Monday, September 4, 2017

Education: Preparing for Your Calling

Thinking about education has been part of my life since I was a child.  In 1985, my family began our journey into homeschooling.  At that time, people in the church would criticize my parents for harming their children by taking them out of the public schools.  By 2005, I knew of churches that would criticize parents for harming their children by putting them in the public schools.  In less than 20 years, the church had done a complete reversal regarding the topic of education.  The debate still rages throughout the church, and I have no desire to add more heat to the discussion, but light.  I want us to consider the Biblical ground for education, the limits of education, the goal of education, and the cost of education.

The Bible speaks of the education of children early in its text.  As early as Exodus 12:26-27, Moses was telling Israel to teach their children the purpose of the Passover.  "And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service?  That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses."  This command instructs the parents to rehearse the history of Israel's exit from Egypt.  The Lord wants the people to teach their children the spiritual reality behind the flight from Egypt.  This principle then expands in Deuteronomy.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.  And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. (Deut. 6:4-7)
In this passage, it begins with the declaration of identity for the nation of Israel.  This is the famous "shemah", the "testimony".  It identifies the nation whose God is the Lord, Jehovah, Yahweh.  He alone is God of Israel.  This relationship with God forms the identity of the nation.  This is how the nation is to see themselves.

Following this identity truth comes a moral requirement that flows from that identity.  As the Lord alone is God of Israel, Israel must show unalienable fidelity and love toward the Lord.  If that moral requirement follows as part of the identity of the people, then the people must cherish this statement and its moral requirement as irreplaceable in their own hearts.  These words, these statements, these truths must persist within the consciousness of the people.

The people, then, have the responsibility to pass these vital truths on to their children.  Parents must teach the word of the Lord to their children.  Moses even outlines the method of teaching.  It is not a formal classroom environment.  It learning through immersion.  In language acquisition, learning a foreign language is facilitated by immersion into the language.  The student is placed in an environment where only the unknown language is spoken.  He must learn to speak it in order to survive in that environment.  This training technique follows from language acquisition of infants.  They learn their parents language in order to communicate their basic needs.  They learn to imitate the sounds and language of those around them.

Moses depicts spiritual education much like language immersion learning.  The parents are to create an environment where the word of God appears everywhere.  Moses requires that the parents purposely refer to the words of the Lord from sunup to sundown.  Every event of life must be approached with a scriptural purpose.  In order to instruct the child, the environment must be filled with scripture.

The Lord does not merely use one method of education.  Later in the same chapter another pedagogical process appears.
And when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord our God hath commanded you? Then thou shalt say unto thy son, We were Pharaoh’s bondmen in Egypt; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand: and the Lord shewed signs and wonders, great and sore, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his household, before our eyes: and he brought us out from thence, that he might bring us in, to give us the land which he sware unto our fathers. And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as it is at this day. And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as he hath commanded us. (Deut. 6:20-25)
Here is more traditional lecture methodology.  In addition, this question and answer style gave rise to the church's use of catechesis, the use of catechisms.  Notice also that this process indicates the importance of theology.  It is not enough to know the history and rules of the community.  Children are to be taught why these things matter.  The rules and history do not appear in the abstract, but God reveals them to us to explain why theses things matter.  These things are not just revealed to show us what happened, but why they happened.  The science of theology takes the data of scripture and answer the question why and how.

Notice as well, the centrality of redemption in the teaching of the children.  The answer to the question begins with God's gracious salvation of His people.  We omit this part of the explanation to our children's peril.  In the New Testament, it is not rescue from Egypt that forms the heart of the parents' duty to teach their children.  It is the gospel message, the message of redemption from sin Jesus accomplished for us.  The gospel message requires theological and moral training.

From these verse, we see the biblical mandate for education, here, scriptural, moral, and theological education.  The parents are given the responsibility for overseeing this education and creating an environment conducive to this learning.  While the expended family, the church, and others may play a role in assisting the parents in this educational enterprise, the burden for providing this education still remains with the parents.  No other can replace them in this effort.

From this biblical educational standard, we can extend the duty to more general education as we understand it today.  I think one of the best logical extensions appears in one the more delightfully names laws passed in the colonial period of the United States.  Lesson 2 quoted from the “Old Deluder Satan” of 1647 in Massachusetts.  This law provided for public education so that children could read the Bible.  Basic educational tools enable people to read and understand God's word.  From this, we may suggest that part of the parent's spiritual educational duties toward their children include general education to enable their children to understand the Bible on their own, to train them so that they may train their own children.

