The trick in curriculum design is mirroring the fullness of reality.
That’s one reason why “religious education” leaders sometimes object to “catechesis” — if you are just “sounding back” — the literal meaning of catechesis — have you absorbed the significance of what you are mouthing? Have students fully wrestled out the options, or are you just making students “buy” what you are selling?
If it is true that “the trick in curriculum design is mirroring the fullness of reality,” then you as responsible educator should accept that you guide human beings who can make up their own minds, but that the truth must be allowed to speak for itself.
I can think of objections from all sides but I want to think out loud about one particular course that I spent a fair amount of time thinking about, on Monday.
It is entitled, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, and it enrols thousands of people every year, is growing like crazy, has tens of thousands of graduates, and many ambassadors. It can be taken for university or college credit or done as a demanding adult education course, or even audited. The core is a massive reader of 150 excellent articles.
Here is the course design.
Part 1. God did this and revealed this. 5 sessions or so.
Part 2. Here’s how the divinely given Story has worked out in the lives of people since then (human history’s lessons) 4 sessions or so.
Part 3. Here are strategic implications, things one person can do to participate in what we think are the implications of the Divine Story and the human experience. You can participate! Make a decision! Act in some area that is congruent with your abilities and potentials! Why would you wish otherwise!?
In Part 1, God is assumed. He is assumed in the same way that the divine writ also assumes the existence, power, and capacity of the one true God. He is never proven ala Aquinas, not within the holy writ itself. The book is a record of human history from a divine perspective, not written by dictation for sure, but by human beings whose personalities body forth in their deliverances of divine communication. As such the divine record can be and is a template by which to read human history subsequently.
Here I the reader and student am placed in the position as having to figure out the veracity and trust-worthiness of the record, my response to it. Like any sermon, Part 1 will have human weaknesses built in from being located in time and place, part of human culture and history: no one except Christ has gotten beyond those limitations, and even the revelation that is his is in the context of Second Temple Judaism. So we are stuck in a hermeneutical circle but — quickly said — so is the Incarnation of the Son of God himself, and he has been communicating himself in and through the church for centuries, transforming all kinds of people. So: Part 1 puts me the student in position as hearer who must respond.
Part 2 holds off on immediate response, though. Sometimes the lines to “do this” are drawn too quickly. Part 2 obliges students to look at the wide variety of ways that God’s missionary heart has expressed itself fruitfully over the centuries.
Then, Part 3 relates the above for agencies and persons today. Message: you can contribute! Find real meaning. Get excited! Get on board! Here’s how!
My reflection today is: this pattern may be reproducing an encounter with the Living God. It is not making students agree with abstractions. It does not go backwards into philosophy, at least not on the surface. (I shaded into that territory above.) It does not try to prove God. The course adopts a pattern that looks like “Hebrew Bible through Christ, into Acts”!
(What do I mean? Well, the apostles went out because they were gripped by a (somewhat) similar pattern of understanding and could nt keep from telling what they had heard and seen.)
Instantly I want to see in the course where the nature of the gospel is identified and discussed. Is justification in the student assumed already, or is it developed? I’m going to go and look in the course for “how Christ fulfills history, and you.”
However, for now: have you ever been part of any course that does not “do the trick”? What excites you — or howls at you — from my little description of a curriculum?