Teaching as Jesus Making: The Hidden Curriculum of Christ in Schooling
by Kevin J. Burke & Avner Segall - 2015
Background/Context: The ideas of teaching as salvation and teacher-as-martyr are not new concepts. Prior research, however, has largely failed to explore the historical and cultural religious roots that continue to inform the ways in which teachers are constructed. That is, though prior work has engaged with thinking about religion and thinking about teachers as saviors, little work has been done to uncover the hidden curriculum of teaching that positions teachers as versions of Christ in the public school classroom.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: Here we highlight the fact that certain elements inherent in the act of public teaching have their roots in Christian, particularly Biblical, thinking. Such connections highlight the religiosity in teaching, regardless of whether a teacher is a Christian believer.
Research Design: The work is an analytic essay, drawing on critical traditions in cultural studies and curriculum theory.
Findings/Results: We illustrate that although we think of teaching as a secular activity and assume that religion has been expunged from public, including teacher, education, the sediments of religion remain present in how the teacher learns to imagine, construct, and enact his or her work as teacher as savior and martyr.
Jesus has been described as a philosopher, an economist, a social reformer, and many other things. But more than these, the Savior was a teacher. If you were to ask, What did Jesus have as an occupation? There is only one answer: He was a teacher. (Packer, 2008, p. 336)
Such questions, we know, may raise a few eyebrows. After all, and following the various Supreme Court decisions that have separated religion and education, teaching is, by now, most educators would suggest, a purely secular activity. We agree with such sentiments to the degree that public school curricula no longer explicitly promote a particular religion, and religionas a subjectis no longer taught in public school classrooms (other than in social studies classrooms where students are taught about the origins and practices of a variety of religions). Nonetheless, as we propose here, and as we have suggested elsewhere (Burke & Segall, 2011; Segall & Burke, 2013), Christian understandings still very much pervade, even if implicitly, many of the day-to-day practices of education, the language used within it, and, as we explore in this article, also our understanding of teaching/teachers. Indeed, we suggest that teaching and teachers, regardless of teachers own personal beliefs, tend, by the very prevailing culture of teaching, to followand possibly advanceparticular Christian understandings. This, we suggest, is not so much a voluntary issue, one that teachers choose to embrace (though some surely do), but rather the very effect of how teaching/teachers have come to consider their own role/work and by which these roles and this work have been viewed by others.
The intricate relationship between religion and education, and the impact the former might have on the latter, ought not to come as a surprise. Secular education, after all, has its roots in religious institutions. Of course, if were to look far enough afield (and across oceans), we find the first sprigs of the institutionalized version of Western academic thought in early and later medieval monasteries. These inward-looking fortresses of (supposed) piety produced the illustrated manuscripts, filigreed in gold and lapis lazuli, that carried on an early literate tradition: the copying of scripture as learned activity, and its adornment with high art (intricate letters beautifully outlined with folk tales rendered in pictures) and low art (marginalia filled with short verse poems lamenting tired hands and minds). Indeed, the first modern Western libraries existed in the cloistered walls of the best endowed monastic outposts in Cluny, Clonmacnois, and Lindisfarnethe larger idea being that these holy castles became first repositories of old (Biblical) knowledge and then later purveyors of new knowledge, as an evangelical thirst sent teaching orders like the Dominicans out into the heathen world.
This ligature of knowledge with (and as) religion remained prominent through the Protestant Reformation and passed readily through the European taproots of a new Americanism. Schools in the newly settled forests of New England were raised up to train Protestant clergy initially, and with Manns Common School movement, they were increasingly meant to develop an American citizenry (White and male) that was educated in the morals of a so-called nonsectarian Protestantism and the ethics of a new patriotic strain meant to establish and fulfill the promise of a new country. Its no surprise, given the religious character of everyday life in the early American colonies, that the first law requiring some form of organized schooling was meant to keep the young from that Old Deluder, Satan. And from the distance of time, we see that nonsectarian religiosity is always ever sectarian, and though contexts change and visions of the evidence of religiosity in the public square narrow, that weve run Bibles out of schools doesnt mean we dont still harbor buried notions of Satan at the door.
Elsewhere, we have argued that the implicit curriculum of public schooling in the United States is fundamentally religious, and particularly Judeo-Christian. We have suggested that any honest engagement with the issue of religion and schooling in this country will need to read the long history of religious entanglement that, though litigated out of schools explicitly (think devotional reading of Bibles and/or state sponsored and denominationally specific prayer), continues to inform our thinking in a number of ways. Specifically we have looked at the historically Christian ambivalence regarding the true nature of children, split as they are by their Adamic original sin and their symbolic value as innocents, pointing to a time before the Fall. We suggest that this dual consciousness of the nature of children carries implications through to classrooms, where students are treated with a hope underlined by a fundamental distrust for childish ways, which must be disciplined and made to confess. In a similar way, we suggest that the apple as a symbol for teaching carries biblical truck as a reminder that teachers are bringing knowledge of all things both good and evil (Burke & Segall, 2011).
