Providing a strong Foundation for Christian teaching
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Easier said than done. But so important to do.
That’s why Grand Canyon University faculty members gather six times during the academic year to talk about their commitment to teaching from a Christian perspective. The One Foundation Lunch and Learn sessions, scheduled for the second Friday of the month, are an excellent opportunity to compare classroom experiences – to see how it’s done.
“It sustains a conversation that is necessary,” College of Theology Dean Dr. Jason Hiles said. “You can come in and get the foundational understandings of faith integration, but when you try to walk into the classroom it’s actually harder than it sounds.
“Theoretically, this makes all the sense in the world. But when you try it out, there’s a possibility, one, of discouragement and, two, you’re maybe not totally comfortable and confident.”
The 2019-20 theme is “Faith Integration in the Classroom and Beyond,” and the first session was Friday in the Technology Building.
College of Theology instructor Manny Cota led it off by talking about what ethics actually is. He said it’s not the law or church doctrine; instead, it comes down to “what kind of a thing a human being is” and “what kind of a life a human being should live.”
“What kind of life fulfills the function and purpose of being a human being?” he asked the group, pointing to four Bible passages: Genesis 1:26-28, Genesis 5:1, Genesis 9:6 and this one from James 3:9-10:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
“To be human is to be created in the image of God,” Cota concluded.
The Lunch and Learn features a presentation by a different college each month, and the College of Education (COE) again was in the leadoff position because, Hiles said, its group does such an outstanding job in its annual One Foundation session.
Moderators Sonya Berges and Dr. Lisa Bernier led a panel of three COE instructors, one from each credit area: Paul Danuser (traditional), Michelle Keso (adjunct faculty) and Brian Clark (online).
In response to the moderators’ question about how specific courses lend themselves to the discussion and consideration of human value and dignity, Danuser pointed to an example in his EDU 330 class (Social Justice for Educators) that occurred just two days earlier as the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001, was being remembered across the country.
“It’s a lot about the ‘isms’ that we see in our world,” said Danuser, who leads off the class every semester with Zechariah 7:9-10:
This is what the Lord Almighty said: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.”
“How do we prepare students for the trauma they will see?” Danuser asked. “If we can get these students to realize they have value and to teach their students that they have value, that’s a step.”
He said real-world issues come up in just about every class, and on 9/11 he asked his class these questions: “What can we do? How do we pray about this? How do we prepare to work with our kids who are going to be dealing with these things?”
Keso added, “I think we’re all very purposeful about telling students this is a profession where they will make a difference.”
The discussion then transitioned to integrating the Christian worldview into the classroom. Keso said she does it by trying to get past academic performance and modeling, “I care about you.” She said she often asks to pray with students after asking what their best hopes are.
These are instructors who are well-versed in teaching and in how GCU goes about it.
Keso met her husband at the University and has two children who graduated from GCU. “GCU has had a huge effect on my family,” she said.
Danuser, better known for his work as the public-address announcer for GCU men’s basketball games, is in his 38th year of teaching and is as passionate about that subject as he is about how GCU shows students the right way to do it. In discussing COE’s intentional approach to demonstrating the importance of value and dignity throughout the program, he said it’s all about learning, leading and serving.
“The most important thing to have,” he added, “is humility.”
The most provocative discussion came when the panelists were asked how they teach students to effectively handle the hot-button issues that come into play in education today, such as a student who refuses to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
They cited a C.S. Lewis quote …
“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.”
… and Psalm 56:3:
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
Keso talked about the importance of seeking wisdom in dealing with troubled students, and Danuser stressed the benefits of having more Christian teachers modeling Christian values – even if they can’t discuss them – in public schools.
At GCU, of course, Christian values are a regular, very evident part of every class. The University wants those discussions to be positive and effective, and that was the idea when the Lunch and Learns were launched in 2013.
Faculty members who want more useful information and examples about integrating faith in the classroom are encouraged to attend the Lunch and Learns. That way, Hiles said, they can learn and then apply those lessons several times over, if necessary. The first 100 faculty members who sign up get a free lunch.
“Continual improvement, continual adjustment with a community that’s encouraging you can be a much more sustainable, more much viable, much more long term strategy,” he added.
Here are the remaining Lunch and Learns, which college is leading each one, and sign-up deadlines and links:
Oct. 11 – College of Nursing and Health Care Professions, sign up here between Sept. 20 and Oct. 2
Nov. 8 – Colangelo College of Business, sign up here between Oct. 18 and 30
Jan. 10 – College of Humanities and Social Sciences, sign up here between Nov. 15 and Jan. 1
Feb. 14 – College of Fine Arts and Production, sign up here between Jan. 17 and Feb. 5
March 13 – College of Science, Engineering and Technology, sign up here between Feb. 21 and March 4
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].