The foremost concern of most caring parents with children at school will be that their offspring learn to read and write competently, and be proficient in basic arithmetic. Such parents will avoid schools that fail in these areas and will be prepared even to move house to ensure their children will be allotted a place at a school they see as being successful. Recently, there has been much reported in the British press about the extent to which some parents will go in order to secure such a place and, on the other side, the extraordinary measures local authorities will use – including the ‘snooping’ provisions in anti-terrorism legislation -–, often against innocent parties, should they suspect anyone is cheating. Articulate parents demanding the best for their offspring are an ever-present nightmare for many head teachers and local education authorities – and who can blame them for creating a fuss? Parents are naturally surprised and suspicious when they see good schools being closed or amalgamated, grammar schools talked-down and abolished, and a perpetual war being waged against faith schools and the independent sector, sometimes with a threat of eventual closure.
A motion put to the annual conference of Britain’s largest teachers’ union, the National Union of Teachers in March 2008 proposed
“The long term aim of the union should be the establishment of a single, secular comprehensive state education system.” (Daily Mail, 24 March, 2008)
Everyone’s child is to be condemned to the same mediocrity.
At the same conference, the leader of the union called for the abolition of all private education. All schools, he said, should be run by the state. These sentiments are often attributed to thevindictiveness of those on the left wing of politics still engaged in class warfare, many of whom among them have themselves enjoyed the privileges of a public school education. This may be true to some extent, but it is more likely that such blind prejudice is used as a pretext in the cause of a wider agenda. The reason for disquiet in the educational establishment will often be that those schools right-thinking parents consider to be successful are the very ones the establishment believes are failing to reach the objectives they have set for them. The best schools will invariably obtain their good results using teaching methods frowned upon and even ridiculed by progressive educationalists.
When so many of our children leave school unable to read anything much more demanding than the primitive headlines of the tabloid newspapers, then something is seriously amiss in the world of education. Alongside this, many leave school unable perform arithmetical tasks at even a basic level and the weasel words of politicians do nothing to reassure anyone that everything is as it should be.
As a direct consequence of the teaching methods currently used in schools and colleges across the country and enforced by an army of government inspectors, our youngsters are being denied a valid basic education. These so-called progressive methods cannot provide the education most parents expect, nor, it would appear, are they intended to do so.
The understanding of educationalists in the western world as to what constitutes an appropriate education for children is generally very different from that of most parents. Harvard Professor, Anthony Oettinger: “The present ‘traditional’ concept of literacy has to do with the ability to read and write. But the real question that confronts us today is: How do we help citizens function well in their society? How can they acquire the skills necessary to solve their problems? Do we, for example, really want to teach people to do a lot of sums or write in a ‘fine round hand’ when they have a five-dollar a hand-held calculator or a word processor to work with? Or, do we really have to have everyone literate – writing and reading in the traditional sense – when we have the means through our technology to achieve a new flowering of oral communication?” (Anthony Oettinger, ‘Regulated Competition in the United States’, The Innisbrook Papers, (1982) pp.19-22. Cited in Samuel Blumenfeld, The Whole Language/OBE Fraud, (Boise, Idaho) p.185.)
If this really is a widely held view, then all talk by government ministers of combating illiteracy in schools is a total sham. It also means that we can strike an effective blow against those who are misusing our schools in the cause of social reconstruction by making sure that our own children learn to read and write well.
Ruling elites will do what ever is necessary to ensure that as much power, wealth, and privilege accrues to themselves as possible. To this end a ‘dumbed down’ general population that cares only for soaps, football, and multiple cans of strong lager is likely to cause them few problems. Slightly above this, we have a middle class, many of whom have had their heads pumped full of politically correct garbage at school and university, whose indebtedness through student loans, extravagant mortgages and unsecured loans is sufficiently high to make them fear unemployment. Their philosophy of life is so thoroughly materialistic that they too will also be supine even malleable and do nothing likely to threaten their standard of living.
Many British companies have in recent years moved operations to countries with a cheap, relatively poor and uneducated workforce in order to maximise profits. Or where the work cannot be moved overseas, low-paid immigrant workers have been preferred to the indigenous population. A useful home-grown workforce just does not exist in some parts of our towns and cities. What we have instead is a semi-literate, state-educated mass of unemployable welfare-dependent deadbeats, who would not know one end of a shovel from another were they handed one – and certainly they could not spell the word.
What is demanded by emp“I believe that education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction.” loyers is not a well-educated workforce in any conventional sense, but a dependable one, one with useful ‘skills’ they can mould, manage and train. Education is manipulated to this end. Schools are required to turn out employable fodder with low aspirations able to perform menial and mind-numbing work without complaining in order to serve the global economy. To serve this purpose, ending discrimination and ‘changing values’ are far more important to the economy than providing a good conventional education.
The purpose of education has little to do with ‘learning things’. Benjamin Bloom, father of ‘Mastery Learning’, one of the main strands of progressive methodology, maintained “…the purpose of education is to change the thoughts, feelings and actions of students” (Benjamin Bloom, All Our Children Learning, (Ohio, 1980), p.180.) The pedagogic guru, John Dewey, wrote: “I believe that education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction.” (John Dewey, My Pedagogic Creed, First published in The School Journal, Volume LIV, Number 3 (January 16, 1897), pp.77-80.)
According to Dewey, education has social reconstruction as its purpose. To permit a well-educated population to develop, in any traditional sense, is a high-risk strategy for any modern government
Firstly then, modern teaching methodology amounts to a system of behavioural modification impacting upon every sphere of knowledge and it is mediated through every subject in the curriculum, so there is no opting out.
Government changes to the National Curriculum over the last ten years here in the UK show that the purpose of state education has indeed gradually shifted from teaching knowledge of a wide variety of subjects to a much narrower skills-based curriculum with ‘citizenship’ at its heart. “Certain skills and aptitudes are appropriate to citizenship education. Pupils should have opportunities to develop and apply these skills and aptitudes within pluralist contexts. These contexts should be carefully chosen in order to allow pupils to reinforce and further deepen their understanding, think critically, develop their own ideas, respond in different ways to a diversity of views, defend or change an opinion, and recognise the contribution of others.” (Education for citizenship and the teaching of democracy in schools, Final report of the Advisory Group on Citizenship, 22 September 1998. p.41)
Integrated within this curriculum are procedures intended to create a malleable population by changing personal attitudes and values, securing an overall ‘politically correct’ society. “It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that, underlying the apparent confusion, there is a long-term strategy on the part of the educational establishment to replace (both nationally and internationally) religious and family values with ‘community’ values specified by the state to accord with a new world order.” (New Gods for Schools, Nick Seaton, (Campaign for Real Education, York, 1998), p.14)
‘Citizenship’ is taught combined within other subjects. There is no escape where there is a ‘whole school’ approach. “Schools need to consider to what extent their ethos, organisation and daily practices of schools have a considerable impact on the effectiveness of citizenship education.” (Education for citizenship and the teaching of democracy in schools, Final report of the Advisory Group on Citizenship, 22 September 1998. p.55)
Education for citizenship is nothing new. It can be traced all the way back to the Greeks in Aristotle. We have more recently: John Locke, David Hume and John Stuart Mill, all of whom wrote of the need for practical and factual knowledge to enable the participation of citizens in political life.
The opening words of the Introduction to the ‘Final report of the Advisory Group on Citizenship’, published in September 1998, argues that the teaching of citizenship is too important to be left to ordinary vagaries of school life and needs statutory compulsion. “We unanimously advise the Secretary of State that citizenship and the teaching of democracy, construed in a broad sense that we will define, is so important both for schools and the life of the nation that there must be a statutory requirement on schools to ensure that it is part of the entitlement of all pupils. It can no longer sensibly be left as uncoordinated local initiatives which vary greatly in number, content and method. This is an inadequate basis for animating the idea of a common citizenship with democratic values.” (ibid p.7)
There is nothing new in compulsory school attendance in state institutions designed to achieve a compliant populace. Such laws have been enacted since Sparta and Rome and are characteristic of all militaristic dictatorships including modern China, North Korea, the GDR, Stalin’s Russia, and many others, not forgetting Hitler’s Third Reich. In Germany, Hitler’s education laws remain on the statute book to this day much as they were. Germany is the only country in Europe where homeschooling is totally outlawed. In a recent case, a mother and father who attempted to remove their children from the bad influences at school and teach them at home were fined, imprisoned, and the children forcibly removed into care. All this in ‘free’ Europe!
The purpose of State education was well stated by John Stuart Mill.“A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another: and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by a natural tendency to one over the body.” (John Stuart Mill, On Liberty)
A somewhat surprising critic of a blatantly utilitarian view of education, writing in the sober context of the First World War, was the economic historian, R. H. Tawney, who warns in a newspaper article: “And the task of educationalists is not to flatter those who would pick over the treasures of earth and heaven for a piece they can put in their purses – though they may toss them something glittering to play with now and then – but to persuade them that education is to be practised, like other spiritual activities, for itself, ‘for the glory of God and the relief of man’s state,’( From Francis Bacon, Advancement of Learning, Bk.1, V, par.11), and that without education, rich men are really poor.” (Times Educational Supplement, 22 February, 1917)
Secondly, at a deeper level, the new progressive pedagogy is also an alternative epistemology. It is a theory of knowledge challenging traditional didactic, memory-orientated teaching. The teachingmethods used in today’s schools have flowed together from a number of different sources. Developments and changes have taken place through the years, but they all retain essentially the same emphases.
Previously, the approach to learning in most schools was rationalist, empiricist and reductionist. The teacher filled the students with deposits of information deemed by the teacher to be true knowledge. These deposits were then stored away in the mind by the student until required. Defenders of the new methodology tend to be highly dismissive of the old ways and generally speak scornfully about traditionalists.
Progressive education was well summarised recently by Dr Mary Bousted at the annual conference of yet another teachers’ union, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, of which she is general secretary. Children, she maintained, needed to be taught ‘life skills’ instead of key historical dates such as the Battle of Hastings. Somewhat facetiously, she went on to ask, “Is the world going to collapse if they don’t know ‘To be, or not to be’? Her claim is that it is more important for children to learn how to find knowledge and assess it for bias and accuracy rather than memorise facts. “A skills-based curriculum demands that you make connections between different subject domains. That requires thought. Too much learning today is rote learning. That is not what is needed in the 21st century.” (Daily Mail, 24 March, 2008) Note the unbelievable arrogance in the implied insult that traditional methodology is intellectually inferior – it requires less thought. Frequently, the expression ‘in the 21st century’ seems to be used now as the last throw in a desperate argument.
Progressives are not without their critics on the traditionalist side. The former chief inspector of schools, now professor of education at the independent Buckingham University, Chris Woodhead, said in response to Dr Bousted: “When will the teaching unions realise that education is about passing on knowledge and understanding worth having?”(Daily Mail, 24 March, 2008)
In the ‘progressive’ approach students create their own ‘knowledge’ or ‘understanding’ by doing, hence the emphasis on ‘skills’. According to Dewey, all human knowledge is made up of actions and the consequences of actions where men and women interact with each other, with animals, plants and all that is in their environment. They will then present these acts and their consequences in language. The acquisition of knowledge comes through an involvement with the content rather than through imitation or repetition. Students engage with what they already know, using ‘critical thinking’, problem solving techniques, group work, amongst other things. The learning environment is ‘democratic’. The teacher is not someone standing above the student as a dispenser of knowledge, but is instead a co-explorer, a facilitator encouraging students to question and challenge the ideas they have brought with them from home, Church, or elsewhere. In true Hegelian dialectic style former views are reformulated into new ideas, opinions, and conclusions. No ‘correct’ answer or any single interpretation is decisive. An unwillingness or perceived inability to learn in this way will sometimes be diagnosed as a ‘learning disability’ of some kind.
