Posts Tagged ‘Philosophy of Education’

Book Review: The Crisis of Western Education

Dear Reader,

I recently finished The Crisis of Western Education by Christopher Dawson (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1961). This was a decent book and I am glad I read it as it gave me some new things to think about and new avenues to pursue on my current venture. I am not calling it a must read but if you have some spare time, it is not a bad book.

As the title suggests, Dawson is responding to what he sees as the flaws in the current educational system in America (at least current in 1961 when he wrote it, though I don’t think much has changed).  While he raises some interesting points, I am not willing to climb aboard his particular bandwagon for two reasons. First and foremost, Dawson is a Catholic and ultimately the purpose of his book is to call for a definitively Catholic education. Christian culture, to Dawson, means a unified Catholic (big “C”) culture under one Catholic church (p. 124). He is not unkind and his criticisms of Protestantism are sometimes merited, but he is clearly not a big fan [especially of Luther (p. 28), though he is a little kinder to Calvin (p. 29)].

The other issue I have is in some ways even more fundamental to Dawson’s argument. He starts the book by defining education, and while I love that he does so (I am a big believer in defining terms), his definition is purely anthropological —

” . . . education . . . is what the anthropologists term ‘enculturation,’ i.e. the process by which culture is handed on by the society and acquired by the individual.” (p. 3)

The problem I have with this is that it states what education does in a society but it does not ask what education should be. I am willing to acknowledge that education does produce a common culture but as Christians I think we need to be asking what God’s purpose for education is. This touches on what will be one of our big topics — whether the primary purpose of education is to benefit the individual or the society — and so we will have to come back to it more in depth in another post. For today, I’d like to spend time on some of the other points that Dawson raises–

The first part of Dawson’s book is a history of Christian education. This is the most valuable section of the book (though it is not unbiased). Dawson raises concerns about the classical tradition, some of which he knows are concerns, some of which would concern me though he glosses over them. He mentions, for instance, the strong and long-lasting educational traditions of China but fails to address what seems the obvious question — why did we adopt and adapt the Greek system and not the Chinese? Obviously, there is a historical reason for this as Christianity arose in the west, but we must still ask if there is some inherent value in the Greek way over and above other approaches to education. Dawson suggests that the Greeks and Romans prepared the West for Christianity (p. 9) but if that is the case I would like to see more of an elaboration of this idea. Van Til, whose book I will be reviewing in the coming weeks, argues that Greek culture, not being Christian, is fallen, as all non-Christian culture is, and that we should not look to it for more wisdom than modern secular culture (Cornelius Van Til, Essays on Christian Education, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1974, p.14). If we were to look to any culture for an educational and intellectual foundation, the obvious choice should be the Hebrew tradition. So, we continue to ask: Why the Greeks? There may be a legitimate answer to this question. Dawson raises the point, but I have yet to read a sufficiently convincing answer.

As he moves into describing the current state of education, Dawson raises (again, some purposefully and some not) some interesting questions and makes some good points which I will only list here briefly:

  • Each educational system seems to have a core subject, or collection of subjects. We might choose history and natural theology or grammar and rhetoric or mathematics (pp. 12, 40). Is there a natural or right choice?
  • Education fits the society which it serves (p. 23). But to what extent should we fit education to out society and to what extent should we use it to transform our society into what it should be?
  • State control of education leads to state-ordained goals and a lack of religion in education (pp. 52, 61ff, 82). What are the roles of church and state in education? Can there be any role for the state without de-Christianizing education?
  • “If the Church were one of these compulsory organizations modern man would be religious, but since it is voluntary, and makes demands on his spare time, it is felt to be superfluous and unnecessary” (p. 132). I love this quote. An excellent argument for viewing Sunday as the Lord’s Day — a day belonging to the Lord and not to us. If it is once ours, we are free to do with it what we will and begin to resent any intrusions into it, even the intrusion of worship.
  • ” . . .the more science a culture has, the more religion it needs” (p. 153). I am not sure I understand what he means by this but I want to know more.

The latter part of Dawson’s book is a call for a Christian education which teaches Christian culture:

“It is vital to the survival of the West that we should recover some sense of our moral values and some knowledge of the spiritual tradition of Western Christian culture. The way to do this is by education, and specifically by making the study of Christian culture an integral part of our educational system, which is theoretically directed to this very end.” (p. 117)

For Dawson, as I said earlier, this Christian education and Christian culture are inherently Catholic and he is dismissive of Protestant efforts  and contributions (pp. 75, 124, 134).

While The Crisis in Western Education comes from a different tradition, and quite passionately so, Dawson writes an interesting and thought-provoking book. This is not a must-read but, if read critically, I think it is a worthwhile book.

Nebby

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Why Not Christian Classical?

Dear Reader,

This is part of an ongoing series in which I explore a reformed Christian philosophy of education. Thus far, we are still on the whys. Last time I looked at the Charlotte Mason approach to education. Today I’d like to look at Christian classical. My goal in these couple of posts is to show you why we need something overtly reformed and can’t just take what is out there and spiff it up a bit.

I am much better versed in Charlotte Mason’s method than I am in classical so my approach this time will be a little different. I am going to ask questions and perhaps express concerns more than I am going to make definitive statements.

