The Christian Educator’s Dilemma

The Christian Educator’s Dilemma February 7, 2013

Editor’s Note: From John Mark Reynolds, Provost of Houston Baptist University:

Complain about Beyoncé at the Super Bowl and you’re a prude: after all, Beyoncé in her underwear is just like Elvis grinding his clothed hips. Point out that education is making little use of technological tools, dressing up mid-twentieth-century techniques in shiny applications, and you’re a crank: the iPad is just a shiny typewriter.

We love Jane Austen, but if Jane Austen were to see us she might think modernity and post-modernity were just another name for the justification of filth. Doyle’s Sherlock has been wrenched from Victorian morality and turned into a psychopath, and students increasingly lack the reading vocabulary to appreciate the original.

The great escape into literature, such as Charles Dickens, that saved many a soul in ugly places, is cut off from students who are trained to be post-literate with working vocabularies too small for novels from other times. Meanwhile, an educational elite consumes huge numbers of books, but ignores the moral lessons they teach. Instead, too often those of us who read take easy shots at ideas that are obviously wrong in the books.

A textbook about Aristotle introduces the great man by listing his errors before a student even knows to appreciate him. Aristotle makes great mistakes, but we don’t even rise to the intellectual level of understanding the mistakes — we just learn that they were mistakes.

It is the golden age for the educated to play at being a Bronte while flouting their view of reality . . . served by a working class unable to enjoy the texts or the morals that might bring their escape from drudgery. Instead, the working class are given lotteries and the Super Bowl and urged to buy their way to happiness. We form no Sam Weller or Sam Gamgee, because his soul disappears into a Honey Boo Boo bliss as Wesleyan morality is mocked, even by Wesleyans . . . the very thing that might have saved him.

Education faces increasingly hedonistic pupils and parents armed with gifts of science. Science herself, like philosophy and politics, requires moderation and discipline, but consumers often fail to recognize this truth.

We equate producing with entertainments and endure cubicle slavery doing meaningless tasks as necessary to purchase the entertainments.

No wonder Amish fiction sells: we know enough to long to be Amish, but are too cut off from Nature to even consider change. The Amish exist as a rebuke to the notion that there is a “curve to history” and we must go along with the narrative of the moment. The Amish may be wrong, but they said “no” and go on saying “no” successfully.

Progress takes a free man from his one-room school house, local church, and small town where government and regulation were essentially non-existent and frees him (or her) from those costumes so that he can be taxed, regulated, and controlled by powers so distant from him he cannot hope to fight back.

What happens to education when colleges face too many students intent on consuming and lacking the discipline to master necessary details? What happens when they are taught by my generation, coasting on the progress of our grandparents? When the hedonist meets all the data of human history handed to him in a package the size of his phone, then what use could he make of it other than to find cheap pleasures?

So Christian educators face a dilemma: educating the bulk of the nation: plugged-in hedonists, the super-informed, and those that cannot chose either.

So moans the prophet and there is something to what he says — but not the whole truth: not nearly.

Educators no longer have legally enforced racial segregation. Nobody dares say “girls” cannot take a class . . . at least not out loud. Students are open to ideas in ways not imaginable in earlier times. Access to film, books, and other ideas has never been easier and cheaper.

All these problems and errors may exist, but we have the liberty still to correct them. Don’t want “politically correct” education? Don’t give it. Want to read old books? Do it!

The first lesson for the Christian educator is that “history” or the “times” or “problems” don’t force us to do anything. Our minds, at least, are free and so (for the immediate future) is our classroom.

As traditionalists, Christians are not progressives, so we see the error in Theodore Roosevelt’s’ slogan: “We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord.” The God of history does not need us that much, even on the unlikely possibility that we are standing at Armageddon. We say: “We stand at Armageddon and the battle is the Lord’s.”

The first lesson then for a Christian educator is that times are — as they always are — very bad in some ways, but God is — as He always is — very good.

Relax. Pray. Educate.

Note: This is the first in a multi-part series.  Check back for John Mark Reynolds’ further thoughts on the future of Christian education.

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