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Classical Christian Movement

Why Schools Teach But Don’t Educate

By June 1, 2009January 31st, 2023No Comments

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Jacques Barzun in his book Teacher in America satirizes the way many use the word “education” as the great solution – “education” is meant to do everything the world leaves undone so the prevailing dogma has become that “education is the hope of the world.” Schools, he says, are better off doing what they are designed to do: teach. Not that he is down on education. He simply believes that education is the “lifelong discipline of the individual by himself, encouraged by a reasonable opportunity to lead a good life” and that education is synonymous with civilization. “Civilization,” he says, “is a long slow process which cannot be ‘given’ in a short course.”

Of course he is right—and wrong. Education is a much broader concept than teaching (or schooling) and the word is used to cover what Barzun calls “abysses of emptiness.” But while schools should focus on teaching extremely well, they still can and should participate in the broader enterprise of education. Especially classical Christian schools.

Classical Christian schools aspire to actually educate students. Our tradition and the Scriptures give us no alternative. The apostle Paul makes it clear that our aim is to educate children in the fullest sense of the word—the Vulgate even uses the Latin word educate (imperative form of educare) in Ephesians 6: 5: “Fathers bring up (educate) your children in the instruction of the Lord.” The Greek for “instruction” is paideia, a very rich word that can also be translated as “discipline”
or “training.” It connotes the Greek view of making a man of excellence, which was the goal of the Greek polis. Moses in Deut. 6:4-9 also makes it clear that a child’s education is parent-centered and occurs in every place (“when you sit at home, when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up”). Classical schools that stand in the place of parents are given a comprehensive call to educate and not merely to teach.

Now here’s the rub. Schools, on their own, cannot educate students. The education of a human being – no less a Christian human being – is a large target that encompasses much more than the multiplication table, historical dates, even the mastery of grammar, logic and rhetoric. For schools to fancy that they are actually educating students involves a serious commitment beyond the classroom and even from the student himself.

If schools are to do more than teach they must be communal—they must be in a community partnership with parents, pastors, family, friends and, chiefly, with the student himself. It is, in fact, a “culture of learning” involving an interdependence of all these people that results in a genuine education and no mere diploma. It is often observed that there is simply no hope for education unless the student learns to learn and learns to love learning. This rarely happens on account of a good text, classroom, or teacher. It frequently happens when everywhere a child turns he finds the paideia of the Lord pursued by parents, family, teachers, friends and his church.

Every classical Christian school would do well then to work intentionally and fervently to cultivate friendship and camaraderie among students, teachers, parents, churches and supporters. By doing this our schools will become the hub of bonafide communities
of learning that will raise up the next generation of Christian leaders and change our world. As busy as we are with operating a school and teaching, we cannot neglect the profound need we have to actually help craft an education.