Monday, February 16, 2009

A Very Short History of Christian Education, 1/5

Whoever controls the image and information of the past determines what and how future generations will think; whoever controls the information and images of the present determines how those same people will view the past.
— George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

It was a little over ten years ago that I first heard about a new and strange form of education. At my new church, I rubbed shoulders with homeschooling families. And having experienced firsthand the modern public schools, I easily accepted this “homeschooling.”

In fact, when my first group speech debate was thrust upon me in the dreaded college freshman speech class, I eagerly accepted my assignment to defend homeschooling against all on-comers. Rushing to church, I read what families handed me on the superiority of home education, especially its history. Standing tall and confident in the scholarship of those of like-minded faith and practice (some who were even public school teachers), I seemingly trounced the competing public school and private school proponents—until afterward when my gentle speech teacher, lauding my eloquence, chided me on my weak historical evidence. “Many founding fathers were schooled or tutored as well as taught at home,” he gently informed me.

Naturally, I was crestfallen.

Now, after a few years of research, I have verified my teacher's chiding.

It did not change my mind about the propriety of homeschooling--it is certainly allowable and even desirable in many circumstances. But then, so are other methods of schooling.

This historical question is important. Many conservative Christians take history seriously: if our spiritual forefathers practiced a certain way maybe we should take it seriously. Furthermore, setting up Patrick Henry or John Witherspoon as educational role models adds addition pressure on families--especially if the history if false.

And the history is false.

And the more I have studied the original resources and works by standard historians the more I discover that homeschooling was only one of many options exercised by our spiritual and political fathers and mothers.

But what is education anyway?

Education can be conceived of in a broader and narrower sense. In the former, it may be labeled nurture: the spiritual, physical and intellectual well-being of the child made in Christ's image for the furtherance of the Kingdom. This involves (at least) the teaching of truth (as any endeavor would), discipline and imitation. Narrowly, education can be conceived of as a more structured/systematic teaching of facts, understanding and wisdom concerning the realms of human (and divine) knowledge within the sphere of Christian nurture. I will label this schooling.

Thus, in examining the history of Christian schooling I am referring to the narrow idea. The series and the research would have tripled if the first definition was followed. The idea and practice of nurture is wrapped around Christian schooling, but it is not the focus of this series. Thus homeschooling means schooling at home (not nurture at home per se--that's assumed). This is instruction at home by a tutor, friend, neighbor, parent or some combination thereof.

Definitions are important to avoid equivocations--a common error I have encountered in my study. If the past is misinterpreted and misunderstood, then future expectations will be misdirected. One thing is important: historically Christian education--in fact, most education--was a cooperative laissez-faire effort.

This short, short history of education will include Jewish practices during Christ's time, the early church, Medieval era, and both the Reformation and Colonial America eras.

I hope this very short series is encouraging and helpful as it is informative for those parents carrying on the Christian tradition of training their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.

(This series is a condensed version of a soon-to-be-published A Short History of Christian Education)


a humble servant said...

Hi Shawn,
I have been wanting to read just such a book for some time now.
I hope it is not too long (!) and does not have too many big words in it!
Julie Cochran
we just listened to/watched a magnificent synopsis (?) of the Greek educational system (gymnasium) from Doug Phillips here:
scroll down to #4
#3 and #5 were also excellent!

polymathis said...


I hope the mini-series is helpful, illuminating and non-offensive.

The publication is of a 15-page essay not a book.

But I am working on a book of the history of Christian education. One thing at a time!

have a blessed Sabbath,