“That’s not the person I was talking about.”
It was the greatest experience of my teaching life.
The most important aspect of education is relationship. Trust is the essence of that relationship. If a student knows they can trust you then math teaching – any teaching – becomes a delight.
We found some time during school to meet. A demure young woman, she hesitated divulging her true need.
I asked some mundane questions to draw her out but I already knew.
“Are you pregnant?” The word momentarily hung in the air.
“Yes.” She hung her head.
“I already have an appointment,” came the matter-of-fact reply.
Her decision, it seemed, had been made. I wordlessly waited for further explanation.
“A relative is driving me to Louisville on Monday. I can’t have the procedure here in Indiana because I’m too far along.”
It was Friday afternoon.
Any time a student had come to discuss anything with me in the past I always asked questions. I wanted them to consider their situation, their obligations, and their potential response.
Imposing my views did not build trust.
“Have you considered the other person in your decision?” I began.
“The father doesn’t want me to have it. He won’t help if I do.”
“That’s not the person I was talking about.”
She was startled, looking up at me after I uttered those words.
“You have talked about how this decision will impact your life. What about the life of the baby inside you? Your future will be very different depending on the choice you make on Monday.”
I spoke about the life she was carrying and the potential that life could have in the world. I asked her if she had the right to take the life of another. I told her that I believed only God had the right to terminate a life because only He could restore that life.
I repeated, “The other person in your decision is the person of the child in your womb.”
We talked for some time that Friday afternoon focused on the life of another.
I was shocked to see her.
“I thought you were going to Louisville today!”
Her smile radiated joy.
“I changed my mind.”
I was stunned.
“It was our talk on Friday,” she could tell by the look on my face I needed help understanding.
The dean of women, however, was not thankful.
“Don’t you know how you’ve destroyed her life??!!” she began her tirade.
The young woman’s presence in school on Monday had surprised the dean too. After a brief conversation with the pregnant girl, the school administrator called me out of class.
The dean’s tone was vicious, berating me for my interference.
For ten minutes I stood in her office enduring the verbal assault.
The year was 1994.
In May of 2017, I saw Facebook pictures of a college graduate posted by a glowing, proud mother.
A young woman’s decision one Monday had given her a thousand Mondays with her baby.
This story stands as the greatest experience of my educational life.
Dennis L. Wilson told me this story over coffee. Wiping away the tears I asked if I could retell the story for our audience at Warp & Woof. Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute (website), spends time with Christian young people in public university (1 minute video), hosts a weekly radio program with diverse groups of guests (1 minute video), and teaches weekly at his church (video). Picture credit: snappygoat.com
Dr. Mark Eckel on “Unchurching” – What happens when you don’t go to church, Moody Radio Chattanooga
Dr. Mark Eckel teaches “Old Testament Overview” Sundays at 11am at Crossroads Community Church. See more on our Videos Page.
Paul’s letters to churches were “distance learning.”
Biblical Basis for Seminary
Traditionally, a seminary has been a place of study to train clergy, religious personnel, chaplains, or lay leaders. The word “seminary” comes from a Latin root meaning to plant a nursery, sow a seed bed, launch a breeding ground, or begin a process. The word was used early to identify both pastoral training for priests and girls’ schools. Religious training meant that people who wanted to give their lives to the spiritual service of others would prepare at a place with experienced professors who would teach subjects—preparing through practice—the responsibilities of priests, pastors, or church leaders.
Seminaries began because church leaders saw the need to train the next generation of clerics (2 Tim 1:12-14; 2:2) churches also were concerned that the seminaries so begun were becoming errant in doctrine, launching new institutions (2 Tim 1:15; 2:16-19). The concern for transferring sound doctrine (Titus 1:9-2:1; 3:9-11), has been the primary Christian impetus in both seminary commencement and expansion. Seminaries can be found wherever the Christian church can be found, providing nurseries for the Christian mind.
