by Ted Ward and Samuel F. Rowen
Especially within the realm of evangelical missions, many eyes are turned toward an intriguing phenomenon: the “extension seminary” for short—more properly, “theological education by extension”—is in center stage. Rarely has such a basic alteration of institutional modes moved so rapidly, hopscotching its way completely around the world.
Especially within the realm of evangelical missions, many eyes are turned toward an intriguing phenomenon: the "extension seminary" for short—more properly, "theological education by extension"—is in center stage. Rarely has such a basic alteration of institutional modes moved so rapidly, hopscotching its way completely around the world. Where this "movement" (if an educational development can be called a "movement") has touched, enrollments in theological education have multiplied and the educational experiences have taken on a fresh relevancy to the needs of the church of Jesus Christ.
As we examine some of the sources and consequences of the extension seminary idea, the focus is for relating the unfolding insights of behavioral science and their immediate consequences in changes in the scholarly and academic communities to that most important of all human affairs, the church of Jesus Christ.
Please do not take offence by the reference to the church as a "human affair." Surely it is both human and divine in both function and power. Nevertheless, a behavioral viewpoint leads to the contention that we will make progress if we recognize the church as a human function. Is it not in the biblical descriptions of the church where we find that disciples—people—are the hands and feet, arms, legs, eyes and ears, of the church? That although Christ is the head, the church is subject to human fallibility and weakness?
There are two trends in contemporary education that have great import for the educational ministries of the church. The first trend is the continuing shift away from campus-based education toward field-based education, with some of the finest education today consisting of effective blends of campus and field experiences. Secondly, there is a rapidly growing sense of disillusionment over the relative failures of the institutional forms of education to deliver on their promises. These two trends underlie the phenomenon of the "extension seminary."
We shall examine these trends as well as the theoretical and operational consequences of. the contemporary reform of theological education, and we shall do so within the framework of concepts that several of us working with the Committee to Assist Missionary Education Overseas have been using.
Theological education by extension has opened the door for us to take a fresh look at our training programs by offering an alternate strategy to solving some of the perplexing bottlenecks in theological education.
In the rapid transmission of new movements or new ideas, there is also the multiplication of misconceptions. One popular misconception is that theological education by extension is a noble attempt to make the best of a bad situation. Images are conjured up that things are getting worse and worse and in desperation we must do something to alter the declining effectiveness in the production of trained leaders.
As those engaged in theological education by extension began to give progress reports, a polarization arose as to which was the superior method of training—residence or extension. These discussions often proved unfruitful and a true assessment of theological training became more difficult. Theological education by extension, in its proper perspective, can be seen as part of a world-wide trend to fashion better procedures of professional training. By definition, professional training is specialized training which prepares an individual for a high-level, client-oriented service. The training of a pastor is professional training in this sense because specialized training is needed to prepare a leader to serve people. The trend in professional training is to include field-based experiences as an integral part of the curriculum and to design opportunities to integrate newly-acquired knowledge with these experiences.
Theological education by extension is not an attempt to make the best of a bad situation. It is part of a world-wide trend based upon substantial research on how people learn. The early advocates and participants in extension programs did not always see the relationships between the extension designs and good learning theory. But the fact that the extension theological education concept respects the necessary conditions for effective learning has attracted the attention of many professional educators—including some who are not directly interested in theological education.
Some see extension theological training as an attempt to relate to masses of untrained leaders. The conservative estimate that there are 60,000 functional pastors in Latin America without theological training is indeed sobering. But with equally compelling logic there is the argument that the greatest need is for high quality leadership development which can fashion the course of the emerging churches. So, all too easily, fixed positions have emerged which see extension as the answer to the quantitative aspect and residence as the answer to the qualitative aspect.
The issue cannot be easily resolved in a quantitative/ qualitative scheme. A sober assessment of the accomplishments of our present institutions, in spite of many positive contributions, reveal that they have not produced the quality of leadership that we desire. In contrast, simply changing to an extension program will not automatically solve the problem. The extension program may merely redirect the inadequacies of tie present program. This is just giving a new name to old processes. Designing a sound professional (theological) training is broader than an institutional management question – extension or residence. The prior questions are: What constitutes a valid theological education in Manila, or Tokyo, or rural Nigeria? What does the student need to learn to know, to do, to be? How can learning experiences be structured which will achieve these goals?
