Posts Tagged ‘History of Education’

The History of Worksheets

Dear Reader,

As I began to review some of the Charlotte Mason-inspired curricula out there I was struck by just how ubiquitous worksheets have become. This got me thinking about the history of worksheets. When were they invented? Why are they used? How have they become to central to modern education?

A few Google searches later, I have learned a little, but not much. The first thing we need to think about is what technology is necessary for worksheets. I know in this day and age of chrome books in the classroom, worksheets seem pretty anti-technological, but they could not exist without certain other inventions: a lot of paper, cheaply made; good, cheap and reliable writing utensils; and a way to make lots of cheap copies of the same document. From’s “History of Technology in the Classroom” by Laura Gray, I have learned that while pencils became mass-produced around 1900, we didn’t get mimeograph machines till the 1940s. 

Other than the fact that we could, from the mid-1900s on, make worksheets (and whatever we can do, we tend to like to do), I don’t know why worksheets began. A little logic and some anecdotal web-evidence, however, will give us some possible reasons why they are used today:

  • Worksheets are easy to produce and use.  
  • Worksheets produce a paper trail that justifies to parents and administrators that education is happening.
  • Worksheets are easy to send home.
  • Worksheets help parents understand what is being learned (because educational practices change and how mom and dad learned math of spelling might not be how junior is being taught). 
  • Worksheets give the illusion of education. There is no guarantee that if I put the right answer in a blank today that I know the subject matter behind that factoid or that I will even be able to do the same thing tomorrow, btui worksheets give the illusion (at least) that something is being learned.
  • Worksheets provide an immediate sense of accomplishment and completion. While they may often be dull, some kids love worksheets. I have to confess I find them satisfying myself at times (and I am also the sort that likes filling out forms, most of the time).
  • In large classrooms, worksheets allow the teacher to keep tabs on each student’s progress in a quick, simple way to make sure that what has been taught is being learned. 

So what then are the downsides of worksheets?

  • Worksheets provide the illusion of learning but do not necessarily equate to actual learning.
  • Worksheets are most often shallow. They do not allow one to go into depth on a subject or demonstrate deep levels of learning.
  • Worksheets can be overwhelming. Anecdotal sources show that even kindergartners come home with 10+ worksheets a night as homework and this is in addition to worksheets which take up a lot of classroom time.
  • Worksheets are sedentary. Kids are often not innately sedentary. 
  • Worksheets often (though not always) require a degree of hand-eye coordination and writing ability which may stymie education. That is, a child may know the material btu have trouble reproducing it on paper (as this requires other skills that may not have developed). 
  • Worksheets are in essence rote learning. 
  • Worksheets are often used as “busywork.”
  • Worksheets don’t work. In “(Intellectual) Death by Worksheets in Today’s Schools” (Psychology Today, Spet. 12, 2018), Sephen Camarata argues that the decline in educational levels in America corresponds to the increase in homework and worksheets. 

The upshot of this, for us homeschool parents, is that we need to recognize the limitations of worksheets. With every sheet you place before your child, you should be asking yourself, what is my child going to get from this? There are times worksheets are helpful (math, for instance, lends itself well to sheets of practice problems). Most of us have been raised on worksheets ourselves (remember that purple ink? and the smell?) so we don’t question the method. We need to. Worksheets can be useful tools but they do not equal education.


History of Education: 1870-the present

Dear Reader,

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

Today we are finishing up our look at the history of Christian thought on education. The book I have been using for this is D. Bruce Lockerbie’s A Passion for Learning: A History of Christian Thought on Education (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Designs, 2007; first published 1994). Last time we looked at education in the United States in the 1800s and saw that, while there were some positive trends, there was also a kind of lowest common denominator Christianity which began to pervade the public schools.

The time period we are looking at today really begins around 1870. In both England and the United States this was a time of major change. In England, the Education Act of 1870 mandated schools for all children, not just the sons and daughters of the aristocracy. This created much need for teachers and also the need for a new approach to education.  In the US, the Civil War had just ended. With it many fledgling Christian schools, which had begun as a reaction to the gradual eroding of solid religious teaching in the public schools, were destroyed. The public school system too, along with the whole society, had to be rebuilt and revitalized.

In England, the Education Act had created a sudden need. There were many more students to be taught and these were a new class of students, those from poor and uneducated families.  I was quite pleased to see that Lockerbie’s representative of this period is Charlotte Mason. Though she was largely forgotten until a revival amongst modern homeschoolers, she was quite influential in England in her day. I have written a lot on Charlotte Mason, whose philosophy has in many ways shaped my own (see this list of posts), so I will not dwell too much on her thought here. I will say that I was gratified to see that Lockerbie, while acknowledging her true Christian faith, points out that she did not believe in the innate sinfulness of children. This is a point I have argued again and again as the common consensus in Charlotte Mason circles these days seems to be the opposite. See  this earlier post. I also recommend this one on Charlotte Mason and the reformed tradition. There are many false or misleading claims out there about Miss Mason being reformed or in line with reformed thought which, sadly, she was not.

In the United States thought Dwight Moody tried to establish Christian schools as early as 1880, a renewed interest in Christian education did not seem to take hold till some decades later as parents and leaders, appalled by the modernism on the public school system, saw the need for a return to distinctly Christian education. Though as we saw Lockerbie in his introduction defines schooling in such a way that it would include the homeschooling movement, his interest and focus is on formal schooling outside the home. He nods to the homeschooling by seems to imply that it is a second choice (p. 353). Lockerbie distinguishes two main branches of thought, that of the Stony Brook School, headed by Frank Gaebelein (with which he is affiliated), and that which arises from the Dutch Reformed Tradition.

