Train a Child There is no “Value-neutral” Education, so make it Christian
Steve Chalke tells of a woman who was travelling on the London Underground. She was intrigued by the behaviour of a businessman who spent the whole journey studying a map in his diary and comparing the places on the map with the names on the station platforms. Eventually it became clear that this man was hopelessly lost and so she moved next to him and offered her assistance.
It was now obvious why this man was having such difficulty. Not only did he have very little grasp of the English language, but he had never previously been outside Germany, his diary was French and the map to which he was referring was of the Paris Metro!
This is God’s world, and nothing will make much sense if we leave Him out of the picture. Without the right worldview, we will always struggle to understand the world and our place in it, let alone negotiate the correct path as we journey through it.
So what are the implications for the education of children within the school context? It ought to be said at the outset that there is sometimes a tendency to see education within the school as a religiously “neutral” activity and to assume therefore that schools can be left to deliver the basic facts, while the family and the church can take responsibility for the spiritual or moral explanation and interpretation of such facts. There are problems with this view of schools.
Firstly, a person’s perception of reality will always be shaped by the beliefs that person has about the world at large, and so it is not possible for schools to teach mere “facts” in isolation from values and attitudes. These values will form the context in which such facts are intended to be understood.
Therefore, a fundamental question that ought to be asked is whether such values are based upon the premise that human beings are autonomous or instead accountable to an “outside” authority. If one adopts the former premise, then one will regard that which is right and true as being determined by the individual. This would make as much sense as an approach to cricket that required batsman and bowler to come to an agreement as to the worthiness of an appeal, rather than accept the umpire’s decision. In a perfect world, it might be workable. Based on my years of watching cricket, I wouldn’t recommend it.
A Christian worldview appreciates first that we are not autonomous but rather accountable to God, and second that we have a nature that has been so drastically affected by sin that we need God Himself to reveal to us the correct path to follow, and this He has done through the Bible.
Second, the place that is given to God and the Bible within a school conveys a message which is anything but neutral. It might be suggested that provided God is not being mentioned within school, then this represents a position of religious neutrality. But surely one of the most effective ways of communicating the idea that God is irrelevant is simply to leave Him out! By not talking about God in the classroom, we constantly reinforce the idea that God is of no importance in our world. If I turn up at a party and the host does not welcome me, the other guests do not acknowledge me, and I am simply allowed to remain in the corner without anyone bothering me or showing any interest in me, I am unlikely to go home singing the praises of all those people who maintained a “neutral” attitude toward me.
A common view of Christianity is that it is, at best, a private spiritual matter of no relevance to what goes on in the real world. Therefore it has no place in the classroom. It may be of importance to some people in their search for personal meaning, but it has nothing to say about politics, economics, social justice or public morality. Two things ought to be clear to us: the Bible is relevant to these and all areas of life, and no school can ever in reality be “value-neutral” when it comes to these or any other areas of life.
With these things in mind, the importance of establishing a Christian worldview within schools becomes more evident. Colossians 2:3 makes it clear that God ought to be central in the process of education, since it is in Him that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are to be found. Ultimately, it is neither the student nor the content of school education that ought to be regarded as central to the process of teaching and learning, but rather God Himself. The danger with any other approach is in failing to understand creation properly and making it the object of our worship rather than the Creator.
The Scriptures teach that it is God who brought all things into existence and who sustains all things. All things are subject to Him and find meaning in Him (Jn 1:1-4; Col. 1:16, 17). Therefore, whatever the topic of study, it will not be fully understood unless seen within the context of this relationship between Creator and creation. Psalm 8 expresses this perfectly. When the Psalmist contemplated the beauty, order and vastness of the universe, he marveled at God! The purpose and the end point of our learning is God Himself. Furthermore, it was within the context of this relationship that the psalmist properly understood his own nature and purpose and that of the world in which he lived.
This same principle applies to all spheres of life and learning. It is within the context of this relationship between Creator and creation that we properly understand and appreciate the natural laws which God has devised for proper order, the moral laws that He has invented for our own good, our responsibilities to one another as social beings, our obligations — as managers and not owners — regarding the environment, and the beauty and wonder that surrounds us at every point. Every area of learning falls within the realm of God’s creation and is therefore properly undertaken by appreciating His purposes and letting them shape the manner in which we live.
Passages such as Colossians 1:16, 17 demonstrate that understanding Christ’s relationship to his world is foundational to a proper understanding of the world. Therefore, a Christian worldview is foundational to every area of living and learning. Such a perspective will enable us to make sense of the world and to live appropriately within it: to understand not only the natural but also the moral laws that God has instituted and to use them as the basis for our lives. Furthermore, such a view will enable us to clarify our understanding and defend Christian truth in the face of a multitude of challenges and divergent views.
I vividly remember visiting for the first time the Taj Mahal in India. I marveled at the majesty of this structure — it was vast, ornate and filled with precious gemstones. I went away most impressed.
During a later tour of the city of Agra I came once again to the Taj Mahal. But this time it was different. I was accompanied by a guide who explained the origins of this building, how it had been designed by one of the Mogul emperors as a tomb and tribute to his wife. Such was his love for her, and his grief at her death, that he named this building “eternal tear drop”.
