Below is a presentation shared with the Concordia University Wisconsin School of Education faculty. This is the beginning of a dialogue about how we can intentionally and effectively seek, support, and shape missional Lutheran education around the world. Of course, in order to pursue such a goal, we must first take the time to build a common understanding of what we mean by missional Lutheran education. That is largely the purpose of the presentation below.
The newest published contribution to the discussion about Lutheran Education comes from a doctoral dissertation that was successfully defended less than a month ago at Fordham University. Rev. Dr. Jeremy Pekari wrote and defended his dissertation entitled Reshaping Lutheran Education: A Systems Perspective. Before moving into the review, I should disclose my personal involvement in the project. I was a reader and member of Dr. Pekari’s dissertation committee.
This “think piece” provides a fresh perspective to the discussion of Lutheran education within the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Informed by the works of individuals like John Westerhoff, Pekari makes an early and clear distinction between the notion of schooling and that of education. Pekari points out that the schooling-instructional model of teaching and learning has been the dominant and, in some cases, only model used by many Lutherans to think about education. This is likely due, in large part, to the expansive P-2o Lutheran school system throughout the United States.
While there are benefits to the schooling model, this is only one of many ways of thinking about education. In order to expand our understanding of Lutheran education, Pekari pulls from family systems theory, a theory that looks at the relationships between different systems. It allows one to look at Lutheran education holistically rather than simply as a series of institutions and programs. With this in mind, Pekari proposes a way of thinking about holistic Lutheran education and faith formation in terms of five “forms”, instruments in what Pekari refers to as the orchestra of Lutheran education: worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.
Fellowship “is the form that embodies the Christian value of community” and it offers opportunity for individuals to learn to communicate in the “language of love and belonging” (p. 96).
Worship expresses the value of “the Sacramental life of God’s people” and it provides special opportunity to engage in the “language of prayer…the voice of worship” (p. 101).
Instruction “embodies the value of knowledge and expresses itself through the language of the interrogative”…of questions and answers (p. 110).
Evangelism is the place where one sees the value of “the Good News of salvation for all people through the death and resurrection of Jesus” and there is ample opportunity to speak “prophetic language”… communicating the Christian faith (p. 113).
Service represents “the value of compassion and speaks in the language of care” (p. 115).
Rather than promoting a series of programs or initiatives, Pekari provides these forms of education, noting that faith formation involves the holistic opportunity for individuals to participate in each of these forms, to explore the values indicative of each, and to learn and speak each of these five languages.
He puts skin on these forms through a series of thoughtful and helpful fictional case studies:
With each case, Pekari asks questions about what type(s) of educational experiences would be most needed or most valuable. The result is an approach to education that doesn’t assume that instruction is the solution. Rather, it looks more broadly at education in a way that the education “solutions” may have nothing to do with a classroom setting, but they still involve potentially powerfully and formative learning experiences.
After proposing this model, the rest of his dissertation ultimately focuses upon two questions. What could this approach mean for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod? And, how could it help us provide a richer approach to Lutheran education?
Pekari does a fine job articulating the problem in Lutheran education (unhealthy over-emphasis upon the schooling model to the exclusion of other forms of education) and he offers a clear and substantive framework for helping individuals address this problem. It is especially helpful in terms of promoting a paradigm shift in the LCMS when it comes to how we define and think about Lutheran education.
As many of you know, there are two main journals that focus upon education in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. The oldest journal, the Lutheran Education Journal, comes from the good people at Concordia University Chicago. The second journal, Issues in Christian Education, is housed at Concordia University Nebraska. Of course, there are also theological journals that frequently include scholarship that has direct or indirect relevance to Lutheran education, especially as one thinks about education more broadly than the schooling instructional model that Dr. Jeremy Pekari recently highlighted in his doctoral dissertation.