The representative of the Dutch Reformed tradition whom Lockerbie chooses is Henry Zylstra whose philosophy I have discussed previously here. My own brief study has led me to believe that there is not quite so much uniformity in this branch of Christian thinking so it was interesting to me that Lockerbie chose one figure to focus on and that that one was Zylstra. I will say that from what I have read of him, I like Zylstra’s main ideas. I was particularly struck by the idea that truth itself has the power to transform. Lockerbie offers a selection from Zylstra’s Testament of Vision. Here he argues that the Christian school must not take over the role of the church; its main purpose is not to evangelize. He further argues that people are inherently religious and that we cannot have any education which is not religious in nature. Religiousness is not just another part of our nature alongside our reason, our creativity, etc. “It is the condition of all the rest and the justification of all the rest” (from Testament of Vision, as quoted in Lockerbie, p. 343). He continues:

“We hold that the education being a human enterprise is inevitably religious . . . Our answer to the secular challenge is this answer: Being neutral is impossible for man as man, certainly impossible in so fundamentally human a thing as education. It is this answer: We believe in order that we may know, for belief is the condition of knowledge.” (ibid., p. 346)

Turning to those affiliated with the Stony Brook School, Lockerbie offers selections from four thinkers: Gaebelein, the founder of the school; Peter Haile; Kenneth Gangel; and himself. I have looked at both Gaebelein and Lockerbie’s thought in earlier posts — two on Gaebelein here and here and four on Lockerbie, here, here, here, and here — so again I will not spend long on it now. There was one idea, however, I gleaned from Lockerbie that I had seen previously. In answer to the question of how we know, he says that:

“The fullest answer to these epistemological questions is both/and: both empirical and religious, scientific and spiritual, practical and philosophical, physical and metaphysical; We know some of what we know because of the presence of hard facts . . .” (p. 388)

He goes on to argue that there is another part of what we know that comes from God through faith. This reminds me of Jonathan Edwards who distinguished between two levels of knowing. We can, for instance, know intellectually that honey is sweet but if we have tasted it, we know its sweetness on another level that goes beyond the rational.

Lastly, I want to just mention Simone Weil who lived before the Second World War. She seems to have been a bit of a mystic and in the short selection Lockerbie gives one can tell her theology is not sound. But she does have some lovely things to say on joy in education:

“The intelligence can only be led by desire. For there to be desire, there mus be pleasure and joy in the work. The intelligence only grows and bears fruit in  joy. The joy of learning is as indispensable in study as breathing is in running.” (from”Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God,” as quoted in Lockerbie, p. 359)

Her overall argument here is that, just as in physics, work is measured by progress made, not just by effort expended and that twenty minutes of good attention to one’s studies is better than a few tiring hours with little to show for it. I will say the goal for her is  to build attention which she, in her mysticism, sees as a spiritual good. She seems to devalue the content and truth of what is learned and to see it only as a tool with which to build spiritual habits.

That brings is to the present. Lockerbie has a “going forward” section which is mostly occupied with concerns over court cases and what might be required of Christian schools. These issues are certainly concerning but they are not my focus. If I had to sum up the history of Christian thought on education, I would say that there is no golden age. each age responds to the forces active in its own time. There were certainly times when education could take more of a priority and people had the leisure to think about it in the abstract and to advance our thought on it. There were other times when this was just not the case or when the thought seems to have been mainly of a more practical nature.  It would be nice to say there had been some overall advance and that some issue had been settled but I don’t think this is the case. One of the first issues the church confronted is how to interact with pagan culture, with some urging complete withdrawl and some a level of engagement, taking the good and leaving the bad. This issue is with us still, or again, today. But because the issues are not new, there is much we can learn as well from studying the history of thought on education.


History of Education: the 1800s

Dear Reader,

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

I am currently looking at the history of Christian thought on education using D. Bruce Lockerbie’s A Passion for Learning: A History of Christian Thought on Education (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Designs, 2007; first published 1994). As we move into the modern era, Lockerbie focuses in a little more specifically on education in the United States. Last time we saw that while in its earliest days colonial America set a high priority on education that this was quickly replaced by a strand of anti-intellectualism, albeit with Christian roots. During the Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards made some headway, once again presenting an argument for an educated populace and an educated clergy.

The 1800s saw two big trends in education, one with Christian roots and  one distinctly non-Christian. Lockerbie covers these in two chapters, “The American Reformers” and “The Deification of Democracy.”

If you haven’t heard of Lyman Beecher, you may at least have heard of his daughter, Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose famous book Uncle Tom’s Cabin is said to have ignited the Civil War. Lyman was himself quite an activist and headed a circle of activists and thinkers whose main causes were the abolition of slavery and equality for women and African Americans. Lyman’s other daughter, Catharine Beecher, was a major proponent of education for women. She, among others, called for giving women and girls not just an education  but a full education. The Grimkes, Sarah and Angelina, and Thomas Weld (who married Angelina) did much as well to advance the education of African Americans. Though these were good impulses, my impression from Lockerbie is that there was a kind of lowest common theological denominator to this movement. In discussing Catharine Beecher, he says that: “Together the women of America would encourage a new national unity centered around the common interests of the schoolhouse rather than the factional and divisive interests of the church” (p. 247). In other words, we begin to see a common Christian culture or value system which bypasses the church.

Though he seems to have been a solid Christian, William McGuffey also contributed to this common culture with his famous readers. These “children’s textbooks” with well-curated stories which promote biblical truths had such an influence on generations of young Americans that Lockerbie compares them to television. They were the shared cultural experience.

