Equipping Students with a Christ-centered Worldview

A decade ago, concern for students to grasp a biblical, holistic view of the world prompted Belhaven to create its own core curriculum. This August, Belhaven celebrates the 10th birthday of the innovative Worldview Curriculum (WVC), a core curriculum that focuses on the grand narrative of history, with the humanities woven together and taught chronologically from a Christian perspective.

Everyone likes a good story. For centuries, children have sat curled up in bed with wide eyes, listening to fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Today, if “Humpty Dumpty” is mentioned, most adults can recite verbatim, conjuring up images from their own childhood:


“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the king’s horses,

And all the king’s men,

Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

But what if parents and schoolteachers began telling this classic rhyme in new ways? What if they kept the same elements, but Humpty Dumpty was retold in whatever order the reader chose? It might sound something like this:

“All the king’s horses,

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

And all the king’s men

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

Ridiculous? Yes, but this incoherent rhyme is a good metaphor for the fragmented landscape of education today, which stresses the parts over the whole. Take the modern liberal arts core curriculum, for example. Students take their foundational classes in any order, studying ancient Greek civilization side by side with Renaissance literature and 20th century Modern Art. To add to the incoherency, they are often taught from varying worldview perspectives in each of these classes. Like poor Humpty Dumpty, the pieces are scattered with little hope of ever creating a coherent whole.

A decade ago, concern for students to grasp a biblical, holistic view of the world prompted Belhaven to create its own core curriculum. This August, Belhaven celebrates the 10th birthday of the innovative Worldview Curriculum (WVC), a core curriculum that focuses on the grand narrative of history, with the humanities woven together and taught chronologically from a Christian perspective.

Provost Dr. Dan Fredericks knew that the former approach to education would not prepare Belhaven students as well as a cohesive, interdisciplinary approach could. However, he didn’t see any schools setting an example for Belhaven to follow. He says that, “At best, there is a silo approach among many Christian institutions—each individual department does its best to represent their own discipline from a biblical perspective. This is admirable, but it is not enough.” So, he rolled up his sleeves and went to work designing a core curriculum that harmonized the humanities into a chronological study that hinged on a biblical worldview.

As Belhaven prepared to leave the traditionally accepted path of general education, tough questions awaited: Could a core curriculum have meaning beyond disparate survey courses? Could faculty members work together from across disciplinary lines to form a cohesive, contextual, and chronological curriculum that is centered on the Christian Worldview? In other words…could Humpty Dumpty be put back together again?

After searching the educational landscape and much deliberation with the faculty, Dr. Fredericks knew that Belhaven would need to start from scratch. With a single sheet of paper and pen in hand, he drew 4 columns and placed history, art, literature, and philosophy side by side, so that the story of the world was told from beginning to end. This simple sheet of paper marks the humble beginning of Belhaven’s unique Worldview Curriculum.

The Birth of the WVC

Move-in day of August 1999 didn’t look any different from the past—scores of freshmen unpacked in the last hot breath of summer heat, parents learned how to take bunk beds apart only to put them back together again, and almost everyone took at least one trip to Wal-Mart for snacks and storage bins.  Many of the freshmen of ’99 were clueless about the countercultural curriculum that would challenge and inspire their freshmen class.

Annie (Roberts) Gundy ’03, Nathan McNeill ’03, and Matt Quarterman ’03 were all freshmen in 1999. They dutifully registered for the cryptic “WVC” classes that had names like Form and Meaning (art and music), Christian Perspective (philosophy), and of course, the familiar subjects of literature and history.

As Matt Quarterman, an English major,  puts it, “It was a really exciting time in the life of the college […] We knew we were the first batch of students to go through [the Worldview Curriculum], so I think it made us all more critical in examining what we were taught and how, but also more open-minded because it was such a big experiment.” Everyone was intrigued to see how this cutting-edge curriculum would affect their college experience, and as the guinea pig class, everyone expected some bumps and surprises along the way.

