American education is doing an excellent job at its stated objectives: creating economical and political men and women who will find their niche in the materialist economy and bow their knees to the system of political power, believing that every ill can be amended and every need addressed by economic and political means. The economy is growing. So is government. Politics has become a year-round sport. And the evening news reminds us, day after day, that, at the end of the day, the only things that matter are the bottom line and the opinions of those in power (including themselves). I disagree with the naysayers: American education is doing just fine.
However, I do agree with the opinion stated by Charles Silberman back in 1978, just before all this educational hand-wringing and faucet-fixing began to heat up in earnest. In his book, Crisis in the Classroom, Silberman wrote, “Almost everybody who wrote about education [in the past] took it for granted that it is the community and the culture—what the Greeks called paideia—that educates. The contemporary American is educated by his paideia no less than the Athenian was by his. The weakness of American education is not that the paideia does not educate, but that it educates to the wrong ends” (emphasis added).
Those of us who've been homeschooling for a while, especially those who are familiar with John Taylor Gatto's writings, have to agree with this. American education is creating exactly what our community and culture have asked it to create. But it's NOT creating what most of us want for our kids. More and more Americans (religious and nonreligious alike) are realizing that what the community and culture have asked education to create - slaves to the economic and political system - is not what we want for our kids.
The present paideia is likely to continue unfazed and unchanged by critics, at least in the short term. But if that paideia is ever to change, it will require the infusion of new thinking and courageous new leadership—political, educational, and familial—at every level of society. Those new leaders must be developed by a different paideia, with a perspective and worldview more like that of the founders and less like that which obtains today.
Mr. Moore goes on to prescribe what kind of education we need in order to create the kind of leaders we want.
Certainly education that seeks the kingdom of God must be rooted in Scripture and the grand tradition of the faith (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Thessalonians 2:15). It must be committed to wide learning, for the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it (Psalm 24:1; Ecclesiastes 1:12-13), and He is putting all things under His feet to advance His rule on earth as it is in heaven (Ephesians 1:22-23). The new paideia must focus, in all its expressions, on the formation of godly character—minds captive to Jesus Christ, hearts enthralled with God and His Law, consciences trained to wisdom, and lives progressing in godliness (2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Psalm 119:97; 1 Timothy 1:5; 2 Corinthians 7:1). Such an educational program can be accomplished only through a curriculum established in loving discipline, in which all willingly submit to those spiritual exercises and regimens that train the soul and life for godliness. It must be a community undertaking, a conscious collaboration of home, church, and educational specialists at all levels.
Finally, education for the rule of Christ—education designed to nurture Christian rulers—must concentrate for the long term on the realization of a new spiritual order: the kingdom of God. Four general objectives must guide all our instruction and assessment: the achievement of divinely ordered lives, divinely ordered relationships, divinely ordered communities, and divinely ordered culture. If we keep these objectives in mind, and order all our instruction to achieve them, we will certainly come closer than at present to nurturing a generation who rules their own lives, and every sphere of their lives, according to the kingdom agenda of our Lord.
Is such an education possible? Past generations of the followers of Christ have realized more of it than we in our own generation have even dared to dream, often against the most impossible of odds, and in the least likely of settings. The martyrs of the first three centuries; the Celtic Christians; the generations nurtured by Alcuin and Rabanus during the Carolingian revival; sixteenth-century Lutherans in Germany and Calvinists in Geneva; Hollanders at every level of society under Abraham Kuyper; and many, many other examples from Church history stand ready to encourage and enlighten us . . . .
I find it interesting that Mr. Moore's terms for what a solid education would involve are met to a large extent in homeschooling. Consider the benefits of homeschooling when it comes to:
1) "Rooted in Scripture and the grand tradition of the faith." For Christian homeschoolers, this is an important part of our education, and perhaps for many of us one of the reasons our kids are not in the public schools.
2) "Committed to wide learning." Whether Christian or not, most homeschoolers recognize that homeschooling allows our kids far wider learning than a traditional school system. While we are deeply committed to being solidly grounded in Scripture, we are equally committed to exposing our kids to as much as possible of what life has to offer.
3) "Focus . . . on the formation of godly character." Again, for most Christian homeschoolers, godly character is a high priority. We don't just want our kids to excel academically; we are far more interested in their becoming people of great character and integrity, people who imitate Jesus.
4) "A curriculum established in loving discipline." I don't know about other homeschoolers, but without discipline my homeschool falls apart. Whether it's comfortable for me in the short run or not, I am forced to maintain discipline - both my own and my children's. I train my children to live godly, disciplined lives and to submit themselves to the Lord's direction.
5) "(Concentration) . . . on the realization of a new spiritual order." Secular education simply can't do this at all; but homeschooling provides a natural lead-in to it. When I look at Christian leaders, people like Jim Elliott, Mary Slessor, Eric Liddell, Amy Carmichael, George Mueller, and Gladys Aylward, I see people I want my children to model themselves after, people who made the Kingdom of God their #1 priority. Fortunately, in our homeschool, we are able to focus on that, too.
If you're up for some deep but thought-provoking reading, take a look at the full article. Mr. Moore never mentions homeschooling, but if you're thinking in that direction, you can't help seeing how well it meets exactly the criteria he's established.
In the meantime, let's keep our focus on just what it is we are trying to accomplish. It's not about the academics. We are here to build Christian leaders for the future, and to hopefully influence our culture toward godliness. That's what it's all about!