Why does the world need a book for Christian educators on caring? It’s a fair question. As one colleague said recently if we have the gospels, do we really need something else to tell us how to treat others? The book How Shall We Then Care?: A Christian Educator’s Guide to Caring for Self, Learners, Colleagues and Community, makes the case that ethic of care, and particularly a Christian ethic of care, are fundamentally reflective of God’s nature. Particularly in a season of a global pandemic—when educators are engaged in greater levels of caring, both personally and professionally, than perhaps ever before—it is both instructive and encouraging to reflect on the caring nature of God and the implications for education.
A Biblical Perspective
From the Genesis account to the Greatest Commandment and the parable of the Good Samaritan, we can see that a Christian ethic of care is not just ethical but also theological: it helps us understand God’s love and care for us. In terms of God’s love for us, God speaks extensively about His care for His people in the Bible: a bear robbed of her cubs (Hosea 13); a mother comforting her child (Isaiah 66); a woman nursing a baby (Isaiah 49). Jesus, the second person of the Trinity and equal with God, identifies as a hen trying to gather up and protect her chicks (Matthew 23). Protection, comfort, and nurture are all aspects of care, and according to Scripture they are all facets of God’s character and heart.
This love and care are not unidirectional, however. Scripture tells us that God is love and that we love because He first loved us; thus, while it is clear that God’s love and care for us precedes any thoughts of love we might have for Him, our love and “care” also matter to Him. We were created to worship Him, which is an expression of love but also a kind of care. This helps us to understand the way in which our free will intertwines with His sovereign will and desires; we are not simply giving in to His plan (and treating the gift of salvation as merely “fire insurance” to avoid judgment), but in a sense we complete the cycle as beloved adopted sons and daughters, returning praise for blessing.
Finally, Scripture also tells us in Genesis 1 that humans were created in God’s image. By extension, therefore, we care for anything or anyone because God first cared for us. Care is also a command reflective of God’s heart. As David W. Anderson notes in a chapter of How Shall We Then Care?, a pre-Fall role given by God to Adam was as caretaker of creation, that is, one who shows care. Thus, care-giving—of others, creation, and by extension, self—is part of God’s perfect design for humans.
Implications for Education
If the Bible is to be the pattern for living the life of faith, we must consider seriously the references to care found in its pages. So, from the believer’s perspective, there is a raison d’être for a Christian ethic of care. How might a Christian ethic of care be applied in the context of education, and to the role of educators and students?
The various chapters in How Shall We Then Care? address this question across a variety of educational settings (while all chapter authors are Christian believers, some work in a specifically Christian context while others work in public institutions; thus, some explicitly engage a Christian ethic of care principles and actions, while others are more implicit). In terms of the relationships between teachers and students, one chapter examines original research into student perceptions of care (and interestingly, finds that attempts to communicate care are not always perceived as caring by students). Other authors explore research into empathy and the promising use of game-based methods to teach empathy to students. The role of trauma-informed school practices, teacher self-care, and the ethic of care in the context of inclusive special education are underscored by chapter authors as well.
Equipping New and Future Educators
For those of us who are engaged in the work of teacher preparation and professional development, we realize the profound responsibility we have to equip new and future educators with resources that will help to sustain them in their practice as caring, nurturing teachers. To this end, a number of authors address cultivating dispositions in beginning teachers that foster sustainable care in the classroom, modeling and nurturing faith-informed self-care for our teacher candidates and recent graduates, and providing caring, supportive structures for navigating the challenges that new teachers face.
A Christian ethic of care serves to illuminate our relationship with God while also helping to flesh out what care looks like in various contexts, no matter what those contexts might be. In How Shall We Then Care? we look specifically at the context of education and explore ways in which a Christian ethic of care can bless educators, learners, and communities as they seek to reflect the heart of God.
[Editor’s Note: This blog is the second of three in a “Summer Reading List” series, which spotlights three new books for Christian school educators to consider for their personal summer booklist. Read the first in the series here.]
About the Author
Dr. Paul Shotsberger is co-editor with Dr. Cathy Freytag of How Shall We Then Care?: A Christian Educator’s Guide to Caring for Self, Learners, Colleagues and Community. He is a professor of education at Southern Wesleyan University in South Carolina. Prior to his current position, he was a high school mathematics teacher and served as a missionary to Ukraine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.