May 3, 1992

AUTHENTIC EDUCATION

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,

but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction,

and do not forsake your mother’s teaching” (Proverbs 1:7-8).

It won’t be long now, and another school year will be over.  If you’re a student, you’re probably getting more eager each day for summer vacation to begin.  The nicer the weather gets, the more restless you become.  You’d rather be outside enjoying the sun than sitting in a classroom.  I hope you can hang in there for a little while longer.

If you’re a teacher, I suspect you’re even more eager than the students.  You’re in the home stretch now.  You’re summoning up all the energy you have left, and you’ll need it.  You’ve got to deal with fidgety students for several more weeks, and you’ll have to grade stacks of tests and papers in time for report cards.  You’ll heave a big sigh when it’s all over and you get a much-needed break from the pressures of teaching.

If you’re a mom or dad, on the other hand, you might not be so eager for the school year to end.  Unless your children have a summer job lined up, you may be wondering how they’re going to be spending their time all summer.  But maybe you’re looking forward to the end of school anyway.  You’re glad for a chance to spend a little more time together, and maybe you have a special vacation planned for this summer.

But whether you’re eager for the end of school or dreading it, the fact is that it’s going to be here pretty soon.  You’re not only looking back at the year that’s almost over, but you may also be involved in plans and arrangements for next fall when school begins once again.  So this is probably as good a time as any to do some hard thinking about education.  Where do your children go to school?  What kind of education are they getting?

The next generation is going to need an excellent education.  How else will they get good jobs in a workplace that is more and more complex and high-tech?  Nincompoops who know nothing but Nintendo and Ninja Turtles aren’t going to make it.  Kids will have to master reading and math and science if they want to get ahead.  And our nation as a whole needs a well-educated, highly skilled workforce to compete successfully in a global economy.

So we can probably all agree that we need to make our schools better than ever before, and we also need to convince students to stay in school and study hard.  We’re alarmed when we hear about poor scores on standardized tests and high dropout rates.  When we’re told that our educational system is of lower quality than in many other developed nations, we worry about our economic future.

Now, these economic concerns are certainly legitimate, and we need schools that are academically and technically excellent. But is that really all there is to it?  Even if a school succeeds in preparing children to get a good job, has it equipped them to live a good life?  Just suppose that you get a superb education, and when you’re finished with school, you get a high-paying job. What then?  If that’s all your education has given you, what have you got?  You’ve got money, that’s what you’ve got:  money to pay the lawyer who settles your divorce;  money to pay the therapist who is helping you cope with your depression;  money to pay the dealer who is supplying your booze or cocaine;  money to pay your doctor who is treating you for stress and high blood pressure.  That’s what happens all too often when you learn how to make a living without learning how to live.

Even schools and universities with high academic credentials are churning out students who can’t distinguish between right and wrong;  who are afraid to form an opinion on anything lest they offend someone else;  who have little sense of meaning;  who often live in depression and suicidal despair.

Authentic education doesn’t just prepare people to get a good job;  it equips them to live a good life.  Authentic education does much more than simply teach technical skills or fill your brain with assorted bits of information;  authentic education imparts wisdom.  It teaches you to think carefully and clearly;  it helps you to make choices that are intelligent and moral;  it shows you a way of life that has meaning and direction.  Authentic education has genuine wisdom as its goal.  Anything less is not good enough.

In Proverbs 1, the Bible makes this very clear.  Authentic education, says the author, is “for attaining wisdom and discipline;  for understanding words of insight;  for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair” (v.2-3).  So authentic education is more than just teaching people how to make a living;  it teaches people how to live.  It doesn’t just make people smart;  it makes them wise.  That’s the goal.

Is that the kind of education you want for your children?  Is that your goal?  If so, you need to begin by asking what it takes to reach that goal.  You need to begin where Proverbs begins, with two very basic principles that form the foundation of authentic education:  (1)  Authentic education begins with God.  (2)  Authentic education involves mothers and fathers.  Here’s what it says in Proverbs 1:7-8:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.  Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction, and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.

Authentic education, according to the Bible, involves God and it involves parents, and that’s a far cry from the approach of a great many schools.  Most children in North America attend schools that are controlled by the government.  These schools don’t permit any teaching that is linked to the fear of the Lord and reverence for God.  Not only that, but the final say in many public schools is not in the hands of the parents, but in the hands of administrators, politicians, and judges.  When a school ignores God and usurps the rightful authority of parents, it no longer has the foundation to provide an authentic education.

