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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- Curriculum in the Christian academy needs to incorporate the conative domain.
- Christian educators need to focus on the conative domain in their classrooms in addition to the other domains.
- 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.
In doing some research for a project I’m planning to work on with a friend, I had the chance to contemplate and learn about the threefold office. The concept of the threefold office refers to Jesus’ earthly ministry and roles as prophet, priest, and king. Loosely described, the prophet represents God to the people, receiving proclamations from God and delivering them to the populace. The priest represents the people to God, making sacrifice and intercession on their behalf. The king acts as God’s agent on the earth, ruling and reigning over the people. In doing so, the king also provides an example of how to live, often bearing responsibility for the blessing or curse of the people.
So how does this impact Christian education?
CE happens in one of three places: the church, the home, and the academy (school, as in primary, secondary or higher education). While each commits themselves to CE, they have differing emphases. It also occurs to me that those roles correspond with the threefold offices, and have a primary educational domain in which they focus. For your consideration (and recognizing the idealism in these descriptions):
- The church. The church’s CE role corresponds to the priestly function. At the church, we learn what to value (the affective domain) and where we should place our priorities. The Old Covenant priestly function includes some aspects of teaching, as the priest must instruct the people on the proper ways to approach God, and how to understand and value the sacrificial system. This “priestly” function carries over into the church (I know about the priesthood of all believers and as a dyed-in-the-wool protestant I affirm that belief) where we practice the ritual aspects of faith and experience communion.
- The home. The home’s CE role corresponds to the kingly function. In the home, we experience the rule and reign (the parents) who model the proper behavior as set forth by God, and wield the authority granted by God with grace and wisdom. In doing so, parents help children understand their role in the body, in society, and train up a child in the way he should go (Proverbs 22:6). In short, the student in the home learns conation, and the home teaches mainly to the conative domain.
- The academy. The academy’s CE role corresponds to the prophetic function. Like the prophet, the academy seeks to receive and understand the revelation of God, and then communicate that to the people of God. As such, the academy studies not only the inspired word of God (the canon) but also that which God spoke into existence (creation). In doing so, the academy teaches the content of God’s revelation (the cognitive domain).
The domain and teaching content are not exclusive, but primary. The parents in the home have primary responsibility to help a child find their way, but will also work to shape the values and knowledge of that child. When that family goes to church, the pastor will primarily shape the values of that family, but will also teach the knowledge and practices of the faith. When the child goes to school, he will learn knowledge of God, but that knowledge will shape his values and methods.