Jesus & His Kingdom of Equals: An Interdenominational Curriculum for 4th-7th Grades on the Life and Teaching of Jesus

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Polebridge Press
PO Box 6144
Santa Rosa, California 95406

Topics: Theology & Religious Education. Ages: Pre-Teen and Teen. Resource Types: Books.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Jesus & His Kingdom of Equals: An Interdenominational Curriculum for 4th-7th Grades on the Life and Teaching of Jesus

  1. Review

    Margaret Kirk is a retired teacher of high school English and speech. She is currently employed part time by the English Department of Illinois State University as a supervisor of student teachers. She teaches Sunday school at New Covenant Community, a TCPC affiliate congregation in Normal, Illinois.

    This book is designed for churches looking for a progressive curriculum that focuses on the life and teachings of Jesus. The authors have planned their course to cover 33 weeks of teaching for 4th through 7th grades. They base their curriculum on contemporary biblical research, principally from the Jesus Seminar.

    In the Introduction, Binkley and McKeel clarify their goals and perspective in teaching about Jesus. They intend to present a non-dogmatic curriculum which does not force learners to choose between religion and reality or religion and respecting themselves and others. In selecting material, they used two criteria: (1) themes that relate the central messages of the Jesus teachings, such as acceptance, forgiveness, and reverence for life; and (2) major stories that students might encounter in the culture at large. The loose biographical framework that results is designed to help students form their own insights about Jesus as the year progresses.

    Teachers themselves, with strong qualifications and varied backgrounds both in and out of religious education, the authors provide a wealth of activities to reinforce the basic curriculum. If they suggest a craft, they include "how to" models. If they think drama is called for, parts and dialogue are provided. If handouts would be helpful, they have them ready for you to duplicate. If the order of business calls for music, the words and the melody are there in print for the taking. They anticipate challenges and give practical advice on how to prepare for these challenges.

    Each lesson is the result of extensive research and planning. The book includes a variety of activities and appeals to the many ways children learn. Every effort has been made to advise teachers about how to make the material work. They are given lists of materials they will need and suggestions for including other parishioners and parents in the program. They are even told what to say and how to say it.

    Nevertheless, the very wealth of material and the rich texture of the goals for each lesson are overwhelming. Would volunteer teachers be willing to devote considerable time and energy week after week in preparation? Many lessons call for a cadre of teachers. There is a danger that the ambitious lessons will fall flat unless accomplished, well-prepared teachers are at the helm. Furthermore, many of the lessons are primarily teacher-directed, with limited interactive involvement or student-initiated activities. Some of the lessons call for the students to do a lot of sitting and listening. (The authors are not unaware of the pitfalls here. In Lesson 13, "Getting in Touch with Our Inner Self," they suggest the game "Over the Rope" as the final activity. They explain, "This is a very active game to counter all the physical inactivity in the room to this point.")

    While the material itself may not be dogmatic, if it is force-fed or presented too hurriedly, it may come across as just another "Teacher wants us to do this" lesson. My reaction is, "Whoa, slow down. Don’t try too much in any one lesson." One concept, well probed by students who have been motivated to find out, is sufficient for any Sunday. The social service by-products, the out-of-class communal activities prescribed by the authors may well evolve of their own accord if "too much too fast" is not the modus operandi.

    The authors include an extensive bibliography and suggest the possible inclusion of some clips from the Reader’s Digest video Jesus and His Times/Among the People for use with particular lessons. I watched the entire video. Many scenes give a vivid picture of the countryside and customs of the times. The literal treatment of the miracles, however, seems to defeat the purpose of a progressive curriculum. Iwinced when the four-day old wrapped body of Lazurus rose from his pallet and walked toward his family and Jesus. Yes, this is one of the familiar stories. Is it one we want 4th through 7th graders to view without plenty of time for discussion of its impact and its meaning?

    Another possible problem with this curriculum is its attempt to design a plan that is appropriate for the grade range suggested. Crafts that 4th graders would love may not appeal to 7th graders. Extensive background material and lengthy information about the practices and political machinations of the times may be far more information than even the most intellectual 7th graders can endure.

    Of course, teachers themselves can deal with these concerns if they decide to put the curriculum to use. Large churches with well-established educational programs, an adequate budget, and experienced, competent teachers probably would be able to adapt this curriculum to their needs very effectively. Small congregations with limited resources and only a handful of youngsters attending Sunday school might be interested in examining the book to get some ideas on how to approach designing their own curriculum.

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