As an older woman, I have often reminisced with other “seniors” about the “good ole days.” For me, one of my favorite memories is the period between the summer of 1958 and the spring of 1959. In those nine months I graduated, obtained my first real job, and planned the wedding I’d dreamed of for four years. Ah, life seemed so simple then . . . But, as it turned out, those days weren’t so simple; nor were they as “good” as they seemed. According to Professor Allan Bloom, the late 1950s marked an end to an era; from that time forward, there was a “gradual stilling of the old political and religious echoes in the souls of the young.”1 Christ’s command to “Feed My lambs” (John 21:15) was to finally succumb to “Free the lambs” of America’s educational “pastures.
Prior to the twentieth century, ” ‘If Jesus Christ is not Lord of all, he is not lord at all’ could have been the banner under which the faithful soldiered.”2 In contrast, “modern faith, however large it is in numbers (as in America), almost never has this total view. It is secularization which has made the difference.” Even though beliefs about the Bible “have rarely been stricter; behavior under it has rarely been looser.”3 As a result, Christianity has deserted the public sphere. This paved the way for the intensification of the spiritual warfare for children’s souls—beginning in their formative years. For Satan knows that whoever captures the hearts and minds of children captures the future. And the battle lines in the educational arena are especially clear.
The biblical world view says: “All your children shall be taught of the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children” (Is. 54:13). Educationally, these principles should hold true:
The secular world view says: “Children should be taught to believe in themselves, not God.” Educationally, these principles are operative:
God is on the throne; He is Savior and Lord.
Man is on the throne; he is his own savior.
Educate in the mind of Christ. Spiritual and moral truths are taught through academics.
A child’s knowledge, skill, mind, and character is developed in terms which leave God out.
Children’s natures are sinful; restraint is in order.
Children’s natures are innocent; they should be “free” to explore.
Early education, to include reading, is wise.
Books and school can wait. Early learning is harmful.
Educate through a succession of studies combined with practical application. Learning and doing applies.
Curriculum revolves around the child and his experience. Learning by doing is emphasized.
Memorization, verbalization, and reading lay an important foundation.
Educate the senses. Field trips and demonstrations are best.
The teacher is an imparter of knowledge, according to each child’s needs.
The teacher is a facilitator, according to a child’s desires.
Work-play priority is important.
Play-work is predominant.
Educate for Christian maturity.
Let children be “kids.”
From this dichotomy of world views, it is easy to see what role America’s educational “shepherds” play in the continuing battle for the future. And history (“His story”) validates the truth of that statement
God-Centered Education. From the Garden of Eden, God has designed the family as His most important educational agency. The Hebrew people understood that fact. His instructions to parents were “to whet the intellectual appetites of their children. They were to sharpen their minds, prompting questions which would create teachable moments so that instruction in the faith of Israel might be given.”4 The Law was to be continually and unremittingly injected, as it were, into the child beginning with his mother’s milk (Is. 28:10). Scripture was the starting point of instruction; it was never tacked on.
In New Testament times, education likewise began in infancy. Timothy’s training by his mother and grandmother apparently followed Jewish tradition. As soon as a child first started to speak, it was common to teach him to repeat selected Bible verses. From infancy, therefore, Timothy knew the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:15). He had an experiential knowledge of them; they meant something to him.
What did a beginner’s curriculum entail? According to A. Cohen’s Everyman’s Talmud, infants were taught the Hebrew alphabet by associating letters with words; but most important of all, the alphabet was employed as a medium of religious and ethical instruction. When the beginner’s curriculum was initiated, no one worried about whether pupils were capable of grasping the subject matter. First came memorization of a lesson, and then the explanation.
Unlike today’s society, Hebrew children were reared for maturity. If parents had been faithful to instill a delight in God and the study of His Word, their children would normally continue lifelong learning. (However, when parents failed to do so, history also records that their children generally went the way of the world.) As an educational institution, the home “would become the hallmark of the Jewish people.” Despite its imperfections, the status of education at the time of Christ was considered a “unique cultural phenomenon—the approximation of pedagogical achievement to the ideal, not only in the attainments of exceptional individuals but also in the numbers of outstanding contemporary personalities.”5
Colonial America saw a resurgence of educating children to delight in God and lifelong learning. The principles used by early Hebrews to achieve success were revived by Colonial parents who purposed to train their children to so appropriate “God’s message of redemption in Christ Jesus that all of life comes to be lived by them in obedience to the Scriptures.”
