I have been pondering my own education frequently of late, dwelling on both its good features and bad. As an amateur educator, parent, and student, the subject is naturally quite important as I have to take care and fill in the gaps that I currently have. And as my oldest child begins school, the subject becomes more urgent. This week my mind dwells on planning.
It is a good thing that schools plan. After all, if every teacher did something different in a school, each grade ignored what came before and what would come after and nobody cared that the students were getting a well-rounded education, I think we would have little hope for students attending those schools. It makes sense for a 12th grade teacher to teach calculus knowing that students had been able to take algebra before, but not otherwise. It makes sense for a teacher to teach a course on advanced French, but only if there was an intermediate French class the year before. But the planning goes beyond that; there are broad swathes of history that need to be covered before one goes to college, certain books certainly need to be read, and so on. Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether the material taught is the proper material and in the proper doses (and both of these I doubt in most cases), all of this should be blindingly obvious to anyone who values having, getting or giving an education. We should be thankful that at least some thought has been put into this by modern educators.
For the same reason I am very glad we do the same in the church and in the Christian care and education of our people. I am glad that our churches plan to make sure those under its watch get everything they need to be a proper thinking and acting Christian throughout their lifetime. It is a good thing churches plan so that the whole Bible is known well by the time kids grow up and go off to college. It is a good thing that Christians generally have read widely in good Christian literature and have reaped the benefits of it. It is a good thing that Christian history is familiar and Christians can both reap the positive benefits personally of seeing God act in history, but can also bring this knowledge to bear when those outside get swept up in foolish ideas about Constantine rewriting the Bible or other foolishness written in popular but ignorant literature. It is a good thing that churches encourage the learning of the biblical languages as both a deeper way to appreciate the Scriptures and a tool for better interpretation. It is a good thing that Christian youth have a worldview informed enough to withstand the onslaught of secularist thinking found at most universities. It is a good thing that Christians have been thoroughly versed in theology so that they can move beyond the most basic of Christian ideas. It is a good thing that, after a lifetime of learning, we can look around out our peers and say “Those around me are for the glory of God the wisest, most educated people around, for they are a part of the church of Christ.”
But, then again, you must realize by now that I have either found a fount of Absinthe from which to drink, I am mad, or that I was not serious. Or perhaps in my sarcasm I show that I am quite serious. We all know the above picture is untrue except in the rarest of cases. The reality is that the church has no overarching conception of education and no big idea other than to just teach some Bible to people on their way to the afterlife in the hope that it is enough. Yet for those who believe that we should honor God with our minds, this seems very odd. After all, we have no problem enrolling kids in kindergarten, twelve years of grade school and at least four years of college, so we apparently have no problem with a basic education. But how much time do we spend thinking about it? Planning? In all but the rarest cases, the time spent must be little.
This problem seems so obvious to me, and after only a little reflection, I hope it seems obvious to you as well. There are a plethora of things a Christian can learn throughout life for his betterment and the advancement of the kingdom. But without a conscious thought or plan about how to be a thoroughly learned Christian, why do you think anyone has much of a chance of becoming one?
But recognition of the problem is but only a small step towards the goal and the easiest part of the race. The next step is a big one, which is the question “Where do I start?” What is the answer to that? Are you going to have to figure it out on your own or can you ask somebody? Perhaps the person you ask will be a fellow novice with no more of a clue than you, but who is still under the delusion that he knows something. Or will you happen to stumble upon a coach?
And continuing with the metaphor, finding a coach is a big part of the problem. One does not wake up one day and say “Well, I am going to coach the Dallas Cowboys” and get hired unless he has the requisite background. But who has it? When several generations drop the ball (this metaphor just goes on forever, does it not?) and fail to pass on the necessary wisdom and know-how, you should not expect to be able to just pick up where the learned left off generations ago. If you start anywhere, it will be from a place of ignorance.
And that is where we find the church. It has many teachers, but how many people does the church have that can really put together what the education of a good Christian looks like? It has its pastors, but can they look beyond the next few months and come up with a good educational philosophy for their people long-term? It has its education ministers, but can they think beyond next year’s curricula?
For some the answer was Christian schools, but the idea in and of itself is just a facile answer that actually fails to solve the problem. The educational dilemma is larger than these this. It is bigger than creating Christian schools, though that is theoretically helpful. It has to do with Sunday teaching times. It has to do with parents and their children. It has to do with developing a culture of learning in Christian adults. It has to do with the rethinking of educational patterns, practices, and structures. It has to do with rethinking, or in most cases, thinking about for the first time, what it takes to make educated Christians.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this for me is that I know I do not have the answers. I feel similarly in this regard as I do with my back and neck pain. I know the problem is there because I feel it every time I move my head. I know some things I can do to make things better like exercise, good posture, and stretching, but what I do does not make the pain go away completely. I know some things that help, but I do not know how to solve the problem myself. That is why I go to the chiropractor. But who will be my educational chiropractor? Who will be that for the church?
So then what is a Christian philosophy of education? We have survived for a while without one but we are not better for it. If we can come to the point of seeing that there is a problem, pray tell, what is step two?
Eric B. Sowell