All posts tagged faith-learning integration

A Faith-based Context for Culturally-Responsive Instruction and an Experiment in Application

As  Christ followers, how we treat others directly reflects on our faith. James’ epistle discusses how our treatment of others is related to our faith. According to Stulac (2003), James 2:1-7 indicates showing favoritism is inconsistent with our faith. Stulac states that, “If they were to show partiality toward certain people because they are rich, these Christians would be acting as if high position came by wealth instead of faith. In that sense, favoritism is a clear contradiction of faith.”  Furthermore, James 2:8-13 emphasizes that favoritism is not limited to how people are treated in terms of their socioeconomic status: “Favoritism is the sin of extending special favor to some people for self-serving purposes” (Stulac, 2003). In terms of education, this could include factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. As educators, then, it is imperative we show no favoritism and create educational environments that engage all learners.

In this regard, culturally-relevant pedagogy (Ladson‐Billings, 1995) provides important foundational elements. Ladson-Billings (1995) defines culturally-relevant teaching as a “pedagogy of opposition” that is committed to collective empowerment and is grounded on three propositions:

  • (a) students must experience academic success,
  • (b) students must develop and/or maintain cultural competence; and
  • (c) students must develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the status quo of the current social order (p. 160).

First, in order to be involved participants in our society, students must learn the necessary academic, social, and political skills. According to Ladson-Billings it is essential that teachers create an educational environment that encourages students to choose academic excellence. In addition, educators must create or make use of curriculum that is relevant and meaningful to the students.

Second, teachers must interweave academic excellence with cultural integrity so that students can become and/or remain culturally-grounded (Ladson-Billings, 1995, p. 161). Ladson-Billings explains, “culturally relevant teachers utilize students’ culture as a vehicle for learning” (p. 161). Certainly, an important consideration of antioppressive education is reaching the students in the margins in a meaningful way. Kumashiro (2002) maintains that in order to teach the “Other,” the complexity of defining the “Other” needs to be considered (p. 37). Kumashiro contends that to do this, teachers must get to know the students and make a continuous effort to connect with those students on the margins. Kumashiro indicates that “rather than assume that a student’s class background or community has no bearing on how he engages with schooling, educators could acknowledge the realities of day-to-day life that can hinder one’s ability to learn” (p. 36). He reasons that educators should not “ignore the differences in their students’ identities” and should instead “learn about, acknowledge, and affirm differences and tailor their teaching to the specifics of their parent population” (Kumashiro, 2002, p. 36). He makes it clear that antioppressive educators take the time to learn about their students’ lives, backgrounds, interests, communities and cultures and use that information to inform their practices. In a similar way, Delpit (1995) states that, “We must keep in mind that education, at its best, hones and develops the knowledge and skills each student already possesses, while at the same time adding new knowledge and skills to that base” (pp. 67-68). These authors make clear the importance of drawing on the culture of the communities in which the students live, but also find effective ways to build on that knowledge.

In a similar way, James reminds us that “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.  But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers” (James 2:8-9).  Stulac (2003) make the case that:

Loving your neighbor as yourself requires an openness to friendship with any neighbor–regardless of that neighbor’s wealth, position, status, influence, race, appearance, attractiveness, dress, abilities or personality . . . The royal law absolutely prohibits the Christian from joining in the favoritism. The follower of the royal law will reach out to any neighbor.

Christian educators are indeed called to teach all students. To do this effectively, teachers need to take the time to get to know each student and differentiate accordingly.

However, despite the efforts of even well-intentioned educators attempt to address issues of diversity in their teaching through the use of the cultural and background information of students, their approaches to teaching and learning can still marginalize students. Davies (2003) claims that, “despite the multiplicity and variability of teacher knowledges” students often lack the freedom to challenge, reject, or reinvent the interpretations presented by the teacher (p. 41). She reasons that while student experiences and background knowledge are often welcomed and used by educators that mean well, “what is brought must conform to tightly set knowledge boundaries and to acceptable forms of saying or knowing, and will be subjected to teachers’ authoritative scrutiny, interpretation, and evaluation” (p. 41). In this regard, Kumashiro (2002) contends that, “Antioppressive educators have an ethical responsibility to reflect constantly on students that they may be disposing of, and on how to rework their practices” (p. 203). Said another way, teaching must be informed by how students learn and not based on the expectation that students learn by adapting to our instruction (Noguera, 2003). Clearly, in addition to the use of cultural and experiential information, the foundational and structural aspects of approaches to teaching and learning are critical.

