A Statement of Educational Philosophy 1, 2
Dock Mennonite Academy (Christopher Dock Mennonite High School and Penn View Christian School)
Quakertown Christian School
We believe that God’s unconditional love is a major theme of the Christian faith story. 3 To manifest this love and restore a fallen creation, God became human4, entering the world as an infant.5 As an adult, Jesus rejected temporal power6 and chose instead a life of servant leadership.7 He defied social barriers and labels of discrimination by eating with outcasts8 and embracing sinners.9 He radically changed the status of children by presenting them as “the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” and encouraging adults to learn from them.10 In his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus demonstrated the redemptive, transforming power of love.”11
We believe that the Church is a voluntary alternative community of believers who have responded in repentance and faith to God’s love.12 We seek to be faithful followers 13 14 of Jesus in all aspects of life.We are called to live together in mutual love and respect, cherishing the worth of each individual.15 Children are “safe in the care of God,” to be lovingly and non-coercively nurtured and made ready by the faith community for a personal, voluntary commitment to Jesus and the Church.16 We believe that the Church has a responsibility to teach believers17 what it means to follow Jesus.
Mennonite schools have been established to fill a servant role by assisting congregations and families in this ministry.18 Effective discipleship requires strong communities of learning in which the faith is embodied and fulfilled through the ways our children and young people are educated.
Educators in Mennonite schools use life experiences and sound educational principles, old and new that is in harmony with Scriptures. These principles establish that humans are born with a need to make sense of the world and to communicate with others. All of life is a classroom; persons learn in and out of school and throughout their lives. The uniquely human abilities to acquire a language19 to pose and solve problems, to imagine and create, are God-given gifts.20 Before starting school, children have already accomplished enormously complex tasks such as motor, social, and language skills.21 Young children’s accomplishments reveal that learning is natural, social, constructive, purposeful, experimental, creative, and playful.22 All learning and human performance are, in varying degrees, physical, mental, social and spiritual. Separation of mind from heart or from body -dividing “intellectual” from “non-intellectual” -is false and misleading.23 All talents and knowledge required for living purposefully as God’s people are to be valued equally.
The classroom is a community of learners whose varied gifts and needs are best nurtured through active participation and collaboration. Each teacher and student’s prior knowledge, experience, and interests become resources available to the whole group. Overemphasis on competition and comparison of persons should be avoided.24 Participatory learning, peer tutoring, and cooperative group activities25 provide opportunities for students to learn from each other as well as from the teacher and to learn the value of differences. Students and teachers alike benefit from use of the storytelling and questioning methods of Jesus, the Master Teacher. In an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect, learners explore problems and questions,26 selecting from a wide range of resources, 27 learn new concepts and skills, and are permitted to take risks, to try new ideas, and to make mistakes. Students are thus prepared for life and service in an information age which requires competence in using available resources in team problem-solving and decision-making with women and men of differing backgrounds, experiences, and skills.
In our society, an emphasis on facts and reasons may lead to an arrogant view of the world as an object to be manipulated, disrespect for life, an abuse of power, and misapplication of knowledge. In Mennonite schools, faith and learning are inseparable.28 In these settings, learners accumulate and use information, facts, and theories to reason, pose and explore problems. This leads to reflection on how knowledge fits God’s purposes for the world, along with the need for personal transformation in order to accomplish God’s purposes. The motivation to learn and the ultimate goal of education are found in Jesus who offered himself and his life to those who wished to know the Truth. Education is thus far more than just preparation for job skills that satisfy the needs of production, consumption, and technology.29 When faith and learning are unified, persons are called to an ethic of care and love whereby they seek truth, find their identity in God’s story of humanity, develop interest in maintaining God’s creation, and grow in love of God and each other.
Educators are expected to affirm God’s unconditional love which transforms the knowledge they teach, the methods they use to teach, and their relationships with the students they teach. They model discipleship, speak confidently yet humbly about their faith, and value each student’s spiritual journey. Finally, they promote responsible discipleship, peacemaking, and service in a global society.
Mennonite schools are privileged to be in a supportive relationship with families, congregations, and conferences. This relationship is essential to the life of the school and will be strengthened as individuals from these various settings dialogue together in an ongoing search for a harmonious integration of faith, learning, and life.