One difficulty in discussing Christian classical is that there is more than one interpretation of it. I will try to address some of the bigger proponents but what I say may not be true of all sources. My subject today is Christian classical and it is (oxymoron of the day:) modern Christian classical. As homeschoolers, parents, and teachers, this is what is on the table before us so it will be my focus.

Foundations: The Article and The Book

wtm spine

The modern fascination with classical education began in the 1930s. Amajor inspiration was a fairly brief article by Dorothy Sayers entitled “The Lost Tools of Learning” (LTL; originally published in 1948).  I have previously discussed this article in greater detail here. Sayers, as with most educational reformers, was reacting to the problems she saw in her own day. Her solution was to return to the Middle Ages for inspiration. The key to her approach is the Trivium (followed in later years by the Quadrivium) which divides  learning into three stages: Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric. These stages are sequential. In the first, Grammar, the child learns much through rote memorization. The second, Dialectic, “is characterised by contradicting, answering-back, liking to ‘catch people out’ (especially one’s elders) and in the propounding of conundrums.” Rhetoric, the third stage, “is self-centred; it yearns to express itself; it rather specialises in being misunderstood; it is restless and tries to achieve independence; and, with good luck and good guidance, it should show the beginnings of creativeness, a reaching out towards a synthesis of what it already knows, and a deliberate eagerness to know and do some one thing in preference to all others” (Kindle Loc. 169). To me, these are harsh words (and there are more besides which I quote in that earlier post). As I read her article, my impression of Sayers was that she was not someone who liked children very much. Beyond this, I am uncomfortable with saying, for example, that all tweens are argumentative. Such statements take what is basically a sinful behavior and turn it into a stage which tends to excuse and allow the behavior. In addition, I find Sayers too academically minded in her goals and approach. She relies heavily on fallen human reason, and her approach does not encompass the whole person.

Though Sayers is perhaps the modern impetus, she is not the whole of the movement. The handbook of classical Christian homeschoolers is The Well-Trained Mind (WTM) by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer (originally published 1999; I have not reviewed this book at length but do discuss it in this post on classical education). While Sayers’ article was quite slim, this is a hefty book with lots of practical details. It uses the same Trivium approach which is typical of modern classical education.  The title — The Well-Trained Mind— gives us some clue as to the authors’ goals. The intellect– the mind — is in view and the method of education is one of training (in contrast to unschooling or Charlotte Mason which see education as self-education). Specifically, the mind is trained how to think.  The Well-Trained Mind does not have as clear a statement of purpose as I would like (at least not that I found). But I did find this:

“Remember, classical education teaches a child how to learn. The child who knows how to learn will grow into a well-rounded –and well-equipped –adult . . . ”  (p. 55)

The purpose of education is one area with which WTM rubs me the wrong way. Another is in its view of the child. The authors say that:

“The immature mind is more suited to absorption than argument. The critical and logical faculty simply doesn’t develop until later on . . . Children like  lists at this age. They like rattling off rote information, even if they don’t understand it . . . Don’t make K-4 students dig for information. ”  (p. 54)

The view of the child here seems to be that, at least for younger children, they are less than adults. Now, we will look at what the Bible has to say about children in another post so this point is still open to question. But I think we need to ask: How are children different than adults? Are they, or their faculties, lacking in some way that needs to be developed? [I will note that I teach the littlest kids Sabbath School class, ages 2-6, and my observation is that they can and do make some very good, even theological, points at times.]

So How to We Make it Christian?

My concerns about the modern Christian version of classical education fall under two headings: goals and methods.

The Christian adoption of the classical model is characterized as a re-adoption. The various Christian classical sources often point not back to Greece (and later Rome) but to the Middle Ages as the precedent for their version of modern classical education:

“Historically, the Christian church assumed the mantle of classical education, modified it, calibrated it to serve the Christian gospel and then greatly extended it. Thus a great deal of what we know as ‘classical education’ has been ‘Christian’ as well.” (Christopher Perrin, “Classical Education: Christian and Secular,” from Inside Classical Education, Sept. 9, 2014)

This merely shifts the burden of proof; rather than asking why do we now use classical methods, we must ask why did the church in the Middle Ages adopt classical methods?

Concerning the very beginnings of Christian education, Christopher Dawson says:

“The new Christian culture was therefore built from the beginning on a double foundation. The old classical education in the liberal arts was maintained without any interruption . . . But alongside of — and above — all this, there was now a specifically Christian learning which was biblical and theological and which produced its own prolific literature.” (Christopher Dawson, The Crisis of Western Education, pp. 7-8)

This synthesis of the classical model with Christian thought and literature persisted through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.** As Dawson, a Catholic, tells it the biggest threat to this mode of learning was the German Reformation under Martin Luther with his crazy emphasis on sola scriptura:

“This revolutionary change [i.e., that of the German Reformation] was even more serious than we can realize today, owing to its destructive effects on the minds of the masses and the education of the common people. In the Middle Ages that education had never been a matter of book learning. The main channels of Christian culture were, liturgical and artistic. The life of the community centered in the Church, in the performance of the liturgy and the cult of the Saints.” (Dawson, pp. 27-28)

Despite what Dawson sees as Luther’s destructive influence, later reformers, including Calvin, continued to incorporate classical learning, at least to some degree:

