Education Requires Work?

It’s been three months since I lasted posted on the subject of the history of education and its effects on us today. I’d like to take a few days and develop that topic a little more.

In a previous post, I spoke about a woman named Marietta Pierce Johnson who followed the teachings of John Dewey, Father of Progressive Education. Johnson set up a school that had no exams, no homework, and no grading system. No child was allowed to fail. Of course, if there is no such thing as failure, there’s also no such thing as success. The Dewey approach, which Johnson adopted, was to delay formal learning as long as possible.

Another Dewey disciple, Caroline Pratt, started the City and Country Day School in Greenwich Village. With her idea that every child was a creator, she simply wanted to draw that creativity out of each child. Now, I agree that God made us creative beings. Education, though, is more than creativity; it requires someone in authority leading children into what they need to learn. Handled properly, this does not inhibit creativity but places it in a framework within which it can succeed. Unlimited creativity with no design or guidance is often just misguided selfishness.

If anyone has any question about Miss Pratt’s moral and theological perspective, all you need to know is that she was a close friend of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, the foremost promoter of abortion in the world.

Overall, the progressive education movement tended to downplay academic achievement and reward unstructured, experience-oriented methods. How does this prepare students for taking their place in society? 

Education does require work. Some of my students seem surprised by that. My job isn’t to make it easy for them, but to challenge them to do their best. I guess I don’t make a very good progressive educator.

A Meditation on Knowledge & Wisdom

No, this is not a self-portrait

I spent many years earning a doctorate in history. When I began that quest, I had turned my back on the Christian faith. I wondered if the world of academia could provide the answers. One master’s degree, a multitude of courses, and three comprehensive exams later—all prior to the doctoral dissertation—finally convinced me that the educated elite were just as clueless as the rest of the world.

“Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?” These questions come from the pen of the apostle Paul. He answers himself:

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

He then makes a statement that I’m sure sets the intellectual elite’s teeth on edge: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

Am I saying that higher education is worthless? It can be. It all depends on the context of the learning. Anything divorced from God’s truth is not going to be beneficial in the long run. Knowledge for knowledge’s sake is pointless. Man’s wisdom is often little more than arrogance and stupidity—people thinking they are intelligent, yet not realizing they are intellectual pygmies in light of God’s truth.

Some people seek advanced degrees to feel better about themselves. They want to be respected; they want to be important. Yet,

God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.

Boasting is one of man’s primary activities. This is particularly true of those who hold political power. They make promises seemingly without end: “Here is what we will do for you”; “We will end this problem once and for all”; “If you want answers, elect us!” Most of them, however, trust in their own minds and are disconnected from the Ultimate Mind.

The apostle Paul continues,

We speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

What was true of Paul’s age remains true today. There is a wisdom that comes from God that provides all we need to know for having relationship with Him and with all others. If followed, it solves the world’s problems. Sinful man, though, refuses to submit his mind and his will to the One who has the answers.

“Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.”

This calls for humility; humility only appears after genuine repentance; repentance only occurs when a person is grieved over his sinful heart. How often does this happen? According to Jesus, not often enough:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

May we all come that place.

Random Thoughts

Some days I don’t have a unified thesis for what I want to share. How about if I just offer a few random thoughts—with a little help from my friends, the political cartoonists?

A couple days ago, I commented on the attitude toward the Tea Partiers, and how some politicians and media outlets do their best to smear them as racists. Personally, I think some of this is due to their utter lack of knowledge of American history.

It’s interesting what qualifies as hate speech nowadays.

Yesterday I focused on Obama’s new nuclear policy, such as it is. Here’s a pretty good representation of it.

Don’t overlook the notice in the center. It’s the essence of the policy.

Education is another of my favorite topics.

A win-win for whom?

The other day Sarah Palin critiqued the Obama nuclear policy. His response was to ridicule her as someone who has no experience in foreign policy—you know, like a certain community organizer who was raised to a position above his pay grade. I’m reminded of his sharpness from time to time, like the occasion when he told his audience how many states he had visited.

I guess that’s what a Columbia political science degree and a Harvard law degree get you—daunting intellectualism.

Education: Serious Problems

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned the push for the federal government to take over all student loans for college students. In case you missed it, that was tacked on to the healthcare bill. It’s now apparently going to be reality.

For those unaccustomed to how Congress works, let me explain that it has become routine to attach unrelated items to a bill. Healthcare and student loans? They go together . . . how?

I will repeat the major concern about this that I stated previously: this now means that the federal government can exercise censorship on colleges and universities. For instance, if a Christian university, such as the one where I teach, is told to stop teaching a certain doctrine that goes against the political winds—e.g., homsexuality is a sin—and the university balks at the command, the government can then threaten to withhold loans from students attending that university, thereby reducing the student population and leading to the university’s inability to meet its financial obligations.

