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Curriculum Manual 29

Part 3: “RE-PACKING OUR LUGGAGE” - The Journey ahead.


What is the best way for us to construct a curriculum package for
theological education?

When the time comes to re-assemble our “luggage” for the journey ahead, the first question,
surprisingly, is not: “what shall we include?” but rather: “how can we achieve a good balance in our
selection of course subjects?” We have to resist the temptation to try and include everything that seems
immediately desirable.

POSSIBLE APPROACHES to CURRICULUM CONSTRUCTION

Over the years there have been many different approaches to the construction of a theological
curriculum, including the evolutionary method of simply allowing a curriculum to grow unplanned as
it accumulates subjects offered by each new addition to the teaching body. In this latter process
“weaker” offerings die a natural death as they are replaced by more vigorous courses. But even the
strong courses are liable to be neglected and ultimately omitted altogether when their custodian who
first developed them moves on.

Some approaches to curriculum administration are more planned. They include the following, each with
its own strengths and weaknesses:

A) The Pragmatic (“jig-saw”) Approach: (dear to the heart of administrators!)


The aim here is to fit into the students’ period of residence as conveniently as possible all the
subjects which their teachers wish to teach them. This approach is primarily teacher orientated, and
starts with the pragmatic problem of “who is available to teach our students now?” The
administration lists those subjects thought worthy of being taught and that appeal to the teachers’
interests. A selection is then made from the curriculum CLASSIFICATION list (or something like it)
to find out what might match the concerns of the faculty. Everyone is happy because the students
presume that they have the most motivated teachers for the subjects chosen in this way. But how
balanced is the resulting curriculum?

B) The Structural (“menu”) Approach: (beloved by academics!)


This approach aims to fit into the timetable as much of a comprehensive curriculum as time will
allow. Inevitably priorities have to be agreed as it is never possible to include every desirable topic.
This approach shifts the attention onto the subjects to be taught. Again the CLASSIFICATION list
provides a useful basis for selection, but this time extra care is taken to make a balanced selection
from each major division. The approach is truly subject orientated (not teacher orientated) and is
more balanced in its approach. It can, however, become degree driven, rather than task related. .

C) The Functional (“tools for the job”) Approach: (the assumption of the average church member)
Here the emphasis is on the needs of the work to which the student is called. “What is it that the
student must be able to do after completing this course?” is the first question asked before any
subject is “packed” into the curriculum “luggage”. This approach is thus task orientated and, for
seminary students, the assumption is that they are being trained to provide a service for the church
and meet the requirements of a congregation in terms of skills and knowledge.
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D) The Individual Development (“promising material”) Approach: (sometimes the hope of the
student’s tutor!)
The purpose here is the development of the student as a disciple of Christ. Thus the formation of a
Christ-like character is sought foremost. But also important is the development of other areas of full
potential (natural abilities, gifts and interests) in order to make him / her as creative, productive and
influential for good as is possible in the area of ministry to which (s)he is called.
E) The Educational (“learning bricks”) Approach: (advocated by educationists aware of student
learning problems)
This is a sub-objective of individual development where it is realised that all learning must be
appropriate to the educational level and experience of the student, rather than related to the academic
level of the teacher. The approach here starts at the base of the student’s learning pyramid and builds
on that foundation only as fast as the student can manage to cope with each new learning “block”, be
it in the cognitive, functional, affective or sapiential domain. Specific consideration is given to the
mastery of all the basic learning skills of grammar, comprehension, basic logic and study methods,
rather than to the accumulation of content (“banking” information!).
F) The Contextualised (“here and now”) Agenda: (popular in the Western theological circles and
now catching on in the two-thirds world churches also)
This approach emphasises preparation for the world. Its aim is to teach every subject in the context
of the world we live in now, in order to train students to think in terms of the relevance of what they
are absorbing. Thus all subjects should be taught in their wider contexts to prepare students to face
social issues that they will likely meet in society, as well as to train them in how to teach members of
their congregations to tackle these issues effectively themselves.
G) The Integrative (“web”) Approach: (pioneered by educationists in secular fields in the West)
The word “integrated” is used here to suggest that CONTENT, DOMAIN, MODE and LEVEL are
all brought into consideration as those ideas, fields and methods are inter-woven at appropriate
levels in a way that will be most effective in achieving the desired objectives of the programme. It
also refers to the integration of diverse subjects. It is thus the complete opposite of the academic
departmentalisation that has for so long characterised Western academic institutions. One version of
this approach aims also to make all such integrative learning relevant to contemporary living. (See
Integrative Theology: Gordon Lewis / B. Demarest)
This is precisely what is needed in theological curriculum construction. The disciple-student needs a
balanced blend of doctrine, experience and practice in his / her training that will enable that
student to develop - long after formal training has been completed - what has already been learnt.
(S)he needs to be trained in the four domains of knowing, doing, being and understanding, in such a
way that the process will continue throughout his / her ministry, and a variety of methods will
enhance this learning.

DISCUSSION
Which of the above approaches do you recognise as best describing your institution?
Which would be both feasible and worth adopting for your programme? Why?
Could you combine aspects of several of them to make a curriculum that is more appropriate for your situation?
List below the elements you would wish to include.

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We now consider three models of curriculum construction currently in practice in the West.