Tuesday, April 21, 2009

At L'Abri: Francis Schaeffer on Education

I recently read an article taken from a speech by Francis Schaeffer where he addresses education. As I read the article, I began to realize how much I have allowed secular humanism to creep through the backdoor of policy and curriculum into my teaching-practice as an educator. The heart of the matter is understanding reality, the reality of our students and the reality of the world our students need to learn about. The clarity with which we understand reality is determined by our worldview. One of the fundamental messages from the works of Schaeffer is that worldview matters. Nowhere is the clash between worldviews more evident than in education.

Christian Education recognizes fallen humanity

The secular approach to education begins with an unreal notion of the human condition of its students. This is why so many teachers at all levels of education are bewildered by student apathy, disrespect, slothfulness and dishonesty. Policy and program is mandated to remove consequence, to encourage egalitarian (and anti-authority) levelings and to molly-coddle students’ emotional whims and self-indulgent habits. I am beginning to sound like a curmudgeon, but I don’t think I am exaggerating. Anecdotal evidence corroborates my assessment. In an article by Margaret Wente from The Globe and Mail (April 18, 2009), she cites a number of professors, principals and teachers with similar observations. She writes “The teacher’s job is no longer to educate them up to a certain standard but to ‘meet their needs.’” At the heart of human sin is self-centredness. Educational policy-makers and curriculum-writers placate this human tendency of our fallen nature to be heliocentric.

The Bible is clear that pride is self-destructive, yet modern education is designed to inflate student ego and self-esteem. Wente laments, “no one has ever given them an accurate assessment of their skills.” She writes, “the biggest problem is the mismatch between students’ abilities and their aspirations.”

Christian Education should be a superior education

In Schaeffer’s speech, he articulates some of the distinct qualities of good education, particularly Christian education. Whether you homeschool or send your children to Christian schools, Schaeffer’s comments apply. He states that Christian education should be more than reactionary to the “materialist view… that rules out a Creator”. Many Christian parents withdraw their children from public education in order to shelter them or protect them from humanistic and secular indoctrination. These are good reasons to seek education for your children elsewhere, but the alternative needs to be more than an intransigent rejection of public education. Schaeffer writes, “[Christian education] should be a superior education, if you are going to really protect the Christian school. It should certainly teach the students how to read and write and how to do mathematics better than most public schools enjoy today.” The end result of Christian education should be truly intelligent, well-trained and intellectually challenged graduates. Why? For the glory of the Creator. The Head Master of Bradford Academy, a classical Christian school in North Carolina, writes “We believe the glory of God encompasses all of life and how we live it. We want our students to live and think about life in such a way that God is glorified in all things.” (Johnston)

Christian Education should address all human knowledge

Schaeffer continues, “Christian education should produce students more educated in the totality of knowledge, culture and life, than non-Christian education rooted in a false view of truth. The Christian education should end with a better educated boy and girl and man and woman, than the false could ever produce.” For Schaeffer, Christian education means that students learn to appreciate and learn about “the full scope of human learning.” This includes the arts and humanities, which has recently fallen out of favour in modern approaches to education, including Christian education. Art, music and literature doesn’t seem to have a place in Christian learning. But Schaeffer forces argues the opposite. “If the Judeo-Christian position is the truth of all reality, and-it is, then all the disciplines, and very much including a knowledge of, and I would repeat, an appreciation of, the humanities and the arts are a part of Christian education. Some Christians seem absolutely blind at this point.”

Teaching about the Christian faith should not be compartmentalized from all other aspects of student learning. I have learned this from Schaeffer as well. The Lordship of Christ covers all areas of life.

Total Truth and the Educated Person

Schaeffer gives an imperative for educators to expose our students to “the framework or total truth, rooted in the Creator's existence and in the Bible's teaching, so that in each step of the formal learning process the student will understand what is true and what is false and why it is true or false.” Education in this country will never improve until it reconciles itself to the reality of the Creator.

"Is life dull? How can it be dull? No, a true education, a Christian education, is more than the negative, though that is there. It is giving the tools in the opening the doors to all human knowledge, in the Christian framework so they will know what is truth and what is untruth, so they can keep learning as long as they live, and they can enjoy, they can really enjoy, the whole wrestling through field after field of knowledge. That is what an educated person is."

Francis A. Schaeffer


Johnston, Jeffrey S. “For What Purpose?” Nuntias Vol. 4 Issue 1, Mebane: Bradford Academy, Winter 2009. http://bradfordacademy.org/about/newsletters.html

Schaeffer, Francis. “On Education” Excerpt from “Priorities 1982”, two speeches given at the L'Abri Mini-Seminars in 1982.

Wente, Margaret. “We pretend to teach ‘em, they pretend to learn” April 18, 2009. Toronto: The Globe and Mail.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

At L’Abri: Learning from Francis A. Schaeffer

Over the past year, I devoted my reading time to the writings of C.S. Lewis. Some of my moments of discovery and illumination I shared on this blog. I called the series, “At the Kilns: Learning from C.S. Lewis.” Over the course of the coming year, I am planning (D.V.) to devote my reading to the writings of Francis A. Schaeffer. The new series is called, “At L’Abri: Learning from Francis A. Schaeffer.”

