• Elizabeth Beech

Transforming the Elephant

We are pleased to introduce our new publication, Transforming the Elephant, on our new blog!

We hope you might get excited about how education in Christian schools can and should transform the underlying worldview assumptions of our students. Here is a brief introductory excerpt from our book.

The goal of transformation has become a major theme for many Christian schools and education organizations in recent years. But what is really meant by this? What is expected to be transformed, by whom, when and how? Transformative learning often happens as the result of some unexpected and disorienting experience (Elias, 1997), and if this is the case how do we explain this transformative process and what might it mean in classroom practice? In this book, we will try to clarify the idea of transformation in perhaps a new way through the suggestion of foundations for an education that may be described as Christian. This is done by examining, with reference to the Bible, the unique elements of the learning process through both the curriculum and the hidden curriculum. This book is largely about the transformation of things seemingly beyond our control that may not be readily visible or apparent, but which actually have their own way of controlling our beliefs and behaviors—almost as if they had a mind of their own!

The animal metaphor used in the title of this book refers to James Sire’s (2015) book Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept. Sire begins his book with the story of a father talking to his son about what supports the world. The father first suggests a camel then when pressed by the son suggests the camel is held up by a kangaroo and, eventually, that the kangaroo is held up by an elephant.

The conversation continues:

“Come on Dad!” his son retorted. “What holds up the Elephant?” His father, in a fit of genius derived from necessity, replied, “It’s . . . it’s . . . it’s Elephant all the way down” (p. 16).

The point Sire is making is that there may be some type of ‘elephant’ that supports our understanding and the ‘elephant’ to which he refers is our worldview. The world-supporting elephant metaphor he uses describes implicit worldview assumptions. These support our thinking and, as they are pre-suppositions, remain mostly at a subconscious level, being what we assume or presuppose ‘normal’ to be. Others have used the elephant metaphor in the sense of being ridden rather than supporting, noting that they can be difficult things to control, especially considering, as with presuppositions, we do not even recognize they are there most of the time. Writing about the difference between the conscious and unconscious (or practical consciousness) division in our beings, Vaisey (2009) referred to Jonathan Haidt’s use of the elephant metaphor in the following way:

The rider [of the elephant], who represents our conscious processes, is the part of ourselves we know best—she can talk, reason, and explain things to our heart’s content. Yet, for the most part, she is not in charge. The elephant, which stands for our automatic processes, is larger and stronger than the rider and is totally unencumbered by the need, or the ability, to justify itself. Driven by the simple mechanism of attraction and repulsion, the elephant goes where it wants. As the metaphor implies, the rider is no match for the elephant in a direct struggle. While the rider usually only pretends to be in control, she can slowly train the elephant over time or perhaps trick it into going a different way. But in any given moment, the elephant—practical consciousness—is usually in charge. For the most part, this is quite advantageous. Having a durable practical consciousness means that rather than having to weigh pros and cons on a daily basis (e.g., “Should I continue to value hard work today?”), we can leave some things up to our habits of judgment and evaluation. (p. 1683)

The task of education, as seen from a biblical perspective, whether it involves teaching in a Christian school or a secular setting, really boils down to ‘training the elephants’ of our students’ practical consciousness. Students enter school with pre-determined ideas of so many things. They have understandings of language and mathematics, of natural sciences and reality. Many of these will have been picked up in their doing of life from birth and, as we will see, and as you would have observed, many of these require transformation. Guiding the transformation process within a Christian context, our aim is that their ‘habits of judgment and evaluation’ will be automatically assumed through the engraining of biblical presuppositions rather than those from the world with which they will otherwise be encumbered.

Available now on in the USA.

Or in Australia.

Both print and Kindle versions available.

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