McGuffey himself has some interesting things to say on the hows of education. He paints a high role for the teacher whom he sees as a vital shaping influence in the life of his students:

“All that they [the students] shall hereafter think, will in great measure, be the results of what we [the teachers] have previously thought, and inculcated. With us rests the tremendous responsibility of laying the foundation of a nation’s literature; and of saying what shall be its future character, for morality and religion.” (from “The Relative Duties of Parents and Teachers,” as quoted in Lockerbie, p. 269) 

He did not, however, paint parents out of the picture, but urged them to “discharge the high responsibility that heaven has laid upon them” by choosing “suitable instructors” and “superintend[ing] the whole process of their mental, moral, and religious training” (ibid., p. 272).

There is again a least common denominator aspect to all of this. “The Christian religion,” McGuffey says, “is the religion of our country” but teachers must avoid “the inculcation of all sectarian peculiarities in religion” (ibid., p. 271). In the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony, the religious culture was fairly uniform, at at least uniformly controlled. Those who seriously dissented were ousted and went on to form other colonies. As the country expanded, both geographically and in terms of the make-up of its population, public schools had to make  choices. If you teach the religious views of one group, you necessarily exclude those of another. Hence this lowest common denominator appeal. There is a shared Christian culture, but it becomes a kind of “mere Christianity” with the “sectarian peculiarities” removed. Whether such an environment is sufficient is a question that needs to be answered.

At the same time there were other ideas infiltrating the world of education which did even more to strip it of its Christian presuppositions. Horace Mann is known as the founder of the American public school system. Lockerbie argues that he has, to some degree, gotten a bad rap. He was not against religion in the schools. His primary concern was that the schools not be carried away by the winds of change which in our country blow in quite regularly with every election cycle. By reducing the religious part of the  curriculum to its lowest common denominator, he sought to protect it from these changes which he feared would undermine the education of the children they were meant to serve. He allowed the Bible to be read in schools, but only without comment. This, he believed, would still provide a moral education as God’s Word could speak for itself. Even this basic Bible reading was not non-sectarian enough for Catholic parents who objected to the use of the King James translation over their own.

There is another element to Mann’s philosophy which Lockerbie doesn’t draw out, though it comes through in the selection he quotes. The purpose of education for Mann was to equip the child to be a “free agent”:

“So the religious education which a child receives at school is not imparted to him for the purpose of making him join this or that denomination when he arrives at years of discretion, but for the purpose of enabling him to judge for himself, according to the dictates of his own reason and conscience, what his religious obligations are, and whither they lead  . . . ” (from “Report to the Massachusettes Board of Education, 1848,” as quoted in Lockerbie, p. 290)

The world Mann assumes here is one in which each person essentially elects his own religion. It is not passed down from his fathers nor it there necessarily any right or wrong choice. Each votes for himself, not just in the realm of politics, but on his God and his truth.

With Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Dewey, who was an admirer of Emerson’s, we move firmly away from Christianity. For Emerson, who denied the Trinity and the deity of Christ, nature is the supreme teacher and the goal of education to to know oneself and to become a “Man Thinking.” He was skeptical even of books which were merely the thoughts of other men. They are to inspire, he tells us, but not to get knowledge from.

John Dewey brings science to bear on education. His approach to education is a matter of scientific experimentation; what gets the desired result is what we must do. His approach is Darwinian and pragmatic, rejecting any God as outdated. The goal is “personal and communal growth, ever moving forward” (p. 302). Though, as Lockerbie notes, there is little definition of what constitutes “forward.” Though Dewey says some things about balancing the psychological and the societal, education for him seems to be mainly social indoctrination. There is no talk of knowledge here, only the social process:

“The teacher is not in the school to impose certain ideas or to form certain habits in the child, but is there as a member of the community to select the influences which shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding to these influences . . .” (from “My Pedagogic Creed,” article II, as quoted in Lockerbie, p. 306)

In the end, each child must fulfill his own destiny, a destiny he finds only after years of societal molding by trained teachers.

Not surprisingly, there was some backlash in the Christian community to this progressive de-Christianizing of the schools. The Roman Catholic Church, as we have said, had long sought to establish its own school system, recognizing that non-sectarian Christianity presented in the schools was still not quite non-sectarian enough (I discussed this previously here). In 1847 both the Presbyterian Church, USA and the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church decided that they could not rely on the public schools to give the kind of Christian education which they desired for their member children. Thus a new wave of Christian schooling began, though it was cut short of the Civil War.


History of Education: 1500-1800

Dear Reader,

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

I am currently looking at the history of Christian thought on education using D. Bruce Lockerbie’s A Passion for Learning: A History of Christian Thought on Education (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Designs, 2007; first published 1994). Thus far we have looked at biblical times, the early church, the Middle Ages, and the rise of humanism and the Protestant Reformation. Today we look at the beginnings of the modern era which Lockerbie dates to 1500-1800. I am going to include in this section early American eduaction as well. Lockerbie devotes an independent chapter to the beginnings of education in America but it too falls within this time period.

As we saw last time, the Protestant Reformation led to an interest in state-sponsored education for all, rich and poor, boys and even sometimes girls.  In England at least the first step was often the establishment of Sunday schools which taught reading and writing. These church-sponsored schools gradually spread, taking over other days of the week and offering instruction in more subjects. Once common schools were established, new, practical disputes began to arise. For instance, how much should a teacher be able to beat his students and should instruction be in Latin or in the vernacular?

In the Netherlands the Canons of Dordt addressed education. (As we have seen in our study of Donald Oppewal’s book, the Dutch Reformed still have a lot to say on the topic.) The focus of the Canons was still on religious instruction in which they saw the parents, schools, and churches sharing. Reading through the selection Lockerbie provides, the words “catechize” and “exhort” stand out again and again which I think gives a taste of what they had in mind without much more being said.