Brick and mortar edifices have been created to serve student learning for centuries. Anchored by majestic buildings, students were required to live in a certain place to be educated. Such seminaries hired professors to live in the same locale to teach and mentor future church leadership. Ancient schools, Tyrannus in Ephesus for example (Acts 19:8-10), were established places of learning where students would go to sit under the tutelage of a favorite teacher. Early church leaders like Paul utilized such facilities but were constantly on the move, taking themselves to the people to teach where they were invited or found a receptive audience (i.e., Acts 19:21-22). Both historic patterns existed—students following teachers and teachers going to students.
At the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries sending professors to pupils has become a primary delivery system. To some, the internet has made physical moves to a place unnecessary for the training of religious leaders. Purely online degrees exist to serve those who could not connect with teachers face-to-face. Hybrid or blended approaches include pre-work prior to incarnational, on-site meetings, continuing online forums, and final papers sent electronically. Residential programs continue but often combine web-enabled options. Yet the church forms its practice based on its doctrine. Jesus’ incarnation—coming to earth in physical form—necessitates incarnational theology, a physical, local presence. Personal interaction cannot be replaced for the Christian educator. [See my essay on “text-people not textbooks” here.]
Seminaries tend to focus on denominational roots, theological persuasions, programmatic foci, or personality appeals. Local church history may also direct students toward certain institutions. But most Christians come back to the same concept of missional direction: entrusting the next generation with The Word of God (2 Tim 1:14; 2:2; Titus 1:4). The Christian church should be an inclusive body, standing on the foundation of Scripture (Acts 2:5-11, 42-49; 15; Gal 3:29; James 2; Rev 5:9). 21st century educational focus is returning to the roots of theological thinking which began in Asia and Africa with scholars such as Augustine. His treatise “On Doctrine” provides guidance for educational direction, methods, qualifications, etc. A clear precedent of utilizing cultural tools [see my essay here] and situational options to communicate the gospel and grow maturing believers is evident in every generation.
Once focused solely on strict study of languages, theology, and liturgical practices seminaries have expanded their offerings. Fast cultural changes have forced seminary education to grow new curricula. Programs such as social justice, human trafficking, cultural interpretation, or filmmaking are examples of a new focus in education. In the past seminaries have taught based on established models. The move is now distinctively toward application/interaction of theological insights with current cultural needs.
Instead of relying on a standardized curriculum where application is left to the student upon graduation, practicum learning is an essential component of the teaching-learning process [see my essay here]. Projects, collaboration, and institutional professor/student interchange are now part and parcel of Christian higher education. Diversification of programs allocate a broad spectrum of seminary choices. Flexibility allows the Christian church to be nimble [see my essay] in approach and creative in its use of resources. Where ease of travel exists and electronic communication can be useful, seminaries can flourish, allowing students immediate access to information.
Cost may preclude future students from programmatic, system-based, organized, or accredited seminary experience. Though non-certified, some seminaries have existed offering less substantive training, local churches or denominations may unfold approaches to pastoral training which are smaller, more directed to a situation or locale. Technological interconnectivity may or may not play a major role in such circumstances. If resources such as books and tutors exist within a geographical sphere of influence, distance education could become unnecessary.
Local development of church leaders has been the focus since Acts, the epistles, and the early church. Paul (Titus 1), John (3 John), and Peter (1 Peter 5:1-4), for instance, assumed the role of traveling overseer, communicating preparation responsibility through letters to local assemblies. Persecution could also drain leaders from neighborhood churches. In such cases, education of church shepherds will necessitate close, interpersonal discipleship. Past foreseeing future problems and possibilities, seminaries will continue to water leadership seeds in the Christian church patterned after prophetical schools (i.e., 1 Sam. 19:18-24; 2 Kings 2:3, 5, 7, 12, 15) and traveling professors (2 Chron 17:7-9). [See my essay on The Church here.
“Seminaries” © is one of 22 articles included in History of Christianity in the United States (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) by Dr. Mark Eckel. Mark is President of The Comenius Institute (one minute video here). Picture credit: Snappygoat.com
References and Resources
Anthony, J. Michael and Warren S. Benson. Exploring the History and Philosophy of Christian Education: Principles for the Twenty-First Century. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2003.