“L’Abri” is the name Schaeffer and his wife Edith gave to their ministry in Switzerland. The word is French for “the shelter”. L’Abri began as a one-on-one, face-to-face, ministry to youth and university students who visited the Schaeffer family in the mid to late 50s. They used their Chalet in the Swiss Alps to host anyone who had questions about all aspects of life on earth. Schaeffer believed that the Lordship of Christ extended to all areas of life and the cosmos, and therefore no topic or question escaped his notice or attention. Before starting L’Abri, he served for many years as a pastor in the United States and then as a missionary in Europe. Inspired by a love for Christ and His truth, as well as a fervent love for the lost and needy, the Schaeffer’s opened up their home to hundreds of visitors. Through hospitality, genuine Christian living, solid answers to tough questions, and a submission to the work of the Holy Spirit, many people came to know and love Christ through this ministry.

Francis Schaeffer’s ministry expanded into an extensive “tape” ministry, which visitors (eventually called students) could listen on their own while staying at L’Abri. Schaeffer lectured on and discussed a plethora of topics, ranging from art, philosophy, politics, to truth, faith and the Bible… and everything in between. Later Schaeffer began speaking and lecturing at conferences and seminars in Europe and North America, leading to the publication of numerous books, which would sell in the millions in over twenty different languages. In the 1970s, Schaeffer expanded into film, bringing the reality of Christ’s truth and love to millions. In 1984, Schaeffer succumbed to cancer after a seven year long battle. Even in his dying days, Schaeffer was continuing to speak with people and give lectures, sometimes arriving at locations on a stretcher! Even when he was at the Mayo clinic in Rochester, undergoing chemotherapy treatment, the doctors and nurses arranged for Schaeffer to give a seminar presentation. The presentation turned into a conference at which they expected about 500 people to attend; in the end, over 1500 people attended!

Schaeffer also established several L’Abri ministries around the world, and today there are over ten L’Abri ministries, functioning much the way it did in Schaeffer’s time. People coming to stay, listen, read, talk and learn about themselves and their Creator.

Although I am not studying in the serene and majestic mountain setting of the village of Huémoz where the Swiss L’Abri is located, I will be spending the year, through his life and literature, listening and learning from this heavenly gifted and blessed man of God, Francis August Schaeffer.

Barrs, Jerram. "Introduction" True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer. Illinois: Tyndale, 2001

Duriez, Colin. Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008
L’Abri Fellowship Official webpage, “History of L’Abri”

Monday, April 13, 2009

Satchel, shoulder bag, man-purse?

During spring break, I spent 12 days leading a small group of my students around Great Britain. Consequently, as the lead teacher, I was required to carry a considerable amount of paperwork---medical records, contact information, emergency protocol policies, etc. To facilitate this perpetual lugging of a preponderance of paperwork, I brought along a satchel. Almost immediately my fashion-conscious youth commented on my “man-purse.” To nip this in the bud, I directed their attention to the paragon of masculinity… Indiana Jones. Does Indy carry a “man-purse” or a satchel? ‘Nuff said.

Indiana Jer and the Satchel of Manhood: Stonehenge, England

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Why do students hate poetry?

Why do students hate poetry? One of the main reasons students dislike poetry, I suggest, is because students have been trained to look for “story” in all the literary works they encounter. Overemphasis on story is evident in the sort of literature students are asked to study.

The bulk of teacher-sanctioned classroom reading material is narrative.

Novels, movies, short stories and graphic novels provide clear, discernible plots for our students to find; poetry offers them a sublime experience that is discernible only after a concerted effort on the part of the reader.

This overexposure to narrative fiction, coupled with the fact that we live in a time when entertainment and information come in flashy, overly explicit and simplified forms, results in our students' aversion to the seemingly "dull", implicit and complicated forms of poetic expression.

Why we should emphasize POETRY instead of PROSE

Human beings have a natural affinity for story; we tell stories, we enjoying hearing and watching stories and we understand our lives in terms of story. Literary education has capitalized on this natural love of story in order to foster student interest. This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, teaching “story” has been over-emphasized. Whether in the form of comic books, graphic novels, plays, movies, short stories or novels, “story” has been the backbone of English education.

The consequence is that students now expect to find plot is almost every piece of creative writing they encounter. When poetry is taught, many teachers choose to teach ballads or narrative poetry. Even in narrative poetry, however, “plot development” is rarely the raison d'être. As a result, when a student encounters a lyric poem, or if the narrative is veiled or vague, he throws up his arms in despair: “pointless”—“I don’t get it”—“stupid”—in other words, the student is impatient for clear meaning because that is what he has been taught to look for.

Certainly great literature is more than “plot”; however, many students miss the “poetic” aspects of prose because they can easily and effortlessly understand the story. Since that is what they are used to look for, they often stop there. I have heard many English teachers complain that students provide “plot summary” instead of analysis. Understanding plot is the effortless part of reading prose fiction. A good story teller should be able to clearly convey plot! When a student is asked to find the “deeper” meaning of a novel or short story, they are really being asked to understand the poetic meaning. The symbols, extended metaphors, allusions, imagery, etc. of a novel are the poetic elements. This is, I argue, the heart of literary exploration. Reading plot summaries is not reading literature. Reading and understanding the poetry within the prose is what true literary reading is all about. Plot can be a distraction to poetic understanding. Therefore, in early years, we should begin teaching students more poetry and less prose. We should also emphasize poetry in our curriculum from K-12. Poetry is the gateway to understanding all other forms of literature.