These are claims that require a sense that direct connections, sifted as they are through the rough sands of time, are difficult but that resonance matters (Connolly, 2008). In that sense, we note that
What was originally considered religious has, through millennia, become cultural and secular, yet nevertheless, and necessarily for the sake of a fuller understanding of the various workings and influences of this tradition on modern thought, might be re-attached to its religious origin as well as an orientation to text, testing and reading. (Segall & Burke, 2013)
Our purpose in these analyses is to illustrate that we cant think seriously about education, as Nord and Haynes (1998) suggested, until we take seriously the ways in which religion already is withinunderlying, outlining, limitingour understandings of and practices in education. So while we agree that there are educational reasons for taking religion seriously (p. 8) in schools, we disagree when Nord and Haynes argue that public education nurtures a secular mentality (p. 42). Missing in their analysis, we believe, is an engagement with the ever-present religious infrastructure that historically and continually informs schooling. Indeed, as we think it is true that teachers, like students, bring their faith through the school-house door each morning (p. 26)whether they know it or not and whether that faith is evangel, dormant, or culturalany analysis of religion in American education will need to take seriously the ways in which teachers in particular might not fully fathom just how religionand, as we suggest in this article, the image of Jesus as teachermanifests in or through their day-to-day work as teachers.
One could, of course, explore Jesus actual practices as teacher and pedagogue through the numerous examples provided in Scripture of his teaching (including the fact that our first meaningful encounter with Jesus following his birth is as a 12-year-old teacher). That is, the ways in which he positions himself/is positioned as a teacher: how he is portrayed as the holder of knowledge; how he pedagogically engages those he teaches; how he uses teaching to inform his adversaries and disciples of what they ought to know, of what it means to know, and of how one ought to come to such knowing; and, in the event one is interested in contemporary teaching, the possible impact the preceding might have (or the residue it may have left) on the kind of instruction taking place in classrooms today.
Our interest here, however, is quite different. Rather than examine the images that have been constructed of Jesus as teacherin scriptures, paintings, literature, film, and the broader public imaginationwe wish to focus this article on something else in relation to teaching/teachers. Our interest here is on the relationship between Jesusas teacher, martyr, and saviorand the implications of these ongoing notions of martyr and savior on our modern-day understandings of teaching/the teacher. In other words, our focus is on the ways in which the concepts of savior and martyr, borrowed from and attached to Jesus, have influenced the ways teachers and teaching have been conceptualized and articulated. Indeed, as we will suggest, these images of Jesuspossibly more cultural than religious, even though the effects may be similarare very much embedded in how we think of teachers and teaching today, even though teachers may be nonbelievers and the explicit content taught in their classrooms is inherently secular.
In this, we hope to contribute to a conversation about issues surrounding religions role in teaching by teasing out how it is always already present in the body and imagination of the teacher at any given moment.
To conceive of the relationship among teachers, teaching, and religion in a broad sense means thinking about teaching and the possible ways in which our conceptions of it as a profession might be endowed with religiousChristianunderpinnings, regardless of the religious convictions of individual teachers and/or what they teach. Indeed, several studies have highlighted the correlation between teachers religious beliefs and their curricular choices and pedagogical stances (e.g., Feinberg & Layton, 2013; Schweber, 2006; Schweber & Irwin, 2003; White, 2009, 2010). Here we wish to make a larger argument about the historical (and deeply embedded) religious assumptions about teachers and teaching that carry through in the practice, pedagogy, and imaginings of teachers in American schools more broadly, and regardless of individual teachers particular religious convictions.
As in our previous writing on the relationship between religion and education, our intent is to demonstrate that a history that has shaped the very contours of American society through religious doctrine and practice will inevitably come to bear on the assumptions, discourses, and possibilities seen in/as teaching. That is: The everyday of teaching may not look or sound particularly religious, but this is largely because practically all that we can see and imagine in/about teaching is socially conditioned and culturally inherited (Frye, 1982, p. xviii). We are saturated, or, to use Butler (2010), we run into an issue of framing. The difficulty of bringing about a discussion of the ever present-absence that is religious practice in/of teaching has much to do with the difficulty of learning to see the frame that blinds us to what we see (p. 100). This is religion hidden in plain sight. Were breathing it, in other words, through the discourses (Foucault, 1972) in which we are embeddedthe ones we breathe and the ones that breathe life into us. We will thus do well as a profession, we suggest, to begin to further and more complexly examine the selected and organized and redistributed discourse of religion already in our understanding of what teaching entails, who the teacher is, and what he or she is meant to do and be.
We see such prevalent yet unexamined understandings playing out in language underlying education: Terms such as convocation, detention, mission, dean, colloquy, professor (among many others) and the practices advanced under their guise all have religious roots and carry with them deep-seated Christian meanings. For another example, one may only choose to look at the word disciple and its most popular meaning (that is, a particularized follower of Christ). Buried in it, however, are fourth- and fifth-century meanings where in the verb form it means to teach but also to chastise, correct or punish; and as a noun, it means pupil. It matters that the obsolete meaning, according to the OED, has to do with punishment but also that the archaic deals with training and education. Along the same lines, we might think about the usage and meaning of the word doctrine (e.g., Mark 4:2, And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine&). Doctrine, from the Greek,
means teaching and it occurs a total of 30 times in the New Testament. The four gospels refer to Jesus teaching 43 times and preaching 19 times, and six verses refer to him preaching and teaching in the same verse. This might indicate that Jesus spent twice as much time teaching as he did preaching. (Wommack, 2012)
Given that teaching (and the teaching of teaching) has historical links to disciple-making and the doctrinal, it makes sense to think about how teachers get positioned as/by particular and resonant themes surrounding the Nazarene teacher of great reputeand for what teaching practice looks like, how teaching philosophies get shaped, and how the larger American context of teacher education on a whole gets handed along.
