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An Education on Educating

April 20, 2007

About a year before I became the pastor of Berean Baptist Church, I began to think very seriously about the true nature and mission of education. The reason, which some readers will probably relate to, was that I now had children of my own. Education took on a whole new meaning to me, and no doubt like many of you, children made me re-think both the philosophy and the resultant methodology of teaching.

My wife and I knew that we were not satisfied with ACE as a methodology of teaching, but we also were not willing to throw off a system in a reactionary way. Some might be tempted to think that Christian educators have three basic choices — a Christian school can be “ACE,” “A Beka,” or “Bob Jones.” In other words, the choice is between systems, rather than a choice between approaches. But we were not willing to reject one system in favor of another, only to find after ten years that we were equally dissatisfied with the new system. We did not want divorce and re-marriage to become the pattern.

Instead, we began to search for the true mission, the Biblical mission of education. What was it we were trying to accomplish? What did the Bible have to say about it? How should this affect our methodology? In other words, we were not content simply to buy a “system” and let them direct what happened in the school. We wanted Scripture to shape our system, rather than let a textbook manufacturer shape it.

That being said, we understand that the Father is responsible for the education of his children. But we disagree that this responsibility requires the Father to do the educating. Fathers are equally responsible to feed and clothe their children, but that doesn’t require them to take up farming and tailoring. Scripture makes room for delegation, and it certainly is lawful for a Christian school to stand in the place of parents in this regard.

In fact, I have enrolled two of my children in our Christian school so far, and I have done so with authority. We chose the school for our children. We have taught our children that when the teacher gives an instruction or a command, he is speaking for me, and my children are to view that command as a command from me. If they disobey that command, they have disobeyed me. And the teacher has been commissioned by me to discipline my child as prescribed by the school. By enrolling my children in the school, I have given the teachers authority to discipline my children for me, using the form of discipline I would (which includes spanking). In fact, if the teacher fails to discipline my child as agreed, I discuss this with the teacher. I expect the teacher to uphold the guidelines of the school. This is what we agreed on when I enrolled my children in the school. We are settled on godly Christian schools, and are delighted with their services in educating our children.

But we also have an admittedly unique role in our Christian school. We are parents, and we are administration. You might recall that I did not want a Christian school. But like it or not, that is what I got. Based on the situation of many families within our church, closing the school was not an option, a fact that we determined after much consideration. God placed a school in our lap, and commissioned us to educate.

Unfortunately, since the inception of Christian schools, some pastors have been much more enthusiastic about having a school than they have been about educating young people. It seems that many spend more time determining whether or not to have a school than they spend thinking about what kind of school to have, or how to educate. Once a church decides to have their own school, they pick one of the “big three” systems, and go with it. As a result, for over thirty years now Christian schools have been producing bitter, disconnected, disillusioned, and poorly educated young people. Sadly, it would not be unreasonable to guess that the majority of Christian school graduates have dropped out of Christianity. We certainly have not graduated a majority of Christian thinkers, despite all those high-octane chapel hours and heavy-duty Bible memory programs. Prayer in school might not be the answer. Maybe we should give some thought to the actual education we are giving.

Not wanting to continue the trend, we at Berean determined to consider carefully what a truly Christian education should look like. To do this, we did not ask the curriculum representatives to come sell us on their systems. We already had a textbook company telling us what to do. Instead, we began to look at philosophy. We understood that there was more to education than textbooks. So, we began reading more about what was out there.

After a year of study, I spent a year teaching our church the nature of a truly Christian education, and at the end of that year, we as a church began to transition our school from an ACE school to a Classical and Christian School. Now, I should interject here that we by no means think that Classical and Christian is the exclusive way to educate your children Scripturally. But we do believe that Classical and Christian enables us to educate them in a Biblical manner, and that through the Classical and Christian approach, we can accomplish the Biblical mandates for education. Classical and Christian is not a master. It is a servant. Though it could easily become a master.

Rather than spend time discussing the distinctions of Classical and Christian (our academy handbooks will help familiarize you with the concept), let me instead discuss what we see as the advantages of the Classical and Christian approach. Education’s true mission, as I said in my last post, is summed up in the first seven verses of Proverbs 1. In short, we want to give our students knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Knowledge without understanding and wisdom is incomplete. Understanding without knowledge is impossible, as is wisdom without understanding. The three are interconnected, interdependent, even inseparable: perhaps one could call them a Trinity of thought. The teacher’s task is not completed when he has given knowledge to his students. The student needs to understand what he knows. But when the teacher has given his pupils an understanding of the material to be learned, the teacher’s task is not yet completed. For what is the student to do with the information that he knows and understands? I may know the Pythagorean Theorum, but do I understand it? Do I know what it is useful for? Do I know and understand how it relates to the world in which we live? Can I explain how it pertains to my Christian faith? Or is it another useless piece of information for me?