In the early Colonial period—known for its precocious children, both religious and intellectual—education began in the home. And, as with the Hebrews, education began at a very early age; learning to read between the ages of two and four was common. Children learned the alphabet as Hebrew children had. Like the Talmud, the famous New England Primer taught the alphabet through a system of spiritual rhymes. The early teaching of spiritual and moral truths through the medium of academics was also later advocated by Charles H. Spurgeon—that great “preacher of preachers”:
As we sow we reap. Let us expect our children to know the Lord. Let us from the beginning mingle the name of Jesus with their A B C. Let them read their first lessons from the Bible. It is a remarkable thing that there is no book from which children learn to read so quickly as from the New Testament: there is a charm about that book which draws forth the infant mind.6
Children of the Colonial era “developed at an early age a comprehension of religious matters which would seem abnormal to-day, but was natural then.” As a result, “Puritan traits and habits lingered in generation after generation and outlived change of environment and mode of living.”7 This reinforces God’s truth that success (also translated “intelligence” in Joshua 1:8) is directly related to a person’s relationship to the written and living Word of God.
But there was a worm in the apple . . . As with everything else in God’s kingdom, the devil wasted no time manufacturing a counterfeit in hope of cheating God’s children out of their inheritance. Public education became such a counterfeit.
Child-Centered Education. In fierce opposition to the God-centered, God-purposed education of the Reformation and Colonial periods, a child-centered system steadily took over. Through the influence of educators like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, and Friedrich Froebel, the devil slashed into God’s Cycle of Education with the Dagger of Secularization and replaced faith in God with faith in man—the religion of Secular Humanism.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the secularization process was well underway, and the God of Scripture was systematically being removed from sector after sector. God’s people, like many today, missed the drama of the heavens, the spiritual warfare all around them (Eph. 6:12; 2 Cor. 10:3-5). Thinking they were standing, they fell to the traditions of men (1 Cor. 10:12; Col. 2:8).
The God-centered educational philosophy based on “Feed My lambs”—spiritually, morally, and academically—gradually yielded to a counterfeit: “Freethe lambs!” Friedrich Froebel, who founded the first kindergarten in Blankenburg, Germany, introduced the concept of letting children “grow freely as plants, according to the nature of the child.” He believed that “play is not only the child’s primary learning medium, but also his work.” He said, “Educators should cultivate the spirit of play in a child.” His play-work emphasis launched a definite shift away from the former work-play priority. By the early twentieth century, his philosophy had gained momentum in America—most notably through Dr. Maria Montessori, and later, John Dewey. Note the distinct religious overtones of Froebel’s philosophy:
Play is the highest phase of child development . . . play is the purest, most spiritual activity of man at this stage, and at the same time, typical of human life as a whole—of the hidden natural life in man and in all things. . . . It holds the source of all that is good.8
Because the bulk of a child’s personality, character, habits, and intellectual makeup are being established primarily from birth to six, can you see how vulnerable “lambs” are during that time period? It is no wonder, then, that it has been said, “Give me a child for the first six years of his life, and you can do what you will with him thereafter.” Again, history bears this out.
Let’s now fast forward to 1969, and the advent of “Sesame Street”—an attempt to find answers to our country’s growing academic dilemma. That popular children’s TV show put Froebel’s play-work philosophy into action with puppets. In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman writes, ” ‘Sesame Street’ was entirely consonant with the prevailing spirit in America. Its use of cute puppets, celebrities, catchy tunes, and rapid-fire editing was certain to give pleasure to the children and would therefore serve as adequate preparation for their entry into a fun-loving culture.” He went on to say that “Sesame Street” was an “expensive illustration of the idea that education is indistinguishable from entertainment.” By 1985, this was its legacy: “From primary grades through college, [teachers] are reluctantly concluding that the principle means by which students may be engaged is entertainment.”9
Around the same time, another author had sounded the alarm about the status of America’s education. In The Closing of the American Mind, having conducted a study of thousands of students considered as most likely “to have the greatest moral and intellectual affect on the nation,” Bloom lamented the traits and habits of those students compared with ones he’d taught around a quarter of a century earlier (the late 1950s). He blamed the family for failing to nurture students in God’s Word. He said that “the dreariness of the family’s spiritual landscape passes belief. . . . Children are raised, not educated.” He was not talking about “unhappy, broken homes that are such a part of American life, but the relatively happy ones.” He concluded, “To say, ‘I’ve got my rights,’ is as instinctive with Americans as breathing. . . . To sum up, the self is the modern substitute for the soul.”10 (That outcome should come as no surprise in light of the removal of Bible and prayer from schools in the early 1960s.)
“But where,” you might say, “are the Christian schools in all this?” That is a very good question. As child-centered education was becoming more and more entrenched in the public schools, the devil was causing a similar metamorphosis to take place in many Christian schools. But here, the devil was a little more subtle. Instead of using Secular Humanism and Situation Ethics to replace Faith and Virtue, he introduced the notion of “sacred versus secular.” Bible, he said, is sacred: history, language, reading, math, and science are secular, or neutral. The implication: God belongs in the Bible; He does not belong in the world. This was fine with the devil. He had no objection at all to God being “tacked on” to Christian education.
