EDUCATING YOUR CHILDREN
Written by Doug Ponder on October 23, 2016
THE DESIRE FOR EDUCATION
Few things seem to matter as much today as education. What else do people move across the country for, go into great debt to obtain, restructure their family’s schedule and living situation around, argue about at every political level, and even measure people’s worth or intelligence or giftedness by? Education is clearly essential.
There’s a great reason for this, even if people don’t realize it: We value education because we are knowers by nature, having been created by God to know him, know ourselves, and know his world. Yet we aren’t born with such knowledge already in us, like a computer preloaded with software. In order to know God and his world, we have to learn about them. And that means education. Like everything else in God’s world, therefore, education is something that can (and must!) be undertaken to the glory of God.
Usually when thinking about education for their children, parents often start with the question: Where?—as in homeschool? public school? private school? Ironically, this is probably the least helpful question to start with! For you can’t answer Where? unless you first know the who, what, and why of education.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?
The Scriptures make it clear that God holds parents accountable for the education their children receive, for parents are the guardians of their children’s hearts and minds. In the most specific place, God tells fathers to ‘bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord’ (Eph 6:4). That includes so much more than Bible stories before bedtime or prayers before meals, because “the instruction of the Lord” is so much more than the gospel and the Ten Commandments. God calls parents to teach their children think well about everything, which means giving them the tools they will need to grow as lifelong learners to the glory of God.
Now this doesn’t mean that parents are the only ones who teach their children. Pastors, community group leaders, schoolteachers, and other adults may all be part of the process. But even when parents invite someone else to help educate their children—whether a pastor on Sunday or a schoolteacher on Monday—the parents are still the ones who must make sure their child’s education is sound. A child may have many teachers, but he has only two parents whom God holds accountable for the education (whether good or bad).
WHAT IS A GOOD EDUCATION?
Jesus is Lord over everything, including math and science and literature and art. As the psalmist says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Ps 24:1; 1 Cor 10:26). That means God’s world is not divided into “sacred” and “secular” spheres, as if the gospel changes how we think about philosophy but has no impact on biology or math. All subjects should be part of a child’s education, but we must ensure they are not learned as if Jesus were irrelevant to the subject matter. For example, are numbers arbitrary constructs of human ingenuity and convenience, or are they representative realities of the inherent order of creation? The difference between these two frameworks cuts the core of what we think knowledge is for.
Furthermore, the Christian vision of life and learning has a specific starting place. Put another way, the foundation for a Christian education is the Bible because God has spoken, we can trust him, and his Word works to shape our minds and hearts to engage his world rightly as we discover and cultivate and create. This differs from the foundation (or starting point) of secular philosophies of education, which begin with what man can discover for himself, unaided by divine revelation. This approach, which masquerades under the guise of neutrality, is actually loaded with assumptions about humanity (that we are able to discover truth on our own), about what counts as truth (that only what can be seen, measured, or recorded is true), and about whether virtues, morals, and religious beliefs have any positive role in the holistic formation of a student (hint: they do).
WHY DOES EDUCATION MATTER?
Every education philosophy has specific goal or purpose, the “so what” of education. For many people education is purely pragmatic: you get an education to get a job to make money to live life. Certainly those are all important, but if that’s all that education is good for, you will have a difficult time convincing an 8 year-old boy why he should care about spelling today when the consequences you are talking about are still more than a decade away.
Meanwhile, the Christian vision of education includes the exciting realization that every aspect of learning—down to the smallest detail—is an opportunity to learn more about God and his world. The ultimate telos, or end goal, of Christian education therefore is worship. We educate our children in the hopes that they would grow to know and love God. And this includes teaching them about math and science and history and everything else. Math and chemistry study God’s orderliness and consistency. Science studies of God’s creativity and in creation. History is the story of world events, full of the sins of men and the redeeming providence of God. Spelling studies the wonder of human language, and the capacity for humans to read and write (unlike any other animal). Far from being random facts, these subjects pour the fuel of knowledge onto the fire of worship, engaging our minds and exciting our hearts with thoughts of the God who creates and redeems.
WHERE SHOULD I EDUCATE MY CHILDREN?
None of what we have said necessarily directs parents to an exclusive course of action when it comes to the well-worn debates about public school vs. private school vs. homeschooling. Simply put, there is no “thou shalt homeschool” from the Lord, and Christian parents have the freedom to utilize any of educational context. At the same time, this doesn’t mean every institution is equally good at educating your children with a comprehensively Christian education. This fact seems equally undeniable.
The question parents must ask is this: Is where my child receives his or her education the kind of institution that will instill in them a true vision of life and learning? If it is not, parents must be prepared to equip their children with what is lacking in such contexts. This may mean parents provide supplemental lessons, or at the very least, parents make it a habit to sort through all the material their children are learning at school, correcting what is erroneous and connecting what is good to Christ and his Word. This goes for public school, private school, and even homeschool. Every parent is called by God to help their children learn what is good, right, and true Monday through Sunday.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works by various authors. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.