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Review: The future of Lutheran education

March 5, 2012 One Comment
Book Review:  Lutheran Education: From Wittenberg to the Future by Thomas Korcok
Published by Concordia Publishing House, St Louis, 2011

by Ken Albinger, BScEd, MEd, EdD

Is there a specifically Lutheran educational pedagogy (teaching methodology) that is to be preferred above all other methods? Dr. Korcok, a Lutheran Church-Canada pastor, has answered this question with a resounding “Yes!” in his recently published book. After reading the book I have to admire the scholarship and literary research that undergirds his arguments, but I have to question his conclusion. I do so knowing full well there has been a lot of praise of the book (printed inside the front cover of the volume by the publisher), and so my view will be controversial. 

The basis for questioning the conclusion is not so much what has been researched, but rather the underlying assumptions for the argument presented which are never fully revealed, and the fact that so much research into human development and learning, which has led to significant changes in teaching over the past two hundred years, has been ignored.  

In the first two segments of the book, the author digs into the development of Lutheran schooling at two points in history, the period of the Reformation, and the period of Lutheran migration to the US. His research into the educational activities of the church during these two periods is as thorough as anything I have seen. The purpose he gives for this work is to find in our history the teaching methodology compatible with Lutheran confessionalism.

In the third segment of the book, Dr, Korcok presents a case for using a teaching methodology based on classical education, which he calls liberal arts education. The author believes this approach conforms with methods used at the time of the reformation and used by American Lutherans in the early days. He states that current teaching methods informed by what he labels ‘liberal education’ are not aligned with what the church needs to teach, and how it needs to be taught. This assertion is argued from only one point of view.

For a book with the sub-title from Wittenberg to the future, I was surprised to find almost nothing in Dr. Korcok’s Lutheran Education about the work of educators in North American Lutheran schools after Walther’s era, except mention of a few schools following the Classical model. That is unfortunate, because there is a rich heritage of solid Lutheran education throughout North America and Australia over the past hundred and fifty years. That period is filled with the work of dedicated, theologically astute Lutheran teachers who wrestled with the issues and methods of their times and worked out solutions for teaching the young that respected the revealed truth of the Bible, and the doctrinal understandings of confessional Lutheranism. I consider it a significant gap in Dr. Korcok’s research and presentation.

As I pondered why Dr. Korcok is so drawn to the Classical model of the trivium, (grammar, rhetoric and literature), which he labels Liberal Arts, I noticed a few comments that seem to reveal his underlying assumptions. The most significant is his statement, “Of all the academic disciplines, education is perhaps the most susceptible to an ‘optimistic, quick-technical-fix future.’ This is ironic when one considers that at the heart of education is the molding of the young—something one would normally not want to experiment with.” (p. 274) These two sentences make clear that for Dr. Korcok education should not seek new ways of understanding or better ways of helping each child grow into the fullness of their God-given potential. There seems to be the assumption that they are vessels to be filled with the right ideas and thoughts of the writers of the past. There is also the assumption that all educators are looking for a quick fix technical solution. But he does not present any substantial case to support these views.

I believe that Lutheran Education: from Wittenberg to the Future presents a clear and well researched view of Lutheran educational ideas from the period of the Reformation and from the period of Lutheran settlement in the USA. However, it does not provide enough research and information about what has been happening in Lutheran schools since the period of settlement. It does not present enough information about what research has revealed concerning the wonders of the development of the human brain, how well informed, theologically astute Lutheran teachers have woven this information into their educational methodology, and have successfully educated many generations of Lutheran laity and church workers both in North America and abroad.

Lutheran Education: From Wittenberg to the Future is available from Concordia Publishing House

Dr. Ken Albinger received his undergraduate education in the Concordia system, attending Bronxville, Ft Wayne and finally graduating from Seward in 1964.  After serving as a teacher and principal in two Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod schools, he accepted the challenge of a call to serve the Lutheran Church of Australia in 1973. There he served as principal of three schools, and later as director for Lutheran Schools in Queensland (1985-1999).  In 1999 he accepted a call to the faculty of Luther Seminary in Adelaide (now renamed Australian Lutheran College), where he helped develop the teacher education program in partnership with two major universities. In 2008 he ‘retired’ from the faculty, and accepted a call to serve as principal of Faith Lutheran School Edmonton. In 2010 the school relocated to St Albert and became King of Kings Lutheran School. During his time in Australia, Dr. Albinger completed his Masters of Education Studies in Curriculum, and his Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership.

  • Jwhittar

    Well said Dr Albinger!