In John Medina‘s excellent book Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School he argues that human nature is wired to get joy from exploration and experimentation. Like a child who has been warned that bumble bees are dangerous, but still gets stung, we desire to experience our world firsthand, not just through the explanations of others.
In light of this, Medina concludes his book with a suggestion that we begin to adopt the principles of exploration and experimentation into higher education. He points to the medical profession, specifically the teaching hospital, as the best example of how education can combine firsthand exploration along with experimentation and traditional book learning.
In a teaching hospital “the student gets an unobstructed view of what they are getting into while they are going through it. Most medical students stroll through a working hospital on their way to class every day of their training lives. They confront on a regular basis the very reason they chose medical school in the fist place. By the third year, most students are in class only half the time.” (p. 275)
The second advantage of a teaching hospital is that students are taught “by people who actually do what they teach as their ‘day job.’ In more recent years, these people are not only practicing medical doctors, but practicing medical researchers involved in cutting-edge projects with powerful clinical implications. Medical students are asked to participate.” (p.275-276)
Its easy to see the benefits of this educational format. By juxtaposing real-world needs with traditional book learning students find that every Curious George bone is motivated to study hard in order to solve real world problems. Of course some might argue that this is easier to facilitate with the practice of medicine than other disciplines, but Median suggests that this model could be transferable to other disciplines quite easily. For example, a business program might run a small business as part of its regular academic life.
I have had a hunch for some time that this is the direction Higher Biblical Education needs to move. And lately my feelings are being confirmed by a variety of sources.
First, John Piper’s Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God concludes with his reasons for starting Bethlehem College and Seminary. Piper sounds very similar to Medina here: “we will offer an accredited Bachelor of Arts and Master of Divinity. The words college and seminary do not signify hundreds of students, or multiple academic departments, or large faculties, or athletic teams. Instead, in the seminary, think of a group of a dozen students or so (nowadays called a cohort) linked with pastoral mentors, moving together through the unified course sequence based on the Greek and Hebrew Bible. And in the college, think similarly of a cohort of students moving together through an integrated and unified curriculum of humanities and sciences built into a historical framework from creation to the present. Think Bethlehem faculty mentors and many guest professors. Think of both these programs as church-based, where all the students are expected to be involved in the life and ministry of the church. Our aim is that the limited scope of the programs, and the connection with the church, and the wider funding of the vision will bring down costs to the place where students will not be burdened with debt when they are finished.”
Secondly, the recent book Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith and Learning (edited by David I. Smith and James K. A. Smith) is all about integrating Christian practice more tangibly into the education process. If your interested here’s James Smith at Eerdman’s blog on why this book might make a splash in Higher Biblical Education.