What To Teach Teachers

The Education of American Teachers, by James Bryant Conant (McGraw-Hill, 1963, 275 pp., $5), is reviewed by Frank E. Gaebelein, co-editor ofCHRISTIANITY TODAYand headmaster emeritus of The Stony Brook School.

In 1910 Abraham Flexner, after extensive study under the auspices of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, published his Medical Education in the United States and Canada, a book that revolutionized the training of physicians in America. Last September James Bryant Conant, former president of Harvard University, U.S. High Commissioner of Germany and later ambassador to that country, published The Education of American Teachers, another in his series of studies of American public education made under grant of the Carnegie Corporation. The parallel is significant, for Dr. Conant’s most recent volume contains the potential of changing the face of teacher education as Flexner’s book changed medical education.

Like its predecessors, The American High School Today and Education in the Junior High School Years, this book is a refreshing example of what happens when a first-rate mind, unencumbered by the hazy professionalism that marks many educational theorists today, applies itself to the problems of public education.

Charles Malik, former president of the General Assembly of the United Nations and himself a teacher, said, “Find the good teacher and forget everything else.” This may sound extreme, yet it places the emphasis for education in the right place. Already the influence of Dr. Conant’s other books on the public schools is widely felt. But the proposals he has made in them will fall short of full effectiveness, as will every other effort toward educational reform, without drastic changes in the education of teachers.

This is not a superficial study. Assisted by nine outstanding educators and scholars, Dr. Conant gave two years to the project, during which he visited seventy-seven higher institutions in twenty-two states and studied the state regulations that limit the freedom of local school boards to employ teachers. His subject is complicated by a staggering variety of theory and practice. It is also a battleground of academic civil war in which the professional education establishment is arrayed against the advocates of the liberal arts and sciences. No one who has done his share of reading the writings of professors of education can fail to admire the fair-mindedness and incisiveness with which Dr. Conant works through tangled verbiage and the multiplicity of programs to the heart of the problem.

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Compared with existing practices, his proposals for revision of teacher education are radical. The elaborate system of required credits in education courses prescribed for the certification of teachers by state departments of education and a number of the regional accrediting associations must go. “Except for practice teaching and the special methods work combined with it,” Dr. Conant declares, “I see no rational basis for a state prescription of the time to be devoted to education courses.…” In its place, he would empower college and university faculties to set up the teacher-education programs they consider adequate and to stand behind these programs by certifying that those completing them are satisfactorily trained to teach. He proposes only three requirements for state certification: (1) “a bachelor’s degree from a legitimate college or university,” (2) evidence of successful practice teaching under state-approved direction, (3) “a specially endorsed teaching certificate from a college or university which … attests that the institution as a whole considers the person adequately prepared to teach in a designated field and grade level.”

Essential to Dr. Conant’s proposals is his plan for clinical professors of education to supervise practice teaching. Such professors would be first of all superbly skillful teachers of youth or college students. Although they would not be expected to engage in research and publish papers, their academic rank and compensation would be equal to that of any other professor. They might serve full time or part time and would be required periodically to return to classroom teaching. (The analogy to medical education is not fortuitous but deliberate.) Dr. Conant’s study convinced him that the single most effective instrument for teacher education is supervised practice teaching. Certainly the clinical professorship that he describes should greatly heighten the value of the practice-teaching experience.

In all, The Education of American Teachers contains twenty-seven separate proposals. Yet the heart of the book lies in the points just cited. Not that the other proposals are unimportant; the program advanced has inner consistency and should be considered as a whole.

The implications of the book for Christian education, while not apparent on the surface (Dr. Conant says practically nothing about religious education beyond brief mention of private denominational colleges), are nevertheless significant. By and large, the Christian colleges are heavily involved in teacher education. This is particularly true of the conservative evangelical colleges, which probably graduate more prospective teachers than prospective members of any other professional group. Moreover, many of the newer conservative evangelical colleges have in recent years been seeking regional accreditation. And it may be that this praiseworthy concern for academic standing has made them vulnerable to some of the proliferation of education courses and over-emphasis upon method to which Dr. Conant objects. Perhaps in their uncritical acceptance of some less favorable trends in education programs and in their desire to gain status, they have been in danger of adding their own share to the multiplicity of courses by setting up too many specialized courses in Christian education, some of which though not unsound might be unnecessary. After all, the great strength of evangelical education should be the integration of the whole curriculum with biblical truth.

