The Middle Schooler’s World View

Note to the reader: During this time when the Covid-19 pandemic has so greatly altered our lives, including school, I considered halting the posting of these teacher meditations. They have a “business as usual” quality to them when the “usual” has vanished for a time. However, teachers’ concern for their students haven’t vanished, and many continue to teach online. This week’s meditation recognizes that students often find themselves in a “scary place” when in school. Now the scariness of the pandemic weighs upon them and teachers still need to help, where possible, to love them in their time of need.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
– John 3:16

Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton have written much about the way a person’s world view gives heart-and-mind-shaping perspective to the questions of life. In one of their books, they write that every world view answers four questions: Who am I? Where am I? What’s wrong? What’s the remedy?

Christian teachers find these questions helpful to guide their students to a better understanding of themselves and their world. They tell their students that they are highly valued and loved by Jesus, and they bear the distinct honor of being made in his image (the “who am I” question).

The “where am I” answer for students is that their “lines have fallen in pleasant places,” and that they reside in a universe “charged with the grandeur of God,” as Gerard Manly Hopkins has written. And, though bearing the effects of the fall because of their sinfulness (the “what’s wrong” question), God in his great love overcomes the brokenness of those who believe in him (the “what’s the remedy” question).

Ultimately, Christianity gives hopeful answers to the four world view questions. And yet something in students can hold them back from a full embrace of them. Teachers are keenly aware of the gap that can exist between what students say they believe and their actual, though usually unspoken, feelings.

Hannah, a seventh grader, illustrates this point. She has been a student in the Christian school since kindergarten, and she is well acquainted with the gospel message as it has been presented to her in school, at home and in her church. And yet, when she comes to school, her thinking is shaped by another world view that competes with the Christian one.

In answer to the “who am I” question, Hannah, though she doesn’t say it, thinks of herself as a nobody. She is sure that no one likes her because she isn’t any good at the things that count for success in school.

Her answer to the “where am I” question is that she is in a scary place, a place that appears to belittle or ignore people like her, or so she thinks.

What’s wrong? In her view, she’s not smart enough, or athletic enough, and her clothes are out of fashion. She wishes she were taller and not so heavy. Every measure for status and popularity in school makes her feel inadequate.

Given her perception of who she is and what her problems are, the remedy seems hopelessly out of reach. The path to wholeness and peace is to stand out as a student and to be popular with her peers. For Hannah, salvation really rests on her performance at school. Will she measure up?

Perhaps no challenge facing teachers today is greater than the world view challenge. At war with the Christian world view is a salvation-by-performance world view. At stake are the hearts and minds of students.

What can teachers do to meet this challenge? The answer lies in taking hold of the grace at the heart of the gospel message and understanding how that grace might inform classroom practice. Then Hannah may see that her worth comes from being embraced by the God who so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, and not by her own achievement.

You made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.
– St. Augustine

Stephen Kaufmann
Covenant College