but rather that there are too few for effective action. It is regrettable that so few Christian young people undertake professional study in this area and that the majority of those who do, confine their efforts to independent school work.
The other matter to which we should turn our attention and which is of immediate concern to all of us is the failure of the Christian citizen to fulfill his responsibilities in helping to determine local educational policy. This is probably an extension of the lack of interest in civic affairs which is too typical of Christians generally. 'Me unfortunate result of this failure has been a wave of criticism of the public schools and a swing to the establishment of independent schools.
Our discussion of the character of modern education will be limited to some areas which offer more immediate challenges for our consideration. The first of these is methodology. It is here that we see the most striking departures from the kind of education with which we may be more familiar. Studies in educational psychology have made valuable contributions to the improvement of methodology. Foremost among these has been the challenge to formal discipline. Transfer of training is no longer taken for granted and special effort is made to insure that learning is taking place. Memory work and rote drills are replaced with lifelike experiences which enable students to make useful adaptations of facts and generalizations learned. There is ample evidence to show that these new methods are improvements in our efforts to help students learn. A second emphasis which has come out of these studies is that concerned with individual differences. There is fundamental error in the idea that a given learning situation will provide meaning for all students. Insofar as is possible, the modern teacher modifies the experience for each learner in an effort to provide for each that which will enable him to realize maximum success. That this is a difficult task is obvious and its effective accomplishment is one of the major problems in our schools. A third phase of modern methodology is the development of the activity learning situation. Researches have indicated that learning take.4 place as the learner reacts to his experience. As the degree of reaction is limited the learning is curtailed. By providing opportunities for overt behavioral responses in the classroom the modern educator makes possible a higher rate of learning by students.
This brief mention of three areas in which modern methods have made some radical departures from the traditional, serves to indicate the kind of progress which has been made. The challenge these developments present to Christians should be apparent. Not only should we examine our classroom or other teaching methods but we may well apply these principles in appraising our efforts to present Christ to those who know Him not.
The most significant challenge modern education has thrust upon the Christian Church concerns the participation of lay citizens in the determination of school policy and the actual operation of schools. Studies have shown that public understanding of the nature of education and of what it can do is one of the most significant factors in developing good schools.
Aware of this, the modern administrator seeks to involve the local citizenry in the school program. He will encourage the establishment of groups for study of the school philosophy. He will take steps to insure wide participation in the formation of the budget. He will welcome large attendance at Board of Education and other meetings. He will encourage the utilization of local resource persons in classroom work. Public participation in the school program is to be expected in a democracy since education is a function of government delegated by the state to the local community where the citizenry accepts the responsibilty for carrying on a school program. To state that this development in modern education presents a rare opportunity to Christians is to underestimate its significance. For many localities this will be the chance to repair defects and fill in omissions in local educational policy. We Christians must do all in our power to make our position known to the community and to demonstrate our ability to make valuable contributions to community projects.
A third area which offers a significant challenge to Christians is in the supply of personnel to man the schools. It is no secret that modern education is hampered by a serious lack of teachers to carry on even an inadequate educational program. This problem is in the press almost daily. There is a real crisis at hand in the elementary field where even the recruitment of ill-trained personnel has been insufficient to fill the positions and there is every reason to expect this situation to worsen in the immediate future. Here is another rare opportunity for Christendom to make its voice heard. There are unlimited openings for Christian young people to serve their Lord in the classrooms of our nation.
Another matter which requires but brief mention is that of the need for more adequate textbooks. This need is widely apparent as educational research has forged far ahead of the supply of materials suitable for use in the newer methodology. The matter of Christian textbooks was well covered at the last annual meeting where Mr. Buswell ably presented the dilemma facing those who would produce texts with an underlying Christian philosophy. The desirability of publishing these in the near future must be weighed against the added value of their preparation by those who have devoted themselves to attaining competency for this task. The advantages of each course of action are evident and it would seem wise to proceed with both. We must caution, however, that texts which are develoved without due regard for recent advances as indicated above will be unlikely to receive wide use. In the face of insistent demands for textual materials which are functional in nature and thus suited to the modern curriculum, Christian scholars would do well to embark on a program designed to supply just such material in the Christian philosophy. Campaigning to remove certain textbooks is, valueless unless provision is made to replace these with others of at least equal standing.
