Education – Ally or Enemy

Members of the Protestant Reformed Churches have committed themselves to the support of a force called education. This is a fact. They have founded several grade schools and are in the process of beginning a high school. For all of these they alone are responsible. Besides, whether they approve or not, all of the constituency of the Protestant Reformed Churches stand to be more and more affected by an ever increasing number of high school, college, and university graduates within their ecclesiastical midst. Therefore, remarks on the subject are pertinent for everyone.

A man can scarcely make a greater or more dangerous mistake than to suppose that education is merely something to dally with. Parents, having little formal schooling themselves, devoting their lives to making a living with their hands, naively suppose that educating their children consists of supplying them with a few basic tools which the children will use to improve somewhat the basically similar pattern of life. Education is regarded as a tool in the crassest possible sense. There is little or no appreciation of the fact that inherent within the force of learning exists a hardy seed of independence. For many pupils, this seed remains a seed, ignored in its obscurity. Such pupils fulfill the state requirements, satisfy their parents’ fondest wishes, and engage in manual labor aided by their ability to read, spell, and multiply. But for others this does not suffice. Very gradually at first, and then with astonishing rapidity, they develop into true students. And then they begin to ask questions. “Why should we use learning just to do a little better what our parents did? In fact, are we morally allowed to use learning at all? Is not education really an end in itself?” For some, this answer becomes the adopted one: “Learning for learning’s sake. The sphere of higher learning is autonomous. It alone may answer the questions it raises. And let no outside authority attempt to regulate what education teaches.”

If few within our circles care very much what their children do, whether they do farmwork or philosophy, everyone is concerned with what his child believes. It is probably difficult for parents to imagine that the five year old toddler they pack off to school may some day reject their faith and even deny their God. And all because somewhere in the process begun on a crisp autumn morning, education set itself up as God’s rival, discontent to remain “merely” God’s tool. One must understand that the education process referred to is not catechism-learning nor trade school-learning but the type embodied in Protestant Reformed grade schools and Christian Reformed high schools and colleges, that is, exposure of the child or youth to literature, science, history, and philosophy. There is that within literature, within history, within philosophy which whispers to its devotee, “What business do you have to use me just to reaffirm some beliefs your parents taught you? Am I not too grand to be employed as a mere tool? As for this faith of yours, are you sure . . .?” This aspect of the educational reality is familiar to every student who has ever touched upon the deeper strata of learning. It is doubt. It is the doubt engendered by the renowned historian, Will Durant, as he concludes an account of the frightful religious persecutions carried out by Catholics and Protestants: “A supreme and unchallengeable faith is a deadly enemy to the human mind.” It is the doubt fostered by the hauntingly “noble” last chapter of Bertrand Russell’s The Problem of Philosophy; Be done with God, “diminish the dogmatic assurance,” but strive on for knowledge. It is the doubt, appealingly but tragically personified in James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, hero of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, as he spurns all bindings of faith and turns to “life and experience.”

That a student at some time or other in his life plunges into the dismal morass of doubt is inevitable. Nor is this necessarily bad. One who knows by experience the awful turbulence of being “without God in the world” is one who clings with keen relish to the peace of being “of the household of God.” And such a one is able to assist the following generations as they choose their first principles. But when doubt is glorified as the principal goal of education, when the teacher to whom one looks for succor responds that the misery of doubt is really happiness, then education has become a grotesque fiend. For the child of God has not been promised, nor does he look forward to, a life of doubt. Rather, all Scripture insists that faith and trust and confidence are the possessions of a reborn Christian and, in fact, of him alone. Where the sphere of education undermines that trust and confidence, one has to do with principles and theories of education which are erroneous and dangerous. Their effects are that higher learning serves as a mallet with which the Godless pummel the Reformed faith, and all of Christianity, from the outside and that an insidious cancer gnaws at the Reformed confession from within. Little needs to be said about higher learning in the hands of the overt mockers of Christianity. They have not changed considerably since Christ’s day who scorn the Deity of Jesus. Jude’s stark condemnation rings out against them today as it did centuries ago, “Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.” And one easily detects the mallet.

