No matter where you teach, helping students understand worldview is important. In Christian schools, we want to guide them towards Biblical thinking; in public schools, we can ask questions that will cause them to consider these important questions for themselves.
Join us for an enlightening conversation with Eric Reenders, author of Rooftop Perspectives. This interview comes from our 2019 Christian Educator's Virtual Summit. You can gain access to all the summit sessions and find out more here.
read the transcript:
[Linda] Today, we're going to be talking about how to integrate a Biblical worldview across all subjects. This is going to be obviously relevant for those who are teaching in Christian schools, but for those of you that teach in public schools, there are a lot of applications for you, too. Now, you're not going to be able to be so overt with it, but you're still going to discover a lot of tools. You can use it in a lot of things that are going to get kids thinking about these types of questions.
This will be helpful for anyone, regardless of where you teach. We're going to get into all that. But first, Eric, can you share just a little bit about your background?
[Eric] Yes, absolutely. I got my initial multiple subject teaching credential for teaching elementary school. I'm from a Christian college, but the Christian college's main focus was getting Christian educators into public schools. It really taught us how to live out our faith working in the public school. I started in elementary school. I also hold an authorization to teach middle school and high school English. So I did make a move into the middle school, and then ultimately found myself teaching high school English at a Christian school in China, of all places.
[Linda] That's awesome. I've loved following your journey, and you talk about China in your book. Your book is all about how to teach students to think from a biblical worldview. How did this book and this method of teaching come about?
[Eric] Yes, that's a great question. Like I said, I found myself suddenly in China and in a Christian School which I hadn't been in before, and it led to a lot of frustration initially. There were some things that were totally familiar, like we were in the middle of a WASC Accreditation. We really focused on making everything measurable. That dovetailed perfectly with what we did in public schooling, with standards and things like that.
Then they threw this thing called Expected Schoolwide Learning Results, ESLRs, into the mix. We're supposed to make those measurable. One of our ESLRs was that our students would become lovers of truth. How do you measure if a student is a lover of truth? I didn't know and I still can't really answer that one, but it led to a lot of frustrating times. As my book is Rooftop Perspectives, I found myself up on the rooftop of our apartment building in China with our small dog for him to do his nightly business. I would argue this stuff out with God, going, "You put me here, you want me to figure this out. It's not possible." I finally got to the point where I just threw up my hands with him one night. So that's it, I'm done. I'm just teaching, I'm not figuring this out. I'm just going to teach what I know.
I went downstairs and went to bed feeling really good about myself when I told Him. I'm laying there, and I hear this little voice that says, "Get up." "No." "Get up, write." I know if you argue with God, sometimes, bad things can happen. I've read Jonah. So I got up, I sat down on my dining room table and put a leaf fresh legal pad in front of me, and said, "Okay, you want me to write, what am I going to write?" I just started scribbling, and I started off. The first thing that ended up on the page was those ESLRs. What do we want our students to become? I had to really think about that? What do I want my students to become?
It's like, "I want them to be authentic learners. I really wanted them to have a love of wisdom, not just knowledge." Teaching at the school we taught, it was really interesting. We had very, very motivated, dedicated students. They would pop back anything that you teach them. They can quote scripture better than I ever could. Most of them weren't believers, so that's not what I want. I want it to be internalized. I started working on the ESLRs thing. It came to me, what is it that I want my students to be? It ultimately came down to this- I wanted every student's life to be redeemed, so every student is a believer.
Good. Great. That's awesome, but how do we do that? I really didn't know, how do you define that? One of the phrases you'll find in my book, and one of my characters says, "You know fishes. They act like a fish, they look like a fish, and they smell like a fish. Okay, so what makes a Christian? What makes a believer different than a non-believer?" What really came to my mind is that God changes the way you look at the world, your whole worldview changes, everything changes. I thought, "Okay, let's start there. Is there a way that we can focus our teaching to specifically teach people to look at the world through a Christian worldview?" That's really good. “How” was the really big question, that's what the rest of it developed from.