“Calvin himself fully appreciated the importance of education and study. Wherever the Calvinists went, from Transylvania to Massachusetts, they brought with them not only the Bible and Calvin’s Institutes, but the Latin grammar and the study of the classics.” (p. 29)

What is not clear to me — the first question I would like to see answered– is: Why the classical model at all? Its adoption seems to have been initially a matter of convenience and familiarity. Its lifespan has no doubt been long but that alone is not an adequate justification.  Some modern proponents do argue that this way of educating is God-given:

“The best reason for choosing a classical style of schooling is simply because this is the natural model and method for education – which God wrote into reality. So what if the Greeks and Romans used it to serve their ungodly purposes? We simply take it back, clean it up, and use it to serve God in the way which He originally designed. The classical style of education has been successful for thousands of years because it conforms to the created order of things. It works well because it matches reality. If we ever learned anything, then we learned it by the Trivium method – whether we knew it or not.” (Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn, “The Transformation of Classical Education,” from Trivium Pursuit)

However, I have yet to see a good, coherent argument for why it is biblical, or, if not biblical per se, in line with biblical thought and principles (by the way, see this post on how we decide what is good and acceptable). A related set of questions I would like to see addressed: What would the Old Testament/Hebrew/Jewish model of education be, how does it compare to the classical model, and, to the extent that they may differ, why then prefer the classical?

But method is only half the battle; goals are also important. I said above that I was not enamored of the goal of classical education as defined by LTL and WTM. The modern Christian versions of classical do much to rectify this situation. Though their statements of the goal of education vary somewhat, there is no denying that they sound very orthodox. A sampling:

“Classical Christian education’s objective, then, is to shape the virtues and reason so that they will be in line with God’s will. In other words, our objective is to cultivate a Christian paideia in students.” (“What Does It Mean to be a ‘Classical Christian’ School in the ACCS?”)

“The goal of education is to fully prepare a child for adult life. . . A complete education should prepare a child for mature adult life. All elements of education should work toward preparing sons to make a livelihood and to be husbands and fathers, and toward preparing daughters to be wives and mothers and to manage their households. True education will build a genuine family-oriented culture upon the foundation of God’s word. . . . The ultimate goal of education is holiness – to teach separation to God in order to serve Him.” (Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn, “The Transformation of Classical Education,” from Trivium Pursuit)

“Classical Christian education is not designed to fit the student for our times. It is designed to transform the student to God’s times (Romans 12:2). It is designed to produce an student with the mental discipline and ability to read an in-depth book (even one with more than one hundred pages), write discerning, thoughtful essays on the book, present lectures or debates on the contents of the book, and evaluate its contents in light of the Christian worldview . . . It can and has produced workmen who can rightly divide the Word of God and who do not need to be ashamed to confront and unmask the idols of our age.” (Ben House, “Classical Christian Education,” from the Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics)

“The purpose of Classical Education is to cultivate virtue and wisdom. The classical Christian does not ask, ‘What can I do with this learning?’ but ‘What will this learning do to me?’ The ultimate end of Classical Christian education is to enable the student (disciple) to better know, glorify, and enjoy God. Since we are able to know things with which we have a common nature, the more we are like God the better we can know Him. A student gives glory to God when he is like Him. Our enjoyment of God is derived from our ability to see Him and to see His handiwork.” (“Principles of Classical Education,” from The Circe Institute)

While these goals all sound pretty good, they are not identical. What I would like to see is a goal that starts with the Scriptures, asks how they define education, and works from there.

I also have some concerns about how the method and the goal work together. Christian classical — whether in medieval times or modern — seems to accept the method of the Greeks and to add to it Christian goals like holiness and glorifying God without ever asking if this method can be used to achieve these ends. Perhaps we will find in the end that the methods and the goals are not intimately connected but I think it is at least worth asking how the two work together (or don’t).

So Why Not Classical?

Ironically, my main complaint against the Charlotte Mason method was that it follows too closely on its (faulty) principles whereas Christian classical does not tie its principles to its method enough. In truth, I want something that is like the Charlotte Mason method in that the practical details flow from the initial assumptions. But the modern version of Christian classical — and in truth its early Christian version as well– does not begin with Christian principles but takes a non-Christian method of education and adds Christian purposes on top of them without questioning the methods themselves or their suitability to their goals. It is my conviction that in order to build a truly biblical and reformed philosophy of education that we must begin with goals. We must first decide what the purpose of education is and then ask how we are to go about achieving those ends.

This post wraps up the whys of this enterprise. In the coming weeks, we must begin to look at the evidence and to answer the questions.

Nebby

**Note: Looking for more? I have posts coming out soon reviewing books by Dawson and Van Til; both will revisit this issue. I also recently ran across a podcast from Charlotte Mason Poetry in which Art Middlekauff mentions that the Christian tradition was not as unified as it is often portrayed. I have not had a chance (yet) to listen to it myself. You can find the podcast and related video here.

Bibliography

Association of Classical Christian Schools. “What Does It Mean to be a ‘Classical Christian’ School in the ACCS?” from Classical Christian.org. Moscow, ID: ACCS.

Bauer, Susan Wise and Jessie Wise. The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home. ??: W.W. Norton and Company, 1999.

Bluedorn, Harvey and Laurie. “The Transformation of Classical Education,” from Trivium Pursuit, 2001.