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In relation to courses in the philosophy of education, Dr. Conant is caustic. “The word philosophy, as used by many professors of education, is,” he says, “like a thin sheet of rubber—it can be distorted and stretched to cover almost any aspect of a teacher’s interest.” And he refers to “the philosophical foundations of education, which today consist of crumbling pillars of the past placed on a sand of ignorance and pretension.” The chief distinction of Christian education lies largely in its own philosophy. Dr. Conant’s strictures on the usual philosophy of education courses, while warning against slipshod thinking and belaboring of the obvious, should stimulate Christian colleges to the disciplined presentation of the biblical world view as it applies to education.

Much of the material with which the book deals is technical and pedestrian, as in the sections that consider varying certification requirements and treat existing programs. But there is a genuine fascination in following a powerful mind in its unsparing examination of practices almost sacrosanct to the educational establishment. For the persevering reader there are some flashes of humor, many examples of blunt common sense, and occasional passages of real wisdom. Referring to the habit of taking courses without any clearly defined purpose aside from the reward of higher pay, Dr. Conant says: “Discussing this subject in a summer school with more than one group of teachers who were purring with pleasure at their continuing education, I felt as if I were talking to opium smokers who were praising the habit of which they had long since become the victims.” Or consider this: “As someone has said, the diploma should not be the death mask of the educational experience. Education in breadth and depth, rightly conducted, should lead to further self-education in greater breadth and depth.” And this also: “Among the many things our professors of arts and sciences have failed to accomplish is the inculcation of the idea that vast fields of knowledge and culture are wide open to anyone who can and will read.… I wish no one receiving a bachelor’s degree would carry away the belief that his alma mater has ‘educated’ him. The well-educated man or woman of the future must be primarily a self-educated person. And self-education requires years and years of reading and a desire to learn.”

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Dr. Paul Woodring, editor of the Saturday Review Educational Supplement, has said that 2,000 reviews and editorial mentions of The Education of American Teachers have appeared since its publication in September. Nevertheless, this review, one more among so many, will not be superfluous if it leads Christian educators to think with Dr. Conant about the single most important aspect of education and to ponder critically the relation of his proposals to the training of Christian teachers.


A Book Of Provocations

Church Unity and Church Mission, by Martin E. Marty (Eerdmans, 1964, 139 pp., $3), is reviewed by James Daane, editorial associate, CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

Marty’s thesis is that the churches have sufficient unity to resume and carry forward their mission to the world in new ways. He sees in the general rejection of proselytism (the conversion of the members of other churches to one’s own) “the informal recognition of other Christian traditions and confessions.” Here, as in so many other places in his book, a significant insight is immediately fogged over by his positing of conclusions not derivable from the insight. The rejection of proselytism surely has profound significance for denominationalism, but it has meant neither theologically nor historically the “informal recognition of other Christian traditions and confessions”; and Marty is misleading when he suggests that church unity on this score lacks only the courage of spirituality to face this fact. The idea inherent in denominationalism has never been that other churches did not and could not contain real Christians; the cessation of proselytism, therefore, does not possess the significance for church unity that Marty suggests.

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Marty has a shrewd eye for the sociological factors that have made for denominationalism, and it is good that he points them out, for too many Christian churches prefer to close their eyes to this shaky underpinning of denominationalism. Yet Marty overstates and confuses matters when he asserts that “the denomination is basically a sociological category.” This is all too simple and too provincially American. The Church is worldwide, and there are many homogeneous national and sociological units that contain many denominations where sociological factors do not account for church disunity. Truth and confessional differences embodied in denominationalism have deeper, more theological roots than the author suggests.