[Linda] I love that. Sometimes we don't start from that overall picture, like this is our goal, and this is how to get there, so that's wonderful, that framework. Just so you guys know, his book Rooftop Perspectives is fantastic. I highly recommend it. It starts with a story, and moves into the practical, so it's a really enjoyable read and super helpful as well. You mentioned a Biblical worldview. Can you help us define that? What exactly is a Biblical worldview? What does that look like?
[Eric] That was the next part that hit me as I was sitting there on the table. What is a Biblical worldview? Because a worldview is huge, it's everything that you look at through the world. I'm like, "If I want this to be something manageable, I can't do an entire Christian worldview. Some of the things that people have in their Christian worldview are controversial. Not every Christian believes the exact same thing." I wanted to break it down into what the absolute basics were of a Christian worldview. And I broke it down into five specific areas.
I'm like, "Okay, this is doable. All Christians should be able to agree that these things are key, and we can build off of this." The first thing I focus on is truth. I break down all of these things a little further in the book, and take more time than we can here. The truth of creation, the fall, the redemption, and then the purpose of man. With those five things, I figured we can break those down, that's something that we can go with. Then the question of, "Can you actually teach worldview?" hits me.
I didn't want puppets. Sure, I can get up and say, "This is what a Christian should believe about truth," and my students would have puppeted it back perfectly. They never would have internalized it. You can teach people how to understand worldview, but it's not going to change their worldview. How do I do it in such a way that they're going to internalize and develop their own worldview?
[Linda] What did you come up with?
[Eric] That's a good question, and that question is kind of the answer. Worldview is developed by really thinking things through an experience. The easiest way to do that is by asking powerful questions, open-ended questions that really make you think. Yes, questions.
[Linda] It was so simple when you talked about that in your book. It's such a simple concept, but it's a little bit different than what we're used to. We're often used to teaching the answers, right?
[Linda] Now, we are actively teaching, but this is stepping back and asking the right questions. That is so powerful. Before we get into what questions we're asking, how should we be asking these questions? Are there things that we can do to make them more powerful and obvious to our students?
[Eric] Yes, that's really good. That's a key part of it. Because I really wanted something that isn’t just for one teacher to do, but something that's so powerful that you can focus an entire school on teaching worldview. The first thing with the questions is to write them down so that students see them all the time. In the Understanding by Design method of teaching, you're putting the essential question on the board so that the kids know what the objective of the lesson is. It's the same thing with these.
You want the questions to be seen and you don't give them the answers directly. You never give them the question at the end of the day and have them fill out the answer. You want them to think about what you're studying to answer that question throughout the day. You don't answer it directly.
[Linda] Let's walk this through with an example. Can you give me an example of what one of these questions might be?
[Eric] Yes, absolutely. We've got the five different worldview areas that I talked about. With those, the first part of the model is something we call focus questions. Focus questions are a series of grade-level appropriate questions that we can answer with subject matter content in order to help guide the learner to develop their worldview. They're really big questions, and they build on each other. For truth, I break it down into a question for elementary, one for middle school, and one for high school, and they spiral. They get progressively harder.
The elementary question is “Where does truth come from?” Pretty basic. Middle school is “How do we know it's true?” Middle schoolers always want to argue about what's true or not true, and that's really where they are, so just a little deeper. High school is “What is the nature of truth and how is it revealed to us?” Then it just keeps building a little bit more in each one. It’s a focus all the way through the school. If all the teachers are trying to make their curriculum help answer those questions, the students are getting it across all grade levels and across all subjects.
[Linda] This is a model you could use just in your individual classroom, but it becomes more powerful if it's used in conjunction with other teachers, or the whole school in general, right? Is that correct?
[Eric] Right. Absolutely.
[Linda] The focus question is on your board. Do you bring it up, and have any discussions about it? Or is it just always in the background?
[Eric] With the big focus questions, you can have a discussion, but they're so big. Like, “Where does truth come from?” That's not something you're going to answer in one lesson ever. Adults are working on those questions. The questions are on posters and things like that, always drawing people back into them. But to really be able to build out your lessons and answer these questions, I get more questions. To answer the focus questions, I use what are called focused essential questions.
