By Hannah MacDonald, Global Issues Division Head
LCA is different from your average college prep school. Not only is it special because the school has created an atmosphere in which extraordinarily competitive kids in both athletics and academics are able to see each other as family and friends and not just competition, but it offers a unique opportunity to take Theology classes and really understand what the Chritian faith is. While this is beneficial for Christians to grow in their faith, and for non-Christians to broaden their view and understanding of another religion by absorbing inherently good Christian values, how this system is set up has been up for debate. There seems to be a disconnect between the teacher’s goals and what the students are getting out of it. Where does this gap lie? The Blue and White took the reigns of this situation and did some investigative research to analyze where the discrepancies may be coming from and create a common understanding for both parties.
LCA’s Bible department requires a Bible class every semester in middle school to lay the foundation of Christianity, and 6 mandatory semesters of Bible classes in high school. Mr. Alexander explains that, “All upper school students need to take Intro to Christianity, at least 1 Old Testament course, 1 New Testament course, and now (as of this year) 2 courses in Ethics, Culture, & Christianity category. This will leave them with 1 free elective to choose whatever course they want. There’s several reasons for this…First, the sequence tries to move students into more biblical literacy and then theological/biblical reflection on life/living. Second, it fits better with the skills and abilities with the teachers in the Bible department. Third, we thought if we provided students with choices for their courses, there might be more buy-in on their part. That’s why they’re elective based.” With this is mind, let’s take a look into how teachers vs. students are understanding this system.
The following notes are compiled from various school-wide surveys and in-person interviews with both Bible faculty and LCA students.
A Note to the Students from the Teachers
The teachers in the Bible department have all expressed a goal of wanting to nurture the students in their faith and help them grow into people who lead lives of love and service. Mr. Thomason describes the Bible department as a way “to educate young men and women about the Christian faith in a way that helps shape character and lives.” However, while the goal seems easy, Mr. Alexander points out that “Bible is not a normal subject to teach.” The teachers are grappling to find the line between educating students and helping them grow, but not causing Bible to be another academic burden. This is tough, as students don’t always understand why the Bible teachers will lecture and assign historical texts to analyze, viewing this approach as just another class that they have to sit through. Yet, Ms. Olson explains the lectures as a means to “understand the history, background and context of what’s going on,” and she explains that “some of [her] assignments are a bit textbook seeing how [the Bible] is a historical document.” When approaching the Bible, there has to be an understanding of historical context: the author, audience, and purpose. One can’t begin to grow in their faith if what they’re learning is only snip-its of the Bible, and therefore, it is crucial to do the grunt work that may seem dull or “too academic” in order to appreciate God’s word fully and have productive discussions.
The teachers do want to make Bible interesting, however, the goal is not to entertain. The goal is to dig deep into the Bible, and, as Mr. A quite often states, you get out what you put in. God’s word should spark a fire in you whether or not you’re on the receiving end of a lecture or engaging in a hands on project. But, that doesn’t mean students don’t favor one over the other.
A Note to the Teachers from the Students
The student letter is lengthier than the teacher one because the Blue and White is a student paper who advocates student concerns.
Based on feedback, the biggest pushback from students is they want to experience the Bible in a non-academic way. Unfortunately, students nowadays are so stressed about classes and getting perfect grades, that a Bible class as just another academic class feels more like a burden than a unique learning experience. As one student blatantly put it, “I do wish…we had the opportunity to experience the Bible in a non-academic way.” Another student explains it as, “I feel like it can sometimes make faith seem like just another subject, and not something special you have with God.” It’s not that the material isn’t there, but the approach and the system is what seems to be creating the gap (for some) between students and teachers.
However, many students do recognize the importance of fundamentals, noting that they “love the in-depth studying of the Bible” and “the whole point of the department is to educate us to give us a groundwork, and that’s what they’ve done from me.”
In a survey to the upper school asking for suggestions to relay to the Bible department, many students expressed a desire for more discussion based classes. A few students suggested creating a class that focuses on God given gifts, such as classes that teach how to use art, music, athletics, academics, etc, to create a life pleasing to the Lord. In addition to necessary fundamentals such as the Old Testament and New Testament classes, students want a larger variety of types of classes, like the ones that prepare you for evangelism or how to defend your faith in a secular college and the world (hence, college prep for all areas of your life and not just academics and athletics).
In light of this, though, Mr. Alexander has a new class on Topics and Theology, which has received much positive feedback. With one student noting, “The LCA Bible program has given me countless new insights about the Bible and how to read and interpret it,” it seems like the biggest suggestive takeaway is that students want to learn and love the Bible in classes that don’t mimic their already overwhelming academic classes, which ultimately causes Theology to be something they have to do instead of something they get to do as a break from the chaos of their lives.
Recently, however, there have been some changes to the Biblical aspects of LCA. There are new Bible classes that are receiving positive feedback and, even more so, the initiation of the Calvin Grant which has allowed the student body to begin exploring Christianity through different aspects of art and music. Hopefully, we can continue to work towards better communication and shared goals with the Bible Department.