The major thinker of the era was John Amos Comenius, a Brethren pastor from Moravia (1592-1670). He saw parents as the first teachers but also favored universal schooling. Like the Canons of Dordt, Comenius paints a picture in which the family, school, and church work together. Education serves a religious purpose but the language he uses seems to point to a more comprehensive and modern-sounding goal. Today we would talk about fulfilling one’s vocation:

“Hence parents must see that their children are exercised not only in faith and godliness but also in the moral sciences, the liberal arts, and in other necessary things. Thereby, when grown up, children may become truly men wisely managing their own affairs in the various functions of life, religious or political, civil or social, that God wills them to fulfill. Thus having wisely and righteously passed through this life they may with greater joy migrate to heaven.” (The School of Infancy, chapter 1, as quoted in Lockerbie, p. 180)

Practically speaking, Comenius emphasized understanding over rote memorization and speaks of “the power of the eye to teach the mind” (p. 177). Education he depicts as a labor-intensive process of molding, just as one might train a horse, prop up a young sapling, or even plane a piece of wood. He says that:

“Indeed, man himself must be trained in such bodily actions as eating, drinking, running, speaking, seizing with the hand, and laboring. How then, I pray, can those duties higher and more remote from the sense such as faith, virtue, wisdom, and knowledge come spontaneously to any one?” (The School of Infancy, chapter 3, as quoted in Lockerbie, p. 181)

I have to say I find this quote utterly bizarre. I am tempted to think Comenius was being facetious in all of this — from his comparison of children to lumber to his assertion that they must be talk to grasp. I have four children and while they are all adept at eating, drinking, running, speaking, and seizing, I taught them none of these things. With regard to seizing in particular, I can furnish biblical and historical evidence that this comes quite naturally to children and that they don’t need to be taught — Jacob was born grasping his brother’s heel and my daughter tells me Genghis Khan was born holding a blood clot.

Lockerbie’s next thinker is John Milton who wrote a brief letter on education. I have covered that here so I will not revisit it.

John Locke whose name is almost synonymous with the Enlightenment also had a bit to say on education. Lockerbie spends some time arguing that Locke was indeed a Christian. I really can’t comment on that. Two interesting ideas can be seen in Locke, experimentation and delaying education. In earlier thinkers there was talk about learning through memorization or through argument but the idea of experiments being a way to gain knowledge is rather modern and new. We take it for granted in these days of the scientific method, but this was not an ancient idea. Locke also speaks of an idea close to the hearts of many homeschoolers —  delaying education so as to not kill the love of learning:

“‘Tis better it be a Year later before he can read than that he should this way get an aversion to Learning.” (Some Thoughts Concerning Education, par. 153 as quoted in Lockerbie, p. 191)

Turning to the new world, we find that education was a high priority in colonial New England. Though in the first years children were taught at home, the colonists fairly quickly moved toward founding and even requiring schools. The religious motivation was again at the forefront. On the elementary level, children must learn to read Scripture so grammar schools were founded. On the other end of the spectrum, colleges were established so there might be an educated clergy. There were also in time mission schools and education became tied to the Great Commission.

[For more on the Puritan view of education, I also recommend Leland Ryken’s Worldly Saints. See also this earlier post.]

Before the United States was even the United States, a kind of anti-intellectualism developed. Though the first settlers had valued an educated clergy enough to establish Harvard College early on, a new suspiscion of education arose. There was a misguided theological principle at work here. To prepare a sermon was seen as not allowing the Spirit to work. A specifically uneducated clergy was now the ideal. A man named Gilbert Tennent taught that “education devitalized faith” (p. 224). Lockerbie tells us that “opposition to formal learning pervaded life throughout rural and frontier America” (pp. 224-25).

Onto this scene came Jonathan Edwards. While it is not clear that he did much to influence the education of children, his preaching ignited a revival known as the Great Awakening and he did much to help establish Princeton as a new university for the education of orthodox, Presbyterian clergy. The selection Lockerbie gives us from Edwards is from a sermon entitled “A Divine and Supernatural Light.” Though he does not touch on education directly, Edwards here presents an epistemology, a theory of knowing, which has implications for education.

Edwards primary argument is that there is a kind of knowing which goes beyond the facts. He tells us, “there is a difference between having an opinion, that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace” (from “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” as quoted in Lockerbie, p. 228). The same may be said of more mundane objects. Edwards gives the example of honey. One may know intellectually that it is sweet but it is quite a different thing to have tasted it and to have a sense of its sweetness.

Scripture tells is that wisdom and knowledge come from God. Edwards presents a logical argument that, as these things are so intimately tied to God, as they are so very important, that God gives them to us directly and would not use a secondary means to convey them:

“It is rational to suppose that God would reserve that wisdom and knowledge . . . that it should not be left in the power of second causes . . . It is also immensely the most important of all divine gifts; it is that wherein man’s happiness consists, and on which his everlasting welfare depends.” (p. 230)

Note also that Edwards sees knowledge as a source of joy for men. He says again later:

“Men have a great deal of pleasure in human knowledge, in studies of natural things . . .” (p. 232)

Since he has defined wisdom as something beyond mere facts, Edwards is able to argue that this true knowledge is not merely rational. The sweetness of honey, the holiness of God are not things that the rational mind perceives. “Reason’s work,” he tells us, “is to perceive truth and not excellency” (p. 231).  Because this is so, “babes are as capable of knowing these things, as the wise and prudent” (p. 231).

The Reformation taught the value of learning. In this early modern period, education was still a handmaid to faith, but we also see new ideas being advanced. Though I have some serious doubts about some of what Comenius has to say, we see in him the idea of vocation. Education allows us to do what God calls us to, even in non-religious spheres. In Locke we see experimentation as a means of gaining knowledge. In the Americas, education was initially highly valued and though this, sadly, was undercut by an anti-intellectual trend, we find in Jonathan Edwards an intriguing theory of knowledge. Edwards seems to have been a man who truly valued knowledge in its own right as a source of happiness to men.


