Attempting to communally educate our children produces conflict. Gutek (2004) identified four primary theories of education–essentialism, perennialism, progressivism, and critical theory—that presently compete in the United States and are present elsewhere as well. We observe that many in our nation today support an essentialist view of education, which is closely linked to the standards movements of previous decades. In this conservative view with ideological roots stemming from Plato’s idealism, Aristotle’s realism, and Aquinas’s theistic realism, the study of literature, mathematics, history, science, art, music, P.E. and other subjects prepares students for gainful employment to strengthen their economic well-being and that of others. While not representing all Christians, essentialist Christian schools often add some form of character education as well and call for biblical integration with each subject.
Stemming from similar philosophical and political roots, perennialists suggest a broader purpose for education—“a pursuit of truth" (Spears & Loomis, 2009, p. 31). Biola’s classic-based high school Torrey Academy and undergraduate Torrey Honors program follow this line of thinking, adding to the classics other great books coming from the Christian tradition that teach students “… to love beauty as well as ideas, doing as well as thinking" (Biola University, 2011). Torrey students engage the worlds of art, commerce, and government. On the other hand, certain Christians have also aligned themselves with progressive thinking, seeking to jettison hindrances from unfruitful methods of the past. Others have embraced various aspects of critical theory – which forefronts the clear link between education and justice as they apply to the field of education.
Is there then no specific Christian theory of education? Obviously this question is open to debate. What is clear is that for Christians, education must harmonize with – or better, emerge from – a specifically Christian worldview. We begin by affirming our belief in a real world made by an eternally existent, all-powerful, all-knowing God (Gen. 1:3-25.) God provided His Word to reveal truth about Himself (Jn. 1:1-10) and about His creation (Rom. 1: 19-20.) Humanity, created in His image (Gen. 1: 27), also reveals who God is; thus men and women have a desire to create, communicate, and reason, and are tasked by Him with the stewardship of this world (Gen. 1: 26-28).
It hasn't gone completely well for humanity. The Bible records that God gave Adam, the first man, only one prohibition (Gen. 2:17), but Adam, with his wife, Eve, tempted by Satan, decided to disobey that one rule (Gen. 3:1-6), and fell into a state of rejection of God's standards. As distant sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, all humans have followed suit in rejection of God's standards and have a sin nature, with a propensity to sin (Rom. 5:12; 3:10-18). Human beings, whom God created in His Image to bring glory to Himself by enjoying Him forever and using abilities and interests to steward His earth, became marred, and their relationship with God and humanity showed brokenness irreparable through mere human effort (Rom. 7:15-20.) Even when God established increased direction by providing His law, humans discovered that their rebellious hearts desired all the more to resist God’s direction (Rom. 7:5).
God, rich in mercy, sent His son to die for our sin, to reconcile sinful human beings to Himself (II Cor. 5:17-20.) and bring reconciliation between people. God’s remedy for human beings is for the sinful self to die with Christ and for a new self, indwelt by Christ, to be resurrected with Christ (Gal. 2:20). As Christ indwells people, He begins to heal the marred aspects of His Image in us and restores our ability to create constructively, to communicate clearly and caringly, and to reason rationally (Col. 3:1-10). He desires us to serve as His ambassadors to reconcile fellow humans with God and others (II Cor. 5:20) and we still are called to steward the earth (Gen. 1:27). Part of our responsibility, therefore, is to educate our young (Dt. 6:6-9, Prov. 1:1-9, Eph. 6:1-4) by reconciling them to God and others, and teaching them to steward the earth through their creativity, communication skills, and rational abilities, bringing every thought under the Lordship of Christ (II Cor. 10:3-6).
Gutek, G. L. (2004). Philosophical and ideological voices in education. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Spears, P. D. & Loomis, S.R. (2009). Education for human flourishing: A Christian perspective. Madison, WI: IVP Academic.