[Linda] That's right. I remember these from your book. What do these look like? Can you give some examples of these?
[Eric] Yes, absolutely. This goes back to the Understanding by Design type of thing. Essential questions are smaller questions that help answer, “Where does truth come from?” You break the question down all the way into elementary, and into this specific lesson that you're teaching. If we're doing truth again, where does truth come from for elementary language arts? It could be as simple of a question, like, “Is this story true, or make believe?”
How do you know that the author is telling you facts or opinions? Things like that will lead them to start answering where truth comes from in their mind. It's easily things that you can answer through your lessons.
[Linda] As you're developing lessons, you're asking yourself, “How does this relate to this big question?” “What are some questions we can discuss as a class, or have students write about, or incorporate another way?” You're just coming up with these questions to relate in. Am I understanding that right?
[Eric] Yes, exactly. You're using these small questions that you'll answer with your curriculum that day. Those will help answer the big focus questions.
[Linda] Because these are still big questions, but they're not so big. They're small enough that you can tackle and answer them. You're just gradually building this worldview because you can't build a worldview in a day. You're just creating blocks.
[Eric] Exactly. We don't want to build a worldview in a day. That wouldn't be a very deep or wide worldview. It takes time, but the focused attention to it is what's going to make it powerful over the years.
[Linda] In a minute, I want to go through a start to finish example. But before we do that, how long do you recommend staying on one of the big focus questions? For example, what is true? How long would you stay on one of those? Do you change that every week, every month, every school year?
[Eric] The big focus questions? They are there forever.
[Linda] Do you have five of them in your room throughout the year?
[Eric] Yes. If you break it down into the five different worldview areas, there's one for each. And then the way I get the model broken down, it breaks it down by elementary, middle school, or high school. If you wanted to, you can break that down even further. I don't have all of the answers to the questions. I just really want to start the conversation with people to do this, and they can add all the questions that they want to have.
[Linda] It's not necessarily, “Okay, this month I have to talk about truth. This month, I'm talking about creation.” These are the five areas. However this lesson, I can look at it and say, “Which one does it tie into best?” and “What question can I ask to tie into one of these?” Is that more the idea?
[Eric] Absolutely. I have seen schools do it differently. I've seen schools that say, “Yes, this month, we're focusing on truth,” and they put up posters of it. Then they cycle through. Or just to whichever fits the particular lesson that you're doing.
[Linda] You have the flexibility to do whatever makes sense and experiment, right? We don't have to get it perfect the first time around. This is something you just start out with, and you'll grow with your students, and I would imagine.
[Eric] Yes, absolutely. That's how it has to happen. There's this grace involved in education, right? Or there should be.
[Linda] Absolutely. Let's walk through an example. Can you give an example of what this would look like from start to finish in, say, a middle school history class? Where would they start from? How could they plan a question? What might the conversations look like? Let's just walk through an example.
[Eric] Sure. Middle school history. Something like the Age of Exploration with Columbus. You're planning your normal curriculum like you normally would. You've got to cover the material. But what questions can you ask them to focus on worldview? If you look at middle school truth, the focus question is “How do we know what is true?” Then, you can do a focused essential question that will be answered with the lesson. For example, “How does one's perspective change their view of events?” Because for some, the Age of Exploration was fantastic. For others, not so much.
Which side of the story is true? You can have big conversations with that, and figure out what the nature of truth is. How do we know what is true? Another example, to go away from truth for a bit, is the fall. The focus question for middle school for the fall is “What does it mean to be human?” If that's the focus question, you can ask things like, “What motivated the explorers? Why did they do what they did?” Fairly basic, but it gets them thinking along those lines, and what it means to be human. We can take it a step further. Another worldview area is purpose. The middle school focus question is, “How does God want you to carry on his work?”
Did the explorers expand the true kingdom of God? Again, that could tie back in with the perspective; it depends on who you're asking. All of those questions go back to build their worldview through those. I think those are easily answerable with that curriculum.
[Linda] It's simultaneously promoting better discussion and working more with your subject matter. You're not even taking time away from your subject matter to answer these questions, right? You're just doing it all at once. It's not even any competition really. That's awesome.
