An education is one of the few things that we can give ourselves and our children that will have lifelong effects. Although most American families send their children—as they themselves were sent by their own parents—to public schools, how often have we stopped to question the goals of the public education system? Christian parents especially should be asking this question if they are truly concerned whether their goals for educating their children are similar to the public schools’. Proverbs 1:7 tells us “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” It should stand to reason that if “the fear of the Lord” is the beginning of knowledge, starting a quest for knowledge anywhere else will not yield true knowledge.
Revelation 21 describes the “new heaven and earth” and the New Jerusalem. In verse 23-24 we read: “And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.” Notice that the final chapters of the final book of the Bible speak of being “illumined” by the light of God. The Lord is the beginning AND end of understanding and learning. This is the goal of education for the Christian. Notice also that the “kings of the earth” have glory of their own, but they bring it into (i.e. subject it to) God’s light. We must remember that our mind is a gift from God and we are to think His thoughts after Him.
The goal of education then—for the Christian at least—is not to acquire a bunch of facts and knowledge, but to glorify God. Our minds are to be sacrificed in humble dedication to the One who made thought possible. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Rather than viewing education as a means to an end—a better job, more money, higher social status, better at Trivial Pursuit, etc—we must view our education as a constant renewing of our minds in order to better think God’s thoughts after Him. If the educational establishment where you or your children are enrolled does not share this goal, then it should cause you to rethink sending you or your children there to be “educated.” As Allan Bloom points out below (and it has only gotten worse since he wrote these words in 1987), every educational system has a goal. And although he is primarily referring to universities in his book, the same holds true at every level of education.
Every educational system has a moral goal that it tries to attain and that informs its curriculum. It wants to produce a certain kind of human being. This intention is more or less explicit, more or less a result of reflection; but even the neutral subjects, like reading and writing and arithmetic, take their place in a vision of the educated person. In some nations the goal was the pious person, in others the warlike, in others the industrious. Always important is the political regime, which needs citizens who are in accord with its fundamental principle. Aristocracies want gentlemen, oligarchies men who respect and pursue money, and democracies lovers of equality. Democratic education, whether it admits it or not, wants and needs to produce men and women who have the tastes, knowledge, and character supportive of a democratic regime. Over the history of our republic, there have obviously been changes of opinion as to what kind of man is best for our regime… This education has evolved in the last half-century from the education of democratic man to the education of the democratic personality.
The palpable difference between these two can easily be found in the changed understanding of what it means to be an American. The old view was that, by recognizing and accepting man’s natural rights, men found a fundamental basis of unity and sameness. Class, race, religion, national origin or culture all disappear or become dim when bathed in the light of natural rights, which give men common interests and make them truly brothers. The immigrant had to put behind him the claims of the Old World in favor of a new and easily acquired education. This did not necessarily mean abandoning old daily habits or religions, but it did mean subordinating them to new principles. There was a tendency, if not a necessity, to homogenize nature itself.
The recent education of openness has rejected all that. It pays no attention to natural rights or the historical origins of our regime, which are now thought to have been essentially flawed and regressive. It is progressive and forward-looking. It does not demand fundamental agreement or the abandonment of old or new beliefs in favor of the natural ones. It is open to all kinds of men, all kinds of life-styles, all ideologies. There is no enemy other than the man who is not open to everything. But when there are no shared goals or vision of the public good, is the social contract any longer possible?1
Bloom’s question may sound mostly rhetorical when asked today, because we have been conditioned for so long that different beliefs should be celebrated rather than questioned. In other words, the public education system is working. In 1970, Ivan Illich pointed out that we had confused “going to school” with “getting an education,” and this confusion has only gotten worse in the intervening 40 years. Government education is accomplishing with amazing accuracy the very goal that it has openly stated from its beginnings: a “socialized” public. We are only now beginning to see an awakening—through the throngs of TEA-party demonstrators and anti-Socialism campaigns—to a partial understanding of what socialization actually means, yet most of these same protesters view socialism as only an economic program. In reality, Americans have been socialists for decades.
Our culture is being manipulated to worship the state. We see the state as a god, with the right to control everything which it chooses. The state is being endowed with powers for controlling the destiny of its human resources—the power of predestination. Our culture teaches us to think of the state as having a natural right to control the education of children for the sake of society, because, after all, the democratic state is the embodiment of society. Our culture teaches us that the state has a compelling interest in its own survival and success. Hence the state must own the children, for the children are the future. Though this doctrine is rarely stated in such explicit terms, it is nevertheless the implicit declaration of virtually all state programs. The state seeks to be omniscient—to know everything about us. The state seeks to be omnipresent—to be everything in society. The state seeks to be omnipotent—to control everything in society. The state is the incarnation of the god of humanism. Man, through the state, has become the measure of all things. The promise of the tempter in the Garden of Eden is at last fulfilled in the socialist state. Man is as a god, determining for himself what is good and evil—measuring everything by his own invented standards, apart from God’s revealed standards.2
It should go without saying that we should want less, not more, of this type of socialization for ourselves and our children. Many otherwise well-intentioned Christians actually object to alternatives to government education because they claim that their child will not get enough “socialization.” I realize that when people say that they want their children to be socialized at school, they do not mean they want them to be influenced by and taught socialism, but this is beside the point, because that is exactly what is happening. Public, or social, education is one that “aims to develop man first as a member of society and then as an individual… The idea of social education and social pedagogy [teaching] in its most general form was formulated by [Immanuel] Kant who in his lectures on pedagogy expressed among other things the following thought: Children must be trained not for the present but for the future improvement of the human race and in accordance with some conception of the destiny of mankind.”3 And when that “destiny of mankind” is one that self-consciously excludes the God of the Bible, we should just as self-consciously reply “will not be attending.”
