Archive for the ‘ Education ’ Category

Harvard & Yale: Solid Foundations

The first college founded in America was Harvard. It got its name from a Puritan settler, John Harvard, who donated his library to get it started. Its motto, as depicted on its seal, is “Veritas,” the Latin word for “Truth.” The first rules and precepts adopted by Harvard stated,

Let every Student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 3:17 and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and Learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, let everyone seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of him.

It can’t be clearer: Jesus Christ is the source of all knowledge and wisdom. That’s a pretty good start for any educational endeavor. But that’s not all:

That they eschewing all profanation of God’s name, Attributes, Word, Ordinances, and times of Worship, do study with good conscience carefully to retain God, and the love of his truth in their minds, else let them know, that God may give them up to strong delusions, and in the end to a reprobate mind.

The warning is obvious: deny God’s truth and you will fall away from the faith; your thinking will become anti-Christian.

Someone once sent me this. It’s what is stamped on a Harvard diploma. In the background you can see the “Veritas” seal shown above, but there is something extra: Christo et Ecclesiae, meaning Christ and Church. That is still on Harvard’s current diploma. Yet how many of those who teach at Harvard believe that? How many of the students receiving their diplomas notice it . . . or even care?

Then there’s Yale.

Its first seal and motto can be seen here: Lux et Veritas, meaning Light and Truth. Notice also the open Bible with Hebrew letters. My Hebrew is not good enough to translate (half of one semester as an auditor hardly makes one a Hebrew scholar), but the implication is clear: education brings light and truth, and that truth is Biblically based. Yale’s rules were similar to Harvard’s:

Every student shall consider the main end of his study [is] to know God in Jesus Christ and answerable to lead a Godly, sober life.

All scholars shall live religious, godly and blameless lives according to the rules of God’s Word,  diligently reading the Holy Scriptures, the fountain of light and truth; and constantly attend upon all the duties of religion, both in public and secret. Seeing God is the giver of all wisdom, every scholar, besides private or secret prayer, whereall we are bound to ask wisdom, shall be present morning and evening at public prayer in the hall at the accustomed hour.

So Harvard and Yale were Christian colleges. At the beginning they understood where all knowledge and wisdom were to be found. Today, at both universities, we see more of the reprobate mind they warned against than the Christian mind they sought to develop.

Early American Education

The New England Primer Gave Children a Christian Education

How did we get to where we are in education policy today, considering how we started?

In early America, before we became a separate nation, children received their education from three possible sources, and in this order of importance: home, church, school. Most children never attended a formal school, yet somehow we were a literate society. That’s hard for some people to believe nowadays.

Even where schools existed, such as in New England, not all children attended them. They were the fallback if one chose to use them.

They were called common schools but were organized within small communities. Educational standards were set by local committees who were also members of the church. Often ministers doubled as the schoolteachers.

There were two possible ways to finance these schools: tuition or taxes. Notice that not all were tax-supported, and even when they were, the taxes were imposed by the locality, not a higher authority. Local control was universal. It’s actually more accurate to call these early schools Christian schools. Of course, modern histories of American education like to refer to them as the first public schools, intimating that they are the precursors of our current public system. The two couldn’t be more dissimilar.

For instance, can you imagine a law being passed today with the title “The Old Deluder Satan Act”? Well, the colony of Massachusetts passed exactly that in 1647. It was called that because of their concern that Satan would lead people astray if they weren’t properly educated. How different from the education many students receive today, which is designed to do precisely that—lead them astray. But that will be the topic of future postings.

The Role of Scripture in Education

For those of you who have read this blog over the months, you may have noticed that the guy on the right has shown up more than once. His name is Noah Webster, a man I got to know quite thoroughly as I researched and wrote my doctoral dissertation because he was the subject of that endeavor.

I was fascinated with Webster because he became a Christian convert at age 50, and his worldview altered considerably in the realm of education. He switched from being an Enlightenment devotee to a student of the Scriptures.

When he wrote his monumental dictionary, finally completing it in 1828, he defined education in this way:

That series of instruction and discipline which is intended to:

  1. Enlighten the understanding
  2. Correct the temper
  3. Form manners and habits
  4. Fit a person for usefulness

In my study, I was drawn to a certain passage of Scripture in the second book of Timothy, as the apostle Paul reminded his young disciple:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for:

  1. Teaching
  2. For reproof, for correction
  3. For training in righteousness
  4. That the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work

If you compare those lists, you find a remarkable similarity. Teaching proper doctrine enlightens the understanding. Webster’s “correct the temper” is a character-oriented expression; Scripture being used for reproof and correction is for the purpose of inculcating proper character. When you form manner and habits in life, you are being trained in the way you should live, which is the same as being trained in righteousness. Finally, making a person fit for usefulness is no different than equipping someone for every good work.

Okay, here’s my logic, which I believe is solid in this case: if education and Scripture are both good for the same things, we should be able to use Scripture in education, without any qualms. God’s goals in His Word are the same goals we should have for education.

As I said in a previous post, there should be no division between the sacred and the secular—all knowledge ultimately comes from the God who gave us the ability to reason and draw conclusions about the world in which He has placed us.

Never apologize for using Scripture as the basis for education; it provides the principles—the general truths—that apply to all of life.

Who Educates?

Since the president opened the door for a discussion of education, I’d like to walk through it. As a professor of history, education is my livelihood, and I’ve spent more than three decades thinking about principles that apply to education. As always, I go to the Scripture for my foundations.