We may similarly look at the prevalent notions that teaching is a calling and that teachers are born, not made: Its no coincidence that Luke, (2: 41-52) has Jesus teaching in the Temple at the age of 12 (having slipped his parents notice during Passover) as a precursor to his later lifes work. This mirrors nicely the play of children, as they imagine themselves into the role of teacher with their peers, but it also further, and importantly, suggests a long-assumed notion that teaching is more vocation than mere profession and one that is not particularly teachable because it is in-born, indeed, both god-given and doing gods work.
Fryes (1982) idea of cultural inheritance in relation to the Bible is useful as he noted something we might call resonance where a particular statement in a particular context acquires a universal significance (p. 215) which when thus considered common sense tends to be left unexamined. This resonance as acculturation helps us begin to consider the link between how teachers think, act, are evaluated and self-define, and Christian understandings, particularly, in our case, the popular notion of Jesus, in Western society, as if not the first, but the best (and certainly the most emulated) teacher. We will further develop this idea throughout the text here, but suffice to say it concerns us, as we are in agreement (in spirit if not in particulars) with Nord (2002) that religion is not taken seriously in most schools of education (p. 34). Indeed, it strikes us as patently odd that though for millions of Americans . . . the most profound definition of their identity is in terms of religion (Nord & Haynes, 1998, p. 87), teacher education programs, while typically focusing on a variety of categories of differencefor example, race (Delpit, 2006, 2012; Ladson Billings, 2001), class (Apple, 1993; Lareau, 2000; Rose, 1989; Willis, 1981), gender (Mac an Ghaill, 1994; Pascoe, 2007; Way, 2011)and the ways they impact schooling, teaching, and learning, ignore the role of religion, as its own category of difference.
Because religion, like education, is inherently about the passing down of faith through generations, most evident in an ongoing onus on tradition (Blumenthal, 1993; Carroll, 2010), its not surprising that some version of teach, teacher, or teaching appears in the Bible1 more than 700 times. Think of Mark 10:13-16, where Jesus makes explicit the value of and role of children, who are to be suffered and taught, as they are the future of the Kingdomor turn to the first letter to the Corinthians, where teachers are third in the role of greatness behind apostles and prophets (12:28, NSV). We might also return to Mark, where Jesus entered the synagogue and taught, and those listening were stunned, wondering at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, even casting out demons (1:21-28). The goal is not to be exhaustive here, but rather suggestive: Jesus is most prominently framed as teacher (as rabbi) in his short public life. We think this teaching role is significant and resonates in the construction of teachers today because of the unique and ongoing religious influence that bubbles under the surface of American (but not only American) society.
There are relations among teachers, between teachers and students, and lenses through which we read the profession of teaching that are full of meaning, refracted through a prism of Christ-as-teacher. Its problematic, then, that this explicit and implicit religiosity of the profession has been little discussed beyond research on and in parochial schools (e.g., Greeley, 2002; Heft, 2011; Nothwehr, 1998). Fryes (1982) idea of polysemous meaning helps suggest that the ever-present image of Christ in society, as teacher, as the teacher, continues to influence practice and possibility in (parochial of course, but also) public schooling. What we are suggesting here is that, as educators, we ought to be more deliberate in acknowledging the subtle, sideways, and overt ways in which religion is already both taught in schools and infuses our very notion of teaching and the teacher. We take it as true that the job of education is to educate, not to instill religious devotion (ASCD, 1986, p. 21) but think that focusing on the inclusion (or exclusion) of school prayer or the study of religious approaches to economics, while perhaps important considerations, misses the religion that always already saturates public schooling with devotion.
While we find there are various, and good, attempts at thinking cohesively about the role that religion has and might play if envisioned as a part of the curriculum of schooling (e.g., Marty, 2000; Pinar, 2006; Sears & Carper, 1998; Webb, 2000); as a well considered historical element to American schooling (e.g., Carper, 1998; Michaelsen, 1970); and as a social driver of controversy and morality (e.g., Head, 2005; Kunzman, 2006), we find that very little thought has been given to the role that some of our currentand, as most tend to believe, secularconceptions of teachers and teaching might in fact be saturated with religious meanings, particularly those of teacher-as-martyr and teacher-as-savior. We address each in turn.
How is it, Palmer (1998) asks, that the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be? (p. 11). If were to believe the most recent (2012) MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, this condition of brokenness is pervasive and caused by any number of pressures put on contemporary educators, including, but not limited to, budgetary issues, salary difficulties, spurious reforms, and the public shaming of the profession. But of course this stigmatizing of the teacher, this long-term heartbreaking, has been a part of the structure of education for quite some time. Indeed, Goodlad (1984) recognized these issues early on in the most recent reform process, noting that increased utilization of schools to solve critical social problems . . . a marked growth in governance of the schools through legislation and the courts; continuation of relatively low personal economic returns; limited opportunities for career changes within the field of education (p. 196) all contributed to high turnover and the temporalizing of the profession. Teachers were being held accountable for improved student learning without any move to address these problematic circumstances, which he argued is not likely to improve the quality of their professional lives and the schools in which they teach (p. 196). Why teach, then? He suggested,
We might speculate that, anticipating rewards intrinsic to the work, teachers begin with a willingness to forgo high salaries. However when confronted with the frustration of these expectations, the fact that they sometimes are paid less than the bus drivers who bring their students to school may become a considerable source of dissatisfaction. (p. 172)
Lortie (1975) suggested that to persist in teaching was in a sense, to be passed over for higher position or, for women, marriage (p. 89). And while we might make an argument that, some 40 years later, this gendered condition exists in different ways, the larger point is that teaching as a whole requires the sacrifice of other, perhaps higher (more challenging, more remuneratively rewarding or otherwise) callingsthat is, of course, if one sees teaching as a permanent career, an idea to which we will return shortly. For now, however, its important to note that in the face of restricted freedom and limited respect, teachers construct an ethos that makes the profession tenable, indeed passionately worthwhile.
