A Christmas Lesson for Language Arts

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We recognize birthdays to celebrate the life of a person. On a national level, we celebrate four birthdays of people that have impacted our world: Martin Luther King, Jr. (celebrated as a federal holiday on the third Monday of January), George Washington and Abraham Lincoln (celebrated as a federal holiday on the third Monday of February), and Jesus Christ (celebrated as a federal holiday on December 25).

On their birthdays we don’t make a big deal of baby Martin and George and Abe lying in their cribs in their diapers. Instead, as we should, we acknowledge the impact their lives had, and continue to have, on society.

Christmas, of course, is different because the birth of Jesus was a monumentally different event. No mere human was born. God’s Son became flesh and dwelt among us. The event, and all that surrounded it, is worthy of honor and glory and praise in, and of, itself! For Christians, who make up the majority of Americans, celebrating his birth is a big deal.

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I encourage public school teachers to use the run-up to Christmas as an opportunity to not only teach about the biblical account of Jesus’ birth, but also to talk about the impact of his life. Just as teachers use Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Presidents Day to talk about the impact of these men, teachers should educate students on the impact of Jesus while recognizing his birth.

The history of Western civilization is filled with opportunities to discuss the impact of Jesus on government, culture, and values. Here is an idea involving English/Language Arts that teachers can use to help students appreciate a simple, yet often overlooked, way Jesus influenced our culture.

A Classroom Lesson

Explain that any birthday celebration is a recognition of the life of the person being celebrated. For Christians, the birth of Jesus has important religious significance. However, anyone can appreciate the impact his life had on society. One simple example is found in the common phrases we use.

Introduce students to phrases we use today that had their origin in the words of Jesus. For example, “A house divided against itself…” comes from Matthew 12:25 when Jesus said: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.”

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The phrase means there is no strength in disunity. In his nomination acceptance speech of 1858, Abraham Lincoln famously said “a house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.”

List the phrases (below) on one page. In groups, have students decide what each phrase means and write it next to the phrase.

On another page, give the context of Jesus’ words. Cut and paste the text from an online Bible to provide them with the full context of how Jesus used the phrase. This is not devotional, it’s academic. It is a Language Arts lesson.

If your state has Common Core Language Arts standards, you might even quote the standard at the bottom of the student handout (RL.8.9 “Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types from myths, traditional stories, or religious works such as the Bible.”)

For California, quote academic standard 6.7.6, “Note the origins of Christianity in the Jewish Messianic prophecies, the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as described in the New Testament…”

For Texas, quote academic standard 113.18(b)(19), “explain the significance of religious holidays and observances such as Christmas…”

If you’d like our research on your state’s academic standards regarding the Bible and Christianity, request it by using gogateways.org/contact.

Here are some examples you could use in your Language Arts lesson:

“Turn the other cheek.” – Matthew 5:39

“Give the shirt off your back.” – Matthew 5:40

“Go the extra mile.” – Matthew 5:41

“A house divided against itself…” – Matthew 12:25

The Good Samaritan – Luke 10:30-37

“Wolf in sheep’s clothing” – Matthew 7:15

“Red sky at night, shepherd’s (or sailor’s) delight.” – Matthew 16:2

“Sign of the times” – Matthew 16:3

“Salt of the earth” – Matthew 5:13

“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” – Matthew 26:41

Learning about the birth of Jesus is an important cultural lesson for all students. It is also important for them to learn of his teachings that have so impacted the world. Learning about commonly used phrases that originated with Jesus is just a fun and simple way to help students make another connection between the holiday and the culture.

For more resources, visit GoGateways.org/christmas

 

Eric Buehrer is the president of Gateways to Better Education

"In God We Trust" Promoted in Schools?

Six states — Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and Arizona — have recently approved legislation requiring or allowing public schools to display the words “In God We Trust” in prominent locations. South Carolina, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Kentucky may soon pass similar laws.

