formulating my philosophy of education…

…with the help of For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. I’m enjoying it immensely. This is the book that inspired my mom when she embarked on homeschooling in the early ’90s. It’s about more than homeschooling, though, and doesn’t apply to just those who choose a certain type of education. It’s more a philosophy of life. And for me, it rings true and clarifies why I have such issues understanding the traditional education system. (And also such issues with legalistic Christianity.) Verbatim quotations will explain all of this better than I can, though, so here’s a smattering.

(When evaluating a Christian atmosphere, ask these questions.) Do they enjoy the living reality of a relationship with God and His Word? Do they feel impelled to masticate “Christian” matter and give predigested pellets to the children morning, noon, and night? Do they understand the truth of Christianity? Do they accept its moral framework, and yet believe in our own independent responsibility? Are they living in a tiny little world, a sort of Christian box? Are they afraid of the breadth of life: its art, music, books, activities–-thinking that all life apart from the “spiritual” is “worldly”?

The child should enjoy an atmosphere where life can be explored in a rich way. Little holy hedges are not what is wanted. Understanding the objective certainty of the truth of God gives an atmosphere that is free from fear. We can face up to people’s ideas. Questions can be asked. We can talk about them right in the open. Indeed, the child should be able to know, read, or listen to people who hold all sorts of ideas. As they mature, it is absolutely imperative that they be trusted to have access to current “worldly” thought. Some of it has true greatness (say a play, essay, or book). They should be able to enjoy what is good, and yet be able to see what ideas are wrong.

This open frank atmosphere can only be achieved when those who produce it are aware of what is good, pure, and of a good report (cf. Philippians 4:8).

This approach makes perfect sense to me! Its goal is to nurture kids who can appreciate and identify beauty and truth even when it’s found amidst the world’s other trash. It’s a philosophy not based upon fear.

Later in the book, Macaulay talks about her childhood at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland.

But there are some aspects of my childhood that I point to. We had a sound grounding in God’s Word. We shared in life with our parents, and they became people who dared to trust God. We saw prayers answered. It wasn’t theory. We could talk about real questions, and discuss possible answers together. If there were problems, we weren’t kept in the dark. We knew about the ideas behind the “anxious questions” while our childhood gave us the sort of wholesome life Charlotte Mason talks about. That helped protect us from being dragged down by peer pressure. But we not only heard about other ideas, we met all sorts of people. We could sit up and hear the conversation of a brilliant atheist, a teenage agnostic, a Hindu. We could see the despair of the existentialist and ache with the lostness of someone who was trying to live as if he wasn’t made as a human being. We could listen to the logic of the Christian ideas as they were discussed. We could see where the ideas of the other point of view led: “If what you say is true, then . . .” Often the conclusions of the humanist argument simply didn’t fit reality, or just couldn’t work.

Again, it’s a philosophy not motivated by fear. Their parents dared to trust God, to let their children hear the other options out there and trusted their kids to make the right decision and to see the logic as well as the truth of Christianity.

…We have tolerated a separation between the “secular” and the “religious.” Thus people have had to close their minds to all other aspects of life and intellectual questions when they entered the “faith” box, or that of “experience.” It is as if they were called upon to leave philosophy, literary questions, art, social questions, historical views, political action, science, and so on in a sort of mental parking lot outside the “religious experiences.” Charlotte Mason allowed no such division between the “secular” and the “religious.” She understood that the whole of reality is part of God’s reality. . . We can and should appreciate, execute, and learn about art, music, literature, history, math, science, philosophy, and so on–for their own sakes.

Pardon my enthusiasm, but… yes, yes, yes!

There are many ways of applying the “Christianity that is true to the total reality.” We don’t have to make every day a sort of Sunday school lesson to achieve this. There are several dangers in that sort of approach. Too much pious talk, talk, talk. Too many “holy moments.” Expecting continual religious experiences. Not letting children “be.” Not letting them wonder, puzzle, and ask.

On the other side, we live in a time when our culture is all-invading, all-persuasive. The population, as a whole, is led like a pig with a ring in its snout. Unthinking opinions are the order of the day. The consensus of opinion is more important than what is right or true. Secular humanists preach that there is such a thing as a neutral stance; yet their world view comes over loud and clear as the “obvious” one. We live in a passive age. “Let the experts decide” about the ethics of abortion, the practices of the educational system, the legality of family laws.

It is an imperative priority, as never before, to allow our children to learn to think, understand, and see the central truths quite explicitly and clearly. This is a central part of the “Christian” aspect of our education.

Again, it’s the idea of educating children to think for themselves; to introduce them to the world in a way that nurtures wisdom instead of naivete. The goal is to educate a generation of thinkers. We desperately need such thinkers in this passive, media-obsessed, opinion-driven culture.

“Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).


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