Cancers within are another matter. Imperceptible in beginning, they spread until they devastate the entire body. To the objection that this could never happen in schools dominated by Reformed people, there is only this reply, “It has, it is, and it easily might.” A seminary which graduates a young man who denies the real Adam and accuses Paul of ignorance in thinking that there was a historical Adam in a school ravaged by cancer’s last stages. When a professor of sociology pounds everlastingly upon the truth that thousands of little groups through the world think themselves to be the possessors of Truth and then smirkingly insinuates that the Reformed confession of faith (doctrines and morals) has no better foundation than thousands of others, a cancer within higher learning reveals itself. When a teacher of history traces the great movements of economics, political thought, and philosophy but refuses to mention, much less trace, the movement of history, namely, the advancing of the purpose of Jehovah, a cancer within education makes itself known. And when educators and intelligent students combine to promulgate that this world of wretched men, complex problems, and fantastic tensions is redeemable through the agency of art, a cancer within learning identifies itself. And an ultimate analysis, the type of analysis all education cries for must conclude that the cancer is this: men have wrenched education free from the bindings of Scripture. The giddy nostrils of knowledge refuse to inhale the childlike faith of God’s Word. Sociologists dare not insist that though there be as many claims to Truth as there are flakes in a snowdrift, only one is valid and that, the Reformed interpretation of the Bible. (This is not by any means to deny possession of saving truth to non-Reformed people, nor even to deny that non-Reformed men exhibit greater insight into some truths than their Reformed brothers. But it is maintained that the correct evaluation of all of life is the Reformed one, as founded upon an unshakably stable interpretation of the Scriptures.) Historians openly shy from any interpretation of the events in history which might seem to be too simple, too easy, too Biblical. Education claims independence, takes God cum grano salis (with a grain of salt), and disseminates the disease of doubt.

The place of education within the Reformed community must remain secure. The fervor and zeal of students ought only to be encouraged. Any reaction to the existent pitfalls of learning which advises a retreat into the safety of ignorance stands condemned as an attempt to flee physically the world we must flee spiritually. This type of reaction includes such despicable maneuvers as forcing well-meant interpretations upon cultural issues or events which do not warrant the interpretations, twisting the facts, be it in history or philosophy, so as to make them more readily condemnable (or defendable), and forbidding student to read books which blatantly contend against the faith. This last item deserves a remark or two. Although based upon the dubious logic that “as long as you don’t know that there’s a lion on your street, he won’t bite you,” this is revered by some as a true indication of Christian education. For example, in the earlier nineteen hundreds, atheistic philosopher Bertrand Russell published a book, Marriage and Morals, advocating much more laxity in the realm of sexual relationships. Immediately, great bands of Christians sprang up everywhere in the United States, demanding that the book not be read. Now the book is by no stretch of the imagination pornographic. Its filth consists in its open revolution against God-ordained morality. And if the great bands of Christians had spent their energy in systematic instruction of the youth, pointing out the falsity and wickedness of the book’s teachings, instead of merely, and vainly, trying to “ban the book,” Russell’s philosophy might not have had as much practical effect upon Christian young people as it has had and is having.

There are also general effects which education has upon its subjects which are to be desired. Students become more aware of their own ignorance, they listen attentively to the thoughts of others, they avoid snap judgments, and they mull carefully over their own opinions. Few people are as obnoxious as the big-mouthed, close-minded ignoramus. But whenever and wherever these benefits become the prelude to the song-and-dance which squeaks out its broadminded distaste for the historic Reformed truth, shrills its scorn for the faith of a child, and pipes out advice against liking any “here I stand, God help me” type of confession, at that time and in that place, the harmony of Christianity in education has deteriorated into a relation of Christianity and education, a relation which perils both. In short, such education and such educators increasingly vitiate the Reformed confession of the Sovereignty of God. As the clamor honoring the independence of learning increases, joyous sounds extolling God decrease.

It may be that teachers so characterized have no particular quarrel with the Reformed faith. But the point at issue is that the lofty calling to educate demands that the teacher direct the students into the green fields of truth. To refuse to guide at all (“We want objectivity” or “I’ll present the facts, let the students interpret for themselves” etc.) or to sidetrack the students into the brown waste land of doubt is to breach faith and learning, to deny the unity of Truth, and to wriggle from under the burden God had laid upon His people’s shoulders, “Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” And then, “And these words which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deut 6).