Introducing Christian Education: Foundations for the 21st Century. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001.
Banks, Robert. Reenvisioning Theological Education: Exploring a Missional Alternative to Current Models. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999.
Billman, Kathleen D. and Bruce C. Birch, eds. C(H)AOS Theory: Reflections of Chief Academic Officers in Theological Education. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011.
Hill, Kenneth. Religious Education in the African American Tradition: A Comprehensive Introduction. Atlanta, GA: Chalice Press, 2007.
House, Paul R. Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision: A Case for Costly Discipleship and Life Together. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015.
Mulphers, Aubrey. Ministry Nuts and Bolts: What They Don’t Teach Pastors in Seminary, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2009.
Parrett, Gary A. and S. Steve Kang. Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful: A Biblical Vision for Education in the Church. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009.
Tidball, Derek. Ministry by the Book: New Testament Patterns for Pastoral Leadership. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009.
The Marks of a Christian Teacher: A Vocational Description 
The true function of the teacher is to create the most favorable conditions for self-learning. True teaching is not that which gives knowledge, but that which stimulates pupils to gain it. One might say that he teaches best who teaches least.
“I want you to be Bereans. The Bereans did not take at face value what Paul said but searched Scripture for themselves to see if he was correct.”
“This is not Eckelology.” The comment always brought smiles. More serious expressions when I said, “We study God’s Word for the sake of God’s world.”
“My responsibility as a teacher is to make sure you become lifelong learners. If you only learn to follow an authority’s words without thought, you will allow anyone with the loudest voice or the most letters behind her name to sway your thinking.”
“You need to own what you believe. The one word definition of education is ownership.”
Since the 1980’s my students have read things like Humanist Manifestos I & II, held discussions with atheists invited to the classroom, compared the Enuma Elish with Genesis, debated rock DJ’s over sexuality in music, held dialogues with impaneled doctors about in vitro fertilization, interviewed college students on their campuses, critiqued full length feature films, exegeted Scripture, written decidedly biblical points of view without chapter & verse, and practiced in real-time settings, how to clearly communicate Christian truths with respectful conviction.
Students came to own their beliefs. I made no apologies for having students write papers. Writing made a pupil own their ideas. Students hated it when I answered their questions with questions. But the answers they discovered, they owned. Projects were created for innovative learning. Lessons were sewn deep in the soil of student ownership. Students were taught the books and tools necessary to study the Bible for themselves. Ownership became personal and practical.
Ownership suggests we should hyphenate teaching-learning. I believe that the process goes both ways. A student learns when she teaches and is able to teach when she learns. One Hebrew word, lamad, can be translated either “teaching” or “learning” depending on the context. We should be less concerned with the delivery of material and more concerned with how we deliver the student to the material. Becoming skilled at how to craft questions, create projects, and construct discussions brings learning to the learner.
Biblical instruction is content-centered, teacher-directed, student-discovered, life-related, service-enacted learning for the next generation (Ps 71:14-18; 78:1-8).
- Content-centered. Capital “T” Truth does exist and can be known; therefore people are responsible to the laws of God’s Word and His world (Deut 4:5-9; 30:11-16). Curriculum is based on the principle that all Truth originates from God (Is 28:23-29), all truth is inclusive within His Truth (heaven and earth are His, Josh 2:11; 2 Kings 19:15; 2 Chr 2:12), and all truth is God’s Truth (Ps 119:152, 160).
- Teacher-directed. The teacher is God’s authority in the school’s sphere of influence (Prov 23:12; Eph 4:11-12; 1 Thess 5:12, 13; Heb 13:17). Professors bear the responsibility of clear commitment to and communication of “true Truth” (2 Tim 2:14-4:5; Titus 1:9).
