Monday, July 27, 2009

Necessity of Schools--Comenius 1630s

Johann Amos Comenius
The Great Didactic
Chapter VIII

Having shown that those plants of Paradise, Christian children, cannot grow up like a forest, but need tending, we must now see on whom this care should fall. It is indeed the most natural duty of parents to see that the lives for which they are responsible shall be rational, virtuous, and pious. God Himself bears witness that this was Abraham's custom, when He says : " For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment" (Gen. xviii. 19). He demands it from parents in general, with this command : " And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thine heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shall talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up " (Deut. vi. 7). By the Apostle also He says: "And ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord" (Ephes. vi. 4).

2. But, since human occupations as well as human beings have multiplied, it is rare to find men who have either sufficient knowledge or sufficient leisure to instruct their children. The wise habit has therefore arisen of giving over children, for their common education, to select persons, conspicuous for their knowledge of affairs and their soberness of morals. To such instructors of the young the name of preceptor, master, schoolmaster, or professor has been applied, while the places destined for this common instruction have been named schools, elementary schools, lecture-rooms, colleges, public schools, and universities.

3. On the authority of Josephus we learn that the patriarch Shem opened the first school, just after the flood. Later, this was called the Hebrew school. Who does not know that in Chaldsea, especially in Babylon, there were many schools, in which the arts, including astronomy, were cultivated ? since, later on (in the time of Nebuchadnezzar), Daniel and his companions were instructed in the wisdom of the Chaldseans (Dan. i. 20), as was also the case with Moses in Egypt (Acts vii. 22). By the command of God, schools were set up in all the towns of the children of Israel; they were called synagogues, and in them the Levites used to teach the law. These lasted till the coming of Christ, and became renowned through His teaching and that of His Apostles. The custom of erecting schools was borrowed by the Romans from the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Jews, and from the Romans it spread throughout their whole empire, especially when the religion of Christ became universal through the care of pious princes and bishops. History relates that Charlemagne, whenever he subjected any heathen race, forthwith ordained for it bishops and learned men, and erected churches and schools; and after him the other Christian emperors, kings, nobles, and magistrates have increased the number of schools so much that they are innumerable.

4. It is to the interest of the whole Christian republic that this Godly custom be not only retained but increased as well, and that in every well-ordered habitation of man (whether a city, a town, or a village), a school or place of education for the young be erected. This is demanded :—

5. (i) By the admirable method of transacting business which is in common use. For, as the head of a household makes use of various craftsmen when he has no leisure time to prepare what is necessary for his household economy, why should he make any difference in the case of education? When he needs flour, he goes to the miller; when flesh, to the butcher; when drink, to the inn-keeper; when clothing, to the tailor; when shoes, to the cobbler; when a house, a ploughshare, or a key, to the builder, the smith, or the locksmith. Again, we have churches for religious instruction, and law courts and assembly rooms in which to discuss the causes of litigants and make weighty announcements to the assembled people ; why not schools also for the young ? Farmers do not feed their own pigs and cows, but keep hired herdsmen who feed them all at one time, while their masters, free from distraction, transact their own business. For this is a marvellous saving of labour, when one man, undisturbed by other claims on his attention, confines himself to one thing; in this way one man can be of use to many, and many to one man.

6. (ii) By necessity, because it is very seldom that parents have sufficient ability or sufficient leisure to teach their children. The consequence is that there has arisen a class of men who do this one thing alone, as a profession, and that by this means the advantage of the whole community is attained.

7. (iii) And although there might be parents with leisure to educate their own children, it is nevertheless better that the young should be taught together and in large classes, since better results and more pleasure are to be obtained when one pupil serves as an example and a stimulus for another. For to do what we see others do, to go where others go, to follow those who are ahead of us, and to keep in front of those who are behind us, is the course of action to which we are all most naturally inclined.