Experience is the great teacher. According the John Dewey, human experience involves growth, progression. Some experience, it is said, hinders growth and so is ‘miseducative’. “…any experience is miseducative that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further experience.” Experience and Education, NY 1938, p.17 Direction in growth can be encouraged by the teacher by helping the pupil “…select the kind of present experiences that live thoughtfully and creatively in subsequent experience.” (Ibid, p.17)This ‘experiential continuum’ is broken by any attempt by the teacher to convey beliefs, emotions, or knowledge to the student. Essential to growth is a purification of the environment. This means weeding out influences from home and Church. “It is the business of the school environment to eliminate, so far as possible, the unworthy features of the existing environment… Selection aims not only at simplifying but at weeding out what is undesirable. Every society gets encumbered with what is trivial, with dead wood from the past, and with what is positively perverse. The school has a duty ofomitting such things from the environment which it supplies, and thereby doing what it can to counteract their influence in the ordinary social environment. By selecting the best for its exclusive us, it strives to re-enforce the power of the best. As a society becomes more enlightened, it realises that it is responsible not to transmit and conserve the whole of its existing achievements, but only such as make for a better future society. The school is its chief agency for the accomplishment of this end.” (Ibid, p.24)
Harmful influences must be kept at bay. Particularly dangerous are those separating men from other men. Religion, and in particular the Christian religion with its concept of the saved and the lost, the elect and the reprobate, must come near the top of this list. Anything not universally attainable must be excluded.
Those who come from traditional backgrounds must be shown in some way that what they have brought with them from home, from church, from their culture is harmful. The doctrine of a self-existent God, of creation out of nothing, of the salvation only of those who believe, all this is miseducative. Teachers must protect their charges from such harmful things. It is quite impossible for any transcendental religious belief to be true; there can be no final judgement before God after death. All that can be said of the future must grow out of what is known of the present. Anyone who claims to know anything about God is mistaken.
When applied to ethics and morals much the same methodology is used and is known as ‘values clarification’. In school, a child will be encouraged to discard what may have been taught at home as being right or wrong. There is no absolute standard of right and wrong. No two people are said to share the same set of values. With time, values change in response to changing life experiences. The purpose of values clarification is to recognise and understand this and how they affect actions and behaviour. A given situation will be appraised and a number of different options examined. A value must be freely chosen from this list of alternatives after the consequences of each have been examined. Valuing is considered a process of self-actualisation. Often this process takes place in conjunction with ‘group work’ so that peer pressure to conform can be considerable. The value must then be translated into personal
behaviour consistent with the value chosen. This whole process is said to be a means to discover one’s own individual values rather than to have them dictated by someone else. The appalling consequences of this moral relativism can be seen in the young and not-so-young all around us.
Knowledge itself is not neutral. Facts do not exist in and of themselves to be accessed alike by God and man. Knowledge is created by God and reveals Him. Whoever created the universe also created all there is to know about it. This was certainly no man. “Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves” (Psalm 100:3).
Man himself is also not neutral because as a fallen being he is by nature hostile to God. For this reason he is prejudiced against God and all truth. The doctrines of God, of creation and of the fall colour the educational perspective of Christian believers. The unbeliever is by nature at odds in one way or another with the authoritative truth of the Scriptures. For our part, we are hostile towards all that denies the truth. There is a real war going on. Consequently, we must conclude that no teaching is done from a neutral standpoint; that is simply impossible.
Neutrality is a myth encouraged by progressives. Whilst everyone who disagrees with them is biased, they are not. The reality is that they are just blind to their own prejudices. In a sense, everyone is biased in one way or another. No one could possibly say anything meaningful did they not already have some presupposition with which to begin. A mutual recognition of this fact would be more honest.
Therefore, the tacit support for state schools by many professing Christians is surprising given that such an endorsement generally means acquiescing to blatant state promoted paganism. There may be little awareness of what is going on in the schools their children attend. If so, this amounts to negligence. Some believe that as they pay their taxes it is up to the state to educate their children. Why should they pay twice? No one ought to be compelled to pay for anything twice. However, the monetary savings will without fail extract a much higher price in other ways later on. A deliberate skinflint philosophy is a dereliction of duty. Alternatively, others may have been seduced by the spiritual/secular dichotomy, believing education belongs to the secular realm, whereas the spiritual realm deals with those things relating to personal salvation and the soul. This amounts to delusion. Hopefully, this article will serve as a wake-up call and at the same time put to rout any idea that anyone of us can expel God from any single area of our lives.
It is of yet deeper concern to discover that some Christian school and home-schooling teaching schemes, trusted by many who think them ‘Christian’, are thoroughly compromised because they are based on similar anti-Christian pedagogic theories to those used in state schools. A Christian school is not Christian because prayers are said each day and the Bible is read. It is not Christian because it teaches the Christian faith among all its other subjects. An essentially humanistic subject does not become Christian by saying a prayer over it. A Christian school has a right to call itself such only when the whole ethos of the school is Christian, when all subjects are taught from a biblical perspective of God, of creation, of God’s providence, and all to His glory. In a truly Christian school the Bible is not simply taught as a subject in the curriculum, but its teaching will pervade and determine every subject. The Bible is not a maths or science textbook, but it does give us the truth about all facts. A Christian teaching methodology will not be based on the spurious theorising of men like Watson, Dewey, Bloom, or their modern counterparts, but will take full account of what the Bible says about the nature of human knowledge, the finitude and sinfulness of man, and his need of regeneration.
First, there can be no neutrality in what is to be known. All facts are God’s facts. God made the world, so that true science and the Bible will not contradict each other. He made them what they are. A robust view of the universe as having been created by God will underpin all that is taught in a Christian school and not just science. A genuinely Christian curriculum proclaims unequivocally that nothing makes any sense except in terms of Christ. He is the unifying factor in all we encounter in this world. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power:for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)
In refusing Christ, unbelievers throw away every possibility of any unity of meaning. Ever before our eyes are the clear statements of Scripture.
“The earth is the LORD'S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” (Psalm 24:1)
There can be no surrender to unbelievers of that which is God’s.
The only real facts are interpreted facts resting on presuppositions. Those presuppositions for the believer are to be found in God’s Word. The ‘facts’ may be different for a humanist, a Muslim, a Hindu, or a Christian. Each looks at the world through very different eyes, but everyone cannot be right. The humanist sees evolution as biological data. The Christian sees it as an attempt to chase God from His universe and nothing to do with science at all.
Those who reject the God of the Bible operate using a totally different methodology than that of consistent Christian believers. For the unbeliever any laws of nature or morals will exist outside any God – should He exist – and both God and man must submit to them equally. All reality is reduced to one level. God must take note of facts and learn them even as do men. They are what they are without Him. Human knowledge is not derivative but determinative. Men are perfectly capable of deciding on their own what is true or false, right or wrong, without any reference to God. Divine knowledge and human knowledge become one and the same. We cannot engage in debate with others without challenging these presuppositions.
Second, there can be no neutral stance towards those who aspire to know everything. This leads us to consider what the Bible teaches us about ourselves and the nature of what we can know.
We are finite. This means that there is a limit to what we can know. Comprehensive knowledge is a pipedream. “Let us not be ashamed to be ignorant in a matter in which ignorance is learning. Rather let us willingly abstain from search after knowledge, to which it is both foolish as well as perilous, even fatal to aspire.” (John Calvin, Institutes, III, XXI, 2)
The unbeliever will say ‘what I cannot know God cannot know’. The Bible teaches that God knows things we shall never know and in a manner that we can never know them.
We are also fallen sinners in need of regeneration. The Bible says, ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Ephesians 2:1). Those who go about pretending God does not exist are going to be hostile towards Him. This is hardly neutrality.
We cannot be neutral because we will either believe that everything just happened, evolved, or we will believe God created them and so gave them their meaning. Chance or God, which is it to be? It cannot be both. It is either or.
The educators who claim there are no final answers will inevitably be hostile to the definitive answers of the Bible and any claim of absolute and infallible truth. Knowing for them is the process and never the conclusion. They are:
“Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
(2 Timothy 3:7)
To understand our world as we ought, we need to be reconciled to God. The mindset of a Christian believer is hostile to that of an unbeliever.
“For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.”
(1 Corinthians 2:16)
A genuine believer is not hostile towards God but is open to the Word of God and will want to understand all things in the way God has revealed that they should be understood. The unbeliever sees no need of God and is outraged by the thought that a believer can have an insight into anything that is not also freely available to him. Finitude, a fallen human nature, a regenerate mind, these are not concepts that have any meaning for an unbeliever.
This leads to a third point.
Behind modern secular education and Christian education lie two incompatible faiths, each operating from two opposing positions and moving towards totally different ends. Victory for one comes only with the destruction of the other. We cannot approach a consideration of education by leaving our Christian faith at the door. We cannot relinquish all we believe at the outset. This would mean caving in to the demands of our opponents, thinking by their rules.
We all act and behave according to what we believe. Both the humanist and the Christian believer will begin with a declared act of faith. “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.” (Isaiah 7:9) We understand because we believe.
All thought is built upon essentially religious presuppositions. The unbeliever will deny this, saying that the clash is between knowledge and faith when in reality it is a question of authority. It is an offence to the humanist educator, who will insist on the ultimacy and autonomy of critical thought, for Christians to believe in a sovereign God who claims absolute authority over man and all things. They claim truth can emerge from anywhere – anywhere, that is, except from the revealed Word of God.
Fourthly, in a Christian school the Scriptures will be at its heart. Christian schooling is not anymore neutral than secular state schooling. A good explanation of Christian schooling is found in Scripture in Paul’s description of the upbringing of Timothy.
“But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”
(2 Timothy 3:14-17)
The Scriptures lead us initially to God through faith in Christ, they make us “wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus”– remembering that “…faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17).Yet, the aim of Christian schooling goes way beyond ‘winning souls’ for Christ. A personal faith in Christ is for every student but an initial step for along this road – albeit an indispensible one.
As “all scripture is given by inspiration of God”, the statements of the Bible carry the full weight of God’s authority. We have a permanent record in the Bible of what God wants us to know.“For Scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit, in which as nothing useful and necessary to be known has been omitted, so nothing is taught but what it is of importance to know.” (John Calvin, Institutes, III, XXI, 3)
Christian schooling must reach beyond ‘evangelistic outreach’ and notching up ‘decisions for Christ’ as is the pattern of some. The aim of a truly Christian education must be “that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” All that we do, we do unto God’s glory. This is incompatible with the stated goals of unbelieving educationalists, who are determined to take our children in quite another direction.
Salvation for society in our secular world will be ‘education, education, education’ coupled with state planning and control. Many conservative traditionalists of the past looked to culture to lift us out of our difficulties. “…culture being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world.” (Matthew Arnold, in Culture and Anarchy, Preface) Imbibe the best and you will become the best. Today, others have the reins of education in their hands. Education has become technological in its method and content. Religion, philosophy, metaphysics, culture, all these belong to a bygone age. A search for meaning is meaningless. Education is now training, skills in the use of things to serve other men and above all the pagan state.
