The Christian Philosophy of Education
Education is inescapably a religious concept. Regardless of the educational environment (government school, Christian or secular private school, or home school), at root are stated or unstated religious presuppositions about God and man that justifies and advances the educational agenda. Religion, after all, is nothing more than an attempt by man to identify the ultimate source of Law; that is, what, or who, determines in an absolute sense what is morally right and what is wrong. Observes Christian theologian and philosopher Cornelius Van Til, “The question of knowledge is an ethical question at root. It is indeed possible to have a theoretical knowledge about God without loving God. The Devil illustrates this point. Yet what is meant by knowing God in Scripture is knowing and loving God: this is true knowledge of God: the other is false.”1 Christians believe that Christianity is the only “true” way to know God because Christianity alone correctly identifies the source of all Law as the Triune God of the Bible. Christian education, therefore, seeks to understand the facts of the world, not as independent, unrelated, random events existing in a moral vacuum, but in terms of man’s relationship to the one and only Creator of all the facts of the universe, the God of the Bible.
We say, then, that all education is inescapably religious, because all education points men toward or away from the ultimate source of Law. Humanist-Statist education points men away from God. Christian education points men to God. Humanist-Statist education denies God. Christian education affirms Him. We say as well that there is no neutrality in education, just as there is no neutrality concerning one’s religious convictions. What we know of the so-called “facts” of the universe are, at best, interpretations, and our interpretations of the facts must and will be based on the fundamental philosophic and religious presuppositions we bring to the investigative process. Having “filtered” and “adjusted” the facts to fit a preconceived idea of the way the world is, our conclusions can’t help but be influenced by what we already believe to be true. But the Bible clearly says that there can be no neutrality, that we are not free to “adjust” the facts, that all men are either “with” God or “against” Him, and that all men are regarded by God as covenant-keepers or covenant-breakers. The role of Christian education is to acknowledge (presuppose) the existence of God, and allow the “facts” of the universe to follow, to His glory. There is no fact of the universe existing independent of God, just as there can be no true knowledge without first presupposing the existence of God. Every atom of the universe exists as the personal handicraft of God. If education is the imparting of facts we believe to be true, Christian education uniquely begins by acknowledging, and honoring, the all-powerful, all-knowing Triune God of the Bible. Because what we think we know we can only truly know by first knowing Him. “A state curriculum,” writes theologian R.J. Rushdoony, “to be true to itself must teach statism. A Christian curriculum to be true to itself must in every respect be Christian.”2
The Education Battlefield
We will attempt to identify the distinctives of a “Christian” curriculum directly. But first we must come to grips with the designs and purposes of so-called “public” education, as government schools have assumed a virtual monopolistic influence over the lives of the vast majority of American families with school-aged children. Samuel Blumenfeld, in his landmark exposé, Is Public Education Necessary?, begins by addressing a number of public education “myths”. These myths include the belief that public education is “a great democratic institution fundamental to America’s prosperity and well-being”; that public education is the great “equalizer” of American society; that public education is “ideologically neutral”; that public education provides the best education money can buy; that public education, embodied in its local schools, “belongs to the community”; and, finally, that society “cannot live without it.”3
Whether or not society can “live without it” is a question many of us, Christians and non-Christians alike, would like to put to the test, but the fact remains that public education as we know it today did not exist until the mid-19th century, and did not originate in America at all. The use of centralized, publicly-financed, government-owned schools was imported from authoritarian Prussia, and we “lived without it” throughout the formative years of our nation, somehow managing to produce generations of men unrivaled in their industry, independence, insight, and eloquence. But what began admirably enough in the Biblical commonwealth of New England’s “common schools” (which recognized literacy as the principle means of maintaining Biblical orthodoxy), sunk with the ascendancy of Unitarian liberalism in its capture of Harvard University in 1805. Says Blumenfeld, “Once the significance of that event is understood, the intellectual history of America suddenly begins to make much more sense, for no event has had a greater long-range influence on American intellectual, cultural, and political life than this one.”4
The issues were monumental: the nature of God and the nature of man. The Unitarian liberals, convinced of the innate but environmentally repressed goodness of man, and the power of public education as a liberating force, rejected God the sovereign, law-making, predestinating King of the universe, and replaced Him with a hapless, helpless God, in need of man’s assistance. From here it was but a small step to rejecting God all together, for no God is better than a feeble God. If God was unable, or unwilling, to improve the human condition, they reasoned, institutions of man’s own making would. The centerpiece institution for implementing what amounts to a cultural coup de tat would be universal public education, controlled by the liberal, hard-core anti-Christian elites themselves.
