Religion and Education

Religion is inherently educational, and education is inherently religious.


Photo Source: Wikipedia

In order to survive and flourish, all religions demand an educational component.  This is true of false religions as well as of Christianity.  Religion is inherently educational.

Militant Muslims

Muslims train and teach their children to become accustomed, willing, and in fact eager to commit the most barbaric acts imaginable to please Allah.  They plan to eliminate all other religions and create a global caliphate.  They intend to begin this themselves and for their children to complete the task.

Judaism and Christianity

Judaism and Christianity are thoroughly educational. Our Lord Jesus could have chosen to come to earth as a scribe, a Pharisee, a tax collector, a farmer, a shepherd, or some other kind of professional or manual laborer.  His choice was to be known as “a teacher come from God”, often called “Rabbi.”

The last words He spoke to us were “Go . . . teach all things”.  This is not “the great suggestion”: it is the great commission.  2 Timothy 2:2 describes this as a process: “the things that thou has heard of me . . . the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”  Paul teaches Timothy, Timothy teaches faithful men, faithful men teach other faithful men, and so on until a faithful link in the chain teaches us.

All Education Systems

Just as important, but much more subtle, all education is inherently religious.  In other words, we educate for a reason.  We educate children in order to perpetuate our worldview, our culture, our religion.

We observe this in literature: every novel, short story, and poem is written with an educational purpose.  That’s why literature is so powerful, for good or for evil.  Art for art’s sake does not exist.

When Nathan had to confront David regarding his great sin, he was putting his life in danger.  He disarmed David by telling him a short story that stirred his righteous indignation.  The king determined the appropriate response, painting himself into a very small corner.

The process simplified is that literature disarms, engages, and persuades.  Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan precisely for this reason with the same outcome.  He often used parables in this way.

Insightful, alert English teachers play a critical role in Christian education.   How valuable they are!

Education may not appear to be religious and may even insist that it is thoroughly secular.  Me thinks they do protest too much.  Secular humanism is, of course, a religion.

Be not deceived:  Religion is inherently educational, and education is inherently religious.

The Selfie Syndrome

Combating Self-Absorption

In our vision statement for ministry, what is the trait that we most desire for our students?  The nebulous answer is success.  But pulling back the veneer, what do we really want?  Contrast that envisioned goal with what we see happening all around us.  True!  It is not just in students.  It is rampant in all sectors of our culture.

Using a selfie stick

Photo Source: Wikipedia

What is it, you ask?  The Selfie Syndrome!  That is the term used by Michelle Borba in a recent article in Time magazine.  She noted that the “rise of social media, as well as changes in our culture and parenting styles” had produced a generation of self-absorbed youth.  She offered some alarming statistics:

  • Narcissism rates up 58% compared to three decades ago
  • 20% of middle school students contemplate suicide as a solution to being bullied
  • Nearly 3 out of 4 college students admit cheating in class
  • One-third of college students report being depressed to the point of “having trouble functioning”

Probably safe to say this not what was envisioned a generation back.  So what can we as Christian educators do to cast a better vision for our students?  Here are several thoughts to get us started:

  • Model a life of Serving Others – Jesus came to earth as a prophet, priest, and king; however, his greatest example to us is that of a Before he completed His mission at Calvary, he washed feet.  (John 13; Philippians 2:5-8).   Let students see you serving fellow teachers by providing a meal in times of illness, praying with and for parents, and assisting students even when you are not required to do so.
  • Seek Empathy opportunities – While we should show sympathy to our students, we seek opportunities to be empathetic. Empathy begins in the classroom—guide students to understand personal needs of classmates; show students ways to be loving and kind to those that are different than them.  Help students to “walk the mile” in the shoes of others.  Guide students to give time and/or money to relief efforts.  Seek local service opportunities to assist elderly, work in homeless shelters or rescue missions, etc.
  • Focus on Self-Sacrifice not Self-Esteem – In a culture that bombards leaders with the need to teach self-esteem, do not lose sight of the truth that success is when self-sacrifice guides one’s life. Jesus reminded His disciples that to be His follower one must deny self rather than be consumed by self-interest.  It is interesting that in our world given to building self-esteem that suicide rates are on the rise.  Rarely do students need help building an esteemed self.
  • Honor those that Sacrifice – Our first thoughts may go to our military members or first responders. While these are worthy examples, the news is full of examples of those that “esteem others better than themselves.”  What about a person who donates an organ to family, friend, or total stranger?  It may be someone who sacrifices money or possessions for storm victims, the poor, or a missionary or mission project.  Remember, you will get what you honor.
  • An Others Project – Choose a year-long or short-term school or class project that allows teachers and students to see, understand, empathize, and sacrificially invest in others. Promote the opportunity to the students.  Let students offer ways that they can be used to meet the needs of others.  Facilitate opportunities for students to have an actionable part in helping.  Money does not solve all problems and it is often too easy to give money and then return focus to self.