- Student-discovered. Students are accountable for the privilege of teaching-learning (Prov 13:13, 16, 18; 20:15; etc.; Gal 6:6). If this is God’s world, He made it, and it is important to Him, it should be important to us (1 Chr 29:11; Neh 9:6; Ps 33:6-11; 50:9-12; 89:11). As creatures responsible to The Creator, students have been given responsibilities to rule the creation, including one’s studies (Gen 1:28; 2:5, 15, 19-20; Ps 8:5-8).
- Life-related. God’s common grace creates common truth for the common good for common lives of all people (Gen 39:5; Ps 145:9, 15-16; Matt 5:44-45; Lk 6:35-36; Jn 1:9; Acts 14:16-17). God’s law addresses all of life for everyone (Deut 30:11-15; 1 Tim 1:8-11). We are responsible to develop biblical, wisdom thinking skills (Prov 2:1-6; Col 2:8; Heb 5:11-14). Wisdom is how we better understand the world (Proverbs 8:12-36).
- Service-enacted. There is a standard of goodness (Titus 1:8), to be modeled (2:7), and practiced (2:14; 3:1, 8, 14)—something of praiseworthy quality or measured with excellent results. Teaching must link sound doctrine to doing what is good (2:1, 3).
May the things we learn, so meager, never lift our hearts in pride
Till in foolish self-reliance we would wander from Thy side.
Let them only bind us closer, Lord, to Thee, in whom we find
Very fountainhead of Wisdom, Light and life of all mankind.
 Find Part One here. This series was first published at Emerging Scholars Network. Dr. Eckel has served the Christian educational community for over 30 years; teaching junior high through graduate school. Mark and Robin Eckel live in Indianapolis, IN, sharing their gifts in their local church, Crossroads Community (PCA), Fishers, IN. Mark is President of The Comenius Institute. [See our one minute video here.] Dr. Eckel practices teaching-learning at his church, with The Masters Study, Capital Seminary & Graduate School, and anyone who wants to learn.
 John Milton Gregory. 1884, 1917, 2007. The Seven Laws of Teaching. Filiquarian Publishing, pp. 77-78.
 Acts 17:11.
 Kaiser, Walter. 1980. lamad. In The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Edited by R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, 1:480. Chicago, IL: Moody.
 Find my educational philosophy at http://warpandwoof.org/marks-philosophy/educational/
Marks of a Christian Scholar: A Vocational Description 
“The Christian scholar-teacher must be a person who believes in Christian higher education, who is committed to the mission of his or her institution. It is not enough to hire faculty who happen to be Christians, even if they are fine scholars. We must find and keep faculty who are committed to the project.”
“RBB,” he said. My response registered a facial question mark. “Really Big Brains,” he smiled. “That’s what you professors have: really big brains.”
“RBH,” I said. He returned the questioning look. “Really Big Heads,” I smiled. “That’s what can happen to professors: we can get really big heads.”
Humility is the essence of knowledge. I have lost count of how many times I have intoned such a statement in classes. The first mark of Christian scholars is that we should know we do not know how much we don’t know (Luke 14:7-11; Rom 12:3; Phil 2:3-4). We should begin every thought where the gospel begins: we are dependent upon God. Knowing how much we do not know measures the creature by The Creator (Isa 55:8-9). Aseity identifies our dependency (Acts 17:24-28).
Scholarship depends on dependency. Scholars do literature reviews. We read the latest research in our field. Counter-arguments are heard and evaluated. Words such as “could,” “perhaps,” and “may” dot our writing, rightfully acknowledging the sage wisdom we could be wrong. The possibility of finding ourselves in error, however, does not diminish our responsibility to seek true Truth.
Knowledge of the Creator and His creation is within sight of thinking people (cf. Pss. 64:9; 65:8; 66:1-5; 67). Culture and context may condition how we view knowledge, but the common nature of reality is true for all people in all places at all times in all cultures (cf. Pss. 107, 117). Our knowledge may be comparative but our “knowing is constrained . . . true to creature, creation, and Creator.” We live in a fallen world (Rom 8:19-22) which accentuates our finite, fallen, fragile limitations (Job 11:7-9). Christian scholars know that if our knowledge is incomplete, we look forward to the day when restoration of what once was, will be again; the completion of creation (Acts 3:21; Rev 21:1-5).