As we look at these two journals, the first is, among other things, the place where a number of individuals are able to publish articles that emerged as part of their doctoral dissertations. And it is more common in this journal to see articles that represent what some many think of as research in qualitative, quantitative, and mixed method approaches. Issues in Christian Education is, in this way, a very different journal. It consists primarily, but not exclusively, upon think pieces and essays that fit more broadly into a category of humanistic (not the ideological use of the term) approaches to research and scholarship. And, this journal consistently includes a central theme upon which all of the essays are written for a given edition.
With that in mind, the most recent publication of Issues in Christian Education may well represent a pivotal change in discussions about a significant issues in Lutheran Education, “perspectives on human beginnings,” and how issues related to creation and evolution can and should be taught in the context of Lutheran P-20 schools and beyond. What is distinct about this treatment of the topic is the fact that it includes perspectives of scientists, theologians, and those within the discipline of education. The essays, at times, build upon each other. However, they more often serve as a model of the diversity of approaches taken to this issue.
There is clearly not a unified approach to the issue of human beginnings among educators in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. This is evidenced by research like Brent Royuk’s Ideological Approaches to Science and Religion in a National Survey of Lutheran High School Science Teachers. Given this fact, there are different perspectives on this lack of unity. Some argue that the topic is best left alone so as not to conjure up unnecessary dissension. Others argue that there is a clear and single perspective that should be taught and espoused by all who teach within Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod educational institutions. Still others are more focused upon promoting civil yet candid dialogue about the topic so that those within Lutheran education can at least start by being more informed about the subject as we discern how to best move forward. One of the challenges with this topic is that it involves discussion of scientific ideals, philosophical ideals, as well as theological tenets of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. The theological tenets, in particular, leave some uncomfortable with the discussion, even fearful of the consequences that might come from crossing a theological line in the sand. Nonetheless, the issue is an important one as it is fundamental to discussions about what is distinct in a Lutheran education curriculum; whether one is teaching theology, social science, biology, or ethics. This latest issue in Issues in Christian Education resides solidly within this third approach that sees value in promoting dialogue (and providing a bit more clarity) about the topic.
Rather than providing a full review of the issue, I invite you to read it for yourself, and as you have interest, consider posting some of your thoughts/comments about individual articles or the entire issue.
However, I will share one brief editorial comment. Brent Royuk’s essay in this most recent edition, “Teaching about Science and Religion in Lutheran Classrooms”, is the most candid and refreshing essays that I have read from an LCMS perspective. He writes with gentleness, respect, and yet a good measure of boldness on some matters. If you must choose among the essays in the issues, I encourage you to take special care to read his contribution.
Stueve, H. (2008). Called to serve: The perceptions of the value of theologically trained teachers in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Fielding Graduate University.
Dr. Heather Stueve of the Concordia University Education Network (CUEnet) completed her doctoral dissertation a couple of years ago. She tackled a significant issue in Lutheran education today, one that has potential implications for the future of Lutheran education. Her research focused upon answering the following question: “What are the attitudes of pastors, administrators, and teachers toward the level of theological training needed by teachers in Lutheran classrooms and are these attitudes congruent with what the Lutheran church has historically taught and practiced regarding the ministry of the teacher?”
Statement of the Problem
Stueve notes that, in 2004, the Next Generation Task Force of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod reported that 11,000 of the 18,000 teachers in Lutheran schools were not “certified as Lutherans Teachers either by study at Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod (LCMS) University or by colloquy.” The task force further noted a decline in the number of teachers who are certified, and expressed concern that this decline risks deteriorating the distinctiveness of Lutheran schools.
Given this problem, Stueve sought out to explore whether or not the decline is partially due to a change regarding the historic value of “theologically trained Lutheran teachers among…pastors, principals, and the teachers themselves.” She argued that this study has the potential to inform conversations about “the teacher and pastor training programs” in the LCMS, “the future deliberations of Synod regarding policy and doctrine related to commissioned ministers, and the development of the perceptions of laypeople regarding the work of teachers in their midst.”
