Teach How to Think, Not What to Think

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As an educator, I am deeply concerned with what people think. But I am equally concerned with how people think. Unfortunately, due to the tragic condition of the American school system, most students are simply told what to think rather than being equipped with tools to think for themselves. This is not a time for evangelicals to ignore biblical truth. Still less is this a time for mindless conformity.

It is no longer possible to ignore the academic vacuum that exists at all levels in our churches. Even pastor-teachers fall prey to what I call educationism – the belief that one can’t know anything unless one learns it from this or that “expert.” Such an attitude actually produces a shallow conformism since it leads us to believe that we need others to tell us what to think. Many well-meaning friends once warned me about going to the University of Basel for my doctorate. “You’ll lose your faith!” they exclaimed. Actually, one of the many reasons I ended up in Switzerland was to have my faith challenged. Thank God I came though still believing in unchanging standards of truth and goodness, but my point here is that students today seldom look for ways to have their beliefs challenged. When I was in college and seminary, I allowed my professors to dictate what the questions were and the method of approaching them. I was told that Mark was our earliest Gospel, that Paul could not have written Hebrews, that the Byzantine Text was secondary. I was rarely asked to look at the evidence for myself and make hard choices. What I sought and desired in school, but rarely found, was a map or a guide by which I could know what questions to ask.

Modern education in the U.S. has largely forsaken the scientific method of inquiry. The result has been unreflective rigidity. This inattention to discovery and heuristics is often a product of an anti-intellectual stream in our past. This is very unfortunate. I want my students to leave seminary with solid biblical convictions, of course, but I also want them to understand how one comes to know (epistemology) and to think (logic). Pedagogy matters. It matters because the systems that are opposed to biblical Christianity use logical arguments and philosophical methods. Michael Peterson, in his magisterial work Philosophy of Education (p. 83), writes:

A complete Christian view of knowledge recognizes that reality is complex and that each of its domains must be known on its own terms. There is no single way to discover all the different truths there are. We must discover empirical truths through observation and experiment, historical truths through records and artifacts, logical and mathematical truths by abstract reasoning, and so forth. Christians have no shortcuts in these areas, butphileducation share basic noetic capabilities as other humans.

In other words, if our business as Christians is to glorify God, then that includes glorifying Him with our minds. Whatever it takes, whatever it means, whatever happens to me, am I willing to obey His lordship over my thinking? Students, beware of the pedagogy that says, “You sit still while I instill.” And to my fellow educators I say: let us teach our students how to think and not only what to think.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. And yes, we’re featuring a book that we didn’t publish!)