James Pietsch’s new book is a welcome addition to the corpus of Christian education literature which is contextually Australian. Australia has lacked a rigorous analysis of a Christian philosophy of education. This book confidently asserts that education is primarily about formation of people, rather than a reductionist formulaic approach which can be easily quantified. Pietsch’s work takes a Christian approach to character education at a time when most offerings proceed from secular humanist assumptions. Indeed, it examines not only what it means to be human, but what it means in Christian terms, what it means educationally, and the implications for Christian epistemology. This work successfully provides a bridge between theology, philosophy and pedagogy. It proceeds from a Christian apologetic to an examination of wholeness and virtue, which is then helpfully applied to areas of aesthetics and the physical realm.
This is a wide-ranging book, commencing with a general discussion on apologetics and moving through issues of historicity (contrasted with mythology) and biblical anthropology, into the educational sphere. Pietsch majors on the need to look at education from within a biblical narrative: ‘If schools adopt a reductionist approach that sees their role as simply the proclamation of the gospel, this creates an ‘us and them’ dynamic counterproductive to the establishment of communities characterised by the kingdom of God. The way this dynamic becomes evident in schools is through the creation of a divide between different groups of students and between different faculties in the school. Within the student population, it creates a divide between those who have accepted the message and those who have not yet accepted the message. A gospel community becomes a ‘consciously divided community’ where some students feel a sense of belonging and others are aware of the fact that they do not belong. Furthermore, this approach creates a divide between evangelistic lessons and activities and lessons focussed on teaching the curriculum.’ (p41) Those of us who work in schools which seek to bring children and adults to the saving knowledge of Jesus, are all too aware of the cogency of this argument.
Perhaps the crucible of the book is the chapter entitled ‘Educating for the Kingdom of God’. In a sense, this conceptualises the thesis of the book. Aspects include the potential of Christian education to enable people to become fully human (p88) and to realise that happiness, much sought after these days through education, is actually an aspect of wholeness most fully reached within a Christian understanding (p94). Hence, we should be attempting to assist our students in Christian terms to live authentic lives and to not be captured by materialism.
Pietsch ranges helpfully over issues of currency, such as how to build learning character, and the latest iteration of the values vs virtues debate. He finds time to consider specifically the Performing Arts, and assessment, from within a Christian prism.
This is a splendid book, which not only deserves but needs to be read by all Christian educators. It has the capacity in fact to shape how we approach the task of Christian education.
Dr John Collier
Head, St Andrew’s Cathedral School, Sydney
Head, St Andrew’s Cathedral Gawura School, Sydney
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