Education is no plaything. Engaging in learning with an attitude of “let’s pretend there is no criterion by which to judge” results in minds so broad that their possessors drift aimlessly, at the mercy of every wind of doctrine and gust of opinion. These are the condescending ones, the ones so aptly characterized by C.S. Lewis in his The Pilgrim’s Regress in the person of Mr. Broad (“. . . but as I grow older I am inclined to set less and less store by mere orthodoxy. So often the orthodox view means the lifeless view, the barren formula . . . It is those things which draw us together that I now value most – our common affections . . . our common struggle towards the light“). These broad ones regard all “negativism” with the horror men once reserved for the Bubonic Plague. In their company one begins to shame himself for thinking that there are false prophets and vile prophecies about. That we are living in the last days is a conception foreign to them. And with great vigor these broad ones have modernized vital definitions: “All those forcefully condemning false doctrine are heresy-hunters.” “All men valiant for truth are intolerant.” “All men of solid convictions are bigots.” As the delicious savor of the cry “What is Truth?” tickles the palate, there is a corresponding distaste for Christ’s unqualified claim, “I am the Truth.”

One hesitates to lay these observations before an almost exclusively Protestant Reformed reading audience. As always, there are two extremes to be found, one of which weakens the Reformed truth for the sake of learning, the other of which rejects learning for the sake of the purity of the Reformed faith. And of these two aberrations, the Protestant Reformed Churches, at present, are more in danger of falling into the latter. Some may quickly suppose that the tenor of this article provides a basis for disregarding extra-Scriptural learning and especially for dissuading young people from striving after post-college or post-university education. Such a supposition is in direct opposition to the purpose of this article. Very generally, the principles which force us to educate the youth are summed up in these famous and well-worn statements: “He who does not learn from history is doomed to repeat it” and “The pen is mightier than the sword.” A Christian steeped in learning is the man most qualified to perceive God’s workings in the past and the man equipped to direct God’s people in the present and for the future.

Even though they may be misunderstood and misapplied, the observations of the state of education within and without the Reformed community must be made known to Protestant Reformed parents and teachers. The Protestant Reformed Churches are involved. From the very beginning, that is, from grade schools on, there must be a conscious, universal insistence that the divorce of Christianity and education never occur. It will not if there is an awareness of the allurement of the divorce, an awareness of the weighty principle at stake, and an awareness of the extent to which the divorce has already taken place around us. The separation of faith and learning is attractive because it seems to result from a high regard for learning. Its proponents point back into history at the glaring examples of theologians retarding the advance of knowledge, for example, Calvin’s solemn warning that the Copernican theory was anti-Scriptural and vow that such injustice shall never again be risked. Injustices there have been and, I suppose, will be. Of course, they are to be combated. But to divorce faith, the Reformed, Christian faith, from learning (whether by written decree or by ignoring the faith of Scripture makes little difference) is to maintain that great areas of knowledge exist, into which Scripture may not poke its nose and over which the Bible has no say. And then, inevitably, two areas of truth arise, one of learning and one of Scripture. When they clash, either there is no attempt to harmonize or, as more often happens, Scripture is distorted to fit man’s educational fantasies, “How nice it would be if we might only believe that the Kingdom of God were going to come in the way of man’s improving himself by culture, symphonies, art, Boy Scouts, and Peace Corps,” wishes the divorcer. And before very long one begins to hear within the Reformed community strange noises about how art can redeem men and education can save the world and good books can improve the human race and on and on and on. One might wish that every Reformed educator felt as did Lord Byron when he wrote, “Sorrow is knowledge: they who know the most must mourn the deepest o’er the fatal truth, The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life.”

Let there be education within the Protestant Reformed Churches. Without fear, bring the wisdom of the ages before the youth. At every crucial juncture, let the Word of God interpret and judge. At the same time, familiar with the fate of Uzzah who attempted to “assist” God by steadying the ark, we ought never to “aid” God by revising the facts of His science or of His history to make them say what we think is best.

Ally or Enemy? When education sets its own goal and comes to its own conclusions, Enemy. And one of the greatest. When its functions as an instrument to bring the child of God to maturity and grounds its conclusions squarely on the Word of God, Ally. And, emphatically, one of the greatest.