What we suggest is that though the preceding offers some certain explanations for the tortured nature of teaching, indeed its call to sacrifice and something like martyrdom (to give oneself up for ones students no matter the cost) has deep historico-religious roots. We see echoes of the banishment and willingness to forgo in Luke 12:22-34 (NSRV), where Jesus tells his disciples (those pupils who teach, recall) to:
Worry not about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. . . . Do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. . . . Instead strive for the kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well . . . sell your possessions and give alms.
For now let us examine further the notion of the teacher as a martyr whose personal fulfillment is to be subjugated in service (recall Luke 22: 26-27: You are not like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves . . . I am among you as one who serves.) of students but who is also capable of saving students from themselves, regardless of their home lives, their larger neighborhood contexts, and the structural deficiencies of an unequal society through the magical forgiveness of high expectations.
Useful here is the religious concept of the scapegoat and sacrificial lamb, both symbolically fulfilled in the person of Jesus. Spong (2007) placed the evolving stories of Jesus, as told in the various Gospels, in the midrashic and messianic context of Jewish history. He noted that for Yom Kippur, two animals were to be chosen from out of their flocks to be the sacrificial symbols through which the liturgical act of penance and reconciliation with God might occur (p. 165). Tradition tends to understand one as a lamb and the other as a goat, whereby the lamb chosen for sacrifice was thought to be the perfect creature to achieve reconciliation with God (p. 165) and was slaughtered for the purpose of sprinkling the cleansing blood on the people present.3 From here the goat was taken by the high priest, who confessed in the name of the people all of their sins and evil and the sins of the people were symbolically pictured as rising out of the people and landing on the head and back of [the] creature; in the process, the people became both cleansed and sinless (p. 166). The goat was then banished to the wilderness, carrying the sins of the people away from the Temple and out into the beyond. It is from this practice that the term scapegoating has come to us. For later Jews, interpreting the story of Jesus, there was a movement to connect to the messianic Jewish tradition in the form of Jesus, who became both sacrificial lamb and scapegoat as a means for interpreting his life but particularly in re-narrating his death (p. 167). Here is the prime mover, the first teacher in Western culture, giving up his temporal career so that larger lessons might be learned. In these symbols, we have a cauterizing of the sacrificial with the role of teacher.
McLaren (1999) suggested that we are all ontogenetically constituted by ritual and cosmologically informed by it as well; indeed, rituals are natural social activities found in, but not confined to, religious contexts (p. 36). What we suggest is that the longstanding ritual implications of the sacrificial lamb and the scapegoat as embodied in Christ inflect heavily on expectations for and reactions to teacher practice. That is, the teacher as symbol is linked with the first and most prominent Teacher in Western culture and consistently made and remade in the dual model of both lamb and scapegoat, the martyr of schooling and society.4
Kumashiro (2012) seems appropriate here: In a critique of neoliberal reforms, he illustrated a recent shift in the discourse surrounding teachers, which moves from the kinds of wider considerations that Goodlad (1984) suggested and instead centers on a model of scapegoating that sees education as the ultimate market instrument. Students who struggle are being failed by their teachers, the collective sins of a society piled onto the avatar of slovenly union indifference. Our interest is not in engaging a policy discussion about the proper role of school reform, nor union representation, but rather is meant to suggest that this move toward demonization of teachers (Giroux, 2011; Ravitch, 2010; Watkins, 2012) is part of a larger religious context that expects certain things of teachers and indeed increasingly requires their (bloodless at least, but still very real) sacrifice.