Circe Institute. “Principles of Classical Education,” from Circe Institute. org.

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

House, Ben. “Classical Christian Education: A Look at Some History,” from the Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics.

Perrin, Christopher. “Classical Education: Christian and Secular,” from Inside Classical Education, Sept. 9, 2014.

Sayers, Dorothy. The Lost Tools of Learning. Amazon Digital Services, 2011 (originally published 1947).

Van Til, Cornelius. Essays on Christian Education. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1971.

 

 

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

Nebby

Bibliography

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, http://www.infed.org/thinkers/et-rous.htm. 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 jhpestalozzi.org.

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 infed.org.

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

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.

Why Not Charlotte Mason?

Dear Reader,

Thus far we have talked about why we need a reformed Christian philosophy of education, why we need a theology of education, how we should decide on such a theology, and what we can learn from public education in the United States today.

This week and next I’d like to look at two popular approaches to education — the Charlotte Mason method and Christian classical education. [Some would argue that Charlotte Mason is a subset of classical; I am not going to get into that debate as it really doesn’t affect what I am discussing.]

Around the time my oldest (who is now a high school senior) was in third grade, I began to explore the Charlotte Mason approach to education. A lot of what I read initially rang true with me and I began more and more to incorporate that philosophy in our homeschool. More recently, however, as I read even more I have found that I cannot wholeheartedly subscribe to Miss Mason’s approach as there are parts of it which just not in line with my (reformed) theology.

I have written a lot about this, a whole series at the end of last year in fact; I will  not rehash it all today. If you want to get up to speed, the key posts are here and here.

First, the positive — what is there in Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education that appeals to the reformed Christian? Charlotte’s approach has been summed up in 20 principles. The first and last of these (in my opinion) serve as a kind of bookends to her method. They are:

“1. Children are born persons.

20. 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.”

Simply put, Charlotte recognizes the personhood of the child (see this post for more on what that means) and the role of the Holy Spirit in education (see this one).  These are the ideas which first attracted me to Charlotte’s thought.

Charlotte bases her philosophy on what she calls the divine law — which boils down to special revelation (i.e. the Bible) and general revelation (God’s revelation through creation including what we know through science). In particular she points to what she calls the gospel principles of education. I count this as a positive in that, in contrast to many other approaches to education available to us today, she has a definitively Christian, biblical foundation.

On the negative side, I am not enamored by her interpretation of those passages. I find it plausible but not convincing as I discussed here.

The big negative, however, and the thing that has caused me to abandon Charlotte as my main role model in education and to begin this series, is her second principle which reads:

“2. They are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.”

I diverge from most of those who write about Charlotte’s ideas in my understanding of this principle. I maintain that she pretty much meant what it sounds like she meant — children have the possibilities for good and evil in them from birth. This is not just a statement about education but about their spiritual state as well. You can see why I believe that in this post.

This conclusion was disturbing enough but more recently, I ran across a quote in her second volume, Parents and Children, which goes even further. There she says:

“But we live in a redeemed world, and one of the meanings which that unfathomable phrase bears is, that it is the duty of those who have the care of childhood to eradicate each vulgar and hateful trait, to plant and foster the fruits of that kingdom in the children who have been delivered from the kingdom of nature into the kingdom of grace; that is to say, all children born into this redeemed world.” (Parents and Children, p. 65; emphasis added)

This seems to say that all children are born into a state of grace. As I contemplated this idea, I realized that it is pretty foundational to her thinking. She assumes that the child can not just learn but can, when presented with the good, choose it. If you want to read more on all that see (again) this post or this one.

The problem for me as a reformed Christian is– if Charlotte in her method assumes that the child is capable of good, even bases her approach on that assumption, and I do not believe this, how can I apply her philosophy? [I do actually have a partial answer to that question –I consider my children covenant children and as such can expect them to be able to choose the good. The problem is that if I were educating other children I might not be able to assume this. I want a philosophy that I can apply to all children.]

My goal is to begin to develop a philosophy which is biblical from the ground up rather than to take an already existing approach and tweak it. Nonetheless, I think we can learn some things from Charlotte’s approach:

  1. I want a philosophy which acknowledges the personhood of the child.
  2. I want to be able to say something about the role of God the Holy Spirit in education.
  3. I want a philosophy that is built from the divine law, as Charlotte is, but with a better understanding of/treatment of Scripture.
  4. I want a philosophy that acknowledges man’s fallen state.
  5. I haven’t covered this yet but Charlotte’s approach is profoundly practical. It tells me as a parent  how to educate. This is not something I have gotten from most articles on reformed education but it is something that we homeschooling parents ultimately need. I don’t expect to get there soon but we need more than exalted theories; we need boots on the ground how do I get my child to read, add, learn history, etc.

Next time: Why not Christian classical?

Nebby

 

 

 

Calvinist Education?!