Today more people than ever are concerned about education, but I’m afraid that much of the concern has ignored the root problems.  There has been much talk about how our economic future depends on improving our educational system, and I’m sure you want your children to be prepared as well as possible to fend for themselves in the workplace.  Unfortunately, though, our concerns about education too often stop there.   We’re preoccupied with money.  The main goal of education seems to be training people who can make more money, and the best way to do this seems to be to convince the government to spend more money.  Money is both the goal and the means of better education.

We’ve already seen, however, that when money is the main goal of education, we’re in big trouble.  Even when education succeeds in preparing people to get a good job, it often fails to prepare them to live.  They get a good paycheck, but they lack moral direction;  they lack inner peace;  and the level of divorce, addiction, depression, and other problems keeps escalating.  That’s what happens when people have earning power but don’t have wisdom.

Money can’t be the ultimate objective of education, and money isn’t the means to ensure a good education, either.  Wisdom isn’t something you can buy.  Schools need funding, of course, but it’s a mistake to think that our deepest problems can be solved simply by convincing the government to spend more money on education.  I don’t care how many dollars you throw at a school;  it’s not going to provide an authentic education if it ignores God.

No amount of research can discover wisdom, and no amount of money can buy it.  Listen to what the Bible says in Job 28:

But where can wisdom be found?  Where does understanding dwell?  Man does not comprehend its worth;  it cannot be found in the land of the living.  The deep says, “It is not in me”;  the sea says, “It is not with me.”  It cannot be bought with the finest gold, nor can its price be weighed in silver (Job 28:12-15).

Research can give more information and technology;  money can buy more equipment and better facilities.  But that doesn’t mean you’ve arrived at true wisdom.  Job goes on:

Where then does wisdom come from?  Where does understanding dwell? …  God understands the way to it, and he alone knows where it dwells, for he views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.  When he established the force of the wind and measured out the waters, when he made a decree for the rain and a path for the thunderstorm, then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;  he confirmed it and tested it.  And he said to man, “The fear of the Lord–this is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.  (Job 28:12-15,20,23-28)

This kind of wisdom is ultimately found in a relationship with Jesus Christ.  The New Testament book of Colossians says that Jesus

is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created:  things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities;  all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things and in him all things hold together.  (Colossians 1:15-17)

Colossians describes him as “Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  Jesus is the key to everything that exists, and you don’t have a meaningful, accurate, and coherent understanding of reality until you know him.  Therefore, says the Bible, “see to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.  For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:3,8-9).

When education ignores Jesus, it is hollow and deceptive.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”–that’s the first principle of authentic education.

The second principle is that the primary responsibility for education belongs to mothers and fathers.  If you’re a parent, you are the most important teacher your child will ever have.       Don’t think for a moment that education is limited to what happens in school.  Some of the most important years of learning occur before children begin school. When you love your children when you read to them every day, and above all, when you tell them about Jesus, you are laying the foundation of an authentic education.  They need this before school, and they also need it during their schooling.

Even after children go to in school, their home life still has an enormous impact on what they learn.  Any teacher can tell you that.  Children who have a bad home life or hardly any home life at all have a hard time excelling as students.  As long as a student’s family is a street gang, he’s not likely to become a great scholar.  When a teenager’s parents are getting a divorce, her mind may be occupied by other things than trigonometry.  When parents don’t check up on their children’s schoolwork, is it any wonder if the children are apathetic about it?  So before we blame the teachers or the school board or the government for failures in education, all of us who are parents had better take a hard look in the mirror.

In some schools, one quick way to identify most of the students who do well academically is to find out which ones have both a father and a mother at home.  Many students don’t need better schools as much as they need better homes.  Education in our country isn’t going to advance very much just by improving the quality of teaching or providing better facilities.  The situation in schools will continue to deteriorate as long as the situation of the family continues to deteriorate.  So before you spend too much time griping about the school system, please be sure that you’re doing your job at home.

