Education Versus Programming

(the following is excerpted from my essay, “Teaching Image Bearers, not just Warm Bodies,” which is part of the compilation: Docens Coram Deo: Teaching Before the Face of God.  This book is written as a festschrift in honor of Bob Grete and Harold Thomas, the founders of Rocky Bayou Christian School, on the school’s 35th anniversary.  Copies can be acquired at the above link; I served as the editor of this Festschrift.)

            As mentioned before, the naturalistic model sees the human mind as nothing more than a super-computer, capable of processing and retaining a vast array of data which is then manipulated by genetic programming in such a way as to output a result that we commonly describe as thought.  Thus, in principle, educating a human is akin to programming a computer.  Yet, if humans are altogether different than a computer, what must our approach to education be?

            The beginning of the answer to that question is found in the very meaning of the word, “educate.”  The English word derives from the Latin verb, educere, which literally means, “to lead out.  Thus, the purpose of education is not so much that of putting in, but bringing out.  Now one might argue that children are not born with an innate knowledge of history, mathematics, or even of the Bible and thus, “putting in” is an important part of education.  And indeed, that is where instruction comes in—instruction coming from the Latin verb, instruere, which literally means, “to pile in.”  Yet notice the relationship of these two terms.  Instruction is not the end goal—education is.  In other words, you instruct towards the end of educating a student—you pile in mathematics, history, science, and Bible not so that a student will be full of ideas (many of which a student may never use again in life), but you instruct so that something will be brought out in them.  What needs to be brought out?  It is the image of God that they bear which needs to be brought out.

            In the fall, the righteous image of God in man has become warped, distorted, mangled, and bent, but not lost (Genesis 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7; James 3:9).  We are born in the state of sin (Psalm 51:5), by nature we do not seek righteousness (Romans 3:10-11), we are at enmity with God (James 4:4), our hearts are corrupt (Mark 7:21), we commit sin through both action and inaction, and we sin with our intentions (Matthew 5:21-48) as well as with our activities.  In addition, when we break a portion of the Law, we are guilty of breaking it as a whole (James 2:10).  There is nothing good in us by nature (Romans 7:18)—we have been corrupted by sin in every aspect of our being.  Of course, education is not a substitute for the work of the Holy Spirit in redemption and sanctification, yet it is a tool by which the Holy Spirit can and does use, both in the process of growth in grace and to enable parents to fulfill their God-given mandate to raise up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4; Deuteronomy 4:9; Proverbs 22:6).

            Thus, if our teaching reflects only the idea of giving students information, we are not fulfilling our calling.  When little Billy asks, “Why do we need to study literature?”, it is not enough to tell him that he needs the knowledge of literature so that he will be able to communicate ideas with others in this world, nor is it enough to tell him that God has called him to take dominion of the world, and that means taking dominion of the literary culture as well as the geography.  These statements both may be true, but they are yet insufficient.  We must also be telling little Billy that he is made in the image of God and that God loves language and that God loves expressing himself through every form of language; thus, if he is to reflect that image of God faithfully, he needs to nurture within himself that same kind of love for language and the study of literature is designed to help nurture that love and appreciation for the expression of ideas through language.  I have applied this to literature, but the same argument can and should be applied to every discipline of study.  There is a reason that we expose students to a broad array of academic studies rather than allowing them to concentrate their studies in a particular area of interest, and it is not to make students more “well-rounded,” but it is because God’s character is reflected in each of these disciplines and to reflect the Imago Dei, each of these disciplines must be applied to our character.  Thus, if we are to educate and not program, and if education is a tool used by the Holy Spirit in sanctification to bring out the Imago Dei, we must instruct in every academic discipline.

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