For instance, in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, the nation of Israel was told:

These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Those words are addressed to the parents, who have the primary responsibility for raising their children. They have that responsibility, not the government. Someone may say that this passage doesn’t deal directly with education. My response is that it is teaching that all of life is to be lived in the knowledge of God, and that certainly includes what children learn about the world in which they live.

This world, and all that it contains, is God’s. There should never be a separation between secular and sacred. As Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10 note:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge . . . The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

The starting place for all knowledge and wisdom, therefore, is a reverence for God, and when we have that reverence, we will gain understanding.

Consequently, all education should be based on knowing God first, and the ones who should be planting that knowledge into the children are their parents.

Now, a couple of questions about modern American education. First, is our education system based on the knowledge of God? Second, do we really allow parents to have the final say on how their children are educated?

We are told that religion should be relegated to the private realm, and has no place in education. We are also told, in subtle ways at times, that no matter what parents think, the professional educators are the ones who know best what their children need. I respond that both statements are violations of Biblical principles of education.

Since I don’t want any one post to get too long, I’ll stop there for now, but I have a lot more to say about this; indeed, I have so much to say I could fill this blog for weeks. I plan to continue this topic on a regular basis.

Teaching Can Be Gratifying

I’ve just finished another week of teaching at a Youth with a Mission base—this time in Puerto Rico. I’ve been teaching at this particular base for seven years now, and each time has been a wonderful experience. Of course, it makes all the difference when you have a roomful of students who actually want to learn something.

I regularly teach Biblical Worldview, Church History, and American History at the Puerto Rican base. I’ve also taught the first two at another YWAM base in Guadalajara, Mexico. Wherever there is an open door, I am willing to go. If the Lord can use my words, it is worth the “trouble.”

God is trying to raise up a generation that takes His call to discipleship seriously. It’s only by answering this call that we can make any changes in our culture and, ultimately, to our politics.  Changed hearts lead to changed lives, which lead to a more Biblical culture and government.

That hope keeps me teaching.

American Character: Noah Webster

Webster: Father of Early American Education

The name “Webster” sounds familiar to most people. They think for a minute and then say, “Oh, yeah, he’s the dictionary guy, right?” Right.

But he’s more than that. Noah Webster is a prime example of someone who exhibits the character trait of diligence. A native of Connecticut  and descendant of Pilgrim governor William Bradford, Webster was raised in the Congregational church, graduated from Yale, and even was awarded a master’s degree—unusual for the time.

In 1783, he got the nation’s attention with his first book, which is now called Webster’s Blue-Back Speller. It sold millions over the next century. It went with the pioneers westward, along with the Bible, teaching new generations how to read and spell. It was Webster who created an American spelling that broke from the English tradition: music instead of musick; color rather than colour.

Webster’s Speller, along with other educational books throughout his life, earned him the title “Father of Early American Education.” His crowning achievement, though, was his monumental 1828 dictionary, the first full-fledged dictionary to be published in America. It was a production that he worked on single-handedly for approximately 20 years. When it was completed, it quickly became the standard for America.

More than that, however, Webster’s dictionary revealed his Christian faith. Although raised in the church, Christianity, for him, had been primarily an external ritual. But at age 50, during a revival in New Haven, he submitted his life to God. This conversion experience gave a new impetus to all his work from that point on. The dictionary is more than a listing of word definitions. It’s actually pretty fascinating to look at it today because many of the definitions use Scripture verses as examples of how the words should be understood, and some of the definitions include commentaries from the author that provide a Christian context. Such a thing would be unimaginable now.

Webster’s memory has been eclipsed in educational circles by the likes of Horace Mann and John Dewey, both of whom departed from the Christian worldview. This neglect needs to be rectified. That’s one reason why I made Webster the subject of my doctoral dissertation. It was eventually published as Defining Noah Webster: A Spiritual Biography. If you’re interested, you can purchase it on Amazon.com. Information about the book can be found here.

Let’s not forget America’s early Christian leaders.

Thank You, Southeastern University

El Prado--The Main Walkway on Campus
El Prado–The Main Walkway on Campus

In this new year, I want to begin with an expression of gratitude. I am in my third year now at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived.

I had taught previously at the graduate level and at a college with high admissions standards dominated by homeschoolers, so returning to an open-admissions university was going to be a challenge, I thought.

In some ways, that has been true, but I have grown to love this place. Why?

First, I have never worked at an institution of higher education that has demonstrated the heart of God as much as I have witnessed here. The openness of the administration toward faculty is refreshing. Without trying to sound too trite, this is the “nicest” place that I have ever worked.

The desire to constantly improve the quality of the campus–the physical structures, the educational standards, and the spiritual atmosphere–is evident. It is a pleasure to come to work, although “work” is often the wrong word. I really do consider this a ministry to the students.

Tuscana Ristorante

Tuscana Ristorante

I have also been given the opportunity to develop courses I’ve never had the privilege to teach before: American Colonial History, The American Revolution, The Civil War Era. But those are basic types of upper-level courses. In addition, I have had the liberty to develop more specialized courses that I know will benefit the students, expanding their understanding of how the Biblical worldview applies to our society.

In particular, last year I taught a full-semester course on Whittaker Chambers, writer of what I consider to be the most significant work of the twentieth century–Witness. This coming semester, I will be offering a course entitled “Ronald Reagan and Modern American Conservatism.” Would I ever have been allowed to teach such courses at a typical university? Highly unlikely.

At one end of the campus is a statue that is supposed to embody the spirit of Southeastern. It is called “The Divine Servant,” depicting Jesus washing the feet of Peter, his disciple.

May that spirit of servanthood always prevail here.