The Conative Domain and Christian education

If you’re a teacher, you probably find reading and thinking about learning domains both helpful and fascinating. Others…not so much. So when I promise to speak about conation and it relationship to Christian education, you might think it irrelevant. Stay with me, because you’ll see why it’s important.

  1. What is conation? Think of it as instinct, mode of operation, or even a person’s method. As opposed to motivation, which deals with the why someone does something, conation (while related) deals with the how. If cognition is the thinking aspects of the mind, and affection is the feeling aspects of the mind, then conation is the doing aspects of the mind.
  2. Educators generally work with the cognitive/thinking aspects of the mind. We concern ourselves with what students know. Our educational system organizes itself around the content of disciplines. Secondarily we concern ourselves with the affective/value aspects of education. We answer the why question of a subject discipline. A well-written course syllabus will have cognitive (I want you to know this by the end of the course) and affective (I want you to value this at the end of the course) objectives. Rarely, you see a behavioral objective (I want you to perform this skill by the end of the course). You never, that I have found, find a conative objective (I want you to do this or operate in this manner by the end of the course).
  3. Christian education involves the cognitive, affective and conative aspects of education. Deuteronomy 6 requires us to love God with our whole mind (cognitive), soul (affective) and strength (conative). Paul in his first letter to Timothy mentions the aim of his instruction is love from a pure heart (cognitive), a good conscience (affective) and a sincere faith (conative). Christian educators must teach and deal with all aspects of the mind: the thoughts, the values, and the methods of the student. Also consider that God has instructed parents to, “train up a child in the way he should go…” which instructs parents to understand that child’s particular leanings and inclinations, and then teach that child how to maximize those so that “he will not depart from it” when he is older.

So what?

  1. Parents should focus on the conative domain. While this does not exclude parents from shaping the values and knowledge of their children (or exclude the academy or church from teaching to the conative domain), parents are in the best position to help shape the methods and instincts by which their children operate.
  2. Curriculum in the Christian academy needs to incorporate the conative domain.
  3. Christian educators need to focus on the conative domain in their classrooms in addition to the other domains.
  4. As an experimental suggestion, I wonder if we should organize the Christian academy around the conative domain rather than the cognitive domain. I will explore this idea more in another post.

Let us shape the whole person, not just 2/3 of a person in Christian education.

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