When Americans claim that they want nothing to do with President Obama’s socialistic agenda, they seem to be oblivious to the fact that the socialistic agenda has been ongoing since the Great Depression. Every president since FDR has followed his lead of involving the government in more and more areas where it doesn’t belong; some to greater, some to lesser degrees. Education is always near the front for the amount of government time, money, and resources being directed at it. And for all of the attention it has been given, the results have steadily decreased in nearly direct proportion to the amount of money being funneled into it. This is only to be expected because socialism is primarily about control—of everything—not about getting more dollars out of your wallet. Getting your money is the easy part. The last thing the state needs is your money; the first thing it needs is your mind.
Bloom’s quotation above should not be forgotten when the topic of education is discussed. He says that “every educational system has a moral goal that it tries to attain and that informs its curriculum.” That is, education is designed to fulfill a need; it is designed to meet the needs of the changing opinions “as to what kind of man is best for our regime.” Those who openly display opposition to the current program of “European-style socialism” being imposed on the American people are often befuddled as to why their own children don’t seem to be bothered by it. They blame everything from video games to the media, but they will seldom confront the 800-pound gorilla of government education. Our country thinks the way it does because of how it has been taught. This should come as no great shock, but somehow it is always viewed as “controversial.” There is nothing controversial about it, the real controversy is why we aren’t doing anything to stop it. We have allowed the socialists to not only take over the public education system, we have actually given them the funds with which to do it. We have literally paid the socialists (paid them quite well in fact) to subvert our own children.
This is why education is such an important subject (perhaps the most important) for Christians to be considering. If it is true that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” and it is true that modern state-run education is purposefully teaching without reference to God, then it logically follows that government education is deliberately creating ignorance among the masses.4 It comes down to a simple declaration of allegiance: either we believe God and are for Him, or we don’t believe God and we are against Him. The book of Proverbs has been noted as teaching a three-fold approach to learning: knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. For those familiar with the classical approach to education (explained well by Dorothy Sayers in her essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning“), it should be noted that the Proverbs division resembles the classical model’s three-fold division of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. (Or better stated that the classical model resembles the biblical reality.) However, what is missing in the classical division is clearly present in the biblical one: the foundation. Classical education provides a workable model for education, but the model can just as easily be used to turn out well-educated humanists. In fact, the Greeks and Romans did this very thing for centuries (not to mention the Renaissance). Without the foundation, any educational goal can be met using the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages. And what is this foundation? Obviously it is the previously mentioned seventh verse of the book of Proverbs: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”
If Proverbs teaches this simple truth that knowledge can only begin when one clearly understands that “the Lord reigns,” it should come as no surprise that eliminating the reigning Lord from education will end in futility (read Psalm 2). This is not to say that modern education has not successfully attained its humanistic goal though, because it most certainly has. But it has done this by substituting one Sovereign for another: the state in place of the Lord. By doing this it shows that it believes wholeheartedly in the idea, just not the Source of the idea. Which leads to the really difficult questions of the hour: Why are Americans only now getting hot under the collar about “socialistic agendas?” Why did it take the recent financial mess to awaken people from their socialistic slumber, when the educational mess has been public knowledge for more than 50 years? Why are we more concerned about losing our money than we are about losing our children? Sayers understood why as she makes plain in the beginning of her essay:
It is in the highest degree improbable that the reforms I propose will ever be carried into effect. Neither the parents, nor the training colleges, nor the examination boards, nor the boards of governors, nor the ministries of education, would countenance them for a moment. For they amount to this: that if we are to produce a society of educated people, fitted to preserve their intellectual freedom amid the complex pressures of our modern society, we must turn back the wheel of progress some four or five hundred years, to the point at which education began to lose sight of its true object, towards the end of the Middle Ages.
This is the real issue. We just can’t fathom exchanging the 20 million dollar, all-brick edifice down the street, complete with a football stadium, for the confines of a “one-room schoolhouse.” We pride ourselves on our advances, even when those advances are stifling any long-term benefits for short-term gains. Unless we really want future generations of Americans to be full-fledged, card-carrying socialists, we must admit that the system is not working for us but against us. Like an alcoholic, we must first admit that we have a problem before we can begin dealing with the problem. When Sayers speaks of the “true object,” she is referring to teaching students how to think, rather than what to think. While this is definitely a concern, the real “true object” is the Christ of the Scriptures. It matters little if we teach an entire generation of children how to think, if we fail to give them the Truth as the solid foundation. Knowing how to think with false knowledge is really no better than being told what to think. It took forty years of desert wandering and the loss of an entire generation to clear the Israelites’ minds of the slave mentality they were taught in Egypt. We didn’t get into our slavery to socialism overnight and we won’t get out of that quick either. A generational plan must be instituted now to begin the “exodus” process. That plan begins with education and it must have Proverbs 1:7 written in permanent marker across the top.
- Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), 26-27.(↩)
- Harvey & Laurie Bluedorn, Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style (Muscatine, IA: Trivium Pursuit, 2001), 56.(↩)
- R.J. Rushdoony, The Messianic Character of American Education (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books,  1995), 244-245.(↩)
- Bluedorn, 35.(↩)