Marty contends that the ecumenical movement has reached a “stalemate” because those within the movement are chiefly concerned about unity and those outside the movement are chiefly concerned about truth. He realizes that the ecumenical movement will achieve little indeed if it produces only an “organizationally-fulfilled, undergirding and overarching Christian unity.” He reminds us too that denominationalism as such advertises the disunity rather than the unity of the Church, and that denominations tend to exist for their distinctive truths rather than for the whole truth of the Gospel. And he contends that if we put either unity or truth first, the stalemate between the “unity-firsters” and the “truth-firsters” will continue, and the Church’s cause of mission to the world will continue to suffer. Yet even though denominationalism does place truth first, few will agree with his injudicious judgment: “Every poll we have seen, every common-sense observation we can make leads us to one conclusion: that anything Christians might try will do more justice to truth than the competitive system they now inhabit.” I find myself in agreement with many of Marty’s observations and criticisms about denominationalism, but I find myself as completely lost in his judgment that any form of church life would be better than denominationalism, as I find myself completely in the dark as to what he really means when he says the only “solution” to the problems of unity and truth is simply to get on with the mission of the Church to the world. The churches cannot move forward from the historic point where they are, in total disregard of that history which brought them to the point where they are, and made them what they are.

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The provocativeness of this book stems as much from its weaknesses as from its strengths, and both of these from its greater sociological than theological concern. It is in many ways a book of sane and balanced judgments, and I heartily recommend that it be read; yet its strength and weakness stem from an essential dissociation from both the ecumenical movement and the reality of denominationalism. Marty sees the claims of these locked in stalemate and proposes that the stalemate can be overcome, insofar as this is possible at all within history, if the whole Church will get on with its mission to the world. Such a solution is to solve the problem of death by asking the dead to arise. The task confronting the divided Church is really not this hopeless, and the solution lies instead in another direction. Marty himself hints at it when he proposes what he calls a biblical counterpart to a “sociological Machiavellianism” in which each church member operates within his own denomination—as regards both truth and mission—as the nature of Christ’s one Church demands. Here I think he is on the right path, though it is not, I think, consistent with his statement that any new forms of church existence would be better than denominationalism. Marty’s book points up the dire need of a thorough theological and historical study of denominationalism, for it is in denominationalism that every segment of the Church posits its understanding and commitment to both unity and truth.


Sunday School Lessons

Arnold’s Commentary, edited by Lyle E. Williams (Light and Life, 1963, 330 pp., $2.95); The Douglass Sunday School Lessons, edited by Earl L. Douglass (Macmillan, 1963, 475 pp., $2.95); Higley Commentary, edited by Knute Larson (Lambert Huffman, 1963, 528 pp., $2.95); The International Lesson Annual, edited by Horace R. Weaver (Abingdon, 1963, 448 pp., $2.95); Peloubet’s Select Notes, by Wilbur M. Smith (W. A. Wilde, 1963, 419 pp., $2.95); Standard Lesson Commentary, edited by John W. Wade and John M. Carter (Standard, 1963, 448 pp., $2.95); Tarbell’s Teachers’ Guide, edited by Frank S. Mead (Revell, 1963, 382 pp., $2.95); The Gist of the Lesson, edited by Donald T. Kauffman (Revell, 1963, 125 pp., $1.25); and Points for Emphasis, by Clifton J. Allen (Broadman, 1963, 214 pp., $.95), are reviewed by Lois E. LeBar, chairman, graduate Christian education, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.

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The first seven titles are full-size book guides for teaching the 1964 uniform Sunday school lessons; the last two are pocket-size. The subjects covered are: first quarter—personalities around Jesus; second quarter—the Christian faces his world; third quarter—early Hebrew history; fourth quarter—letters to Christian leaders. At the beginning of each lesson, The International Lesson Annual and Tarbell’s Teachers’ Guide print the Scripture text in both the King James and Revised Standard Versions; the others use only the King James. All but the Tarbell’s Guide include daily devotional readings. The Douglass, Peloubet’s, International, Standard, and Tarbell’s lessons contain suggestions for correlated visual aids. Although the trend of Bible-centered lessons is to relate them more closely to life, three of these books are still called commentaries.

Arnold’s Commentary is geared for adults and youth. The Douglass lessons sometimes give different captions for intermediate-seniors and young people-adults. Peloubet’s gives topics for juniors and primaries also, and suggests different emphases for younger and older classes. Some of the more difficult of the uniform lessons for primaries and juniors are: man’s place in God’s universe, Christian principles in earning a living, the Christian looks at nationalism, the pastoral epistles, and qualifications of church officers.