Teachers have long been expected to provide out of their own resources for their students. We rarely ask, however, why this is the case. We might think hard about the exchange between Jesus and the young man in Mark 10:17-22. Here the Christ asserts that salvation comes only through the renunciation of all worldly goods. To be a disciple, to teach, is very much to sacrifice the worldly for later rewards; such is the discourse around teaching: the rewards, though not monetary, are always deferred. To seek for financial stability, increasingly, is seen as problematic. To this end, then, its fairly common to read accounts of teachers spending money on vital classroom supplies. A recent National School Supply and Equipment Association survey (2010)5 reported a 92% rate of teachers spending for work supplies to the tune of, on average, just under a thousand dollars. The idea isnt that this number is high or low (indeed, the study isnt clear on how much of that sum is out of pocket and how much is school and parentally subsidized), but rather that there is an expectation profession-wide that what might otherwise be considered reimbursable expenses in other fields becomes part of the naturalized culture of teaching. One sacrifices more than just time for ones students, one also sacrifices ones own money; combined with the relatively low salaries of teachers and the opportunity expenses of forgoing other careers for service in the classroom, we have a large-scale cultural imposition of the expectation of sacrifice for the sake of children.6
Of course, it would be scrooge-like to know what students need and fail to provide it simply for its cost. And there is honor in this beatitudinal approach to life, to teaching. Teachers will be blessed, at a later date (a divine tbd) for their meekness and poverty (in spirit and otherwise), for theirs will be a kingdom not of this place (Matthew 5:1-12, NSRV). This rhetoric, of providing for students at all costs, doesnt necessarily ring true at the state nor the federal level, where funding for public education has gone largely flat in recent years (indeed, teachers have been furloughed and laid off at stunning rates since 20097). The notion, broadly speaking, is that teachers can be expected to make up financial holes in their immediate contexts because their work is a calling, done for reasons beyond base financial drives. And although this may well be true of teachers in general, its worth asking if teachers are more altruistic going into their careers or if they are shaped into the altruistic (and self-denying) mold by the discourses that surround their work. Lesko (1988) reminded us that words, objects and persons have no intrinsic meaning, but mean in relation to other words, objects or persons (p. 74). What is expected of teachers vis-à-vis their students and their own finances suggests a profession very much expected to, in relation to other perhaps more selfish callings, forgo opportunity for fiscal stability in favor of the needs of their students. They are called to sacrifice so that others might learn. This is, we think, very much in relation to the words, objects, and person of Christ as sacrificial lamb: One does without for ones flock. Indeed, Allen (2013), writing of the use of Pastoral Power in 19th-century schooling to illustrate historic religious techniques of examination still relevant in contemporary schooling, noted that such a system relies on the willingness of the pastor, and now teacher in public schools, to sacrifice his or her own interests for the care of the flock (p. 238).
Its also illustrative of this point that there has been a rhetorical shift of the notion of teaching as a profession to teaching as a temporary calling that moves one to something else (more prestigious) that is played upon by well-established alternative certification programs. The idea that one might parachute into a community, serve for two years (while earnestly working for social justice and closing the achievement gap) all as a procedure toward something greater and different is riven with religious implications. Here we have not only a mirror of Christs brief time teaching himself (roughly three years from the Wedding at Cana to his Crucifixion) but also a mirror of the kind of white dwarf career He followed: One is to teach, until one burns out and can be taken away to a higher place. The kingdom, in other words, of these bright stars of teaching, is not from this world . . . as it is, [their] kingdom is not here (John 18: 36, NSRV). It is elsewhere in the mythic heights of policy or graduate school or hedge fund management and for those other kingdoms, they bring the word to the masses, only to flame out as teachers, not crucified, but suffering the slings and arrows of inner-city life (cheeks always turning) for the time being.
Its easy, then, to think about schools in the KIPP model, say, which require herculean hours of their teachers on behalf of students, in this mold. If one really cares about students (as Jesus would have), then one will not need union protections that limit work hours, and one will certainly do home visits on weekends and take students on out-of-town trips and sacrifice outside relationships for as long as one can last. The point isnt a career in teaching; the point is helping students until one dies-as-a-teacher and rises again in law school or medical school or in a CMO. Lost in this model are the ways in which long-term teaching careers indeed do save students as well. But of course this notion of teacher-as-savior is powerful too. Allen (2013) noted that themes of salvation, redemption, and fear of a fall from grace remain integrated within the discourses of modern schooling (p. 238). We would agree and suggest that though Allen is writing of the echoes of past practices, recent reforms have intensified the notion of teaching as professional sacrifice for the present and future moral, social, and educational well-being of the pupil, where the schoolteacher still require[s] no small support from the Christian faith (p. 239). The notion that we must, as Kay Shuttleworth (1841) noted, prepare teachers for a life of self denial (as cited in Allen, 2013, p. 239) persists; further, it is this denial that allows one to justify the ultimate denial: leaving the profession altogether. Of course, before one leaves, one must save the students from themselves, their culture (of excuses), their incompleteness, their poverty, and so on. Here we turn toward an explication of what this model of teacher as savior entails.
TEACHER-AS-SAVIOR: THE MISSIONARY POSITION
In a manner similar to that expressed by the teachers studies by Schweber (2006), White (2010), and Hartwick (2009), whereby religious beliefs not only impact what and how teachers teach but also their very understanding of their role and mission as teachers, a teacher interviewed by Jackson (1990) described his work as follows: I think its like missionary work. Ive always been very socially-minded, and I think that we really do have a lot of work to do right in these communities, not just in the underprivileged ones (p. 134). In this case, and, as we suspect, in many, many more, we see the shaping of something that can be (and has been) called the missionary and salvific model of teaching. A notion of teacher as a mission worker, as savior, we think, bears further examination, one that explores its historicaland historically Christianroots as well as its contemporary manifestations.
A savior, as the dictionary reminds us, is a deliverer, a rescuer. In delivering a curriculum and delivering students to it, in caring for students and administering their minds and bodies, a teacher becomes a savior, one who rescues students from ignorance or circumstance, who ensures their minds and souls are not harmed, lost or allowed to spoil, and, in the process, redeemssaves and deliversstudents and teacher alike. Schools, it appears, do not only have mission statements (a religious notion of propagating faith), but the very act of teaching is mission work that intends to save. And, like religious mission work, teaching is a calling, a vocation that intends to save, to safeguard, to deliver believers to the church and students to particular forms of understandings and ways of knowing.
