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HDJT?: Thinking Through Biblical Education and Charlotte Mason

Since we decided to homeschool many years ago, I’ve run into many different kinds of homeschoolers. Some of these wonderful ladies have very passionate views about their preferred methods and I’ve listened carefully as they explain their way of seeing things. Some of these moms (I don’t spend much time chatting with the dads!) are very ‘school at home’ having text and work books for just about every subject with the odd activity thrown in here and there. Others come from a very ‘unschooling’ point of view and have deep convictions about that life philosophy.

But, as we’ve just recently begun ‘formally’ homeschooling Alex, I find myself paying much closer attention to the educational opinions around me. Within the last month, I came across this article and this one both of which beg the questions ‘what does it mean to be educated?’ and ‘what kind of education best educates?’. I am absolutely the kind of person who takes information in and then lets it simmer for a while. Often times, I will suddenly come to a resolution about something I didn’t even know I was wrestling with. Perhaps this ‘eureka!’ moment is actually the small voice of a loving God who whispers in my ear telling me to go this way or that?

So all these conversations, blog posts, and articles spinning around in my mind came to a screeching halt when I asked the question: ‘HDJT?’

How Did Jesus Teach? Jesus, our Master, our Teacher, our Creator has certainly done some teaching. Surely, if the question is ‘What is the best way for humans to learn and grow?’ the answer must be found when we ask ‘how does God teach us about Himself?’

So then some verses that might be applied to education came flooding into my mind (not exhaustive, of course):

Deuteronomy 6:6-9: 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. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

Ephesians 6:4: And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Proverbs 22:6: Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

And we not only have the ‘command’ verses above, but the example of our Master Himself when He walked among men. Here’s an excellent blog post that discusses Jesus’ method of teaching. Jesus taught in parables. He purposefully sat in a position of authority to teach the masses and then intimately explained the truths He wanted to communicate to the disciples in a smaller setting.

Jesus’ teaching method was both didactic and exemplary.

Jesus had certain truths He wished to communicate. He was specific, purposeful, intentional. There were truths about Himself He wanted to teach and He made a point of doing so, the best examples of which are the Sermon on the Mount and His many parables. And God has always done thus- in the garden, He told Adam not to eat the forbidden fruit; He wrote out the Ten Commandments for Moses and the children of Israel; He sent prophet after prophet to specifically instruct kings in what they should and should not do. God instructs purposefully.

God also teaches by example. He sent His Son- God With Us, Emmanuel so we could know Him. He walked with the disciples for years teaching them how to respond to the world around them and how to do right before Him. He used every moment and the happenings of the day to continually reinforce to His followers how to belong to Him. God uses life to teach us about Himself.

So what do these truths mean to someone attracted to homeschooling in general and to Charlotte Mason specifically?

Some educational methods assert that the best way to educate a child is to simply get out of the way. Do absolutely nothing to purposefully influence the development of this unique human being- God has gifted children with a ‘personality DNA’ in which is written the kind of person that child should be and no one should disrupt the emergence of that person. In these methods, there shall be NO formal instruction. The child shall learn whatever s/he will because they are following that ‘personality DNA’ and will learn as God brings into their lives the things they will need to know in order to follow His calling on them. These parents read Proverbs 22:6 as “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  The focus of education here is the child’s pursuit of self-knowledge and self-expression. Parents who subscribe to these methods believe that children will live what they see- children of Christian families will soak up that atmosphere and will follow the examples set before them, eventually- Lord willing- coming to know and serve Him. This sound a lot like Charlotte’s ‘Education is an atmosphere’ and I can’t argue with this idea: Children will learn what they live.

I have concerns about this method, however. How can a fallen being follow their own personal inclinations with no purposeful instruction and be led toward God? Does flesh lead to God? What about learning self-discipline? Self-sacrifice? Respect for others? Humility that others have something vital to teach? Does this method live up to the fullness of education that God uses? HDJT?

If I am asking the question “How should I educate my children?” and scripture gives answers like: diligently, nurture, admonish, train- well, how does this kind of philosophy fit with those scripture? The specific verses above reveal that the parent has an active role in a child’s education. WE are to be diligent. WE are to nurture. WE are to admonish. WE are to train. There are things that we are to be doing concerning raising/teaching our little ones. Any educational method we adopt must fit these descriptions or we are not in line with Biblical commands to parents concerning the raising of children.

Other educational methods assert that children are blank slates- they will become what they are molded to become. So drill commences and the child is instructed not only on facts, but also on how to think about those facts. Their learning is carefully constructed to the point that the child’s mind doesn’t really interact with the provided material- the child is only expected to memorize and regurgitate the information at the appropriate time. They follow the instruction in their text books and fill out all the blanks in the workbooks and once that has been completed, they are left with no other instruction. How the information applies to life is not explored. Parents who subscribe to these methods read Proverbs 22:6 as “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

My concern about these methods is that they are focused on only the academic portion of a child’s development. Spiritual development can be woefully overlooked to the point that a child could be performing in school masterfully and yet not be learning the lessons of how to live for Jesus. Does this method imitate God’s educational method? Again, HDJT? Will we allow our text books to be ‘christian’ and our words, attitudes, entertainment be whatever pleases the flesh? Do we think we are teaching our kids about God because we have purchased a Bible curriculum from a Christian homeschooling company? Remember that in the Deuteronomy verses above, we see that it is NOT only instructional time that teaches our children. Every moment of the day- what we do when we wake, what we talk about as we go through our day, the attitudes we display and revel in- all these are our children’s teachers as well. If we are to be educating our children, if we are to train them toward the Lord, we need to be diligently guarding what they take in from their environment. We need to be sure WE are walking rightly with the Lord so they have a good example to follow, just as the disciples followed Jesus…

Will it be any surprise to you, dear reader, that I find Charlotte’s methods of education most like that of our Lord’s?

A Masonian education is both didactic and exemplary. We are specific in that we select materials for their ability to teach both facts and morality. Children are taught to trust their own thoughts because we do not prescribe what MUST be thought by them. The creativity and ideas of others are respected and are celebrated. The spiritual development of our children is the foundational lessons Masonian parents see to in the forming of good habits in preschoolers. We also ensure that the child’s environment is optimal for their development, filled with things that are intended to shape the child’s experience. And we allow for lots of free time so the child is free to explore the unique callings and giftings God has placed on his life.

A Charlotte Mason education looks the most like Jesus’ discipliship method as revealed in scripture; it is both intentional and exemplary honoring both that the child must receive from others and also that the child innately has much to share with the world.

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