History of Education: Humanism and the Reformation

Dear Reader,

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

I am currently looking at the history of Christian thought on education using D. Bruce Lockerbie’s A Passion for Learning: A History of Christian Thought on Education (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Designs, 2007; first published 1994). Thus far we have looked at biblical times, the early church, and the Middle Ages. Today we are looking at the rise of humanism and the Protestant Reformation.

We saw last time that at the end of the Medieval Period some began to question the teaching method known as scholasticism. This question-and-answer format had become rigid, a matter more of memorization than original thought. The desire for more openness and more critical thinking was part of a larger movement that had a few different prongs to it.

Humanism may have a bad ring to it these days, but early Christian humanists were acting on a good idea. There had been an overemphasis on the spiritual and a neglect of the bodily, physical world. The physical creation, as God made it, was “very good.” We know as well that our bodies are not temporary; they will be raised and we will have them on the new earth. Though we are made of parts — body, soul, mind, and heart — these parts are indivisible.  Humanism brought more mundane aspects back into the equation. Ordinary people were more valued, ordinary subjects came back into the mix. One result of this was a democratization of education. Education was valued not just for the elite and those who could pay for it but for all classes on society, even, a little later, for females (gasp!).

Up until this point the papacy had controlled education. With the Protestant Reformation, this hold was broken (as least in countries where the Reformation thrived). There was a return to the biblical text, and the need for ordinary people to be able to read the Scriptures in their own languages led to a new justification for education. That the ordinary person can and even should read and understand the Bible for themselves was a radical idea. Education at this period was almost entirely for religious reasons. People must learn to read so they can learn doctrine. This motivation seems to have been nearly universal at the time. Erasmus argued that learning other, “secular” subjects also instills discipline and virtue, but no one seems to have advocated learning entirely for its own sake.

Erasmus, while certainly a proponent of education, still kept the parents in the picture. He was close friends with Thomas More who educated his own children which perhaps had an influence on Erasmus’ perception. Certainly, Erasmus allowed that if they were able parents could and should educate their own children. If unable, they should work to “qualify themselves to this task” (p. 134). If they were still unable, they might hire a master to teach their children though this in no way relieved them of the ultimate responsibility for the job. They were to visit the schoolroom often and “they themselves will share the penalty” if their children are not brought up aright (p. 133).

The reformers  — including Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and Knox — seemed to all agree on the need for formal schooling. With the Pope out of the picture, the state, working with the church, took an interest in education. Luther’s opinion was that most parents were unqualified to educate their own children. This may perhaps have been true at the time, the parents themselves having grown up in a different, pre-reformation world in which little education was likely available to them. Certainly, Luther is probably correct when he says that most parents would simply have to work too hard to have the time to educate their own children. Luther placed the responsibility for education on the political leaders.  This was a different time and place, one must remember, when many of the German princes would have been supportive of the church. [1] As we saw when we looked at Chris Coleburn’s article, “A History of Reformed (Presbyterian) Christian Education” [The Evangelical Presbyterian (January 2011); see my review here], the state and church worked well together initially but over time the state began to over-exert its authority and push the church out of the picture.

With Calvin we begin to see a little more appreciation for knowledge in its own right. As seen in the example of Bezalel and Oholiab, artisans who worked on the tabernacle, God gives all kinds of wisdom. God’s common grace means that we may even learn from the knowledge of non-Christians. So, Calvin says, “if the Lord has willed that we be helped in physics, dialectic, mathematics, and other like disciplines, by the work and ministry of the ungodly, let us use this assistance” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 2, chapter 16; as quoted in Lockerbie, p. 153).

Lockerbie does not provide selections from Knox, but the article by Coleburn, mentioned above,  gives a more thorough picture of schooling under Knox among the Scottish churches as well.

For the first time in this era we see the education of children, not just of teens and adults, as a paramount concern. For Luther this meant formal schooling and the focus was on being able to read and understand the Scriptures and on learning Christian doctrine. Erasmus allowed for and even encouraged more of a role for the parents. Calvin, while still very concerned with education as a handmaid to religion, begins to open the door to the study of “secular” subjects as valuable in their own right.


[1] For more on  Luther’s views of education, see Marilyn J. Harran, “Reflections on Martin Luther and Childhood Education,” Journal of Lutheran Ethics (Jan. 1, 2004).

History of Education: The Middle Ages

Dear Reader,

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

I am currently looking at the history of Christian thought on education using D. Bruce Lockerbie’s A Passion for Learning: A History of Christian Thought on Education (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Designs, 2007; first published 1994). Thus far we have looked at biblical times and the early church. Today’s topic is the medieval church.

The picture Lockerbie paints of these so called “Dark Ages” is fairly typical. The collapse of the Roman Empire brought chaos. Centers of learning were destroyed and it was only in the monasteries that learning was preserved for future generations. The later Middle Ages did see the rise of the university. A style of teaching called dialectic involving “discussion and dispute between teachers and students” (p. 70 ) was developed. The method or school into which this evolved is known as scholasticism. Over time, however, these disputes became rigid. This was not open discussion but memorizing proscribed lists of questions and answers. At the very end of the Middle Ages, in the 15th and 16th centuries, there was a reaction against this method, a new opening up.

