What’s in a Name? Education for Formation?
In 1966 Jerome Bruner, Harvard psychologist and educator, wrote:
“There is a dilemma in describing a course of study. One must begin by setting forth the intellectual substance of what is to be taught, else there can be no sense of what challenges and shapes the curiosity of the student. Yet the moment one succumbs to the temptation to “get across” the subject, at that moment the ingredient of pedagogy is in jeopardy. For it is only in a trivial sense that one gives a course to “get something across,” merely to impart information. There are better means to that end than teaching. Unless the learner also masters himself, disciplines his taste, deepens his view of the world, the “something” that is got across is hardly worth the effort of transmission.”
Bruner’s challenge relates to education in a global sense, but he provides a challenge that is at the heart of Christian education. The phrase “there are better means to that end than teaching” suggests that at the heart of teaching is the relationship between teacher and student that “shapes” the persons involved in the enterprise of learning.
This is in part what the recent emphasis on “spiritual formation” (or “Christian formation” or “Christian education formation”) as a replacement for “Christian education” has as its focus. In part it’s a shift from an over-focus on the content of belief to more attention on the development of the believer. I think this is a good thing provided:
- There remains a commitment, as well, to the importance of what you believe. What you believe still matters and is influential in mastering self, disciplining taste, and deepening one’s world view.
- “Formation” is informed by responsible and studied understanding of how people actually grow, mature, and are “formed” in relationships. Formation is not “magic” and an effective educational enterprise respects what the social sciences tell us about the nature and ways of human development.
- We avoid the trap and temptation to over-focus on the individual to the extent we lose sight of the fact that the formation of the person happens in community and through relationships.
- There is understanding and rigid application of the principles, methods, and techniques of the educational process in whatever form appropriate (teaching, training, instruction, heuristics, etc).
- There is an embrace of a clearly-thought out and legitimate theology and philosophy that informs the practice of Christian formation education.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.
His books on education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).