I once heard someone say, “The best way to teach a child music is not through systematically teaching them notes, but to start teaching music through songs they already love.” This appears to be a wise approach to education and honestly in certain ways it is. Educators must never see the learning process as merely discipline with no joy. Discipline is a tool, it is a means that brings children to an end, joy in the true, the good and the beautiful. Not only that, but using what children enjoy in the educational process is a great way to engage students, it is a wonderful educational strategy. That being said, one effective strategy must not lead us to think that from it we can build a robust pedagogy or philosophy of education. A sculptor, for example, often uses a soft instrument to brush away any dust in the fine details he is working on. The brush is an effective tool for this work. Does this translate to us walking away with the conclusion that everything we know about sculpting revolves around the brush? Of course not. Yet, so many modern approaches to education begin with the focus on what the child loves. But friends, from a biblical perspective this is the worst place to begin.
The reason a biblical pedagogy does not begin with what the child loves is because we understand that sin causes our loves to be misplaced or distorted. A child by nature does not love what is ultimately true, good, and beautiful and therefore the job of the educator is not to encourage the pursuit of false loves and idolatry but instead to present to the child that which is true, and good, and beautiful. In the book of Proverbs we read, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” According to this Proverb, a child needs training. The author does not say, “Let your child pursue their loves and everything will turn out great in the end.” No, a child’s heart is not predisposed to what is good but quite the opposite, it is predisposed to folly and therefore, it needs to be trained. Consequently, biblical pedagogy must never begin or have as its aim the loves of a child’s heart but with the transcendentals, it must begin and have as its aim what is objectively true, good, and beautiful.
For a Christian school like Providence it is disconcerting how many parents buy into this modern and anti-biblical approach to education. We often hear statements like, “My child doesn’t like to read” or “Why can’t the students do fun things all day long?” These statements reveal a Pelagian approach to our theology of education. Pelagius was a heretic in the fourth century that denied original sin and believed that human beings are morally neutral. If a child is born not with sinful desires, but neutral ones, then of course the job of the educator would be different. Our goal would not be to train and reorient loves but to come along and foster the potential for goodness every child has within themselves. But to a biblical worldview that rejects Pelagianism this approach simply does not make sense. And yet as Christians we are often uncareful and buy into these anti biblical approaches to education because they disguise themselves as “Christian.” A great example of this is the Charlotte Mason method. Mason bases her entire method of education on Pelagian theology. In the second of her 20 principles on education she states that children are “born neither good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.”
In light of a correct theological approach to education we must understand that school will not always be “fun.” This does not mean that a Christian school will somehow be a joyless institution, indeed the opposite must be true, where Christ is preached there joy will necessarily be found. But it does mean that a child, particularly an unregenerate one, will not always see where true joy is found. When Paul writes his first letter to Timothy he calls the young pastor to train in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul goes into more detail he tells him that a follower of Christ it to be like a soldier who doesn’t get entangled in civilian pursuits or an athlete who is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules, or a hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Even for a regenerate pastor growing in godliness requires training and hard work. Our flesh or pre-regenerate desires still make it an effort for us to see God as ultimately true, good, and beautiful. If Timothy’s loves still need to be sanctified, then clearly so do those of our students and as we see in Paul’s letters this is not an easy endeavor, but one that requires discipline, rigor, and hard work.
If our approach to education is simply following the desires of our students then the outcome of this education will be entrenched idolatry. Our children, if left untrained, will not pursue that which is lovely. Imagine teaching music at schools where the primary focus was not to teach the notes but only the songs that students love. Sure they would become experts in all things Taylor Swift, but very possibly never grow beyond that. How sad? As a Christian community we understand that what is needed to a world devoid of the true, good, and beautiful is not the trite and the popular but the rewards of hard work and discipline of a good education.