Something is wrong. Commitment is a thing of the past. Love that is longsuffering has been replaced by divorce on demand. Charity is dead. We have ceased to instill our children with virtues and then we are shocked that they grow up to be reprobates. Materialism and hedonism are the philosophies of the masses because their education has not empowered them to define either. Our modern world has left us dissatisfied and disillusioned. We search for something lost. Classicism is on the ascendancy.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
In Defense of Christian Education
"Education is thus a most powerful ally of humanism, and every American school is a school of humanism. What can a theistic Sunday school's meeting for an hour once a week and teaching only a fraction of the children do to stem the tide of the five-day program of humanistic teaching?" -- Charles F. Potter, Humanism: A New Religion
As Christian parents, we have erred. It was Paul who charged godly fathers to "bring [their children] up in the training and admonition of the Lord." It is significant to note the particular Greek word used by Paul and translated as "training" in this verse is παιδεία (paideia), which bears with it the weight of "teaching, and education." It also extends beyond formal education to include "culture, learning, accomplishments"; that is to say, παιδεία is holistic education or training, which includes formal education. This verse might be more accurately translated as "fathers,... bring [your children] up in the education and admonition of the Lord." Notice also that the Apostle connects this holistic training with spiritual connotations: the very context of education in the Apostle's eyes is necessarily spiritual, παιδεία κυρίου, or "the education of the Lord." The Christian student must not only understand the truths necessary for salvation by grace through faith, but they must also be equipped to accurately navigate the ethical principles and theological complexities of their faith.
Let us examine momentarily if the modern government school system meets Paul's mandate to provide "an education of the Lord" for our children (the question as to whether or not it should falls well beyond the scope of this discussion; we consider for now only whether or not it actually does.) Due in no small part to the rise of the so-called "Separation of Church and State" doctrine and the 1963 Supreme Court decision Abington v. Schempp, modern public education in America has become strictly secular. Religious texts, namely the Hebrew Old Testament and the Christian New Testament, are no longer part of the core curriculum, even as primary texts. This is despite the fact that, as I have shown elsewhere, the Supreme Court in Abington v. Schempp declared that no education would be complete without studying the Bible as a literary and historical text. At best the government schools, under the guise of pure secularism, are negligent and apathetic towards religious thought; at worst, individual educators can be openly hostile to Christians, even declaring a Christian education to be "damn wrong."
We should briefly note that this has not always been the case. Early American education was built upon a biblical foundation. The two greatest texts of American education were the New England Primer and the McGuffey Reader. The Primer was the first American textbook and was used in the colonies in the late 18th century. Its lessons were inspired almost entirely from the Bible; for example, it used Biblical stories in this set of alphabet rhymes. The McGuffey Readers were used by public schools for over 100 years - from 1836 to the late 1950's - as part of the core primary school curriculum. It is estimated to have sold 120 million copies over that 100 year span. A sample of lessons from the Readers include The Goodness of God, Gospel Invitation, Ode from the 19th Psalm, and On Prayer. Corporate prayer and daily Bible devotionals were part of the regular school curriculum until the 1960's. The public system has changed dramatically over the last fifty years, and as Christians we should agree that it has not been for the better. We have played the part of the Trojans and accepted the gift of a free education without suspecting the Greeks who gave it, heedless of the warnings of Laocoön. In the face of a system that is often antithetical and hostile to our worldview, it is time we considered other options.
There are of course additional arguments for a Christian education that serve to supplement Paul's mandate. For one, consider the end goal—the primary objective—of education. Many parents and educators would argue that the end goal of education is to prepare the student for the workforce, to give them the requisite math and science education along with some fundamental reading and communication skills to become good inventors, scientists, engineers, and accountants. This goal as the primary end of education is unsatisfactory in the context of Paul's mandate. Consider Jesus' response when asked which commandments were paramount: the greatest commandment for the believer is not to become good engineers and accountants, but it is to love God and love your neighbor, what we might consider the act of becoming a "good person." Jesus—and all the Law and Prophets— were most concerned with ethical considerations, how to act towards your neighbors, and not professional ones. It would seem appropriate as Christian parents we demand that our educational system should serve this same goal.
