Presented at the 2014 NOLA Homeschoolers conference on May 24, 2014.
Finish this one as well: “The ultimate purpose of education is to…..”
Now, shake your neighbor’s hand and show them your answer. Don’t get those mixed up…shake your neighbor’s answer and show them your hand.
Education is about narratives. It is about hope. It is about providing for one’s posterity that which will fix what is broken and continue what is good. In order to do that, we must rightly identify what is broken and what can fix it. We must likewise identify the good in order to know what it is that should continue.
It has been said during some of the other talks at this conference that true education is neither job training nor college preparation. True education is neither civic nor capitalistic in its aims. These ends are too short-sighted as final ends. True education is person formation. When we educate, we make the future. We provide future men and future women with a certain set of eyes, with a certain set of desires. We provide them with vocabulary, liturgies, hopes, fears, and expectations. How and why we educate has everything to do with the purpose of it all.
I was once sitting in a doctoral seminar when the department chair asked me what texts I planned on choosing for the undergraduate comparative literature course. I proceeded to ask, “What is the purpose of the course?” She looked at me puzzled and responded, “Purpose? You can’t ask that kind of question. There is no purpose.” “Surely you don’t mean that.” I began. “If there is no purpose, then I can choose whatever set of texts I happen to draw out of a hat, and the texts I choose to put in the hat can be just as random as the hat itself. There must be a purpose to the course or there are no choices to be made. And moreover, my non-choice to choose literature which goes against the University’s goals could never be critiqued as either better or worse than anyone else’s list.” Though I believe she got the point, she did not seem to want to say so. The meeting ended and I was not long out the room before the bankruptcy of modern education was set before me once again in all its glory.
What this professor failed to see, like so many educators, including many home educators, is that the world is a narrative, and something will play the hero. Whatever seeks to destroy that will be the villain. We all live in this way. We want something to triumph and therefore we work for that end. If in this narrative of oceans and continents, literature ancient and modern, technology progressive and broken, families healthy and dysfunctional, marriages strong and shattered, and blueberry muffins large and miniature, if in this narrative man is the center, then we should expect man-centered education. If technology is the end of it all, then we should expect a technology-centered education. If saving our planet is the center, then we should expect nature-centered education. If the promotion and dissemination of democracy is the center of this world, then we should expect democratic-centered education. If self is the center of the world, then we should expect self-centered education. If Christ is the center of the world, then we should expect Christ-centered education.
What is the center of your home? What would your friends and family members say is the center of your home? Where do you and your spouse spend your money? Your time? Your conversations? When your thoughts are able to wonder, when they are idle, where do they go? Take a few minutes and write down a few things you believe to be the center of your home, not what you want to be the center of your home, but what is the center of your home. (pause)
Because I am a Christian, I would like speak to Christians for a bit. Why do you educate your child? What is success when Christians educate? And how is that success measured? Even more final than education as person formation, true education is an exploration and appreciation of the fullness of God’s Being. It is really nothing more than this. To be educated is simply to know the truth. To be more educated is to simply know more of the truth. To educate is to seek to understand the Triune God and that which he has created us to know. The first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” How would you answer this? What is the ultimate purpose of your student’s existence? Go ahead, you have ten seconds to plumb the depths of philosophy and write down the perfect answer. And…go. (pause) And…stop. The catechism goes on to answer, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” The first question in the Heidelberg Confession asks, “What is my only comfort in life and death?” How would you answer this? What is your only comfort in life and death? Go ahead, ten seconds again. (pause) This catechism answers, “My only comfort in life and death is that I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.”
Christians, does our education reflect this? When we teach science, is it so that we may empirically explore the depths of God’s creativity and our own finitude, more clearly seeing the stage upon which God’s narrative is taking place? What about when we teach math? Literature? Latin? Logic? Art? History? When we teach music, is it so our sons and daughters may become better business men and women or so that our sons and daughters through music may experience the harmony and majesty of the Triune God? When we give honest feedback to our students about their academic performance, is it so that they may glorify God and enjoy him forever? When we pull our students from a traditional model school so that we can homeschool them, or we put them back into a traditional model school from homeschooling, are we acting in such a way as to glorify God and enjoy him forever? Fathers, when we are emotionally and intellectually absent from the education process, is it so that our wives and our children may glorify God and enjoy Him forever? Moms, when you sit amidst the other homeschool moms and discuss the latest curricula, as well as the latest gossip in the local homeschool community, are you doing this so that your community and your friends may glorify God and enjoy Him forever? These are important questions for those who profess Christ. They are necessary to ask and answer if we expect our educational standards to match our theological allegiances.
Now to speak broadly: when we educate, we are making future men and women. And in doing this, we begin to form the habits, thoughts, and desires of people who will one day seek to pass their values to another. What kind of story is your home education telling? Is it the right story? What type of character in the story are you teaching your child to become? What is your home education communicating about its center, its core, about the themes and motifs in this story?
