Education is a topic that enjoins much discussion and debate among diverse parties. What is the goal of education? What knowledge and values are to be taught? Who is responsible for the education of a child? How will the education of a child influence their participation in the modern culture and in society as a productive citizen? Does the State have the right to usurp that fundamental right of a parent to direct the education of their child? These questions, and many more, have been discussed both by those who wish to protect the fundamental parental rights and those who wish to manipulate future generations for their own purposes.
This brief essay will attempt to address the biblical standards of education and the responsibilities of the family, the church, and the State. There is no way I can cover the vastness of this topic in this overview but primarily wish to direct your thoughts to the following conclusion: children are given by God to parents (within the structure of the family) and are to be educated and raised according to His principles and for His purposes. Not the State, not the church, not even the parents, has the right to say HOW a child should be taught; ONLY God has that right. They are His children.
Definition of Education
First, we need to define the term “education”. As with many words in our English language, we have seen the words that we are familiar with shift into something different entirely. All around us, especially in the youth culture, words have taken on an entirely different meaning than we may have grown up with. Education is one of those words.
Let’s start with the original Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of the English Language. This was the sourcebook of word definition for generations during the development of our country. Education is defined as:
“The bringing up, as of a child; instruction, formation of manners. Education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline, which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations. To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.”
The current definition in a modern dictionary defines education as:
“Education is the act or process of imparting and acquiring general knowledge and developing the powers or reasoning and judgment. The act or process of imparting or acquiring particular knowledge or skills, as for a profession.”
Oh, how far we have come!
What do the Scriptures tell us about education?
The Bible, as our sourcebook for all Truth, says much about education and the training of children. For parents, as well as the State, we need to remember that children are a heritage from the Lord and we do not “own” them. We are His stewards, training and discipling His children to serve and bring glory to His name.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and the knowledge of the Holy is understanding (Proverbs 9:10)
Come ye children, hearken unto me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Therefore, we are to teach our children to fear God. Only by doing so can they attain to godly wisdom. To fear God means to reverence Him and look in awe at his majesty and glory. It also means we must serve and obey Him. Knowledge is the attainment of truth and facts. Wisdom is the application of that truth in all facets of life.
Children are God’s property, not the parents or the States.
…That thou hast slain my children, and delivered them to cause them to pass through the fire.
God refers to Jacob’s children as “the work of my hands”.
Children are a gift from God, given to parents for stewardship. Therefore, we are not free to raise our children any way we want, because God gives certain conditions that must be met.
The Lord tells us not to put our children under the teaching of the heathen.
Thus saith the Lord, learn not the way of the heathen
We are commanded not to put our children in ANY environment where they are instructed in a manner in which they are taught heathen ideas and philosophies. Do we disobey God when we put our children into a setting where they are taught humanistic ideologies?
The entire sixth chapter of Deuteronomy addresses the what, how and why of biblical education.
That though mightest fear the Lord thy God to keep all His statutues…and observe them…that it may be well with thee and that ye may increase mightily (vs. 2-3)
And though 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. (vs. 7)
…lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee out of Egypt (vs. 12)
…The Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us (vs. 24)
So, in review, the Scriptures lay out the principles of:
§ Who owns our children…God
§ What to teach our children…the fear of the Lord and to obey His Word
§ What NOT to teach our children—-the ways of the heathen
§ When to teach our children…all the time
§ Why to teach our children…that they may remember the works of God on behalf of His people and fear Him
The Role of the State in the Process of Education
The State has always recognized the significance of controlling the education of its’ youth. Politicians, social reformers, and other less savory characters have long realized that they could manipulate the future of a society through managing the pedagogy and philosophies with a controlled learning environment. Though some may have had altruistic motivations, all recognized that, to create a culture that can be managed efficiently and one that will think corporately, you must grab hold of the mind of the youth. Change in a mature society almost always leads to rebellion and anarchy. Examples throughout history abound, from 18th century France to 20th century Russia.
Many books and papers have been authored that address the ingress and usurpation of the State into the familial, and in particular the parental, rights and responsibility to direct the education and development of the child. You find the State taking over this role in ancient Sparta and advocated in the The Republic by Plato. More modern occurrences have been in Prussia, Hindu culture, and of course, the modern American compulsory institutional school setting.
