Reformed Christian Education: What to Read

Dear Reader,

This post is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed Christian philosophy theology of education. Find them all here.

I have read and given my thoughts on many articles over the past year+ but I realize a lot of that information is scattered and hard to wade through. Today I’d like to give you an annotated bibliography of the best of what I have read so you can, if you choose, read what other reformed thinkers have had to say on education. (Click the link at the top of this post to find all my book reviews and more.)

Bibliography on Reformed Christian Education

Barclay, William. Train Up a Child: Educational Ideas in the Ancient World. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1959.

  • A fairly readable book that gives history of education in Greece, Rome, Israel, Early church. It’s certainly not essential to understanding reformed education but it does give some interesting historical information.

Bavinck, Herman. Essays on Religion, Science, and Society. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.

  • Bavinck is a well-known reformed thinker and his work really resonated with me. This book is a series of essays. My favorites were the ones on art and the history of classical education. The latter in particular is well worth reading to understand all the threads that go into what we call classical ed.

Coleburn, Chris.  “A History of Reformed (Presbyterian) Christian Education,” The Evangelical Presbyterian (January,  2011).

  • Not perhaps essential reading, but Coleburn gives a rare historical look at reformed education.

Dawson, Christopher. The Crisis of Western Education. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1961.

  • Dawson is a Catholic and argues for distinctly Catholic education. He is quoted a lot by other writers and gives a good critique of what is wrong with modern American public education and some history of how we got where we are.

Drazin, Nathan. A History of Jewish Education from 515 BCE to 220 CE Nabu Press, 2011 (orig. pub. 1941).

  • As far as I can tell this is a pretty definitive work on what Jewish education was actually like in the period specified. For those who want historical perspective, this is well worth reading.

Fesko, J.V.  Reforming Apologetics: Retrieving the Classic Reformed Approach to Defending the Faith. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019.

  • Fesko discusses natural law and how we have lost it and why it is important. His book is not directly on education but deals with topics like epistemology that have a bearing on it. He is very critical of Van Til. This is a dense, harder-to-read book. 

Gaebelein, Frank E. The Pattern of God’s Truth. Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1968 (first pub. 1954). 

____________“Towards a Christian Philosophy of Education,” in Grace Journal, Fall 1962.

  • Gaebelein is one of my favorite thinkers on this topic. He was headmaster of the Stonybrook School in NY. His guiding principle is “all truth is God’s truth.”

Lloyd-Jones, Martyn. The Approach to Truth: Scientific and Religious. London: The Tyndale Press, 1967.

  • A thin, easy-to-read pamphlet from a  reformed stalwart.

Lockerbie, D. Bruce. A Christian Paideia: The Habitual Vision of Greatness. Colorado Springs: Purposeful Design Publications, 2005.

  • I don’t agree with everything Lockerbie says but he has some significant ideas to contribute to the discussion. He taught at Gaebelein’s school.

Oppewal, Donald. “Biblical Knowledge and Teaching,” in Voices from the Past: Reformed Educators. Lanham: University of America Press, 1997.

  • Oppewal edited this substantial volume. It is not all worth reading but his essay, near the end, gives some needed perspective on the topic of epistemology (what we know and how we know it) though (from reading another book of his) there is much of his own philosophy which I do not agree with.

Schultze, Henry. “The Man of God Thoroughly Furnished,” in Fundamentals in Christian Education, ed. Cornelius Jaarsma. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1953.

  • Schultze’s article is a gem hidden in this thick volume. His statement of the goal of education is the best I have read (and, believe me, I have read a lot).

Van Til, Cornelius.  Essays on Christian Education. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1974.

  • I have been lead by Fesko to have some skepticism about Van Til’s approach but it is hard to find anyone more quintessential. There is still a lot here that makes one think and ask the right questions.

Vos, J.G. What is Christian Education? Pittsburgh: RPCNA Board of Education and Publication.

  • A thin, easy-to-read pamphlet. This is a great one to start with. I don’t know if Crown and Covenant currently has it in stock but if not, write to them and ask them to republish it.

Wiker, Benjamin and Jonathan Witt.  A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature. IVP Academic, 2006.

  • Though a Catholic, Wiker is one of my favorite authors. This book is not strictly on education but it will give you a sense of awe and a desire to learn more about subjects from Shakespeare to chemistry.

