Protectors or Shapers?
Protectors or shapers?
In the first issue of TEACH, Arthur N. Patrick issued a challenge to educators: grasp the opportunity to discuss the dynamic impact that Christian education has exerted and can continue to exert upon Australian society.1 This article is one response to that challenge.
an understanding that is transformational and
conversionist. He would have us preaching and
living the Gospel and seeking to influence and
change culture by being involved with and in culture.
This transformational model most closely identifies
with the “Christianised culture” model of Snyder. He
Here the kingdom is seen not merely as present,
or as the inward experience of believers, but as an
active, dynamic principle of social reconstruction
empowered by God’s Spirit. In this model the
kingdom is present, not just future; social, not just
individual; and material, not just spiritual.5
While many Christians, and Adventists in particular,
might feel uncomfortable with this, I endorse this
viewpoint. My comments will therefore address
two issues: how might we as Christian educators
reach out to the world about us, and what might we
offer Australian society? I submit two qualifications.
First, my experience has been largely with the K-12
sector of schooling and my comments will reflect that
perspective. Second, it must always be remembered
that the Christian school is a part of the Christian
Church. The former does not have a mandate to
march to a different drum beat. Church and school
must walk hand-in-hand.
How might we reach society?
Those who espouse ‘fortress thinking’ build walls
for the express purpose of keeping other people
out. While the fortress offers personal security and
some wellbeing, it ignores the greater good of the
greater number. More importantly, it diminishes
and institutionalises fulfilment of the Great Gospel
Commission. It also results in a ‘product’ unprepared
for encountering the world. Unfortunately for
fortress dwellers the occasional sorties outside
tend to have little impact upon secular society. To
reach those about us calls for the removal of the
fortress walls and a radical change in one’s thinking.
Accomplishing this also takes considerable moral
and spiritual courage.
A removal of walls should lead to openness;
the world can see in and the Church can see
out. This means that the basis of faith and one’s
belief tradition becomes open to questioning and
challenge. Indeed, to paraphrase the apostles Peter
and Paul, we must not be ashamed of the gospel but
be ready to give informed and reasoned discourse
about whom and what we believe.6 This requires
that the Christian home and the Christian student
feel confident of their belief structures. Fear and
insecurity exist within closed walls; self-confidence
and assurance require open space. Sara Little
reminds us that belief is multi-layered: “…it has
affective (feeling), volitional (willing), and behavioural
(acting) components, as well as cognitive (thinking)”7,
i.e. we are what we believe. What a challenge!
Australian society is rather proud of its secular
traditions. Indeed it is considered bad form to
discuss religion or religious issues in polite society.
It is refreshing, therefore, to note an increasing
willingness on the part of the nation’s leaders to
declare their Christian commitment and orientation.
I would argue that Christians, without taking a
narrow sectarian stance, should seek elected public
offices—be it at the local, state, or national levels—
as worthy vocations. Furthermore, students in
Christian schools should be challenged to aspire to
active involvement in the decision-making processes
of an Australian social democracy.
Few Christians would doubt that faith is nurtured
within the context of social interaction. Too often,
however, Christians have limited faith development
to social settings within a particular church. Jesus,
on the other hand, took his disciples into situations
where they associated and rubbed shoulders with
prostitutes, publicans and Pharisees; Samaritans
and sinners and social outcasts. He mixed freely
with tax collectors, Gentiles and poor widows.
While Jesus obviously had no truck with religious,
social, economic, or gender divides, he did not
directly attack the structures which permitted
these prejudices to flourish. Rather, he appeared
to treat social structures as irrelevant and, instead,
addressed the personal attitudes of his friends and
Let me provide a recent illustration. A Christian
friend of mine, working in a large state education
system, was appointed a district director of schools.
He inherited a culture in which some regional
and district conferences of school principals were
occasions for the copious consumption of alcoholic
beverages. My friend made no comment on this, but
simply asked that the caterers also provide a jug of
orange juice from which he filled and replenished his
Within a short period, others in the group
were opting for orange juice and the one jug was
insufficient. Over time, at his district conferences,
alcohol disappeared entirely and this happened
without adverse comment about drinking or censorial
demeanour toward the principals. Such is the
influence of the Christian who is unassumingly
selfconfident. Compromise or sermonising, in contrast,
is the strategy used by Christians who are unsure of
themselves and their beliefs.