I don’t have a lot to comment on regarding this period. I will say again as I did for the early church period, that there is little indication here of what, if any, actually relates to the schooling of children which is meant to be our concern. I suspect there was just not much going on and that is why not much is said that specifically relates to what we might call elementary education. My other caution is that Lockerbie is presenting sources with little evaluation of their orthodoxy, which is fine for his purpose. Our overall purpose is to talk about reformed Christian education (which is somewhat anachronistic in this period as the Reformation hadn’t happened yet). There are authors listed here — Thomas Aquinas and Peter Abelard rise to the top — whom I would not consider good theological role models. While we may look at what they have said as part of the history of education, it is important as well to be discriminating and to know where, theologically, one’s sources come from before accepting what they say.


History of Education: Church Fathers

Dear Reader,

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

Last time we began looking at D. Bruce Lockerbie’s A Passion for Learning: A History of Christian Thought on Education (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Designs, 2007; first published 1994). Lockerbie gives us a brief overview of the history of Christian education with lots of snippets from primary sources. His first division, which we examined last time, was the biblical period, through the lifetime of Jesus. The next era to look at is the age of the early church, up to about 500 AD.

The overarching question for the church fathers was, in the words of Tertullian, “What, indeed, has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” (p. 28). As we saw when we looked at William Barclay’s Train Up a Child, the early church struggled with whether to accept the schools and learning of the day which made use of Greek myths or whether to turn their back on education. There were voices on both sides, Tertullian arguing that after Christ no more knowledge is needed and Justin Martyr arguing that, as all knowledge comes from God, all belongs to and is appropriate to Christians. A middle ground, perhaps, was taken by Basil the Great who, in his famous “honeybee sermon,” urged yong people to choose what is good and reject the bad (p. 28).

Augustine advanced an epistemology (a theory of knowing). He is quoted as saying credo ut intelligum, “I believe in order that I may understand,” which is to say that true understanding is only possible through faith. He said as well that Christ is the magister interior, the inward teacher, who reveals truth to us.

My quibble with Lockerbie on this section is that, though he has defined schooling as the formal education of children, he does not make clear if the authors he quotes are speaking of the education of children or of adults (or both perhaps). Likewise, he refers to early hymns and creeds as tools of education but these were clearly for religious education and do not seem to relate to education in the “secular” subjects. Barclay’s Train Up a Child indicated that some Christians made use of the pagan school system while others chose not to and that eventually Christians tried to develop their own educational materials. Lockerbie’s section on this era gives a little less clarity on the issue.


Chris Coleborn on the History of Reformed Education

Dear Reader,

This is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed philosophy theology of education. You can find all the posts here. Most recently, I have been looking at various reformed thinkers and seeing what they had to say about education. The introduction to this series-within-a-series is here.

Today’s article does not advance a philosophy of education but gives a very useful history of reformed and particularly Presbyterian education. In “A History of Reformed (Presbyterian) Christian Education” [The Evangelical Presbyterian (January 2011)], Reverend Chris Coleborn traces the history of education from Luther to the modern era. Because his interest in particularly in Presbyterian traditions, he starts broadly but then focuses in on the Scottish and to some degree English churches.

In his introduction, Coleborn makes two general statements about the beliefs of the reformers with regard to education:

” . . . they meant a study of human knowledge that was based upon, seen in the light of, and fully integrated with Divine knowledge.”


“Our fathers in the faith  . .  had in mind a basically broad education where our children could be made ‘fit for everything.'”

Now these two are not contrary ideas but neither are they the same idea. Coleborn goes through the reformers roughly chronologically and presents their ideas without a lot of judgment. This is very useful but it leaves me wondering if there was a shift in thinking that took place.

Not surprisingly, Calvin’s ideas were quite influential. Coleborn tells us that: “He held that theology was that queen of sciences and opened and lightened the way for all other knowledge.” I will confess that when in the past I have heard theology spoken of as the queen that I imagined a system in which one had to work one’s way up to theology because it is so big and important. The picture here is rather the opposite — all other studies flow out of theology. The quote that Coleborn keeps coming back to is: “In Thy light we see light” (Ps. 36:9). In other words, all other subjects are “united in and founded upon the revelation of God in the Scriptures.”

When he turns to the Scottish reformers, Coleborn introduces another idea: “Schools were seen as an important way to propagate Christian knowledge, and to build the Church.” This was partly a response to the Roman Catholic Church which was seen as a hotbed of ignorance and superstition, but also, more positively, it was believed that believers should be able to read the Word of God for themselves and even beyond that that our faith should be an intelligent faith. There is a practical aspect to this education. The goals are to fit the individual for his calling, whatever that may end up being, and to grow the church.

While these are noble goals, they strike me as something different than what was seen in Calvin. The ideal is not knowledge for its own sake because knowledge is of God but knowledge towards an end. Perhaps because the goals were more fundamental, the education that was provided to the majority was fairly basic — reading, writing, calculating and the basics of the faith. History, languages and other subjects were added but only beyond the elementary school level.

Another interesting aspect of the history is the relationship between the school, church, family, and state. I have written recently on the role of the school as an institution and expressed concerns about a non-biblical institution (which is to say, not mentioned in the Bible; non-biblical is different from unbiblical) potentially usurping responsibilities given to the family. The Puritans took the parental responsibility to educate one’s children very seriously and would excommunicate those who neglected their responsibility. But homeschooling as such was not the norm. Education was only done in the home when there were no other options: “The local ‘covenant’ community of believers saw the need for co-operation and helping one another in this great task of equipping all the children of the reformed community . . .” Thus whenever possible schools were established. Though they were not church schools as such, they were closely associated with the church. As someone who is fairly pro-homeschooling, I am a little chastened to think that we do need to help others in their task as well as just educating our own children. I do think, however, that there are various ways to do this and establishing church or Christian schools is not the only way to go. Coleborn at one point mentions the church being able to “teach parents their calling . . .  and to  . .  assist wherever it could.” Personally, I would like to see more discussion of how churches can help Christians educate their children apart from institutional schools which I think have their drawbacks.

