Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Facts, values and Christian education

Many Christians, in their approach to education, have in their minds the "facts/values" dichotomy given to us by the Enlightenment. There are neutral facts on one side; and meaning/values on the other. The division is (in Enlightenment thinking) quite deep.

This division becomes "useful" when thinking of schooling. The question comes up: why would I send my children to a secularist school, when I am not a secularist? Why would I not educate them in a distinctively Christian environment, if I believe that Christianity is distinguished from other philosophies of life by being true, whilst secularism is a philosophy of life which is, ultimately false? This is where the Enlightenment dichotomy comes to the rescue: schools teach facts, whilst home and church teach values. I can send my children to this or that school, because any influence of a different philosophy of life will be minimal - they're not really learning that way of life from their school. They're learning times tables, dates, laws of science, etc. I will give them a way of looking at the world that is authentically Christian outside of school.

Probably everyone would realise it's more complex than that. But if it comes down to it, that explanation is more-or-less in the ball-park. It's the go-to explanation to answer the basic question "why am I giving my children an education for which the central and majority use of time is instruction from people working within a secularist paradigm?"

The Enlightenment divide between facts and meaning has never been how human society works. The idea of neutrality is a myth. Human beings were not created to be "split-brain" in this way. All facts have meaning, and all true meaning is a fact. However, whether Christians do or don't look at school according to the philosophy of the Enlightenment is increasingly irrelevant today. It may be an idea that vaguely floats around the back of our minds, and appear to have its uses at times, but it's often very far from floating around the minds of our children's educators. Those who hold the reins of power and influence in Western society are emphatically not saying "when educating children, we'll stick to times tables, dates, science experiments, etc., and let their parents teach them a way of viewing the world". The fact that such a thing is impossible to do in practice is increasingly meaningless.

Which brings me to the link that prompted this - from Tim Challies; entitled "The New Birds and Bees": Whether or not it's possible to have a neutral, merely "fact-based" sex education is irrelevant. The real facts are that in schools, Western children are increasingly taught radical 1960s and post-1960s gender theory. The "facts" that they are taught are that the Bible's view of man and woman are wrong, wrong and wrong, and that the opposite is true. And then they are not left to work out some "values" of their own based on it, but are taught the "values" which flow naturally from these "facts".

The church needs to read, weep, and act, before the church's children begin to view it as their job to re-educate the church out of its "unenlightened bigotry", and bring it into line with "modern understandings of gender". There are lots of home educators going it alone to try to provide children of Christians with education that is Christian. There are increasing numbers of co-ops. And yes, there are some Christian schools. But, the amount of attention that this issue gets in evangelical churches and the wider sphere of evangelicalism is tiny. I understand that nobody wants to tie up enormous burdens to weigh down already highly-pressurised individual parents with. One of the ways to avoid over-burdening individual Christian parents is for the church as the church to rise up and face up to its responsibility for this area. It's a glaring need of our times. If churches can have building committees, missionary teams, youth work committees, evangelistic teams, women's ministry teams, etcetera, etcetera, there what is the Western evangelical church's reason for, on the whole, having no officers specially appointed to look at the question of how to make sure that church children have maximal opportunity to receive a Christian education instead of a secularist one? Isn't it something we need to think about, and ask God to show us what we can do about?

1 comment:

Dan Beerens said...


Thanks for your post and for raising the question! I have been writing a blog called Nurturing Faith for the last seven years and you may enjoy reading this post - I am asking some similarly difficult questions of churches:
Keep up the good work!
Dan Beerens