1. Schools Affiliated with Franconia Mennonite Conference and Eastern District Conference
2. Persons who assisted in preparing and recommending this Educational Philosophy Statement to Franconia Conference Council and Conference Assembly:
Educational Philosophy Statement Task Force: Polly Ann Brown, chair (drafter, EC); Lois Schlabach Driver (drafter); Marjorie Geissinger (EC); Ron Hertzler; Beulah Stauffer Hostetler; Cathi Hunsberger; Brad Landis (EC); Paul M. Lederach (drafter); Ruth Longacre; Mary Rittenhouse; Jay Roth
Additional Education Commission (EC) members: Ralph Hunsberger, chair; LaVon Kolb; Elaine Moyer; Jeff Naugle; Don Nice; Robert Rutt; Philip C. Bergey, staff
Conference Staff: James M. Lapp; Sharon K. Williams (drafter)
3. Ephesians 2:4, 5
4. Philippians 2:7
5. Luke 1:31, 32
6. Mark 1:13
7. Philippians 2:6-8
8. Matthew 9:10
9. Matthew 11:19
10. Matthew 18:1-5
11. 1 John 3:16; Philippians 2:1-11; John 13:lff; 15:9-17; 2 Corinthians 5:14-17, I John 4:9-10
12. Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1995). “The church is called to live as an alternative culture within the surrounding society.” p. 44.
John 1:12; 1 Peter 2:4, 5
Bender, Harold S., The Anabaptist Vision (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1944), p. 26.
Lederach, Paul M., A Third Way (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1980), p. 42.
13. Mark 8:34
14. Timothy 2:15; Galatians 5:19-26
15. 1 Corinthians 13, Ephesians 5:21; Philippians 2:1-8
16. Several points from the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1995) are instructive here. “People undergo a variety of experiences in accepting salvation. Some have crisis conversions, while others hear the proclamation of salvation and are gradually nurtured by the community of faith before they make a commitment. In either case, acceptance of salvation is a personal, voluntary decision. Salvation is not acquired automatically because we are born into a Christian family or grow up in the church.” p. 37.
“Baptism is for those who are of the age of accountability and who freely request baptism on the basis of their response to Jesus Christ in faith.” p. 47
“Infants and children have no need for baptism, since they are safe in the care of God. When they are able to be accountable for their own actions, they are able to make the church’s faith their own.” p. 48.
17. Matthew 28:19, 20
18. “A Philosophy for Schools: A Guiding Statement” (1972?), Franconia Mennonite Conference Leadership Manual (Souderton, PA: Franconia Mennonite Conference Leadership Commission, compiled 1996), pp. 106-107.
19. Genesis 2:19
20. James 1:17
21. In her work, The Absorbent Mind (first published in the U.S. by Holt, Inc., New York, 1967), Maria Montessori points out that, with little effort and no formal instruction, young children learn to understand and adapt to their surroundings, recognize persons and things around them, and most remarkable of all, learn a language. The author reminds us of the difficulties adults have in learning a second language, and suggests that it would take an adult 60 years of hard work to do what children do in the first three years of their lives. Other persons have likewise referred to the “genius” of young children who learn their mother tongue. Except in rare cases of serious, devastating brain damage, by the time children begin school, they have learned thousands of words and are able to use hundreds of rules of grammar to generate original sentences—brand new, meaningful combinations of words never used before. By the age of four, they are adding 20 words a day to their vocabulary. (See for example, Chomsky, N., The Acquisition of Syntax in Children. Research Monography No. 57, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1969; Lindfors, J., Children’s Language and Learning, Prentice Hall, NJ, 1980; and Pinker, Steven, The Language Instinct. William Morrow & Co., New York, 1994).
22. Children’s natural gifts need to be nurtured through social interaction and the “what” of their learning is never separated from the “what for” of their learning. Children learn in order to communicate or do something. Learning to speak is incidental to the business of daily living. (Edelsky, C.; Altwerger, B.; Flores, B. Whole Language: What’s the Difference? Portsmouth, NJ: Heinemann, NJ, 1991).
Learning is experimental in that children learn by doing through a trial and error method. They actively explore their worlds by asking questions, posing problems, thinking of possible solutions, then testing, and accepting or rejecting solutions.
23. A child learns to recognize objects through physical activity, bodily movement (for example, in turning her head to follow her mother’s face or in the classic peek-a-boo game). Learning to walk, ride a bike, drive a car, tune a piano, read an X-ray, build a theory, and write poetry, are not activities which are either physical or mental. They are more or less physical and mental. Humans are neither disembodied thinkers nor non-thinking active bodies. In his book, Personal Knowledge (The University of Chicago Press, 1958) Michael Polanyi, Christian believer and philosopher of science, emphasizes the participatory character of knowing. Jerry Gill, in his book, On Knowing God (The Westminster Press, 1981) counters an understanding of knowing as essentially passive with a view of knowing as an activity, a kind of doing; “knowledge is not had as much as it is done.”
