Teaching The Greatest Book

Teaching God’s Word is a wonderful privilege, as well as a great responsibility. Despite the fact that our specific theological views most likely differ, our commitment to teaching God’s Word faithfully and truthfully should be the same. If we want our students to respect God’s Word, we ourselves need to handle it with great care and respect. We will discuss how to “rightly handle the word of truth,” make Bible study enjoyable, help students develop good study habits and help them get to know God – not just hear about Him. We will also discuss integrating a biblical worldview into other subjects and help our students love the Author of the greatest story.

Hana Rodgers

Hana has a master’s degree from the Czech Republic in English, social sciences and education. She loves sharing her love for God with her 3rd-graders and is thankful for the opportunity to pursue the mission, vision and values of e Cambridge School in San Diego. She is grateful for the opportunity to point her students daily to the truth of God’s Word and to form the minds of her students. Hana is passionate about creating wonder and a love of learning in her students and is always eager to improve in this area. She enjoys teaching about the Creator, diagramming, thinking of new ways to integrate the many subjects she gets to teach, creating innovative ways to bring history to life for her students, helping her students enjoy math and much more.

The Grammar of Integration

Like many Grammar School teachers, we are always looking for ways to design meaningful learning activities that integrate our curriculum across disciplines. We want our students to recognize the interconnectedness between what they are learning in history, literature, art, math, science, Bible, etc. Teaching an integrated curriculum is important for a number of reasons, not least of all because it demonstrates to students in a tangible way that all knowledge should be viewed as a coherent whole. Given that all truth has God as its single source, the study of God and His creation through the different disciplines should be undertaken as a unified enterprise. Thus developing activities that ingrain this unity is important for helping students to learn the nature of truth and its relation to our Creator.

In addition to finding projects that foster cross- disciplinary integration, we also seek to develop activities that are as hands-on as possible. While such activities are particularly helpful for students with certain learning styles, we have found that all Grammar students learn best by doing. Providing students with hands-on kinesthetic activities encourages their active engagement
in the learning process and also aids them in practically understanding the implications of abstract ideas. We also have found that through hands-on activities we are able to help students make connections between what they are learning in class and practical aspects of their life outside of school.

Developing activities that meet these dual goals of cross-disciplinary integration and hands-on learning is not particularly difficult, but it does require intentionality and planning. The rest of this article consists of a series of such activities that we have developed and found to be particularly effective. These activities are organized chronologically around various historical themes. For each theme we have listed a short series of activities categorized by the curricular disciplines they represent. Most of these activities can easily be adapted to be age-appropriate for various grade levels as needed. Our ideas certainly are not exhaustive but are rather a springboard for further brainstorming. We hope that what follows provides you with some practical ideas that you can implement, or that it at least gets you thinking about how to develop other activities that encourage hands-on and cross-disciplinary learning.

Creation

Natural History: Grow a garden from seeds either in an outside container or by starting seedlings in egg cartons in the classroom.
Math: Plant and observe the growth of plants by measurement in inches or centimeters from beginning of growth and record data on bar or line graphs.

Art: Journal sketches of plant growth at each stage. Grammar/Composition: Have students write a paragraph about their observations on the goodness of God through creation with reference to Genesis 1:11.

Reign of Tutankhamen

Literature: Read and research Howard Carter and his discovery of King Tut’s tomb as well as King Tut himself; look at Stanton and Hyma’s Streams of Civilization to study the discovery of beans buried with King Tut that were planted and harvested even to this day.

Natural History: Read about mummification in Aliki’s Mummies Made in Egypt and identify the various stages of mummification; take this a step further by mummifying chickens or hot dogs in class. (Consult an Egyptologist or Google for the steps for mummifying.)

Art: Draw a pyramid on manila paper or sculpt out of clay; make copies of different types of hieroglyphics, allowing students to create messages or name plates, etc.; students also can create cartouches of their names using hieroglyphics.

