- Education for Human Flourishing: A Christian Perspective
Writing to Christian educators, principally those who teach in public schools, Paul Spears and Steven Loomis give us a book designed "to revive and ground a perennial philosophy of education that integrates essential tenets of the Christian faith" (35). This purpose, expressed early and often, gives a clear signal that the authors do not intend to write a "how to" book. Rather they aim to engage their audience in an exploration of issues and themes that lie at the foundation of education: "Our desire is to encourage you to think more deeply about how you will ground your educational theory and practice" (31).
One of the book's most salutary features is the authors' call for educators to be viewed (and to view themselves) once more as scholars and public intellectuals: "Both of us take a high view of teachers in society. We see them as scholars, public intellectuals whose institutional roles play out on the micro and macro levels of human reality" (33). The role they envision for teachers is one in which teachers function as professionals, not merely in the sense that they are competent in a specific subject area and have been certified as proficient in the technical skills required to succeed in the classroom, but also in the sense that they are intellectually prepared to engage both their students and the public in substantive discussions of issues ranging from curriculum to educational policy.
In the authors' view, this kind of professionalism is grounded in liberal education. Of course, in this context "liberal" has nothing to do with left-right politics and everything to do with the sort of education that liberates the mind. Liberal education is characterized not so much by its specific curriculum as by the types of thinking and responding it attempts to foster—for example, developing a historical sensibility, learning to choose (deliberately and circumspectly), learning to think imaginatively and with appreciation for questions, and adopting a reflective posture. For the [End Page 188] authors, this liberal (liberating) style of education is best pursued and nurtured within the theological framework of a Christian worldview.
For Spears and Loomis, the contemporary alternative, which in their view dominates university teacher education programs and public school systems, is the "technical model." Simply put, the technical model is characterized by "rigid standardization" aimed at achieving economies of scale. As it standardizes the educational outcomes across larger and larger populations of students, the technical model tends to suppress, or at least ignore, the distinctive capacities and needs of individual learners. In doing so, it depersonalizes education (133).
For Spears and Loomis, the technical model of education, even when implemented by wellintentioned educators, inevitably militates against the long-term interests of individual learners. By contrast, they believe that liberal education (informed by a Christian worldview) develops the capacities and addresses the needs of individual learners. Hence, their title: Education for Human Flourishing.
The book is composed of six chapters, arranged in two sets of three. The first three chapters deal with philosophical issues. Chapter 1 discusses philosophical anthropology (what it means to be human) and attempts to show how one's view of the human person affects one's approach to education. Chapter 2 briefly reviews the development of educational theories and provides a primer on the philosophical assumptions that the authors believe these educational theories presuppose. Chapter 3 is a short course in epistemology with an eye toward connecting theories of knowledge to theories of education.
Chapters 4–6—the second set of three—center on the conflict the authors see between a style of education that aims at developing the mind and affections of individual learners and one that aims at achieving broad, homogeneous, social goals. The former is education on the model that the authors advocate (liberal education within the theological framework of a Christian worldview); the latter is education on the model that the authors decry (the "technical model...