The kind of “education” they had in mind, however, was not simply the transmission of objective “facts,” but rather a deliberate process of subtle, and often not-so subtle, behavior modification that would, over time, replace the na-tion’s bedrock belief system of moral absolutes and Christian theism with the moral relativism of secular humanism. By the early 1900s, the education of our children, a duty regarded by Scripture as sacred and the sole responsibility of the child’s parents, had been reduced to a grand psychological and sociological experiment in which the traditional belief systems of students would not only be systematically ignored, but viewed as disabilities. “Every child in America entering school at the age of five is insane,” reflected Dr. Chester M. Pierce of Harvard University in a 1972 address to the Association for Childhood Education International, “because he comes to school with certain allegiances to our founding Fathers, toward his parents, toward a belief in a supernatural being, toward the sovereignty of this nation as a separate entity…It’s up to you [psychologists and psychiatrists] to make all these sick children well…”5
The goal of “public education” has never been the education of children in the classical sense of mastering academics; the goal of public education is – as it has always been – the “engineering” of a new kind of citizen. Their kind of citizen, parroting a socialistic, centralized, Statist, relativistic world-view. Once the true goal of public education is understood, it can hardly be portrayed as the “failure” many claim it to be. Evidenced by the millions of docile, entertainment-driven, dependency-oriented semi-illiterates produced every year, “public education” has succeeded far beyond its originator’s wildest dreams.
Christian Education and the Family
Basic to the success or failure of the humanist, anti-Christian revolution – of which the educational establishment is only a part – is the degree to which the individual, sovereign, independent family acquiesces to, or resists, the dictates of the State. Christian education by its very nature establishes parents, answerable only to God, as the first and final arbiter of their children’s futures, and erects a firm wall of separation between the family and its children’s care and education, and the voracity of the empirial State. Christian education recognizes the inviolable nature of the family, the family’s God-given responsibilities, and the limitations placed on the ambitions of the State to provide for the family with one hand (“free” education), while at the same time undermining the family’s right to self-determination with the other (“compulsory” education). In terms of basic freedoms, then, Christian education provides the essential but frequently thankless service of acting as a bulwark and lightning-rod for all society against the relentless expansionism of the total State.
The “philosophy” of Christian education, then, embraces more than mere academics; it is a world- and life-view placing God at the center of the universe, with the sovereign spheres of civil government, family government, and Church government circling in their proper orbits (the original “separation of powers”), each sphere balancing the excesses of the other. But, according to the cultural and educational elites, the family has become the enemy, too, and, by association, Christian education, as an alternative to government education, their accomplice in crime. And if there’s one thing the micro-managers of the secular State cannot tolerate, it is honest, healthy competition. Thus we see that the success of the Humanist-Socialist Revolution depends on the neutralization of the family and religion (i.e., Christian education). Meanwhile, the student-conscripts of the government education corps have become the equivalent of human guinea pigs. For in order to achieve “an order in which national sovereignty is subordinated to world authority,” children must first be liberated from the authoritarian influences of their parents and their parent’s religion “by increasing socialization and public controls…[T]he school [is] the center of experimentation in attaining communities of uncoerced persuasion.”6 “Teachers and school administrators should see themselves as social engineers,”7 reinforcing “the now-familiar proposition of abandoning religion and preparing an emotional and intellectual climate for world socialism.”8
The Christian Curriculum
If it seems we’ve spent an inordinate amount of time discussing the evils of Statist education, it is an approach that serves as both a warning and an effective counterpoint to the purpose of the Christian curriculum. Following, then, is a number of key points taken from Dr. Rushdoony’s The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum:
The sound curriculum will be the relevant curriculum, and relevancy requires two fac-tors, a world of absolutes, and a world of change. It is not enough to hold to God’s absolutes: they must be continually and freshly related to the changing times.9