Significance of the Study
More non-theologically trained teachers are serving in Lutheran schools and there is concern (indicated by the Next Generation Task Force) that this risks preventing achieving the historic goals of Lutheran schools.
Stueve surveyed a sample of Lutheran pastors, Lutheran school teachers, and Lutheran school principals. The survey included the collection of basic data like gender, age, grade level serving (if a teacher), district served, and years of service. That was followed by a series of eighteen questions, asking participants to respond using a Likert scale ranging from “This statement does not reflect my view” to “I emphatically agree with this statement.” Examples of statements in the survey include:
Results were based upon responses from 78 participants (35% pastors, 26% administrators, and 38% teachers). Stueve notes that 95% of the participants were LCMS church members, so this study does not necessarily represent perspectives of non-Lutherans serving in Lutheran schools.
Following is a selection of results from the survey:
Conclusions and Interpretations
Dr. Stueve concludes with a series of six interpretative statements for consideration.
Near the conclusion of her dissertation, Dr. Stueve leaves the reader with three “essential questions.”
Joel Heck and Angus Menuge’s edited work, Learning at the Foot of of the Cross: A Lutheran Vision for Education (2011) is a rich an substantive addition to the conversation about the distinctives of Lutheran education. In their introduction, they note that there have been limited texts on a Lutheran philosophy of education, and that their text is an effort to help remedy this problem. Since 2000, we have had two excellent overviews of the distictives of Lutheran Education. Most in the United States are familiar with one of them, William Rietschel’s An Introduction to the Foundations of Lutheran Education. This was noted by Heck and Menuge in their introduction. However, an equally in-depth contribution to the theology and philosophy of Lutheran education was offered in Malcolm Bartsch’s Why a Lutheran School? Education and Theology in Dialogue, written within the context of the Australian Lutheran school system. As such, most in the United States have unfortunately overlooked this substantive work. That is a small oversight in Heck and Menuge’s introduction, but their point remains true, that little has been written regarding a philosophy of Lutheran education since Jahsmann. Since the publication of Rietschel and Barsch’s two texts near the turn of the century, I should note that a handful of other excellent texts have also added to the conversation about Lutheran education, texts like Russ Moulds’s A Teacher of the Church and John Oberdeck’s recently published Eutychus Youth: Applied Theology for Youth Ministry. However, the journey toward a Lutheran philosophy of education continues, and this new addition by Heck and Menuge is a welcome contribution.
In Learning at the Foot of the Cross, Heck and Menuge compiled a collection of essays written by historians, philosophers, theologians, and individuals from several other disciplines. As a result, the essays range widely in style and scope. Dr. Susan Mobley initiates the conversation with “Historical Foundations in the Lutheran Reformation.” For those of you coming from P-12 education, you may be surprised not to find some of the common quotes and convictions of Luther on primary education that have almost become proverbs in certain circles in Lutheran schooling. And yet, Mobley introduces rich insights into humanism (far from the contemporary use of the word) and the liberal arts in Luther’s ideas about education.
With the historical foundation firmly laid, strong philosophical and theological essays follow, Steve Mueller steps in with a solid essay on the Doctrine of God, ending his essay with what is likely my favorite quote in the entire book, “In a public classroom, the teacher is often prohibited from teaching or even commenting on religious topics. A Christian teacher, on the other hand, is free to discuss sacred and secular topics as they are appropriate to the lesson at hand. Thus Christian education can offer a holistic view of reality that is generally absent in other contexts” (p. 32). A seminarian with seven years of Lutheran school teaching experience, Mark Pierson, continues with an essay on “Formal and Material Principles of Lutheranism.” Among other things, Pierson does fine job articulating the central role of Scripture in any philosophy of Lutheran education, without falling into a fundamentalist or biblicist trap. Essays by Menuge, Mark Brighton, Russ Moulds, and Gene Veith expand upon the many Lutheran theological distinctives and their implications for education: vocation, the two kingdoms, the means of grace, law and gospel, etc.