This sets general education in a specific context for the believer.  In contrast to the values of the world, the Christian values education for different reasons.  The world sees education as valuable to create a tax base, to form income producing patriots, or income producing progressives.  The evaluation of education is often limited to competitive analysis.  Do our students outperform other students?  This is the general values of the world.  As Christians, we are not primarily concerned with professional, competitive, or cultural benefits to education.  These facets may play a role and will play a role in the process of general education, but the central, the first concern of general education is to train children how to understand God's Word.  To live Christian in an unchristian world, we can never lose sight of this fundamental purpose.

Now, at this point, you might expect some directives regarding the methodology of education.  Debates in the church have raged and passions inflamed in the controversy over the method of training children.  The options generally fall into three categories: public school, private school, and home school.  I have experienced all three.  All three have their advantages and disadvantages.  To exclude one as unacceptable to the Christian is rather myopic.  Instead, one must understand the costs and benefits to each in the decision-making process.  While probably familiar, it behooves the author to reiterate these factors in turn.

Public schools are usually the most inexpensive way to educate children in the United States.  They also are the most secular method of education.  Parents choosing this option must understand that they will face the necessity of counterbalancing the worldly mindset that their children will endure for most of their educational life.  This is not a impossible hurdle to surmount, but such a serious problem, that many Christian families have rightly abandoned this method for ones more conducive to scriptural immersion.  The cost of sparing ones child from the onslaught of secularism may be worth paying.  Parents ought to consider if they have disposable income whether they are not better discharging their duty by using those resources to put their children in a better educational environment.  Nevertheless, some families do not have that option, and charity must be exercised to grant them the rightness of faithfully discharging their duty to education their children by this method providing that they recognize the burden they take on to counterbalance the secular immersion.

Private schools, and here specifically Christian or church schools, have their own cost.  They carry a financial cost that normally exceeds any of the other two options.  In addition, one hidden cost is the loss of control over the day-to-day educational process.  This can lead to situation in which the parents have a perception of the school that does not coincide with the reality of that school.  Parents may think their child is being immersed in scripture when the child is really being immersed in secularism.  Some "Christian" schools were started for reasons that had nothing to do with Christianity.  Even when the curriculum may reflect the truth of the Bible, the child's fellow pupils may bring their secularism into the school with more effect than the teachers bring scripture.

During my education, I experienced three different private schools, only two of which I spent a year within.  The first would fit the requirements that I would consider good, even though upon its present quality I cannot comment.  The second seemed good on paper, but my experience reflected many of the negative attributes we have noted above.

Finally, good Christian and church schools are not ubiquitous.  They are often hard to find.  Parents looking at this option must weight the cost and carefully monitor their child's education.  They cannot simply assume that the school is fulfilling their educational responsibilities.

Homeschooling has exploded in Christian culture in the last few decades.  Having been on the cutting or even the bleeding edge of this movement, I have seen the practice rise in acceptability, convenience, and affordability.  Nevertheless, there are costs associated with homeschooling.  Though typically less expensive than private education, the parents pay a time cost since it usually requires more of their time than the other two options.  While curriculum companies have streamlined and simplified their products to aid the instructor, there still is a learning curve for the parent who would teach their children.  In addition, there are pedagogical realities outside the curriculum that require wisdom on the part of the parent.  Not every child learns the same way.  Not every child can learn in the same environment.  The instructor must observe the progress of the child and tailor the environment as best can be to enable the child to learn.

The choice between these three includes other factors that are not generally characteristic of one over the other, although generally public education will be the least acceptable in these areas.  Curriculum and activities play a role and making this decision.  As stated before, the central purpose of general education is to enable the student to understand God's word.  However, other topic will be studied as well.  Other secondary goals do coincide with this primary goal.  Parents should consider each child's aspirational and professional goals.  The curriculum should prepare the student for life outside of school.  Education includes learning how to deal with people.  Parents should consider the availability of extra-curricular activities for their children as part of their learning.

"Much heat and very little light" describes much of the literature on Christian education.  Parent become passionate about their children and the manner in which they choose to raise them.  Much of the discussion about schooling has been considered, rightly or uprightly, an attack upon the family.  The concept "this is right for my family and my children" has morphed into "this is the only way to educate Christians."  Every family is different.  Every child is different.  Location, economics, and ability play a critical role in making a right decision about education.  Nevertheless, we must always remember what is at the heart of the goal of education, to know the word of God.  Without this, we must abandon the task of living Christian in an unchristian world.

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