Monday, June 14, 2010

On Educational Methods and Christian Schools

Fellow blogger Michael Duenes wrote a great post regarding the importance of training Christian men and properly preparing them for righteous and godly dominion. In his post, he raises an important query:

When it comes to educating boys, whom Douglas Wilson aptly calls, “Future Men,”, we have to follow the same procedure we would for any venture to succeed. We must start with the end in mind. We have to practice “learning by design” here, too. What we are, in fact, doing is training these boys to be “lords of the earth.” That’s what having dominion means. And boys and men have a particular role to play as such lords, but do we know what it is? Do we take our cues from Genesis, chapters one and two? Are we teaching and training them toward that end?

It seems to me that our educational model wants to squeeze young men into the female role, and they rightly resist. If we are interested in training young men to be such lords of the earth, under Christ, then six hours a day in mixed-sex classrooms behind desks and more Bible studies is probably not going to do the trick. Surely being a lord of the earth, for a young man, means a good deal more than passing U.S. History exams and mastering Geometry. Can fathers shoulder this training alone? I’m inclined to think not.

How do Christian schools further their progress? How do we buck the dominant educational paradigm, which clearly isn’t sufficing, and start fulfilling our mandate to help train these boys up, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, into such biblical manhood?
While I have many thoughts on this issue, one specific point that isn't much discussed seemed pertinent to point out. In many ways, regarding education, the structure is the message. When Christian private schools pattern themselves after secular schools, they tacitly agree with many of the methods and aims of secular education. Unless we are aware of the messages that are conveyed by a given means of education and by certain methods of education, we stand thoroughly unable to craft an intentional and well-reasoned response to such messages. Most of the Christian private schools that I am familiar with are almost indistinguishable from their secular counterparts with the exceptions of the sociological composition of those involved and the addition of a Bible class. This suggests that there is a tacit acceptance of many modern paradigms of education, including a vast array of ideologies and methods which should be skeptically regarded.

When the primary learning a child receives occurs in the artificial environment of a classroom, many subliminal messages are communicated. The process of learning in the classroom is of a very specific kind, bearing a very specific structure. The teacher, as the certified instructor is, for the children, the source of truth. Children are rewarded for behavioral conformity to the classroom rules and they are rewarded for intellectual conformity to the teacher's and/or the state's ideas. This pattern establishes a dangerous epistemological reliance on institutions and credentialed people. Most classroom teaching also encourages a passive reception and regurgitation of information, rather than stimulating an active and passionate pursuit of truth.

Additionally, what is taught in the classroom is generally decontexualized information, stripped from its real-life context. When a student's education consists primarily of decontextualized information, it is very difficult for the student to take his learning seriously or see the practical value of what he does learn. Since classroom learning is requirement-driven and mandated rather than student-driven and optional, the forced learning of decontextualized information often does more to innoculate a student against true learning (which he hasn't experienced), than it does to prepare a student to face real-life challenges and scenarios. The prevailing paradigms utilized in today's Western education are very stifling and restrictive, in terms of required hours of classroom attendance, targeted-testing, narrow academic standards and limited class selections.

So long as Christian private schools remain largely identical in structure and methodology to their secular counterparts, they should expect to see largely similar results in the outcomes of their students. If Christian schools do wish to further their progress and increase their capacity to effectively prepare young men and women for adult life, then those involved in the leadership of such schools must be willing to step back and challenge modern educational paradigms. If Christian schools wish to offer a truly different scholastic experience, they cannot do it by adding one little class, hiring Christian teachers and marketing to Christian families. Instead, there must be a radically different structure and atmosphere that is specifically designed to raise up young men and women to follow God's precepts, boldly seek truth and courageously confront lies.


  1. Couldn't have said it better myself, Silas. I agree with virtually all of what you said, and I certainly agree with your overall thesis. I would not be as skeptical about classroom learning as a whole. It has its place, and I have benefited greatly from it. But of course, I benefited from it when I was already well-equipped to be an active learning, asking good questions and seeking to apply what I learn. This was not true for me in high school nor even as an undergrad at UCLA.

    I would also say it is a bit of a caricature to say that Christian schools are identical to secular, government schools except for the student make-up and a Bible class. All teachers are able to pray with students as an official part of the curriculum; history teachers can and do bring up relevant theological issues as they pertain to historical events; intelligent design and biblical creationism are taught in biology classrooms; we send a missions team to Guatemala; and we have a chapel each week. These things do not nullify what you've said, but there is certainly a huge difference between what is taught as an official part of the curriculum at, say, Redwood Christian, and what can be taught in the curriculum at Castro Valley High School.

    But again, your point, that the medium is the message, is right and valid, and if Christian schools don't take this point seriously and follow the advice contained in your final paragraph above, we will see more of the same, and it won't be what God has called us to.

  2. I was brought up homeschooled by radical fundamentalist parents, and now I'm about the most hedonistic, worldly, sinful person you'll find.

    If you want young men to grow up Christian, it's necessary to strip the flagrant bullshit from Christianity. Young people are smart-- more so than ever before. When they see denominations with minute differences condemning each other to hell, that'll undo a hundred Bible lectures. When they see Christian institutions lobbying the government under the conservative banner, there go a hundred memorized Bible verses. When they see a homeless man sleeping on a park bench outside a Church filled with locks and security cameras, there go a hundred solemn prayers.

    Jesus Christ was an awesome guy and he spake truth to power. The modern church is a draconian mockery of Jesus, and young people see right through it.


  4. Silas, you raise some decent points, but it only leaves with one question? What are your ideas for someting else? Obviously you don't care much for the current system, but do you have any ideas for something else?