Zylstra, Henry. Testament of Vision. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1958.

  • Zylstra is another favorite thinker of mine. I love a lot of what he has to say.

Happy reading!






A Reformed Philosophy of Education: Goals and Purposes

Dear Reader,

This post is part of my ongoing series in search of a reformed Christian theology of education. Find all the posts here.

As I move toward a unified philosophy of education, there are a few points I want to take a little more time on. One of these is the question of the goal or purpose of education. I might better say goals and purposes because in God’s Creation these things are often multi-faceted.

I have argued that in education we put before the child the things of God, primarily those things known under the very broad heading “general revelation.” Though God is the God of all, He works differently in the lives of those who are His and those who are not. The effect of education is also different in the life of the elect and the non-elect. Education is the sowing of seed; the result will depend on where it falls. 

When fallen people are confronted with the things of God as revealed in His Creation, this is the outward Call which goes forth to all men. This is what is happening when we educate non-believers. If they are chosen by God, then they will ultimately respond in faith. But if they are not, the ultimate purpose is to further condemn them. Their knowledge is a curse and not a blessing to them, but God is still glorified. Because all things work together for the glory of God, the non-elect person may, perhaps inadvertently, contribute to the overall knowledge of God and of His truth, beauty, and goodness in the world of men, but the effect for him personally is still to further the curse. 

When we place before the elect, the things of God, the outcome is very different. It is important to note here that education itself is not salvific. So many philosophies of education aim to save man (the goal of Montessori education, for instance, is no less than world peace). God’s truth, beauty, and goodness — are in themselves powerful and serve to transform his fallen heart and mind. We understand that salvation is not possible apart from the choice of God, the work of Christ on the cross, and the work of the Holy Spirit in the individual’s life. But, insofar as it places God’s general revelation before man, education is an ordinary means God uses to save and sanctify His elect. 

Thus as a subset of sanctification, education serves to undo the effects of the Fall. By it God’s people are transformed by the renewal of their minds (Rom. 12:2). [1] Yet education had a purpose at Creation as well. That is, if there had not been a Fall, education would still have a role to play as men grew in their knowledge of God. The Fall has made education harder, but the need for education is not solely a result of the Fall. 

Biblical wisdom and knowledge are never merely intellectual subjects but are practical. Romans 12 tells us that our minds should be transformed so that they may “discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2; ESV). The ability to discern is one practical outcome. Another is simply to produce right behavior. Our actions should reflect our thoughts. 

To be thus transformed is to become more and more conformed to the image of Christ.  It is to become more and more “whole-hearted.” The effect of sin is to divide us, to make us double-minded beings. Our hearts and minds are transformed when the effect of sin in them grows less and they more and more are united to a single purpose which aligns with the will of God.

We have been speaking thus far of the effect of education in the life of the individual. There will be other goals which are achieved along the way as well: a man will be prepared for the work God calls him to; the Church will be built; God’s kingdom in this world will be furthered. Ultimately, God will be glorified which is the purpose of all things.[2]


[1] I would add “and hearts.” See this post on the words heart and mind in the Bible.  

[2] Because the teacher who is thinking of the good of the Church is likely to lose sight of the individual student before her, I have argued that we should keep the focus of education on the individual. In God’s Providence all these things work together, but we are fallen, fallible people who have a tendency to ride rough-shod over the individual.

A Reformed Philosophy of Education: Hearts and Minds

Dear Reader,

This post is part of my ongoing series in search of a reformed Christian theology of education. Find all the posts here.

I am in house-keeping mode for a couple of weeks, doing brief posts that I want to get out of the way as I prepare my big upcoming post that outlines my whole philosophy of education. Today I’d like to talk about the parts of man’s nature.

The Bible speaks of the parts of man in two ways. In the Old Testament, there are three parts: heart, soul, and strength (Deut. 6:5). In the New, there are four: heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mk. 12:30; Lk. 10:27). My contention is that the Hebrew conception is a bit more on point.

The change between the two is, of course, the addition of the word “mind.” It reflects a more Hellenistic understanding of the world. Perhaps with their emphasis on philosophy, those influenced by Greek culture could not imagine leaving out “mind” in this list. But it is not that people in Old Testament times had no idea of the mind or thought it unimportant. The reason “mind” is not in the Deuteronomy list has to do with the seat of thinking in ancient thought and with the relationship between thought and emotion.