Young children, especially, are always more easily led and ruled by example than by precept. If you give them a precept, it makes but little impression; if you point out that others are doing something, they imitate without being told to do so.

8. (iv) Again, nature is always showing us by examples that whatever is to be produced in abundance must be produced in some one place. Thus, for instance, wood is produced in quantities in forests, grass in fields, fish in lakes, and metals in the bowels of the earth.

Specialisation, too, is carried to such an extent, that the forest which produces pines, cedars, or oaks, produces them in abundance, although other kinds of trees may be unable to grow there; and, in the same way, land that produces gold does not produce other metals in like quantity...

9. (v) And, finally, we see the same tendency in the arts, if a rational procedure be used. When a tree cultivator, in his walks through woods and thickets, finds a sapling suitable for transplanting, he does not plant it in the same place where he finds it, but digs it out and places it in an orchard, where he cares for it in company with a hundred others...And therefore, as fish-ponds are dug for fish and orchards are laid out for fruit-trees, so also should schools be erected for the young.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why Homeschoolers Need the Gospel

Why should it be presumed that orthodox doctrine is believed among homeschoolers?

If, say, discipline and nurture are emphasized in a context of presumed orthodoxy but the presumption is wrong, then what?

If a family nurtures their children into theological error then nurture has only hurt the children. If a family disciplines their children into the name-it-and-claim-it mentality then discipline has harmed the children. If a family prays together but prays to a 'god' who changes his mind then such prayer has damaged the children.

To assert the necessity of discipleship without taking into account the sorry spiritual state of most Evangelicals is as helpful as a soap commercial for cleaning a house full of spiritual babes--what baby can clean his or her own mess?

Are all Evangelicals, even homeschoolers, spiritually babes or even spiritually dead? I don't know that. But I can discern the times and the seasons through my own years of experience--and the experience of those older than me--and listen to the statistical evidence gathered over the last twenty years. And more importantly I can evaluate the creeds of these families and churches--if their creed believes that Christ sinned while on earth can I not safely assume that there is a spiritual crisis of vast proportions? That perhaps these people are fooling themselves? That radical surgery is required?

My experience as a Dispensational, Arminian, Charismatic of a decade of my life speaks volumes. My church was a mega-church before mega-churches became well-known. We had 2,000 members--well, attendees, church membership was not required.

I was confused; always in fear of losing my salvation. Sure I was saved by grace--but what kind of grace is it that cannot hold onto me in spite of my sins? What was grace? I had no doctrinal footing to stand upon. Did not creeds divide and love unite? Yet I was so full of 'love' that I sank in an ocean of chaotic emotions because I was not taught the teaching (doctrine) of swimming. Even though I was a good student, at church and school, and had an open relationship with my parents, I struggled with sin.

Such doctrinal confusion lead to my lack of assurance and spiritual stagnancy. The practical consequence of such spiritual ignorance was that I was trying to save myself. What if I sinned and died before I repented? Did I believe God enough? Was I obedient enough? The agony was unbearable until God's goodness brought me to sound doctrine which changed my faith from introspection to extrospection--seeing Christ and Him crucified.

Statistically, Barna has been polling American Christians since the mid-80s. Their frustration with the chronic ignorance of such Christians lead to the publication of UnChristian. It was there that I discovered that "out of ninety-five million Americans [aged 18-41]...about sixty million say they have already made a commitment to Jesus that is still important" but only three million (3%) of the total have a nominal Christian worldview (nominal because the very definition used by Barna is non-trinitarian!). Of those aged 42+ only 9% have a nominal Christian worldview. Whose to say that homeschoolers are immune to such doctrinal and therefore practical ignorance?

Barna certainly does not let homeschoolers off the hook. Their 2001 random survey (the best type) suggests that just over half (51%) are not classified as “born again”. Only 15% are (loosely) Evangelical. Half of the homeschoolers polled consider themselves somewhere between conservative and liberal. More importantly, the Barna Group numbers display a level of poor spirituality I had only guessed at from my own anecdotal experience: most homeschoolers deny that Satan exists and half believe that salvation is obtained through good works.