Incompletion, however, does not equal stagnation. Christian scholars continue to take responsibility for the gifts given us. We also acknowledge our assumptions in the scholarly enterprise. A Christian view of scholarship may contain the following commitments:
- No dichotomy exists between secular and sacred—the whole world and all of life belong to The Creator (1 Chr 29:10-16; Psalm 24:1; 50:9-12; 89:11);
Common grace—truth to be found within creation—can be accessed because The Personal Eternal Triune Creator was pleased to leave it there, intending delight and wonder for the discoverer (Job 26; 28:1-11; Prov 25:2);
Ways of knowing premised upon “the fear of The Lord” (Prov 1:7; 9:10), are given to human image bearers (Gen 1:26; Ps 8);
The Christian Scriptures are the central organizing core (2 Tim 1:14; 2:15; 3:14-17) which both begin the process of evaluation, interpreting theories and data, while giving purpose to the process of education; and
The Christian scholar (2 Chr 17:7-9; Prov 2:1-6; 2 Cor 10:3-5) bears the responsibility to develop a Christian theological-philosophical grid, a Christian thought process in the pursuit of true Truth.
Nicholas Wolterstorff summarizes succinctly, “Faithful scholarship as a whole will be distinctive scholarship . . . But difference is to be a consequence, not an aim.”
My 5-fold commitment to distinctive Christian scholarship leads to the 5-fold responsibility of my task, my craft, as a Christian scholar:
- I submit to the Lordship of Christ in all things (integrity, scholarship, administrative shepherding, etc.).
- I articulate in written and verbal form the theological-philosophical assumptions that form the premise for my work as a Christian scholar.
- I practice faith-learning integration within my discipline, believing the wedding of belief with academic excellence to be inseparable. I master my area of content specialization while seeking collaborative interdisciplinary approaches, demonstrating the coherence of God’s world.
- I continue to mature in Christ through personal Bible study, prayer, fellowship with a local church family, read in and out of my content areas, participate in opportunities to grow within my vocation, and enjoy the life given me by God.
- I live my beliefs through loving service to those inside and outside of The Faith with robust research, rigorous rhetoric, generous spirit, relational grace, bold conviction, and personal care.
Dear Lord, we purpose
- Gratefulness for our opportunities, Appreciation for our giftedness;
- Precision in our reading, Accuracy in our writing;
- Understanding in our discussions, Humility in our knowledge;
- Thoughtfulness in our answers; Sanctification in our learning;
- Investment in our assignments; Godliness in our workmanship;
- Discipleship in our relationships; Commitment to our mission;
- Scholarship in our schoolwork; cohesiveness in our worldview;
- Increase for Jesus, Decrease for ourselves, Glory for our Lord.
May You make it so in us. Amen.
 Part One of Four. This series was first published at Emerging Scholars Network. Dr. Eckel has served the Christian educational community for over 30 years; teaching junior high through graduate school. Mark and Robin Eckel live in Indianapolis, IN, sharing their gifts in their local church, Crossroads Community (PCA), Fishers, IN. Mark is President of The Comenius Institute. [See our one minute video here.] Dr. Eckel practices scholarship with others in the M.A. and Ph.D. programs at Capital Seminary & Graduate School, Lancaster, PA.
 C. Stephen Evans, 2003. “The Calling of the Christian Scholar-Teacher. In Faithful learning and the Christian Scholarly Vocation. (Eerdmans): 28.
 “Aseity” is a theological term meaning God is independent and self-sufficient meaning humans are dependent and insufficient (of themselves).
 “True Truth” was the phrase used by Francis Schaeffer to suggest that many people claim any number of multiple “truths” but the Christian “Truth” claimed exclusivity (John 14:6). See my essay on “exclusivity” here.
 Hodges, Bert H. 1987. Perception is relative and veridical: Ecological and Biblical perspectives on knowing and doing the truth. In The reality of Christian learning, ed. Harold Heie and David L. Wolfe, 103-139. St. Paul, MN: Christian College Consortium, 133-34, emphasis his.
