Review by John Shortt
(This book is published by Bellevue Christian School, 1601 98th Avenue NE, Clyde Hill, Washington State, WA 98004, USA.)
I first met Lowell Hagan, the author of this book, when he and I were speaking at Christian teacher conferences in Moscow and Kharkov in 2003. A seminar by him on a Christian perspective on history was one of the finest on the subject that I have ever heard or read. During conversations together on that trip, Lowell told me something of the story of a remarkable Christian school near Seattle in the USA where he had taught for over 30 years. It was therefore a joy to receive from him recently a copy of his book about this school, Bellevue Christian School. I opened it eagerly and the contents proved to be no disappointment.
The first chapter, Forming a Vision, provides some historical background to the development of the BCS philosophy. Chapter 2, An Educational Philosophy, is expands many of the statements made in the Educational Confession and describes the basic philosophical stance of the school. Chapter 3, An Educational Philosophy at Work, puts legs on these statements, showing how the school has defined its sense of mission. Chapter 4, Striving toward the Goal, asks how the outcomes of Christian schooling should be measured, looking particularly at the idea of excellence. Chapter 5, Transforming the Culture, then looks to the future, and seeks to set a course into the 21st century. A short epilogue, Flags of the Kingdom, reflects briefly on the possible future course of the school. Each chapter is self-contained and the benefit of this for the reader is only slightly off-set by some overlap of content. Following these chapters is Appendix A, Frequently Asked Questions, which borrows an idea from Internet information sites and takes up some issues that did not fit into the structural outline of the main chapters. Appendix B contains the full text of the BCS Educational Confession.
The author describes BCS as ‘a philosophy-driven school’ (p. 16) and it is the exposition of the underlying philosophy of this school and of the way it works out in practice that makes this book such a store of good things. I was particularly interested to read that the founders and developers of the school were influenced not only by such as Evan Runner and the Toronto Institute of Christian Studies but also by Dr Francis Schaeffer - not only through his visit to the school but also his writings and particularly the view of environmental issues he set forth in his Pollution and the Death of Man. But the figure towering above all in the history of the school is Dr Al Greene, one of the father figures of recent Christian philosophy of education in North America.
I would recommend this book to any who wish to strengthen the philosophical basis of their school or their work as Christian teachers in any kind of school. Deep issues are dealt with in very accessible language and with an easy writing style. Among the many treasures in this store are sections or even just short paragraphs on such topics as: ‘no child is an object’; ‘sin and human learning’; ‘knowing is doing’ (on the Hebrew view of knowing as opposed to the Greek separation of thinking from doing); ‘divisions of race and class’; ‘admission of non-Christian families’; ‘cooperative learning’; ‘relationships not rules’; ‘building community’; ‘the idolatry of excellence’; ‘the problem of competition’; ‘good guys vs. bad guys’; and ‘our nation and the world’. I particularly appreciated the response to ‘The School has an excellent academic record – why don’t you advertise your students’ test scores?’ in the FAQs section.
Apart from all this, the book is worth having for the Educational Confession in Appendix B alone. (A much shorter version of this can be found on the school’s website at www.bellevuechristian.org. See under ‘Overview’ then ‘Foundations’. You can also find some helpful short articles there under ‘Essential Questions’.)