A final area which has significance for us is that of philosophy in education. That the last word on this subject has not yet been spoken is evident to anyone familiar with the literature. The ascendency of philosophical systems which rule out absolutes has caused no little stir among educators. That there is an underlying realization of the need for attention to spiritual matters is indicated by the nature of the most recent publication of the Educational Policies Commission, probably the most influential group of leaders in the, profession. This book, Moral and Spiritual Values in our -Schools, is now enjoying wide circulation. While we may not concur in the opinions expressed we cannot but admit that this indicates desirable awareness on the part of educators. Here again we must face a fundamental lack in our failure to provide Christian educational leaders for service on this and other similar commissions. But to stop here would be unfair to the efforts which have been made in this regard. Of great significance and value in this attempt to assert the Christian position is the recent publication of Christian Education in a Deemed. racy by the N. A. E. Committee. This pioneering effort needs reinforcement and re-emphasizing by a whole range of works in the field of education developed in the Christian philosophy. The uncertainty of modern educational philosophy offers a challenge to Christian certainty.
By way of conclusion to this brief treatment several suggestions are offered for consideration by this group both collectively and individually. That Christians should embark on a positive program designed to remedy the defects apparent in modern education and that such a plan must embody the latest knowhow educational research has developed is a basic postulate. The recommendations which follow assume this primary principle.
1. Christians should dedicate themselves to a thorough study of education because a) it is such a vital factor in our personal development and b) we must be well informed if we are to offer worthwhile criticism of matters educational.
2. Christians should make a determined effort to participate actively in community affairs, particularly the formulation of local educational policy.
3. Christians should launch a recruitment drive to encourage young people to enter educational work as an area of Christian service.
4. Christians who are qualified should begin work on textbooks and other teaching materials built around the Christian philosophy.
5. Christians, and particularly Christian educators, should continue to work on the development of an adequate Christian philosophy of education.
Education, which is so vitally concerned with the young and with the development of ideals and attitudes, offers a unique challenge to Christian thinkers. Are we ready to meet it?
Miss M. Chan: What factors do you think should be considered by a Christian group intending to establish a parochial school?
Mr. E. L. Hammer: This particular problem is probably the hottest issue outside the Federal Aid. In the first place, let me preface my remarks by saying that to criticize education in Christian parochial schools as such would be utter foolishness on my part. My education until I came to Teachers College or until I went to Northwestern, from the seventh grade up, was in just such schools and I certainly am impressed with it. However, I think that there are some very important considerations that any such school must take into consideration and weigh rather heavily. One of these is in the matter of finance.There have been enough studies now, I think, to enable us to say rather emphatically that it's very unlikely that we should be able to supply a good educational program for young people for less than $200 per student per year. I'm thinking now of the elementary and high school level. And further, I should point out that this is based on the assumption that the average elementary school would have at least 300 pupils and the high school at least 700. Frankly, it's a question in my mind, first, whether we have that much money and, secondly, whether it would be wise to spend it in this way. That leads me to the second point; namely, I would recommend. I would urge-that the group considering starting such a school exhaust all possibilities for improving their local school. I think I can give you a case in point. There is not very much that people living in this area can do about the school system in New York City. It is something that is so big and so unwieldy. I am sure that some more studies have been carried on in connection with the Bronx Park project, but, for the time being. nothing effective can be done to improve the situation in the local schools. Then I would consider deciding that they enforce the establishment of a Christian school to replace them. Those two factors, I would say, are the important ones: first, to have enough money and, if we have it, is it going to be best spent in the establishment of such a schqol and secondly, are we justified in resorting to this rather than augmenting the public school program as it is operating.
Miss M. Chan: There seems to be an indication that modern educational methods are working out better. Do you think that is true?
Mr. E. L. Hammer: I think that probably the best single reference, and there are many, is the 8-year study carried on by the Progressive Education Association. Of course, it has since gotten a very poor name and deservedly so, I think, but the 8-year study was a study of a group of schools that were quite advanced in these newer methods. Against each one of those was established another school of the traditional type that would offer a control. I think the best single indication of the success of the program is that practically without exception and certainly generally their graduates did much better in college work, not only in basic academic work but particularly in work of a social nature, school activities, establishing clubs,, exerting leadership and that sort of thing. This, to my way of thinking, is exactly the sort of thing that we need for Christian young people.