God’s plan for the salvation of the world is totally at variance with every other. Salvation is not to be found in man or the state but alone in Christ.
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
Where Christian schooling is nothing more than humanism sprinkled with ‘holy water’, the result will be “… a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5).
The goals of a Christian education are clear. Pupils and students will be encouraged to want to belong to Christ with all their hearts and minds. They will want to be self-consciously Christian as they grow to maturity and relate all thatthey do whilst in this world to Christ and His glory.
The idea of a distinctively Christian education or school will call forth derision, even as those who watched Noah building the ark at God’s behest mocked. What has rain got to do with God? Religion is a private matter and has nothing to do with education, with maths or reading.
Those who suppose that education is a largely a neutral field will seek common ground between believer and unbeliever. This is a mistake. The humanistic ‘progressive’ teaching method itself undermines all Christian belief based as it is on a pagan view of man. The educational establishment sees the school as an important tool in the propagation of its beliefs and values in order to reshape the nations. In the same way, those with a biblical view of reality will teach from a standpoint that is essentially Christian. Method and content will reflect this. Conflict with modern educationalists for sincere Christian believers may be postponed for a while but in the end is inevitable.
There can be no compromise between those who worship God and those who “worship the creature more than the Creator” (Romans 1:25), between those who worship the God of the Bible “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), and those who have attempted to take over God’s place themselves. There is a non-ending war between those with a biblical Weltanschauung (worldview) and all others. Every scrap of land is up for grabs. There is nowhere, where this struggle is not underway. The world of education is but one sphere where the battle rages. Each side stands on different foundations. The Christian builds on the presupposition of God, the absolute, self-conscious, self-existent Being we find in the Bible. He is the Creator of all things. Without this God, we can know nothing. The unbeliever assumes his own autonomous ability to reason is ultimate. There can be no compromise. One side or the other must yield.
John Dewey’s philosophy still stands dominant, towering over progressive education. His is an aggressive, militant humanistic faith and the objectives of its adherents we ignore at our peril. Dewey concludes his book A Common Faith with the exhortation to make humanism an active ‘common faith’. In humanism are to be found“…all the elements of a religious faith that shall not be confined to sect, class, or race. Such a faith has always been implicitly the common faith of mankind. It remains to make it explicit and militant.” (John Dewey, A Common Faith, (New Haven, 1934), p.87)
In the past Christian parents were presented with different problems at school. Traditional teaching was delivered, more often than not, from a rationalist point of view. Then the conflict would be in the area of what was taught and rather less in how the subject matter was delivered. For example, with respect to content, many Christian parents felt, justifiably, that their faith was being undermined by a dogmatic insistence upon evolution as the explanation of origins.
Content is still a problem today, probably more so. However, the main area of conflict has shifted and we must be aware of this and not be found sleeping! There is a yet greater problem in the way in which our children are taught. Modern teaching methodology rests upon a learning, or meaning-making theory that contradicts all that the Bible teaches us about the nature of knowledge, of man, and of how we learn. The teaching method is itself inseparable from what children learn. We shall look at why this is and the corrosive effects it has upon pupils and students.
Before we examine the ‘faith system’ – for this is really what we are facing – underlying progressive pedagogic methodology, it is first essential that we ourselves have a firm and biblical understanding of the nature and basis of human knowledge and understanding – we must have a thoroughly biblical epistemology. We should have a biblical view of God, of origins and of man.
When Christian believers speak of God, they mean the one God revealed in the pages of the Christian Scriptures. This God is unique, there is none like Him.
“Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. … Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.” (Isaiah 44:6 & 8).
We do not share Him with any other religion. The gods of other religions differ in every way from the God of the Bible and so are, in truth, not God at all. A false god creates falsehood. There is one who is God. There is therefore also only one truth. Many will stumble at these assertions. So be it, we cannot deny them for they lie at the heart of our Christian faith. There is no other way we can defend the idea of unchanging absolute truth.
Christian truth (singular) bears the same attributes as the God whom we worship. Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Truth cannot be torn from the being of God, without Him there is no truth. His being establishes truth and falsehood and determines its nature. Only One can say, “I AM THAT I AM” (Exodus 3:14). He is its source, is its alpha and omega. John records in his vision seeing Christ.
“I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last” (Revelation 1:10-11)
Where there is no God, there is no truth, no knowledge, no understanding, and no meaning. These things cannot be separated from the one true God. To hate God is to hate the truth, and “only fools hate knowledge” (Proverbs 1:22).
Where we allow many gods, there will be as many ‘truths’ as there are gods. Where each man is his own god, each has his own truth. Where pupils are said to ‘create’ their own ‘truth’ by what they do in class, each becomes a source of truth and is therefore ipso facto his or her own god. What is true for one, what is right for one, will not necessarily be true or right for another. The truth will change as circumstances, environment change. The progressive educationalist believes education is the adjustment of the individual personality to its environment. The development of personality in the child means that he or she must be placed before an infinite series of open possibilities, the integration of personality into its surroundings. We can be certain where everything is possible, nothing is possible. There will be no certainty; nothing can be relied upon from one day to the next. Truth in the classroom, and with it knowledge, may be tied to the changing needs of the students. In these circumstances how can there be any reliable science, any real knowledge at all? There cannot be.
God does not change, so truth cannot change.
“For I am the LORD, I change not.” (Malachi 3:6)
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”
Truth cannot be relative, it cannot be changeable; it cannot be one thing one day, something different the next; one thing for one person something else for another; if it were so, it would not be truth. There is no progressive truth. Although our understanding of the truth may grow and develop, truth itself remains the same. The world changes, truth does not change. The world can change only because truth does not change. We cannot make truth or make morals relative and at the same time believe in one unchangeable God. It is quite impossible. Where there are many truths (plural) there are many gods. Where there are changing truths, there are gods who change.
We also have no moral absolutes where there is more than one god.
Where everyone worships his own god or becomes his own god, there will be as many definitions of what is right and what is wrong. As in ancient Israel in the days of the Judges: “…every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Values clarification operates on this basis and ends with no morals, nothing being right and wrong, nothing sinful or evil. One man’s good will be another man’s evil. This has proved itself to be a recipe for moral disaster.
“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)
In the end, there can be no accountability for wrongdoing for there is no such thing. How can I be judged in terms of another man’s values? Are not mine equal to his?
A denial of unchanging absolute truth, of unchanging absolute righteousness and goodness, is a denial of the God of Scripture. Without this God, there can be no certainty, no constancy in the world. Something may be one thing one day, something else the next. The whole basis for scientific research and enquiry is not aided by a denial of God, but thoroughly undermined by it.
The world cannot be rigidly divided between the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘physical and material’, alone because of the fact that God is the Creator. Scientists do not deal just with science and pastors and preachers just with matters of the soul. Any statement we make about the physical world presupposes some kind of opinion about the ‘spiritual’ world. To think that something intelligent can be said about the physical world on its own rests upon the assumption that it is independent of God. It is to attempt to expel the Creator from His creation. A true interpretation of the created world is only possible for those who know God and are students of the Scriptures.
The biblical account of creation is more than a squabble about fossils, dinosaurs and carbon dating. The biblical doctrine of creation is an essential element of Christian teaching. To deny it is to deny the God of the Bible. God-deniers are well aware of its significance and concerned when Darwinism is undermined. So much so that in October 2007, the Council of Europe made the teaching of creation in schools as science an abuse of human rights. Presumably, this lays Christian teachers open to prosecution. For our part, we are committed to the truth of God so that we must ignore such directives.
From eternity God always had His plan to create the universe. God exists, His plan exists, and the reality of that plan in His creation and providence. There is nothing else. His consciousness and therefore His thinking are not subject to time and a succession of moments. What God knows about the universe is related to what He knows about Himself in as much as the world exists by virtue of His eternal plan. God’s knowledge is consequently identical with Himself. Without God’s knowledge of the world, of His plan, the world could not exist.
However, it is important that we never confuse God Himself with what He has made. Such confusion leads to pantheism, God in everything. God is distinct from all He has made. Within reality there is a distinction. So there is the self-sufficient God of Scripture and there is the universe that exists by His plan.
All things owe their existence to the will of God. God being who the Bible says He is, if He is to create, He can only do so out of nothing (ex nihilo) and into nothing. God created out of nothing because there were no
pre-existent materials, no eternal matter, which He could use to form the universe.
God created into nothing because outside Him nothing exists that He did not create.
“All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3).
Nothing came into existence from anywhere else other than from God.
Everything we meet in this world was created by God and is what it is because of its place in His plan and purpose. Every ‘fact’ of history and science expresses itself in terms of that plan. Every fact is God’s fact. Nothing comes to pass according to the decisions of men independently of that plan. As history unfolds so the purpose of God is revealed. Every fact demonstrates the existence of God. It can have no meaning apart from the presupposition of that plan. The plan of God will be apparent in every fact. History can produce nothing absolutely new, as God did at creation. We can produce nothing absolutely new in our knowledge. It was all there beforehand in the plan of God.
As everything in the universe is dependent upon God for its existence, so everything in existence is dependent upon God for its meaning. Everything was created for the glory of God and from this all things draw their meaning.
“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)
“For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen”
The physical world is made up of many different things, history comprises many different events. To make sense of any of these particulars, we need a comprehensive overall picture of the whole, an underlying unity. Unless we presuppose the existence of the eternal God of Scripture and His plan for the world He has made, we will never be able to understand any fact truly.
When we want to know and understand the particular facts we observe and experience, we relate them to universal laws. Phenomena we see in physics act according to universal laws. The same applies in the realm of history, where particulars we observe are related to each other in certain historical laws. However, unless we see all these things in terms of God and Hisplan, there will be no coherence to our experience.
God is one. There is one being who is God. Yet at the same time in God unity and plurality are equally ultimate. As Christians, we speak of the trinity or tri-unity of God. The Bible speaks of three persons within the Godhead: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, all one divine being. They are distinct, yet at the same time one. The trinity is an essential element of Christian teaching. Truth, again, reflects what God is like. There is a oneness in the truth, that draws together the diversity in the created world. Without there being a oneness or unity drawing together this diversity, there can be no meaning. We cannot draw together a string of pearls without a thread. Where there is only diversity there can be no meaning.
Evolution teaches that the world somehow sprang into existence all on its own. Even though a consistent evolutionist may hold that the world did not always exist, what he will emphatically deny is that it is in any way dependent on a Creator who created out of nothing or that everything continues to exist by His providence. “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Colossians 1:17). All things continue to be sustained by God.
The unbeliever reckons that all created things have meaning in and of themselves. They each give themselves their own meanings or that there is no meaning to anything. All that is in the world of our senses can be truly known whether or not we believe in God. Particulars and the universal laws we observe about them are themselves ultimate and do not derive their meaning from God in any sense. The world functions by virtue of meaning and power within the laws themselves and are not held together by the power of God.
In a consistent view of creation, all the many particulars of created reality will have those relations between them ordained of God in His plan. That which we observe as laws between the various elements of nature are in fact generalisations with respect to the way God usually works in the world He has made. If He chooses at any point for reasons of His own to work in a way different from His usual pattern of working, that is to say, against the ‘laws of nature’, this we call miracle. There is no constraint within the laws of nature to prevent Him doing this seeing that He sustains all things.
Man was placed within the created world to govern it for God, to subdue it.
“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
He was to rule it as a king, to interpret it as a prophet, to dedicate all to God as a priest. The laws of nature were to be subordinated to man that man may in turn be subordinated to God.
