Mr. Huisken is registar at Hope College, Holland, Michigan.
A fter a bit of ballyhoo, a bit of opposition, a bit of frustration, and a whole lot of anxiety on my part in planning and preparation, a course called a seminar on the principles and practices of Reformed Christian education was launched in January, 1996 and concluded in July, 1996. It’s a bit awkward as the creator and professor of this course to tell of its success, but I’ve been asked to comment about the course. I believe I can call it successful not just because I believe that the objectives of the course were met, but because the participants thought so too. They gave the course a very positive evaluation.
This course, in some sense, was a culmination of lots of activities sponsored by the Federation of Protestant Reformed Schools. The Federation has sponsored many different kinds of activities aimed at the proper development of teachers in our schools – workshops, lectures, week-long seminars. Agatha Lubbers did an excellent job of summarizing all this activity in a recent issue of Perspectives. But this course is really a first of its kind for this group. This was a special course authorized by Hope College for credit. Now to many of you this makes little difference, I suspbut to a teacher or prospective teacher it can make a difference. Those currently teaching are required to continue their education almost on a constant basis, and those who are currently in college studying to be teachers have their plates full with requirements to be certified. So, to offer a course, with credit, was significant in two regards: 1) it gives the course integrity because it is authorized by a college for credit, and 2) it gives transportability to the credit given for the course because it can be transferred to other institutions. I am pleased to report that several institutions of higher education have already recognized the course for credit to fulfill either major or elective requirements in several teachers’ programs.
The course, even though offered for undergraduate or graduate credit, took on the nature of a graduate-level seminar. That translates into much reading, some writing, some discussion, and a final presentation which pulled together, in the minds of the students, the different aspects of the course. I considered this final presentation to be the test case(s) for the course. What difference did all the reading and discussing and lecturing make? I am pleased to report that, in -my judgment, it made a great deal of difference. Let me explain a bit more about the objectives of this course to see how this happened.
The specific course objectives given to the participants in this course were as follows:
1. To understand the historical and theological roots of Reformed Christian education.
2. To understand the principles which form the foundation of Reformed Christian education.
3. To understand the mission, goals/aims, and objectives/outcomes of Reformed Christian education.
4. To understand the characteristics of the Reformed Christian teacher.
5. To demonstrate an understanding of the mission, goals, and objectives of Reformed Christian education and how they apply to teaching and administering of the Reformed Christian school.
It is interesting to note, first of all, that these objectives, in my judgment and in the judgment of those who took the course, were met. Secondly, it is interesting to note that there is a sense of progression in these objectives – they build upon each other. Third, it is interesting to note that the objective which caused the most struggle and pain was objective #3 – to understand the mission, goals, and objectives of Reformed Christian education. Part of the problem was that only one of our schools has any kind of a mission statement, and that statement was not very familiar to the teachers who worked there. So mission statements, statements of clear intent about what the school is and how it is distinguished from other like institutions, became – as intended – a focal point for this course. The writing of a mission statement required careful thought, required knowledge of the history and principles of the institutions, and required careful articulation, because it defined what this Reformed Christian school was to be.
The results of this particular activity were quite remarkable. Work teams discussed, wrote, and then presented their mission statements to the class. But it did not end there. The mission statement figured prominently in objective #5. The final presentations given by each participant to the class had to demonstrate how the project they presented related directly to the mission and goals of the institution. It became a required, and therefore inescapable, part of their thinking to do a successful presentation. The products speak for themselves. The comment heard most often was that it was too bad that board members and parents were not present to witness these presentations. They would have been happy and proud. I was.
So what did these students in this course come away with? First, I think they had a new or renewed sense of the historical and theological roots of Reformed Christian education as we know it in Protestant Reformed circles. In a sense that history is long – Christian education has been around for a long time. But, in another real sense, parental education, as we know it, has a very short history – no more than a hundred years. For this we owe a great debt to the likes of Abraham Kuyper, Groen vanPrinsterer, and Herman Bavinck. I believe, further, that they came away with a heightened sense of how the doctrine of the covenant, figures prominently in our thinking about Reformed Christian education. For this we owe a great debt to Herman Hoeksema and, more recently, David Engelsma. And, they have come to know and believe that if our schools are to remain as parental, covenantal, Reformed schools, they need to be clear about the mission of these schools and intentional about the application of the theological principles upon which these schools are founded.
Will it make a difference? Time will tell. It became obvious to me, however, that, among the participants in this course, conversations became more focused on what they are and do as Christian educators. A bond was formed among them that will make it easier to have continuing conversations about these matters. That, in my opinion, is what needs to happen if this course is to make a difference in our schools. School boards and administrators now have the opportunity and the responsibility to give these teachers the occasions and the financial support to make this happen. The conversation must continue; and, then, actions must follow the talk. It is very possible. This course, in the final analysis, gave evidence of that.