In the face of any number of exigencies, teachers persist through a sense that what they are pursuing has to do with vocation (a very religious word, we need not remind), a notion that Palmer (1998) relied on in calling individuals to the courage of teachingciting Frederick Buechner, who suggested that vocation is the place where your deep gladness and the worlds deep hunger meet (p. 30). That hunger, we ought note, is very much linked to the salvific model of Christ who, in Christian belief, is the Bread of Life, in whom none shall hunger.9 Teaching, here, especially given that schooling, like church, is tied closely to moral ends, may be seen not simply as that which eradicates hunger but as equally associated with a hunger to teach, to provide salvation for the hungry. Teaching as a moral act can be seen not only as that which is bestowed upon students but also as an inherent desire to moralize, to educate, to save. Goodman and Lesnick (2001) said as much, beginning their work The Moral Stake in Education with a simple premise (simple as in: commonsensical, so embedded as to need no real explication): Although moral education belongs in school, and is much needed, it is a simple, relatively uncontroversial matter of telling students what is right and wrong and maintaining incentives for right conduct (p. 4). This telling, of course, has a history that links to the assumption that schoolingteachingis a moral act, rooted in the need to shield children from a wicked world, bent on seducing them to ruin (Mintz, 2006, p. 90). Teachers, of course, in this frame must bring knowledge and produce disciples lest children remain base slaves to emotion if allowed to develop on their own in a natural state (Hirsch, 1996, p. 7).
The notion of teacher-as-savior is not particularly new in the literature in education. There are cautionary tales that deal with the potential for cultural and linguistic paternalism when teachers of different races and socioeconomic classes encounter other peoples children (e.g., Delpit, 1995, 2012; Ladson-Billings 2001). As well, there are chronicles of exceptional teachers who altered an otherwise problematic life course in print (Kearney, 2008; Kozol, 2000; Rose, 1989) and particularly in film: for example, Stand and Deliver; Dangerous Minds; Dead Poets Society; DreamKeepers. While the salvific nature of such teaching has been widely critiqued (e.g., Kelly & Caughlan, 2011; Ladson-Billings, 1998, Marshall & Sensoy, 2011) on various grounds, missing from these analyses are the roots of a story that would take the teacher to be, ultimately, a savior. There is indeed something to the expertise of the sage on the stage, as it were, but the passionate vision of an individual who appears among those who need him (or her) most, just at the right moment comes, we think, from the very real cultural assumption that the teacher is ultimately to model a career on that of Christs brief and-then-presumably eternal one, as well as on various ideas about the child/learner that have permeated Christianity ever since.
In his book Childhood, Chris Jenks (1996) discusses two inherently different prototypes of the child. The first, based in Christian understandings and extended in Romanticism, is the Apollonian child. Named for the Greek god of light and the sun, this ideal human is seen as a wondrous innocent, full of love and deserving to be loved in turn (p. 60). This Apollonian child was humankind before either Eve [and Adam] or the apple (p. 73). It is an image of the child later cultivated by philosophers and educators such as Rousseau, A. S. Neil, and Pestalozzi, as well as the one taken up by much of Progressive education, both past and present.
The Apollonians otherwhich Jenks defines as the Dionysian childnamed after Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, of ritual madness, pleasure, and ecstasyis an initial evil or corruption [from] within an image buttress[ed] by the doctrine of Adamic original sin (p. 70). As a learner, this child is considered in need of teaching that resembles combat, where the headstrong and stubborn subject had to be broken, but all for their own good (p. 71). This second, darker half of the child, which comes soiled later as religious concerns begin to impugn the afore-assumed squeaky soul of the child, is in need of cleansing, purification, and fixing. It is a devilish child requiring discipline and obedience. It is in need of correction, saved of an inner sin and evil by the teacher who is/acts as the childs savior.
Whether one considers the learning child Apollonian or Dionysian, each seems to be in need of savingwhether from the evils and sins of the eternal world in the first case, or from the sin that already exists in the child in the latter case. One is deserving of preserving the existing innocence inside the child, the other of eradicating the devil inside the (other) child. Regardless, the role of the teacher is, in both cases, that of savior, of saving the child from what already is or what might be. There are echoes of Mark 10:15 here. The more common story cited ends in the verse 10:14, where Jesus chides the crowd for keeping the children from him, but note that he continues, for just as children must be suffered, they also must receive the kingdom of God as a little child, lest they miss out on salvation. Here we have seeds of later battles between Anabaptists and certainly contemporary ones between Gnostics and other sects, but the point that seems to have been carried through time is that children need a teacher early, that they might be saved.
The notion of teacher as savior in relation to the internal/external characteristics of the learner has also been explored by others. Contrary to Socrates, who saw the childs lack of knowledge, and the wrongdoing that might follow, as the result of a childs lack of knowledgeone that is external to the child and, once corrected, will lead the learner on a moral and ethical journey toward TruthKierkegaard (1962) saw this lack of knowing, this disconnection from Truth, not as external to the learner but internal and a consequence of his/her own doing. Infusing his philosophy with theological understandings, Kierkegaard viewed the learner not simply as ignorant but as in state of sin. For the learner to obtain Truth, the teacher must bring it to him, saving the learner from his existing condition of untruth. As such, the teacher must act as god himself, both alerting the learner to his/her existing state of untruth and revealing Truth to him/her, forming, reforming, and transforming the learner along the way. This teacher doesnt simply teach; he/she is engaging a learner who needs to be converted, acting as a savior, deliverer, reconciler, and judge in the process of that conversion (Storm, 2013).
Certainly, the notion of teacher as savior, where a heroic individual teacher is able, through forms of devotion, personal sacrifice, and heroism, to fix children and save them from their lot, is still with us today.
