Science in Christian Perspective



Science Education for The Emotionally 
Disturbed Child

Cajon Valley Union School District
San Diego, California 92115

From: JASA 31 (September 1979): 203-205.

In recent years public education has given much attention to the problem of emotionally disturbed children and youth. Money has been appropriated, classes established, curricula written, materials and equipment provided, and evaluation techniques developed. In spite of all this, emotional problems are increasing alarmingly among the school population, especially at the primary level. This contributes to the increasing number of educationally handicapped pupils, which in turn interacts with and aggravates the original disturbance. Without getting into the etiology of the syndrome, we can point up two facets of the problem: motivation, and moral and spiritual values, especially in the context of the Christian Gospel.

Too often the goal of this type of special education has been to improve the child's grasp of the basic skills-reading, writing, language, and mathematics. The next step is to move the pupil back into the regular classroom. But unless his individual motivation and interests are touched to the point that he sees the need for educational improvement and desires it enough to make the effort, teachers may, to all intents and purposes, be marking time. The goal is to move the child back into regular school and social channels, not to segregate until drop-out time (Fuson, 1970).
As more attention is given to special classes and instruction for the emotionally disturbed, the development and construction of curriculum will become increasingly important. There should be a difference in quality and kind from that offered to other public school children. While goals may be similar, the means will not always be the same. A science-oriented program may be one way to go.

The problem to be faced is to first capture the interest of these pupils, provide a rich science curriculum with an abundance of activities and experiences, and use this medium as motivation for improvement, both in the basic educational skills and the value standards which ultimately determine the life style of the individual (Fuson, 1970). The stakes are high. An emotionally disturbed child can become an emotionally disturbed adult. An educational handicap may ruin a life.

There are often opportunities through parental counseling, a suggestion to a local clergyman or lay Christian, or even at times out-of-class contacts, to channel the emotionally disturbed pupil into church related activities which may lead to a conversion experience. 

Teacher Motivation

The factor of motivation applies two ways, both to the teacher and to the pupil. Not only is the goal of committed Christians to provide educational and attitudinal remediation, but they also seek to develop moral and spiritual values in their students that will, through the leading of the Holy Spirit, result in a born-again experience. They must do this, and they can, within the limits of the existing laws.

The Westminster Confession states that:

... the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of-God, as to leave men inexcusable.

Paul declares in Romans 1:19-20:

... what can he known about God is plain to them, for God himself made it plain. Ever since God created the world, his invisible qualities, both his eternal power and his divine nature, have been clearly seen; they are perceived in the things that God has made (TEV).

It is my firm conviction, growing out of many years of experience in public education, that science activities can point the way to an awareness of God and result in the development of character and personality traits consistent with the Christian perspective. However, Hebrews 11 :6 must remain a corrective to this goal:

No one can please God without faith, for whoever comes to God must have faith that God exists and rewards those who seek him (TEV).

Richard H. Bube states that:

The investigations of science have uncovered a variety of evidences that support the basic Christian contention of the origin of the world as the creative work of God.

He goes on to list the existence of order, purpose, and design in the universe, its temporal nature, and the characteristics of man and human personality as considerations favorable to a Christian interpretation of creation (Bube, 1971).

As children tend to oversimplify explanations, the teacher must be careful not to appear to equate nature with God, thus suggesting pantheism, nor to imply any other aberrant view. The Hebrew-Christian tradition sees the world as totally dependent upon God. The world is noneternal, created by God, supported by Him in its momentby-moment existence. God is eternal, but nature is created and will one day pass away. The natural order is not divine, not autonomous. Purpose resides in God, not in nature. He alone is to be worshipped. Nature testifies to His existence (Jeeves, 1969).

Unless one has had first had experience with the many educational programs, often mandated and/or government funded, such as Title I, Early Childhood Education, Head Start, Diagnostic Prescriptive Teaching, it is difficult to comprehend the creeping materialism that is gaining control of our public schools. The behaviorists like John Watson and B. F. Skinner have widely influenced contemporary educational theory and therapy. In the area of emotional disturbance, Frank M. Hewett, perhaps to his own surprise, has made considerable contribution to current efforts in behavior modification, with his highly structured no-decision-making classroom.

