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Grateful for a Leader in Christian Learning

Written on January 22nd, 2014

Harro

“Teachers and professors make a difference. They may not teach students who will significantly alter culture or history. Yet Christian instructors can and do help students become a faithful presence in the world for God, and to contribute to society and culture in positive—even if small—ways.”

These words were written by Harro Van Brummelen, appearing in an article published by The Banner a little over two years ago. On January 15th, members of the broader OACS community learned that Van Brummelen had passed away from cancer at the age of 72. A memorial service was held for the notable scholar and professor on the following Saturday at Willoughby Christian Reformed Church in Langley, British Columbia. Those who spoke about Van Brummelen paid tribute to a man who had impacted Christian education across Canada as a “faithful presence in the world for God.”

Van Brummelen’s long and meaningful career  has shaped learning within and outside of Christian Schools. His own education journey began with his completing a degree in mathematics and science from McGill University (later he earned an Ontario Specialist Teaching Certificate in mathematics, and a master’s degree in curriculum studies from the University of Toronto). In 1965, Van Brummelen began teaching at Toronto District Christian High School. “I have very fond memories of my four years at TDCH,” wrote Van Brummelen about the experience. “Together with our first Grade 12 class I moved into the brand-new building. And my Grade 10 homeroom classes always had exceptional students—considerate, fun-loving, and diligent!”

Van Brummelen moved to Edmonton in 1969, where he served as teacher, principal and curriculum coordinator for eight years at Edmonton Christian High School. During this stage of his career, he had a profound influence on the teachers with whom he worked, including OACS Board member, Larry Vandergrift.

“What I appreciated about Harro’s work and his leadership was the authenticity. It wasn’t just words and blind adoration of a certain vision, it was grounded and genuine,” says Vandergirft.

“Harro led us to explore our disciplines—even ones like math—from a Christian perspective in authentic ways, with integrity and conviction,” he recalls. “He helped shape in me a worldview that is passionate about kingdom work.”

In 1977 Van Brummelen took on the role of Education Coordinator for the Society of Christian Schools in BC (SCSBC), serving the organization for just under a decade.

In a tribute to Van Brummelen last June, SCSBC Executive Director Henry Contant described Harro as “one of those pioneer Christian education leaders”.

“Imagine 15 Christian schools, 12 with about 100 students or less. None has a school-wide curriculum approach or plan, and few even teach a subject like science at all. None has a kindergarten, and none sees the need for introducing them,” said Contant. “This was the world of Christian education in BC when Harro began working in BC.”

During his nine years of leadership at the SCSBC, Van Bruummelen gained a deeper understanding of the province’s K-12 school system. He provided Christian curriculum and pedagogy leadership to schools and teachers, and worked with the government to implement BC’s independant school funding. He also managed to shape two generations of Christian educators, through his teaching and his writing.

Van Brummelen’s  publications still serve as seminal touchstones for many of those educators today. For the Love of the Child, first published by SCSBC in 1981, continues to be the organization’s best seller and is widely read throughout Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South Korea, and Eastern Europe.

“Harro’s reflections on the nature of Christian teaching and learning have shaped many educators and administrators” says OACS Executive Director, Jules De Jager.

Whether it was through his 1973 text, To Prod the Slumbering Giant, or his 2012 publication, Metaphors We Teach By, Harro always used his love for writing to challenge and inspire. He was also providing the SBSBC with “inspiration for what Christian education ought to be, in service to our God,” said Contant. By all accounts, that was something that he managed to do where ever he went.

Van Brummelen’s 25 year career at Trinity Western University started in 1986, and included a number of significant achievements: Since first arriving at the school he worked tirelessly to establish and launch TWU’s independent Bachelor of Education program (B.Ed.). More recently, Van Brummelen played a large role in designing the University’s Master of Arts in Educational Leadership degree and served as Adjunct Professor for TWU’s Master of Arts in Leadership program.

As a professor, Van Brummelen was a transformative and inspirational presence in the classroom. Current TWU Dean of Education, Kimberly Franklin, remembers “drinking in every word” of the first class she took with Van Brummelen. It was a philosophy of education course that gave her the “capacity to see the world as whole and as deeply meaningful and another revelation of God’s love”.

Van Brummelen’s interest in beauty, truth and goodness came through in many of his lectures, as did  his concern for social justice in education and curriculum. These are the themes that stayed with students and faculty—many of whom frequently went to Van Brummelen for guidance and advice. 
It was a “quality of spirit” that drew them to him, noted Franklin during Van Brummelen’s memorial service last Saturday. “They knew they were receiving wisdom from a brilliant mind, and from a man who was sincerely seeking the best interests of everyone concerned.”

“Harro was truly a life long learner,” said Franklin.“He was still wanting to grow. Always wondering and asking questions.” Only a few weeks before he passed away from an aggressive form of incurable cancer, Van Brummelen was working on another book project, and reading a text that he planned to review.

In a presentation he created for a Trinity Western faculty retreat, Van Brummelen framed his work in Christian education as part of God’s much larger story. “In hindsight, I am deeply thankful for God’s guidance, and how He prepared me for every step along the way,” writes Van Brummelen. “That made it possible for me to serve Him, my students, and my colleagues.”

Donations to the Harro and Wilma Van Brummelen Education Award can be can be made at twu.ca/donate.