The following is a response paper written about the article “Toward a Pedagogy Grounded in Christian Spirituality” by Gini Shmabukuro. This fulfilled part of the requirements for “EDUG 524: Foundations in Teaching for Secondary Teachers,” taught by Dr. Terrelle Sales.
Christian Spirituality Response Paper
In her brief but powerful article entitled “Toward a Pedagogy Grounded in Christian Spirituality,” Gini Shimabukuro defines Christian pedagogy as “… the nurturance of the spirit of Christ in students in conjunction with their interior and integral formation” (506). While this basic definition would suffice, it leaves the reader wondering: what dimensions comprise the nurturing of the spirit? What elements compose the interior and integral formation; or most importantly, what methods and by what way do teacher’s accomplish this formation? This paper will seek to demonstrate how a pedagogy grounded in Christian spirituality can contribute to the instructional practices and methods of educators. This will be executed in three stages: first, a definition will be put forward as to what constitutes Christian spirituality as defined by Shimabukuro; Second, how a Christian pedagogy affects student experiences; and finally, how a Christian pedagogy affects teacher experiences.
Spirituality is a difficult word to define. This ambiguity is primarily because without being coupled with any particular faith group, people are left to define spiritual however they wish. When connected to a faith group, spirituality takes on a new dimension. For example, Buddhist spirituality is much different than Hindu spirituality, which is different than Christian spirituality.
For this reason, Shimabukuro must take space to help reader’s understand what she means by a “pedagogy grounded in Christian spirituality.” First, she explains that pedagogy is a derivative of the Greek word παιδευτικός, which simply means “of or for teaching” (Liddell, 1287). This definition obviously fits a most basic picture of what pedagogy actually is, and Shimabukuro clarifies that it means “the art of teaching the young” (Shimabukuro, 506). But this too is insufficient for Shimabukuro aim.
She continues with her definition by saying that pedagogy is not simply the transmission of information, but rather addresses the totality of a person. She says pedagogy “would embrace every action inside the classroom, as well as throughout the school, that affects the learner, as well as its effects on the development of the learner.” This holistic view of pedagogy is made complete by the most essential element: Christian spirituality.
It is at this point that Shimabukuro introduces her definition of Christian spirituality as mentioned above. It is made clear by the three pedagogical models of Cambron-McCabe and Dutton. Here Shimabukuro introduces the transmission approach (the delivery of information by a teacher) (506); the genitive approach (collaborative and cooperative learning) (507); and the transformative approach (student engagement in both self and social transformation) (507). It is this last point, the transformative approach, that defines a pedagogy grounded in Christian spirituality. This is because Christian spirituality is never at rest; it is always seeking to transform the lives of people, both socially and spiritually. Shimabukuro quotes Groome, saying Christian pedagogy “[engages] ‘the very being of… students, to inform, form, and transform their identity and agency… with the meaning and ethic of Christian faith’” (508).
This is the complete picture of a pedagogy grounded in Christian spirituality. It requires that teachers empower students for change in their lives and their communities; it never rests and is essentially transformative. Thus it has vast implications for student experiences and teacher experiences.
Shimabukuro spends a portion of her article explaining the way that pedagogy has been practiced for the last two hundred years. In this assessment, she explains that students used to be an “assembly-line” of thinking: “…too many schools continue to resemble assembly lines and endorse the ‘transmission’ pedagogical approach discussed earlier” (513). Her main point here is that schools churn out children who may perhaps know the right answers to question, but cannot transform the world or society at large; they are “machines” rather than individuals. A pedagogy grounded in Christian spirituality, she argues, should holistically change the student’s entire experience.
There are several implications of this. First, education becomes a group experience that requires interaction. Shimabukuro quotes Palmer’s idea of a “community of truth” when she says it is “… the ‘subject’ which represents the ‘great things of life,’ with learners interacting to form a web of relationships among themselves and with the subject matter” (515). Second, when students are involved in a community, they are inevitably involved in “‘meaning-making,’ in which they construct their own knowledge (‘Constructivist”) and understand concepts through higher-order, including metacognitive, thinking…” (518).
Thus the student experience changes dramatically when a pedagogy grounded in Christian spirituality is present. The student does not become another machine in which a certain intake of knowledge is the line between passing and failure. Rather they are given tools to collaborate with others, which enables them to enact change within their communities. They are not simply, as Freire has famously said, taught as an economic incentive, but rather true life-changing, higher-ordered thinking that forces students to critically think about their world and the problems that inflict it as well as solutions to those problems. Shimabukuro says, “When students actively engage their learning through New Science teaching and learning… they experience opportunities to active the spirit of God dwelling within them” (519). This should be one of the most powerful ways a pedagogy grounded in Christian spirituality changes individual students.
The teacher’s experience also dramatically changes with this refocus. The first is that the learning space changes. Shimabukuro says, “… a learning space is created with students that invites the creative spirit of God into their lives, and, likewise, encourages students’ expressions of the spirit through their learning” (517). The implications of this are that it takes pressure off a teacher to foster an environment of right and wrong answers and instead opens up a world of creative expression through critical thinking. Second, it helps teachers develop students on a holistic level and not merely on curriculum. Shimabukuro says this method “… [engages] learners in self-exploration of the spirit dwelling within them… which promote holistic development of students and nurture their spiritual development” (517). Most importantly, the methodologies in which teachers utilize in helping students learn dramatically changes: “Passive ‘drill an kill’ methods deactivate the spirit within the student and create disconnects between learners and their inner lives” (517).
The difference is stark: in one method, the teacher’s central focus becomes helping the student achieve a certain standard that is determined through what they do and not. In the other, the teacher and student work together to empower and transform the students’ life. This paper has sought to make this abundantly clear by examining Shimabukuro’s definition of pedagogy and Christian spirituality, and by determining how classrooms are transformed, from the perspective of the student and the teacher, by adopting a pedagogy grounded in Christian spirituality.