One of the newer theories of behavior, sociobiology, portends even more startling implications for education, especially of the emotionally disturbed. Conflict between parents and children is considered biologically inevitable. Children are born deceitful. All human acts are ultimately selfish. Morality and justice are evolved from man's animal past, and are securely rooted in the genes, the result of millions of years of evolution. All forms of life exist solely to serve the purposes of DNA. Donald Campbell claims religious teachings have evolutionary importance. "The truths in religion have been selected because they are necessary and essential to man," states Ralph Burhoe, theologian, also a devotee (Time, August 1, 1977).

As Christian teachers stand before their pupils each day, they must be aware of the demonic forces that attempt to negate all the tenets of the faith they hold dear. Of course they are biased. To be evangelical they must also be missionary minded. They want their students to learn the Good News and to become followers of the Master they serve. Hence, within the legal code, they will teach science in such a way that God will be seen as the Creator and Sustainer. They will seek, through this subject area and its discipline, to develop concepts of moral and spiritual values consistent with the Christian Gospel.

Within the legal code, they will teach science in such a way that God will be seen as the Creator and Sustainer. They will seek to develop concepts of moral and spiritual values consistent with the Christian Gospel.

Definition of Terms

Emotionally Disturbed. These children have inner tensions and show anxiety, neuroticism, or psychotic behavior. They are often socially maladjusted as well. For the purpose of public education pupils who fall into this classification are not seriously disturbed enough to require residential care. They can function within a special class organization. They may be educationally handicapped, due to emotional disturbance, in one, more, or all the basic skills. Their attitudes toward school, its personnel, and the learning procedures are often affected adversely. This may carry over to peer and family relationships as well. They need to learn what they are capable of learning, to succeed and be pleased with their own performance.

Educationally Handicapped. A child who appears to be within the average or above mental ability range but manifests persistent irregularities in learning may be so classified. This can be determined from achievement and psychological tests, observation, and interviews (Fuson, 1970).

The effects of failure, retardation, ostracism, criticism, even punishment have so invaded the child's self-concept, that the educationally handicapped child, with little positive and effective initiative and incentive, is reduced to continual discouragement. The interplay of emotional disturbance and educational handicap may in time be devastating (Thompson, 1966).

Science Education. By this term will be meant the learning of scientific thinking, concepts and basic terminology of science, and general background information, all of which apply to those areas of interest to the individual student or which relate to group activities the class has chosen to pursue.

All learning will be through largely unstructed, informal individual and group activities, experiments, and projects. They will hopefully evolve from felt needs, expressed interests, and otherwise self-motivation factors.
The teacher needs a good background in both physical and biological sciences, as well as experience with special education pupils, including the gifted.

Pupil Motivation 

The key to any type of learning experience is motivation. Glasser comments on current practice:

Traditional educators. . .give lack of motivation as the reason that so many children fail in school, although they cannot explain this widespread lack of motivation. Their attempts to apply external pressure upon students to try to motivate them generally fail. Direct motivation. . .can be produced only with a 'gun" or some other forceful method. But guns, force, threats, shame, or punishment are historically poor motivators and work only as long as they are pointed and as long as the person is afraid. If he loses his fear, or if the gun is put down, the motivation ceases... Although guns have never worked, the schools, struggling to solve their problems, resort to using bigger and bigger guns-more restrictions and rules, more threats and punishments (Glasser, 1969).

Relevance is the key to motivation. Whatever is taught must be related, in the pupil's mind, to everyday experiences and needs. It must be practical, useful, with evident intrinsic values.

Subject content and teaching procedures can never be static. Everything around the child impinges on his world. Hence, what is attempted in the classroom must show relationship to his world at this specific time and place in history. The teacher must not only seek to understand the modern scene but see it through his eyes, as he perceives it-its demands on him, his ability to respond, and his accepted place or role. Then the effort can be made to organize the curriculum and learning experiences around his interests of the moment, ever alert to their transitory nature, which is characteristic of this syndrome.