 As a Christian professor, I acknowledge my total dependence in restoration from a state of separation from God because of sin through the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus on the cross; His gift of grace through faith saving alone.
 Arthur F. Holmes preached, “Yet ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’…Christianity (and other worldviews) affect our thinking at other levels than explicit biblical understandings. There is no presuppositionless science . . . Holmes, Arthur F. 1994. “Is a Christian university possible?” Faculty Dialogue 21 (Summer), 28-29, emphasis his.
 On these five points see my PhD dissertation, “A Comparison of Faith-Learning Integration Between Graduates from Christian and Secular Universities in the Christian School Classroom,” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2009, 21-22.
 Wolterstorff, Nicholas. 2004. Educating for shalom: Essays on Christian higher education. Edited by Clarence W. Joldersma and Gloria Goris Stronks. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 78, emphasis his.
 This is the first in a series of four articles. The second article will focus on my responsibility as a Christian teacher in higher education.
 Mark Eckel, “The Christian Schoolman’s Prayer,” unpublished, 2006.
They were outnumbered, outgunned, and outmanned.
There was no reasonable belief they could win. It was a stop-gap measure at best. What was at stake? Only the Hawaiian Islands and the west coast of The United States.
This was the Battle of Midway, June, 1942. No military had ever won more territory in six months than had Japan. Its Pacific Empire ranged from the Indian Ocean to the coast of the Aleutian Islands, and from the Russian border to Wake Island in the Pacific. At Midway, Americans were outnumbered three air craft carriers to four. Japanese cruisers, battleships, destroyers, and aircraft were far superior in numbers and technology than their American counterparts. In short, the Japanese Pacific Fleet was stronger, larger, and more experienced than the American forces in June, 1942. Yet the Japanese Navy was roundly defeated by an outnumbered and inexperienced American fleet at Midway. Why?
The Japanese military was saddled with a war doctrine that allowed no creativity and demanded rigid, rote compliance to dictatorial standards. But at Midway American forces adapted, flexed, adjusted, took risks, and became nimble.
The academe, university learning, is the coming Battle of Midway for our students. American culture is an intellectual battle ground. American university culture is committed to a dominant voice which is the rigid, rote, and dictatorial compliance to whatever sacrosanct idols our culture creates. Much like Midway, our students will face an imposing belief system.
Students will encounter a world where
Journalists promote ideas with no factual evidence with anonymous sources
Professors prompt rejection of ideas by belittling others, denigrating alternatives
Politicians stand for the next election rather than standing for truth
Social media platforms sensationalize headlines
Friends will show themselves enemies by allowing falsehood into conversations
Yet, in the Senior Thesis class – indeed, throughout TMS – we have taught students tools which, if used, will allow them a lifetime of nimble flexibility in facing any opposing viewpoint. We have taught them how to search for knowledge, critique interpretations, write cohesively, speak coherently, and think biblically. They have done their homework.
It’s interesting to me that the phrase “do your homework” persists in our cultural conversation. When we say “He didn’t do his homework” we mean he didn’t do any research, he didn’t think clearly. The seniors have learned the hard lesson Proverbs 18.17 teaches us: the first one who presents his case sounds right until another takes the stand.
Social media favors those who do not do their homework. Folks on Facebook generally do not do research before they post the latest diatribe, meme, or forwarded article. Internet sites such as Twitter produce a combative atmosphere where folks fling words, articles, and epithets back and forth at each other without a thought. And I mean, without a thought.
You see thinking has come upon hard times in the social media age. It’s not as if this is anything new. Humans have been adding their two cents ever since Eve decided to add to God’s words in Genesis 3.
How do we combat empty, emotive rhetoric? How do we respond to an American culture driven by the immediate & expedient? What wisdom will be provided in the glut of 2017 information overload? I offer five study ideals, preparing for the battle of ideas: students’ own personal Midway.