While those of us currently in colleges of education may recoil at such definitions of teaching, centuries of education as a form of (Christian) saving were considered routine in European as well as in early American schools (e.g., Archard, 1993; Aries, 1965; Heywood, 2001; Mintz, 2006). Puritan schools were based on a longstanding tradition, rooted very early in Martin Luthers teachings that infant hearts craved after adultery, fornication, impure desires, lewdness, idol worship, belief in magic, hostility, quarrelling, passion, anger, strife, dissension, factiousness, hatred, murder, drunkenness and, for good measure, gluttony (Heywood, 2001, p. 33). Suffer the little children, indeed; Samuel Davies, a Virginian, wondered whether his son was an embryo-angel or an infant-fiend; indeed this ambivalence could have come from Luther himself, who in spite of their base nature, still lovingly referred to children as Gods little fools (p. 33). The point of schools, emerging from early Sunday Schools, was character development. Fearful that character usually becomes fixed for life and for the most part eternity, early proponents in the Americas assigned Sunday schools the weighty responsibility of ensuring that young people developed the strength of character to resist the flattering allurements of a world bent on seducing them to ruin (Mintz, 2006, p. 90). Mintz continues, discussing the handing of the baton from Sunday schools in America to public schools from the 1820s onward, noting that the campaign for public schools began . . . when religiously motivated reformers . . . advocated public education as a way to promote opportunity but also to shape childrens character (p. 91).
One, of course, need not go as far back to find other examples of the saving of savages. Much has been discussedindeed, criticizedregarding the lethal combination of religion and education in the context of western colonialism. Administered by churches, missionary schools in Africa, Asia, and the Americas served as an important agent of colonialism by assimilating, often forcefully and aggressively, aboriginal peoples into western culture and Christianity, with the idea of saving and civilizing indigenous children by converting them to Christianity (Miller, 1996; see also Dickason, 1997). Acting as the religious arm of colonial powersits ideological shock troops (Andrews, 2010)missionary schools were in the business of saving, and redeeming native souls, bringing liberationspiritual, cultural, economic, and politicalby sharing the blessings of the Christ-inspired civilization of the West with a people suffering under satanic oppression, ignorance, and disease (Falola, 2001, p. 33). Teaching in this context became a form of theological and moral transformation. Christianity, and Jesus as its symbol, its master teacher, became instruments of rescue, the embodiment of knowledge, morality, and salvation all at once. Indeed, in the spirit of enhancing Christianity and its message, that which is provided by teachers, or that given by Jesus (which, in this case were one and the same), became inseparable from the salvation given by either/both.10
Though missionary schools bent on Christianizing/saving native bodies and souls might be a notion of the past, the very mission of salvation in modern education still persists, even if in more implicit ways. With the church no longer underlying the operation of schooling (at least not in public education), contemporary discourses about standards, accountability, NCLB, and Race to the Top purport to play a role that is fundamentally about raisingand, in the process, also savingthe disenfranchised from their lot (and, in the process, the nation as a whole from falling behind and losing its competitive edge). Such discourses focus less on ameliorating, let alone understanding, if even acknowledging, the conditionspolitical, economic, socialthat have created inequality than on saving students from those conditions, with the teacher, as savior, carrying the heaviest load in operationalizing that process. This teacher, like Moses or Jesus, is the one who is to lead students to the economic and moral promised land of the middle class: the new religion of economic, neo-liberal success and international competitiveness.
As teacher educators, we ought to consider the ways in which legacies of the above still remain with us today. To what degree, and in what ways, might the notions of the Apollonian and Dionysian child be still prevalent in how we think about teaching? And regardless of whether we currently refer to the unknowing learner as being in a state of sin, as Kierkegaard did, might the idea, despite the change in language, nevertheless permeate our conceptions of the role and practice of teaching? How might our understandings of pedagogy and curriculum, the routines of classrooms, the rules of schooling, still be infused with such understandings?
But even if the answer to all of the above is in the negativethat we no longer see a state of unknowing as sinful, that we no longer attempt to purify students and save them through the overt values of Christianityfracturing the relationship between teaching and salvation is more difficult than separating Bibles from classrooms.
Indeed, the notion of teacher as savior exceeds the troubled colonial past or even the troubling presentwhether that represented in official discourses of accountability or through popular Hollywood films. In fact, it very much comes with the territory of teaching, an inherent part of the landscape of teachingany teaching! At a most rudimentary level, the relationship between teacher and savioror the idea of teacher as saviorunderlies the very definition of the terms: Indeed, every act of teaching involves some element of saving students from a space of lackoften defined as a state of unknowing or ignorance. As such, all teachers, by definition, can be regarded as saviors. Whether one chooses to save students from ignorance (as a lack of knowledge) through phonics, the amassment of historical facts, the repetition of mathematical formulas, or through group work, engaged discussion, or even critical pedagogy, each approach assumes that there is a lack, a wrong, that education ought to fix, and that this fixing will save students from their existing state of not knowing that which they ought to know, a way of bringing them out of darkness and allowing them to see the light. Of course, this visioncultural tropefrom the darkness of knowing-not into the light of knowing has teleological and religious roots, or, as John 8:12 had it, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. The bringing of light, of knowledge, if very much a banishing of the darkness of not knowing (Jesus)teachers enact it constantly with precious little acknowledgement of the godly work it implies.