We think of the heart and mind as two things because we separate thought and emotion. This is due in part to the Enlightenment with its emphasis on Reason. In a very medical way, we associate them with two distinct body parts, the heart and brain.

In ancient times no one considered the brain very worthwhile. [That is why Egyptian embalmers liquified it, drew it out through the nose, and discarded it. No way the Pharaoh would need that thing in the afterlife.] For the ancients, the heart was the seat of thought (cf. Gen. 6:5). To think in Hebrew is literally “to speak within one’s heart” (cf. Gen. 8:21; 24:45; Deut. 8:17; I Sam. 27:1). The seat of emotion was the liver, bowels,  or guts (think: gut feelings). But the Old Testament also often speaks of man’s thoughts and desires as coming from his heart as well. It is with his heart that man knows the things of God (Deut. 6:6; 8:5; Job 22:22). He understands with his heart just as he sees with his eyes (Deut. 29:4) and his plans and thoughts are located there (I Kgs. 8:18; 2 Kgs. 10:30; I Chr. 29:18; Neh. 7:5). The heart moves one to act (Deut. 29:35). But the emotions can also be said to sit in the heart, hate (Lev. 19:17; 2 Sam. 6:16) and fear (1 Sam. 28:5), sadness (I Sam. 1:8; Neh. 2:2) and gladness (Exod. 4:14; Judg. 18:20) are there. On must be cautious though; the heart can be deceived (Deut. 11:16). [I don’t want to go on too long about this but see the end of this post ** for a little more technical information.]

Ironically, if we put some thought into it, we moderns know that the heart is not the source of emotion. It pumps blood. If there is a physical source of emotion or desire it is the brain, the same source as our rational thought. So we end where we began — there is one seat of both reason and emotion.

In the biblical conception (and in modern medicine), there is one source of both rational thought and of emotion or desire. The two spring from one well. I have argued that in education we week to transform the men’s fallen minds through the innate power of God’s own truth, beauty, and goodness. I would like to emend that a bit — it is the heart, in the Old Testament biblical sense, that we act upon in education. It is not a matter of the intellect versus the affections but of both together.  In educating our children we must not be emotionally manipulative but we should expect education both to be a delight and to cause us to delight in the things of God.  

“’Men have a great deal of pleasure in human knowledge, in studies of natural things . . .’” [Jonathan Edwards, in A Passion for Learning: A History of Christian Thought on Education by Bruce Lockerbie (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Designs, 2007; first published 1994), p. 232]

“The end then of Learning is to repair the ruines of our first Parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true vertue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the highest perfection.” (John Milton, “Of Education”)


** But wait! you say. My Bible uses the word “mind.” It even speaks of heart and mind together in some verses. Surely there are two concepts here. There are a few possibilities here —

In the vast majority of verses in which the English Standard Version (ESV; I am focusing on the ESV but the same would be true of any other translation) uses the word “mind” the Hebrew has “heart” (Exod. 14:5; Deut. 28:28; 30:1; I Sam. 9:19-20; I Kgs. 3:9, 12; 4:29; 10:2, 24; 2 Kgs. 6:11; 1 Chr. 12:38; 22:19; 2 Chr. 9:1, 23; Neh. 6:8; Prov. 19:21; 28:26; Jer. 7:31; Dan. 5:21; 7:4). A few verses are of particular interest. When Moses gathers craftsmen wot build the tabernacle the ESV translates “every craftsman in whose mind the Lord had put skill” (Exod. 36:2) though the Hebrew says that he put skill in their hearts. Thus we see that practical, hands-on skills also reside in the heart. 

In Psalm 7:9b (v. 10 in the Hebrew) the ESV reads: ” . . . you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God!” In Hebrew the first word is “heart” and the second word is “innards” or “kidneys.” Remember what we said above — the guts are also said at times to be the seat of emotion. Note that the word our English translations render as “mind” is actually “heart” and the word they render as “heart” is “liver.” The same thing also occurs in Psalm 26:2 and Jeremiah 11:20; 17:10; & 20:12. Psalm 64:6 does something similar but uses a different word for “innards.” Job 38:36 actually uses two words for innards though your translation, like mine, may have “heart and mind.”

