In early 2016 there were an estimated 2.3 million homeschooled students in the United States and this amount appears to be growing each year (Ray). The reason why more and more families are choosing this educational option are many to be sure, but one of the prime reasons is the failure of our modern educational system, not only when it comes to academic performance, but also because our schools are becoming less safe for the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health of our students. Some studies number the United States 30th in math, 19th in science, and 38th overall in academic assessment among 71 similarly industrialized nations (DeSilva). Character training and addressing issues of the heart are not part of our curriculum any more; this is evident by the alarming violence and immorality so rampant on school campuses today.
With lectures and rules and bells ringing, we continue to use the industrial model of education intended to churn out factory workers who only know how to follow instructions well, but cannot discern and think for themselves. We teach students how to agree with the masses, but not how to reason logically, recognize truth, and to effectively use language persuasively and passionately both written and orally. All subjects are taught in seclusion of the others, resulting in our students not understanding how all knowledge is interrelated and connected. The ability of parents to direct the upbringing and moral formation of their children is undermined by our current system when they are not allowed to have a voice regarding the values and morals being taught in our schools. Many school districts have the attitude that once a child enters the doors of the schools, the parents no longer have jurisdiction.
A close examination of modern education reveals that it is really not education at all and bears at least three fundamental flaws; the incorrect focus on right knowing instead of right being, the absence of the discipline of learning how to think logically, discern truth, get knowledge, and how to communicate it winsomely, and the disintegration of all subjects, not teaching proper relationships, cause and effect, and how all things in the created world fit together and are stamped with the fingerprint of the Creator.
It’s All About the Heart
In order to know what constitutes a quality education, we must first understand what education is according to a biblical view. Is education simply the accumulation of knowledge? If a person learns to read and write their letters, to spell words, are they then considered educated? Is not education concerned with more than just the mind, but also with character, with the heart, so that knowledge can be rightly used? For the Hebrew in the Old Testament, the idea of education flowed out of the heart and was inseparably associated to relationship with God, knowing His commandments, obeying them, and teaching them to their children.
1 Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgments which the Lord your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess, 2 that you may fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, you and your son and your grandson, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. 3 Therefore hear, O Israel, and be careful to observe it, that it may be well with you, and that you may multiply greatly as the Lord God of your fathers has promised you—‘a land flowing with milk and honey.’ 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6 And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
Throughout the Old Testament we see that in order to enjoy life, have success, and secure wisdom and knowledge, to learn and obtain knowledge of the universe and all its properties and laws, or to understand the ways of man, their thoughts, actions, and reasoning, and to be fit to function and contribute effectively in the world, one must first be rightly related to the Creator and sustainer of all. Any true knowledge or wisdom to be secured must be pursued by first beginning in the proper place and proceeding from that point, identifying how that particular knowledge or wisdom interacts with the rest of life, and works itself out as men work and live in the world. Any discovery of truth, or attempt at using knowledge rightly, or endeavor undertaken in the seeking of success, begins with being rightly related to God.
Modern secular education and I’m sad to say, even some modern Christian education, focuses on filling a student’s mind with facts (knowledge) and does not concern itself in character training and learning the fear of God. As a homeschooling parent, who spent half of her school years in a public school and several years in a traditional Christian school, I also find myself becoming too often overly concerned with filling my children’s minds with facts and figures, feeling the need to pour in lots of content at the expense of focusing more fully on my children’s relationship with the Lord. This ought not to be; the training of the heart in character and virtue is fundamental to all true learning. True education must begin in the right place, with a focus on reaching our students’ hearts, so that they can wisely use knowledge.
Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.
A Return to a Focus on Language and Logic
In today’s schools the preoccupation is with crossing items items of an academic to do list; math facts… check, penmanship… check, social studies… check, English grammar… check, etc. Students are spoon fed and told what to think, instead of being inspired to pursue the truth themselves and being taught the means and methods for learning to search out the depths of all there is to know on any given subject. Unfortunately, a child “educated” in this method, graduates without ever having secured the skills needed to continue a life of learning, but instead is handicapped both intellectually and spiritually and is made vulnerable to all the various deceptions and lies so pervasive in the culture today (Sayers).
Dorothy Sayers in her famous essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning” claims that the necessary tools of learning are no longer taught. She states:
“Is not the great defect of our education today–a defect traceable through all the disquieting symptoms of trouble that I have mentioned–that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils “subjects,” we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning. It is as though we had taught a child, mechanically and by rule of thumb, to play “The Harmonious Blacksmith” upon the piano, but had never taught him the scale or how to read music; so that, having memorized “The Harmonious Blacksmith,” he still had not the faintest notion how to proceed from that to tackle “The Last Rose of Summer” (Sayers).
