Igniting the Imagination
Written by: Susan Leonard, 8th Grade Bible Teacher
The All School Assembly which features our 8th Grade Academic Showcase in April is titled “Find Yourself In the Story.” Eighth graders are learning to “imagine the world otherwise” as they work on their “Gen Z” projects: a culminating Middle School interdisciplinary project in which students learn what it means to look at the world with a biblical worldview lens, and talk about it. Eighth graders are asked to answer the question, “What do I care about?” in the world. Then, students choose a topic, identify a problem, research and deliver a TED-Talk like, five minute speech. Topics this year include: “Are Iphones ruining family time?” and “How is social media affecting the lives of teens?” Gen Z Topics range from Science, Technology, Engineering and Math to Business, Education, Religion, The Arts, Politics and Culture. Students learn how to apply the AACS Biblical Worldview Statement; our School’s Foundation and Beliefs learned in Bible class, with an intentional focus on the response in our Worldview statement: “Therefore we respond in worship, love and obedience by seeking truth, serving others and stewarding creation."
According to Barna who over the past year worked closely with Impact 360 Institute on a landmark study of Gen Z and published their findings in a report titled “The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation,” more than ⅓ of today’s teens believe it is not possible to know for sure if God is real and those who do believe are less likely than adults to say they are very convinced that is true. “Their lack of confidence is on pace with the broader culture’s all-out embrace of relativism.” George Barna, founder of Barna Group, has long maintained that “developing a biblical worldview is an essential pillar of unshakeable faith….Analysts believe that worldview discipleship is absolutely essential for lasting faith.” (View the results of the study here: Barna: Who Is Gen Z)
James K.A. Smith, Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College, says that we need to “Re-story the world and that our task as educators is to 'corrupt the youth' precisely by making them citizens of the coming kingdom.” We do this by helping them to “imagine the world otherwise” for "Christian education has for too long been concerned with information rather than formation.” We focus on relationships at this level to transform and teach worldview for several reasons: 1) The research shows this is the first generation born between 1999 and 2015 into a digital world starved for relationships since social media is relationally flat and 2.) This age is peer driven and not all can soar in the abstract (and are limited in life experiences.) Jonathan Morrow Director of Cultural Engagement at Impact 360 Institute in partnership with Barna Group argues that for biblical worldview transformation, students need “3 R’s:” Reasons for the faith (we address these in Bible in Semester Two), Relationships, and Rhythms which are found in worldview practices such as chapel and worship - liturgies at the center of the Christian school. In sum, Gen Z is a project that focuses on biblical worldview and relational problem-solving.
As an example of how we focus on relationships is this: If a student chooses teen suicide or human trafficking as a topic to research and propose a solution, we are intentionally inviting them to engage in a relational thinking activity in small groups with students and Faculty to unmask the worldview frame. We ask them questions such as: “How does this problem contribute to broken relationships?” and “What solution(s) might/ would see a process to restore these relationships” as we engage students to “imagine the world otherwise.” This imagining - we hope - is another portal in to connect to the person hood and reality of an invisible God who creates us for relationships with God each other and creation - while upholding the supremacy and finality of Jesus Christ as the model - the new Adam - of a Father in perfect relationship with his Son.
Information and Formation
Our Gen Z Talks began three years ago with a student volunteer Lunch Club of 10 students, one teacher and one parent volunteer (our current 8th grade Parent Mrs. Townsend McNitt!), to pilot a program that focused on imagination, applying 21st century real world skills, apologetics and rhetoric. We tied the first and second year to our AACS Educational Goals. Now we are excited to layer these goals under a larger frame of biblical worldview and God’s story from creation to restoration. This larger frame allows us to open the conversation to and with more audiences including our parents. With Diane Smith now spear-heading this Gen Z project in English class watch as she continues to build a model in the years to come that engage our parents in “vocational discipleship” - David Kinnaman’s (President of Barna Group) specific call to churches, schools and leadership to reach Generation Z based on their new research findings; to partner in conversations both at our Retreat, Career Day, and throughout the year with our students and their Gen Z topic of choice. AACS is using cutting-edge research to inform and form the next generation.