Mortimer Adler (Reforming Education: The Opening of the American Mind, Macmillan, NY, 1988) provides a framework for liberal education that distinguishes between “learning for the sake of learning” and “learning for the sake of earning.” “Carpentry…may be a component of liberal schooling and liberal learning, if it is carpentry for the sake of acquiring the skill of thinking with one’s hands and tools…if it is, carpentry to earn a living, it is not liberal… chemistry is liberal only if it is chemistry for the sake of learning that particular branch of the physical sciences… if it is chemistry to become a chemical engineer, it is not liberal.” p. 283.
Our educators have also suggested ways to think about an educational program that does not limit possibilities or predict future performance through such labels as “non-college-bound” but instead puts hands and minds to work in a problem-based, integrated program. (See for example, Steinberg & Rosenstock “Redefining Vocational Education” in Creating New Educational Communities, NSSE, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL: 1995.
24. 2 Corinthians 10:12
25. Johnson & Johnson in Learning Together & Alone (Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1987) describe a method for emphasizing cooperation in the classroom.
26. Students tend not to internalize or own information when the content of the curriculum and the activities are based solely on the teacher’s purposes and knowledge. In this scenario, students will become confused, lose interest, or simply comply with a teacher’s expectations rather than learning for their own purposes. Learning is especially difficult when someone else decides what should be learned and how the learning will take place (Smith, F. To Think. New York: Teachers College Press, 1990). Persons are not moved to take responsible action when they are not given a voice or when they have been separated from their own capabilities, purposes, and knowledge (Fingeret, A. The Social and Historical Context of Participatory Literacy Education, in Fingeret & Jurmo, eds., Participatory Literacy Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1989).
27. Eleanor Duckworth in her book, The Having of Wonderful Ideas (New York: Teachers College Press, 1987) supports an approach to education that focuses on the learner’s point of view and that allows “occasions” for learners to engage in investigations, learning in the process, how to select and discriminate among a wide range of resources.
28. Palmer, Parker. To Know as We Are Known: A Spirituality of Education (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983) and Parker Palmer, The Courage To Teach (San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 1998) These books provide a compelling case for the necessity and possibility for a deep and meaningful integration of faith and learning.
29. Postman, N. The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School. (New York: Knopf, 1995).
Statement of Faith
We believe in the full inspiration and authority of the Bible.
We believe in God as Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We believe in the Father: that He is the ordainer, creator and ruler of all that is.
We believe in Jesus: that He was virgin conceived and born, that He is fully God and fully man, that He is sinless, that He voluntarily died for our sins, that He was physically raised from the dead and that He is presently at God’s right hand interceding for believers.
We believe in the Holy Spirit: that He is fully God and that He is in the world convicting people of sin, providing new life for those who believe the gospel, and giving gifts, guidance and power to believers for life and ministry.
We believe in the sinfulness of all human beings.
We believe in the forgiveness of sin only by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
We believe in faith that is displayed in the daily walk of life and is characterized by love, peace and nonresistance.
We believe in the church as the community of those who have been forgiven in Christ and which is separate from the world.
We believe in the soon return of Jesus Christ to establish His kingdom and rule upon the earth.
- As part of GPS 2012, the collaborative strategic plan for Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, Penn View Christian School (now collectively Dock Mennonite Academy), and Quakertown Christian School, the three schools have initiated development of a preK-12 framework for spiritual formation. While this document is useful to the schools, its purpose is to be informing and transforming for families and congregations as well.
As Christ-centered schools we value:
Integrity, respect, and supportive relationships, guided by God’s Spirit, characterize our campus culture.
Following Jesus, peacemaking, and service are expressions of our Anabaptist/Mennonite faith which shape our programming and daily interactions.
Church, family, and school together form a three-fold cord that supports the academic, spiritual, and lifestyle development of our students.
Excellence in teaching and learning lays the foundation for curiosity, clear thinking, and creativity. Individual gifts are developed as students prepare for a lifetime of service in God’s Kingdom and world.
The parameters for Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, Penn View Christian School (now collectively Dock Mennonite Academy), and Quakertown Christian School are understood in relation to their membership in Mennonite Schools Council, an agency of Mennonite Church USA. Educational philosophy, theology, foundation documents and partnership with church and home are all developed in this context