The modern State maintains it has at least a partial right to direct the education of the child. This is due to the fact that the child will grow to become an adult in the community. If they grow up and cannot function in that society or are a gross burden on that society (due to negligence on the part of parents), then the State must then “pick up the pieces” and care for that member of society.
So, does this burden therefore permit the State to enter into the home and usurp the parent’s biblical and constitutional right to personally direct the education of their child? According to U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the state’s interest is two fold: civic and economic. The state has an interest to see that children are able to acquire the necessary reading and writing skills that will allow them to vote and participate in a democratic society. The second interest of the state is that children will be able to support themselves so that they will not become a burden on the state. These interests could be served in many ways (and have been in the past) other than through government education. So why has the state “stepped over the line” so comprehensively and now attempts to direct the complete educational environment of every child? It can be summed up in one word: CONTROL.
Social reformers throughout history have always required compulsory education for the populace to achieve their goals. In Sparta, the ephors (or political elite) utilized the cradle-to-grave model for their own purposes. The whole state was a universal schoolhouse, and the family was employed as a tool for the goals of the state. The Prussian model of education permitted a small elite to mold an entire society into one mass who would do what they were told without question. The early American model of state-controlled education (mid to late 1800’s) has several facets, but all centered on the primary goal of creating a “utopian society” where man could be his own god and where peace and contentment would reign. In later years, especially as the Industrial Revolution of the late-1800’s, state-controlled education would become the method to design and control a workforce that would be efficient and manageable.
We distinctly see that education is MUCH more than just imparting knowledge to another; it is discipling them and molding their character, it is preparing them to participate as active members of their community, it is training them with the skills to support themselves and their families, it is leading them to the source of all Truth, our sovereign God, and source of all Truth revealed in His Word.
The role of the church is one of training and assisting the fathers to understand and take responsibility for the spiritual education of their child. The “incubator” for leadership in the church in birthed within the home environment. As fathers (and mothers) begin to lead their little ones in family worship and discipleship, they gain the skills to lead the local body of Christ. The church should empower parents to train their children in the manner outlined in Deuteronomy chapter six. This strengthens the church itself by building strong families who understand their roles in the church. It also imparts a vision to both this generation and succeeding generations for being salt and light to this culture and working to expand the Lordship of Christ (both individually in our hearts and lives, through progressive sanctification, and corporately as God’s people here on earth).
A friend of mine encouraged me to do what I now ask you of you: take the desert island challenge! Whatever does that mean, you ask? If you were on a desert island and all you had with you were the Scriptures, how would you pattern your life, family, and culture? What choices would you make on how to educate your children? The Christians of the past two centuries have allowed themselves and the church to be swayed by the heathen culture around them. We have utilized unscriptural models both in our personal lives and in the practices of the church body. Are we willing to put away past practices, honestly look to the scriptures for our pattern of life, and use the Word of God to direct us? We must quit letting our culture and the world be our model of life, and look to the Scriptures for they are the path that leads to life!
Education is more than academics! It is not only teaching our children how to read and write. Take the time to read the Webster’s 1828 definition again. Why do you think the generations of families who settled this country used the scriptures to teach these subjects? It was because they understood the true purpose of education. They knew that if they taught their children “academics” without the understanding and wisdom in how to apply what they learned, it would actually be destructive to their families and to the church. Advanced education and the degrees that accompany it will only make an educated fool. Only the scriptures lead the way to truth and wisdom, and these men and women were taught academics centered around the word of God, first and foremost.
As policy is made and evaluated, whether that be individually, within the body of Christ, or in the political sphere, let us remember that both the ends and the means of education is mandated by God. If you are in a position of leadership where you have the weightiness of the next generation on your shoulders, remember the words of our Lord, “It would be better that a millstone be placed around his neck and he be cast into the deepest parts of the sea, than he cause one of these little ones to stumble.”
The responsibility for the education of children is primarily within the family unit. Parents may have the ability to delegate portions of their child’s education to others but they will be accountable. Make sure that no one usurp that role. God ordains the means as well as the ends!