Bible – Help students make connections between this period in Egyptian history and biblical events happening at the same time such as Joseph being sold into slavery; discuss how through God’s plan He saved the people of Israel from starvation when the famines came.

Greece Colonized, Democracy Begins

History: Have students work in groups and research the beginnings of Greek government using Stanton and Hyma’s Streams of Civilization chapter 6 or Bauer’s Story of the World chapter 22; then study the foundations of elections and voting worldwide, assigning each group a different section of government and allowing them to demonstrate the process by holding a mock election. Natural History: Study how overpopulation and the need for new food sources led the Greeks to turn to the sea for food; discuss food cycles and methods for increasing crop production. Art: Use real (dead) fish to dip in paint and make fish paintings; discuss how the Greeks turned to the sea as a source of food because of growth and overpopulation.

Reign of Caesar Augustus

Literature: Have students read about Octavian & Mark Antony; read about and discuss the officials who served under Caesar Augustus as explained in Haaren and Poland’s Famous Men of Rome.

Natural History: Study and grow grains used during this period such as corn and wheat in a galvanized container inside the classroom.
Math: Record data observations on the growth of the grains in inches or centimeters and create bar or line graphs with the results.

Art: Bring in examples of fully grown grains (wheat, corn, rice, barley, oats, etc.) and create a mosaic.
Bible: Help students make connections between this period in Roman history and biblical events happening at the same time such as the birth of Christ.

Marco Polo

Geography: Draw or create maps depicting the Silk Road from China to Imperial Rome and identifying trade routes through the Holy Land, Persia, and eventually to China. Literature: Read together The Travels of Marco Polo and then have students journal their own journey through the school year (the first day of school, field trips, vacation, special events, etc.).

Natural History: Bring in examples of the different kinds of spices from home, the grocery store, or a spice shop; bring in ginger root and grow it in the classroom by putting it in water until roots appear and then planting it in dirt much like a sweet potato plant.

Bible: Research the missionaries who went to influence the Eastern religions of the time, some of whom are mentioned in The Travels of Marco Polo.

The Renaissance

Literature: Read about and research Leonardo DaVinci

from Stanton and Hyma’s Streams of Civilzation, chapter 16, Hillyer’s A Child’s History of the World, chapter 66, or internet sources; identify his birth place, his educational experience, his inventions, and his monumental influence on today’s society.

Art: Have students observe and create sculptures, architecture, and paintings (for example, The Mona Lisa or The Lord’s Supper) of the time by copying the works as best as they are able or by applying the artistic principles from the Renaissance to create their own original works.
Natural History: Study and research inventions made during this time period (printing press, the flying machine by DaVinci, the bicycle, etc.) and create new inventions; study the human body by having students research and then sketch or create models of the heart, eye, and other major organs of the body
Bible: Help students make connections between this period in European history and the Protestant Reformation; have students read and discuss Martin Luther’s “Ninety-five Theses”; another good reference is Hillyer’s A Child’s History of the World, chapter 67.

Colonial Trading with England

History: Assign each student a colony from the original thirteen colonies; they should research the area where it was located, what crops were grown, what groups of people lived there, etc.; learn about mercantilism between England and the colonies; assign the leader of each colony to individual students and have them write a report and then give an oral presentation to the class.
Natural History: Discuss and bring examples of the types
of crops grown during this time period (examples: tobacco, cotton, indigo, and wood products). Grammar/Composition: After discussion, have students write a comparison paper on the use of various crops in commerce in that time period and how they are used today.

Parliament Acts Unjustly

History: Research the Boston Tea Party, identifying the source of the trouble, how the colonists handled the conflict, etc. Some resources include Johnny Tremain and Bauer’s The Story of the World.
Natural History: Study sugar, bring in examples of sugar cane, and discuss the importance of sugar to the colonies; discuss and bring in examples of different types of tea; grow your own tea plants in the classroom. (This can be done by going to your local nursery to buy Chamomile or other types of plants.)

Drama: Act out the story of the Boston Tea Party, incorporating various elements of the story that have been studied.