Dear Reader,

A side rant to my main series — in writing my recent post on public education in America, I ran across (again) a couple of quotes on the Calvinist influence on education. I’ll give them to you first before I rant so you can form your own impressions:

“The most suffocating of the constraints are generated from traditional Calvinistic roots: Mistrust of children, mistrust of teachers, a reluctance to face that adolescence is a junk word, fear of looking bad, fear of scoring poorly on standardized tests, and suppression of imagination — voluntary suppression — which the collective teaching staff imposes on those of its colleagues who haven’t yet lost their talent.” [John Taylor Gatto, Weapons of Mass Instruction  (Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers, 2010), p. 75]

” . . . if you believe dumbness reflects depraved moral fiber (the Calvinist model) . . .” (Ibid., p. 87)

“Lurking behind the magic is an image of people as machinery that can be built and repaired. This is our Calvinist legacy calling to us over the centuries, saying that the world and all its living variety is just machinery, not very hard to adjust if we put sentimentality aside and fire the villains either symbolically or with actual bonfires, depending on the century.” (Ibid., p.89)

“To the Protestant reformers who started them, schools were meant to be correctional institutions, built on the assumption that children are natural sinners. To be saved from hell, children were required to go to schools where their sinful wills would be broken and then reshaped along lines consistent with Protestant teachings.” [Peter Gray, Free to Play (New York: Basic Books, 2013), p. 68]

Sigh. Do you think he knows any Calvinists? I’ll start with the first long quite from Gatto. He is clearly blaming everything wrong with American public schools on Calvinists (as least the way the sentence is punctuated). I can’t imagine he  means it. How can we blame Puritans (which is undoubtedly who he is thinking of) for the use of the term adolescence and standardized testing? I *think* is associating them (us?) with mistrust of children and the rest is just tacked on. Ignoring most of what is in the first quote, here are the charges  against us/them:

  1. Calvinism leads to a mistrust of children, presumably because . . .
  2. Children are born sinners.
  3. The solution to #2 is to break the child and then reshape him in the “right” mold.
  4. Schools are therefore correctional institutions in that they are designed to correct what it wrong in children.
  5. Intellectual deficits are correlated to moral deficits.
  6. The world is just machinery, presumably a reference to a God’s sovereignty in preordaining what happens in our world.
  7. Somehow we can manipulate this machinery, mostly by burning those who disagree with us.

Most of this is pure bunk and I have no idea where Gatto and Gray got it all (though Gray may have gotten it from Gatto). There are shreds of truth, though, so I think it is worth noting the principles they are mangling here.

We do believe in total depravity; children are born sinners. How will this relate to education? That’s one of the issues we have to explore. How can we even begin to educate an unregenerate soul? I am pretty sure the answer is not that we break and remold the child. A preview of what will come: if salvation is the work of God (and it is), perhaps education is too.

Which brings me to #5 above — the correlation between the intellectual and the moral. Total depravity means all parts of the person are fallen so I think there is some truth here. It is not just that we sin in breaking God’s moral law; our reason, our intellect is also fallen.

Lastly, the world as machinery. I don’t know if Gatto is just very wrong or if he has been reading some sort of hyper-Calvinists. Of course God knows and ordains all that will happen. That does not make the world a machine. It certainly does not mean that we can come in and manipulate the machine to our ends. Quite the opposite.

If you are still asking why we need a reformed theology of education, here’s another answer: to counter drivel like this.

Next time: something less depressing.

Nebby

 

Public Education in America Today

Dear Reader,

This is part of an ongoing series on reformed theology and education. You can find part 1 here and part 2 here.

Before we go too far to look briefly at public education in America today.  I am by no means an expert on any of this but I think it is useful as we begin to form our own philosophy of education to see what our culture does and how it got to be the way it is.  My goal is not to give a thorough analysis of all the issues; that could take volumes (and has), but there are few points I’d like to draw out.

I want to be clear from the start that though a lot of what I say is going to be negative, I am not making an argument that public schools are inherently evil; that we should all homeschool; that there is no place for public education; that the teachers and administrators are evil, godless, or misguided. I do think there is a place for public education and that there are a lot of truly caring and even godly people working in the schools. I am very glad they are there.

Having said which, we wouldn’t be having this discussion if the schools were all we wanted them to be. Our goal for today is to look at the history of public education in America and the ideas which lie behind it.  [I am relying primarily on four authors; see the bibliography with my notes on each at the end of this post.]

A Bit of History

Education as we know it today — which is to say universal compulsory education — has only been around in the United States for about the last hundred years. The idea of universal compulsory education began in Germany in the early 1800s as that country moved toward nationalism and away from feudalism (Dawson, p. 49; Gray, p. 61). The German/Prussian model of education was a democratic one in that it extended education to all levels of society. Education served the nationalistic goal and was a unifying force. Peter Gray and John Taylor Gatto both make the case that public education was never about academics as literacy rates were high in both Europe and the United States at the time (Gray, p. 60; Gatto, Weapons, p. 9). Indeed as public education grew, literacy rates only declined (Gatto, Weapons, p. 17). While some still valued education for its own sake, education was for many the tool of social change. As such it included not just intellectual instruction but moral training as well (Dawson, p. 50).

As the movement toward universal schooling expanded geographically, England and America were the lone hold-outs (Dawson, p. 52; Gray, p. 62).  It wasn’t until the mid to late 1800s that the German educational system began to make headway in the United States. Horace Mann is credited with introducing the idea in the 1850s in Massachusetts but even there it was slow to take hold. The various authors disagree on the exact details of when and why public schooling did take hold, but they all place it in the early 1900s, sometime around 1920-1930.

