Faith and Learning in the 21st Century

Our Rich Heritage

The Stony Brook School has an illustrious history of demonstrating the relevance of Christian faith to academic pursuits. Faithful Christian scholarship and teaching have been a hallmark of The Stony Brook School since 1922 and will continue into the 21st century. It is at the heart of our mission, our very reason for existing.

Our founding headmaster, Frank E. Gaebelein, published one of the most important books on what has come to be called the “integration of faith and learning,” The Pattern of God’s Truth in 1954. In it Gaebelein argues that because all truth is God’s truth, Christians need not be afraid
to pursue truth wherever it can be found. He then explores the ways the truths of the Scripture can be brought to bear upon the various disciplines – history, literature, the arts, science, and yes, even math. 

Approaches to Faith and Learning at The Stony Brook School

Since Gaebelein’s time, Christian educators at every level of academia have affirmed, expanded upon, and applied Gaebelein’s ideas. At The Stony Brook School, Christian teachers have been bringing their faith into the classroom in a variety of ways. Those ways can roughly be categorized as curricular, pedagogical, and personal.

Curricular

As Biblical literacy rates fall, Stony Brook continues to stand in the gap, teaching the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in class and in our chapel program. We do this not only in our Bible classes, but also in our other classes as well. When we study ancient history, we read the Bible as a primary source. We read Milton’s Paradise Lost alongside Genesis. In Ethics and Politics, we contrast the Beatitudes with Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals

We also construct our curriculum around Christian themes. In our history classes, we take church history seriously, studying the development of the Early Church through the ascent of Medieval Christendom to the Reformation and Counter-Reformation and on to the present. In our English classes, we read books like Dante’s Divine Comedy and Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and poems like Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “God’s Grandeur.” In biology and psychology classes, we wrestle with the impact of Darwin and Freud. Our language classes study the importance of faith to culture and read Biblical and theological texts in Latin, Spanish, and Mandarin.

We also teach students how to “think in Christian categories” as T.S. Eliot put it, to analyze history, science, mathematics, language, and literature from a Christian worldview. One’s understanding of history changes when one believes God can and does break in. Mathematics comes alive in new ways when we can see in it the beauty and handiwork of a rational and creative God. Science can be a reliable method of discerning truth if we believe a rational and benevolent God has made the natural world and our minds in such a way as to make discovery of scientific truths possible. 

Pedagogical

A second way faith and learning come together at Stony Brook is in our pedagogy. Our conviction is that human beings are made in the image of God, so we believe our students have inestimable worth. We believe, too, that God has made each human unique and that He has ordained a best path for their lives that is similar in many respect to other humans but distinctive in other ways. Our call as Christian educators is to get to know and love each student as a precious gift from God, as a person called to pursue excellence in accordance with God’s design. At the same time, we believe that everyone is a sinner, falling short of God’s design and in need of discipline and grace. Our theology helps us avoid the two extremes we often see in educational philosophy – those that have such a high view of human nature that students are never challenged to grow and those that have such a low view of human nature that students are treated as cogs in a machine. Our theology requires us to love our students, to get to know them as individuals, to challenge them to reach the potential God has given them, and to discipline them when they are off track.

Christian pedagogy aims at forming souls and orienting hearts, and Christians have historically implemented formative practices to orient students towards what is good, true, and beautiful. We therefore embrace Christian practices like prayer (especially before tests!), fellowship, hospitality, meditation on texts, and even forms of fasting (like technology fasts) in the classroom as appropriate. 

Personal

Perhaps the most powerful way in which our teachers bring together faith and learning is by living out their faith in their scholarship, their teaching, and in their not-so-private boarding school lives. Our students see teachers whose lives have been transformed by the love of Christ. They see faithful scholars working out their vocations as educators and administrators. They see teachers, coaches, and dorm parents who sacrifice time and energy to pour their lives into students’ lives. They see people who are faithful to their spouses and kind to their children, people whose joy in life shines through even when they are tired, people who do the right thing even when it hurts. In short, Stony Brook is a place where adults live what they believe.

21st Century Faith and Learning

Our challenge today is to figure out what it means to bring Christian faith to bear upon 21st century education. We now know more about how students learn, and we are getting a clearer sense of what virtues and skills will be most important for Christian students to flourish in the Digital Age. Because information is so easily accessible now, 21st century education must shift its focus away from information transmission to what some have called the six C’s: critical thinking, collaboration, communication, cross-cultural competence, creativity, and character. In pursuit of these skills and virtues, many schools have embraced the maker movement, starting STEAM programs (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math), and turning classrooms into interactive design studios. Christian schools must play a central role in this movement for their own sake and for the sake of the world. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.” With so much of the emphasis on STEAM education stemming from the pursuit of wealth, power, and fame for their own sakes, it is vital and necessary that Christians introduce the seventh C – Christ – into the equation (see image by Anna MacDonald below). At Stony Brook, we are beginning to think about what it would look like to do STEAM education in Christian categories. In doing so, we hope to continue Frank Gaebelein’s legacy of seeking God’s truth, beauty, and goodness in every endeavor.Christian_Categories_-_Google_Drive

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