How much do you remember from your education as a young person? I can’t say that I remember much. Sayers points out how young people leave school, and forget most of what they have learned and don’t even know how to tackle a new subject, becoming adults, who don’t know how to distinguish a quality and scholarly written work and one that is not sound at all (Sayers).
Sayers asserts that modern educators should reach back in time to the Middle Ages when learning was accomplished through the use of the trivium, a discipline consisting of three parts; grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. Students were not taught subjects, but rather methods of dealing with subjects. The intent of the trivium was to teach the proper tools of learning, before beginning to apply the tools to all subjects. First language was learned in the grammar stage (approximately ages 5-12) and then in the dialectic stage (approximately ages 12-14) how to use that language was practiced, defining terms and making accurate statements, how to construct an argument, detect fallacies and finally, the rhetoric stage (approximately ages 14-18) was when language was used to express oneself, eloquently and persuasively. Once this progression of learning was complete, a student had to compose a thesis, speak on it audibly and intelligently, and defend it against criticism. Now the student had acquired the tools by which he could learn anything for the whole of his life (Sayers).
Education should not simply be focused on subjects. Instructing our students on the essentials of language and how to use it effectively is of utmost importance. As a part of language study, students must be taught how to research and how to acquire the thinking and reasoning skills of discernment, refutation, and debate. They must also be trained on how to speak directly to an argument without inserting irrelevant matter. True education must consist of a focus on the mastery of language and logic, so that our students will acquire the tools they need to be learners, seekers, and communicators of truth.
I have organized the curriculum in our homeschool according to the trivium that Sayers recommends with an intentional focus on language and logic. Recently, I was amazed to see the fruit of this approach. Last year our state legislature introduced a bill that my 17- year old son was morally opposed to. As part of the legislative process a committee scheduled a public hearing for debate on the bill. My son found out about the hearing and with just a few days to prepare decided that he wanted to attend and give testimony in opposition to the bill. He did the appropriate research and wrote a speech supporting his view on the issue. For several hours, we listened to testimony waiting for his turn to speak. When his name was finally called, he politely thanked the committee for the chance to be heard and proceeded to deliver his prepared comments. His speech was well-researched, logical, coherent, backed up by examples and evidence, and full of passion and certainty. When he finished his presentation, the chairman of the committee asked him, “How old did you say you were again?” He seemed surprised that a young person was able to articulate himself so well. He graciously offered commendation and encouraged him to stay engaged in the public process. My son was given special mention in a media report about the hearing that day as well. Sadly, it has become unusual for the average young person to speak with authority and composure today. Because my son had been taught the skills of research, critical thinking, debate, effective writing, and public speaking he had the required means to persuade on an issue of grave importance and when the opportunity presented itself he was able to meet the challenge. I’m happy to report that the bill never made it out of committee for a vote. I watched my son in wonder at the state house that day, so thankful that somehow God was using my imperfect attempts to help shape and prepare him for more state house moments. I was also pleasantly surprised to see how a solid education in language and logic had served him.
The Integration of All Things
Modern education approaches each subject separately, taught in separate classrooms, by separate teachers. Individual subjects are islands unto themselves. Students are not trained to see how language relates to math, or how thoughtful study of science is interconnected with morality, or how history informs literature, and most of all how God is at the center of it all, holding it all together (Sayers). All of reality and any truth that exists belongs to God. With Him at the center there is rationality, unity, order, and beauty. When our students are not taught to recognize relationships between things, something is lost. Today, just look at how many young people think socialism is a good idea, even though history and basic economics tells us it is not! True education does not present subjects in seclusion, but teaches our students to look for and recognize connections, important connections they can use to inform the future.
Education needs to be reclaimed in our society if we are to turn out godly thinkers, movers, and shakers, men and women of conviction who rightly know how to determine truth, speak truth, and defend truth. Modern education cannot produce citizens who can think, reason, debate, and communicate well. We must begin in the right place with our students, teaching them to fear God, to think and use language effectively, to understand complex relationships and cause and effect, to see His handiwork in all of creation and to see how it is all connected, employing the tools of learning to accomplish the sacred task of educating the current generation and those to come. The future of our nation, of our world depends on it!
Ray Ph.D., Brian D. “Research Facts on Homeschooling”. National Home Education Research Institute. 2 Nov. 2018. <https://www.nheri.org/research-facts-on-homeschooling/>.
DeSilva, Drew. “U.S. students’ academic achievement still lags that of their peers in many other countries.” Pew Research Center. 2 Nov. 2018. <http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/02/15/u-s-students-internationally-math-science/>.
Sayers, Dorothy . “The Lost Tools of Learning.” Great Book Tutorials Escondido Tutorial Service. 2 Nov. 2018. <http://www.gbt.org/text/sayers.html>.