Amy Sherman, senior fellow at the Sagamore Institute and director of the Center on Faith in Communities, gave a two-session presentation on “fresh pedagogies” for theological education at the inaugural Karam Forum. Most theological education follows the “sage on the stage” model, which Sherman affirms is useful and valuable. But other methods are needed, because the goal of good teaching is not only that students understand the presented information, but that they are transformed by what they learn, and this, in turn, helps them transform others. Good education, and especially good pastoral formation, “get[s] into the DNA of our students, and that they [can] take this life-giving knowledge and put it into practice.”
Sherman lays out five “pedagogic possibilities” for education that is formative as well as informative, drawing these practices from a variety of sources – her own work, professors at Oikonomia Network schools and other seminary educators.
- Bring in the Dog
“Bring in the dog” is a phrase drawn from the classroom of a law professor. To “make the concept of lawful search three dimensional” for her students, the professor invites a police dog handler – along with a dog – to give a presentation. “Bring in the dog” is Sherman’s pedagogical shorthand for how educators should bring in something tangible – a movie clip, an artifact, a panel discussion of practitioners, etc. – to concretely demonstrate a point. A few ways she recommends for bringing in the dog around faith and work is to bring in marketplace Christians to discuss how their faith shapes their work or by showing and discussing a relevant Economic Wisdom Project Talk, an Oikonomia Network resource.
- Just Do It
Experiential learning is vital for educational content “getting into the DNA” of students’ lives. By putting into practice what is taught in the classroom, students not only learn more about the subject, but are more likely to live out what they are learning. An in-class example Sherman provides centers on teaching about the sacrificial laws in Leviticus. Experiential learning could involve asking students to give up something in their own lives that represents a difficult sacrifice, then give a report on this sacrifice.
- Come and See
When possible, it is helpful to take students out of the classroom to engage a person, workplace or community. Field trips are one way to see and experience the imago dei, and the implications that it has for the workplace and the dignity of work – going to a workplace can help raise questions regarding how work can embody and guard human dignity and creativity. The cultural mandate is for everyone, and one way to experience this is to “come and see.”
One example Sherman provides is taking a class to a sheltered workshop, a place where people with mental and physical disabilities find incredible dignity as they work. Sherman also tells the story of a seminary class who went on a field trip to see Cerenzia Food, a food wholesaler in the Seattle area. After seeing the work of the business, a student had an “aha” moment and stated that “this [is] the best ministry I’ve ever seen – and it’s a business!”
- Cross the Border
For this pedagogical practice, Sherman asks educators to consider how to expose students to people or places they might not naturally interact with. Escaping the different bubbles we all live in is necessary, and crossing the border is “where can we show students life experiences that are different than their own life experiences.”
Sherman recommends ways to cross the border: partner with a local church or a local non-profit, send them to a neighborhood historical society to learn more about the story of the neighborhood, assign congregant interviews or invite a pastor come and share more about the history and dynamics of the neighborhood.
One divide that often marks churches is the divide between clergy and laity – pastors and future pastors just don’t understand the dynamics of their congregants and communities. Hence, crossing the border is a vital educational tool for forming future pastors and church planters regarding know how to grapple with the history of a neighborhood and exegete their communities.
- Fresh Response
Instead of a traditional homework assignment like an exegesis or reflection paper, Sherman recommends fresh ways to structure assignments. For example, assigning students to write blog posts that will be read by their peers, rather than a paper to be read by the teacher, boosts the quality of assignments considerably. Students put in more effort when they know their peers will see what they write!
Sherman draws another example from the Theology of Work Project: First, ask students to read a traditional commentary on the book of Ruth and then compare and contrast it with the Theology of Work Project’s commentary on Ruth. Second, rather than writing a paper, ask students to draft a welfare reform bill based on the principles and economic wisdom of the book of Ruth.
In these talks, Sherman provides a helpful constellation of pedagogical practices for educators invested in whole-life discipleship. She provides methods for teaching and a range of assignments that will help students not only see the “problems but also the possibilities, not only needs but also assets” that are part of forming and supporting Christians in their work in the world.
The conversation will continue at Karam Forum 2018, Jan. 4-5 in Los Angeles, featuring Andy Crouch, Brian Fikkert, Mako Fujimura and many more. Register to join us at www.karamforum.org.