Under this kind of pressure, Christian colleges and universities will be tested for sure: do they really believe what they say they believe, or will they sell out their convictions for the promise of continued financial help?

I have yet to see a political cartoon dealing with this issue. I fear that even conservatives aren’t all that concerned about this provision, and that they fail to see the threat.

There’s no doubt about it: the threat is real.

Meanwhile, education as a whole continues its spiral downward. Maybe our biggest issue shouldn’t be the debt after all.

How do we handle the downward spiral?

When will we wake up and recognize the problem?

So that’s what it takes? In case you’re not sure, we’re in serious trouble.

I’ve written so many posts focusing on education, that I decided to add an “Education” category to my list on the right sidebar. If you want to review all my posts on this subject, just click on “Education.”

Dewey's Disciple

Dewey Disciple Johnson

I’ve been commenting on the history of education on and off now for a couple of months. Recently, I’ve pointed out that John Dewey is considered the “Father of Progressive Education.” He had many disciples who put his ideas into practice.

One of those was Marietta Pierce Johnson who started a school in Fairhope, Alabama, in 1907. She called it the Organic School. Here were her basic tenets:

  • There were no achievement groupings for students
  • Children were never be compared
  • No homework or exams were part of the education process
  • “Play” was a central component of learning, particularly folk dancing; only folk dancing and classes in the arts were required for all students
  • No child was allowed to fail (which wasn’t hard, considering there were no exams)

Sound like fun? Well, yes, but that’s all it really was—fun. Dewey was impressed, however. He commented,

Her main underlying principle is Rousseau’s central idea, namely: The child is best prepared for life as an adult by experiencing in childhood what has meaning for him as a child; and, further, the child has a right to enjoy his childhood.

Quoting Jean Jacques Rousseau is hardly the means to winning my support. He’s the philosopher who fathered illegitimate children, and rather than take the responsibility to raise them himself, turned them over to an orphanage instead. Of course he would focus on the rights of a child—he never grew up himself. He was childish in all his ways.

While I can’t say that Johnson’s ideas have taken over education completely today, her imprint—and that of her mentor Dewey—is clearly evident. How does this educational approach prepare anyone for real life?

 And then, of course, there’s the need for actual effort on the part of the students.

Educational Philosophy: Man as Animal

Meet Edward Thorndike, a follower of John Dewey, of whom I wrote a couple days ago.

Thorndike also had a major influence on American education. His contribution was to take behaviorist psychology, which looked upon man as simply a higher form of animal, and apply it to his educational philosophy.

He concluded that because man was just an animal, and not a unique creation made in the image of God, he should be treated as an animal. Rats were put through mazes; Pavlov conditioned dogs to respond to an external stimulus. Thorndike said that insight should be used on people as well. He came up with an approach we call “conditioning through stimulus-response techniques.”

While it is true that man can be conditioned to a certain degree, he is not an animal. Rather, he has a moral sense and the ability to grasp the difference between right and wrong. Man is not a creature whose actions will be dictated solely by his environment.

Interestingly, it was Thorndike who introduced new methods of testing based on his philosophy—true/false and multiple-choice exams. So I tell my students I refuse to treat them like dumb animals by giving them such exams; instead, I treat them as free moral agents made in God’s image. They should be happy to be given the opportunity to think and write.

How true.

The Dewey Factor (Part II)

Yesterday, I showed how John Dewey, the “Father of Progressive Education,” was one of the authors and signers of the Humanist Manifesto, a blatantly antichristian document. Today, let’s go a little further.

Dewey’s educational philosophy can be summarized in four points, as follows:

There is no such thing as an eternal truth.

What happens when this is the starting point for education? You are left in a vacuum, morally and spiritually.

Education should be child-centered.

This sounds good. After all, isn’t education for the children? However, what this means in Deweyspeak is that children will direct their own education—they will decide what they want to learn. How many children do you know who are aware of what they need to learn?

Experience is more important than booklearning.

There’s always an element of truth in error. Yes, experience can add a lot to one’s education. Field trips can be quite beneficial. All history students should see the most significant historical sites. Yet for Dewey and his followers, this meant that experience was the primary means for learning. Books were not that important. In fact, Dewey didn’t believe children should be taught to read until they exhibited a desire to learn how. I thought it was a teacher’s responsibility to make sure students could read. Not according to Dewey.

Schools should be embryonic communities.

All schools should be turned into social laboratories to ensure children are “socialized.” Make the schools just like the community by having students help run the office, etc. While there can be value in some of this, that’s not the main reason for a school. The emphasis is on socialization—preparing students to fit into their society. For Dewey, that society was going to be a socialist one. Everyone needs to know their place in the “new order.”

To me, this is scary stuff, the more so because we now see much of what he wanted coming to fruition. Our education system may not use the word “progressive” as often as before, but the philosophy that currently dominates education is manifestly progressive.