The remainder of the text is placed under the category of “practice”, although it could be argued that the next two essays, Jeff Mallinson’s “How We Know” and Sandra Doering’s “The Goal of Lutheran Education,” fit within the realm of theory rather than practice. Mallinson provides the reader with a brief primer on the importance of a Lutheran epistemology (the theory of knowledge). While acknowledging Luther’s “negative statements about reason,” Mallinson contends that epistemological thinking is a important step in addressing crises in contemporary education. Doering’s essay, shaped by a qualitative study of Lutheran schools around the country, describes six themes that seem to represent common goals among many Lutheran schools; themes related to things like “teaching God’s Word”, “helping families nurture their children”, integrating the faith, and “teaching the whole child.”
It is with the next essay, Jane Buerger’s “A Lutheran Approach to Interdisciplinary Education,” that this text truly delves into what I would consider practice as opposed to theory. Bureger starts with five assumptions, the first of which is, “a Lutheran school must be intentionally Christian.” Taking the reader through a series of content areas, Buerger illustrates specific ways in which the learning experience in a Lutheran school can be distinctly Christian, whether it be science and math, language arts, or a service learning experience.
Patti Hoffman’s essay on “The Where of Education,” provides a rich discussion about the proper role of the family in education. Her essay leaves the Lutheran teacher and parent with important reflections about a Lutheran theology of education that is informed by a theology of the family.
Bob Riggert continues the discussion with his essay on “The How of Lutheran Education.” He provides a devotion-like reflection on the eyes, mind, ears, feet, nose, mouth, and being of a Lutheran educator; providing the reader with specific and practical suggestions of what it means, or rather looks like, to be a Lutheran teacher.
The text ends with an essay by Judy and David Christian about the Lutheran teacher as a lifelong learner: learning intentionally, unlearning intentionally, engaging in critical reflection, and fashioning new knowledge or “see[ing] things in new ways.”
The variety of backgrounds, styles, and experiences of the authors is substantial. This quality alone sets the work apart from any text on Lutheran education that I have ever read. Authors in this collection range from people with limited direct experience with Lutheran education (some with few ties to P-12 education or less than a decade in the Lutheran teaching ministry) to those who have devoted close to forty years to the P-12 teaching ministry. Some authors approached the task with limited theological training, others with terminal degrees in theology or more informal ongoing training. A few contributors approached the task with limited formal training in education, while still others are clearly experts in curriculum and pedagogy. It is indeed a diverse collection of authors. A simple review of the sources cited from the different articles demonstrates the variety of individuals who contributed to this work. Some drew heavily upon foundational Lutheran reformation texts, while others relied more upon contemporary Lutheran articles or even sources outside of the Lutheran dialogue. Some grounded their essays heavily in Scripture, while others did not make any direct references to Scripture.
Reading this collection was an experience in diversity as much as unity. More than a single vision for Lutheran education, it seems more like a tapestry of colors and perspectives. Some shared facts as if writing for a publication in a professional journal, while others clearly sought to cast a vision as a participant scholar. The contributions of a few authors in this text can be seen in very similar forms in their earlier publications, but their role in this new text is evident and worth a second read.
The diversity of experience and perspectives in the text is commendable, and it does afford the reader with a snapshot of the visions and philosophies represented in Lutheran education today. I could not help but imagine all of these people in one room, discussing their ideas. To what extent would they see themselves as partners in a common ministry? To what extent would they be in agreement, or would there be a measure of dissension? And yet, I contend that this is what is needed, forums for the richness and diversity of those in the Lutheran teaching ministry to engage in acts that sharpen one another, challenge another, even lovingly confronting one another; albeit always returning the central source of any philosophy of Lutheran education, God’s Word.