Teachers must not only agonize to discover the real interests of their very special pupils but they must be clever enough to make them the innovators of the science program, the real curriculum writers for the class.
This is an important facet of discovery teaching. Teachers do not trick the pupils into following a preconceived science curriculum. They not only encourage pupils to develop their own interests but they try to prick their curiosity into finding new interests to follow. It is not an easy task. But the rewards may be an amelioration in the area of emotional disturbance, remediation in the basic skills, and the development of moral and spiritual values. In this classroom, science would be the base, or core, of the teaching-learning strategy. All subjects and activities would be related to or integrated with science. This program would be set in a class environment of decreasing structure and teacher direction, and increasing pupil participation and planning. Both individual and group learning activities, projects and experiments would co-exist, leading hopefully to more social interaction and improved peer relationships.

For these emotionally disturbed pupils the educational treatment is more a matter of degree or intensity. Good teaching practices are exaggerated in order to bring the troubled child back into the productive stream of learning-pupil motivation and interest, tolerance for pupil expression and feeling, development of self-concept and selfworth, pupil participation, pupil planning, discovery learning, process approach, personality growth, and growing self-confidence through increasing success experiences.
While this type of class requires limited size, special facilities and equipment, and complete freedom from the administration for the teacher and pupils to innovate, create, discover, and plan, other. educationally handicapped children can be helped with imaginative adaptations of this method of teaching in the regular classroom. A review of the literature and research points up the high correlation between learning disabilities and emotional disturbance.

Which is the initiating factor is not always clear. But it seems to most educators that educationally handicapped students are to some degree emotionally disturbed, and this condition has prior causality.

Christian Moral and Spiritual Values

Children naturally tend to be empirical in their view of life. What they cannot observe or experience for themselves is often rejected, or at least avoided. This is even more true of the emotionally disturbed. Coupled with the comments already made regarding relevance in teaching materials and techniques, a road block on the way to belief in God may be discerned.

Since it is illegal, and justifiably so, to teach religious faith and practices per se in the public school systems of this country, a teleological approach as a basic assumption on the part of the teacher can be attempted, with caution! It is a simple thing to substitute the word "God" for the popular but nebulous concept "Nature." In discussions with the pupils regarding their science learnings, design and order which they come to observe in all their science activities can be traced to God as the Prime Mover, the Ultimate Cause and Sustainer. This is especially true regarding the "Big Bang" theory of cosmology. The writer has often been asked by pupils, both special and "normal," about the origin of the original mass. The reasonable answer, which most often they themselves supply, is God.

As the students begin to progress in their basic skills, as the medium and by-product of an exciting, discovery type science program, they will develop improved self-concept, better peer relationships, and adjunctive personality qualities. Within the classroom, with its limited structure and the stress on pupil participation and planning, the children will recognize the necessity of working together with the requisite tolerance of others and interdependence on each other. In this type of class the members will begin to see the need for each to become responsible, helpful, and productive. They will construct their own little society, with its mores and life style.

Teachers try to stay in the background as much as possible, both in the learning experiences and the social development. They remain as resource persons, the ones who in subtle ways confirm or reject the choices and decisions that are made. They must resist the role of manipulator. They are not pulling strings for a puppet show. Most important, their example and daily life as Christians is a constant witness to their pupils, often the first and only one they have ever known.

It is not difficult to see how a gifted person can work in this special education class, inspiring and leading the students to first see the hand of God in the wonder-world of science which they eagerly seek to explore. Then, as the Master-Designer, He can become for them the Ground of all human experience. Their emerging moral and spiritual values can be directed to a Christian interpretation. Their feelings of self-worth and growing respect for each other may come to mirror, at least in part, the life of Him who said:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind... Love your neighbor as you love yourself (Matthew 22:37, 39. TEY).


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