I Samuel 2:35 is another verse which has both “heart” and “mind” in the English. The ESV has ” . . . what is in my heart and in my mind.” A more accurate translation would be ” . . . what is in my heart and in my soul.” Now the word for soul (Hebrew nepesh) is another tough one that we could spend multiple posts on. It may be translated as “soul” or “life” or “breath” or “self” (I Chronicles 28:9 also uses this word). Twice another word which may be translated “breath” or “spirit” is used in parallel with heart (I Chr. 28:12; Ezek. 20:32). The Hebrew word here is ruah which can also mean wind.

In a few verses, the Hebrew has no word for “mind.”. In Genesis 37:11 we are told that “but his father kept the saying in mind” but in the Hebrew it simply says “his father kept the word.” “Mind” is added for the sake of the meaning in English. Something similar is happening in Exodus 10:10 in which the Hebrew also has no word for “mind” (cf. Exod. 13:17; Num. 23:19). Similarly, when we say in English that one changed his mind, the Hebrew only says “he changed”; mind is implied and is added for meaning in English (Ps. 110:4). 


Books Read: February 2020

Dear Reader,

It’s that time again. Here are the books I read this past month:

Books Read February 2020

The Making and the Unmaking of a Dullard by Thomas Edward Shields — I have a more thorough review of this book here. Sheilds’ is an older book on education told in a narrative form. Though somewhat dated, it has some good insights. It is not an essential read it is an easy and enjoyable one. 

Eben Holden by Irving Bacheller — Bacheller is the author of my favorite book, The Light in the Clearing. Eben Holden is actually is best-known book. He is a slightly older author. This one is set around the time of the Civil War. It is a sweet, wholesome story. I found the beginning part about when the main character is young more interesting. It reminded me a little of the Little House on the Prairie books in that it tells about settlers in a certain time and place. There is nothing inappropriate in it though it is a little slower and would probably appeal less to small children. It was a good read though. 

The Scottish Covenanters by J.G.Vos — I wanted to like Vos’ history fo the covenanters and I did learn from it. Given what there is available on the topic, this is probably a good choice. Perhaps it is just the time period but even though I have heard a few Sunday school lessons on covenanter history and it was not an entirely new topic, I still found it all a bit confusing. The appendices were actually more interesting because Vos talks about specific topics in them. I was hoping it was something my teens could read but I think they would be too confused to really get much out of it. 

The Passage by Connie Willis — This book had come up in discussion with my daughter so I reread it recently. I remembered loving it and I loved it again this time. It’s one of those books where if you say too much you will spoil it. It is set mostly in a hospital and focuses on a couple of people researching near death experiences. It is funny — not in a laugh out loud way. I found (once again) that I cared about the characters right away and I liked that it doesn’t seem to waste too many words (though it is not a short book). The things the reader needs to know come out naturally.  My daughter has only made it about half way through and her impression was that it was not well-written because it spends a lot of time telling you how the characters find their way around the maze of the hospital. Without giving too much away, I will say that this aspect of the story is actually fairly important both to the later plot and to the whole atmosphere of what is happening. The worldview of the author is not mine. Christians are dismissed pretty abruptly ina straw-man kind fo way. Yet there is material here to make you think. It reminds me a bit of Of Human Bondage (which I read last month) in that the author seems to be saying something profound but then the end falls a little short. It is as if these non-Christian authors have some truth to tell but because they don’t have it all they can’t quite bring it to a good conclusion. I still really like this book though. Willis also wrote To Say Nothing of the Dog which is another wonderful, favorite book and much lighter subject-wise.

What have you been reading?


Reformed Philosophy of Education, Introduction (Part 1)

Dear Reader,

This post is part of my ongoing series in search of a reformed Christian theology of education. Find all the posts here.

In preparation for my big upcoming post which puts together my philosophy of education in one place, I have a couple of quick posts which set up a little more background and/or give details that don’t quite fit in the long post.  Today I’d like to look at where my philosophy falls in terms of the 4 Ways to Approach Education outlined by Cornelius Jaarsma.

In his schema, any approach to education will fall into one of four categories (or combine them in some fashion): knowledge-getting, disciplinary, social, and/or psychological. The first of these is the easiest to understand. It focuses on the acquisition of knowledge. It assumes that there is a set body of knowledge outside of man that is the same for all and that this knowledge is worth acquiring. Classical education would fall into this category and would most traditional (read: pre-1900) schooling.

