working together so learners can flourish

What sorts of learning experiences make it more likely that young people will become lovers and doers of justice?

If we hope to encourage students to be lovers and doers of justice, we need to craft learning experiences that make it more likely to happen. These learning experiences should be “peopled with authors, and characters who . . . provide a window to the world” (Christensen, 2009, p. 6) because it is in the experience of the world that wisdom is learned. “Wisdom is not something that can be learned in the abstract. It is not a set of universal principles that can be applied to any situation. Wisdom is situation specific. It is discipleship in the real world, in culturally situated, historically defined contexts. It is in the knowledge of the individual and particular that decisions are made and actions taken. Curriculum as journey toward wisdom does not reduce the world to manageable, disconnected bits predigested for the learner. Rather, students encounter whole things in their many-sidedness . . . “ (Brouwer, 2012, p. 83). This may require that traditional subjects such a math be reframed to make room for issues of justice and injustice to emerge (Gutstein & Peterson, 2005, p. 2). We need to craft learning experiences that focus on key moral and ethical issues within our learning communities, our immediate communities and in society at large. We need to bring the sufferers into the learning community and/or transport students to the sufferers (Vryhof, 2011, p. 31). Worldviews emerge out of life and experience (Stassen, 2006, p.27).

The learning experiences we plan and the pedagogical practices we employ must make space for students to become “solutionaries” – “conscientious choice makers and engaged change makers for a restored and healthy and humane world for all” (Zoe Weil TEDx Talk). “Schools and classrooms should be laboratories for a more just society than we live in” (Bigelow, 2001, p. 1) “What has life become if we are so reduced to doing what we are told to do that we cannot rise to the challenge of being personally responsible” (Abbot, 2010, p. 216 – ebook)? Framed by essential questions such as ‘Why do people abuse their power over others?’ or ‘What are the most important rights to protect?’ or ‘What is the connection between justice and health?’ and fueled by such pedagogical approaches as inquiry learning and problem-based and project-based learning based in real world situations, we can give young people the opportunity to work at “deeds of deliverance, not just feelings or attitudes” (Stassen & Gushee, 2003, p. 336). “Problems invite purposeful responses [which] . . . underscores that most important in the encounter is normative action, not detached contemplation of propositional truths. Purposeful response is a move toward maturity, toward growing in wisdom . . . to the formation of persons who not only know the right thing to do in a situation, but who are disposed to do it. (Brouwer, 2012, p. 85-86). Engaging in such learning experiences may help young people discover their passions and become “people who will say, This is bad and I’m going to do something about it, I’m going to change it” (Stassen quoting Faulkner, 2006, p. 141). What greater gift can we as teachers give youth than the space to be salt and light in the world, to enact the kind of ‘sampling signs’ that Jesus did to bear witness in word and deed to the coming of the kingdom? Are we prepared to make space for this in our learning spaces?

Learning to be lovers and doers of justice, learning when and how to say yes and no requires a skill set that includes the ability to innovate, create, problem-solve, persist, and communicate effectively. The inclination and ability to collaborate, to change one’s mind, to empathize, and to discern are vital.


Abbot, John (2010). Over schooled but under educated: how the crisis in education is jeopardizing our adolescents – e-book. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.

Bigelow, Bill (2001). “Teaching about unsung heros: encouraging those who fought for social justice” in Rethinking our classrooms, Vol 2. VT: Rethinking Schools.

Brouwer, Elaine (2012). “Curriculum as a journey toward wisdom” a chapter in Metaphors we teach by: how metaphors shape what we do in classrooms, eds. Badley, Ken and Van Brummelen, Harro. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock.

Christensen, Linda (2009). Teaching for joy and justice: re-imagining the language arts classroom. Milkaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools.

Gutstein, Eric and Peterson, Bob (2005). Rethinking mathematics: teaching social justice by the numbers. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools

Stassen, Glen H. (2006). Living the sermon on the mount: a practical hope for grace and deliverance. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Stassen, Glen H. & Gushee, David P. (2003). Kingdom ethics: following Jesus in contemporary context. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Vryhof, Steven (2011). Affirmations 2.0: Christian schooling for a changing world. Grand Rapids: Christian Schools International.

Weil, Zoe (2011) TEDx Talk –


elaine brouwer, Alta Vista




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