What’s the point of education? We can argue until we’re blue in the face about who should educate our children (i.e., the state, the church, the family), but if we don’t get the aim of education right, method is a moot point. You can shoot an arrow with a bow or crossbow or throw the thing, but if you aren’t aiming at the right target, you ain’t hitting it. Also, if we get the goal of education right, we’ll be in a better position to answer the tough questions about who’s responsible for teaching our children and what methods they should employ in the process.
Education, like everything else, swears allegiance to something or someone. There’s no neutrality – ever. Therefore, as R.C Sproul, Jr. writes, “Thinking that education is something different from discipling our children is a sure sign that we have been ‘educated’ by the state. Education is discipleship.” (When You Rise Up) But because education is discipleship, we must ask: who are our children becoming disciples of? Molech or Christ? To whom are your children being taught to swear allegiance? (I’ll only mention in passing that children in public schools do actually pledge allegiance to the American flag in class – just saying.)
But all polemics aside, education is discipleship, and it’s a grave error to separate the two in our minds. For this reason, education has the same end as discipleship (which assumes the child has already been converted, or else it would be evangelism): obedience to God’s law-word. This is plain in Deuteronomy 32:
“And Moses made an end of speaking all these words to all Israel: And he said unto them, Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this law.” (v.45-46)
So the goal of child rearing is teaching children to trust and obey the Lord, and since God’s Word touches everything, the goal of education is to help our children bring every subject and thought into subjection to King Jesus.
Reflecting on covenant transfer, the psalmist writes,
“For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:” (Psalms 78:5-7)
It’s clear from this passage that education is narratival, not merely propositional. In other words, we shouldn’t just teach our children what God commands, but what he’s done. Since the Gospel is the news that Jesus Christ was born, died on a Roman cross for our sins, and was raised for our justification (all in time and space, 2,000 years ago), it can’t be otherwise. Indicatives precede imperatives – always. That’s how we keep Law and Gospel straight.
So Israel wasn’t merely to teach its little ones that God gave them the law and what the law demands. They were supposed to teach them the narrative circumstances of the giving of the law. Namely, that God delivered them from Egypt and then gave them the Ten Commandments and all its case-law applications to society. This is the pattern for New Covenant believers as well: God’s mighty acts first, and only then how to respond to those acts. All this with the goal of raising godly men and women who trust and obey the Lord, and who will raise godly children up after them.
I stated at the beginning of this brief article that, if we understand the goal of education, we’ll be in a better position to decide on the most appropriate method. I’ll end, therefore, with a heart-rending quote from Sproul, Jr., “But if we understand that character is the center of education, it seems the issue should be settled. If the 80 percent of evangelical parents whose children are being educated by the state realize that the state is determining the absolutes (all while denying that there are absolutes), perhaps they would no longer render to Caesar the things that are God’s.” (When You Rise Up, pg. 38-39)