Why Universal Education?

Though there doesn’t seem to be a consensus, it is interesting to think about the ideas and trends that were present in American culture between, say, 1880-1930 that may have contributed to the acceptance of universal education:

  • Darwinian evolution presented the idea that people as well as animals have evolved and are evolving. This is the era of unapologetic eugenics. Wiker in particular draws the connection between Darwinian evolution and liberal politics (pp. 194-97).**
  • Following close on its heels is social engineering, that is, the remaking of society through political means (Wiker, p. 197). “Sociology,” Wiker tells us, “would take the place of theology as the queen if the sciences” (p. 276).
  • Christians were not exempt from this trend. Wiker shows how Christians with legitimate, godly concerns — caring for the poor, for instance — worked with and were ultimately used by non-Christian liberals (Wiker, pp. 284-86). This is the era of the social gospel.
  • Industrialization and a move to the cities brought a trend to mechanization and systemization. Gatto and Gray have a fair amount to say on this — the school as factory assembly line. Children, Gray says, are “passed along , from grade to grade, like products on an assembly line” (Gray, p. 64; cf. Gatto, Dumbing, p. 89). For some context, Ford’s first assembly line was in 1913.
  • Dawson ties the rise of universal schooling to the end of unlimited immigration in the early 1900s (pp. 60-61). America had always been a dynamic place — both filling its borders and absorbing so many peoples from so many places. Now this was on the decline. Americans began to find their own group identity. This is when the melting pot, with less new cheese being added every year, really began to melt (my analogy, not his; never blog hungry). As education in Germany went hand-in-hand with nationalization, so in the United States education was linked to a new sense of national identity.
  • It is odd to me that none of the writers I read on this topic mentioned World War I. My own observation from reading Charlotte Mason’s volumes is that in her sixth and final one, Towards a Philosophy of Education, which was written after the war, that there has been quite a change in focus and intensity. I see a desperation in her writing that was not there before. “The War to End All Wars” (if only it had been so) really threw people for a loop. Perhaps this was more true in Europe than America, but people wondered how, if we are so advanced and civilized, we can yet be so brutal. The answer for Charlotte was a renewed commitment to her own philosophy of education as the means of changing what is wrong in society and ultimately in the human heart.
  • Miss Mason was not alone in this. The early 1900s were a boom time for educational philosophies. Maria Montessori, of the Montessori method, and Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the Waldorf education movement, were also active during the period.
  • On the political side, the exaltation of the secular schools and the corresponding downfall of the church were aided and abetted by a reinterpretation of the First Amendment creating a new wall between church and state (Wiker, pp. 251-52, 290ff; Dawson, p.84).
  • Trends in education often work from the top down — spreading from the university down to the elementary school. In the 1930s and again after WWII more and more students attended (liberal) colleges and therefore absorbed and perpetuated their ideologies (Wiker, pp. 272-73).

Expansion and Secularization

Sectarian differences among different Christian groups have led them to, at various times, support state control of education in an effort to limit the influence of other Christian groups (Dawson, pp. 83, 142; Wiker, pp. 295-96). This has often been a Protestant versus Catholic issue though Dawson, a die-hard Catholic, also faults “the fissiparous tendency of American Protestantism” (p. 142; your assignment: use fissaparous in conversation five times this week). In seeking to exclude the other’s version of religion, Christians have willingly opted for a “neutral” secular version of education. But education cannot remain morally and spiritually neutral (Dawson, pp. 79-82).

I am not sure education anywhere at any time has ever been about pure academics, but even if it had started that way, education has an expansive tendency. It takes more and more time — the school year in Massachusetts was originally only twelve weeks long (Gray, p. 64). It expands to new age groups “from the university to the nursery school” (Dawson, p. 53). It expands to all areas of life, absorbing not just the academic but the physical, emotional and spiritual (Dawson, pp. 53, 78).

This trend is inevitable but it is not inherently bad. In fact I would say it is as it should be. We are composite people — intellect, body, soul, emotions. We cannot separate out one part and educate that only. If one’s students are coming to school hungry, emotionally broken, or pregnant, they are not going to learn well. A caring teacher naturally wants to see all her students’ needs met, both so they can learn and for their own good. But the end result is that school is not just about the 3R’s but comes to absorb almost all facets of life.

I say “almost” because the spiritual is sadly lacking. As in the German model, education is seen as the cure for whatever ails us (Dawson, p. 48). When problems arise within education itself, the solution is not to reevaluate but to offer more and more education. To the extent that is the answer to societal problems, education becomes a kind of savior. But it is a limited savior, touching the emotional and psychological but denying the spiritual.