The third component of culturally-relevant pedagogy according to Ladson-Billings (1995) is that, “Students must develop a broader sociopolitical consciousness that allows them to critique the cultural norms, values, mores, and institutions that produce and maintain social inequalities” (p 162). In addition, Ladson-Billings argues that students must become agents of change, equipped to challenge institutional and societal injustices. Likewise, Kumashiro (2002) reasons that simply discussing differences is not enough and is one reason that the education system continues to be oppressive. Kumashiro states that, “We resist learning that will disrupt the frameworks we traditionally use to make sense of the world and ourselves” (p. 57). To move forward, the practices of educators must challenge the current system that privileges certain identities, social relations, and worldviews.

This is in line with our commitment as followers of Christ. Anderson (2011) indicates that the words justice, just, or justly are used 530 times in the English Bible. Isaiah (Isaiah 58:6) speaks of fasting from injustice, rather than fasting from food. He states: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6). In a similar way, Micah was calling the Israelites, as well as Christians today, to live in a way that is fundamentally different than from the worldly standards (Gilliard, 2013). The Israelites were being challenged to confront the injustices of their institutions and of their society; God was expecting more than religious rituals and sacrifices. Both Micah’s (Micah 6) indictment of the treatment of the marginalized populations in Israel and Judah and Isaiah’s bold words should be a call to action for all educators. Gilliard (2013) states that,

Most believers today acquiesce to societal injustice because we do not feel convicted when we see or learn about them. We act apathetically because we know how radically different our lives would look if we were to intentionally step outside of our comfort zones into the faithfulness to which Scripture calls us.

According to Gilliard, Micah is challenging us to step out of our comfort zones in order to address injustices that marginalize individuals not just on an individual level, but on an institutional and societal level. For educators who are followers of Christ, this takes on a dichotomous nature. First, are called to address societal and institutional injustices. Moreover, we are called to prepare our students to be aware of injustices as well as equip them to extinguish those injustices.

In the end, culturally-responsive pedagogy allows educators to live out their faith in real and meaningful ways. This is accomplished through laying a foundation that is built on the expectation of academic excellence for all students, by designing an environment where students will continue to mature as culturally competent individuals, and by creating the expectation  that students will develop an awareness of injustices in the educational system that prompts them to action.

An Experiment in Application

As a Christian scholar at a Christian university, I attempted to  incorporate culturally-responsive pedagogy in my courses. Initially, I used Ladson-Billing’s (1995) three propositions of culturally-relevant teaching as a framework for course development. Within this framework, Brookfield’s (1995) lenses for becoming a critically reflective teacher are used to inform the creation of the outcomes, assessments, and experiences for teaching and learning that make up the course. Brookfield lays out four critically reflective lenses through which we can view our teaching: (a) our autobiographies as learners and teachers, (b) our students’ eyes, (c) our colleagues’ experiences, and (d) theoretical literature. My experiment in developing curriculum using a culturally-relevant teaching framework and Brookfield’s critically reflective lenses produced four touch points, and a variety of practical applications, that may provide inspiration to other teachers seeking to implement culturally-relevant instruction:

My experiences as a teacher and learner provide grounding for my approach to teaching and the structure of courses. These experiences encouraged:

  • Making use of materials and resources which are relevant, rigorous, and practical.

  • Including materials that draw on a diverse collection of perspectives shared through various types of media.

  • Building on the background experiences of the students in the course in order to engage students in meaningful ways.

  • Creating a space for students to analyze and reflect on material before they come to class.

  • Designing a collaborative classroom environment that is built on the reflections and thoughts of the students.