This is not to suggest that there is nothing for
the Christian to say. There is a level at which the
Christian can and should offer input. We have just
had a change in national government. The leader of
the incoming party has declared education to be one
of his prime concerns. He has promised that there
will be significant change in the purposes, delivery
and outcomes of Australian schooling. This provides
a climate in which Christian educators may influence
the direction of Australian education. The window of
opportunity is small and therefore there is no time
for procrastination. Furthermore, other groups with
vested interests in education will ensure their voices
are heard; why not concerned and responsible
Christians? This leads us to the second issue: What
do Christians have to offer to Australian society?
What can Christians offer Australian society?
Fortunately, in this regard Australian Christians do
not start from ‘scratch’. Australia has a Christian
heritage that is its most valuable asset. To use an
analogy, the bonfire has been neglected and burnt
down to a mound of smouldering coals and ashes.
Rather than build a new bonfire, it is easiest to
gather the embers together and pile upon those
embers fresh sticks, branches and logs. Within a
short while the bonfire blazes bright! Let us not,
therefore, forget the embers of the past.
Australian schooling is enhanced by the
contributions of countless skilled, committed and
highly competent teachers. They do not need to be
told how to implement the curriculum and how to
reach their students. They do that now and most
accomplish it well. What they need is that something
extra that adds fullness and challenge to their work
and, at the end of the day, makes them feel that their
labours are worthwhile; something that makes them
feel proud of the product of their classrooms and
their schools. I believe this is what Christianity offers.
I propose four areas in which we might focus our
efforts to enhance Australian society:
A coherent world view
Every person has a world view; a framework through
which their life is ordered. This framework provides
a filter for what is happening in the world; it enables
decisions to be made, and facilitates the individual’s
functioning within society. World views are
developed over time as a result of life’s experiences,
took on a
project for a
030 | TEACH | v2 n1
the shaping environment, and through the influence
of significant others in their lives. No two persons
have exactly the same world view. In this sense a
world view is individualistic. Nevertheless, when
many or most of the elements of a world view are
shared by two or more persons it is possible to
idealise that perspective. Thus we can talk of a
Christian world view with which the majority of a faith
community can identify.
Put simply, a world view includes clusters
of concepts which coalesce around three
philosophical elements: metaphysics, axiology,
and epistemology—our sense of reality, our
authentic sources of knowledge and truth, and our
understanding of what is ethical and aesthetic.
Within the various Christian faith traditions there is
ample scope for variance in the understanding and
interpretation of these three elements. Indeed, we
may find strength and vitality in this variance. More
important, however, is the degree of coherence
between these elements—making sense of the
world view by tracing the relationships among the
components and noting that they bring unity to the
system. Thus a Christian who “honours his father
and mother” and esteems family values cannot
go out and violate either the fathers or mothers
of others, or their sons and daughters. He is
prevented by the coherence of his world view. In
an increasingly multicultural society it is important
that Christians talk and demonstrate the merit,
importance and primacy in human behaviour of a
coherent world view.
Several decades ago, the fad in Australian education
was values-free teaching. This of course was
self-refuting educational nonsense, for to opt for
a values-free approach was itself a value. In the
real world we cannot escape values and their
transmission. The question therefore becomes:
Whose / what values and who is responsible for
”Margaret Reeson’s comment on the qualities of the
their transmission? The assessment of American
historian, Robert D. Linder, that Australia is largely
driven by a hedonistic world view9 is revealing, while
Australian character depicted in the fifteen stained
glass windows at the Australian War Memorial
indicates there is “…little to suggest that Christian
faith has had any influence”10.
This identifies a fruitful field in which Australian
Christians might indeed influence their society. Our
Judeo-Christian history provides enduring evidence
of the timelessness of sound values embedded in
that history. That Christians have at times acted
badly over the centuries is not because of faulty
values, but rather a failure to live by them.
Teachers, besides parents, have a major ethical
impact on young lives. A task facing Christian
educators is to identify values derived from the
Christian faith that do not focus on narrow sectarian
interests, but have universal application—values that
help create the ‘good society’. These should then be
woven (as in the case of literacy and numeracy) into
the entire curriculum and the culture of the school.
Literature and the social sciences particularly
lend themselves to the identification of values and
discussion about their impact on human behaviour.
Astute and perceptive teachers of mathematics,
the sciences, personal development and all other
subjects in the curriculum will also find scope for
exploration and application. To identify and extract
values from subject content does not diminish
the importance of content. Rather, it enhances
content and makes it more relevant to the human
There is a corollary to an emphasis on ethical
thinking. Thought unacted upon has no power
to change behaviour. It cannot be assumed that
‘knowing what is good’ results in ‘doing what is
good’. Young people must therefore be given
opportunity to translate theory into practice.
