4 Ways to Approach Education

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.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s