The guide walked me through parts of the building that I had previously seen but not fully appreciated. So it was that, within the context of an Emperor and his love for his wife, I finally began to understand the design and purpose of the building and not just its beauty. Furthermore, I went away still amazed at the building, but now curious to find out more about its designer. The problem with education that leaves God out is that while we will perhaps be impressed by human beings and the world in which they live, we are failing to acknowledge the designer and His purposes for His creation.
So how will a Christian worldview be reflected in schools? In many ways: it will be reflected in the lives of Christian teachers, who will demonstrate Christian behaviour to the students and perhaps have opportunities to speak to students about the Gospel. It will be reflected in times of worship in chapel services and assemblies and in those lessons specifically devoted to Bible teaching, and in meetings of groups of staff and students for times of prayer and Bible study. It will be reflected in the leadership and governance of the school and in school policies and procedures that are framed in Christian terms and developed according to Christian principles.
These characteristics are generally common to church schools and some of these things take place in state schools. What is far less common is the permeation of a Christian worldview throughout school curricula, and it is at this level that there remains a great deal of work to be done.
Why is this work so necessary? If the day to day curriculum is taught and studied as though God does not exist or is not important, then there is the danger that what is said in chapel will be seen as having no relevance to the “real world” studied in the classroom. It is therefore important that in all their curricula, as well as other areas of their life, schools affirm that this is God’s world and it can only be really understood when studied in the context of that relationship and in the light of His revelation. To do otherwise is to portray faith as some kind of an “add-on”, of use in only a limited and private manner, and to essentially maintain a secular classroom, with the Bible and Christian faith being confined to just a small corner of school life. Such an approach treats faith as an important part of life, rather than something that informs and transforms every area of life.
So what does it mean to have a whole-school curriculum that reflects a Christian worldview? It does not mean that the classroom becomes a centre for Bible exegesis or that the school is transformed into a church. Nor does it mean using every opportunity to introduce Bible passages into geography lessons or using an English novel as some kind of a parable. To do that is to diminish both the subject under examination and perceptions of the Bible itself.
Rather, we need to see, as the psalmist recognised in Psalm 119:105, that God’s word is a light that informs and guides in every aspect of life, so that within the school context biblical principles need to be applied in enabling students to learn about God’s world and their responsibilities within it. Faith changes not only our perspective of God, but of the whole world. It will affect our observations and our analysis of the world, as well as our view of ourselves and how we ought to live.
At a practical level, this will mean that the study of subjects like mathematics and science will be undertaken from the perspective that this is God’s world. The world has observable patterns and order, because God Himself is a God of order, and creation reflects both His character and His ongoing sustaining of his world (Heb. 1:3). Our use of technology and the benefits of scientific discovery must reflect our responsibility and accountability as managers of God’s creation. Our study of both science and geography ought to lead to the praise of God as we learn of the beauty, variety and complexity within God’s creation, but should also challenge us to see the ecological impacts of human rebellion against God.
The study of history provides an opportunity to analyse the actions of individuals and societies: to examine the influences giving rise to such actions and to evaluate these actions in the light of their consequences as well as biblical standards. At a deeper level, the events of history ought not to be viewed as random or disconnected, but as an outworking of the purposes of God Himself. In the study of English, a student is continually faced with the need to examine the mind-set, the worldview, the perspective of the author under investigation. Here, perhaps more than elsewhere, teachers and students have the opportunity and the responsibility to critique such perspectives in the light of their own perception of reality and the Bible’s description of reality.
Rather than ignoring the Bible, or endeavouring to draw analogies between subject content and biblical ideas, this approach allows biblical principles to inform and interpret all of our studies. The Bible does not become the geography textbook; rather, students are enabled to make better sense of geography when they allow biblical principles to permeate their study of it. Nor should schools, of necessity, shy away from the study of theories or texts that are built upon or portray unbiblical premises or patterns for living. Students need to understand not only a Christian worldview, but also the non-Christian views of life that they will encounter and will need to be able to critique.
Worldviews make a world of difference. The big picture that one has of life and the world is what ultimately directs one’s daily decisions and actions. Within a school setting, it will determine the manner in which we seek to treat people, the rules that apply, what is taught and how it is taught. Any worthwhile education program will seek to address at some stage questions to do with the emergence of human societies, problems within human societies and the means by which such problems might be resolved.
Fundamentally, we are dealing here with questions of creation, fall and redemption and it is difficult to see how such questions can be adequately answered without reference to a Christian worldview.
In Morocco is the ancient walled city of Fes. It is a labyrinth of thousands of twisting, narrow alleyways: in some places so narrow you struggle to get out of the way of the donkeys — laden with produce — that regularly come charging along. It’s the kind of place in which it’s hard to believe there’s a moderns world somewhere beyond the walls, and you can so easily lose your way completely. But if you can find your way to the northern tower, there’s an amazing view over the old city, and from there you get a whole new perspective.
We desperately need a perspective that will enable us to make sense of the world, negotiate our way through it and discover the God who has made it all and loves us beyond measure. He Himself provides this perspective in the Bible. In the realm of education, there could hardly be a more worthwhile pursuit than the development and application of a Christian worldview that shapes every aspect of our teaching, learning and living.