A Reformed Philosophy of Education: the Framework

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 have recently given you, as best I can, my own philosophy of education as it now stands. In doing so I argued that one of the most important facets of a reformed Christian education is to give the right framework. Today I want to try to clarify what I mean by that.

There are a number of words which can be used for the sort of thing I am speaking about — framework, worldview, mindset, attitude, culture, perspective, even the German weltanschauung. [1] Each of these holds some aspect of what I am trying to get at and yet none of them seems to quite sum it up. This thing I am trying to describe is what provides context and proper understanding to everything that is learned. It is a framework in that it underlies everything else and gives it some structure. But framework sounds too bare-bones as if it lacks particulars. It is a worldview in that it shapes how we view the world. But worldview is often an over-used and abused term in Christian circles. It often seems to amount to slapping some Bible verses on a math lesson but to have little substantive value. And I am conscious that some tend to boil down a Christian worldview to one or two easy propositions which do not take into account the fullness of God. [2] It is a mindset because it is a way of thinking; an attitude because it is pervasive. It is a culture that binds Christians together. It is a perspective in that it shapes how we see.

What has convinced me lately that we need this framework (for lack of a better term) and that it is utterly vital is not all my reading and thinking on education but my praying for others in my life. I am realizing as I do so that there are many who seem to simply inhabit a different world than I do. Some are perfectly happy in a completely material world with absolutely no concern for or awareness of a spiritual dimension. My prayers for them are the most frustrating because they seem to have absolutely no felt need for anything more than what they see. They walk by sight and not by faith (2 Cor. 5:7). I am reminded of Elisha’s servant who saw only the Assyrian army surrounding him until his eyes were opened to see the host of God (2 Kgs. 6:14-17).

Others believe in something spiritual but it is still not the same world I inhabit. It is often a world full of good spirits (they never seem to believe that some of these spirits might be bad or deceptive).  For others it is a world in which positive thoughts and good vibes are effective. I have a cousin who seems to genuinely believe she caused a vegan restaurant to open in her neighborhood simply by sending out positive energy (vegan restaurants are clearly a supreme good in her estimation). Her sister thinks the universe sent her a dresser when she needed one. This is a universe in which there are many interconnected strands. I picture them like a spider’s web we walk amongst. Pull on one and anything might happen.

This thing then which teachers and parents should have and which they should communicate to their students is really a particular conception of reality. We need to believe in a God who is all-powerful and compassionate, just and merciful. We need to believe in absolute truth and in goodness and beauty and in our ability to discern them in the world around us. We need to believe that all things work ultimately according to God’s plan and that there is no detail beneath His notice or outside His control.

There are times at which we will communicate these things to our children directly and deliberately. But far more than what we intentionally say, what we believe and do and love and how we respond to the circumstances of our own life will communicate these things. Above all we need to live in the world as if we believe these things.

Charlotte Mason speaks of atmosphere as a core element of education and that perhaps is a good word to describe what I am trying to get at. It has nothing to do with environment; it is not about what pictures are on the walls or what music is playing. It is certainly not Bible verses on a math worksheet. It is something in the air what is so pervasive that we take it in with every breath. It is what we live in. Henry Schultze uses the same word when he speaks of “a spiritual atmosphere so that he cannot reach out without touching God from some angle.” [3]

I realize this is all still very ethereal so let me end with some practical suggestions:

  • More than anything else we who teach (or parent) need to believe these things for ourselves. It can’t be fake like a pose one adopts or a mask one puts on. We are fallen people and we will not always feel what we should but we must first work on our own “worldview.” Whatever we believe will communicate itself, no matter what our words are.
  • Teach what you love. If you do not love your subject matter and you do not see God’s hand in it, then you may need to switch careers. Seriously. One cranky day does not necessitate a switch but a year of just not seeing what God is doing is a big deal. Parents and parent/teachers have less flexibility in that they must teach all subjects so it is even more important that they do the following —
  • As far as we are able we should cultivate our own appreciation for the things of God. This means prayer of course, but also feeding our own minds. Read good books on the subjects your kids are studying. They don’t necessarily have to be written by Christians but they should be by people who love their subject.
  • Pick such books for your children too. These are what we call “living books.” They may be fiction or non-fiction. Ideally they will be well-written and they should be engaging.
  • Talk about the things you think and pray about and do. Praying in your closet is not necessarily applicable to your own children. They should know what concerns you and how you deal with it. Let them see the struggles you have and how you deal with them. How are we going to believe God moves armies and nations if we don’t see Him first in the lives closest to us?
  • If you are not comfortable talking about God even to your own kids, get there. Just talking aloud about what is in your head is a great start. If you start when your kids are little, they will have no idea you are being weird. It’s not about being preachy; it’s about letting them into your inner monologue.
  • Don’t isolate children from the full family of God. They should have exposure to Christians of all ages and should hear how those people discuss their problems and how they read their Bibles and how they pray.
  • Bring your children along into the things you love. In the long run they may not love those things too but for a time at least they can participate in your love and they can experience what it is like to see God in something.
  • Talk about other people’s issues. This should be done with a fair degree of discretion. We don’t want to reveal secrets or to be gossipy, but it is often easier to reflect on the lives of others. They don’t need to be bad things. It can be “Wow, God really answered Mrs. So-and-so’s prayer for health in a dramatic way.”
  • Stories of all sorts can be wonderful for this as well and you don’t need to talk about real people. Books are best but movies can provide some good stories too. Don’t quiz your kids and don’t degenerate into being preachy but if you read and watch things that make you think then you can discuss honestly without pretense.
  • Don’t forget thanksgivings in prayer. Too often we ask for things, even repeatedly, and then neglect to mention when God answers those prayers.
  • In Old Testament times, people said thank you by relating what had been done for them. So tell the stories, personal ones as well as ones that relate to the larger body of God’s people.
  • Teach solid theology. There is almost no age that is too young. The language will get more complicated but even young children can get basic theological concepts about sin and redemption. As they get older, talk about other worldviews too so that they can recognize others’ presuppositions.

Nebby

[1] Frank Gaebelein. The Christian, The Arts, and The Truth (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1985) p. 186.

[2] For more on that, see this post on Fesko’s Reforming Apologetics in which he is quite critical of Van Til and others.

[3] Henry Schultze. “The Man of God Thoroughly Furnished,” in Fundamentals in Christian Education, ed. Cornelius Jaarsma (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1953) p. 183.

3 responses to this post.

  1. […] Reformed Christian Education: What to Read A Reformed Philosophy of Education: the Framework […]

    Reply

  2. […] knowledge or if they are referring to something more akin to a worldview or mindset (as I discussed here). Though there is certainly some aspect of the latter in their philosophy, they seem to be thinking […]

    Reply

  3. […] by all Christians no matter their field. This is an idea we have seen in a number of writers (and I have argued for something similar in education). Gaebelein here sums it up well. I have struggled to find just the right word to encapsulate the […]

    Reply

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