Not so long ago I sat in my local church and
listened to a group of school leavers report, with
pleasure and enthusiasm, their experiences in
service to a western Queensland community.11
Their week was spent cleaning public space,
painting buildings, creating gardens, installing
water reticulation, organising games and social
activities for the community’s children, and being a
cohesive and bridging influence in a town with an
acknowledged social divide. These youth bubbled
with enthusiasm, for they had tasted the satisfaction
of bringing joy and happiness to others. Their sense
of personal worth was enhanced by their selfless
contribution to the wider community.
This report would have won approval at any time.
Its significance, however, was enhanced by the fact
the project took place during the notorious Schoolies
Week; a time when many of their fellow school
leavers gained media attention for their hedonistic
revelry and anti-social behaviours. Imagine the
impact it would have upon Australian society were
all school leavers to take on community projects for
Leo Tolstoy made the pertinent observation:
Man’s whole life is a continual contradiction of what
he knows to be his duty. In every department of
life, he acts in defiant opposition to the dictates of
his conscience and his common sense.12
Tolstoy had little confidence in human character.
There is, however, no need to share his pessimism.
The term character, once popular amongst
educators, has almost disappeared from the
Australian vocabulary. Or, when used, it is a
synonym for personality, disposition or
temperament. Thus we might talk about a ‘funny’ character,
or an ‘unusual’ character, or a ‘devious’ character.
This usage suggests our understanding of the term
has shifted from its original ethical intent. Hence
there is a need to return to an understanding of
character in its proper sense.
Les Steele defines character as,
…not only espoused virtues or mere behaviours,
but the sense of self derived from our vision
of Christian maturity, and it is exhibited in both
attitude and behaviour.13
For ‘Christian maturity’ we may substitute the phrase
‘responsible citizenship’ without doing violence to
the definition. The wellbeing of Australia is largely
dependent upon the quality of its responsible citizens
and therefore the development of character is of
national interest. There are several things we might
say about character.
First, it is not part of ‘stage theory’ as
propounded by Jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg,
James Fowler and others. The formation of
character is far too complex to follow scientific
predictability. Rather character development is
marked by what one educator has termed “detours
and deserts, wanderings and awakenings”14. It is a
life-long project that is never completed but always
Second, character formation is never completed
in isolation. It is achieved within the context of
community. In that sense it is part of ever widening
concentric social circles, spreading outwards from
parents through the school and other groups to the
Third, just as we draw on our community in
character formation, so the characters we are
forming reveal our intentions toward our community.
There is a dynamic interaction or reciprocity. Our
faith community is particularly important in this
reciprocity. From the faith community we derive
values, encounter supportive structures, and witness
the example set by leaders and other significant
persons. A responsible faith community also
provides opportunity for children and youth to apply
and practise their emerging values, make mistakes,
and bring correction to their lives.
Fourth, character has to do with our whole being.
It encompasses our conscious and unconscious
selves—how we shape our inner self, i.e. our values,
attitudes and inclinations; succinctly expressed by
Character refers to the most basic determination of
who we are as persons. It is the language of
selfidentity…. Character is the content of who ‘I’ am
and who ‘you’ are as unique individuals.15
Simply put, Christian teachers have a vocation that
is much more challenging and satisfying than being
‘baby sitters’ to keep children occupied, ‘policemen’
to prevent riots, ‘caretakers’ to provide a clean and
safe environment, and ‘mental hygienists’ to pacify
troubled and damaged souls.
The whole person
I have already mentioned that character formation
has to do with the whole being. This brings me
therefore to the fourth perspective, I believe, we may
offer Australian society.
There is a need to return to the view of the
learner as a whole being. Too often, students are
currently encouraged or permitted to specialise
early in secondary schooling. As early as 1960,
the eminent educator and former headmaster of
Geelong Grammar School (1930-61), Dr James
Ralph Darling, warned:
… our ignorance of vast ranges of knowledge
is horrifying…. There are men, there are even
professional men, there are even surgeons, who
glory in their ignorance of vast tracts of human
knowledge, who despise Religion and History
and Literature and Art and Music and Politics.
On the other hand, there are classical scholars
and linguists, and even historians, who pride
themselves on their ignorance of the laws of the
physical world. There are economists who despise
History, physicists who despise Biology, physicians
who despise Psychology, and practical chaps of all
sorts who despise Poetry.16
Regrettably, the divide between the branches of
knowledge commented on by Dr Darling is even
more pronounced today. For Darling “nations live by
the quality of their culture, and the culture depends
upon the quality of the men and women whom it
produces.” Darling therefore urged the education of
the “civilized man” and suggested:
…the first essential quality of the civilized man:
however much he may find himself compelled
to specialize; he must never despise the
specialties of others. It follows, then, that at least
his early education must be as far as possible
If an examination of available evidence supports
this claim, then we should urge governments to
ensure the scope and structure of the curriculum,
particularly the secondary curriculum, and make
has to do
is a need
to return to
the view of
as a whole
certain all students are exposed to the breadth of
human endeavour and knowledge.