Regardless of the approach taken in education, no education is complete that fails to impart knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. By knowledge, I mean a knowing the fundamental principles that pertain to all subjects and to every subject. A knowledge of history would include more than a casual acquaintance with the names, places, dates, and events essential to understanding our civilization and other civilizations. A knowledge of math would include the numbers, operations, patterns, and rudiments of mathematics. A knowledge of English would include words, phrases, clauses, sentences, paragraphs, and all the various structures that allow communication.

By understanding, I mean a grasp of the relationship that exists between the fundamental principles of the various subjects. Students must understand not only the fundamental truths themselves, but also how they relate to each other, how they are interconnected, and most importantly, how they demonstrate the Lordship of Christ in everything.

By wisdom, I mean an ability to put those fundamental truths to good use in life. When a student gets wisdom, that knowledge has become a part of his very being, is ingrained in him, and cannot be rooted out. That student understands what he knows, can tell it to others, is guided by it, and finds it profitable in everything. Wisdom truly is the culmination of true education.

In some sense, we could say that knowledge, understanding, and wisdom are the processes that every teacher uses. Take for example the first day of Algebra class. The teacher should, from the very first day, show what “Algebra” really is. The teacher should strive to show what will be studied and (hopefully) learned during the course of the year. As part of this process, the teacher familiarizes the class with the terms that are unique to Algebra class, and drills those terms until the students know them. The teacher introduces the operations used in Algebra, shows the students how to use them, and has the students practice. These are the rudiments of Algebra, and the teacher seeks to give the students that knowledge.

But the teacher who teaches these rudiments has not taught Algebra. In addition to giving the basic principles, the teacher must help her class to understand the unique terms in their own minds, so that the students know these terms for themselves. The teacher must teach his class why the operations work, and why we use them. And the students must use these operations until they become useful to the students. The teacher must give the students a firm grasp of the relationship between terms and concepts, so that the student knows the material for himself. This is understanding.

But when the student understands Algebra, the student has not yet learned Algebra. The completion of the learning process is found in the student’s ability to re-create the material in his own mind, and clearly express the meanings of terms, the operations and processes of Algebra. The student has learned Algebra when the student can explain it in his own terms, and can apply it to everyday life. This we could call wisdom, and is the culmination of learning. Every teacher should strive for this finished product.

We see the process of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom in each subject, but if we look carefully we will also see this same process in our entire learning experience. A young child gathers knowledge with a voracious appetite. He wants to know what everything is. He treats his parents to a barrage of questions. He is fascinated by the names of colors, by numbers, by letters. He learns to read and then reads everything he can get his hands on. He loves to learn. All the facts of the world are available to him, and he devours them with the fresh enthusiasm of one who does not know but longs to. This stage of his development corresponds to knowledge. Later, he will begin to question things. He will not be so willing to take your word for it. He will want to know why it is so and how you know that. He tries to make sense of the jumble of information that he consumed in previous years. This stage of his development corresponds to understanding. As he grows in understanding, he begins to blossom into a young man, and once again his mind begins to change. He knows and understands, and wants to express what he knows and understands. He naturally grows more sophisticated, and wants to be even more refined than he is now. He longs for maturity, and wants to make impressions on those around him. This stage of his development corresponds to wisdom, and at this stage, teachers seek a finished product.

Berean Baptist Academy chose the Classical and Christian approach to education because we felt that it would help us reach these educational goals. The Classical Trivium, as outlined by Dorothy Sayers in her essay “The Lost Tools of Learning,” adequately addresses these three stages of learning, enabling teachers to give knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. The Trivium allows the teacher to “teach with the grain,” emphasizing knowledge at a time when the student craves knowledge, developing understanding at a time when the student desires understanding, and maturing wisdom at a time when students seek wisdom and long for maturity. Two years ago, we completed the transition, and we are thrilled with the progress in our students. They love learning, and delight in truth. Two weeks from now, our Juniors and Seniors will present their theses, the culmination of their education. One will argue against remarriage for divorced people, not as a parrot might argue (he will differ with his pastor), but as one who has formed his opinions and constructed arguments designed to change minds. One will argue for school uniforms. When they finish presenting their arguments, they will face hard questions from faculty judges. They will defend their arguments against a purposely-hostile audience. And they will shine.

We are grateful for the progress we have seen thus far, while realizing that we are only two years into this approach. The view behind us brings cheer, yet we realize that there is much of the mountain that remains to be scaled. We are glad to be scaling rather than circling the mountain.

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Categories: Education, Mallinak
  1. April 21, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    I like what was said here about God allowing for delegation. It is the parent’s responsibility to see that their child is properly educated, but they do not have to do it themselves.

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