“In God We Trust” was adopted as the official motto of the United States in 1956. The fourth stanza of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” written during the War of 1812, includes, “And this be our motto: ‘In God is our Trust.’” The motto first appeared on U.S. coins in 1864 and on paper currency in 1957.

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However, if the phrase is not understood and appreciated, educators, like those at one Tennessee school (see photo), might conform to the letter of the law by simply posting a copy of a dollar bill. Students will never notice it.

Teaching Your Children and Students a Civics Lesson

It is important that educators teach their students the meaning of the motto. From an educational standpoint, every time students see the national motto they should think of its special meaning for the country.

When used as a national motto, the phrase “In God We Trust” is not a personal declaration. Every person in America does not trust in the same God and some do not believe there is a god at all. How can a nation as diverse as ours make such a specific declaration? 

The phrase reflects the civil foundation upon which America was founded in the same way that “one nation under God” does in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all Men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”

America is unique in that it sees rights coming from God, not from the government. Instead of the divine right of kings, our Founders asserted the divine rights of the common man. That was truly revolutionary.

Following the lead of the Declaration, nearly every state constitution begins with thankfulness to the “Sovereign Ruler of the Universe” or “Grateful to Almighty God.” When learning civics, students should understand that the laws of their state flowed from the principle that there is a God who gave Mankind certain unalienable rights and that the state legislators were crafting laws to protect (not grant) those rights.

Giving our national motto more visibility is important. However, without parents and educators promoting its importance, schools can conform to the letter of the law and not inspire students about its value for their lives.

Discussion Questions for Students

1. Since all Americans don’t trust in God, why have a national motto stating, “In God We Trust”?

2. What does the preamble to our state’s constitution say about God (click here) and how does that relate to our national motto?

RESOURCE: For lesson plan ideas on a variety of topics, CLICK HERE.

 

The Ten Commandments & Inalienable Rights

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It is vital that students learn how their world is a better place because of Christianity's influence.

The Declaration of Independence famously asserts that "all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights." What isn't so well known is how Reformation thinkers, two hundred years before America's founding, saw the Ten Commandments as the basis for these rights.

John Witte, Jr., Professor of Law at Emory University, points out in his essay, "Calvinist Contributions to Freedom in Early Modern Europe," that Reformers saw the Ten Commandments (also referred to as the Decalogue) as more than merely laws about what not to do. The commandments logically assumed certain rights from the Creator. Witte points out:

"While the First Table of the Decalogue anchored each person's religious rights...the Second Table anchored each person's natural social rights and correlative duties."

Religious Freedom

While "You shall have no other gods before Me" did not allow much freedom (without consequences) for Israel, Reformation leaders believed the commandment implied that people must have the right to religious freedom. If people throughout the world are to fulfill this command they must have freedom from government coercion. They cannot be made to violate their religious conscience and worship another god. (Think of Daniel and his friends in Babylon.)

Right to Life and Self-Defense

Reformation thinkers understood the command, "you shall not murder," to also mean that people have the right not to be murdered - a right to self-defense, as well as a right to care for and protect life. 

Right to Property

Reformers saw, "You shall not steal," as affirming the right to own things--property rights. This also means that, in order to afford property, people have the right to be paid for their labor.

Right to Reputation

"You shall not bear false witness" also means that everyone has the right to a good reputation and protection from slander and defamation.

Protection of Marriage and Family

Reformers saw, "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife; and you shall not covet your neighbor's house..." to also mean that their household should be respected and protected by the government and from the government (as in, the Fourth Amendment's protection against unlawful search and seizure).

Johannes Althusius (pronounced alt-housus) was a lawyer, a Calvinist, and a leader in the new Dutch legal system developed in the late 1560s and 1570s. Witte comments that Althusisus expanded on other Calvinist thinkers' ideas and more fully developed...

"the ideas that the republic is formed by a covenant between the rulers and the people before God; that the foundation of this covenant is the law of God and nature; that the Decalogue is the best expression of this higher law...that violations of these rights and liberties or of the divine and natural laws that inform and empower them, are instances of tyranny that must trigger organized constitutional resistance."