Part of an effective teacher’s vision is that students learn to live for something greater than self.  As our culture caters to the desires of self, let’s be intentional about showing and teaching our students that the end of life lived with Selfie Syndrome is not success, rather disappointment, depression, and destruction.


The bored Awakens

Do your students always seem to be gazing into the solar system? For learning to be at its best, students must be engaged 100% of the time.


Photo Source: Wikipedia

Are your students busy or engaged? Remember, whoever is doing the most work is doing the most learning. Get your students engaged. Student engagement is defined as “students’ cognitive investment in, active participation in, and emotional commitment to their learning” (Zepke & Leach, 2010, pg. 168).

According to Marzano and Pickering, (2011), student engagement encompasses the following four areas:

  • Emotions: “How do I feel about this assignment?”
  • Interest: “Does this assignment capture my interest?”
  • Perceived Importance: “Will I really need to know this?”
  • Perceptions of efficacy: “Can I do this?”

Students must answer “yes” to these four questions for them to want to be involved in the learning activity. The better a teacher knows his students, the better she/he can design an assignment that meets the needs of these four criteria.

Schlecty (1994) gave three characteristics of engaged students. Teachers need to observe their classrooms for students who

  • are attracted to their work.
  • persist in their work despite challenges.
  • take visible delight in their work.

Children almost always portray these characteristics when playing video games, playing with Legos, or playing sports. The same needs to be true regarding academics. How much engagement occurs by watching, listening, note taking, copying, highlighting, discussing, dissecting, or building? Choose activities that are engaging! “High levels of active engagement during lessons are associated with higher levels of achievement and student motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000)”.

There are four essential goals for engaged children:

  • Success (the need for mastery)
  • Curiosity (the need for understanding)
  • Originality (the need for self-expression)
  • Relationships (the need for involvement with others) (Strong, Silver & Robinson, 1995)

Engaged students will experience these goals within the classroom on a daily basis. Teachers need to think of creative ways to keep learners engaged by tuning in to their interest.

“Psychologically, engaged learners are intrinsically motivated by curiosity, interest, and enjoyment, and are likely to want to achieve their own intellectual or personal goals. The engaged child demonstrates the behaviors of concentration, investment, enthusiasm, and effort. Because children with low levels of engagement are at risk for disruptive behavior, absenteeism, and eventually dropping out of school, the need to increase engagement is critical to children’s success in school.” (Jablon & Wilkinson, 2006)

Real learning is not a spectator sport! Create a climate of engagement that draws student attention and promotes learning.


Jablon, S. & Wilkinson, M. (2006, March). Using Engagement Strategies to Facilitate Children’s Learning & Success. Young children on the Web.

Marzano, R. & Pickering, D. (2011). The Highly Engaged Classroom. Marzano Research.

Ryan, R. & Deci, E. (2000). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology 25, 54–67

Schlecty, P. (1994). Schlecty Center on Engagement.

Strong, R., Silver, H., & Robinson, A. (1995). Strengthening Student Engagement: What Do Students Want (and what really motivates them)? Educational Leadership, 53, 1,  8-12

Zepke, N. & Leach, L. (2010), Improving student engagement: Ten proposals for action. Active Learning in Higher Education. 11(3):167-177

What Do You Want Your Students To Love?

Prioritize Your List

“What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?” James K.A. SmithBasic RGB

Photo Source: Wikipedia

It’s August and the first days of school are upon us!  It’s time to plan lessons and prepare schedules.  It’s time to craft tests and make lists of topics we want to cover. It’s time to get out the curriculum guide and review all that we need to teach our students this year.

It’s also time to pause:  pause to reflect on what it is we are really doing.  It’s time to ask ourselves the question posed by James K.A. Smith:  “What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?”