One such surprise was the way the WVC brought the freshman class together across the typical dividing lines of major, athletics team, or hometown. Since every incoming freshman is required to take the WVC until the close of their sophomore year, students get to know a more diverse group of people. Reminiscing about one of his favorite memories of the WVC, Matt Quarterman remarks: “I love remembering the conversation I had in the dorm at 1 a.m. with a fullback, arguing whether Oedipus’ fate was his own fault or the gods’. That’s the kind of thing you just don’t get outside of WVC, exposing the whole spectrum of the student body to the same high-octane stuff.”

The WVC also contrasted with the general education requirements of peers at other institutions.  Annie Gundy, also an English major, describes her surprise when, “at the same time I was experiencing the WVC at Belhaven, my sister was experiencing a very different education at a large public university.  When we would have conversations, she was in awe of the knowledge that I had obtained in such a small period of time.  Over the course of the two years of WVC, I learned more than she did in all four years of her education—more than just book knowledge.”

One of the strong points of the WVC is the way it puts everything into close proximity.  Nathan McNeill, a philosophy major, reflects, “The WVC doesn’t contextualize your education for you—you still have to be paying attention to get value—but what it does do is put the ideas, events, and artifacts of history in close enough proximity to each other to make the relationships plain. Unless you see two things side by side, you may never recognize that they are the same.”

When Annie, Matt, and Nathan look at how taking part in the inaugural class of the WVC has influenced the way they think today, each of them offers a unique perspective.  McNeill, who works in Product Strategy at Bomgar corporation, says, “Most of the facts, dates, and names are gone, but the thought processes that the WVC encouraged have been very instrumental in my work and in my family. For instance, at the company I work for, we see our work as service to the Lord and service to our employees. We recognize that even though we work in the marketplace, the marketplace has a context. The earth is the Lord’s, and ALL (including our business) it contains. This is the same principle that the WVC taught, just using history and art rather than spreadsheets and websites.”

For Gundy, a full-time mother of two, it’s about everyday living: “It’s fun to see that knowledge [from the WVC] come out when I experience even small things like listening to music on the radio with my kids, or in my small group at church when we talk about the theology of different time periods.”

All would agree that the WVC gave them a foundation to view life with the lens of the Christian worldview. As Quarterman, an Apple Store trainer who also completed a 2nd degree in songwriting, says, “It strengthened my sense that looking at things through this unified lens—making these connections—is a legitimate and necessary way to view our own culture and history.”

With its synchronized schedule across the humanities, The WVC is not an easy curriculum to implement, but professors are passionate about it. All of the professors within the humanities are involved, and many have been involved since its inception. Regular WVC faculty meetings mean that professors dialogue about what they are covering in class. As Dr. Edwin McAllister, Associate Professor of English, says, “I get to find out what Dr. Hause is teaching, how Dr. Kenyon is testing, and when Dr. Hubele is covering the romantics.  The process improves the overall quality of the WVC by ensuring not only that our schedules are synchronized, but also that we are emphasizing many of the same themes and historical processes.”

Dr. Melissa Hause, Associate Professor of Art History and Dean of the Honors College, is passionate about teaching students to look for connections. She sees the WVC as “an opportunity to help students grasp what I believe is the most important thing about history:  that people in previous historical periods who wrote books, set up political and religious systems, built cities, created artifacts, fought wars, settled new territories, etc. were just that:  people, human beings made in the image of God who were faced with the same inescapable questions about the meaning of life that every one of us has to face.”

Dr. Hause emphasizes that the purpose of the WVC is to “enable students to really grasp that things don’t happen in isolation—humans don’t do things in isolation. Political systems, artistic styles, works of literature, family structures, and organizations of society are all interconnected. All of these things are bound up together and fundamentally shaped by basic beliefs about the nature of the world.”

The WVC is about more than just the core curriculum, though. It affects the entire campus. Dr. McAllister describes the WVC as an important foundation to the much larger picture at Belhaven: “As Christians, we believe that every area of life should be under the lordship of Christ; as Christian educators, we are working to develop courses and curricula that encourage students to see their world not as a disparate pile of disconnected factoids, but as a marvelous, integrated part of a beautiful tapestry woven by Christ himself. So if the WVC affects students’ lives, and I think it does, it does so as part of a larger design at work at Belhaven.”