There are certain psychological foundations which undergird effective learning. Some are well known; others have had little attention given to them in the curriculum design of theological education. The student learns best when he proceeds from the known to the unknown. He learns best when he is promptly, required to use the new information and promptly receives confirmation or correction of the new learning. But very significantly, the student learns best when he perceives the value of the newly acquired information. Perceived value is just another way of saying that the information is relevant – and seen to be relevant—to the demands (real-life situation) being placed upon the learner. Students learn best not in an abstract or remote environment, but in the actual experiential context in which the knowledge must be applied. There the opportunity for perceiving the value of new information is experientially available.
The "extension seminary" – what is it, and what is behind it? First, a word to establish historical perspective: the modes of education manifested in the extension seminary idea are not new. For example, a key factor in John Wesley’s ministry was his teaching of village pastors. His approach was in startling contrast to the traditions of formal education. Instead of an admissions office he had a horse; he used no classrooms, only the countryside and cottage kitchens; his students had no dormitories, instead the teacher slept in their lofts. Was there ever before such a teacher whose preference for non-formal education stood out in stark contrast to the established systems of his day? Indeed there was! And that great teacher – for indeed he was recognized and acknowledged in his own day as a great teacher—set many precedents for excellent ways and means of developing leadership for the church. But in their eagerness to do the work of Christ more efficiently, those who are called by his name have eagerly embraced and adopted the educational models of the secular institutions.
Just why leaders of the church over the centuries have made so little attempt to understand and appreciate the teaching techniques and environments used by Jesus will likely remain one of the great mysteries. Wesley caught a glimpse of the essence; the Presbyterians in Guatemala in the mid-1960’s caught another. But I believe they caught their glimpses in reference to the need to reach more people with theological education. The other basic meaning of Jesus’ non-formal approach is its potentiality for education of high quality and worth. There are four valid arguments for the development of a field-based approach to theological education:
The first argument is historical, deriving from the nature of the training ministry of Jesus Christ and from the recurrences of his procedures as exemplified in Martin Luther and John Wesley, for example.
The second argument is demographical. In most societies of the world it is impossible for all but the rich or the highly subsidized and dependent to break away from their work, their families, and their communal roles in order to go off to school. Thus those who avail themselves of campus-based education tend not to be of the same sort as those who pastor churches. In fact, the major reason that the costs of operating theological educational establishments tends to be so very high (in light of their very small output) is not because there are only few people to train but because those who most need the training are not able to get to the institution. There are three demographic factors that must be worked into the formula for cost-effective pastoral education: geographical, in the sense of where the pastors are versus where the theological school is; economic, in the sense of support for the pastor in-training and his family, and sociological, in the matter of what sort of person, how much of what sorts of previous education and experience and what sort of cultural background a person must have in order to fit into the life of the school. With reference to this latter, it has been noted that one of the most conspicuous consequences of shifting to an extension approach is that the average age of students is much older. The residence approach caters to younger and less "attached" men. The extension approach accommodates men whose family and community ties cannot be broken or suspended.
The third argument for the extension approach is theological. It is obviously necessary to consider not only who does come into a training program, but who should come. If the purpose of theological education is to assist the church through the training of pastors, that is one thing, but if the purpose is to train men for the church – that they might become pastors—that is quite different. The extension approach appeals primarily to those who see the church, in its congregations and assemblies, as having the prerogatives of identifying and calling those who will serve as pastors. Their view of the educational service function of a seminary does not include the authority of an institution to qualify or disqualify a man as a pastor on educational grounds. (It is tempting to belabor this point a bit, for even theological schools and other professional schools are to be seen in a different light. A medical school, for example, is a servant of society and is responsible for the imposing of professional standards; on the other hand, a theological seminary is a servant of the church and is responsible to the lordship of Christ in His church. Thus the design of an effective and efficient screening and training program for medical practitioners may or may not be acceptable as a design for the training of pastors.) The extension approach to theological education is focused primarily on the men that are, in fact, serving the church. Extension programs are much more in the business of serving those men who are called by the church rather than those who claim to be called or those who hope to be called once they "make the grade." Thus there is a theological validity—and specifically, a biblical precedent—for returning the responsibility of identifying, recruiting, and employing the pastor to the hands of the church in assembly.
The fourth argument is pedagogical. To the extent that an educationally valid procedure is consistent with the revelational base of the church and the scriptural model of the pastor, it should be considered for use in theological education. Perhaps it is an appropriate understatement to note that among the fields of professional education that have seen dramatic qualitative improvement recently, theological education is not the front-runner. Indeed, no other field of professional training behaves quite so much as if all discoveries have already been made. There is a sort of wry humor in the fact that the extension seminary idea—largely an overseas response to serious needs—is, in fact, the threshold to substantial improvements in the quality of pastoral education. The effects may even someday spill back to the United States, who knows?