What if . . .

. . . loving virtue were more important than memorizing facts?

. . . loving others were more important than excelling at a sport?

. . . loving beauty were more important than finishing everything?

. . . loving truth were more important than being right?

. . . loving learning were more important than making a good grade?

. . . loving God were more important than getting into a good college?

What if?

Would we still have our students memorize facts?  Of course.  Push them to excel?  Absolutely?  Encourage them to finish well?  Think rightly?  Make good grades?  Pursue college? Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.

But, I wonder, what would happen if we started our yearly plans with a list of what we want our students to love and then made our list of what we want them to know?

Would our schedules, plans, lessons look different?  I think so, even for seasoned Christian educators.  I know they do for me.  I am thankful to be able to walk by a large banner of this quote every day in the lobby of my school.  What a poignant reminder that our real purpose is not to fill minds.  Rather, it is to train affections.

How would you answer this “What If?” question?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

(If you are interested in pondering this topic more, you may enjoy James K. A. Smith’s book Desiring the Kingdom, C.S. Lewis’s Weight of Glory, or Richard Riesen’s Piety and Philosophy).

Five Rules for “Fitly Spoken” Words in the Classroom

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” Proverbs 25:11


Photo Source: Wikipedia

Even this early in the school year, there is need for teachers to speak with directness to students. Clarity and straightforward communication is both necessary in an effective teacher -student relationship. However, teachers must develop a skilful communication style that gets to the point without being harsh.  There is no place for a brash, in-your-face communicative style in the classroom.

In a digital culture embolden to speak without appropriate restraint because one can hide behind a veil of social media, teachers must guard against adopting a harsh or brash communicative style with students. The wisest of all men warned us to make our words “fitly spoken.”

Here are five rules that should guide teacher communication with students.

Do not “provoke to anger.  Just as parents are warned to train their children without provoking them to anger, teachers who labor en loco parentis should be careful not to provoke with words. Even though many students submit to harsh words spoken by a teacher, bitterness can take root in the heart of the student and spring up into an angry spirit.

Avoid sarcasm.  Teachers must not give in to the temptation of “making a point” by spewing sarcastic remarks. I confess that I have had to make concerted effort in this area. Why? Because I have observed first-hand that sarcasm (literal meaning is to “rip or tear flesh”) does not edify but destroys the heart of a student. Often our sarcastic words are a means of venting our frustration and anger.  Students do not respond well to being “ripped.”

Watch your Tone.   While the primary definition of tone refers to the quality, pitch, and strength of vocal sounds, the meaning of the word also refers to the “general character and attitude” of our spoken words. I recently reviewed some research that found that as much as 38% of our communication was done via the tone of our voice. It is not always what we say but how we say it. Listen to yourself!  Better yet, ask a cohort to listen to your tone. Are you communicating in a pleasant tone or one that grates on students. Proverbs 12:18 says “there is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise is health.”

Use gestures.  Sometimes a teacher can better communicate by a gesture than words. Very often a combination of gestures and words will prove more effective than just words. For example, teachers can point, use other hand signals (necessitates students making eye contact with the teacher), and perhaps use a nod of the head to communicate clearly and without harshness. I heard it said that “when all other means of communication fail, try words.”

Speak in love.  We are to speak truthfully with students; however, that is only part of our responsibility. Paul reminds us that truth is to be spoken in love. While it is easy to soothe our hearts by recounting our truthfulness and straightforward speech to students, our communication is never to be without love. What is love?  Love is “doing right by the cherished object.” (Romans 13:10)  As teachers, we must allow a genuine heart of love to control our speech.  Remember, perception is reality!  Students should hear love in our words, even those that are spoken correct.

These are just a few of the rules that should guide our speech as educators.  We must ask ourselves (and others) if our words are being “fitly spoken?”  Dare to ask others to help you evaluate your communication with students.  Record yourself.  Be honest with yourself.  Accept suggestions and honest criticism from others.

Do you  have other suggested rules that you use to guide your classroom speech?  What not take a minute and share with us.  Perhaps this list of five will grow to ten.  Make it your prayer that you would never offend students through your speech!

Death Education

Are your students prepared for a tragedy?