Black Leadership Emerges in the South

Literature: Read and discuss biographies of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver.
Natural History: Study, illustrate, and identify the parts of the peanut and peanut plant; grow peanuts and research all the uses of peanuts; make peanut butter from peanuts and then use it to bake peanut butter cookies.
Natural History: Research Carver’s findings on crop rotation and their economic significance; name the uses of peanuts; have students dissect a peanut and show visuals of the stages of growth of the peanut.
Art: Have students make drawings of the various stages of growth of the peanut.

World War II

Literature: Read and discuss the events leading up to and during this war time with highlights on Adolf Hitler; America entering the war; and the persecution of the Jewish people (novel suggestions: Diary of Anne Frank, The Hiding Place, Number the Stars, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas); research accounts of Pearl Harbor, identifying why and when the US entered the war.
Natural History: Study and research Victory Gardens and their purpose during war time; plant your own Victory Garden in a plot of land on your campus, in a public park (with permission from your local authorities), or in a window box garden; identify the various styles of airplanes used by the Allies as well as their enemies using pictures of the planes. Composition and Grammar: Have students write a paper on what they would do if there was a surprise attack on America today and how it would change their lives.

Modern America

Economics: Research our standards of living compared to

other countries; study our greatest exports and what imports we are dependent upon; after identifying our strengths as
a nation, take time to identify the weakness of America and discuss how we need a Savior who forgives and is gracious to us. (For example, the passage in Matthew 6 about storing up treasures on earth could be studied in conjunction with what Americans (or other countries) most value. How do the strengths/weaknesses of our country relate to what God considers a strength/weakness?)

Natural History: As a leader in today’s world of medicine, research plants used for medicinal purposes and investigate which ones would grow in your classroom; have students grow these plants and observe the growth.

Math: Record and journal the growth of the plants in inches or centimeters and create bar or line graphs using the data. Art: Make scientific sketches of the plants and label the parts used for medicine.

We hope these few examples will be a helpful resource for you as you plan projects for your class. All of them can be modified or expanded in order to meet the needs of your students as you bring your curriculum alive and seek to integrate it in meaningful ways.

We Can’t Teach the Bible and Theology Like We Used To

One of the most exhilarating moments in the learning experience is that moment in which the learner transcends habitual ways of looking at things. A new vision, a new map, a new paradigm – there is little to match such “Aha” moments. Therein, of course, stands the beauty of the classical approach. Whereas progressive models of education take for granted and indeed depend upon a worldview radically rooted in Enlightenment thinking, especially its favorite myth that we Enlightenment folk have finally arrived, most classical educators are aware that the Enlightenment lens is itself a historically conditioned phenomenon and cannot be assigned the Supreme Court status it implicitly presumes. After all, if we as twenty- first century moderns now clearly see all things that those of earlier times only dimly groped after, it does not make much sense to be in conversation with so many long-dead folk. The very fact that classical education lays such great store on the contributions of these same long-dead folk means that modernity does not, in fact, have it all sorted it out, despite its pretensions to the contrary. As Paul Ricoeur put it, “We are born into a conversation,” a conversation that has long preceded us.

Despite this awareness among classical educators, I wonder if even in our best schools we often experience a curious lapse of conviction when it comes to teaching Bible and Theology. In my experience, I find that those who teach philosophy, literature, science, and math in classical schools are fully aware that these subjects are not static entities and that, accordingly, it is not the pedagogue’s main calling to back up the gravel truck of knowledge – beep, beep, beep – with the goal of data dumping. At the same time, when it comes to teaching Bible and/or Theology in these same excellent classical schools, I wonder whether data dumping tends to be more the rule than the exception. I may be wrong, but I suspect that a good many Bible teachers fall into a posture in which they convey the propositional, the factual, and the givenness of their subject with an emphasis that far outweighs that of their colleagues who teach other subjects.