One senior said, “I thought you were just making us do busy work until I realized that doing annotations for bibliographies actually helped me write my paper!” “Reading” is the first step in study. We accumulate, listen to and ponder other points of view. Creating 100 word annotations for a just-read book or article means we invest time with someone else’s ideas. And yes, reading takes time. A young man, a student in an M.A. course I teach, called to ask, “I am having to make decisions without the time to consider the full scope of the problem. Doc, what should I do?” My response? “You need to take 4-6 hours every week to read, study, think, and write about the issues you face in your context.” I said, “You are spending time in study to prepare for the battle of ideas you face, to protect and defend your people.” The more we listen to others, the more we discover that reading is another Midway – the first step in study
One of our seniors admitted “I have not done a research paper before. It was hard until I realized that that I had to do research.” At first blush that statement makes one smile. But upon further consideration, as I’ve already suggested, research is not a hallmark of our age. Faced with instantaneous communication young people are taught that talk-without-thought is good. When I talk with students in higher education they will tell you reliable research still wins the day. As one of my Comenius students told me toward the end of the semester, “I knew I had the best argument when my liberal professor told me he didn’t want to hear from me anymore.” You see research broadens a person’s thinking, beyond the doctrinaire, demanding, dominating cultural voices of our day. Research broadens thinking, creating grounded Christian thinkers, preparing students for their university Midway.
One senior told me, “I was having real problems with writing the paper but as I kept writing the light bulb went on!” Writing depends on research. Research depends on reading. Reading depends on incremental learning. “As much as it pains me to admit it,” another senior said, “You were right.” He continued, “You made us go through this step-by-step process of building knowledge,” others began to nod their heads. Finally he admitted, “I did not like it. I just wanted to get the final paper out of the way. But you kept pacing us, slowing us down. You wanted us to reflect on what we were writing. And I was surprised how helpful the progression was for me.” Writing is risk, placing one’s words in public view. As soon as you write something it is open for critique. But students have been taught how to write. Their papers allure the reader, drawing them into the subject, solidifying the research, logically defending a position, passionately communicating a Christian viewpoint. Flexible and adaptable, TMS seniors are prepared for their Battle of Midway in education.
Oh, if y’all had only been a fly on the wall first semester! “Wail and moan” would be an apt description of senior responses to my critique of their writing. Fast forward to a few weeks ago as they were handing in their final thesis, wail and moan turned to “Boy, your critiques from first semester really helped me to write second semester.” Critique is a part of life. I am not speaking about the bombastic, vitriolic venom that passes for cultural conversation today. I am speaking about critique that investigates sources of knowledge, structures of authority, standards of interpretation, and strands of cultural mindset. I still shake my head when adult Christians question whether or not seniors in a Christian school should read books like Dracula, Frankenstein, or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Gothic horror novels produce the same response from seniors every year: “I was so surprised how the morality tales of Gothic horror novels still apply today.” You want 18 year olds to leave TMS prepared to critique 21st century issues? Evaluation of current culture is best accomplished when students discover that so called “old books” deal with the same questions needed in “new days.” Taught to think Christianly, TMS seniors are prepared with tools which will serve them in the battle for ideas.
In one exchange this semester I asked a senior, “How many times did I mention the importance of storytelling for your presentation?” Without hesitation he responded, “About 50 or 60.” All year long we discussed the importance of knowing an audience, looking for the “in,” not constructing pat-answers but adapting to the discussion by telling stories. Knowing how to present a case is as important as what a case presents. What do business leaders say? “Give me your elevator speech.” By that, business people mean “Make your point memorable. You only have 30 seconds.” Did you know that data system firms and science labs are looking for storytellers? Why? Because no one wants to listen to their data. But if data can be told through story, well . . . Today you will hear short speeches on data-driven ideas such as muscular dystrophy and musical therapy for autism. But you will hear the data through story. Flexibility in approach is well served through story, nimbleness necessary for any Midway.