The trend toward extension modes in theological education is not an isolated phenomenon. Two significant trends in educational development underlie what is happening in pastoral education overseas.
Trend l: Emphasis oh Clinical Field Experience. The first and perhaps most basic trend has been underway since early in this century. The trend toward a clinical and field-based emphasis in the education of professional workers can be traced to the study of medical education that Abraham Flexner conducted under support of the Carnegie Foundation. This study of the education of physicians, undertaken in 1908, revealed the incredible fact that in most medical schools of the United States it was then possible to gain the M.D. degree without so much as medically touching a live, warm, human body. The Flexner report caused a shock wave that closed almost half of the medical schools and pushed the rest rapidly forward into increased use of clinical experiences as a regular part of the curriculum, not just an add-on or a thing to do over summer vacation. By 1971, virtually every program for the training of professional workers involves clinical field experience. In recent years there have been important developments in the procedures for integrating the several major sets of training experiences.
Trend II: Emphasis on Continuing Education. The second trend is the recognition that professional training is a life-long endeavor. It is no longer assumed that once a person finishes his formal schooling that he as fully trained. Every professional field recognizes the need of its practitioners to keep abreast of recent developments. The accelerative thrust of new knowledge and procedures will soon render the practitioner functionally illiterate if he does not have means of keeping in touch with at least the basic developments in his field. Attendance at seminars, workshops, and evening courses have become an occupational requirement. Theological education has not been the exception. Many theological schools hold continuing education workshops and institutes (including the addition of full-time staff specifically assigned to this task) not simply to capitalize on a fad, but to help meet the continuing educational needs of the parish minister.
A few years ago a study of current trends in educational curricula for the training of professionals was contracted to Michigan State University by the U. S. Office of Education. In summarizing that study, a sketch was drawn of a rail fence to represent the relationships among the three major functions in a high quality curriculum for the training of professions. This diagram has been picked up as a model by the men and women developing extension programs for pastoral education in nearly a hundred locations around the world. Although the diagram and the report it summarized were intended as a general summary of trends in professional training, it seems to serve as a useful model of the sort of high quality training made possible in theological education by extension. The following is excerpted from that report to the United States Office of Education:
In this time of increasingly varied and creative approaches to the preparation of competent professionals, there is a special need to seek out a common set of guidelines. Such guidelines must stimulate and direct development projects without imposing limitations of an anachronistic sort. An observable trend in training for the professions (whether in medicine, engineering, architecture, theology or teaching) provides such a common base. Current curriculum developments reflect three characteristics: (a) increasing use of field experiences, fib) more variety in approach to providing cognitive learning, and (c) greater articulation between field experiences and cognitive learning through seminars, symposia, and other forms of "sharing" experiences. These three characteristics are illustrated through a metaphor. The diagram of a two-rail fence provides a useful picture of the three major functions of a curriculum for the education of a professional. The fence has three parts: an upper rail, a lower rail, and fence posts. Each part is labeled in the following manner: the upper rail represents the cognitive input, the lower rail represents field experiences, and the fence posts represent the seminars. The seminars are the linkages between cognitive experience and field experience.
The design for constructing a two-rail fence may be usefully compared to the design of a curriculum: Of what material is the top rail to be constructed? How substantial should it be? How far above the ground? Of what materials will the lower rail be constructed? How substantial? How will it compare with the upper rail, in terms of separation and parallelism? What will be the nature of the supporting posts? What is the optimum spacing for tying the structure together in a supported, articulated and coordinated whole?
In a fence there are two sets of variables that determine the desirable characteristics: the use or function of the fence, and the balance of the components. With reference to the former, a fence is "good" if it performs a designated function over a stipulated period of time. A decorative fence does not need to be strong enough to contain cattle, but a cattle fence may or may not also need to be decorative. The fence’s function and expected durability in relationship to its cost are important considerations. With reference to the second set of variables, balance, the proposition here is that a fence’s components, like the links of a chain, need to be selected or designed for balanced strength. The "weakest link" principle pertains; a fence is not made better by increasing the size of the upper rail (unless, of course, that had been the weakest link); conversely, to decrease the substance of the posts weakens the entire system.
More illustrations can be seen in the way the two sets of variables, function and balance, relate to each other. For a start, consider the matter of spacing between the posts: for a decorative function, the spacing can be longer than for a fence that must restrain livestock. Spacing of the rails is also dependent on function rails must be closer to each other and closer to the ground for sheep than for horses.