It follows that the non-Christian teacher, if he or she is to make sense of anything, must borrow from the truths of Christian teaching, albeit this will mostly be unwittingly. The truth is taught by accident. There is no other way this can be done, without renouncing their belief system. An unbeliever is as dependent as the Christian on the authentic and authoritative Word of God. He cannot teach the truth based on his own beliefs because they are not true. It is at this point that ‘common grace’ has its bearing on education.
A genuinely Christian view of reality is based exclusively on the Bible. It will take seriously the doctrines of creation and God’s providence. In this sense the universe is personal because it exists by the plan and providence of God. As there is nothing outside God’s creation, so there is nothing outside his providence. God originates and sustain all things according to a logic that is His own, largely hidden from us.
“The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
Some things must forever remain a mystery. That which we can know God has revealed in Scripture. Our understanding must coincide with God’s understanding to be right. This knowledge and understanding is possible only as the Holy Spirit enlightens our mind to the meaning of the Bible. God is our final reference point, mediated through Scripture.
To abandon the biblical account of creation leaves us with no foundation upon which to build a distinctively Christian education. Given God’s interpretation of reality, we are able to dedicate all to Him, all we experience, and all we do. The philosophy of evolutionists, including confessing Christian ones, is far more dangerous than the arguments and ‘evidence’ they offer. Creation is inseparable from a Christian philosophy of life. It tells us that God’s thought is original and absolute whilst ours is finite and derivative.
As man came forth from the hand of God in Adam, his knowledge, though not exhaustive, would have been true knowledge. All that our first parents knew and understood would have been properly related to the true meaning of the created universe. Adam would have made no attempt to interpret the world in any other way as he knew this would have been false knowledge. Adam recognised fully that he was finite.
Men and women today do not generally see themselves as created in the image of God. They do not see themselves as God’s creatures at all. For them God, should he exist, will be essentially the same as man, even if on a somewhat grander scale. Facts are not God’s, they belong to no one. Facts are simply ‘out there’. We are all self-sufficient, even as God is self-sufficient. What we can know we can know by ourselves. We can access facts using our own faculties just as God can. There is no need for any reference to God. Clearly, our fellow men need to be called back to a recognition of God as their Creator, and all need to admit to human finitude.
However, there are two elements to the present natural human condition; both are in essence denied by non-Christians. As well as being God’s creature and therefore finite, the Bible also teaches that we are fallen creatures, sinners. The issue of knowledge and understanding must take account of the consequent natural hostility men have towards God.
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
(1 Corinthians 2:14)
After the fall as recorded in Genesis 3, Adam and his progeny were now finite and sinners.Adam’s mindset changed. This way of thinking is variously described in the Bible as ‘carnal’ or ‘natural’. The basic problem was that Adam and Eve aspired to be ‘as gods’. They would leave dependence upon God and judge for themselves what was true and false, right and wrong, what they should do or not do. They would be ‘creators’. They tried to elevate themselves to the place of God, replacing Him in His own world. In so doing they in fact debased themselves.
Today, men still want to be something they never can be. They too set themselves up as arbiters of right and wrong, truth and falsehood. They consider themselves originators of knowledge. They believe nothing is beyond them. When modern man reaches a point beyond his understanding, he assumes that if it is not within the grasp of his understanding, no one can grasp it. What is mystery for man is mystery for God too. Men mistakenly see their knowledge as creative instead of reconstructive. Non-Christians believe that what they know, they know without God. Christians believe everything is dark without the light of God’s revelation.
Any interpretation of reality is only as good as the authority upon which it rests. The God of the Bible can only speak with absolute authority. Progressive educational philosophies are without exception all anti-authoritarian. Those who would despite and throw off human authority will also despise and reject God. Revolution, whether epistemological or political, finds no support in Scripture. But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. …But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption.” (2 Peter 10 & 12) Sin will reveal itself in the area of knowledge because those who do not give God the glory make themselves the final court of appeal. Unbelievers will always refuse God’s authority accepting only their own.
As a result of our sin and rebellion against God we persist in interpreting all things without any reference to God. Devoid of God’s grace, the result will always be confusion and meaninglessness. In a non-Christian system all knowledge is on the same level whoever knows it. It maintains the ultimacy of the universe and the mind of man. It also regards everything as normal; there has been no disturbance because of sin. Mistakes are thought of has natural, nothing out of the ordinary, and never due to a malfunction of the mind as a result of sin. A Christian view makes God’s knowledge the original and our knowledge derivative. It makes the current situation abnormal because the whole of creation is under a curse because of sin.
God knows us through and through, there can be nothing hidden from Him. He knows all that we think, even those things we hide from others or remain unknown to us. “O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.” (Psalm 139:1-6) For this reason we cannot know ourselves properly unless we know God. Being made in His image, what God is tells us what we are. The only meaning to be found in all things is that they are created for the glory of God.
In order to be true, knowledge of ourselves and the world must mirror God’s knowledge of it, otherwise it will be false. Whose knowledge reflects the knowledge of whom? Is what we know determinative or what God knows? God’s knowledge, even as His being, can never be anthropomorphic. Everything works the other way round.
When we come into this world, we come into it with a meaning to our life, we come into it fully understood and interpreted. It is God’s intention that we should reach the end He has laid out for us, namely, to be to His praise and glory.
We cannot think in another way than God and at the same time be right. Because man is himself created, he cannot be the originator and ultimate interpreter. What we do not know does not lie in darkness, but in the light of God. What is therefore mystery to us is not mystery to God, who by virtue of being God knows all things thoroughly and comprehensively. This should be enough for us. We may not understand all things, may not be able to, but God does. God’s comprehensive knowledge validates our own partial knowledge and understanding.
When we see what we do not understand, we worship God and not a great void. Because created, the being of man and that of God are essentially different. God is eternally self-existent, man is a creature, finite and dependent. There are then two levels of existence: that of God, eternal and self-contained; that of man, a finite and dependent creature. In the same way there are two levels of knowledge: God’s knowledge that is absolute, exhaustive and self-contained, definitive; and man’s knowledge that is derivative and finite. The only genuine knowledge that we can have will be analogical; a finite copy of God’s knowledge.
It is the assumption of non-Christians that all reasoning and knowledge is the same whether this relates to God or man. Knowledge and reasoning will be something to which God, should He exist, and man, are both subject in the same way. Facts, knowledge and reasoning all exist independently of both God and man. The biblical view of God and creation teaches us otherwise. There can be nothing in the created world of reality on a par with God, and certainly not above Him. Our reasoning and knowledge must mirror that of God, the Creator of all things, if it is to be true.
Our knowledge can never be on the same level as God’s knowledge. It is quite impossible for us, as God’s finite creatures, to know all there is to know about God. Whilst God is incomprehensible, this does not mean we can know nothing about Him, but what we know will be limited. God is a rational Being, infinitely so. We, having being created in his image, are rational beings too, but finite. It is because God is infinitely rational that we cannot comprehend Him. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). It is not because God lives in darkness that we find Him incomprehensible, but because He is inapproachable absolute light. Only in the light of God do we see light – “…in thy light shall we see light” (Psalm36:9). In God we “live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). If we move from this position, we have no foundation for our own rationality or for any Christian theology.
We exist and continue to exist only by a gracious and voluntary act on God’s part. Equally, we know only because of a gracious act of God towards us. Every scrap of knowledge we have ultimately comes from God for us to work with.
Where the minds behind progressive education are set against God, it is inevitable that the theories they develop will also be set against God. The views of educationalist John Dewey are decidedly anti-Christian. Dewey rejected all notion of a self-existent, transcendent God. He viewed any concept of transcendence, biblical or idealist, as incompatible with human experience. Such a God involves for Dewey a static view of knowledge, whereas he sees human experience and knowledge as something dynamic. Man himself is the final reference point of all knowledge and it is within ourselves we must look for cohesion and continuity in our experience. The student must set his own ideals, find his own criterion within himself. His own research is the motivating power. This view dominates the educational scene in Britain today.
Since the fall men do not interpret the world in the light of God’s revelation of Himself in it, because they are at war with Him, they suppress and falsely interpret all revelation of God they come across. God is gracious and as a result men are not able to completely suppress the truth. Were they to do so, they could know nothing at all about anything. It is God’s intention that His goodness should lead men to repentance – to turn to Him – and so God brings light on many truths to the natural man, man without God.
“… despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (Romans 2:4)
What men discover in truth in the natural world has the purpose of prompting them to seek Him. They may misuse what they know and more often than not do so, nevertheless, its purpose remains. There is little point arguing with unbelievers on points of history or science without first raising the basic presuppositions of the Christian faith.
The way in which Adam was able to think and behave before the fall is not open to us today. Today we think either as believers or as unbelievers. Men are either at enmity with God or reconciled to Him through Christ. They are either still children of wrath or they are born anew of the Spirit of God. Men are unregenerate or regenerate with nothing in between.
“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)
As a result of the fall the whole of creation is now under a curse. Nevertheless, God has set in motion His remedy and that remedy is centred in Christ. Yet the peace that Christ brings will be built on the complete destruction of the power of darkness.
“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34)
“Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.”
The Lord Jesus is seen by the apostle John in the book of Revelation as riding a white horse going “forth conquering, and to conquer” (Revelation 6:2). In the ‘regeneration of all things’ Christ sits upon the Throne before all creation, all creation is redeemed. All sing the song of the redeemed.
Men have their own substitute for the plan and purpose of God, for His kingdom. They have a different end in view – glory to man in the highest, and on earth? We see it around us.
The way back is found when the believer is renewed in the image of God through Christ; this renewal affects all his powers. The disturbance that came about through sin has been removed and it now lies open to the Christian to cultivate all his gifts in the light of this.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Only believers are in a position to truly see themselves as God’s creatures. Granted that because of the remnants of sin within us, yet to be removed, we make mistakes, we still sin. The principle of sin, however, now has no ultimate power over us. The apostle Paul reminds us: “Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (Romans 6:18).
Believers and unbelievers live according to a mutually irreconcilable and opposing set of beliefs. Unbelievers have a finite god created by the universe. Christians have an infinite God who created a universe that is finite. Unbelievers have a generally false concept of deity. In their blindness, they measure Him against some aspect of creation. The pretended ultimacy of the human intellect denies the transcendence of God; it denies creation and the fall. Unbelievers do not want to bring us face to face with God but face to face with the universe.
We cannot ignore the differences between Christians and non-Christians; both sides think in completely different ways.
“…the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7)
The question is now raised as to whether there is any common ground where there can be a meeting of minds.
Non-Christians assume that all men think on the same level. Nowhere in Scripture is the unregenerate unbelieving mind called upon to be the judge of anything, least of all has it any ability to judge right and wrong, falsehood and truth. The Scriptures tell us that such people sit in terrible spiritual darkness. They are blind and fully responsible for their own condition.
This does not mean it is of no use reasoning with men who cannot see, but we must do so from a biblical standpoint, which means we do not call upon their unregenerate mind to make judgements of which it is not capable. It is God who opens the eyes of the blind. Christ reasons with men through us and brings them into the light of belief. Faith and reason are brothers not enemies. It is faith that enables us to reason aright. If we say to an unbeliever that the Scriptures do not ask him to accept anything that is not credible according to his own rules of evidence, it is the same as asking him to reject the Gospel.
