Monday, March 16, 2009

History of Christian Education: Westminster Divines

Many times over, I have heard the claims that homeschooling was historically dominate. Taking history from 6000 BC to now that may be true (but unproven). But what if this unproven assumption were examined in smaller snapshots? Say...examining the educational background of the members of the Westminster Assembly (1644)?

I examined Reid's Memoirs of the Westminster Divines. Like today, many then did not write their life stories out. And they did not have the massive paper trial we have today. So, most of the details of these great and godly men before they entered college is unknown.

Of the 104 commissioners, 24 had sufficient historical detail. The remainder of the men have no known history of education before college. The vast majority attended college. And they were English, with a few French and five Scots.

Four of that number may have been exclusively homeschooled but that is unclear. One more may have been tutored at home and homeschooled. The rest of the 19 men were clearly schooled outside the home (79%). In all fairness, this does not preclude any homeschooling that may have attended their outside education, but such is not recorded.

And that is part of the problem with making sweeping generalizations: they ignore the messy details. Education, homeschooling or not, was part and parcel of a larger nurturing approach. The idea of nurture (instruction and discipline) was never considered a narrow activity of schooling--at home or abroad--but an integrated way of living. Children were instructed formally or informally by parents, siblings, extended family, neighbors, masters, deacons, elders, teachers and ministers alike. They were instructed and disciplined in homes, churches, schools and in the fields. Beyond the requirements of the teachers being godly, it did not matter especially who did it or what method was employed but that the children learned truth.

The Puritans promoted such an integrated form of nurture by centering the culture in the Person and Work of Christ. The method of education was a question of Christian liberty, but the Message of Christ was the heart and soul of Christian nurture. And the creation of the Westminster leaders--the Westminster Confession of Faith--reflected that.


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