If I am right, I can find at least some good reasons for this. I teach Bible at a conservative, evangelical college; I sit on the board of a confessional classical school. If I stop believing the givenness of God’s self-revelation and one of our teachers at the school does the same, perhaps it is time for both of us to start looking for jobs elsewhere. Those of us who choose to teach at a confessional educational institution do so because we believe that all truth is God’s truth and must ultimately relate back to the Word of the self-revealing God. In the Protestant tradition, at least at its best, we start with the Word of God as the bedrock for our epistemology (theory of knowledge). To teach at a confessional school means certain commitments are non-negotiable. When it comes to contemplating the truthfulness of these commitments, I believe that it is sometimes necessary to say, “These convictions are not on the table; they are our table.” In my judgment, Christian classical education must, in the very nature of the case, stop short of an absolutely free inquiry as if everything were up for grabs. Everything is worth talking about, but everything is not up for grabs. To suggest as much is simply to subscribe without warrant to a thoroughgoing skepticism.

But our pre-commitments hardly explain why Bible and Theology are taught so differently so consistently. One reason that we tend to data dump in teaching Bible and Theology (e.g., “Here’s the Bible, here’s what it says, and here’s what we believe.”) is because we are instinctively uncomfortable with attributing to these hallowed subjects the same dialogical dynamism we ascribe to literature, art, philosophy, etc. As a result, we end up applying the principles of classical education to the liberal arts overall, but we then pull back when it comes to the Bible. Perhaps more simply, we lapse into teaching Bible and Theology this way because this is how most of us have been taught. But the way in which most of us have been taught—either by our parents or at church—may have a lot more to do with the Enlightenment than we are aware.

As an evangelical, I am conscious that one of the major historical influences on modern evangelicalism was the Old Princeton School, not least the stalwart champion of orthodoxy, Charles Hodge (1797-1878). Even if Hodge’s heyday was a good century after the end of the Enlightenment, his approach to theology can be seen as the epitome of an Enlightenment approach. In the opening pages of his Systematic Theology, he compares the study of theology to the study of the hard sciences, except that, in the case of the former, all the facts (the Bible’s propositions) are already there, waiting to be systematized. For Hodge the Bible was the architectonic “product of one mind,” at bottom a compendium of truisms. If Hodge sees the scripture as a static datum, and a sizeable swathe within the western church has followed suit, then it should come as no surprise to find the scripture being taught as a static datum.

Of course, as critics of Hodge would later point out, that is precisely what scripture is not. True, scripture is the product of one mind in the sense that God inspired scripture, but God did so through many writers over a long course of history. So rather than being a repository of static facts, the scriptures are actually the inspired residue of the unfolding events of redemptive-history. That which is contained in the Old in seed form has its full flowering in the New. The first fruits of this flowering will occur at the eschaton when the New Heavens and the New Earth are established, and we come full circle back to Eden, yet an Eden that surpasses the first paradise. Take it from me or, if you prefer, take it from Thomas Aquinas or John Calvin, revelation is progressive and maintains an organic inner unity. In short, scripture is a story complete with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

So, unless by some strange reasoning, we allow the liberal arts to play on the full playground of intellectual history but force Bible class to sit still in detention the classical movement will do well to consider how it might better teach the Bible as story. By this I do not mean spending more time on such great stories as David and Goliath. What I do mean is laying hold of the story of David and Goliath and discerning its narrative links with the earlier Conquest (Goliath would not even have been an issue if Israel had been faithful in clearing the land in the first place), with the later Davidic covenant (Yahweh’s faithfulness in this scene anticipates the establishment of the kingdom later on), both of which in turn point forward to the coming of Christ’s kingdom and back to creation. To teach the Bible as story simply means to do biblical theology, relating all of scripture to its beginning (creation) and end (Christ).