If you want to instruct your children in true wisdom, you need that wisdom yourself.  This means, mom and dad, that before anything else, you have to be right with God, that you need a personal relationship with Jesus.  Before your children listen to you, you need to be listening to God.  Only then will you have the spiritual authority to teach your kids.  You need to trust Jesus as your Savior, and you need to honor him as Lord.

Have you done that?  Are you a child of God?  You may think that your relationship to God is a purely individual decision, but it’s not.  Your relationship to God affects your children as well.  So if you want your children to have an authentic education, don’t look first of all at where they go to school.  Start at home.  Start with yourself.

The best thing you can ever do for your children is to love the Lord.  The next best thing you can do for them is to love your spouse.  And then, of course, your children also need you to love them and teach them by what you say and do.

Once you’ve dedicated yourself and your home to the Lord, you’re ready to take a hard look at where your children go to school.  With all that I’ve said so far, you may be expecting me to condemn the public schools for getting rid of prayer and not teaching the Christian faith.  Some Christians, because they realize that authentic education begins with the fear of the Lord, want government-run schools to teach Christianity.

But aren’t we forgetting the second basic principle of authentic education when do that?  Parents are responsible.  We don’t need government-operated schools to teach Christianity.  We need schools that aren’t run by the government at all.  We need schools that are run by Christian parents.

Who’s responsible?   Mom and dad, or the government?  Proverbs doesn’t say, “Listen, my son, to your government’s instruction.”  It says, “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.” If you want a Christian education for your children, it is your responsibility, not the government’s.  You must be involved in nurturing your children at home, and ideally, when your children go to school, they belong in a place that is an extension of the home and of your authority as a parent:  a school that honors your Lord, that upholds your standards, and that teaches all of life from your Christian perspective.

A Christian day school, a school controlled by Christian parents and staffed by qualified Christian teachers, is a great place for a child to receive an authentic education.  The idea of Christian day schools may seem strange to you, especially if you’ve just taken it for granted that all children belong in public schools.  But think again about Proverbs 1:7-8.  Reflect on those two great principles:  that wisdom begins with God, and that parents are responsible to instruct their children.  What does that mean in your situation?

Time is running out on this school year, but before you know it, another one will be starting.  Are your children receiving an authentic education?  Where should they be enrolled next fall?  If you can find a Christian day school in your neighborhood, you owe it to your children to at least check it out.  And if you find that it’s a school that honors God and provides the kind of instruction that you as a Christian parent want for your children, enroll your children there if at all possible.

It may not be easy.  Money could be one obstacle.  Your tax dollars go to schools controlled by the government, and the tuition for a Christian school will be an additional financial burden.  But if it’s at all possible to send your children to a Christian school, do it, even if it means rearranging some of your priorities.  You’ll find that it’s worth the sacrifice.  If you don’t think you can come up with the money yourself, don’t be ashamed to ask whether the school offers help for families who can’t quite afford it.  What is worth more than an authentic education?  As it says in Proverbs 4:7, “Wisdom is supreme;  therefore get wisdom.  Though it costs all you have, get understanding.”

Maybe there is no Christian day school at all near your home, or it may turn out to be financially impossible for you after all.  If Christian day school isn’t an option, you may not be in an ideal situation, but you can still do all within your power to provide your children with an authentic education.

If your children attend a public school, keep teaching them about Jesus at home and at church.  Even if the teachers can’t talk about the fear of the Lord, you can.  Also, be sure to stay close to your children and to the material that they are studying at school.  Do all you can at home to help them fit what they are learning at school into a Christian framework.  And be involved in the activities of the school as much as you can.  You owe it to your kids to stay as close to them as possible, and to have as much of a voice in their education as possible.

As you seek to honor God and provide your children with an authentic education, it may sound almost impossible.  But be encouraged!  You’re not on your own.  You can depend on the Lord!  The Bible says, “He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge;  the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure” (Isaiah 33:6).

PRAYER

Father in heaven, you are the Creator and source of all true wisdom.  Help us to trust you, to worship you in reverence, and to understand all things in the light of your word.

Lord Jesus, we praise you.  You are the wisdom of God incarnate;  all things hold together in you.  Lord God, teach us and our children not just how to make a living, but how to live in obedience and joy before your face.  Take charge of how we think and how we live, that our lives may glorify you, and you alone.  In Jesus’ name, we pray.  Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.