Back to School
Back to school. It’s an exciting time, and maybe a stressful time as well. A time to shop for clothes and school supplies, preparing and arranging for children to be shuttled back and forth; and maybe not at the beginning, but certainly before the term is up, sitting down with children at the kitchen table to help them through an ornery math problem. Our lives have never been more convenient, and yet also never more complex.
There’s a more important, undergirding matter to consider amidst the hub-bub, however. What are our children learning?
Is It Only about Reading, Writing and Arithmetic?
By Gerry Wisz
Back to school. It’s an exciting time, and maybe a stressful time as well. A time to shop for clothes and school supplies, preparing and arranging for children to be shuttled back and forth; and maybe not at the beginning, but certainly before the term is up, sitting down with children at the kitchen table to help them through an ornery math problem. Our lives have never been more convenient, and yet also never more complex. Convenience is like a room larger than we had before. There’s more space, but it fills up faster as well, leaving us with more instead of less to manage.
There’s a more important, undergirding matter to consider amidst the hub-bub, however. What are our children learning? And by this I don’t only mean the quality of the material used at school, the communication ability of the teachers, or their educational methods – although these are also important. I mean from what presuppositions are our children being taught. How does the school our children attend understand the purpose of education? What iseducation, and what is it for?
Certainly, we can say that education is about helping youngsters develop skill sets that they’ll use later in life: reading, writing and arithmetic are the basics. Perhaps these days we should also add coding. But as they advance, the content of what they’re reading and being asked to write, and even how the objective facts of math and science are taught figure in the overall educational equation. For human beings, no matter their age, there really is no such thing as a purely objective fact, twirling out there in the universe on its own. Everyone who comes across it will naturally want to put it in some kind of context. What’s the context in which our children are taught to place facts, and on what basis are they taught to evaluate them?
Context: No Contest
For Christians, the context should comport with God’s revelation, the Bible. This can be problematic for many using public schools, since these schools, because they ignore the Bible, often teach content as factually neutral that the Bible doesn’t treat neutrally at all. At times, these “facts” are editorialized in a context to directly contradict the Bible. The other problem is the notion of segregating education from a child’s family’s beliefs. The idea that school is for learning neutral skill sets, while church is for religion, is really foreign to the Scriptures. In Deuteronomy 6, we get a sense of the comprehensive nature of Biblical teaching. It’s to be a part of a child’s life when the family sits together, walks along the way, when they lie down and rise up. We don’t live in the ancient world, where family education and work were inseparable, but the all-encompassing nature of education – skill sets and revelation taken together – is here encouraged nonetheless.
In Proverbs 22:6 we’re told to train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he shall not depart from it. The word “train” there is interesting. It’s related to placing food atop the palate inside a child’s mouth. The idea is his or her getting used to something as normal that otherwise would not be. It’s a difficult question to ask, harder to answer, but necessary nonetheless -- from where are our children most of the time getting the food and flavors along the top of their palates? What are they getting used to? Is it coming from us and brethren, or from people who don’t share our beliefs that have formed belief systems of their own?
You may be thinking, “Here we go, another plug for Christian schools or homeschooling!” There’s a reason why so much weight has been given to Christian education, and it’s the idea of paideia – a Greco-Roman concept that had begun to become Christianized in the Middle Ages. In the Greco-Roman world, it was about the rearing and education of children with the goal of having them become model citizens of… the State. I dare say that idea is very much with our public-school systems today. A Christian understanding of paideia, however, is for our children to become model citizens of Christ’s kingdom, which if they are, they’ll be genuinely model citizens of the State. That's not just a distinction without a difference, but something much more.