Doctrinally, the situation is worse. Experience and statistics can only go so far but what a person believes with their mouth will reveal their heart (Rom. 10.10). It is certainly true that actions do not always follow beliefs, but they should. And God is not pleased if someone confesses that God is all-sovereign yet frets about the future. At the same time it is wrong to confess that God is impotent among the sons of men and live accordingly.

Professor Horton's excellent book, Christless Christianity, sums the problem of conservative Evangelicalism--whatever their educational proclivities--as moralistic, therapeutic Deism: God created the world; God wants us to be good; God wants us to be happy; God will solve your problems on demand; good people go to heaven (p.41).

Deism is not Christianity. It is the belief that there is a distant Being who created everything and left it alone. Redemption is being good. And the chief end of man is to be happy.

Yet more specific doctrinal errors are frequent as well: God the Father did not choose His own people (that's our job); God the Son did not obey the law for us (that's our job); God the Spirit cannot raise the spiritual dead (that's our job); there is no original sin; infants are innocent; and man's depravity is a lack of information not will.

I know these dangerous errors exist because I have heard them with my own ears. I have examined many churches and their confessions. And I conclude that homeschoolers, as much as any Christian, still need the Gospel.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Thoughts on Education--J. Gresham Machen

Sentiments on education by one of the premier defenders of orthodoxy in the 1920s & 30s, J. Gresham Machen:

"A public school system, in itself, is indeed of enormous benefit to the race. But it is of benefit only if it is kept healthy at every moment by the absolutely free possibility of the competition of private schools. A public-school system, if it means the providing of free education for those who desire it, is a noteworthy and beneficent achievement of modern times; but when once it becomes monopolistic it is the most perfect instrument of tyranny which has yet been devised."
Liberalism and Christianity, p. 15, Introduction, pdf.

"It never seems to occur to many modern teachers that the primary business of the teacher is to study the subject that he is going to teach. Instead of studying the subject that he is going to teach, he studies "education"; a knowledge of the methodology of teaching takes the place of a knowledge of the particular branch of literature,history or science to which a man has devoted his life...

"I wonder when we shall have that revival of learning which we so much need, and which I verily believe might be, in the providence of God, as was the Renaissance of the fifteenth century, the precursor of a Reformation in the Church. When that revival of learning comes, we may be sure that it will sweep away the present absurd over-emphasis upon methodology in teaching at the expense of content. We shall never have a true revival of learning until teachers turn their attention away from the mere mental process of the child, out into the marvellous richness and variety of the universe and of human life. Not teachers who have studied the methodology of teaching, but teachers who are on fire with a love of the subjects that they are going to teach are the real torch-bearers of intellectual advance."
The Importance of Christian Scholarship, p.3, pdf

"In the modern Church, this important work of edification has been sadly neglected; it has been
neglected even by some of those who believe that the Bible is the Word of God. Too often doctrinal preaching has been pushed from the primary place, in which it rightly belongs, to a secondary place: exhortation has taken the place of systematic instruction; and the people have not been built up. Is it any wonder that a Church thus nurtured is carried away with every wind of doctrine and is helpless in the presence of unbelief? A return to solid instruction in the pulpit, at the desk of the Sunday School teacher, and particularly in the home, is one of the crying needs of the hour." ibid, p.14

From "The Necessity of the Christian School" (online, PCA):

"What, then, should the Christian do in communities where there are no Christian schools? What policy should be advocated for the public schools? I think there is no harm in advocating the release of public-school children at convenient hours during the week for any religious instruction which their parents may provide. Even at this point, indeed, danger lurks at the door...But what miserable makeshifts all such measures, even at the best, are! Underlying them is the notion that religion embraces only one particular part of human life. Let the public schools take care of the rest of life -- such seems to be the notion [today]..."