More conservative schools saw through that deception and determined to “integrate” God into all academic subjects—which was better than the “tack on” concept. However, because modern Christian minds have been fragmented into “one mind for church, another for the classroom; one for reading the Bible, another for reading the newspaper; one for the world of the family, another for the world of business,”11 it is extremely difficult to sort out such humanistic brainwashing. Thus, rather than understanding how to have content rooted in Scripture and its principles, much of what is produced is more like throwing “Bible darts” at subjects. And, because America is predominantly now a fun-loving culture, well-meaning Christian school teachers feel compelled to likewise use entertainment techniques to maintain student interest. They fail to realize that, by doing so, they are moving toward education centered on the child, and his desires—rather than on the Lord, and His command to “Feed My lambs” to rear children for Christian maturity.
In reaction to the erosion of values and quality in America’s schools, home schools have multiplied rapidly. This movement of dedicated parents is generally comprised of three differing philosophies: (1) Those who seek to build character at home, but opt to make learning more “fun” than God-centered; (2) those who favor using entertainment techniques along with curriculum that integrates God into subjects; and (3) those who hunger for materials that can help them nurture their children in God’s Word and His ways as they teach every discipline from its rudiments and principles in Scripture.
Having been a Christian educator for over thirty-five years now, my concern for both Christian schools and home-schooling families is twofold: First, though integrating God into subjects has been a step up from the sacred-secular split, it still falls short of where we need to be if we are to have genuine Christ-centered education, which can be described as:
The process of God working through committed teachers who use biblical methods and truthful curriculum materials to bring forth disciples who hold the biblical world view and possess the godly character and academic skills necessary to fulfill God’s calling, and live for His glory.
Secondly, we need to recognize that the appetite that is fed the most will grow the most. The more “fun, fun, fun” is incorporated into education—and children’s daily lives—the more likely they will crave “the world and all that is in it” (1 John 2:15-17). Normally, when the fun-and-games stop, so does the learning. How then can we expect to instill a delight in God and lifelong learning if He seems dull in comparison to worldly pleasures? And how then will that ultimately affect His command to study to show ourselves approved unto Him (2 Tim. 2:15)?
Beloved, to protect our children’s (and grandchildren’s) futures, we must acknowledge that the spiritual warfare between the biblical and secular world views is real. Living in an electronic age that bombards us 24/7 with anti-Christ philosophies requires constant vigilance (Eph. 6:10-18)! Failure to be alert to “the wiles of the devil” can lead to our children becoming “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:4)—thus reaping children in adult bodies who view the world as a playground. Postman was on target when he stated:
Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.12
Restoring God-Centered and God-Purposed Education
Restoring God-Centered and God-Purposed Education. The “good news” is this: God can “restore the years of the locusts” (Joel 2:25; 2 Chron. 7:14)! Should the Lord tarry, the present can be referred to in the future as “the good ole days” if, by His grace, His people learn to teach every discipline from its rudiments and principles in Scripture. By His grace, we can recapture God’s original plan in which Christ is the center, the focal point of the teacher, the methods, and the curriculum. From birth, we can begin to actively, constantly, and purposefully teach our children the love, discipline, and understanding of God’s Word. Then, whenever fundamental skills (phonics, reading, math, history, science, etc.) are being taught, as much as is possible, we can purpose to use materials that train a child’s heart and mind to view all things from God’s perspective. And, because what a child thinks upon he will become (Prov. 23:7), we can purpose to make every activity in a child’s day be consistent with the Philippians 4:8 principle.
Such a God-centered, God-purposed education is the best way to anchor Christ’s lambs in the Rock—their Good Shepherd—who can keep them strong in an uncertain future! For God has said, “All your children shall be taught of the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children” (Is. 54:13). What a precious promise! Through Christ, what a difference you can make in the lives of His lambs!
1. Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983).
2. Os Guinness, The Gravedigger File (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983).
4. Kenneth O. Gangel, Toward a Biblical Theology of Marriage and Family (“Journal of Psychology and Theology,” Winter 1977).
5. Frank E. Gaebelein, “Christian Education,” The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church (USA: The Zondervan Corporation, 1974).
6. As cited in Doreen Claggett’s Never Too Early (USA: Claggett Ministries, 1989, 1994).
7. William B. Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit, Vol. 1. (New York: Arnos Press & The New York Times, 1985).
8. As cited in Kenneth O. Gangel and Warren S. Benson’s Christian Education: Its History and Philosophy (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1983).
9. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (New York: Penguin Books, 1985).
10. Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983).