A humanist will define faith as a firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. He will go on to say that where there is evidence there is no need for faith. Others may want to leave some place for the God and supernatural and so maintain that faith is for the supernatural realm which requires faith and not proof, whereas evidence is required for the natural realm where proof is needed and not faith. Some Christians will maintain that faith is not required except on the ground of adequate evidence. They will then seek to present what they believe are the evidences for Christian belief and engage in debate with rationalists in the assumption that in this area they both have the same starting point. Both sides believe the other is inconsistent.
All of these positions are untenable. They all assume that all men reason in the same way, whether they are believers or not and the same rules apply to all. The unbeliever objects to any such distinctions, and certainly any affecting the way they think and reason. This what John Dewey wrote: “It is impossible to ignore the fact that historic Christianity has been committed to a separation of sheep and goats: the saved and the lost; the elect and the mass. Spiritual aristocracy. . . is deeply embedded in its traditions. … those outside the fold of the church and those who do not rely upon belief in the supernatural have been regarded as only potential brothers, still requiring adoption into the family.” A (Common Faith (New Haven, 1947), pp. 83-84)
He goes on to say:
“I cannot understand how any realization of the democratic ideal as a vital moral and spiritual ideal in human affairs is possible without surrender of the conception of the basic division to which supernatural Christianity is committed. Whether or not we are saved in some metaphorical sense, all brothers, we are at least all in the same boat traversing the same turbulent ocean. The potential religious significance of this fact is infinite.” (Ibid p.84)
To the unbeliever neither reason nor evidence has anything to do with God. He will assume the ultimacy of his own mind and as a result is bound to reject any objective evidence for the teaching of the Bible, the existence of God and creation. To him credible evidence will not be beyond experience and to believe in a God who exists beyond the finite limitations of time and space is consequently nonsense.
Having said all this, we cannot say that non-Christians cannot know anything. We know that God is good to all men.
“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) Even the prosperity which God showers upon men is somehow wrenched from God’s hands and assumed to be ours by right or gotten by our own strength. In the same way that God gives all men all things, so He deigns to grant to men an understanding of the world to enable him to live in it. However, we cannot argue for neutrality on this basis, either in terms of the areas of knowledge themselves, for all things are God’s; nor can we argue in terms of the nature of the human mind, which is now naturally at enmity with God. Clearly, a mind in such a state can know nothing truly as it ought to know it. This pertains not only to matters of salvation but also to the created world in which we live. We cannot know the flowers of the field truly, when we do not truly know the God who made them. The whole world exudes knowledge of God. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1). The unbeliever encounters daily in the created world more than sufficient evidence of the God he is so desperately trying to deny. He denies all knowledge of God but beholds daily His glory. Men cannot escape knowing God. “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19-20)
Even as every man has a knowledge of God irremovably engraved on his heart, so he will to some extent involuntarily respond to the objective revelation of God in the created world as he should. Even so, his own nature urges him to deny God at all levels, taking his own ultimacy for granted. As a consequence, to that extent he will misunderstand even the flowers of the field.
Fortunately, men do not always act consistently with the dictates of their own natural inclinations. God has not left himself without a testimony within all men. Man’s own human nature, made in the image of God, is marred but not obliterated so that even his own make-up testifies to God’s existence and goodness. The consequence is a horrid mixture of truth and error. Were men to follow their own beliefs consistently, did God not act in grace towards all, life on earth would be impossible. The more consistent the unbelief, the greater will be the tendency for all things to fall apart and for human understanding to be diminished.
We must add to all this the fact of God’s sovereignty. He will accomplish His plan for the world, despite the rebellion of men. In fact, the evil deeds of men are made to accomplish His ends.
“But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” (Genesis 50:20)
“Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.” (Psalm 76:10)
Despite the fact that all things serve the ultimate plan of God, the rejection of God and of Christ by sinful men is a real choice for which they will be held responsible and punished for their unbelief.
God is the Creator of all things and so we need God as much when we study psychology, anthropology, physics, or any other discipline as when we are concerned for our soul’s salvation. There is nothing in the created world that we can be truly known without involving God. Even although men may deny His existence, He nonetheless accounts for what anyone can know about anything.
God is the Creator of the universe and of man’s mind, so whatever our mind knows is created by God. Human knowledge in total is not possible without God and without the fact that all He has made reveals Him. It cannot be true on the basis of creation that for salvation we go to the Bible and for science somewhere else. The Bible sheds its indispensible light upon all that we survey, upon all that we study. Since we are guided by Scripture, as Christians we do not join scientists looking for a ‘the missing link’ between monkeys and men. Such an enterprise is clearly an utter waste of time.
The Bible speaks to us directly of God, of Christ, of salvation. It generally speaks to us in a moreindirect way of other things, but speak it does and the way we look at the world is determined by the teaching of the Bible. The Bible shows us that the universe and all in it exists for the glory of God and not in the first instance for the benefit of man.
First of all, the whole of creation is a revelation of the glory God and speaks to us of Him. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1). This is not to be understood in a pantheistic sense. We make a clear distinction between God and what He created. This means that all men are without excuse, for what they see before them everyday came forth from the hand of God. Around us and within us, God is revealed to us.
“Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
(Romans 1:19-21) All men ought to see things in relation to God. There is really no excuse.
This means that when we study chemistry, physics, any science, mathematics, we are looking at that which speaks to us of God. The study of nature by observation and experiment without some word from God would make no sense. For this we need special revelation. Can it be that God creates, and then leaves us to figure everything out on our own? If we make experience ultimate we shall end with irrationalism. If we try to fathom out meaning alone from what we observe, we shall come to grief. History can have no meaning except it be viewed from its final end. This is all revealed in Scripture. We need also to know God, for that which has gone so badly wrong to be put right. This kind of knowledge will not come to us simply by looking at the glories of the created world.
The need for the special revelation of Scripture is not occasioned by any imperfection in general revelation in the world around us. This is sufficient to its own purpose. All creation, including man’s constitution, inherently reveals God. This revelation is clear and unmistakeably so that all men are always unavoidably confronted with God. If anyone cannot see this, it can only be because as a result of sin they have become blinded in their minds.“In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” (2 Corinthians 4:4) Man became blind by his own action, polluted and guilty before God. However, it is because men are sinners rather than because they are finite that special revelation of Scripture is required. It is because of sin that men reject what can be seen of God in the created world.
If sinful men are to find their way back to God, they must hear of the saving work of Christ through His death and resurrection. Further more, they must through special revelation, Scripture, be turned from rebellion to obedience. Men are lost without Christ and they cannot learn of what He has accomplished only through God’s revelation in nature.
“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” `(Acts 4:12) We all need, because of sin, an additional revelation of grace, and this we have in Scripture. We need power given by God to receive that revelation and to understand it. Apart from this we can make little true sense of the created natural world. We need new light and new sight.
The reformer John Calvin expressed these same thoughts as follows:Therefore, through the effulgence which is presented to every eye, both in the heavens and on the earth, leaves the ingratitude of man without excuse, since God, in order to bring the whole human race under condemnation, holds forth to all, without exception, a mirror of his deity in his works, another and better help must be given to guide us properly to God as a Creator. Not in vain, therefore, has he added the light of his Word in order that he might make himself known unto salvation, and bestowed the privilege on those whom he was pleased to bring into nearer and more familiar relation to himself.”(Institutes, I, VI, 1, transl. Beverage)
Without the pages of Scripture, the written Word of God, we cannot know God truly as Creator, nor shall we find Him as Saviour. We ought, at the very least, to know God as Creator but because of the blinding effects of sin we do not read the book of nature aright. Man without God puts his own interpretation on all things. Calvin again,
“If true religion is to beam upon us, our principle must be, that it is necessary to begin with heavenly teaching, and that it is impossible for any man to obtain even the minutest portion of right and sound doctrine without being a disciple of Scripture. Hence the first step in true knowledge is taken, when we reverently embrace the testimony which God has been pleased therein to give of himself.” (Ibid, I, VI, 2)
The sinner does not recognise his own need. He does not know that he is dead in trespasses and sins and lives under the wrath of God. The message of the Gospel will always fall on deaf ears because men do not recognise their need. At most they will have some vague sense of lack. To say they are in need of Christ makes no sense at all to them. There is far more to the Gospel than the offer of escape from the wrath to come. Christ came to reinstate sinful men to the favour of God. The Gospel includes the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Men will then men see their need to escape from eternal death. They will also see that Christ has provided for their need. The blind beggar does not see his rags until his eyes are opened.
Facts, spiritual or physical, require an explanation by the One who created them, by God. We are bound to misinterpret them. Men without God will regard all things as accidental occurrences. Yet the Bible did not drop from the skies but came into the historical world, mediated through godly men, inspired of God, giving us an inspired and infallible, authentic Word of God.
“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)
We have an inspired Bible, without it we have no absolute God interpreting reality for us – and without this there is no true interpretation. Because given of God, it bears His authority. Consequently, those who deny God will seek to deny too the authority of Scripture. God’s Word is placed on a par with any other ‘word’ by godless men. It is just another opinion that is to be considered. It is to be received or rejected. However, we find that the Bible demands that we submit to its absolute authority. It is the Word of God and we must submit in obedience to Him.
As individual Christians we do not need to have a special revelation to each of us. The Scriptures are sufficient and there is deposited there everything we shall ever need. God has promised through His Holy Spirit to lead us to an increasing understanding of His Word. Those who await an opening of the heavens for them alone are certain to be disappointed. We have an absolute God, an absolute Christ, an absolute Word in Scripture in a sinful world.
Much of the terminology used by the psychologists whose theories have spawned modern teaching methods has passed into everyday language. It is often used by those who are blissfully unaware of the underlying meanings and connotations. Years ago the word ‘subconscious’ was widely used, and still is by some, few being fully mindful of the largely Freudian meanings with which this word is loaded. Freud may no longer be in vogue, but others have taken his place. Today, the expressions ‘short-term’, ‘long-term’, and ‘sensory’ memory are in constant use. Well-meaning individuals use these terms, again largely in ignorance of their origin and meaning within the school of cognitive psychology from which they come.
These systems, and consequently the terminology that goes with them, are impossible to square with biblical teaching. As Christian believers, we ought to avoid using terms peddled by psychologists. Many terms and ideas seem to fit reality, but in truth they represent a deeply prejudiced anti-Christian view of the world. The more plausible these concepts appear to be, and they need to be plausible to be widely accepted, the more dangerous they are. We cannot use them without dragging the baggage they hold with them, and in this way these ideas are spread among us.
Broadly speaking, today’s progressive teaching methodscome from of combination of three branches of educational psychology. First, there is the cognitivistschool. This system says that learning is active; it is a meaning-making process. Second, there are the behaviourists. Behaviourism works as a system of rewards and motivation.
Finally, there are those generally known as humanisticeducationalists. They follow the teachings of Abraham Maslow among others. For this last group, education must primarily satisfy the emotional needs of children. All three of these schools of psychology had an impact on current teaching methodology.
The cognitivist view of teaching can perhaps be caricatured as ‘we all knew nothing and taught each other’. Traditional teaching is frowned upon as inferior and inadequate. It is portrayed as a system where the teacher knows best and tells whilst the student submissively listens, learns and remembers. Only the teacher is active, the student is said to remain passive. Cognitive teaching belief says that learning occurs when students become actively involved in a process of meaning and in knowledge construction rather than in the passive reception of information. It is said by its supporters to advance students to ‘higher-order’ thinking, foster critical thinking, and create motivated and independent learners.
