Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Making an Educational Decision (Part 1)

One of the most significant responsibilities that faces every Christian family is the education of their children. The temptation many of us face is making a distinction between education and discipleship, or more properly a bifurcation between the mind and the person. We see the training of the mind for academic subjects as completely disconnected from the formation of persons. Thus, we perpetuate one, or both, of two errors: 

  1. We think learning the core academic subjects is a completely neutral endeavor and can occur in the context of the public school without consequence to the formation of our children’s minds (worldview) or hearts (worship).
  2. We think learning the core academic subjects must happen in the context of the Christian school, or homeschool, as a kind of “baptized” version of what is happening in the public school model.
My endeavor in this first article is to address these two errors in how parents see education and their role in shaping their children. In doing so, I hope to begin to establish a basis for making educational decisions for our children.

I want to start by addressing what the responsibility of Christian parents is in discipling their children. Two of the most well known texts with regard to discipling our children are as follows:

Ephesians 6:4~Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 6:4 ~“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

These texts do not require a Bible degree to understand. Parents are commanded to bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. They are to teach their children who God is and that they should love him. This instruction is not limited to classroom instruction. This instruction is also not limited to Sunday school, family worship time, or youth group. It is a life encompassing endeavor. All of life is to be patterned in such a manner that we are always pointing our children to Jesus Christ and encouraging them to love the Lord with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. This is discipleship.

Now, here comes the question: “What do Math, English, etc have to do with Christian discipleship...Isn’t academic inquiry really a spiritually neutral endeavor?”

According to Solomon the answer to that question is, “NO.”

Prov. 1:7   The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Prov. 9:10  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

Jesus goes on to tell us that one can only achieve the status of a fool apart from him:

Matt. 7:24   “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Paul reminds us that this is so because Jesus is the wisdom of God and we must renew our minds and take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

1 Corinthians 1:30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.

2 Corinthians 10:5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

There is no neutral ground. Our minds are either informed by the fear of the Lord as we look to Christ, or we are caught up in the foolishness of this world. You may rightly object that you know many unbelievers who are great mathematicians. How can we suggest that they are ultimately fools with no real knowledge when they clearly have incredible Math skills?

You would be correct to assert that it doesn’t take the fear of the Lord to have the knowledge that 2+2=4. God’s common grace is at work in our world and so unbelievers know things. Unbelievers can be incredibly proficient academics. However, our goal as Christian parents is not to raise good academics. Our goal is to raise good Christians.

What an unbeliever doesn’t know is that 2+2 always equals 4 for a reason. There is a unity and cohesion in the universe which is designed by God, so that 2+2 always equals 4. There is also a designed diversity in creation that insures that 2+2 doesn’t equal 2. We have this unity and diversity in creation as an expression of our Triune God who is both One in essence and Three in person. Our children need to know that so they can appreciate the creation, even as represented in Math, as an exercise of worship to our Lord. 

What I have been discussing until now is called a “worldview.” Our children need to be shaped with a Christian worldview. They need to learn that history is not accidental but is shaped by the Providential hand of God. They need to understand that English is a language that expresses real ideas and that facilitates real communication because God is and thus we can express things truly to one another. They need to see the wonders of science as an expression of the immense power and good intentionality of our Creator. Our children can not worship God if they do not know him and if they can not see all of creation as pointing to him.

However, even shaping our children’s worldview isn’t enough. If worldview was the only problem parents had to overcome in discipleship, then all education would be as simple as giving them the right information. I think this is what is often assumed in Christian education and among many homeschoolers. I say that because they believe that if they just have a baptized version of what the public schools offer, then all will be well. This is simply not true.

What we often fail to realize is that the entire shape of our lives is to be worship. We are creatures who have hearts. We are not only creatures of mind. We are embodied souls. Our bodies matter. Our minds and hearts matter. Thus, the shape of our lives matter to the education of our children as well. 

J.K.A Smith in, Desiring the Kingdom (a book I highly recommend), speaks of the shape of our lives as a cultural liturgy. A liturgy is an order of worship. All of life is an expressed as an order of worship. The rhythms of our lives both demonstrate what we believe and shape what we love. If I believe that the practice of being human is essentially an exercise of the mind, then I will believe that transmission of information is the burden of education. In other words, I must shape education so that the maximal amount of information is transmitted to another person. If I believe that being human is essentially an exercise of worship, then I will believe my patterns of daily life must train both the heart and mind. In other words, I must shape education so that the whole person is developed for the glory of God.

We live in a culture that has bought into a kind of dualism that sees humanity as essentially being producers and consumers. Thus, all of life is shaped to be as productive as possible. The burden of education is to transmit as much information to these non-worshipping producers as possible, so that they can live a successful life of being highly productive. Often, homeschoolers and Christian schools simply baptize this view of the human person and load children up with a huge amount of academic work (with a Christian worldview of course). After all, what really matters is that our children can be successful and productive, right? And we wonder why the average working man spends too much time trying to achieve while leaving his family with little support (or, alternatively, too much time consuming entertainment). We have taught him to worship at the altar of productivity (and consumption) his whole life. What do we expect to be the outcome?

Whatever schooling option we choose, we must not fall into the trap of believing there is neutrality in education, nor in believing that all that matters is the transfer of information. The worldview and the worship practices that are taught to our children will shape their minds and hearts. They will shape them into wise followers of Jesus, or into fools who say in their hearts "their is no God." There is no other option.

With that said, my next post will be on whether the Bible requires a particular type of educational setting (homeschool, private, public), and whether those who teach our children ought to matter to us. My final post will be on the story of my family and the advantages and disadvantages we have found in each educational setting.

1 comment:

Austin Powell said...

I appreciate all the info and the insight. My wife and I are in this place where we are trying to figure out what to do with schooling for our kids.
Ill be interested to hear the insight into what you are doing with your family.

Thanks again for sharing.