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

1 comment:

Nomosian said...

Hi! Great article on Machen. We have recently added Machen's "Christianity and Liberalism" to our website ( in audio available for free download to whomever may be interested. It is an excellent piece worth reading (or listening!) to.

Ryan Jankowski