Tuesday, April 21, 2009

At L'Abri: Francis Schaeffer on Education

I recently read an article taken from a speech by Francis Schaeffer where he addresses education. As I read the article, I began to realize how much I have allowed secular humanism to creep through the backdoor of policy and curriculum into my teaching-practice as an educator. The heart of the matter is understanding reality, the reality of our students and the reality of the world our students need to learn about. The clarity with which we understand reality is determined by our worldview. One of the fundamental messages from the works of Schaeffer is that worldview matters. Nowhere is the clash between worldviews more evident than in education.

Christian Education recognizes fallen humanity

The secular approach to education begins with an unreal notion of the human condition of its students. This is why so many teachers at all levels of education are bewildered by student apathy, disrespect, slothfulness and dishonesty. Policy and program is mandated to remove consequence, to encourage egalitarian (and anti-authority) levelings and to molly-coddle students’ emotional whims and self-indulgent habits. I am beginning to sound like a curmudgeon, but I don’t think I am exaggerating. Anecdotal evidence corroborates my assessment. In an article by Margaret Wente from The Globe and Mail (April 18, 2009), she cites a number of professors, principals and teachers with similar observations. She writes “The teacher’s job is no longer to educate them up to a certain standard but to ‘meet their needs.’” At the heart of human sin is self-centredness. Educational policy-makers and curriculum-writers placate this human tendency of our fallen nature to be heliocentric.

The Bible is clear that pride is self-destructive, yet modern education is designed to inflate student ego and self-esteem. Wente laments, “no one has ever given them an accurate assessment of their skills.” She writes, “the biggest problem is the mismatch between students’ abilities and their aspirations.”

Christian Education should be a superior education

In Schaeffer’s speech, he articulates some of the distinct qualities of good education, particularly Christian education. Whether you homeschool or send your children to Christian schools, Schaeffer’s comments apply. He states that Christian education should be more than reactionary to the “materialist view… that rules out a Creator”. Many Christian parents withdraw their children from public education in order to shelter them or protect them from humanistic and secular indoctrination. These are good reasons to seek education for your children elsewhere, but the alternative needs to be more than an intransigent rejection of public education. Schaeffer writes, “[Christian education] should be a superior education, if you are going to really protect the Christian school. It should certainly teach the students how to read and write and how to do mathematics better than most public schools enjoy today.” The end result of Christian education should be truly intelligent, well-trained and intellectually challenged graduates. Why? For the glory of the Creator. The Head Master of Bradford Academy, a classical Christian school in North Carolina, writes “We believe the glory of God encompasses all of life and how we live it. We want our students to live and think about life in such a way that God is glorified in all things.” (Johnston)

Christian Education should address all human knowledge

Schaeffer continues, “Christian education should produce students more educated in the totality of knowledge, culture and life, than non-Christian education rooted in a false view of truth. The Christian education should end with a better educated boy and girl and man and woman, than the false could ever produce.” For Schaeffer, Christian education means that students learn to appreciate and learn about “the full scope of human learning.” This includes the arts and humanities, which has recently fallen out of favour in modern approaches to education, including Christian education. Art, music and literature doesn’t seem to have a place in Christian learning. But Schaeffer forces argues the opposite. “If the Judeo-Christian position is the truth of all reality, and-it is, then all the disciplines, and very much including a knowledge of, and I would repeat, an appreciation of, the humanities and the arts are a part of Christian education. Some Christians seem absolutely blind at this point.”

Teaching about the Christian faith should not be compartmentalized from all other aspects of student learning. I have learned this from Schaeffer as well. The Lordship of Christ covers all areas of life.

Total Truth and the Educated Person

Schaeffer gives an imperative for educators to expose our students to “the framework or total truth, rooted in the Creator's existence and in the Bible's teaching, so that in each step of the formal learning process the student will understand what is true and what is false and why it is true or false.” Education in this country will never improve until it reconciles itself to the reality of the Creator.

"Is life dull? How can it be dull? No, a true education, a Christian education, is more than the negative, though that is there. It is giving the tools in the opening the doors to all human knowledge, in the Christian framework so they will know what is truth and what is untruth, so they can keep learning as long as they live, and they can enjoy, they can really enjoy, the whole wrestling through field after field of knowledge. That is what an educated person is."

Francis A. Schaeffer


Johnston, Jeffrey S. “For What Purpose?” Nuntias Vol. 4 Issue 1, Mebane: Bradford Academy, Winter 2009. http://bradfordacademy.org/about/newsletters.html

Schaeffer, Francis. “On Education” Excerpt from “Priorities 1982”, two speeches given at the L'Abri Mini-Seminars in 1982.

Wente, Margaret. “We pretend to teach ‘em, they pretend to learn” April 18, 2009. Toronto: The Globe and Mail.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

Wow! Definitely gives me a lot to think about. Thanks Jeremy!