Thursday, April 2, 2015

Towards a Theology of Education

Beginning a home-schooling journey can be overwhelming.  There are literally hundreds of different curricula to comb through.  There are friends, family, and random blogging moms making suggestions and sharing what they like to use.  There is a new vocabulary to learn: "classical" doesn't always mean the same thing in home-school circles as it did in my Education classes.  "Unit study" has a different flavor.  And then there are terms I'd never heard of in my (admittedly, short) teaching career - like "Charlotte Mason", which is where I landed.

What originally attracted me to CM-style homeschooling was that the methods are so deeply rooted in a carefully thought-out philosophy that resonates with my own ideas about education and the teacher/student relationship.  Well, OK, what originally attracted me is that AmblesideOnline is free. :D But what has kept me there even after our financial situation improved is that I firmly believe that good methods grow out of good philosophy.  Miss Mason articulates a great deal of what I wanted to say back when I wrote my "Personal Philosophy of Education" essay back in college.

However - just because I like it doesn't make it good.

Good methods start with good philosophy, and good philosophy has to start with good theology.

So - so, so, so - I constantly need to reexamine what I'm doing and why I'm doing it, and make sure it lines up with Scripture.

Fortunately, Miss Mason didn't just leave us a teacher's manual explaining her methods, she left 6 whole books with a robust (and yet, coherent) explanation of the philosophy behind her methods.  And then she summarized it all into a 20-bullet-point list, so the cross-examination starts there.

Point number 1: Children are born persons.

Not "blank slates" or "sponges" or "memorization machines" or even "potential persons".

So far, so good - if I believe in personhood from conception, then surely I can accept personhood from birth.

But what does it mean that my children are persons?  and how does that affect my role as their teacher?

Some thoughts:

1. As persons, children have the same God-given rights as other people.  These rights are rooted in our status as bearers of God's image.  "Life, liberty, and property" comes to mind. (Gen 9:6 and Ex. 20:1-17, among others)  This is a common battle-cry among libertarians, but the idea is an old one.  Jefferson used a variation of it by saying "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  I've always found it significant that no one has ever seriously said we have an inalienable right to be happy, only to pursue happiness.  Which brings me to my next point:

2. As persons, children have the right to make their own choices and receive the consequences.  (Ezekiel 18 is one example)  Now, children are foolish and lacking in wisdom, so as a parent (and teacher) I have a responsibility to set boundaries around them.  But within those boundaries, there should be freedom.  And consequences, both good and bad.  (A corollary to this is the classic idea of "Freedom of Conscience" - which my husband calls "Self-Stewardship.")

I think Miss Mason's concept of "masterly inactivity" fits in here, as does her principle of allowing ONE attempt at an assignment and not allowing corrections or second chances.

3. Another corollary of point 3 is that persons have the right to do their own work.  Miss Mason fleshes this idea out in a later section of her 20 points, so we'll come back to it then.

4. As persons, my children are sinners in desperate need of God's grace.  (Rom 3:23, Eph 2:1-10)  This is another one we'll come back to later.

5. According to the Westminster Catechism, the chief end of man is "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever."  If we accept this premise, than it stands to reason that my homeschooling needs to be done in a way that brings glory to God, and that encourages my children to glorify God and to enjoy him.  (Rom 11:36, I Cor 10:31, Phil 4:4, Rev 21:3-4)  My children are, like Adam, living creatures, (Gen 2:7), with souls that were created to love and fear God.

Because of this (and in combination with point 4) I have to come at education from a Deuteronomy 6 perspective.  Teach them diligently to know and love the One True God.  With all their hearts, souls, and might.  While we walk by the way, and while we sit at home, and while we lay down, and while we stand up.  Day in, and day out, everything comes back to God.


  1. -Not "blank slates" or "sponges" or "memorization machines" or even "potential persons".- Indeed!
    Great post. Looking forward to reading your others.

  2. There is so much in that line: Children are born persons. It is truly the foundation.