In offering a kind of salvation, the schools step into the realm of the church. Wiker argues that this liberalization, which he traces through both politics and education — is not unintentional; it is a deliberate liberating from religion (p. 15). Dawson argues that universal education and secularization feed on each other:

“And in fact there is no doubt that the progress of universal education has coincided with the secularization of modern culture and has been very largely responsible for it.” (p. 78)

The more the school absorbs, the less is left for the church. And as a man cannot serve two masters, one will win out:

” . . .the fact that secular education is universal and compulsory , while religious education is partial and voluntary, inevitably favors the former . . .” (Dawson, p. 79)

“If the Church were one of these compulsory organizations modern man would be religious, but since it is voluntary, and makes demands on his spare time, it is felt to be superfluous and unnecessary.” (Ibid., p. 132)***

As in Germany, education in America is a nationalizing force. It spreads  a common culture; in doing so it also creates a common culture:

“For modern culture is not pluralistic in character, as some social scientists have assumed; on the contrary, it is more unitary, more uniform and more highly centralized and organized than any culture that the world has known hitherto. And modern education has been one of the major factors in producing this, since it brings the whole of the younger generation under the same influences and ideas during the most impressionable period of their lives.” (Dawson, pp. 111-12)

For those without strong church ties, school often becomes the center of cultural life (Dawson, pp. 60-61, 68, 85).

The result —

” . . . the majority of the population are neither fully Christian nor consciously atheist, but non-practicing Catholics, half-Christians and well-meaning people who are devoid of any positive religious knowledge at all.” (Dawson, p. 85)

Dawson argues further that these “sub-religious” people are “also in some sense subhuman” (p. 132), deprived as they are of fully realizing one aspect of their natures.

Logistics and Fragmentation

Conformity to some degree is probably unavoidable in mass schooling. For the sake of convenience, children are divided by age. This is often characterized as a factory-like system as but I think we must also use some charity in our interpretation; it is not an easy thing to come up with a way to educate thousands of children at once. I think there are ways, and Charlotte Mason’s schools seem to have done so without turning children into numbers, but grouping children by age or level seems like a logical first step. What begins as a logical move generates unintended consequences, however. Children who spend six hours a day primarily with their peers and not interacting with adults or all ages and stripes as they once would have been. There is evidence as well that this is not psychologically advantageous; children are more compassionate when not placed with their immediate peers (Gray, pp. 35, 76). But beyond that, the normal bonds of human life are broken. Gatto speaks of networks versus communities and spends some time showing that what we have now are the former, not the latter (Dumbing, pp. 49, 65). The family in particular is down-graded to a lesser role (Dumbing, p. 56, 67; Weapons pp. 41, 100).

Nor can one teacher necessarily teach every subject to the full. So as children are divided, so are subjects; science occupies this hour, history that one. There is a general tendency to fragmentation. With subjects taught separately by different teachers at different times, it is hard to give or see the big picture. With no overarching theology or philosophy [though one could argue, as Wiker does, that liberalism has its own philosophy (Wiker, p. 11)], with subjects taught in isolation, there is no coherence, no unifying principle (Weapons, p. 16). This tendency is enhanced by what Dawson calls “scientific specialization” (p. 101). Wiker describes this trend:

“The rise and ever-increasing authority of the ‘expert,’ too came from the German model of university education, wherein academic study was divide up into ever smaller numbers of distinct disciplines, each focusing on a narrowly defined area.” (p. 275)

This fragmentation is furthered by the need for evaluation. Testing, and in particular standardized testing, contributes to the break down of knowledge into discrete, unconnected facts. “Memorizing the dots,” Gatto says, “is the gold standard of intellectual achievement. Not connecting those dots” (Weapons, p. 16).

Conclusions

What can we learn from all this? First, when we look at the origins of universal compulsory schooling, we should become very wary. The ideas behind this movement are suspect. We should not, perhaps, throw the baby out with the bath water, but at the same time we need to make sure that we are not unconsciously adopting ideas that are without a biblical, God-honoring basis. In another post, I’d like to look at some of the people behind compulsory education so you can see who they were and what their motivations were.

Second, there are some interesting trends here that we can keep in mind as we begin to form our own philosophy of education:

  1. Moral and religious neutrality is impossible. Christians have at times supported “neutral” public education arguing that no religion is better than a religion that is not my brand. But it is impossible to be truly neutral. There is always a worldview behind what is being taught.
  2. #1 is due, at least in part, to the fact that education does not stay purely academic. Man is made of many aspects and one cannot educate the mind without bringing in the body and the emotions and the spirit.
  3. Yet at the same time, education has become fragmented in many ways. Even while it encompasses more and more of life the disciplines are fragmented. Science, history, math, language seemingly have nothing to do with one another. We need a unifying principle that extends through them, explains them and how they relate to one another.
  4. Education as it is usually practiced in the United States today shatters other social institutions, especially the church and the family. It is not inherently bad to have someone other than mom and dad do the educating but we need to keep in the forefront that social units which God Himself has instituted and be wary of undermining them. Jesus tells us that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. I am going to paraphrase that — what your time is spent on, there will your heart be. Apart from any other concerns, when schooling takes so much of one’s time, when it is compulsory (and church is not), it threatens to seem more and more important and to consume more and more of one’s life to the detriment of those other, God-ordained institutions.

Nebby

**Wiker also has a book on Darwin which I highly recommend: The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin (Washington, D.C. Regnery Press, 2009).

***Side note: This seems like a pretty good argument for Sabbath keeping to me. If we view the first day of the week as our own, we come to resent any intrusion into it, even that of the Church.

Bibliography

Dawson, Christopher. The Crisis of Western Education. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1961. Dawson is ardently Catholic and comes off at times as anti-Protestant. I have some issues with his depiction of education before modern times which I may discuss in another post, but he also makes a lot of insightful observations which really made me think. It is amusing to read his depiction of education in medieval times alongside Gray’s.