A final point—Dr Darling asserted:
…a living conscience is a growing conscience,
enlarging itself and becoming more sensitive as it
awakes more and more to a fuller understanding
and fills up in itself the great gaps in which
heretofore it has failed to function at all.18
Here is wisdom, for it reminds us that the whole of
civilised humankind is linked with ethical thinking.
to view and
Implication and conclusion
I have argued the following. First, Christian
educators should accept the challenge of a view of
Christianity that sees Christian institutions and individual
Christians actively involved in working toward the
very best for Australian society. This may and should
involve Christians aspiring to representative office
and active involvement in the public sector. Second,
the new Australian Federal Government has
signalled its intention to restructure and re-energise
the educational sector. This offers a narrow window
in which Christians might influence the future
direction and shape of education. My challenge,
therefore, to the Faculty of Education, Avondale
College, and other interested Christian educators, is
to write a submission to the Commonwealth Minister
for Education in a direct attempt to influence the
future of Australian education. Third, several areas
in which we might influence Australian education
toward the creation of a better citizen include: the
formation of coherent world views, the identification
of ethical values derived from our Judeo-Christian
heritage, the formation of ethical character, and
a focus on the structure of education and the
”coherent world view, to identify key ethical values
curriculum in meeting the needs of the whole
person. This obligates each Christian, and Christian
educators in particular, to formulate a personal and
in faith and practice, to work constantly toward
character formation—personal sanctification—and
to view and treat others holistically. TEACHR
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1 Patrick, A. N. ( 2007 ) Christianity and a 'good society' in Australia: A first response to Stuart Piggin's Murdoch Lecture . Teach Journal of Christian Education , 1 ( 1 ), 45 - 49 .
2 Snyder, H. A. ( 1991 ) Models of the kingdom . Nashville: Abingdon Press; McFague, Sallie. ( 1982 ) Metaphorical theology: Models of God in religious language . Philadelphia: Fortress Press; Barbour, I. ( 1974 ). Myths, models and paradigms . San Francisco: Harper; Dulles, A. ( 1976 ). Models of the Church . Dublin: Gill and Macmillan.
3 Reye, A. C. ( 1996 ). Models of the Church: Some implications for Adventist education . Paper delivered to Education Summit 1 at the South Pacific Division of the SDA Church , Wahroonga, August 7 , 1996 .
4 Snyder, H. A. ( 1991 ). Ibid.
5 Ibid, p. 101 .
6 See 1 Peter 3 : 15 , Romans 1: 16
7 Little, S. ( 1983 ). To set one's heart: Belief and teaching in the Church . Atlanta: John Knox Press, p. 7 .
8 France, R. T. ( 1989 ). Jesus the radical . Leicester, UK: InterVarsity Press, p. 101 .
9 Linder, Robert, D. Christianity and the Australian character , in Stuart Piggin, (Ed.). ( 2006 ). Shaping the good society in Australia . Macquarie Centre, NSW: Australia's Christian Heritage National Forum , pp. 49 - 64 .
10 Reeson, Margaret. Response to Robert Linder: ' The Australian character' , in Stuart Piggin, (Ed.). ( 2006 ). Shaping the good society in Australia, pp. 65 - 70 .
11 See the articles on STORM CO by Jerry Unser and Bruce Manners in Teach Journal of Christian Education , 1 ( 1 ), 50 - 56 .
12 Tolstoy, Leo as cited in Dallas W. ( 1988 ). The spirit of the disciplines . San Francisco: Harper and Row, p. 263 .
13 Steele, L. L. ( 1990 ). On the way: A practical theology of Christian formation . Grand Rapids: Baker Book House , pp. 46 - 7 .
14 Johnson, S. ( 1989 ). Christian spiritual formation in the church and classroom . Nashville: Abingdon Press, p. 111 .
15 Ibid, p. 112 .
17 Ibid, p. 29 .
18 Ibid, p. 28 . 16 Persse, M. (Ed). ( 1962 ). The education of the civilized man: A selection of speeches and sermons [by]James Ralph Darling . Melbourne: Cheshire , pp. 28 - 29 .