The Pilgrims were Calvinists who carried these ideas to America which ultimately led to the Founding Fathers' thinking about ordered liberty and revolution against tyranny.

Where This Can be Taught in Public Schools

This history lesson can be taught in any class that addresses subjects such as the ancient Israelites, the Reformation, the Puritans, the Pilgrims, America's founding, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

Conflict in North Carolina

In North Carolina, the Cumberland County Board of Education recently voted 6-3 to keep the Ten Commandments posted in some of its schools. The Ten Commandments have been part of "Freedom Walls" which display a variety of historical documents including Magna Carta, the Mayflower Compact, and the Declaration of Independence.

Educators in Cumberland County as well as all of North Carolina need to look beyond the symbolism of "Freedom Walls" (which few students will even read). I urge them to also teach about how the Ten Commandments impacted Western Civilization and, indeed, the world. Here are just three examples of where public school students in North Carolina are EXPECTED to learn this:

Sixth Grade Civics & Government - "The student will know: The basic tenets of major world religions and philosophies such as ...Judaism ...Christianity...; Examples of how ...Judaism... Christianity... transformed various societies."

High School World History - "Students will know: How written laws such as ...the Ten Commandments reinforced the belief that government had a responsibility for what behaviors were acceptable in a society and the consequences of unacceptable behaviors."

High School American History 1 - "Student will know: How the Protestant Reformation impacted European exploration and settlement of North America. How the social and religious movements (e.g., Great Awakening) impacted religions in the colonies, family and educational practices. How and to what extent specific factors such as ...religion... helped lead to the political, social and economic development of North American colonies."

Symbolism has its place. But symbolism is only valuable when those who see it understand the substance behind it.

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"Calvinist Contributions to Freedom in Early Modern Europe," Chapter eight in Christianity and Freedom, Volume 1: Historical Perspectives, Edited by Timothy Samuel Shah and Allen D. Hertzke; Cambridge University Press, 2016, NY, NY

Resources:

Easter in Public Schools

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Education leaders from around the country recognize the importance of students learning about the Bible. For example, a California sixth grade academic standard expects students to learn about "the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as described in the New Testament" (see p. 26; standard 6.7.6)

In Massachusetts,  seventh graders are to "describe the origins of Christianity and its central features: A. monotheism; B. the belief in Jesus as the Messiah and God's son who redeemed humans from sin; C. the concept of salvation; D. belief in the Old and New Testament; E. the lives and teachings of Jesus and Saint Paul." (see p. 47; standard 7.41)

In Florida, sixth-graders are to "identify key figures and the basic beliefs of early Christianity." In Texas, sixth-graders are expected to explain "the significance of religious holidays and observances" including Easter. (scroll to 113.18.B.19.B)

Objectivity

It is important when teaching students about a religion that you remain objective. The best way to achieve this is by attribution. For example, when introducing a lesson on the Resurrection, explain to students that it is from Luke's account of the life of Jesus. Use phrases such as, "Luke wrote that...," or "The Bible says...".

When referring to beliefs about the story, use phrases such as "Christians believe...," or "Martin Luther King, Jr. believed..." 

Your goal should be to introduce students to the story and help them understand the influence it has had on history, literature, art, and music. The lesson is not designed to prove the story is true, nor question whether the story is accurate.

According to the U.S. Department of Education's guidelines on students' religious liberties, your students have the right to freely express themselves regarding their personal beliefs. However, as moderator of a class discussion on this topic, you should emphasize that every student be respectful regarding their classmates' comments. No student should be made to feel excluded for expressing belief or disbelief in the story.

As a teacher, you can be confident in addressing this topic. This story has had significant influence in world history and should be understood as such. You are not teaching Sunday school; you are teaching a subject that has impacted history, social movements, politics, literature, art, and music.

Resource:

You can request a copy of our Easter Lesson Plan for Public Schools by CLICKING HEREIt adapts Luke 22-24 into a textbook-style lesson with pictures, vocabulary, culture facts, and discussion questions.