[Eric] You should gain a better understanding of the subject matter and build the worldview at the same time. Gaining wisdom, not knowledge.
[Linda] Awesome. Let's think through what this would look like in a Christian school versus the public schools. So I'm thinking in a Christian school, when we're answering these questions, we're encouraging students to use Biblical answers. We're encouraging students to use the Bible. We're bringing in a Biblical perspective. Is that right?
[Eric] Yes, absolutely. Public school- not so much.
[Linda] What do you think this would look like more in a public school? The question, “What does God want you to do?” We couldn't ask that, but we can still ask some of these focused essential questions. They're still really good questions that would get people thinking. Is that still the goal?
[Eric] It was for me when I taught public school. It was for most of the Christians I knew in public schools. We still want to influence lives. We still want to build the worldview that we want students to have, and to lead them along the path. In a public school, I probably wouldn't be posting up the exact same focus questions. In my own lesson planning and building out the focused essential questions, absolutely.
[Linda] Correct me if I'm wrong, but there's benefit in a public school. Even if you can't necessarily draw out the Biblical answer in all of these questions, there is benefit in asking the question. Even if students don't walk away with the same perspective that you wish they would, you're getting them thinking, and as students start on that path of seeking these answers, that opens up doors for the truth. Am I thinking correctly about this?
[Eric] Absolutely. It’s providing a question that just sticks with them forever. Five years down the line, the question pops back into their head like a song you can't get out, and just keeps them searching. If you're on a search for truth, you're eventually going to come to God. No matter what you're teaching, if you're focusing on making your students to be lovers of truth and guiding them along that path. it will stick.
[Linda] I love that. Implanting things like the value of truth and purpose. The answer is found in God and in Christ. When they search for that, they're headed in the right direction. That's great. On a very practical note, where's the best place for people to find your list of focus questions? They know there are five questions for each grade level. Is your book the best place to find those?
[Eric] I would say my book is the best place. I would, of course, like people to pick up a copy of the book. Like you said, it's not your typical teacher manual for how to do something. I don't like reading them. I couldn't handle writing one. It's told from a very different point of view, and I think walks people through some of the thoughts I would like them to have in a creative way. Otherwise, I've got my website, www.rooftopperspectives.com. A lot of the information is there also, but the books are a really good place to start.
[Linda] I highly recommend them as well. As we finish up, what other advice or encouragement would you like to share for educators that are wanting to be more intentional with integrating a Biblical worldview thinking?
[Eric] It doesn't have to be as hard as we sometimes make it out to be. That is a big piece of it. I always like to focus on what I want out of my students. I actually want to spend eternity with my students. That's where my focus comes from. What are the things we need to do to work along those lines? And then ultimately realize, all we're doing is planting seeds. The rest of this is in God's hands. Commit your ways to Him, follow down the path, and have faith that He's got a plan for each of them, and you can only do your part.
[Linda] That's such an important encouragement to end with, because we are called to do what we can, but sometimes we take on the burden of the results, too, and those aren't ours. Those are up to God. That's great. I also loved your encouragement that it doesn't have to be as hard as we think. Maybe if I'm thinking about this and thinking this sounds great, but it feels a little overwhelming, I can start small, right? I could pick one subject, or maybe write something on my desk, and just think about it periodically and grow from there. Do you have a recommendation of a place to start if I'm nervous about jumping in with both feet?
[Eric] Start asking questions. I don't think there's anything that nervous about it. You don't have to adopt everything. It's a very simple thing to start integrating some of these questions and ask open-ended questions and don't answer them directly.
[Linda] I love that. It's simple. Ask questions that you don't answer. I love it.
[Eric] That's what Jesus did.
[Linda] Yes, that's true. Very true. Thank you so much. This has been so helpful. If people want to connect with you further, are your book and your website the best places or is there anywhere else to connect with you?
[Eric] Book, website- I am happy to dialogue with anybody. Also, I'll come out and do trainings and things like that on-site if people want to take this deeper in their school.
[Linda] That's fantastic. Thank you so much.
[Eric] My pleasure.
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