Worldview in Education

The Oxford dictionary defines worldview as “a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world.” Worldview has to do with the big questions of life such as, “Is there a God?” “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” In short, worldview is how people think about the world around them. Whether aware of it or not, everyone has a worldview that dictates how he or she thinks, behaves, and relates to other people. Since education deals with interactions of groups of people with ideas, worldview is an important concept to consider. As facilitator, mentor, director, and information-giver, an effective teacher must give thought to these big life questions. The answers dictate how each classroom is designed and structured.

There are nearly as many worldviews as there are people in the world today. As we consider three different historical figures in education, we will see that what they believed determined how and what they taught. First is Plato, an ancient Greek philosopher who fits into the category of idealism. According to Plato, the permanent element of human nature is a person’s soul, which reflects its Creator. Because the Creator (God) is perfect, the human soul is also perfect. In addition, Plato and idealism stressed unity among all humankind; every person is an equal part in the macrocosm that is the whole of existence. Within that macrocosm is also all knowledge that has always and will continue to exist. All people — both children and adults alike — are composed of perfect souls that have access to the greater entity of all knowledge. Education, then, is the process of becoming aware. Humans are truth-seekers with the intent of becoming further conscious of what already exists. This philosophy plays out in a unique way in the classroom. Children need to be encouraged to discover and connect, and teachers play the role of guide or facilitator. There is also a unique connection between teachers and students since all people have a commonality within the macrocosm. This belief “evens out the playing field” between teachers and students. Plato emphasized the subjects of history and literature in particular because they serve as models of learning and discovery. Language was also stressed, but ultimately the focus is on how every subject area relates to the bigger picture.

Quite different from Plato was the intensely legalistic worldview of the Puritans in the Colonial Period. The Puritans believed in a harsh depravity of humankind. Instead of being a perfect soul, humans are innately prone to evil and sin. Puritan education focused on rooting out the evil that was so evident in the lives of children — evident in their idleness and pleasure-seeking. The primary emphasis of education was to teach children discipline and moral standards so that they were able to resist the devil’s scheming. Children need rigid structure and discipline at all times in order to overcome their sinfulness. Curriculum focused on reading and writing, catechism, and spiritual hymns since those things equip a person to act piously and resist the devil.

Somewhere in between Plato and the Puritans was Alexander Sutherland Neill, an existential educator. An existential worldview is based on the idea that people possess the ability to make choices and create their own purpose. In education, this worldview supports human freedom in students to make decisions about who they want to be and what they want to do. Rather than telling students what they had to learn and think, Neill let students decide what they wanted to learn and when they wanted to learn it. Therefore one specific subject is not stressed by the teacher more than the others. Students decide what is important. Obviously teachers should want to encourage their students to choose what is good, but they are aware that ultimately the decision is up to the student himself. Students need their options to be clearly presented, and then they need to express their freedom to decide either way. Teachers should not come up with goals and outcomes for assignments; students need to develop those ideas for themselves. They must decide who they are and who they will become.

As a follower of Jesus, my worldview should make a difference in how I teach in my classroom. The Bible says that in the beginning, God created man in His likeness and image. Man chose to sin, however, which marred that perfect, beautiful identity. Now every human born is born into sin and death — “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). We are in need of a Savior, Jesus, who redeems us back to a place of fellowship with God. The battle for our souls rages as the world pulls one way and truth the other way. In a public school, many students are spiritually lost and in need of Jesus. As their teacher, I want to be aware at all times that what every student needs most is truth and forgiveness provided through Jesus Christ. Yes, they are sinners in a sinful world, living in the flesh and according to what the world says, but they are also God’s creation, loved fully by Him. I may not have much of a say in what I teach to my students, but I do have control of how I teach it. Through literature and writing, I want to help students consider the big questions of life and not just passively go through life. I desire to help them to choose to live purposely, to think about others more than themselves, and to ultimately realize their need for God and accept His great gift in Jesus.

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