THE UPPER RAIL: COGNITIVE INPUT
Although the ability to recall information (facts and figures) isn’t all there is to education, its importance must not be discounted. "Cognitive input" refers to the learning of the informational knowledge. Cognitive input is basic to competence and excellence. What is cognitive (knowable as information) ranges from simple concrete facts up through abstract concepts and problem-solving strategies. Cognitive input, in a sense, concerns the "things to be learned"; but it would be more useful to think of cognitive input as the information that can be learned by reading, heating or looking. Cognitive input is provided through a wide variety of instructional modes:. through textbooks,. assigned reading, lecture, recording, films and programmed instruction of several sorts. "New media" of instruction are sometimes employed so that the cognitive input can be more effective or learned more efficiently.
Unfortunately it is often the cognitive input component that is likely to suffer from the learner’s low learner motivation and from rapid obsolescence of the content. A curriculum that over-emphasizes cognitive input is likely to be characterized by high rates of drop-out (premature withdrawal) and by frequent complaints about irrelevancy.
THE LOWER RAIL: FIELD EXPERIENCES
Recognition of field experiences as part of the curriculum of education for the professions is clearly a trend. For years in the past internships, apprenticeships, and similar field experiences were suspect as being inferior substitutes for truly scholarly learning. Some said that learning that could not be committed to the form of print should not be recognized as educationally valid. Today many of the problems in the professions are so new that textbook answers are not available. Books alone cannot provide all that is needed for a timely and substantial curriculum. Getting experience "where the action is" seems to be one useful answer for the demand that education be relevant.
Early in this century, clinical experience was recognized as a necessary part of medical education. The Carnegie Foundation’s support of Flexner’s study of medical education in the United States played an important part in this development. First, clinical experience was recognized as an essential part of modern medical education. It then followed that field experience in general has been acknowledged increasingly as a valid aspect of the curriculum in virtually every professional field.
Field experiences are not all the same. For example, the degree and kind of supervision varies from one program to another. But the essential ingredient remains the same: exposure to the environment and "life problems" of the practitioner during the period of formal educational experience.
Recognition of the validity of field experiences has also had a remarkable impact on the concept of in-service education (sometimes called "continuing education," to denote its life-long characteristic). The older and simpler practice of transplanting the campus-oriented course to some remote point lock, stock and barrel (syllabus, text, and professor) – is disappointing. The modern extension and continuing education operations capitalize on the fact that in-service professionals are engaged in experiences, day by day, that constitute a rich source of material for valuable learning. Experiences of the practitioner’s world thus become the sources of further knowledge, the motivation to learn, and the basis for evaluation, reconsideration, and planning. When extension education makes effective use of the field experiences that confront the in-service practitioner, it is a worthy competitor to the more formal and classical forms of graduate education. A problem-centered approach to extension teaching is certainly a great improvement over the "transplanted course" approach.
THE FENCE POSTS: SEMINARS
If a student is to make a solid connection between the cognitive input and his field experiences, he needs someone to talk to preferably someone who is learning along with him. Perhaps it isn’t quite a matter of magic, but something exciting happens when learners get together to put into words how new information relates to their doing an effective job. If left to chance or individual initiative, new information may never result in appropriate changes in the professional practice, or worse yet, it will result in incorrect applications to practice. Misunderstandings in the cognitive realm can result in disasters in the realm of practice. The seminar, as an opportunity for reflecting, evaluating and hypothesizing, can reduce the gaps and the misapplications, resulting in more potent and responsible transfers from "theory" to "practice," and back again to better theory.
"Seminar" is a word carelessly used to mean, Alice-in-Wonderland style, whatever its user wants it to mean. So maybe it isn’t very useful anymore, but until we find a better word, "seminar" will have to suffice to indicate the less structured experiences that lead to integration of cognitive input and field experiences through sharing and discussion. The hallmarks of a good seminar are the occasions and stimulations to reflect upon and evaluate learning from both the cognitive input and from the field experiences, with a premium on relating the two. The objectives of a seminar can usually be expressed in terns of applying principles and concepts to problem-solving tasks.
Educators in the past have idealized Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other as a model of the pedagogical relationship. This model seems dubious in the light of the research on the value of peer interactions during a learning experience. A more useful model, at least for the education of professionals, may be the two-rail fence— two lines of parallel linear flow, supported and integrated by spaced interactive seminars— a model of the relationships among the three major aspects of a curriculum for educating professionals.
Thus we see that the extension approach to theological education is historically, demographically, theologically and pedagogically valid. Could it be that there are also some messages in this movement for the improvement of educational operations of the church in North America?
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