Gatto, John Taylor. Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers, 2002 (10th anniversary edition).

______________ . Weapons of Mass Instruction. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers, 2010. The title of this book probably says all you need to know about Gatto’s take on things. He is a favorite of the unschooling movement and was himself a public school teacher in New York City. Dumbing Us Down is a series of lectures and as such is a bit more disjointed. In Weapons he has worked out his argument a bit more. 

Gray, Peter. Free to Learn. New York: Basic Books, 2013. Gray’s main purpose is to argue for how children should learn (through play). In the process he gives a brief history of education. He is an unschooler, arguing against hierarchical control of children. His approach is essentially the paleo diet of education; i.e. what worked for primitive societies is clearly best.

Wiker, Benjamin. Worshipping the State: How Liberalism Became Our State Religion. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2013. Wiker is one of my current favorite authors. If you are going to read any book on this list, make it this one. His primary subject is politics but in the course of it he touches on education as well and makes an argument for Christian education. I believe he is Catholic but you could easily read his book without realizing that.

 

 

Methodology: What the Bible can tell us about Education

bibleDear Reader,

(This is the third post in a series. See post 1 here and post 2 here.)

Some of you are probably freaking out now thinking, “She’s going to find an obscure verse in Job and use it to lecture me  on how to educate my kids!” Let me assure you that that is not the case. The verse is in Song of Songs.

Okay, breathe; I am just kidding.

I don’t think the Bible tells us what kind of bread to eat and I don’t think it is a primer on education. But I do believe it has  a lot to say on the issue at hand, i.e. developing a philosophy, I mean theology of education.

Without further ado, then, here are the principles I will be using and assumptions I am making as we move forward:

  • God communicates to His people through His works and His Word. In theological language, these are called general and special revelation. Both of these can tell us things that bear upon the issue at hand (education).
  • The Bible is “the only infallible rule for faith and life.”
  • Unpacking the above statement, “only” modifies “infallible” (not “rule”). If there is a seeming conflict between the Bible and something else, the Bible takes precedence. The Scriptures are our only infallible source, but not our only source (see the bits on general revelation below).
  • The Bible tells us about what we need to know for faith, that is for salvation, and in this area it tells us everything we need to know. But when it comes to life, while we should always look at what the Bible has to say, we must not expect it to tell us everything we need to know about every topic. It’s not a cookbook. It’s not a spelling curriculum.
  • The Scriptures are infallible; human beings are not. Since we can only read the Scriptures through the lens of our own human reason, we need to use some caution.
  • What the Bible does have to tell us comes in various ways. Sometimes the Bible tells us things directly (“Thou shalt not . . .”). These are prescriptive commands and should be obeyed. Sometimes the Bible describes things but doesn’t necessarily make clear whether we should emulate them or not. A little more discernment is needed here. David stole Bathsheba; we should not copy him. David also repented; we should emulate him. These seem obvious but what about when David pretended to be insane or lied in the midst of battle? We need to use a little more caution when we base our opinions on descriptive, rather than prescriptive, passages.
  • Another useful rule in this regard: Use the clear to interpret the unclear. The Bible is internally consistent. If one passage is obscure or open to interpretation, we can sue other passages which are clearer to shed light on it.
  • In seeking a theology of education, the goal is something “founded upon and agreeable to the Scriptures. To be founded upon, in my interpretation of this phrase, is to be directly based on a particular passage. But since not every topic is going to be addressed directly, sometimes we need to look for principles. To be “agreeable to” the Scriptures is to be in line with biblical principles.  Abortion is not mentioned in the Bible, but we can reasonably assume, based on the prohibitions against murder and the view of children as a blessing, that abortion is wrong. This is an obvious example; others may be less obvious. Much of our discussion of education will involve applying principles (for example, ideas about the nature of man).
  • All of Scripture applies to us today, unless it doesn’t. The Old Testament has not been supplanted by the New. The rules and principles of the Old Testament are still binding on us unless they have been specifically fulfilled or set aside. Sacrificial laws no longer apply as Christ fulfilled them. But verses about how we discipline our kids, no matter how uncomfortable they make us, are still valid.
  • Three rules I have in interpreting the Bible: 1) Context is king. We need to decide the meaning of a given verse in light of both its immediate context and the wider context of Scripture. 2) The plain sense is best. One of the most famous rabbinical interpreters, Rashi, spoke of the peshat, meaning the plain meaning of a text. It’s sort of the Occam’s razor of biblical interpretation: Plain is good. 3) When we use loaded theological terms, we should do so in biblical language.  When we use words like “grace” and (one that will come up in our discussion of education) “the image of God,” we need to be careful to define them as the Scripture does.
  • Moving to general revelation — these are the things God tells us not through the Scriptures. Observation and experimental science fall into this category. While we should always remember that human reason was affected by the Fall, scientific studies and good old common sense are also legitimate sources of knowledge.
  • We can (and should) gain knowledge from other people as well, but no one (apart from Christ) is perfect. “Calvin says . . .” is a persuasive but not a conclusive argument.

This is all background, the rules of the game if you will.

In the next few weeks I’d like to look at two popular approaches to education in Christian circles and also at the assumptions behind what goes on in most American schools today.

Until then

Nebby

 

 

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