For example, history, language studies, mathematics, literature, economics, etc., to be effective, cannot and should not remain static or become absolutised, but rather, should remain fluid, finding their meaning and relevancy anew in the unchangeable nature of God and eternity. God and His unchangeable word are the yardsticks against which all disciplines of learning are to measured and compared. “Relevancy is more than subjects; it is also faith which makes connections, establishes relationships, and grows by its ability to bring things into meaningful and useful relationships.”10
The basic and central offense of Christianity was its doctrine of authority, the concept that an absolute sovereign God has absolute authority over man, is man’s only savior, and provides man with an infallible word.11
The Christian doctrine of man’s subordination under God crashes headlong against the Enlightenment ideal of “the autonomy of critical thought.” Absolute autonomy – self-law – is the basic presupposition of all forms of humanism, as well as false religion. “It is impossible to understand modern education apart from this concept of autonomy of critical thought, nor is it possible to have a truly Christian education without a radical departure from this concept. As long as the educational curriculum functions consciously or unconsciously in terms of the autonomy of critical thought, the school remains, however evangelical its faculty, an implicitly anti-Christian institution.”12
Since the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a witness to the defeat of sin and death, and the restoration of redeemed man, it follows that the fact of the resurrection is central to a liberal arts curriculum.13
As the foundation of the Christian life, the Resurrection, inextricably linked to redemption, leads a man into righteousness and, in Rushdoony’s words, “towards a purpose.” Relativism, on the other hand, is, practically speaking, a life without a purpose, without law, tossing the student between the twin disasters of anarchy and totalitarianism. “Purpose implies transcendence, a goal to be attained…in the existentialist world, purpose…is impossible.”14 The Resurrection, as a touch-stone to a real and knowable past, stands as an unblinking witness to the ultimate reality of redeemed man, compelling man toward his true calling and purpose: to exercise dominion and subdue the earth.
Thus, as we have seen, first, for Christian historiography, history is not a social science; it is a theological science. Second, it is a theological science because God, not man, is the sovereign lord of all creation…for the Christian historian and teacher, the basic textbook is the Bible.15
When banishing God from history, as the naturalistic “social sciences” do, the outcome must result in nothing less than the unpitying domination of the State over every aspect of human existence. As disciples of the scientific method, nothing can be left to chance. “Freedom,” notes Rushdoony, “has no place in the laboratory of [humanist] society.” History can only be understood when its reference is God, God’s law, and God’s eternal decrees.
Bible classes are a failure, unless the essentials of Biblical faith are applied to every course in the school.16
“The Bible,” Rushdoony maintains, “is basic to all education because it gives us the meaning of all the facts and the purpose of education.”17 Divorced from Biblical truth, facts become “vain babblings” (1 Tim 6:20). The Christian school, Rushdoony reminds us, is a school, not a church. Evangelism, often the hidden agenda of Bible class, must not be confused with education, for the Christian teacher’s goal is to provide Biblical meaning to the facts, and to make coherent what others, in rejecting the revealed word of God, make disjointed and abstract. For obvious reasons, the Christian teacher must read, study, and attempt to master the Bible in order to teach it properly.
Grammar, composition, mathematics, civics, government, the Constitution, science, music, foreign languages, all have as their starting point the sovereign God of the Bible. Every fact of every discipline of learning begins, and ends, with the Creator of all things. Man, truly, is alienated from God, but through the covenant of grace man has been restored. Christian education, rooted in the sovereignty of God and in the infallibility and trustworthiness of His revealed law-word, rejects as suicidal the futile “babble” of autonomous man. True and lasting liberty is possible only to the degree that we are willing to ascribe to God the ultimacy He deserves, and to the extent we are willing to look beyond ourselves as the measure of all things and, in faith, believe and obey His every word.
- As St. Anslem has written: “I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand.”
- The Defense of the Faith, Cornelius Van Til, Philadelphia and Reformed Publishing Company, 1955
- The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum, R.J. Rushdoony, Ross House Books, 1985
- Is Public Education Necessary?, Samuel Blumenfeld, The Paradigm Company, 1985
- NEA: The Trojan Horse in American Education, Samuel Blumenfeld, The Paradigm Company, 1994
- The Cloning of the American Mind, B.K. Eakman, Huntington House Publishers, 1998, p. 94
- Policy statement of the Progressive Education Association, c. 1930
- Journal of Progressive Education, May 1949
- Cloning, ibid., p. 163
- Philosophy, ibid., p. 14
- Ibid., p. 14
- Ibid., p. 15
- Ibid., p. 17
- Ibid., p. 26
- Ibid., p. 27
- Ibid., p. 42
- Ibid., p. 44