"It is this profound Christian permeation of every human activity, no matter how secular the world may regard it as being, which is brought about by the Christian school and the Christian school alone. I do not want to be guilty of exaggerations at this point. A Christian boy or girl can learn mathematics, for example, from a teacher who is not a Christian; and truth is truth however learned. But while truth is truth however learned, the bearings of truth, the meaning of truth, the purpose of truth, even in the sphere of mathematics, seem entirely different to the Christian from that which they seem to the non-Christian; and that is why a truly Christian education is possible only when Christian conviction underlies not a part, but all, of the curriculum of the school. True learning and true piety go hand in hand, and Christianity embraces the whole of life -- those are great central convictions that underlie the Christian school."

"I can see little consistency in a type of Christian activity which preaches the gospel on the street corners and at the ends of the earth, but neglects the children of the covenant by abandoning them to a cold and unbelieving secularism. If, indeed, the Christian school were in any sort of competition with the Christian family, if it were trying to do what the home ought to do, then I could never favor it. But one of its marked characteristics, in sharp distinction from the secular education of today, is that it exalts the family as a blessed divine institution and treats the scholars in its classes as children of the covenant to be brought up above all things in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."

At the founding of the OPC:

“’In presenting its report, the Committee on Christian Education wishes to express its conviction that the triumph of unbelief in the old organization was due in no small measure to the prostitution of existing educational agencies through compromise with unbelief on the one hand, and to the lack of a full-orbed and consistent system of Christian education on the other.’

“Acting on this conviction and proceeding in the direction outlined, the work of the committee began by recommending to pastors evangelical and Reformed educational materials already available, urging pastors and congregations to support Westminster Theological Seminary with their prayers and gifts, and requesting pastors and congregations to form Christian school societies with a view to the establishment of Christian day schools. Public meetings at general assemblies were sponsored by the committee, during which basic aspects of Christian education were proclaimed by such able exponents as John Murray and Comelius Van Til. Seeds were being sown.”

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church 1936-1986, The Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1986. 35-36

Friday, July 10, 2009

In Defense of Homeschooling

In my naivete, I thought only the secular school sponsors ranted against home education.

But I was wrong.

I recently discovered that Christians could be against homeschooling. For instance, a professor of theology strongly discouraged homeschooling as a viable option. He may have allowed it under special circumstances but such was not articulated.

I have also heard second-hand from reliable ministers that homeschooling has been discouraged by other ministers. Yet as near as I can tell this is a minority position.

Nevertheless, I think homeschooling should be defended from such detractors.

First of all, parents have Christian liberty in this realm. Sending their children to a good Christian school, using a good tutor, homeschooling or combining all of the above are well within the acceptable parameters of the Bible. What the Bible does not forbid is allowable if used correctly. The Bible does not forbid homeschooling. Therefore, homeschooling is a viable option.

Second, there is no universally acceptable manner to educate children. Naturally, what decision is made in this regard is heavily dependent upon the family's financial, academic, ecclesiastical and similar circumstances. As much as such circumstances change so there are that many combinations of acceptable educational methods. And mature parents are usually the best judges of their own circumstances.

Third, the Bible assigns the parents as the primary guardians, giving them the responsibility to determine the best nurturing method for the child (Eph. 6:4). Although the Word of God does not specify all the areas and ways to nurture a child, the light of nature and the clear assumption of the Word puts questions of diet, exercise, entertainment, etc. as areas in which parents are granted authority. Certainly, this includes education.

Fourth, religious instruction is assigned to parents (Deut. 6:7; Proverbs). Religious instruction has historically been propagated in the family through daily family worship, catechetical instruction and daily impromptu discussions. Religious instruction being a greater subject of education than math, for instance, it follows from the greater to the lesser that parents have the option to instruct in less sublime topics, if able.