John W. Robbins, in his foreword to Gordon Clark’s book A Christian Philosophy of Education, wrote, “‘The end then of learning,’ wrote John Milton, ‘is to repair the ruin of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him.’ If this be so – and the Bible says it is – then the aims of education in America are all wrong. The purpose of education is not to enable the student to earn a good income. The purpose of education is not to preserve our American system of government and political freedom. The purpose of education is not world unification. The purpose of education is not to teach young people to trade. The purpose of education is not to encourage the never-ending search for truth. The purpose of education is not to put the student in harmony with the cosmos. The purpose of education is not to raise the consciousness of students and train them for world revolution. The purpose of education is not to prepare students for productive careers. The purpose of education is not to integrate the races. The purpose of education is not the social adjustment of the child. The purpose of education is not to stay ahead of the Russians (or the Japanese) in technology. The purpose of education is not to create good citizens. No, the purpose of education is far different, far more noble than any of these things. The purpose of education is to make Christian men, men transformed by the renewing of their minds after the image of Him who created them.”
In teaching future men and women, five qualities, at least, must mark our schools, home or otherwise.
First, we must have present men and present women. Not only is imitation the highest form of flattery, it is the most fundamental and consistent mode of human education. This is clearly seen in infants, and it continues to the oldest of years. The best writing comes by imitating the best writers. True love occurs by imitating the highest form of love. We will have courageous men in the future, because we have had courageous men in the past to emulate. It has been noted time and again that our culture is increasingly at a loss for good men. Unfortunately, we should not be surprised when the next generation lacks the same. As C.S. Lewis said, “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”
Second, in educating future men we must have a vision for and practice of courage. To raise future women we must have a vision for and practice of grace. Well educated men will know the difference between a life of contemplation and a life of action. They will know when to read and when to fight. For him, there is no opposition between the contemplative and the active. A courageous intellect and courageous heart will make for courageous hands. A well-educated woman will be a beautiful woman, one who can rightly handle her emotions and her words. Elegance will be joined with eloquence, and grace will abound. She will be a woman who builds her city and does not tear it down. She will be dangerous because grace is dangerous, in all the right ways.
Third, in educating future men and women, we must have rigor. Rigor is the kind of thing that makes our brains creak. It makes our brow sweat. Rigor makes us sleep well at night, blessed sleep to touch our tired eyes. Unfortunately, most modern education has lost rigor. Entertainment and learning, it has all become the same: great candied curricula, every textbook reading as though it had been dipped and rolled in caramel sauce and cotton-candy. A boy gluttoned on this kind of buffet can no sooner enjoy true learning than a fish can remain dry. Rigor may be found awkwardly buried in most school yards, right under the football stadium. Most homes have Rigor buried somewhere between the two car garage and high-def television. The public school districts killed Rigor years ago, only to mummify him and place him in a cheap remake of Weekend at Bernie’s, of course cast by students and put on Youtube for a grade in A.P. Public Speaking. In contrast, Rigor in education ought to be seen as a necessary component to following the cultural mandate to educate our children well. Thus, as was once wisely recognized, “Not all rigor is mortis.” For boys, Rigor is the worst enemy to their greatest dragons, Laziness and Excuse-making. For girls, Rigor is the worst enemy to their greatest villains, Idleness and Anxiety.
Fourth, in educating future men and women, we must have accountability, we must have community. The 16th-17th century poet John Donne wrote
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
For those of us who choose to home educate, this is perhaps one of our greatest downfalls. While home education can be a good inward turn, healthily promoting the family and the home, it can also lead to a perpetual turning-in. And when the problem is within, which it always is, by turning in even more, we have only turned our efforts to maturing the problem. This kind of conference is a great place to network, to find friends in the fight who have your back, who can give perspective when in mid-February the van needs fixing and the kids didn’t cover as much math as expected. Clothes are dirty and MawMaw needs her tree cut down. This afternoon Danielle Dukes will be giving a talk on “Mentor Moms”. Take her advice. Run with it. Build an academic community here in New Orleans worth being a part of.
Fifth and final, in educating future men we must promote servant leadership and for future women we must promote discernment. In holding our boys, these future men, to a high academic standard they will tend to think it is for their glory. In teaching boys formal and informal logic, for example, they will come away with this odd idea that now they can chop down sweet Mrs. Myrtle’s argument next Sunday afternoon while standing in line at Winn-Dixie. A well-educated man knows his education is there to serve others, to lead sacrificially, to die to himself in order that others may truly live. In holding our daughters, these future women, to a high academic standard they will tend to turn their beauty over to another, to look ever so outwardly for increasing validation. And in the worst moments, they may saddle and ride upon words and emotions which have little by way of bit and bridle. We want to raise future women who are wise, not just intelligent.
When we look at our students, we ought to look at future men and women, future characters in a story that is not their own. They are not the Author and neither are we. What kind of character are we shaping? What kind of husbands will this education create? What kind of wives? What kind of co-worker will my child be because of this education? What kind of boss? What kind of employee? What kind of father will come from this kind of education? Mother? What kind of reader, speaker, and writer are you making? How will this education teach this young lady what will be required of her when she is a grandmother? What kind of life are we teaching these future men and women to have, to love, to pursue? What kind of death are we teaching them to die?