Though earlier reformers from Luther on advocated schools, Coleborn makes clear that in this day and age one needs to be careful as secular governments have become more and more involved in what can be taught in schools. Involvement that starts out as support becomes financial support and then quickly becomes the government determining what can be taught and how. The result is that “sadly and grievously . . [Christian parents have] surrendered their beliefs and commitment to Christian education to the control of the state.”

Coleborn ends by saying that further study is needed to address modern issues including “State Aid, Parental Control of Schools versus Church Control and Home Schooling.” Overall, this is a very useful article though it raises more questions for me than it answers. It is a good jumping off point, however, and I now have an even longer list of people I have to read.


Some of the Leading Thinkers on Education and What They Really Believed

Dear Reader,

We have been discussing why we need a truly reformed Christian philosophy theology of education. On that topic, I thought it could be interesting to look at some of the minds behind the modern approach to education and what they really believed.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778):

  • Who he was: A French philosopher who also wrote on education; a major influence on Pestalozzi and Froebel
  • Educational ideas: education should be natural — preferably in the country, away from society; learning is through direct experience and the child will have a natural inclination to learn; downplays books (except Robinson Crusoe); the goal is to enable natural man to be able to live in society without being corrupted by its influences; one is educated to be a man, not towards a profession; no education for females; environment is an important part of education
  • What he believed: man is naturally good and it is society that corrupts him and makes him evil; children are different from adults and develop through stages; organized religion is unnecessary; females only role is to please men

Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827):

  • Who he was: Swiss educational reformer who ran a number of schools in his lifetime. His main concern was for the poor and he saw education as the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. “The Father of Modern Education”
  • Educational ideas: The goal of education is the development of the individual, not meeting society’s needs. Education is not the imposing of knowledge but the development of potential. All human activity must be self-generated, not imposed from the outside. The focus of education should be the child with his individual needs. Education should not be teaching facts but teaching one to think. The best model for education is the first — that is, the family and especially the mother-child relationship.
  • What he believed: the sacredness of personality and the potential of the child; education can create responsible citizens who know right from wrong and ultimately lead to the happiness of humanity; the child is basically good and will naturally develop in good lines with negative outside influences

Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852; discussed previously in this post):

  • Who he was: the founder of the modern kindergarten movement
  • Educational ideas: importance of the early years; children are compared to hothouse flowers (hence the garten of kindergarten); children learn through games
  • What he believed: Froebel denied the existence of original sin but believed man in his natural state is uncorrupted. If there is bad that enters into the child, then it comes from the adults in his life interfering in what is naturally good. All is Unity (big “U”) which is identified with God; this Unity is the goal of education. The child goes through an evolution which mirrors that of humanity.

Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841):

  • Who he was: devised a method of teaching called Herbartianism which was influential in America in the 19th century; the first to connect psychology and education; he is also credited with introducing the science of pedagogy
  • Educational ideas: He developed a five step pedagogy in which teachers select a topic, connect it to what the students already know, encourage their interest and perception of it, coalesce that they have learned and apply it to daily living. Herbartianism has been compared to the modern Unit Studies approach (see this post). In terms of goals the emphasis was on one’s social contribution and morality; true purpose is found in being a good citizen.  Education (which at the time meant moral training) is done through teaching (which is the conveying of knowledge).
  • What he believed: Pluralistic realism. He saw children born as something like blank slates with no innate ideas or categories of thought and not inherently good or evil. Moral character (the goal of education) is a gradual acquisition. Ethics is subsumed under aesthetics. Morality can be taught.

Horace Mann (1796-1859):

  • Who he was: credited with introducing universal public education to America beginning in Massachusetts; politician; father of the Common School movement
  • Educational ideas: goal of education is to turn unruly children into disciplined, judicial citizens; education should be public and non-sectarian and administered by trained teachers; common schools with all classes of society to equalize men’s conditions; moral education was also the domain of the school; though his schools were to be religiously neutral they did include Christian morals and Bible teaching, though at essentially the lowest common denominator
  • What he believed: humanitarian optimism, the gradual advancement of the human race in dignity and happiness; Unitarian

Lester Ward (1841-1913):

  • Who he was: applied the science of sociology to education
  • Educational ideas: goal is an equal distribution of the human knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, needed for democracy; higher education for all classes; education manufactures correct opinions and cannot be left to the individual (or the family); favored one curriculum for the whole country, controlled by educational experts; not child-centered
  • What he believed: society can be controlled through science; mankind is not at the mercy of evolution but can control its own progress (Telesis); rejected social Darwinism in favor of government intervention; man’s mind places his above evolution and allows him to control his own fate; he had some idea of a good that society is aiming for beyond just what the majority says

John Dewey (1859-1952):

  • Who he was: arguably the most influential American educationalist; contributed greatly to the professionalization of the teaching profession
  • Educational ideas: purpose is not to convey knowledge but to share a social experience and integrate the child into democratic ideas; higher education for all social classes; education serves democracy which is almost a spiritual community; children participate in their own learning, but he is not entirely child-led; material should be presented in a way that allows the student to relate it to previous knowledge; education should not be a one-way street from teacher to pupils
  • What he believed: morals are social and pragmatic; secular idealism; democracy is almost a religion with him; no transcendence, i.e. there is no super-natural



Cremin, Lawrence. “Horace Mann: American Educator,” in Encyclopedia Britannica.

Dawson, Christopher. The Crisis in Western Education. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2010 (first published 1961).

Doyle, Michele Erina and Mark K. Smith. “Jean-Jacques Rousseau on education.” the encyclopaedia of informal education, Last update: January 07, 2013.

