The Why of Christian Deeper Learning: A Mindfulness Towards Learning Design
Growing up I attended a Christian elementary school located in the middle of farmland that had once been a marsh. It was not until I was an adult that I became aware of the significance that this wetland had been drained in order for it to be repurposed for farming along with a small village that included a small Christian school. I imagine that preserving this important wetlands ecosystem in some way would have been a greater priority today. Throughout my years in elementary school, I do not recall ever considering that our school was located in what was once a sensitive environment. My understanding of my environment and the world around me was small.
Although I make no excuses for my narrow view of the world as I grew up, I am grateful for how technology has made our world smaller. Globalization has made environmental and social injustices more apparent, and so it is crucial that we as educators prepare our students to address problems of equity and justice not only locally but also worldwide (Tichnor-Wagner, Parkhouse, Glazier, & Cain, 2016).
The values of deeper learning, including global competencies and 21st-century skills, are important to education. Deeper learning can be defined as the process of developing the ability to take what is learned in one situation and apply it to new situations. Working toward deeper learning comes from a desire to be intentional about making what is learned meaningful so that students can learn to thrive in a rapidly changing world. For Christians, deeper learning is a learning framework that supports our desire to encourage our students to live out our calling as image-bearers who serve our neighbors and care for creation. There is so much brokenness in the world, and God has called us to be part of his redemptive work. Deeper learning gives us structures to help fulfill this calling.
Perhaps a starting point to engaging students with matters of the world is the development of empathy. Novelist David Foster Wallace talks about empathy in this way: “We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with characters’ pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside” (Foster as cited in Mullins, 2021, p. 97). The power of hearing others’ stories is important as we engage our students in deeper learning within the contexts of our classrooms. It is important for students to feel a real sense of empathy for others in order for them to be inspired and/or motivated to engage in work that will make a difference in the lives of people around the world. Critical reflective practice is both important and uncomfortable as we are invited to prioritize equity and justice over equality and charity (Pluim, MacDonald, & Niyozov, 2014).
In the article “Becoming a World Christian” Arrington writes, “Throughout the missions era, contact between the west and the non-west proceeded using an ‘assistance’ framework. Though intentions were good and in many cases the gospel was communicated, the issue is the assumptions carried by this framework—assumptions of hierarchy, inequality, and dissimilarity—which often led to paternalism, condescension, and potentially even discrimination and racism” (p. 27). Perhaps it is helpful to consider the role of hospitality in education. “True Christian hospitality is the acknowledgement of the image of God in every person, and the desire to have eyes that see that individual’s needs” (Arrington, 2017, p. 27). Arrington (2017) tells a story of some university students volunteering at a center for children with special needs. When telling her story she frames the interaction between the students not as one in which the university students are helping the children with special needs but rather as an encounter of hospitality. She tells the story from the perspective of the children with special needs hosting the university students, who were their guests. Framing this interaction in such a way shows that we value each person as an image-bearer of God.
I grew up with an “assistance” framework mindset: we who had so much were to share with those in need. Within the context of education, I myself needed assistance as I struggled to learn within a traditional classroom. Determined to improve the learning experience for other students, I later decided to study special education. In my studies I learned that understanding the learner was central to knowing how to teach them. I wonder now, though, how much more I could come to know the learners in my classroom beyond cognitive considerations. I have more recently become more aware of the importance of racial and cultural differences and how I need to learn about students through these lenses.
When I consider Canada’s history of “educating” Indigenous Peoples I am saddened by our huge error in applying this “assistance” framework. Over the years we have told ourselves that the white man’s way of living and educating is superior to that of Indigenous Peoples. We have forced children into residential schools and then mistreated them through both abuse and neglect. Looking forward, I wonder in what ways I continue to use the “assistance” framework within my practice as an educator today. Are my assessment methods helpful? Am I teaching in a way that celebrates the learner and their interests? Do I give choice and acknowledge that there is more than one way to do things? I think these are important questions that will help me move from current practices that may be hurtful, discriminatory, and/or even racist. I find Arrington’s use of the word “hospitality” so helpful. Taking a posture of hospitality within our classroom and receiving hospitality from others creates for me a fertile environment for becoming a better educator.
So where do I begin? I believe I need to begin with an understanding of what is going on around me—being aware of how people in other cultures have engaged in God’s story to create. God has given each of us a specific role, and within that role we are invited not just to learn but to deepen our relationship with both God and others. Education then is living out the greatest commandment to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and to love your neighbour as yourself (NIV Bible, 1984, Matthew 22:37).
Arrington, A. (2017). Becoming a world Christian: Hospitality as a framework for engaging Otherness. International Journal of Christianity & Education, 21(1), 26–38.
Mullins, M. (2021). Enjoying the Bible: Literary approaches to loving the scriptures. Baker Academic.
The Holy Bible, new international version. (1984). Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.
Pluim, G., MacDonald, A., & Niyozov, S. (2014). Bend without breaking: Applying critical reflexive practice in global citizenship education. In Montemurro, D., Gambhir, M., Evans, M., & Broad, K. (Eds.). Inquiry into practice: Learning and teaching global matters in local classrooms. OISE.
Tichnor-Wagner, A., Parkhouse, H., Glazier, J., & Cain, J. M. (2016). Expanding approaches to teaching for diversity and justice in K-12 education: Fostering global citizenship across the content areas. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 24(59).
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