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Friday, August 22, 2014

What Your Congregation Can Learn from Common Core - Part 1 of 3: Frameworks

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have received a lot of press in the last year, most of it negative.[1] There has been a strong campaign to combat the misinformation about what exactly the standards are and how they will affect local school districts.[2] However, there persists an attitude of resistance and defiance among many who want to do away with “Obamacore.”[3]

The CCSS is not an invasion by the federal government into our children’s classrooms. Rather, the Standards are a set of ideas that are designed to guide 21st century learners and educators as they integrate technology, cross-discipline content, and enhanced reading and writing skills.

I am a public school mathematics teacher, so I generally concentrate on the eight Mathematics Standards[4]:

1.     Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
2.     Reason abstractly and quantitatively
3.     Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
4.     Model with mathematics
5.     Use appropriate tools strategically
6.     Attend to precision
7.     Look for and make use of structure
8.     Look for express regularity in repeated reasoning

A framework (which is the word that best describes the CCSS) is different from a curriculum. A curriculum is what is taught in a classroom and includes things like a textbook, a PowerPoint show, a homework assignment, a test, and especially the knowledge and personality of the teacher in that classroom. A framework is just that – a frame within and upon which the curriculum is developed.

The CCSS are a framework in that they do not proscribe lessons, activities, or other elements of a lesson that would be found in a curriculum. The Standards provide (rather lofty) goals at which the curriculum at a specific school and in a specific classroom should aim. It is still (and always will be) the task of the teacher to evaluate students and to determine what is best to promote their achievement and success.

What can a local congregation learn from the very visible Common Core State Standards? There are many things that translate from the pedagogical realm to the Church, but in this era of CCSS, I think it is appropriate to see that frameworks can be a helpful way to understand how our local congregations function.

First, we are a part of something bigger than just our congregation, and that’s a good thing. I have become convinced that my Baptist peers and I have, in many ways, neglected the history of Christ’s Church beyond our own provincial histories. I understand the Landmarkism[5] was a valid (although incorrect) attempt to reconcile our Reformation-era identities with the history of the Church, but today we remain ignorant or dismissive of the work of the Spirit in the world that has led us to this time and place.

With that caveat in mind, our congregations are a part of the great work of reconciliation of all things in Christ.[6] We are, whether we differ theologically or on issues of polity, in the same boat as those Christians around the world who listen for the Spirit’s voice. My congregation, small as it may be, must learn to see itself as a part of the great work of Christianity in the world. We do, certainly, have a responsibility to stand firmly upon those beliefs derived from Scripture that are in accord with the foundational Baptist convictions. We should, though, see ourselves as a part of a framework, a broad and universal call from God to repentance and reconciliation through Jesus Christ.

More specifically, seeing our congregation as a part of a larger framework within which we work out our salvation[7] may lead us to see the entirety of our congregational activities as a part of that framework. I have been convinced for many years that the entirety of the local church’s life should reflect the overall purpose and goals of that congregation. While this doesn’t necessarily imply that every Sunday School class follows the same lessons, it does drive me to see our educational and worship activities as related. They are related by their focus on fulfilling the Great Commission, that is, we teach and explore Scripture for the purpose of forming disciples just as we worship in joyful response to the Spirit’s forming us into disciples.

Thinking of the Great Commission as an over-arching framework for the life of the congregation allows us to rest in our participation with the global Church as well as to emphasize those things that make us unique. This is the great example of the CCSS for our local congregations. No federal agent is writing curriculum for my classroom just as no ecclesial authority proscribes interpretation or schedule of events in a Baptist church. Rather, the Great Commission is a lofty goal for us to live into. The Lord was not specific in how we were to make disciples, or how we were to teach them to obey his commands. The actual work of formation is up to us.

Test Friday.

[6] Colossians 1:19-22.
[7] Philippians 2:12.

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