Disciplinary refers to the disciplining not of behavior but of skills or aptitudes. That is, it seeks to train the faculties. If you talk about learning how to learn, you have a disciplinary approach. Much of classical also has a fair amount of the disciplinary in it. Montessori and Waldorf are also in this category.

Social approaches focus on the community, whether it be the society as a whole or the church. The modern American public school, based on the ideas of John Dewey, has a social approach. But there are also Christian approaches which verge on the social.

Last but not least the psychological approach focuses on the individual. Unschooling is psychological. But, again, Christian approaches can be psychological if their main focus is on the building of the individual. Cornelius Van Til, for example, speaks of the goal of education as conformity to the image of God which he defines as becoming more and more a distinct personality.

So where do I fall in all this? The answer is that there is a blend of approaches with the most emphasis on the knowledge-getting and psychological. My philosophy has a fair degree of knowledge-getting in that it believes that there is a set body of knowledge which exists outside of man. It is not entirely this approach because I do believe that the knowledge serves a larger purpose in the individual’s life (it is transforming) and that not all people require or will acquire the same knowledge.

There is also some aspect of my approach which is psychological in that the transformation of the individual is the immediate goal. Individuals, even when presented with the same material, will not acquire the same knowledge or respond in the same ways. I would say, however, that psychological approaches go astray when they make the individual the measure of success. Our goal needs to be not in the individual himself; we look instead to an outside standard.  While there are some social consequences of my approach, they are secondary. I believe that there can be a lot of danger in a social outlook; when we make the social a first priority, we undercut the value of the individual as a person. 

Next up: A few thoughts on the nature of man and his parts.



Book Review: The Making and the Unmaking of a Dullard

Dear Reader,

This post is part of my ongoing series in search of a reformed Christian theology of education. Find all the posts here.

I really enjoyed having Thomas Edward Shields The Making and the Unmaking of a Dullard (Leopold Classic Library, 2019; reprint of original 1909 publication) around my house. I told each of my kids it was about them.

Shields’ book is unique; it is a living book on education. The whole thing is a story told by a former dullard about his educational experience, how he came to be labeled a simpleton (the book uses the word omadhaun, a new one to me) and how he pulled himself out of that rut. It is eminently readable. There are some clear conclusions drawn, but there is perhaps less of a whole, coherent philosophy of education.

As you may have discerned from the use of the word “dullard,” this is an older book, originally published in 1909. The years before the First World War were very fruitful for educational philosophies. It was a time of hope. With the ideas of evolution behind him,  man firmly believed in progress and the world wars had not yet come to disillusion him and show him of his depravity. Charlotte Mason (CM) worked in this period (though beginning a bit earlier) as did Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Waldorf movement.

Though the language is dated and the particular situation would probably be viewed and treated much differently today, there is a lot here that sounds very modern. The teacher in the group (one of the former-dullard’s audience) complains that more and more of her pupils — fully half of them — seem to be unable to learn. While in her day they were labeled dullards and the problem was seen to be mainly intellectual, the situation sounds a lot like the problems we have today with attention-deficit issues. Boys are said to suffer because they are in a female environment. “The natural exuberance of the boy is often toned down . . . The boy revolts . . . As a result, without knowing what is the matter, his interest gradually declines, and he drops out  . . . ” (pp. 28-9).  Another root problem the book identifies is a lack of a proper environment outside of the school — families are falling apart and the society as a whole has no defining narrative to teach children, again a modern problem.

Shields holds a few core values which shape his conclusions. Though there is little to no talk of God here, he is a Roman Catholic and he values the personhood of each child. He seeks answers in the nature of the child. That is, he believes one needs to understand how the child works in order to solve the problems in education. Finally, though the application is meant to be individualized, he is still very much seeking a process. There is still the expectation that the intelligent, educated experts can discuss the problems and devise a system.

