The Craft of Christian Teaching (2000) by Van Dyk provides many religious pedagogical insights. It is a highly informative book that inspires to think of the very process and goals of teaching in a genuinely Christian way. The author is a well-recognized researcher and professor of Sioux Center Dordt College in Pella, Iowa. He lends a lot of rich personal experience to this project. To a large extent, the subject matter is not merely systematically reviewed. It is explored by Van Dyk. Discussed training and literature programs involve various information related to the very philosophy of Christian education, its multiple aspects, and the resulting curriculum. However, little discussion has taken place concerning the specific instructional methods and techniques that are most appropriate in Christian classrooms. Of course, there is a wide range of theories available in the world of secular scholarship. Many Christian teachers simply choose from a cafeteria of instructional models based on their philosophical leanings. Others choose simply based on their personal comfort level with one paradigm or the other. In this book, Van Dyk argues that, for true Christian teaching to take place, the entire process must be infused with biblical principles. Teaching strategies are not neutral with respect to the development of the Christian character. Appropriately, Van Dyk begins with a discussion of what it means to teach “Christianly.” He concedes to a wide variety of different conceptions of Christian teaching. For some, it is simply the insertion of a devotional element or the modeling of Christian behavior. For others, it involves evangelizing students or imprinting the biblical truth. Still many see it as simply the upholding of high standards in both academics and behavior.
One could claim that The Craft of Christian Teaching is not likely to contribute to the strictly academic, theoretical aspect of secular education. However, it has the capacity to expand the thought of Christian education. Moreover, the people of the US have a long-reaching demand for the most diverse means of religious teaching. The book naturally fits into the rich national tradition of co-existence of religious and secular education. It is particularly good for the creative models of Christian teaching and classroom. In defending the mentioned statements, it would be useful to review the framework of religious pedagogy in the United States schools and study the collaborative instruction classroom model suggested by the author, comparing it to the secular version. It would also be reasonable to evaluate Van Dyk’s understanding of the Christian teaching model, as well as analyze the author’s Christ-centered classroom.
Religious Pedagogy in the United States Schools
Van Dyk wrote his book in the spirit of private educational institutions in North America. The author spends a great deal of time in schools as a teacher, observer, and consultant. The tone of The Craft of Christian Teaching is, therefore, explicitly related to the one of Christian private schools. However, the proposed Christian approach to teaching and learning can be useful in a broader perspective of religious education. To this end, it is worth considering the existing elements of religious pedagogy in the US.
According to Wald and Calhoun-Brown (2014), a structural and meaningful religious component, in one way or another, is part of a teaching process in all the schools in the United States, both public and private. On the one hand, it is contained in the independent religious courses, as well as in the form of programs, classes, and techniques aimed at the development of moral values, identified as absolute and religious (e.g., the value of human life and dignity, honesty, mutual respect, etc.). Moreover, this same concept is represented in the form of extracurricular and religious activities (worship, doctrinal, etc.). Finally, religious component is manifested in a constant presence of the religious worldview elements, its culture, and religious experience in all school disciplines, both humanitarian and natural sciences.
At the same time, religious worldview is a distinctive feature of the so-called “Bible belt” states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia, Maryland, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, and, historically, of the family structure and the school system itself. Particularly, a Christian way of life was formed, fixed, and maintained here to a greater extent than in the coasts of the United States. However, the latter areas, being a subject of political and cultural tribulations, in fact, offer more religious courses and classes to their students. On the contrary, school and extracurricular life in the Bible belt region are permeated and filled with prayer and doctrinal elements.
The states of East and West coasts and the Midwest are famous for their most liberal views, as well as moral and ethical standards. On the other hand, they are subject to the greatest degree of government agencies and public authorities intervention in the life of local communities. The religious life of these regions is more strictly isolated and is denoted by the formal boundaries of the relevant laws, rules, and regulations governing the form and content of religious education in local schools. The relative homogeneity of the country’s economic conditions, in conjunction with the traditional mobility of most Americans, provides families with the freedom of choice. They can pick a school with an appropriate ratio of the religious and secular constituents, which can meet their needs and by which they want to educate their younger children.
Furthermore, the same amount of circumstances and conditions enables schools, their teaching staff, and administration, to find, develop, and adopt unique creative pedagogical solutions to this complex issue. Each school and district, as well as every State’s Educational Department, is faced with this problem. In cases when a school, for any reason, fails to meet parental expectations and requirements on this issue, there is a possibility of implementing alternative forms of schooling, in which a measure of the religious component’s presence meets the expectations in full.
There have been many controversial debates among American scientists related to the inclusion of the religious factor in the process of secular schooling. On top of them is the analysis of the American experience respectful of religious knowledge in the content and forms of the US school work. They provide grounds to assert that the religious element is taught in terms of the spiritual and informative presentation and explanation of the facts of the human life, as well as the use of permitted religious practices at schools. The attitude evolution of the American policy-makers on the allowance of a religious component in a secular school education in the US is historically represented by the competition of religious and materialistic values (the middle of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries), their mutual exclusion (20th century) and complementarity (the 16th – early 19th centuries., and the 21st century respectively).
Therefore, the development of students’ understanding and acceptance of different forms of the worldview perspective is promoted by the introduction of a religious aspect in the form of education programs with spiritual and ideological meaning to the content of secular school education in the US (along with a scientific approach). It is also enhanced by the enrichment of the religious knowledge of certain subject matters (such as history, literature, and art), as well as the study of religion as a separate class. Instilling in students the concept of human solidarity and the need to develop cultural dialogue also contributes to the presence of a religious component in secular education in the United States. It is carried out by the means of the practice of familiarizing students with the religious theory and experience through engaging them in various kinds of social activities.
The religious ingredient further complements the natural scientific approach in school education in the United States in two main ways. Based on the content, it incorporates the elements of the religious comprehension of the material world. At the same time, based on the organization, it is manifested through the existence of elements of religious practice permitted by the law, including those carried out by religious institutions or their staff in the school facilities and beyond. It is obvious that in this case, the religious component acts either as a subject matter or as an aspect of the study of natural and social phenomena or in a consolidation of the two approaches.
Finally, the presence of the religious element in secular schools in the US is represented by the diversity of approaches, revealing the following trends in its implementation. They include overcoming the orientation to the allocation of the religious aspect in a separate area of education and integrated application of familiarizing students to the spiritual experience of mankind. The latter incorporates a religious aspect to the composition of different subjects, expands the network of private, charter schools and homeschooling forms, and allows for wider use of the religious constituent in education.
In connection with the fundamental diversity of the described approaches, it is no accident that the religious principle is present in secular schools to a different extent, content, and degree. It varies from the religious-ideological elements to specific courses. In addition, it ranges from religious teachings based on the different ideological positions to offering students a choice of studying one or more religions. To this end, one could claim that The Craft of Christian Teaching can contribute to the rich, multifaceted social framework of the tradition of religious education in the US. It is long reaching, multilayered, and has the capacity to address the needs of students, families, schools, and local governments. Moreover, in