Sacred and Secular in Education

Dear Reader,

For many of us Christian homeschoolers, religion is a big part of why we homeschool. Perhaps we found the public schools pushing values we dislike. Perhaps we just want to be able to instill our children with our own beliefs. But when we bring the kids home, the question is how?

When I was in grad school, the talk in our Christian fellowship was almost always on “how do I integrate my faith with my studies?” I was studying biblical Hebrew, so this wasn’t such a struggle for me, but I could see how it was for those in many other fields. The talk is not so different now in the Christian homeschooling community. How do we make our schoolwork Christian? Or do we even need to?

In some subjects, it is easy to see how our faith applies. Bible, of course. We wouldn’t be doing it if not for our faith. Many find that their view of science in affected by their faith (though I don’t think all good Christians need be 6-day creationists). In history also, one can at least come to it with the idea that God is in charge and orchestrates all events. But what about grammar and math and spelling? What makes a Christian spelling curriculum? How is it different from a secular one?

There are a lot os different ways to answer these questions. In my study of different homeschooling methods, I have run across various interpretations. The Puritans’ Home School Curriculum, for example, is one of those that seeks to make every area Christian (and Reformed Christian at that). They have not completed their whole curriculum but note that the spelling curriculum they recommend for the time being is not all they would wish it to be:

“We do regret that it is bereft of any reformed distinctive, but we believe under the current circumstances this is the best resource to recommend.” [J. Parnell McCarter, “Teacher’s Manual for Implementing the Puritans’ Home School Curriculum,” p.34]

It is not at all clear to me how a spelling curriculum shows reformed distinctives, but you can see that their goal is to have their particular faith expressed im areas of study.

I have also been reading up in the Principle Approach to education in preparation for a post on that method. They also seek to have their faith penetrate all aspects of education. They emphasize, however, finding the biblical principles which lie behind each area:

“The Principle Approach to homeschooling looks at each subject from a Christian worldview . . .  using the Bible as our textbook and relating and applying God’s Biblical principles to all areas of education.” [From Home Hearts “The Principle Approach”]

They also criticize other curricula which slap a few Bible verses at the bottom of  a page and call it Christian. I am still processing my thoughts on the Principle Approach for that future post, but I have to say that I agree with this critique. I just don’t see that making every grammar sentence about Abraham or every math problem about lost sheep makes for a Christian curriculum.

For me the question is a more basic one– it is not how do we make our math curriculum Christian but do we need to? In that graduate Christian fellowship I was in  the answer to how do I integrate my faith with my studies was: “All truth is God’s truth.” And while I got tired of hearing it at the time, I think it is true. This is easiest to see perhaps in mathematics. In math, there is truth. Two plus two equals four all the time. It is not subject to opinion, and it does not change. In areas like spelling and grammar which do change and are subject to human whims, it is harder to see God’s character reflected.

Charlotte Mason gives a different sort of answer. She says that we don’t need to make every area of life Christian; we don’t need to bring it under God’s dominion. Not because it doesn’t matter if our spelling is done in a  godly way but because all areas of study, as all of creation, are already under His authority. We do not need to make the secular sacred, because there is no secular. God is the great Educator, the one who teaches men’s (and boys’ and girls’) hearts and minds. All knowledge and wisdom come from and are found in Him. This is, I think, what the graduate fellowship meant when it said  “All truth is God’s truth.”

Here is how Charlotte says it:

“God the Holy Spirit is Himself the Supreme Educator, dealing with each of us severally in the things we call sacred and those we cal secular.” [Parents and Children (Seven Treasures Publication, 2009) pp. 115-116]

And again:

“Many Christian people rise a little higher; they conceive that even grammar and arithmetic may in some not very clear way be used for God; but the great recognition, that God the Holy Spirit is Himself, personally, the Imparter of knowledge, the Instructor of youth, the Inspirer of genius, is a conception so far lost to us that we should think it distinctively irreverent to conceive of the divine teaching as cooperating with ours in a child’s arithmetic lesson, for example.” [Parents and Children, p.136]

And if God is the Educator, then all knowledge is godly:

“We do not merely give a religious education, because that would seem to imply the possibility of some other education, a secular education, for example. But we hold that all education is divine, that every good gift of knowledge and insight come from above . . . ”

[School Education (Wilder Publications, 2008) p.73]

I am still processing how this idea should affect my homeschool. It is a humbling idea to think that all my children’s education is the work of the Holy Spirit and that I myself an allowed to cooperate and participate in that. It relieves me of the burden of finding the perfect, most Christian spelling curriculum. But it also inspires me with some fear and trepidation.

What do you think? Is Charlotte Mason on the right track? To what degree do our curricula need to Christian curricula?



4 responses to this post.

  1. […] get here. The first is that all new scientific revelation comes from God. I have noted before that Charlotte sees the Holy Spirit as the Great Educator. He is the source of all wisdom and knowledge. This is a good thing for us to remember as we seek […]


  2. […] they must take it in. I would add to this a concept from elsewhere in her writings, that it is God’s Holy Spirit which truly gives wisdom. So in a sense I would say that what occurs is not self-education at all but divine […]


  3. […] The first chapter of Ryken’s book in on the Puritan view of work. The first point he makes is that the Puritans did not distinguish between sacred and secular occupations, rather all work can and should be done to the glory of God. This reminds me very much of Charlotte’s saying that all areas of education are under the divine oversight; the Holy Spirit is the giver of wisdom whether the subject is theology or spelling (see this earlier post). […]


  4. […] is no dichotomy because God’s presence is pervasive through all aspects of our lives. (See this earlier post on the sacred and secular in a Charlotte Mason […]


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