Death Education

As we begin a new school year, our buildings are teeming with energy and excitement.  There is an edge that comes with a re-start—both for teachers and students.  Some teachers are embarking on their inaugural school year as a teacher.  Students have enjoyed a summer with activity and diversion; however, most are ready to get back to the routine of socialization, education, and extra-curricular enjoyments.

But what happens when this excitement is punctuated by a tragedy?  What are you doing as a teacher to prepare students for the unexpected?  What are you doing to prepare students for the inevitable?  Do you actively provide curricular initiatives in Death Education?

graveyard Picture

Photo Source: Wikipedia

While I am sure that few have teaching units in Death Education, we should intentionally teach students to understand, deal with, and prepare for death.  It is still true: “No one is prepared to live until he is prepared to die.”  As educators, we must not only help our students prepare for death, but we must also prepare them for those times that death strikes uncomfortably close to us.

This past school year during graduation week, a student in a school that I serve, died in a boating accident.  The impact on a family, a peer group, a school, and a greater community was shocking.  While we know that these things can happen, as educators we are often caught off guard.

The educational process should include instruction in Death Education.  Of course, protocols for this teaching will be different based on age and grade levels.  But educators should integrate truths about death into students’ learning experiences.  Ruth Haycock’s Encyclopedia of Bible Truths for School Subjects suggests appropriate concepts to include into a curriculum.

Some obvious biblical concepts that should be taught—

  • Spiritual vs. Physical Death
  • Causes of Death
  • Nature of Physical Death
  • Life after Death
  • God’s Power over Death
  • The Body after Death
  • Post Resurrection Events
  • Believer’s Attitude Towards Life and Death

Death Education should not be taboo in our classrooms; rather, teachers should intentionally integrate truth about death into curriculum.  Prayerfully, your students and your school community will be spared from personal tragedy this year; however, as teachers we must be proactive in preparing students to face death.

Only when students understand and are prepared to deal with death can they be fully prepared to for life.

What are some suggestions that you can share about how to implement death education into the teaching process?

Encyclopedia of Bible Truths for School Subjects

Encyclopedia of Bible Truths for School Subjects ( Association of Christian Schools International, 1993)

Written by Ruth Haycock (originally in four volumes), Encyclopedia of Bible Truths for School Subjects is a sourcebook of information vital to Christian school teachers.  This volume provides organized, referenced, and categorized biblical truths designed to integrate every school subject.  Whether lesson preparation, research, project completion, or chapel and program development, this volume will become a trusted reference work that will allow you to work more efficiently and effectively.  A priceless resource, Encyclopedia of Bible Truths for School Subjects will deepen you knowledge and love for God’s Word while assisting you develop powerful, biblically-integrated lessons.



Aloha: Welcoming New Teachers

Works for us

AlohaPhoto Source: Wikipedia

Aloha is a small word with a big reach. Think of it as a hug. In Hawaii, we use it to say hello, good-bye, and as a synonym for love. The word aloha also describes our approach to helping new teachers get connected to our church, school ministry, and community.

Our school enrollment averages around 200 students from kindergarten through 12th grade. We have one class per grade where we try to do it right and do it well. We have 13 full-time teachers; but because it is Hawaii, every year we say good-bye to at least one terrific teacher and hello to a new one. Over the past 30 years, this has added up to a lot of hugs.

For many of these new teachers it is their first teaching opportunity. For them, moving to Hawaii is both exciting and a little scary. Here are a few of the things that have worked for us to help make the move easier for them.

Before They Arrive

Helping new teachers feel loved and wanted begins before they arrive. Moving to a new ministry can be exciting and scary. Knowing that information reduces anxiety, we try to create an environment where new teachers are comfortable asking questions. We have found that sending emails and text messages works well because of the time zone differences, but this also works well because it allows the new teachers to ask all sorts of questions as they think of them without feeling like they are bothering someone. We ask one or two of our current teachers to connect with them as well. The more information we can give them before they arrive the better.

When They Arrive

My wife and I and two or three of our teachers like to greet new teachers at the airport with a smile, a flower lei, and a short tour of the island. During the first week, we want to accomplish three things.

First, we want to familiarize them with the island. This means spending the day with them as we circle the island while sharing with them about ourselves, our diverse culture, and our unique history. Moving to a new place is always better after making new friends, so we try to take other teachers with us on these excursions to help foster opportunities for new friendships to develop.

