James K.A. Smith: Education Convinces Your Intellect, Recruits Your Affections & Reforms Your Heart

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What should make Christian education unique?

James K. A. Smith, a Canadian philosopher and professor of philosophy at Calvin College, visited Southeastern Seminary in March 2018. In a Library Talk, he expounded on his view of Christian Education and discussed how students can grow in a formative educational environment.

Watch the video above, or read key excerpts below (edited for clarity):

Education is not primarily the dissemination of information. It’s the formation of the whole person, including the affections.

Education as the formation of the whole person.

“Education is not just or even primarily the dissemination of information. It’s actually the formation of the whole person, including the affections.

“This is going to be a very caricatured way of sketching it, but too often the working model of education is (on behalf of both professors and students…) that education is primarily about depositing ideas and information and the right beliefs and so on into intellectual receptacles, which is then the reason why we assess education by seeing the extent to which you can repeat those answers back to us. You know you’re in a bad class when the only way you’re being assessed is your ability to repeat back what the professor said to you. That is a very, very reductionistic model of education because it now it shows you overwhelmingly the goal was to teach you what to think. In effect it assumes you’re this kind of ‘thinking thing,’ you’re this kind of brain on a stick. [Thus] educating is now disseminating ideas, depositing them into your intellectual receptacle, and now you’re supposed to regurgitate them.

“I find that a problematic assumption about education in general. I think it’s especially problematic if you imagine that’s what Christian education is, or what discipleship is. By the way, there are a lot of versions of church discipleship that effectively do the same thing.

“So what I’m trying to argue is: It’s not that ideas are unimportant, it’s not that thinking is unimportant. It’s that if human beings are the kind of creatures that God has made us to be, as holistic creatures, who aren’t just thinking things but are also defined by our loves, our longings, our desires, our habits, then education has to be not just informative, but formative. What that means is education has to be a kind of encounter and immersion and experience that is not only convincing your intellect but is recruiting your affections and reforming your heart habits.

“So it’s really education as habituation. Think of education now as the formation of the person, and I would say primarily informing what we love. So what a Christian education would be is our inculcation into Christlikeness because actually this education is recalibrating our hearts. It’s reshaping what we long for, what we love. Thinking is going to be part of that, but it’s going to be a much more holistic encounter and experience.”

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The L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture seeks to engage culture as salt and light, presenting the Christian faith and demonstrating its implications for all areas of human existence.

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