  • Meeting with each student early in the semester for 15 minutes for an informal conversation in an effort to start building relationships.

  • Taking the time to learn each student’s name during the first or second session and being able to pronounce it correctly.

  • Building trust with students prior to engaging in tough conversations


Culturally-relevant instruction draws on the perspectives of students in a number of different ways including:

  • Having numerous conversations with a diverse group of former students about their experiences in a given course.

  • Asking former and current students for feedback related to areas of strength as well as ideas for improvement and growth.

  • Learning about each student in the class early in the semester by meeting with students for 15 minutes for an informal conversation.

  • Committing to making one or two course modifications based on the feedback from a midterm evaluation tool such as the Learner Perspective on Instruction.

  • Making course revisions based on the student responses on the IDEA evaluation.


Initiating conversations with Bethel colleagues, both in and outside of my department, as well as other practitioners or stakeholders, provided crucial information to inform my instruction. These insights included

  • Encouraging students to seek out relationships with individuals who are different than them (i.e., in terms of culture, race, gender, socioeconomic status).

  • Creating a classroom environment that challenges all students to excel and achieve academic excellence.

  • Developing a critical consciousness in students that leads them to see societal and institutional injustices around them and spurs them to appropriate action.


Immersing myself in the theoretical literature revealed the importance of

  • Using culturally-responsive instruction to inform overall course design.

  • Using Visible Thinking Routines (Ritchhart, Church, & Morrison, 2011), or similar tools, to encourage students to think about, discuss, interact with, and dissect articles, blogs, podcasts, and video clips in order to address all three principles of culturally-relevant pedagogy.

  • Providing a space for students to engage with and process the material before unpacking the concepts and ideas in a classroom environment with peers and the teacher.

  • Having students post their responses ahead of class so that the teacher can make use of student insights and perspectives during in-class discussions.

  • Having students work in collaborative groups to interact with the material in meaningful ways.

  • Creating an active learning environment that is beneficial for all students including those that are sometimes marginalized in traditional classroom settings (e.g., Blacks, first generation college students, females; Eddy & Kelly, 2014).


In the end, the use Brookfield’s (1995) four lenses of critical reflection are proving to be effective tools to guide and inform the design and the teaching of a course that embodies the three principles of culturally-responsive instruction (Ladson-Billings, 1995).  This involves creating an environment where students are expected to work to the best of their ability in a way that honors the words of Paul (Colossians 3:23-24):

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

It also entails getting to know every student and using that information to personalize activities for teaching and learning. Moreover, it necessitates providing a structure that inspires students to move beyond their comfort zone and spur them to be agents of social change to eradicate institutional injustices. Our culturally-responsive work with the next generation is essential and part of our own work of being change agents.



Anderson, L. (2011). Act justly. Unpublished manuscript, Wooddale Church, Eden Prairie, MN.

Brookfield, S. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco, CA: Josey Bass.

Davies, B. (2003). Shards of glass: Children reading & writing beyond gendered identities. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Delpit, L. (1995). Other people’s children: Cultural conflict in the classroom. New York: New Press.

Eddy, S. L., & Hogan, K. A. (2014). Getting under the hood: how and for whom does increasing course structure work? CBE-Life Sciences Education, 13(3), 453-468. doi: 10.1187/cbe.14-03-0050

Gilliard, D. (2013, March 23) What does Micah 6:8 really mean? [Web log post].

Retrieved from

Kumashiro, K. (2002). Troubling education: Queer activism and antioppressive pedagogy. New York, NY: Routledge Falmer.

Ladson‐Billings, G. (1995). But that’s just good teaching! The case for culturally relevant pedagogy. Theory into practice, 34(3), 159-165.

Noguera, P. (2003). City schools and the American dream: Reclaiming the promise of public education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (2011). Making thinking visible: How to promote engagement, understanding, and independence for all learners. San Francisco, CA: Josey Bass.

Stulac, George M. (2003). IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Vol. 16). Leichester, England: IVP Academic. Retreived from