Fifth, history demonstrates the acceptability of homeschooling. Some Puritans practiced it. And some church leaders were partly or mostly homechooled. Historically, homeschooling has never been condemned by the church nor denounced by her leaders.

None of this should be taken to excuse bad homeschoooling. As with any enculturation tool, homeschooling can be abused. This defense of properly applied homeschooling does not defend those families that wish to isolate themselves from the local church. The church of God has her own duty to instruct her members, young or old. Nor is this a defense of those who wish to use homeschooling as a new relational center, replacing a common set of doctrine and practice with a new set of emphases.

Rather, good homeschooling does not consider itself in isolation from the Christian community. It is concerned with doctrinal and practical purity. Furthermore, many families in my experience do not exclusively homeschool but mix it with other approaches.

So, the next time someone wishes to dismiss homeschooling as some suspicious aberration, point out these truths to them. And above all, do not become overly agitated--there are bigger concerns we ought to be worried about.

Monday, July 6, 2009

I Was Homeschooled

Coming home, my mind swirled with a thousand and one questions. Questions about politics and Christianity. Evolution and science. God's will. Prayer in school.

I spent that night--as I had many a night for years--with my family. Focusing my thoughts like a laser-beam, I asked my parents one or two choice questions. We discussed them. We opened the Bible and examined it. Talked about it. And resolved the questions.

Of course, Friday night was not talk-about-life night because is was game night. Although my Dad was the least interested in the family, in love he consented on most Friday's to engage in a little fun. It did help that we had no TV.

When possible, as a family, we would walk with our lovable doberman (they are actually faithful family dogs). I dressed conservatively. I never dated. I never listened to rock 'n roll.

My sister did once. Some song longing for peace: "People are people, so why should it be that you and I get along so awfully." Reading the lyrics out loud, she laughed: "People don't get along because they are sinners!" I snickered.

With my father the local ecclesiastical black-sheep, I quickly learned some critical thinking. We attended Sunday worship: morning, evening and mid-week. I listened to radio preachers. Together we listened to Dobson at night.

We talked. And discussed. Or more precisely, my father fulfilled Deuteronomy 6 by taking impromptu opportunities to discuss life and God.

Yet our weak spot was action flicks. We saw them at the dollar theater. We never once used the concession stand. It cost way too much. I never knew it then, but I was poor. Not dirt poor just poor. And that poverty meant that we could not attend the new local Christian school. Or any private school for that matter.

Instead, I attended public school. My entire childhood.
And yet I was homeschooled.

In an interview with the online book service, Christianbook, a well-known homeschooling advocate notes that while he went to private and government schools growing up, "life was a constant homeschool program."

Just so: my life as a teenager was a "constant homeschool program".

It is just such an understanding of the Biblical mandate to train children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord that should unite Christians. In an age when America's foundations are crumbling around us, Christians--especially the Reformed--ought to focus on what is important and not spend large amounts of money, energy and rhetoric defending one specific educational method against others.

History and Christian liberty ought to instruct us otherwise. Among other things parental involvement, attitude and especially a Gospel-centered faith transforms a house into a home. This integrates the family from mere physical closeness to spiritual unity. This type of nurture will have our future children telling their children, "I was homeschooled--and you will be too."

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Need of Presbyterian Schools---Alexander

"Such being the neglect of our own body [Presbyterians], and the zeal and diligence of our opposers [Roman Catholics], we are ready to conclude, that next to the ministry of the word, and the instruction of the family, there is nothing which, under God's blessing, promises so much for the sustentation of our covenanted truth, as schools, Presbyterian schools, thorough-paced and above-board; such schools as shall, every day in the week, direct the infant mind, not only to a meager natural religion, but to the whole round of gracious truth, as it is in Christ Jesus. The principles herein asserted are not new among us: but it is high time that we should carry our principles into action."

--J. W. Alexander, old-school Presbyterian

[Report on Parochial Schools to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, 1846]