Peloubet’s is distinctive for its quotations from outstanding evangelical scholars as well as for Dr. Wilbur Smith’s expositions of Scripture and his bibliographies. Each lesson concludes with a lesson in life, literature, or archaeology, and a truth for the class to carry home.

Arnold’s Commentary affords the teacher the most help in getting students personally involved in the lesson, because parts of the content are introduced through practical questions, enabling students to become participants rather than spectators. Both personal and factual questions motivate them beween Sundays to explore the next lesson. At the end of each lesson is a half page written from the viewpoint of a pastor, a half page by a layman, and a full page relating the lesson to life.

At the beginning of each lesson Tarbell’s Guide gives an overall personal question to launch the whole lesson and to stimulate inquiry. It is the only guide that has separate suggestions for teaching intermediate-seniors and young people-adults. For those teachers not content to “preach” to their classes, The International Lesson Annual adds an alternative teaching plan with well-worded questions for discussion and action.

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The Higley and Standard Commentaries offer more specialized types of aid. Each week the Higley furnishes a paragraph on evangelistic and missionary application, a correlated superintendent’s sermonette to lead into the lesson, a simple illustration for the chalkboard, a teacher’s “pump primer,” and ten questions with brief answers to be cut out in advance and given to members of the class. The questions are factual, however, and tend to promote stereotyped recitation rather than personal interaction. The Standard Commentary is complete with introductory articles, lesson aims to “help the pupils to know this” and “lead pupils to do this,” quotable quotes, pithy points, personal questions for daily living, simple chalkboard illustrations, short factual quizzes, and correlated prayers.

In these seven guides differences in theological emphasis are evident in expositions of the same Scripture. For example, “… the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all …” (Tim. 2:5,6): Arnold’s—the one who paid the purchase price of salvation; Douglass’s—the only one who can reconcile an offended God and a sinful man; Higley’s—the idea of substitution for all; International—the need of translating the Christian faith into truly universal terms; Peloubet’s—that which is given in exchange for another as the price of his redemption; Standard—the substitutionary work of Jesus Christ as he died on the Cross to redeem men from their sins; Tarbell’s—therefore the one who is the only mediator between God and men.

The Gist of the Lesson and Points for Emphasis are pocket-sized condensations of the “seed thoughts” of the lessons for the year. “The Gist” was initiated many years ago by R. A. Torrey to provide practical evangelical treatment of lessons in concise form. In addition to Bible exposition. Points for Emphasis contains practical truths to live by and daily Bible readings. Although the authors of these small volumes make their words count, it is hoped that teachers will not consider these adequate preparation for teaching a lesson from the Book of books.



Your Church & Your Nation: An Appeal to American Churchmen, by Paul Peachey (The Church Peace Mission [Washington, D. C.], 1963, 22 pp., $.15). A still very relevant discussion by pacifist Peachey; first published in 1950.

The Christian Conscience and War, a symposium (The Church Peace Mission, 1963, 48 pp., $.25). A statement on the problems of war and peace by theologians and religious leaders. First published in 1950.

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The Challenge of the Ages: New Light on Isaiah 53, by Frederick Alfred Aston (self-published, 1963, 24 pp., $.40). An evangelical discussion to demonstrate that the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 is Jesus Christ crucified.

God’s Own Junkyard: The Planned Deterioriation of America’s Environment, by Peter Blake (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963, 144 pp., $2.45; cloth, §4). Written in outraged fury against the wanton despoiling of the American landscape; with photography to show what was, and what Americans have done to it.

Professor in the Pulpit, edited by W. Morgan Patterson and Raymond Bryan (Broadman, 1963, 150 pp., §2.25). Twenty-two chapel sermons of high caliber, preached by the faculty members of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Faith of Qumran, by Helmer Ringgren (Fortress, 1963, 310 pp., $1.95). Written in the conviction that before isolated beliefs and practices of the Qumran community are compared with those of the New Testament, the overall theology of the Qumran should be understood. Translated from the Swedish.

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