Students from a variety of backgrounds and faiths join our classes, and feedback from parents and students indicates both they and Christians have found the discussion generated in these settings to be extremely engaging and conducive to fostering critical thinking and discussion skills.
The diversity of views lends itself well to preparing all students for a similar environment in college and in life. It is difficult to prepare to meet diversity without encountering it. It is also difficult to think deeply and develop sound arguments without encountering ideas that challenge us.
Parents are always welcome in classes to listen, and they also have access to recordings of classes. These can provide rich sources for continued discussions at home. See the quote below from the parent of one of our students of another faith for an idea of how this potentially delicate subject is handled in class:
We love how you handled the classes. As Muslims, we did not feel that our children were disrespected or excluded. When there is mention of Christianity, we felt that [our children] were challenged, involved, and accepted for who they are...Your availability to help kids with concepts misunderstood helped tremendously.
While we do discuss all major worldviews, it is important to note that classes are taught from a Christian worldview. In addition to literature from around the world, we also examine and evaluate the Bible as a literary work and as God's Word. As always, students are encouraged to think critically about issues important to them and the group and to discuss them with one another in a respectful manner.
In this environment, students of all beliefs learn both to truly listen to each other and to speak in a way classmates can hear them about a range of issues that sometimes includes faith, as well as other potentially combustible issues. All views are considered thoughtfully and with respect. In the words of Veronica, a former student now in her first year of college, speaking about a class discussion that grew out of reading Orwell's Animal Farm:
We were learning about fallacies and were watching the presidential election debates and, as we watched, we [identified the fallacies that candidates from both sides were using and] were laughing...and we didn't all agree politically, but we felt safe in that environment to express how we felt.
In other words, students learn the art of civil discourse, without which a republic cannot survive.
Critical thinking skills are vital to advanced writing skills. Without a diversity of ideas to force us to think more deeply and critically, students struggle to develop thinking skills. Francis Bacon once said, “Reading maketh the full man, discussion the ready man, and writing the exact man.” Reading fills our minds with ideas; discussion enables us to consider those ideas and thoroughly think through their consequences; writing enables us to clarify any confusion we experience and to crystallize our thoughts into clear statements that are reasoned, logical, and both consider and answer a broad range of perspectives.
The essential nature of reading to this process is one of several reasons that Inspired Writing and Literature pairs upper-level composition courses with literature courses. Classics become classics because they deal with questions and truths that are universal to mankind in every era and circumstance. Literature provides a rich fodder of ideas and varied perspectives for discussion, thinking, and writing.