Cognitive theoreticians will insist that theirs is a theory of learning models rather than of teaching methods. Knowledge, so it is claimed, is to be acquired through involvement with content rather than by memory-orientated methods that involve repetition and imitation. Cognitive-constructivist practitioners contrast rote memory and ‘dynamic memory’. We are told that dynamic memory engages the student in experience, that it is as a result a more natural activity sifting and ordering what is recognised in order to enable decision making in new contexts. Surely, the imperfections of the human memory give us no reason to abandon its use or to stop trying to learn things by heart?
Cognitive learning is above all anti-authoritarian. It involves the ‘deconstruction’ of all authority. There is no external deposit of knowledge which someone in a position of authority, in a position
to know what I do not know, can mediate to me. No one is in a position to know something I cannot know. This excludes all possibility of God knowing something I cannot know. It does away with all need for revelation in a God-inspired Bible. It does away with any need to have something revealed to me in Scripture, or explained by a teacher who knows something I do not know. It is thoroughly subversive of all that is Christian. Instead, I can know all things. Once more the impossible dream of the availability of comprehensive knowledge appears out of the mists. The desire to be ‘as gods’ is reawakened in us, to create knowledge, to become the final court of appeal.
Each student, it is said, has a personal version of knowledge. It is my own knowledge. I must make it mine. Knowledge is relative to each learner. There is no absolute truth, nothing is unchanging or solid. We can rely on nothing absolutely as being true. What is true today has changed tomorrow.
This methodology is applied also to ‘values’. Each student is left to work out his or her own morality, what is right and wrong. All else is being ‘judgmental’ – another word to note and avoid. There is an anarchy about truth and morality. There are many versions of the truth and each of us has his or her own personal edition of it. Students make up their own version of knowledge, continually structuring and restructuring. ‘The road to knowledge is always under construction.’ Little wonder then that there are so many traffic jams and so few finished highways on which to travel! Maybe in the end no one really knows where they are supposed to be going? Restructuring goes on almost unawares until something goes awry. Misunderstandings are just wrong turnings. Even making mistakes is creative. This whole creative process of learning is active not passive.
Factual knowledge is thought to be of little use. More important are the ‘higher order’ mental skills that are developed. One technique frequently used to achieve this end is ‘Socratic Questioning’, based on the practice of the Greek philosopher, Socrates, (469 BC – 399 BC). This is a dialectic method that uses a cross examination of claims and premises in order to expose a contradiction or internal inconsistency. This negative method says that better hypotheses are found by identifying and eliminating those which lead to contradictions by using a series of questions. The idea is to expose the contradictions of the opponent in such a way as to prove one’s own point. Often the original question will be responded to as if it were an answer. This has the effect of obliging the person who asked the original question to reformulate it. In a classroom situation the teacher may ask a question and call on a student who has not offered an answer. He may continue to question the student or move on to someone else. The teacher may play ‘devil’s advocate’, trying to force the student to defend his position by rebutting arguments against it. The whole point about Socratic questioning is that there are no right and wrong answers.
Again traditional ‘teaching by telling’ is frowned upon as a teacher-centred didactic method where material is explained and students are expected to memorise. Teaching by asking is praised as student-centred. This requires students to work things out for themselves. This is then corrected and confirmed by the teacher. This involves ‘high order’ thinking where students develop their own meanings. Teacher-centred methods involve only ‘low order’ skills such as listening and comprehending. Students are thus learning for themselves rather than relying on the experts.
According to the cognitivist, Jerome Bruner (1915-), ‘expository teaching’ deprives students of thinking for themselves. He went on to say that only the ‘bare facts’ should be taught to leave time for the teaching of skills. Skills are more important than knowledge: the ability to learn new ideas and express them; to order and structure knowledge; to puzzle out a procedure so that it can be expressed in terms of previous knowledge; to solve problems and evaluate. Creative ‘meaning-making’ is pitched against passive remembering.
Some prefer to use the term ‘constructivist’ as a label for their particular version of cognitivist theory. There are within constructivism itself a number of subdivisions of which we shall look briefly at two. There is the ‘psychological constructivism’ of the Swiss philosopher and developmental theorist Jean Piaget (1896-1980). Piaget is regarded by many as the ‘father of child psychology’. To this must be added the ‘social constructivism’ of the Russian Marxist psychologist, Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934). These two streams of thought have had a major input into the way children are taught in state schools today.
Piaget is best known for organising the cognitive theory of child development into a series of stages. Following the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, Piaget suggested that each of these stages represents the child’s understanding of reality during that period of life. Each stage will be somewhat inadequate until the final stage is reached. The child moves from one stage to another through an accumulation of misunderstandings and errors about its environment. Eventually the cognitive imbalance becomes such that wholesale restructuring becomes necessary and so a new stage is reached. Where the knowledge and experience gained leads to a new and higher stage of insight and understanding, a ‘gestalt’ has occurred. It is a dialectical process through which each new stage is reached by differentiation, integration, and a synthesis of new structures from the old. The various stages are consequently logically necessary rather than simply correct.
In the 1970s and 80s, Piaget’s influence transformed education in America and Europe, Making it more ‘child-centred’. Piaget’s approach can best be summarised in his own words:
“Education, for most people, means trying to lead the child to resemble the typical adult of his society …but for me and no one else, education means making creators. …You have to make inventors, innovators–not conformists.” (J. C. Bringuier, Conversations with Jean Piaget, (Chicago, 1980), p.132)
Children develop best, says Piaget, in a classroom with interaction with their peers. This is now accepted practice in teaching throughout every stage of school life. This has been followed through in moral education. Two principles are given by Piaget. First, moral ideas, as with all others, develop in stages. Second, children make their own ideas about the world.
“The child is someone who constructs his own moral world view, who forms ideas about right and wrong, and fair and unfair, that are not the direct product of adult teaching and that are often maintained in the face of adult wishes to the contrary.” (J. M. Gallagher, in Presseisen, Goldstein and Appel (eds.) Topics in Cognitive Development Vol. 2 (New York, 1978), p. 26) This is the basis for moral education in our schools.
Piaget’s book, The Moral Judgment of the Child, was published in 1932 and rejected all cultural and moral norms. His proposal was that morality was to be developed out of peer interaction and was autonomous not subject to outside authorities. Again in this he follows Kant. Peers not parents were the source of moral concepts, still less God or the Bible. Piaget is dead and gone but we are still reaping the bitter harvest of what he has sown and will do so for a long time to come.
In the development of moral judgment in children, Piaget distinguished between two types of social relationship. Asymmetrical relationships are those where one participant holds more power than the other - such as that between parent and child or God and man. Here knowledge is fixed and inflexible. In symmetrical relationships where power is more evenly distributed there is freedom for the child to express its own thoughts, consider the opinion of others, and to defend its own point of view. This is precisely what should happen in a modern classroom situation. Where there exists no dominant authoritarian influence constructive solutions to problems emerge. Piaget calls this the ‘reconstruction of knowledge’. Such knowledge that does not come by external authority is open, flexible and regulated by logical argument. Children come to class with ideas, beliefs and values that need to be altered or modified by a teacher who facilitates this process. All that children have received from home or Church must be demolished. In practice, however, this all turns out to be hypocritical and contradictory. Any truth is truth as long as it does not contradict establishment truth.
The work of Lev Vygotsky is less well-known than that of Piaget. His theory of development looks at the individual in a socio-cultural context and emphasises education as a means of social transformation. Individual development is derived from social interactions called ‘cultural mediation’ in his system. This leads to cultural meanings and values shared by the group being ‘internalised’ by the individual. Internalisation is personal ‘know how’, using knowledge for personal ends rather than that previously dictated by others.
Knowledge constructed in a transaction with the environment is said to change both the individual and the environment. Before this can begin prior knowledge and beliefs, cultural assumptions, ‘power’ relationships (this will include: all in any position of authority – teachers, parents, ministers of the Gospel, figures of law and order), all the historical influences that maintain the status quo, must be exposed, critiqued, altered or demolished where necessary. Educational programmes assist students in ‘deconstructing’, dismantling, everything that they have brought with them into the classroom from home, Church, or anywhere else.
Learning then, involves inventing ideas rather than collecting facts mechanically. Old ideas must be rethought out and new conclusions reached about new ideas which conflict with our old ideas. In a cognitivist-constructivist classroom they receive learner-centred, active instruction. The teacher is there to facilitate a knowledge process rather than to impart any deposit of knowledge. The teacher will provide ‘experiences’, in which the student can hypothesise, predict, manipulate objects, ask questions, research, investigate, imagine and invent. If during this process the student encounters something that conflicts with what he or she has previously known or believed a state of imbalance or disequilibrium has been created. Our thinking must be changed to restore the balance. If we are unable to do this, the new information must be accommodated to the old by restructuring present thinking to a higher level of thinking.
Constructivism is seen as important in modern educational terms for many reasons. Its impact has led to a redevelopment of all subject area curricula. Instruction must move from being given on the basis of a transmission curriculum to that of a ‘transactional’ curriculum where student are actively engaged in learning, child- or student-centred learning in a democratic environment. All is based on an alternative view of what is regarded as knowledge. The teacher as resident expert able to answer all the questions has gone. It is suggested that there may be more than one way of interpreting or understanding the world, each as valid as the next.
The cognitivist-constructivist approach to education has a number of identifying traits. First: it is student centred. Every student is unique; therefore every student will have unique experiences. The teacher adopts a response-centred approach, seeking to explore the transaction between the student and the learning material in order to extract something meaningful. The teacher relinquishes the role of sole authority giving legitimacy to everyone’s experience, not just that of the teacher. This involves answering questions to which there can be no definitive answer. This process creates meaning and knowledge.
Second: the cognitivist-constructivist emphasises process as much as product. The process is as important as the product. Whether in whole class activities, group work, or individual activities, students will practice various skills in various contexts, developing and improving their abilities.
The third characteristic of this approach is negotiation. Teachers and students are supposed to be united in a common purpose as to what and how learning is to take place. Teachers discuss with their students constraints, such as obligatory curriculum. The principle is that the curriculum is to be negotiated. In this way students will be motivated, make what they learn their own. They may even be involved in the nature of assignments and how they should be evaluated.
The teacher, fourth, is a researcher, watching listening, probing, and asking questions in order to be more helpful to students.
Fifth, the cognitivist-constructivist classroom will be interactive. The key to learning is interaction between students one with another and with the teacher. Didactic talk will be replaced by ‘real’ talk. All domination has gone and in its place reciprocity, cooperation, and collaborative involvement.
The sixth, the learning environment of a constructivist classroom will also be democratic. Both teacher and student share responsibility and decision making. Critics of this approach have objected that students in a group rarely operate in such an egalitarian way as is proposed. One or two students will push themselves forward as leaders of the pack and their ideas and opinions will dominate the rest.
Seventh, and finally, in this approach power and control in the classroom are shared. Student empowerment is an essential element in this philosophy. Students are to have control over their own thinking rather than power being wielded by the teacher. By using only an indirect form of control students are empowered by involvement, by responsibility, self-control and autonomy in the learning process.
Cognitive and constructionist teaching involves a radical change in assumptions about what knowledge is and how people learn. The main plank in any change to a ‘transactional’ method is the belief that knowledge is constructed by human beings. It demands a new epistemological creed. It demands that we reassess our existing beliefs about the world. It demands that we reassess what we understand by ‘knowledge’. Is it objective external truth, or is it something subjective worked up from within us?