Froebel, Friedrich. The Education of Man.  Translated by W.N. Hailmann. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1908.

Hilgenheger, Norbert. “Johann Friedrich Herbart,” from Prospects: The Quarterly Review of Comparative Education vol. 23, no. 3/4, 1993, pp. 649-664.

Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi,” from

Johnson, Paul. “Horace Mann on Religion and Education,” in The History of the American People. 2004.

Kim, Alan. “Johann Friedrich Herbart,” from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2015.

Monteiro, Ternan. “Rousseau’s Concept of Education,” from snphilosophers.

The Roots of Educational Theory: Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778),” from Educational Roots.

Ruddy, Michael. Pestalozzi and the Oswego Movement. Buffalo, NY: University of Buffalo, 2000.

Smith, Mark K. “Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi: pedagogy, education and social justice,” from

___________ “John Dewey on education, experience and community,” from

Sniegoski, Stephen J. “State Schools versus Parental Rights: The Legacy of Lester Frank Ward,” from Entitled to an Opinion, 2012 (originally published in The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, Summer 1985, pp. 215-228).

Van Til, Cornelius. Essays on Christian Education. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1971. (See especially pages 49-55 on John Dewey.)

Wylie, G. Lorraine. “Educational Theory of Jean Jacques Rousseau,” from New Foundations, 2011.

Living Books on the Ancient Near East

Dear Reader,

We did a mini-term between Thanksgiving and Christmas on Mesopotamia and Canaan. As a once and future Hebrew scholar, it kills me to give the short shrift to the Ancient Near East but there is only so much one can fit into a school year. You can find all my booklists here.

Living Books on the Ancient Near East

In our time all together, we concentrated on art and myths. I used Hillyer’s book for the art. Though it can be understood by elementary level, I think it still provides a good introduction for older children as well. Note that Hillyer has a few volumes, on painting, sculpture and architecture. I have the three in one volume, A Child’s History of Art, and we covered all the areas.

The Ancient Near East includes a number of cultures. While they all have similarities, there is also some variation. We tried to include both Mesopotamian and Canaanite myths. I used Padraic Colum’s Myths of the World which I got on Kindle. It is nice because it gives some introduction to what we find in each of the cultures as well. For Mesopotamia, we also got a few of the storybooks by Zeman by tell the epic of Gilgamesh. There are three I believe that they each tell part of the story so you want to read them in order. Though these are picture books, they do a great job. For Canaan, I used Coogan’s Stories from Ancient Canaan. These are tales from Ugarit, a Canaanite town which was destroyed by fire. The destruction meant that the clay tablets on which the stories were written were baked hard and survived. It is interesting to see the similarities and differences here with one of Israel’s close neighbors. What we have is somewhat fragmentary. Coogan gives good introductions to each. I recommend prereading so you can give context and read selections. I blogged on these myths when we studied them previously. You can see one of those posts here.

We also talked about writing together using the book Sign, Symbol, Script. This is one I had leftover from my grad school days. It is actually a catalog from an exhibition but gives lots of info on the history of writing and the alphabet, a topic I couldn’t pass by. I have no idea how easy this is to find. We didn’t use Ancient Israelites and Their Neighbors. I find it a bit cumbersome. It has lots of extras like recipes if you are into that sort of thing.

I’m not thrilled with the historical fiction in this period. I don’t find it very well-written. My high school daughter read Adara by Gormley. My middle schooler read  Hittite Warrior by Williamson. The latter in particular seemed to through in every biblical motif it could (not in a good way). My senior read Silverberg’s Gilgamesh the King. I chose this book partly because he has been studying science fiction for his literature this year and Silverberg is a sci-fi writer. I thought the book would stray farther from the myth but it actually seemed to do better than I expected.

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My 8th grader read Science in Ancient Mesopotamia. I am not thrilled with this series but it is decent and provides info that one might not get elsewhere. He also read a book I loved for him — Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons by Nosov. I only had him read the portions relevant to what we are studying. It seemed to be a very readable book. My 7th grader read Ancient Egyptian, Assyrian and Persian Costumes and Decorations by Houston. There are a lot of pictures in this book. She chose to do drawings of the costumes for most narrations and seemed to really get into it.

Lastly, we get to the actual history books.

My7th grader read The Ancient Near Eastern World by Podany. I’m not sure it’s 100% living but it seemed well-written. She liked that it included a lot of different things, like history and myths and how people lived. My 12th grader read A Short History of the Near East by Hitti. He seems to have really enjoyed it and says that it did a good job of being both broad and specific if that makes sense. My 11th grader read Fairservis’ Mesopotamia. She says it was pretty good. Since Fairservis only covers Mesopotamia, I also had her read The Phoenicians by Pamela Odijk. My 8th grader read the relevant portions of Dorothy Mills’ Book of the Ancient World. I am not thrilled with the book though I see it recommended a lot. It seems overly brief and simple (though her book on Greece is longer and I am planning to use that one). I was supposed to read Maspero’s Life in Ancient Egypt and Assyria but life got away from me and I never started it 😦

And some bonus resources if you need more:

McCaughrean, Geraldine. Gilgamesh the Hero. Picture book. Her books are always lovely, illustrated ones.

Moore, Balit. Ishtar and Tammuz. Picture book.

Glubok, Shirley. Digging in Assyria. Archaeology.

Morley, Jacqueline, Temple at Jerusalem. Maybe not living but lays out what the Temple was like.

Robinson, Charles. First book of Ancient Mesopotamia and Persia. An older, hard to find book.

Mohr, Louise Maud. Babylonia and Assyria. Another old, hard-to-find book.

Next up: Ancient Greece