In light of the above, we suggest that, whether explicitly or implicitly, the connection between teaching and saving ought to be more seriously considered in preservice teacher education. What such an engagement might mean and entail is the focus of the next, concluding section of the article.
One of the problems in thinking about just what to do with teacher education should we choose to accept its inherently Christian roots (and leaves and branches and bark) in the transmutation of the expectations of teachers into the expectations of the godly comes in the realm of just-where-to-even-begin. We dont foresee an elimination of the Christian from the discourse of schooling, nor do we see value necessarily in pursuing such an end; likely theres too much history and cultural weight maintaining the practices described in this article and a certain blindness to even recognizing them as such in what we see currently as teaching. What we can suggest is threefold, however. The first approach is simple: engaging, as we do here and elsewhere (Burke & Segall, 2011; Segall & Burke, 2013), in a frank, ongoing conversation that seeks to address the myriad ways in which history, culture, and discourse remain informed by religion and just what that might mean for the formation of schooling, of teachers, and of students. Such an approach cannot, however, stop with the residue and impact of Christian thought/understandings on general education and the mostly Christian bodies involved. It also requires an exploration of how Christian thought and the practices that go along with it (e.g., a mostly Christian academic calendar, Christian culture, and the myriad ways it manifests itself in the day-to-day operations of schooling, teaching, and learning), impact teachers (and students) of other religions who share those classrooms.
A second strand, we propose, might need to take seriously the ways in which love, as a conceptboth in broad terms as well as in how it underlies the very concepts of teacher-as-martyr and teacher-as-savioris leveraged and indeed compelled in schools. Thinking particularly about the socialization into teacher education, we might need to consider something akin to Alisons (2003) caution that often, in religious situations, love means I feel that in obedience to Gods love for sinners I must stop you from being who you are. . . . My love for you means that I will like you if you become someone else (p. 107).11 What is teaching as broadly conceived and taught, after all, but the compulsion to change children into different (increasingly standardized) images? We might think of the old saw in teacher training that tells candidates that they wont always like their students, but the calling of the profession requires that they have love for them. This love, we think, is well rooted in an explicitly Christlike vision drawn from (variously Matthew 22: 36-40, Luke 10:27, and Mark 12: 30-31) the condensed commandments given to the disciples by Jesus: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
These are the foundational truths behind the message of Christ the teacher: Here we have the culmination of the movement from the old law and the new law. Typical of any good teacher, he summarizes and simplifies. But note the implications: If it is true that to love in a religious sense, as for Alison, is to compel change in others, and if teaching is an inherently religious practice as weve suggested, then the love that is demanded of teachers (socialized into them, in fact) requires that they turn their students into proto-teachers themselves. They must love their students, their neighbors, as they love themselves: They must mold them into smaller versions of the martyr and savior on a daily basis. There are implications to this that, in some ways, go beyond the scope of the article here, but we think that love becomes problematic as it functions in education precisely because of its religious implications.
3. It is easy to find echoes of this practice in the various accounts of the Last Supper, of course, as the Apostles ate of His body and drank of His blood. (Luke 22: 17-20; Matthew 26: 27-29; Mark 14: 22-25).
4. It is of course vital to acknowledge that assuming there to be a singular reading of the scapegoat/lamb imagery would both belie the theological complexity of the concept and limit the semiotic possibility in ways that we dont intend. In that sense we are indebted to Juzwik (2014) for the reminder that a dismissive positioning of certain readings of the Bible (and of Jesus meaning in particular) would be to reduce the scope of religion and in particular our own reading to an essentialist one. Rather, we wish to be suggestive and broad in our work here. We thus use the scapegoat/lamb imagery to foster further dialog around what happens to teachers in a society that vilifies them, intent on the fact that there is if not religious grounding, then certainly religious fervor in the pursuit of teacher hides.
6. To say nothing of recent tragedies in which teachers very literally sacrificed or offered to sacrifice their lives acting as human shields for their students in Newtown, Connecticut, and Moore, Oklahoma.
7. Acknowledging of course that the Brookings Institution is a center-left organization, the numbers of teaching jobs lost here is at least broadly illustrative: http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/jobs/posts/2012/08/03-jobs-greenstone-looney. We might also look to the state of North Carolina as a more localized evidentiary provider: http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/newsroom/news/2011-12/20110831-01
8. This manner of workthrowing teachers in the classroom with very little trainingis often, interestingly, alluded to as a baptism by fire.
9. The highly symbolic Gospel of John, written later and not likely based off his synoptic predecessors (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), uses a number of images of Christ as sating worldly hunger. He tells the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:14 that those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life, and later in John 6:35 after the miracle of the Loaves and Fishes (and in an explicit link to the Manna of early Jewish memory), he declares, I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. These moments occur in explicit teaching situations as he tutors a woman individually and the masses gathered for a lecture.
10. Its worth noting, as well, that this hermeneutic, emblematized in the early Colonies by John Wesleys entreaty that parents break the will of [their] child to bring his will into subjection to yours that it may be afterward subject to the will of God (Heywood, 2001, p. 36), led to a sense that, should the parents fail at discipline, the Church and increasingly its schools were present to re/form the delinquent child, spiritually but particularly, physically (p. 44). Theres a good bit of Proverbs 13:24 in this anxiety that parents might spoil the child, and so schools (and teachers) were meant to take up the rod.
11. For a fuller development of this idea, see Burke & Greteman (2013).
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