Second, we want to help them get established in their new home. Since new teachers will not be paid for another two or three weeks, we take them grocery shopping and the church picks up the tab for the first $100. We also ask the new teachers to make a list of things they need for their house and classroom. We call this a wish list. We post the wish list in the back of the church auditorium and challenge our church folks to provide the items. Our church families are great about adopting new teachers and making them feel loved and part of the church.

Third, we want to help new teachers get connected with our church. During that first week, our pastor and his wife will work on connecting with them. We encourage our college and career Sunday school class, church members, and school staff to reach out to our new teachers as well by including them in family activities. We know that the more connections the new teachers make, the faster they will feel like they are a valued part of the ministry.

After They Arrive

After playing tourist for the first week or so, we want our new teachers to get busy working. Working together builds unity, and at the beginning of the school year we have lots of opportunities for unity!

For instance, we always schedule a church-wide work day for families to come help the teachers get the campus and classrooms ready. We also have a day set aside for new teacher orientation. This way they can have the principal’s attention, take care of paperwork, and get some individual help before the other teachers come for in-service training. Once in-service training begins, an experienced teacher is asked to help the new teacher. This mentor shows the teacher how to get the classroom and lessons ready for school.

We do other things as well, but these are a few of the things that work for us. At our school, loving and helping new teachers is a planned activity, but it is also a part of who we are as a church and school. For us, we have discovered that aloha works!


John Goodale earned a B. A. in pulpit communications from Tennessee Temple University and an M.A. in education administration from Liberty University. He has been a teacher and principal at Ko’olau Baptist Academy in Kaneohe, Hawaii, for 30 years.

Copyright Journal for Christian Educators, Spring 2016 Vol.22 NO 3.  Reprinted with permission of the American Association of Christian Schools.

Re-FOCUS Time!

WE’RE BACK !!!                                                                 

After a hiatus we are glad to be blogging again.  Beginning this month we will begin regular posts to FOCUS on Christian Education.  We are glad to re-connect with many of you and anticipate establishing many new friendships as well.

As we have prepared to re-launch FOCUS, I re-read our introductory post from January 2014.  I am sharing below some excerpts from that post.

Why another blog?

The purpose of FOCUS on Christian Education is to engage educators in relevant dialogue, equip educators for effective labor, and edify educators for biblically-relevant service all for God’s glory.

What do I mean by . . .

  • Engage– (in-gāj) to be involved, to assume an obligation; to enter into conflict
  • Equip – (ih-kwĭp) to provide with what is needed; to furnish for service or action by appropriate provisions; to make ready
  • Edify –(e-də-fī) to instruct and improve; to build or establish, especially the mind or character

What can you expect from FOCUS?

  • FOCUS will not be a one-person blog.  Although Edward will serve as the editor and Matt as the assistant to the editor, there will be many additional contributors.  The wise writer of Proverbs reminded us that confidence comes from “a multitude of counselors.”
  • FOCUS will depend on response and interaction from you—the reader and hopefully, the responder.
  • FOCUS will include more than just opinion narrative—it will provide a variety of post styles—i.e. book reviews, research and data-driven posts, etc.
  • FOCUS will seek to engage Christian educators—not that we will always agree—but that our “iron might sharpen iron” to the glory of God.


If you are already signed up to receive FOCUS by email, welcome back.  If you have not signed up to receive FOCUS, please take a minute and do so.  Anyone who signs up to receive FOCUS in the month of August will be entered in the drawing for an Amazon gift card.

Can’t wait to re-FOCUS.

The Beauty of Community

Health Update on Edward

Last month featured a two-part post on Recommitting to a Christian Philosophy and Community.  I was refreshed by several points Dr. Uecker makes; however, this past week, I was reminded in a very tangible way of the importance of the very type of community that this blog seeks to create.

As many of you may know, last week, Edward Earwood, the editor of FOCUS the focus blog, was hospitalized with serious health concerns.  As word of his condition spread within the Christian education community, people around the country and around the world began praying for his healing.  His family have received numerous visits, calls, and expressions of kindness and concern.  On behalf of the family, thank you!

We are pleased that God has seen fit to answer those prayers and that Edward’s health is improving. He’s out of intensive care and looks forward to being released from the hospital in the coming days.  Please pray for his continued healing and rehabilitation.  As those who know him can imagine, he’s eager to return to his work to edify, equip, and engage the Christian education community.