It is at this point that we need to keep in mind the nature of scripture and our own post-Enlightenment location in intellectual history. The Bible is not a book of doctrine; it is instead quite simply a story, the story of Yahweh’s dealings with Israel which comes to its climax in the coming of Christ. True, we may and should deduce doctrine and propositions from this beautiful story, but let’s keep first things first. The biblical writers did not say to themselves, “Boy, I have so many doctrines to communicate, so maybe I can tell a story – or write an epistle or recount a vision – in order to illustrate those doctrines.” Instead, the biblical writers just saw themselves as telling it like it was, from God’s point of view, of course. Articulation of doctrines and systems, a special penchant of post-Enlightenment society, comes in second. The story remains primary.

If we are uncomfortable with that, it is perhaps because we know that stories can be ambivalent, whereas propositions have the value of being relatively neat and tidy. Here we must keep a balance. In commending our faith to our children, we want to give them every reason to believe in its truthfulness. But we err if we think that we will accomplish this by reducing wholesale the organic and variegated nature of the scriptural story to a system of static facts. To be clear, this is not to object to systematic theology in principle. We in the church need systematic theology now more than ever. This is to say, rather, that systematic theology must have its place even as the story of scripture must have its place. And the place to begin is with the story: creation, fall, and redemption. If we fail to teach the Bible as God’s grand story, we will inevitably put a number of carts before a corresponding number of horses. We will also likely teach students to think of the Bible, at best, as an odd collection of moral stories and teachings, and, at worse, as a boring, lifeless thing. The culture is already telling young people that the Bible is boring and irrelevant. Why should we allow ourselves, against our best intentions, to con rm the point?

If we are to teach Bible as story, I would also argue that the same goes for the teaching of theology, but for different reasons. Truth, more often than not, is a complex affair; it also often takes time to unfold. It might be some source of comfort to think that on the day of Pentecost all believers everywhere had an immediate and full understanding of the natures of Christ and the interrelationship between the members of the Trinity, but this is almost certainly not the case. While some of the very first believers may have been trying to sort out for themselves the nature of Christ (e.g., Is he of like substance with the Father or the same substance?), such issues did not preoccupy the church until later. And when those issues did come to the fore, the church still took until the early fourth century before it decisively se led the ma er. Other theological questions followed, which in turn provoked various positions along the way. Theological questions continue to emerge, and we are still nding our way among them. To understand theology, you have to understand historical theology, in other words, the story.

When it comes to teaching theology, the post- Enlightenment churchman inside of me is tempted to teach my students with such phrases as, “This is the way it is…”. Obviously, there are junctures where you have to say exactly that and with no apology. However, before we back up the gravel truck of theological knowledge too quickly, we should pay more serious attention to teaching theology as historical theology. Today we stand on the shoulders of our spiritual forbearers; we have inherited a vast theological inheritance. Why not let our students in on that richness by bringing them down the hallway of history, along the long elaborate process through which God’s people learned to discern truth from error? Within the classical model, it is not enough to show students the tree of modern knowledge; we need to show them the roots as well.

If we are accustomed to being taught Bible and Theology as a string of cognitive propositions, this does not mean we have to return the favor in our own pedagogy. In fact, I submit that unless we are satisfied with being grossly inconsistent, we have little choice but to teach our faith like other subjects – as story. Of course, in choosing not to teach the Bible as it has been taught to most of us, it means choosing to teach the Bible as it has generally been taught down through history. The Scholastic period of the High Middle Ages notwithstanding, Bible and Theology have always been taught as story. When we do the same, we really are heading ad fontes in the truest sense.

Real Biblical Integration in the Classroom

If we really want to integrate biblical principles into our subject matter, we need to go beyond proof texts, devotions, or prayers to begin class. Biblical thought needs to be woven into the fabric of our subject matter and into the way we think and teach. This seminar will look at practical ways to make sure that our biblical worldview impacts our classrooms.

Peter Vande Brake

Dr. VandeBrake holds a B.A in Philosophy from Calvin College, a M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, VA, and a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Calvin Theological Seminary. Dr. Vande Brake has served as a teacher, coach, and administrator at North Hills Christian Academy, becoming headmaster in 1998. He is the secretary for the SCL board and serves on the CiRCE Institute board of directors.