How Secular Textbooks Can Enhance a Christian Education

Posted by Dr. Caroline Robison, O.D. on February 18, 2018
Dr. Caroline Robison, O.D.

How Secular Textbooks Can Enhance a Christian Education

“Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live? Why, in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed? I know not; despair had not yet taken possession of me; my feelings were those of rage and revenge.”

This excerpt chillingly portrays the cold bitterness and despair of Victor Frankenstein’s monster in Mary Shelley’s science fiction novel, Frankenstein.  First published in the year 1818, secondary students at Heritage Oak School have used this novel to generate discussions about religion, creation, and culture.  Our school integrates both secular and Christian textbooks to give the students a well rounded Classical Christian education, so they can have the necessary critical thinking skills to be “in the world but not of the world."

Because we believe in helping our students understand God’s world views, we carefully choose our textbooks and our teachers leading our students.  We expect our teachers to be masters of the subjects that they teach and to use the curriculum and books as tools rather than the authority. Even if a particular book does not mention Biblical truths, the students are taught to filter what they read through God’s word in the Bible.  Just because a book may talk about Jesus it does not automatically mean that it is teaching sound Christian doctrine.  In the same way, just because a book does not mention anything about God it does not mean that it cannot be used to glorify God in education.  

One of our instructors, Dr. Andrew Walker, teaches one of our Omnibus classes.  The latin meaning of Omnibus is “All encompassing” or “everything.” The curriculum explores encompassing ideas from history, literature, and theology in a way that helps students improve their logical analysis. Some Christian Schools have a separate class that only teaches from the Bible.  This class teaches from the Bible and compares other literature alongside.

The story of Frankenstein’s monster is encased in one of the Omnibus textbooks that covers a time in history between the Reformation and the Present.  The textbook also provides the students opportunities to read traditionally accepted Christian novels such as Pilgrim’s Progress.  Written in 1864 by John Bunyan, it is a story illustrating the pilgrimage of a person named Christian from this world to the next world.  Dr. Walker has a class assignment requiring the students to read both Frankenstein and Pilgrim’s Progress and asks them to make comparisons.

Both stories are considered allegories, which are stories that have hidden meanings.  Like the story of Frankenstein’s monster, there are monsters in Pilgrim’s Progress.  One threw arrows at his victim and another locked people in a dungeon.  The recipients of the monsters’ wrath approached their burdens differently.  One wallowed in his despair and allowed the monster to control him whereas the other leaned on his faith in God for support and courage.  

How Secular Textbooks Can Enhance a Christian Education

As the students read both books side by side,  they can feel the burden that the main characters of each story is carrying on their backs.  This offers the students a chance to evaluate their own lives and consider how they approach their own burdens, generating debates that help with critical thinking.  I know as I read the stories I thought about how technology can be like Frankenstein’s monster.  Although Victor Frankenstein created the monster, the monster controlled Victor.  

The story of Christian’s life journey in Pilgrim’s Progress reached a significant milestone when he came to a sepulchre (monument to a dead person).  If only Frankenstein and his monster could have understood the significance of this special place, they would have found peace.  The following is an excerpt from Pilgrim’s Progress:

“He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a Cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up to the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble; and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.”

As you can see, both secular and Christian theological teaching can provide valuable wisdom to our children. It is important for schools to not shy away from textbooks simply because they are secular. It is also important for children in a Christian school to be taught how to logically analyze secular teaching and compare and contrast it to solid Christian teaching. This integrative principle helps children to be more prepared to critically analyze secular material when they face the “real” world after high school graduation.   

Read how Heritage Oak promotes faith in all subjects in our previous blog post

Successfully Transitioning from Public to Private School 

Topics: Classical Education, Christian Education