As much as I have no hesitation recommending the book, I am obligated to note that I failed to see any contributions that drew attention to the growth of a more global philosophy of Lutheran education, one that heeds the insights of Lutheran educational ministry in places like India, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, and Brazil. This is no small matter, and it is an important consideration for future texts about Lutheran education in the 21st century. As I noted early in this review, Malcolm Bartsch’s Why a Lutheran School? Education and Theology in Dialogue is a rich source of reflection about the philosophy and theology of Lutheran education. It would be a great loss to miss out on such perspectives.
As noted in their introduction, this is intended to be a text that addresses the whole of Lutheran education, whether it be elementary school or higher education. Given this goal, some readers will find themselves able to identify more with some of the later essays, in the section dedicated to “practice” as opposed to “theory.” It is not always clear if the authors have a common intended audience in mind when they are writing, so the reader needs to stay alert. An edited collection like this almost always requires more work on the behalf of the reader, making sense of the intentional sequence of diverse writings, but also recognizing that each article can ultimately stand alone.
Heck and Menuge were clearly successful in their effort to make a new and substantive contribution to the conversation about a Lutheran vision for education. It is my hope that this text will serve as a useful tool, especially in groups of individuals who come together to learn about what it means to be a distinctly Lutheran school and teacher.
-Dr. Bernard Bull
In a recent edition of the Lutheran Education Journal, Sandra Doering and Rachel Eells reported on their research related to philosophies of education in Lutheran schools around the United States. This is an exciting contribution to an important discussion about what is distinct in Lutheran education. Based upon data collected from sixty respondents, the researchers described six emergent themes ranging from “teaching God’s Word” and “integrating the faith” to “helping families” and “academic excellence.” The full article is currently available here.
There has never been a collective philosophy of Lutheran education the LCMS, despite several excellent resources on the subject. See Rietschel’s An Introduction to Foundations in Lutheran Education, Jahsmann’s What’s Lutheran in education?: Explorations into principles and practices, or Bickel and Surburg’s Readings in the Lutheran philosophy of education (if you can find a copy) for examples of such summaries. Such resources typically describe more “ought” than “is” when it comes to a philosophy of Lutheran education. They are rich with excellent philosophical and theological considerations related to Lutheran education. However, apart for the historical descriptions in these texts, they do not attempt to describe the actual philosophies in action. Instead, they focus upon historical, philosophical, theological, and biblical foundations to Lutheran education. That is where this recent work by Doering and Eells differs. At least in the initial part of their article, they make no effort to promote a specific philosophy. Instead, their article collects data, analyzes it, categorizes it, and then includes a more general discussion about the emergent themes.
The fact that there has never been a universal philosophy of Lutheran education is likely due to the fact that LCMS Education is not a single uniform entity. Lutheran schools are generally ministries of individual LCMS congregations (or collections of congregations) and there is no specific set of educational tenet that are required of LCMS schools. As a result, any generalized representation of a philosophy of Lutheran education is likely to be a task in accurately summarizing, analyzing and categorizing the philosophies of Lutheran schools. As done in this study by Doering and Eells, one must rely upon the individuals and artifacts available in Lutheran schools around the country. Of course, any such effort only provides a snapshot in time; as curriculum, mission statements, and other related “artifacts” are likely to be created and re-created in an ongoing basis. Nonetheless, this article provides an excellent starting point for conversations about a collective philosophy of Lutheran education.
Future study related to what is meant by “Lutheran” would be equally interesting. For example, the six emergent themes in this study are clearly rich with Christian content, but the statements themselves include nothing distinctly or explicitly Lutheran in nature. There appears to be no consistent use of distinctly Lutheran terminology in these emergent themes (Law and Gospel, Two Kingdoms, Vocation, etc.). However, this article seems to be a summary of a larger unpublished work by the same researchers (Doering, S. & Eells, R. (2008) “What Do Lutheran Schools ECE—12th Grade Profess as Their Philosophy of Education?” Unpublished manuscript). Perhaps this larger work includes discussion about such matters.