Consider also: if our education processes can successfully produce a good person—defined above as a person who loves God and loves his or her neighbor—it will often deliver a good engineer as a product; that is, a good person will necessarily be better at almost whatever profession they pursue. The student whose education has trained him or her to love God will want to be a good ambassador for God, which entails being a good employee, manager, or business owner. The student whose education has trained him to love his neighbor will be civically minded, fair, and honest. He or she will want to be a good physician, engineer, or accountant in order to best serve his or her neighbors. A good person who is trained to love his or her family will be a good spouse and parent, and as such will propagate goodness in others. A student who is trained only to be a good accountant delivers none of these things. It could be the difference between raising Tim Tebow or Bernie Madoff.
Another reason that Christian parents should concern themselves with Christian education is the utility of a solid biblical foundation in the life of the believer. As adults, consider for a moment how often you reference your high school trigonometry or biology textbook. Now, compare that with how often you reference the Bible. In the very least you hear a sermon on Sunday with numerous references to specific verses in the Bible; at most you read the Bible daily. Regardless, the number of times you reference any given high school text book pales in comparison to the number of times you use the Bible as an adult. To put it another way, I recently polled the readers of this blog asking them to weigh in on the literary source they looked to most often for wisdom, comfort, and inspiration: the Bible got 90% of the votes from a list with 9 other options. Yet, we send our children to schools to get an education with no biblical foundation whatsoever, where they spend hours absorbing information that they neither love nor will find useful in their lifetime.
As the Psalmist was wont to say, selah. Pause, and reflect on that. As Christian parents, we have a biblical mandate to ensure that our children our educated in the things of God. For mostly practical purposes, we have neglected this God-given responsibility, instead choosing to give our children over to a largely hostile government system to be educated. Our best hope seems to be that the 45 minutes of Christian influence our children may get in Sunday school and our own best efforts in the home can counter the twelve years of 5 days a week of secular humanism that they get in the government school. Consider the harrowing words of the humanist Charles Potter: "What can a theistic Sunday school's meeting for an hour once a week and teaching only a fraction of the children do to stem the tide of the five-day program of humanistic teaching?"
Potter seems to have been right. Two generations of Christian students trained almost exclusively in the secular humanism of the government school system have had dire consequences. Biblical literacy within the Christian community is not what it could be. The proud history of Western Civilization is falling into disrepute and darkness while the government schools emphasizes social histories like LGBT history. We as Christians are largely ignorant of our own intellectual heritage. Too few of us can articulate the intellectual contributions of Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, et al. The sum total of our failings leaves us as a community largely unequipped to defend our faith against the deluge of attacks leveled at it. There are too few voices with the platform who can speak with authority and erudition against drivel like Gervais' straw man attack. Atheists and secularists claim reason and science as their own, and Christians are portrayed as superstitious and irrational akratics stuck in the illusory "Dark Ages" - itself a construct of secularist polemics. The situation elicits the wise words of Sayers:
"For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects."
The question then becomes, why do we continue to subject our children to a system that not only neglects to serve us in delivering educational opportunities for our children, but is often openly hostile to our worldview? Why blindly hope for the best instead of giving our children the superior chances at growing up to be the godly men and women that we believe they can be, able to answer the challenges of the secularists with authority and erudition? The answers to those questions are many and diverse. It is often merely a question of economics: our children can go across the street to the secular government school for free, while we would have to pay out of pocket to send our kids to a private school of our choosing. For many this is a matter of necessity—they simply cannot afford the private school tuition. But where we can afford it, do not our kids warrant it? Where parents cannot afford it, we as the Christian community must work double time to ensure quality Christian schools exist and scholarship programs are in place to allow students to attend them.