I love flying Southwest Airlines. Just last week Harvard Business Review ran an essay entitled, “To Change Your Strategy, First Change How You Think.” [link here] I was not surprised when the authors used Southwest Airlines as the model for their title. You want to know why Southwest has 43 consecutive years of profitability, why every other airline tries to copy their success, why Southwest is consistently one of the best companies for which to work? Southwest focuses not on product but on people. Herb Kelleher, co-founder of Southwest, says, “I tell our employees, we serve people; we just happen to use airplanes.”
We help students harness the tools of learning so as to apply them to any situation or circumstance they encounter in the future. American ingenuity, flexibility and improvisation was the intellectual key to victory at Midway. If a commander (or a teacher) becomes locked in to a certain approach they will never be free to look at the situation and nimbly adjust. Key to the educational life is having tools and knowing how to use them.
The young people whom you will hear today are about to enter battle, the battle for ideas. They have, for the most part, been raised in a conservative mindset. They have been taught the need to preserve great ideas. They have been given privileges of learning others can only dream about.
But now, they are about to face Midway. They will be outnumbered, outgunned, and outmanned.
And I am not concerned. I pity their academic adversaries. The TMS Senior Class of 2017 are equipped with the tools of learning which will enable them to critique any idea. Yes, they will need guidance, encouragement, and camaraderie. And yes, they bear responsibility for using the tools. They have learned that their educational lives depend on broadminded thinking driven by The Transcendent Truth of Scripture and their Commander in Chief, Jesus.
Graduation Speech given by Dr. Mark Eckel, Friday, May 26th, 2017 to the TMS Senior Breakfast. Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute. [See our one minute video here.]
Picture Credit: Snappy Goat
My one word definition of education: Ownership.
“As much as it pains me to admit it,” one young man began his comment, “You were right.”
He smiled. I smiled. The class smiled.
“You made us go through this incremental process of building knowledge,” others began to nod their heads. “I did not like it. I just wanted to get the final paper out of the way. But you kept pacing us, slowing us down. You wanted us to reflect on what we were learning. And I was surprised how helpful the progression was for me.”
Another student reflected on what her mom told her.
“My mom has Masters and PhD degrees,” the young woman was obviously proud. “She told me when we were going over my final paper that the work we were doing in this class was work she was taught to do at the graduate level. She was so pleased that I was learning the process of researching and writing in preparation for college.”
Family connections continued.
“Yes, my sister is a senior in college studying English,” my young charge smiled, knowing I had her sister in my class years before. “She told me that how I was learning to write papers was such good preparation for university studies. In fact, she also said, I would be far ahead of other students in my college classes.”
During the week I had also begun reading Turn the Ship Around! Retired Navy captain of a U.S. nuclear submarine L. David Marquet tells the true story of changing the culture of leadership. He proposes a leader-leader model where everyone is empowered with authority over knowledge.
It struck me that Marquet and I share the same philosophy. We want our people to own authority, knowledge, and responsibility. Similar to the captain’s philosophy I have taught students
Tools of learning they would use throughout life (essay here)
Principles of life they could employ throughout any vocation (essay here)
Outcomes depend on what is done with opportunities (essay here)
Assumptions frame the application of their knowledge (essay here)
Objectives are met only with intentional practice (essay here)
“I won’t be around when you have questions in the future,” I began to close the class discussion. “How I am teaching you now—the mindset, ways of thought—you can employ for the rest of your days wherever you are, whatever you do.”
“One of my former students, a philosopher with a PhD” I was remembering an email I had received earlier in the week, “Put it this way,”
“Your high school classes were good, time well spent. I was not aware that the ‘bricks’ gathered in the class would become incorporated into the ‘walls’ which now support the ‘upper stories’ of my life. Looking back now, I don’t know what I would have done without them.”
Ownership. The definition stands. The process continues.
Mark’s view of “ownership” is because he stands on the shoulders of giants such as Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Wycliffe, Tyndale, Calvin, Luther, Comenius, Edwards, and so many more. This essay is being written toward Mark’s forthcoming book “Up Against the Lockers: Teaching-Learning as Christian Practice.” Dr. Mark Eckel teaches high school classes as well as PhD classes and is President of The Comenius Institute (one minute video here).