Growth

As with any new program, there are always knots to untie and bumps to smooth out. The WVC has been in a perpetual state of evaluation and reform since its inception. The faculty members meet several times a semester to review all of the works to see how they are fitting together. Each year has seen changes in the structure or syllabi in order to improve the way WVC is taught and structured.

Some aspects of the WVC have presented challenges from the very beginning. In order to synchronize the classes chronologically, most of the WVC classes have been 1 or 2 hour credits. So, for 6 hours of credit a student might have to take 4 classes. This often led to harried students who felt like their workload was too heavy for a 1 or 2 hour credit class. Because of the credit structure, students also have had difficulty transferring their credits to other institutions. 

The course structure has also been a challenge for scheduling students, particularly students in athletics or the arts who have limited availability.

With these challenges in mind, faculty and administration have been working to consolidate the components of the WVC, and changes are in place for this fall. Dr. Randall Smith, Associate Professor of English and Director of the Creative Writing program, redesigned the WVC, and he said the goal was “to move the pieces of the WVC around to make the curriculum more user-friendly for students.” Dr. McAllister agrees, and he says the revisions should “make life much easier from the students’ perspective: fewer tests and a simpler weekly schedule.”

Literature and art will be combined into one 3-hour course, and the history and philosophy components will do the same. The revisions to the WVC does mean a heavier workload for the professors as they work closely to combine syllabi and tests, but they seem eager to do what it takes to make Belhaven a great place to learn. All of these changes will take effect for the 2009 incoming freshmen, and Dr. Fredericks hopes that “this will solve the logistical challenge of the students, while staying true to the content and the vision for the Worldview Curriculum.”

10th Birthday

On the eve of the WVC’s 10th birthday, everyone who has been involved in creating, teaching, and taking the Worldview Curriculum feels a bit like they are watching their child enter the threshold of adulthood. Members of the faculty and administration have poured nearly a decade into forming a cohesive core curriculum and over two thousand students have experienced the rigors, challenges and joys of the curriculum.

Like their predecessors, current students have been impacted by the WVC. Phillip Holmes, a senior Biblical Studies major from Pickens, Miss., says, “I had no idea what a worldview was when I entered Belhaven. The summer before I came to Belhaven I had a conversation with a very intelligent but misguided unbeliever. He mentioned Deism and other beliefs to describe what he believed, and I had no idea what he was talking about. Because of the Worldview Curriculum I’ve been equipped to participate in discussions like this.” Though the WVC had its challenges for Holmes, who juggled basketball along with the rigorous WVC classes, he says that, “From now on, everything I approach—movies, books, etcetera—I will approach it with Christ in mind and I will look at it from a Christian perspective.”

Sarah Vanbiber is a junior Creative Writing major from Texas. As an Honors College fellow, she says she is trained “to look for connections.” She recalls the first time she really “got” the WVC:

“In the first month of my first semester, we were studying the Greek Empire in Civilization, learning about the Knossos frescoes in Art, and reading Medea in Literature. Suddenly I was able to see the worldview, the cultural practices, and the thought-processes influencing the art, literature, and society of the time. Through the connection I saw between these differing fields within one time period and cultural context, I came to a deeper understanding of the complexity of history and humanity.”

As the updated Worldview curriculum goes forward, future generations of Belhaven students will have the opportunity to see history, art, literature, and philosophy in context with one another and in light of the Christian worldview. With this biblical, holistic view of the world, Belhaven will continue to see graduates who are putting the pieces together and changing the world for Christ—in every sphere of life.

3 thoughts on “Equipping Students with a Christ-centered Worldview

  1. congratulations on the 10th anniversary of wvc. i am proud of
    my alma mater! i wish i could audit the wvc courses. do you
    have the lectures on dvd?

    tom c. maynor ’61
    meridian

  2. Hi Mr. Maynor,

    Our Online program has dvds of the WVC. Please contact me for more details: 601-965-7044. I’m so glad that you are interested in the WVC-it really is a fabulous curriculum.

    Best,
    Merilee

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