Curriculum revision is a big issue in education these days. It’s being discussed in seminaries and theological schools, and it’s a hot topic in K–12 education too.
In primary and secondary education, talk about curriculum reform usually focuses on Common Core, the standards for proficiency in English and mathematics that were rolled out six years ago. Common Core was developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers with worthy goals: To ensure that all students understand basic concepts of mathematics, reading, and writing that are fundamental to learning more advanced subjects, and to make teaching “more focused and coherent” by “stressing conceptual understanding” and “continually returning to organizing principles” (according to the introduction to the mathematics standards).
But worthy goals do not make it perfect! Common Core has been controversial. Some critics, like Diane Ravitch of New York University, have asserted that the standards violate international protocols for the writing of standards — because their development was foundation-driven, opaque, and neglectful of input from teachers. Other observers worry that it enforces a ceaseless round of standardized testing, or that it amounts to a “takeover” of something that would be best left to local control.
The arguments back and forth reveal some real anxieties about education — that learning goals are not rigorous, that student assessment and teacher evaluation are inconsistent, and that educational outcomes are poor.
Critics might say the same about theological education, but they might not realize that over the last quarter century there have been two major revisions to the accreditation standards of the Association of Theological Schools. Thus, for 25 years, administrators and faculty — and boards too — have been grappling with big questions about the purposes of theological education, and how best to accomplish those purposes. Many seminaries have instituted radical reforms, and the process of revising is ongoing.
For example, Central Baptist Theological Seminary, which you can read about on page 14 of this issue, has just overhauled its M.Div. curriculum in response to a conviction that its former curriculum was not teaching what students needed to know.
Looming on the horizon are even more significant changes, which you can read about on page 5: I suspect that competency-based education will become a significant movement in theological education in the coming years.
Will there be pushback, as there has been with Common Core? Perhaps. The things we care about most are always the things we fight about most. And not every innovation is a good one.
But neither are tried-and-true ways always best. It’s the responsibility of board members and governance leaders to sift and sort, to understand and grapple with the complexities of the environments in which their schools operate, and to ensure that they have the ability to fulfill their missions with economic vitality.
Most of all, the duty of seminary boards is to make sure that the pastors and scholars that their schools are producing have the hallmarks of character that Frederick W. Schmidt notes on page 32 of this issue: People who can witness to their own experience of God, whose lives are marked by virtue and character, who can preach and shepherd their flocks, and who can deal with all the issues that arise in congregational life.
That’s an exhaustive list, but it’s not too much to ask.