Because Shields offers his conclusions so clearly, I will present those as a list with a few reflections thrown in and then offer some overall thoughts at the end – –

  • The memory of failure blocks future successes. Therefore, failure should be avoided as much as possible. A modern way to say this might be that children need to have confidence. Success breeds further success. This is a principle with which Charlotte Mason would agree as well. A practical application would be that we should not push children too far beyond what they are capable of. “[W] e rarely succeed in doing anything that we believe we can not do” (p. 34). The dullard of the story became one in large part when he was promoted too highly beyond his academic level.
  • Children remember particularly experiences with a high emotional content. While they may not remember specifics, these are the most formative experiences for them. When children are “whipped or frightened or ridiculed on account of their failure” (p. 33), the effects of that failure are even more profound.
  • “Minds with the greatest strength often develop slowly in early childhood” (pp. 24-5). In other words, the kids that might initially seem slowest academically may end up being the most intelligent adults, so it is particularly important not to let them be discouraged early on.
  • There are alternating periods of physical and mental development. The author argues that the most brilliant young children tend to be physically small (p. 73). If they hit puberty and begin to catch up with their peers, their seeming intelligence may also seem to fade. Conversely, young children who are large for their age often seem stupid but they too may catch up academically when their growth levels off. I am not sure if the specifics here are true but I distinctly remember an older homeschool mom telling me that her son went through a year or two around puberty when he just seemed to have forgotten everything he previously knew. Then he stopped growing so fast and he got back to learning. The application for parents and teachers would be to not make judgement, whether good or bad too hastily and to remember that there may be seasons to learning as well as to physical growth.
  • “The best interests of the very bright pupils are not served by pushing them up through the grades as rapidly as possible.” (p. 77)
  • “[I]ndividual children are very seldom average children” (p. 59) and “all children are atypical” (p. 60).
  • There are physical causes for “dullness” which must be dealt with before one can go further. They include illness, malnutrition, fright, environmental issues, and defective senses (eg. problems seeing or hearing).
  • “[M]ost teachers talk too much.” (p. 101)
  • Rote memorization is despised.
  • Reading should be done slowly and should be for content, not form. This is said at a time when children were expected to read aloud nicely and not necessarily to know or understand what they read.
  • “[E]very little bit of truth that the growing mind discovers for itself has more real value than many times the quantity fed to it.” (p. 136) I love this quote and it is very CM.
  • Children must be put into direct contact with real, tangible things. For science, for instance, he says that every step forward in human knowledge has come from actual hands-on experience and experiments. Practically speaking, this means students should repeat experiments for themselves rather than just reading about them. If they do this under the guidance of a knowledgeable teacher, they can progress more quickly so human knowledge can still advance. We don’t all have to reinvent the wheel from scratch.
  • Even the youngest minds should be presented with what he calls “germinal truths” which contain a whole body of knowledge in them. This often means hands-on experience again. For instance, a child who uses a pitchfork as a lever can appreciate many concepts of physics before he is able to put them into words.
  • Children often need “fairy stories” and half-truths as a step along the way until their minds are ready for the whole, naked truth (p. 251). (This is one principle I do not agree with, though I have nothing against fairy stories.)
  • Education, especially early education, should be sensory-motor. One should not cram too much book learning into children’s heads. (Again, I would disagree on this one; more on that later.)
  • We have mastered something when we can adapt it to our purposes. The example given is of a farm machine. One man may use it but another who can change and improve it to suit some purpose has truly mastered it. The same may presumably be said of the rules of poetry or some other more academic subject.
  • “Premature” and “injudicious” praise teach children to work for the teacher’s praise (p. 178). It is far better for them to work for internal motivations, the desire to know for its own sake.
  • Children should not be encouraged to specialize at too young an age. It causes them to lack development in other areas. This is particularly a concern with precocious children who seem “gifted” in one area. Again, this was an idea Charlotte Mason had as well.
  • A man “begins to be a man in that hour wherein he learns to transfer his allegiance from individuals to principles” (p. 234). In other words, the goal — or at least one goal — is not for the child to always follow his teacher but for him to get to the point that he has fixed ideas and principles which guide his life.

There is a lot in Shields’ thought that I like. It is interesting to see what similarities he has with Charlotte Mason and what differences. I wish I knew more about how widely spread these ideas were at the time and which were actually unique to their proponents. I also wish I knew a bit more about Maria Montessori’s theory to see how Shields’ thought lined up with hers. They both, unlike Mason, began with deficient children (for lack of a better word) so it would be interesting to see if they ended up in the same places. I do think Montessori emphasized the hand-on elements as Shields does so that may be one point of connection. One wonders if they had not begun there, if they had begun with normally developing children, if they, like Mason, would have prioritized book learning more.