A Christian view of knowledge tells us that the facts of creation come with a God-given interpretation. There is one truth about anything; this truth is objective and external. Truth is truth whether we know it or not or willingly remain ignorant of it. Our interpretive presuppositions are based on the teachings of the Bible. Nothing can contradict the teaching of the Word of God and at the same time be true. Pedagogy is therefore a faith issue. All that we experience we will sift by Scripture.
Behaviourism, like all of these philosophies, is nothing new. The germ of its origins can be traced back to Aristotle and his essay on ‘Memory’. Further developments can be found later in Thomas Hobbes and David Hume. For a picture of the perfect world behaviourists have in mind for us read B. F. Skinner’s best-selling novels Walden Two and Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Or perhaps not!
In recent years the influence of behaviourism has declined somewhat. Although it is now largely dismissed by cognitive theoreticians, it has by no means disappeared and the more robust elements survive in educational practice. Many cognitivist-constructivists use behaviourist practices to their own ends. As is the case with many ‘-isms’, behaviourism is already reinventing itself, taking note of its critics’ views.
We need to remember that behaviourism did not have much of an impact in education until the 1960s at which time its popularity in the world of psychology was already in decline. Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives is recognized to this day as a classic textbook, long associated with behaviorism, programmed instruction, and ‘mastery learning’. This does not seem to fit well within the learner-centered classroom and the basic tenets of cognitive-constructivist theory. It is thought that educational principles should be derived from something more substantial than the cause and effect of rats operating levers. Nevertheless, Bloom’s taxonomy has been revised and rewritten for use today. Constructivists find it useful in ‘designing classroom experiences’ for students.
The main influences in the world of behaviourism were Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936), Edward Lee Thorndike (1874-1949), John Broadus Watson (1878-1958) – the first American to use Pavlov’s ideas – and Burrhus Frederic Skinner (1904-1958).
The celebrated Russian physiologist, Pavlov, is remembered best for his famous experiment involving food, a dog, and a bell. Within the behaviourist world his work is known as ‘classical conditioning’ or ‘stimulus substitution’. At the beginning, simply ringing a bell brought no response from the dog. Placing food in front of the animal caused it to salivate. In the conditioning process a bell was rung a few seconds before food was presented. After this conditioning, ringing the bell was sufficient to produce salivation. In the classroom, learning in terms of pre-stated objectives is influenced by manipulating the learning environment. When an appropriate system of programmed instruction is in place, the desired behavioural objectives will be achieved. This is the thinking behind almost all curriculum development today, course planning, ‘schemes of work’, and individual lesson plans. A scheme of work is a particular kind of plan which breaks down course content into weeks or lessons, putting it into a logical teaching order. This behaviourist structure is exactly what government inspectors expect to find in any state establishment when they come to visit. It can make the difference between ‘satisfactory’ and ‘failing’.
Thorndike started research in animal behaviour before moving on to human psychology. His basic assumption was that anything that exists does so in a measurable quantity. His ‘law of effect’ survives today in teaching practice. He claimed initially that when a connection between a stimulus and response is rewarded, it is strengthened. He modified this later when he found negative responses or punishments did not always weaken nor pleasurable ones motivate.
John B. Watson differed from some of his colleagues, believing that human beings possess some innate traits such as love, rage, and a few other reflexes. Everything else came through conditioning. Watson conducted and experiment using a young lad called Albert and a white rat. Initially Albert was unafraid of the rat; then Watson introduced a loud noise every time Albert touched the rat. Fearing the loud noise, he became frightened of the rat at the same time. Watson did away with the fear by presenting the rat without the noise. This kind of conditioning is used to explain and cure fears and phobias of various kinds.
According to Watson, the theoretical goal of behaviourism is “prediction and control”. (‘Psychology as a Behaviorist Views It’,in Psychological Review 20, (1913) pp.158-77) He also stated that the purpose of psychology was
“…to predict, given the stimulus, what reaction will take place; or, given the reaction, state what the situation or stimulation is that caused the reaction.” (J. Watson, Behaviorism, (New York, 1930), p.11) This provides a powerful tool in the indoctrination of children. To elicit the desired response simply demands presentation of the right stimuli.
B. F. Skinner drew away from his predecessors and ‘classical’ conditioning. He studied instead ‘operant’ behaviour. Here the learner ‘operates’ on the environment receiving a reward for certain actions or behaviours. In the end, the close connection between behaviour and reward is established. When a series of steps needs to be learned, this is called ‘chaining’.
Behaviourism attempts to explain human and animal behaviour treating both as being essentially the same – in terms of external stimuli, responses, learninghistories, and reinforcements. Skinner experimented with rats. A food- deprived rat is enclosed in a chamber. Pressing a lever when a light is on brings food. When it is hungry and the light is on the rat is likely to press the lever. The appearance of food is a ‘reinforcement’, the lights are ‘stimuli’, pressing the lever is a ‘response’, repeating this procedure along with its associations with food are ‘learning histories’. It is clear that this can all easily be translated into educational practice.
Behavioural objectives as an idea can be traced back to the sophists of ancient Greece. The modern concept was developed around 1900.A glance at almost any modern curriculum will show that student ‘objectives’ are expressed in terms not of what a student knows, but by what he can demonstrate, what he can do. This is what is meant by a ‘skills-based’ curriculum. This is behaviour that can be measured. A stated objective will generally include a verb. To ‘know’ or to ‘understand’ are not verifiable objectives.
In teaching modern languages, (The author taught modern languages in the state sector until he took early retirement a few years ago) the consequences of a ‘progressive’ outcome-orientated approach have been nothing short of disastrous. These methods have produced a dramatic decline in students wanting to study and learn a modern language. A prescribed objective for GCSE could be: order a meal, or buy a rail ticket. In practice, this has led to a ‘phrase book’ approach to teaching whereby useful sentences are learnt by heart (!!) in order to squeeze through an examination where everyone knows what is coming anyway and consequently provides no real test of a student’s grasp of the language. Grammar is not taught nor is it corrected. Students are not shown how to construct sentences on their own in order to provide the flexibility needed in circumstances for which they have not been prepared. Where some brave students do attempt to build sentences, written or spoken, they are often utterly unintelligible to a native speaker. Learning pages of vocabulary by heart is frowned upon. Anyone who has acquired a second language will know that words are the building blocks of language learning and the more you can learn and use correctly so much the better. The overall result is a failure to get to know the language to any useful depth. Translation has almost disappeared. Translation presumes a good knowledge of grammar, but it also obliges students to use language structures with which they may not be familiar. They progress in their ability in the language and are less tempted to use the same well-worn phrases over and over again. Certainly students will learn nothing of a second language by sitting together in a huddle to ‘create’ knowledge – nothing except gibberish! We need to learn from someone else in a position to know and who can teach us, someone perhaps who has spoken the language from childhood. Students learn very little about the culture from which the language has grown. Should they progress to A-level, rather than becoming acquainted with any great literature – regarded now as irrelevant – they are bombarded with leftist PC propaganda, which, in the case of German, is likely to include a consideration of Nazi Germany, climate change, immigrant workers, or the Baader-Meinhof terrorist groups of the sixties. It was said that traditional methods enabled students to read Goethe or Molière, but they could not order a cup of coffee. Now they are unable to do either! This is not to say that the traditional approach to learning languages could not be improved. Learning a language is perceived by students to be difficult and the risk of examination failure and consequent low grades too great. ‘Media studies’ or ‘business studies’ are surely safer options although of questionable usefulness if coupled with an inability to read, write and count. To infer that English-speakers cannot learn a second is utter nonsense. Acquiring a second language certainly demands effort and application – rare commodities these days – but it is an attainable, pleasurable, and rewarding goal when pursued properly. Mathematics is another subject that has suffered in the same way. It involves ‘learning’ in its commonly understood sense. Little wonder that we are now producing so few good mathematicians.
The method known as ‘Mastery Learning’ was initially devised by Henry C. Morrison (1871-1945), New Hampshire state superintendent of public instruction. He organised teaching material into units students must master in order to pass on to the next level, something like our modern system of modules. He was a precursor to the ‘mastery learning’ of the 1970s and 80s. He is noted for his publication The Practice of Teaching in the Secondary Schools (1926). It was a widely-used text book into the early 1940s. Rather than the acquisition of subject matter, Morrison aimed to change the behaviour of the learner. Learning for Morrison consisted in the student responding or adapting to a situation. Morrison differentiated between learning and performance. Mastery occurs when a student focuses on learning a skill and acquires a grasp of the subject matter. Once the appropriate level of learning has been reached the skill can be applied; this is called performance. Adaptation follows where students are able to apply their learning to any situation.
Mastery Learning claims that given time and opportunity every student can learn. Uncorrected errors lie behind learning difficulties. In Mastery Learning classrooms teachers determine what students will know and what they will be able to do after the lesson. The ground to be covered having been divided up into small units, processes are developed to check each student’s progress. At the completion of a unit there is an assessment to establish if further clarification is needed. The student is then given ‘feedback’ to reinforce what has been learned and where there may be need to spend more time. A student who achieves a high level of performance first time round is given further activities, ‘enrichment’, to deepen his or her learning. Those have not mastered the unit are given guidance and direction, ‘correctives’ to help with any problems. The whole is rounded off with a ‘summative assessment’. A ‘buzz word’ in education today is ‘differentiation’ in the classroom of experience, aptitude, and of attainment. Ability is so mixed in any class that to set common learning experiences or pace will be ineffective.
It was in 1956 that Benjamin Bloom and a number of colleagues began to develop a Taxonomy of Learning. It amounts to a classification of the principles and goals of learning. There were three domains: cognitive, attitudinal (affective), and psychomotor (physical). Constructivists see in Bloom’s Taxonomy something positive because it gives teacher precise language in which to express their intended outcomes. It alsodisconnects content – primary in traditional classrooms – and critical thinking skills. The focus is on skills and competencies and not on content and the instructor’s academic knowledge. By specifying outcomes across many different levels, the taxonomy offers some further refinement.
Learning is said to be an approximation that is incomplete and inaccurate. In the learning process students will improve and correct misconceptions. They will add to their understanding and achieve an ever closer approximation to the mandate outcome. Students must correct themselves; this is part of the process. Learning has to do with personal problem-solving. The student’s task is to create a personal understanding of the required skills and knowledge.
A dualistic view of knowledge that believes that there is a right answer in the absolute and the teacher’s task is to teach this. Knowledge amounts to collecting the right answers through effort and listening to the instructor. However, all modern progressive educationalists regard this as infantile or at best an initial stage on the long road to constructed and relativistic knowledge. (William G. Perry Jr. (New York 1970) Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years)
Whilst behaviourism can be subdivided again and again, the basic premise with which all will agree is that the study of behaviour should be considered a natural science in the same category as chemistry or physics, without any reference to unverifiable internal events or states or any hypothetical constructs such as the mind. There is no distinction to be drawn between humans and animals. Behave is what organisms do. Human beings are, after all, nothing more than just a random bunch atoms, chemical reactions and electrical impulses. As Dewey said – there is no soul and no God. Inside the human frame no one is at home. All possibility of any thought processes can therefore be safely ignored.
Two different states of mind cannot be recognised unless there is shown to be demonstrable outward, physically measurable behavioural evidence for both. The science in psychology is related to behaviour not the mind, the source of which is external in the environment, not internal in the mind. Where mental terms and concepts are used, they should be replaced by behavioural terms. Nothing is to be gained by speculating about mental states, beliefs or desires. These are not the proper objects of empirical study.
