The Prime Mover in 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.

When the world looks at education, it tends to talk in terms of the child versus the adult. On one end of the educational spectrum we find more traditional approaches in which the educator sets the curriculum and is the primary moving force. Classical education, in both its Christian and secular forms, fits this definition. There is believed to be a set body of knowledge that all people should know (or all people in western culture).  The curriculum is thus determined from above. The teacher plays a large role in other ways as well and is often spoken of as a mentor, one to be imitated, and the main source of knowledge.

On the other end of the spectrum we find “child-directed” or “interest-led” learning. The most extreme example of this is Unschooling which is a philosophical position which states that the child will gravitate toward what they need to know. In its most extreme forms, unschooling is a philosophy of parenting as much as of education and says that the adult should never impose his will on the child. The adult in this approach is mainly a facilitator. They help obtain resources but they do not drive either the curriculum or the learning itself. In between these two extremes there are of course many other options as well as many ways of combining their various facets.

What I would like to propose today is that viewing the spectrum in this linear way, with two poles, child-directed on one end and teacher- or curriculum-directed in the other, is too narrow. As Christians, we need to recognize that the child and the adult are not the only two parties involved in education. Charlotte Mason says as much in the last of her 20 principles [1]:

“We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.”

Elsewhere she calls the Holy Spirit the Great Educator. Ultimately, it is God who works in the hearts and minds of children and adults to enable them to know anything. [2]

There are then three parties in education — the student, the teacher, and God. How do these three relate and what is the role of each? While I am not proposing that we do away with traditional educational structures, the teacher is most extraneous to this process. The Scriptures make clear that we are to learn from those who are farther along in their faith and that parents are to instruct children. Other people are a major channel by which God works, but we must be clear that they are a means. [3] God could also act without these intermediaries and we need to be careful not to distort the relationship.

On the other hand, the child-led end of the spectrum distorts education in another way. It makes the individual learner the arbiter of what is true and good and necessary. My contention has been that in education we place before children the things of God which He gives us in His general revelation. While it would be impossible for any of us to learn everything man has been given to know, there is a level on which the curriculum of education is set by God Himself. He is the Truth and He is the One who enables us to know.

The world speaks of education along a two-dimensional axis with only two possible actors, the student and the teacher. In doing so, they eliminate the One who is actually the Prime Mover in education, the One who gives us the curriculum and who enables learning to take place, that is God Himself. In a Christian philosophy of education [4], we should not take what the world does and tack on God and the Bible as an afterthought; we must instead begin with this truth: that God is the Prime Mover in education.

Nebby

[1] I have discussed the 20th principle previously in this post.

[2] I would add that all three persons of the Trinity, not just the Holy Spirit, are said to give knowledge (see links below).

[3] See also these earlier posts on teaching and education in the Bible:

Words for Teach in the Old Testament

Teaching in the New Testament

[4] Find my philosophy of education (a work in progress) here.

One response to this post.

  1. […] As we have seen, Mason in the Meditations ascribes power to man to will his own salvation. Yet in her educational philosophy, God is the prime Actor. I find this discrepancy a bit odd, but the important thing for our purposes is that Mason in her philosophy of education espouses a good reformed principle — that God is the Prime Mover and the source of knowledge.  […]

    Reply

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