I like that Shields emphasizes the uniqueness of the child as a person and that he values each one, no matter how backwards his society deemed them. I think a lot of his principles about avoiding failure and not overly praising are good. My main disagreement with him would be on the actual day-to-day how of learning. I am not opposed to hands-on learning but I do not think it should be our go-to. I would give books a much higher place. Part of the difference, I think, stems from how books were used in his time. Then it was mostly rote learning from books which I agree is not profitable. While I like (with Charlotte Mason) would agree that a child learns much more when he discovers for himself, I think this discovery can happen in the context of reading. In reading good books, what CM would call living books, we put children in contact with the best minds. When we ask them to narrate this material (see this post for a little on that), then they do do the work of discovery and make it their own.

My short take on The Making and the Unmaking of a Dullard is that, while it is not going to be essential to anyone’s philosophy of education today, it is an enjoyable book, well-written, engaging, and quickly read, and if you are looking for something lighter to read on the subject of education it would be a fine choice.



Book Read January 2020

Dear Reader,

With the new year, I seem to be picking up speed again. Here are the books I finished in January:

Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham — I really liked Maugham’s Moon and Sixpence which I read at the end of 2019, so I jumped right into Maugham’s most famous book, Of Human Bondage. I liked this book too in terms of its entertainment value. Maugham writes well and his descriptions of the main character’s insecurities were too painfully real. I was a little less enamored of the overall message. At times it seemed like it would end up being quite insightful, but in the end, I felt it fell a little flat. I don’t want to say too much more than that as I don’t want to spoil the book. It is well worth reading and I hope that if you do, you will tell me what you thought of it. 

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte — I had read Wuthering Heights twice in my younger years and always remembered hating it. It was recommended by someone I respect recently on a podcast so I thought I had better give it another try. I listened to it as an audiobook on Librivox. I will say for it that the story keeps going. It is not a dull book. There are no likable characters, however, Those who are “good” are downright annoying and whiny and I spent most of my time wanting to slap them. It’s hard for the parent in me not to think that none of this would have happened if all the characters had been appropriately disciplined as children. Perhaps Bronte was trying to say something insightful about evil but it is lost on me. 

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad — I had some problems with the Kindle version of this book and wasn’t actually sure that I had read the whole thing. I looked into it though and found that I had indeed. Having heard of Conrad’s book, I didn’t necessarily expect to like it but I did expect to find it thought-provoking. On actually digging in, I thought it fell a little flat. Perhaps this is because it has a reputation and I had expected it to be more pivotal but I just didn’t think there was much there. 

God Breathed by Rut Etheridge III — (I have done a brief post on some aspects of this book with regard to my main topic which is education; you can find that here.) Etheridge is a (former?) chaplin at a Christian college who writes to college-age students disillusioned by Christianity as they know it. Specifically, he writes to those raised in Christian homes (these are no doubt what he encounters in his work). I am not the intended audience for this book. I picked it up because I have college-age kids and I thought it might be good for them to read or to give to their struggling peers. Neither of my currently in college kids is at a Christian college, however. They have a lot of peers with a lot of weird ideas and a lot of issues but most of them have no church background and they would not start from the same place that Etheridge’s intended audience does. I wasn’t overly enamored of God Breathed. I will start with the pros: Theologically it is sound (not surprising since we come from the same denomination) and I like that he makes a plug for Psalm-singing. In the first third or so of the book especially, Etheridge discusses the philosophical foundations of modern thought, I found these (scattered) sections particularly good and helpful (and I may have my high schoolers read them). Cons: I found the book rambling. It is very stream-of-consciousness. I just like to be able to see where an argument is going and I couldn’t here. There is also a lot of modern language and allusions which I didn’t like. I know he is trying to appeal to a younger generation so this could be a me-issue but I would think a teen/20-something would find them patronizing, like when an adult tried to sound cool. Overall, my main objection s are stylistic and, as I say, I am not the intended audience. I do think this could be a good book for its audience and it certainly couldn’t hurt to give it to them, but it was not my cup of tea (a metaphor which probably shows how dated I am).

What have you been reading?


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