A grizzled college professor teaching Sunday School? To fourth graders no less? That appealing scenario is the backdrop for Twenty-Five Years in the Fourth Grade, the booklet-size guide by Purdue University pharmacology professor Joe Borowitz on why Sunday school counts and how to give a classroom of wiggly kids your best.
That’s the good and bad of this primer. Set in a Catholic church in a Midwestern town, it offers the author’s no-frills glimpse of how to “make God alive” to young children. From movies and snacks to singing songs and Scripture study, Borowitz shares his methods, along with a humbled heart. Even better, he identifies some real benefits of Sunday school, especially the bonding of church people that’s “healthy in a spiritual and social sense for the whole parish.”
The down side? You’ll want much more–an engaging story, for starters. From Goodbye, Mr. Chips to Blackboard Jungle, classic books set in the classroom school us not just on teaching, but on life. Yet this book, despite its rich subject and downright lovely title, settles for telling us classroom lessons, not showing them. (Thus, we read: “Fourth grade Sunday school students are not as serious about Sunday school as they are about regular school.”) Unlike a good classroom story, with a central character or two and a narrative with a beginning, middle and end, Borowitz writes often of children, plural; a particular child never emerges to lead us along, beginning to end.
Clearly, Borowitz is a deep thinker. He fasts some 18 hours before every class to clear his head–and for “deep joy and peace.” But even that is mentioned only in passing. Still, his devotion to teaching children is what finally saves this story. True, it could be more engaging. But, in the end, at least, Borowitz offers himself as the best sort of teacher. A willing and loving one.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.