In the 1970s Chicago experimented with Benjamin Bloom’s version of Mastery Learning, but it was abandoned as a colossal failure in 1982. Test scores were appallingly low and the literacy rate so poor it became a national scandal. Because of its negative connotations the name ‘Mastery Learning’, whilst still used in Britain, has largely been replaced in the United States by ‘Outcome-based Education’ [OBE]. Dr Bill Spady, a US proponent of OBE has acknowledged that OBE and
‘Mastery Learning’ are essentially the same, but the name change was necessary “because the word ‘mastery’ had already been destroyed through poor implementation.” (in Educational Leadership December 1929- Jan.1993) To all intents and purposes both are the same. OBE does not specify a particular philosophy of teaching, again all it demands is that students can demonstrate they have achieved the prescribed outcomes.
Technically there is no such thing as failure. Recently the OCR examination board in England published plans for 43 ‘flexible’ GCSEs that will be less stressful for students than the current system of an ‘all or nothing’ assessment at the end of two years. Students will be allowed to re-sit each unit once and to complete 60% of their exams before the end of the course. In answer to its critics a spokesman for the board replied: “Flexible assessment is an improvement in the GCSE qualification which is designed to offer teachers the opportunity to implement assessment processes that best suit the needs of their own students.” [Italics mine] (Daily Mail, 7 April, 2008)
Its measurable outcomes make OBE particularly suitable for governments who want to take over the raising of our children. The British government’s programme ‘Every Child Matters’ describes itself as “…working to achieve better outcomes for children and young people.” A Common Assessment will be carried out for every child.
The Practitioner’s Guide says on page 20:
“Evidence would be what you have seen, what the child has said and what the family members have said. Opinions should be recorded and marked accordingly (for example ‘Michael said he thinks his dad is an alcoholic’).”
One is reminded starkly of that dreadful child in Orwell’s 1984 who betrayed his parents to the thought police. Certainly any religious convictions of parents are likely to be recorded.
From 2008 the British government will be monitoring all children born in Britain. All this information will be kept on a database. Along with medical and other records, it will note all unacceptable attitudes and behaviours and what schools did to remedy them using behaviour modification techniques. Using OBE students can be recycled time and time again until the mandated attitudinal or behavioural outcomes are achieved. This is happening right now in our schools. Now we can continue to persuade ourselves that education is a neutral sphere or that somehow our children will survive as we did or we can take some positive steps, preferably along with other parents, to remove our children from state schools.
The move to outcome-based thinking is not something that confines itself to education. It is widespread through national and local government, industry and business. Where we are now and where we want to be in so many years down the line – then plan backwards to determine the best way to get there. Quality control, time management, all these things are horses from the same stable. Outcome-based evaluations even form the basis of stock exchange prices. Setting outcomes as ‘targets’, almost anywhere and at every opportunity, has become a national obsession. In education, health care and hospitals, police forces, where there has been a target-setting culture for many years, the results have been nothing short of catastrophic. This is to be expected because the underlying philosophy of it all is a massive deception, a lie.
We are right to be concerned about who sets the outcomes. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Or, who will guard the guards? Who will protect us against those who claim they want to protect our children? One further question for parents is: who will have access to this data? As government seems unable to guarantee any tight security, what assurance can we have that all this data concerning our children will not fall into unauthorised hands? At some point a massive leak is bound to occur, either do to corruption or carelessness. Finally, who can say how failure to reach the mandatory outcomes will affect future employment prospects of students?
Whether students have achieved the required ‘outcome’ is notorious difficult to establish as all criteria are largely subjective, inevitable where there are no definitely right or wrong answers. ‘Outcomes’ are vague and almost impossible to measure objectively by standardised examinations. Nor is it intended that they should be. It is difficult to determine whether anything useful at all is being achieved by students, or whether the whole exercise is just a very expensive waste of time. It is expensive alone from the fact that, in true egalitarian fashion, a student is allowed to continue until he or she is successful – whatever that means. Grades cannot be tied in to academic achievement or the acquisition of knowledge. Traditionalists and progressives speak two different languages which cannot be interpreted by each other.
The humanistic educational psychologist believes that emotional factors play a decisive role in personal growth and development. These values are often overlooked or given little consideration in an increasingly materialistic world. The guiding principle can be stated as: schools and colleges exist to meet the needs of students and not the other way round. Highly individualistic, this strand of thought lies at the other end of the spectrum to that of the socialistic visions of men like Dewey. It is a worship of the individual, glory to me in the highest! Only good can from what is inside me. This philosophy entirely ignores the innate sinfulness of the human heart, gives the glory to man and not God.
Abraham Harold Maslow (1908-1970) is generally thought of as the father of humanistic psychology. His ideas began to take hold in the 1950s and 60s. He developed a hierarchy of human needs, to be scaled almost like a pyramid. At the bottom were the most basic physiological needs such as air, water, food. These were followed by safety needs such as security of the body,
health. Having reached this point higher psychological steps appear, social needs: the need for family and friendship. The next section up is the need for esteem, self esteem, confidence achievement, respect. Finally, the pinnacle is reached: self-actualisation. This includes morality, creativity, problem-solving, and lack of prejudice.
The only way to motivate students is to satisfy these needs. The way that an attempt is made to meet these assumed needs in educational terms can be reduced to four basic principles of learning. First, learning must be self-directed. Teachers assist students in finding what knowledge and skills they aspire to. An individual ‘learning contract’ or ‘action plan’ is negotiated – common practice in many schools. Methods, materials, and speed of learning are also customised to the individual student. It is thought in this way that motivation and creativity will be maximised rather than be just a regurgitation of what has been taught and memorised.
The most well-known school in Britain operating solely on these principles is Summerhill School in Suffolk, originally run by A. S. Neil. Compulsory attendance at lessons is given a low priority and a standard curriculum abandoned. The idea, it is said, is to shift the burden for his or her own education to the individual student.
Second, students must take responsibility for their own learning. An active rather than a passive role is encouraged and teachers discouraged from intrusive assistance. Students will be encouraged to find their own solutions to problems they encounter.
The third principle, self-assessment is preferable to teacher assessment. Self-evaluation lies at the heart of what humanist educators are striving to achieve as it encourages self-reliance and ultimate self-actualisation. Teacher’s tests, they argue, belong to the world of rote learning and working for grades rather than genuine self-realisation. The dominance of the teacher leads to fear, humiliation and lowers student self-esteem. Where students can assess and be constructively critical of their own achievements, they will also be motivated to improve.
Finally, learning is most effective in a non-threatening environment. Students make better progress and have a greater desire to succeed where the fear of failure is minimised. No one should be blamed for their ‘mistakes’. Mistakes are but an opportunity to learn. Students should be assessed at times they feel is right for them and be allowed to improve what they have done, if they feel it is not up to scratch.
The humanistic approach in its name alone stands against all that is biblical and Christian. It teaches children that their needs are paramount. It encourages them to believe that the rest of the world is there to satisfy their every desire, legitimate or otherwise. What better philosophy can there be for raising spoilt brats? Furthermore, this philosophy assumes that all within us must be good. It can only be true if the fall did not take place.
Progressive educationalists are guilty of persistently caricaturing traditional teaching methods, of painting a picture of something that does not exist in order to establish their own shaky foundations. It is not true and it is wholly unfair to say that students in a traditional classroom learn dependency and helplessness. It is a twisted representation of the reality to describe students in a traditional classroom as believing they are entirely dependent on teachers in order to learn. It is also untrue to contend that such students do not acquire the capacity to help themselves or that they are left to overcome difficulties on their own, that they become passive learners. We should never take the worst examples of evidence of the best.
‘High order thinking skills’ and ‘critical thinking skills’ sound good but deliver little. They amount to nothing more than a woolly relativistic process of questioning what children already know, or have been taught to believe is true academically and morally. At elementary level this nonsensical activity replaces learning to read and write in the conventional manner, and the teaching of basic arithmetical skills such as addition and subtraction and learning multiplication tables.
Excellence is despised, and those who assimilate the material quicker than others are not allowed to proceed to the next level but are held back until all in the class have reached the same dumbed-down level. Faster learners are given extra work whilst they wait for the others to catch up, or assigned to ‘tutor’ slower students. They are taken through the same material ad nauseum until the predetermined level is reached. This all rests on the false assumption that every student is able to reach the same level of achievement given enough time and repetition.
What often happens in practice is that faster learners hold back to avoid extra work and slip the answers to their slower classmates so that everyone can move on. Boredom, lack of motivation, resentment, and bad behaviour prevail. In this Alice in Wonderland system, not all have prizes, instead everyone loses out to a universal mediocrity. No one must be better than anyone else. This lies at the heart of the opposition of progressives to all kinds of selective education. It also explains the abject failure of so many egalitarian comprehensive schools.
Christian parents who wish to pass on to their children the moral absolutes of the Bible quickly run into difficulty. Traditional subjects are redefined, completely disappear, or are replaced with quasi-scientific environmental concerns, ‘citizenship’ for which ‘solutions’ are sought. Many outcomes relate to values, opinions, relationships and attitudes and have no reference to any objective information. They relate to self-esteem and Maslov’s pyramid of needs. Teachers are not required to correct spelling or grammar as this could damage a student’s self-esteem – the cardinal sin – or inhibit creativity. Tolerance features high on the list of desirable ‘values’, including for lifestyles of all kinds outside marriage. Such as this ‘tolerance’ is, it does not extend to opponents of progressive education!
The damnation of this whole mode of operating is not only, and most importantly, an objection on biblical grounds to these assumptions but also the clear evidence in our schools is that these methods are an utter failure. A top British university, Imperial College is about to introduce its own entrance examination as it finds A-level no longer useful. Other establishments are expected to follow suit. Who can take seriously the protestations of a government minister, who claimed recently that the rise in numbers achieving the higher grades at A-level is not grade inflation but due to the increasing success of schools? We sigh, oh yes? There is far too much evidence pointing in the opposite direction: students arriving at university unable to put a decent essay together, dunces in mathematics wanting to study a science subject.
State schools are no place for believing parents to place their children. Alternatives must be found. For some this will be homeschooling for others perhaps a genuinely Christian school. It will call for sacrifice and determination. To do otherwise is a dereliction of our Christian duty towards the children God has entrusted to us. The consequences of neglect in this area, as many of us know and have witnessed, can be nothing short of catastrophic. These places will programme our children to unbelief, paganism and godlessness. All that we do as Christian believers stems from faith in Christ. What we do in our day-to- day living, eating or drinking or what ever it is, if not done in faith it is sin, for “…whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). If we cannot send our children to state schools ‘in faith’, we sin. We cannot take Christ as Lord in one area of our lives and at the same time put no entry signs up for everywhere else.
The battle which rages all around us is not simply one of personal salvation. It embraces everything; every inch of ground Christ claims as His own. We sing Isaac Watts’ great hymn, let us remember the truth it proclaims.
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
What we are doing in removing our children from these places is not escapist, quite the contrary. We are removing them from a world condemned, that will eventually be dismantled and destroyed. We are moving them from the ground of total loss to that of glorious victory. What we do in faith is not done in vain.
“Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2:14)
“I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found. But the salvation of the righteous is of the LORD: he is their strength in the time of trouble. And the LORD shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him.”
(Psalm 37:35-36, 39-40)