Russell and Duenes

What Is Education?

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Because he believes that the content of education contains a large amount of “neutral info,” he also believes that it should be possible for Christian kids to get access to that neutral info. – Douglas Wilson, Why Christian Kids Need a Christian Education, p.10.

The next couple of chapters in Wilson’s book deal with the nature of education and the question of “what everybody knows.” Wilson’s central point about education is that education is bound up with our understanding of knowledge, that is, with our “epistemology.” As Wilson says, “[t]he field of epistemology asks how it is that we humans know things, and schools are places where young humans are coming to know things.” (p.11). Therefore, his conclusion is that the trajectory of our thoughts about education will follow along the lines of our thoughts about epistemology. In my ten years of teaching high school students, I became convinced that, next to biblical theology, the most important thing I could teach my students was epistemology, and one of the main tenets of a Christian epistemology is that there is no neutral knowledge anywhere, not even in math or any of the other “hard sciences.” There is no neutral knowledge because the Scriptures are the basis for all knowledge, and they teach that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,” (Prov. 1:7) and “in [Jesus] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col.2:3).

In his next chapter, Wilson argues that many American Christians have come to believe – wrongly – that there is a whole bunch of stuff that everyone “just knows. Fact is, these things that “everyone knows” are actually “the fruit of a Christian worldview, extended over centuries.” Moreover, “[w]e naively believe that these common values are a shared inheritance among all humans, and whatever it was that Adam’s fall into sin did, it did not erase these values. This means that it should be possible, or so the argument goes, to work together with non-believers in a task like education.” (pgs. 13-14). Such a project is doomed to fail, however.

Wilson anticipates an objection to his argument, namely, by the person who argues that 2+2=4 is something that “everybody just knows.” Surely this is an example of neutral knowledge common to believer and unbeliever alike. Wilson, however, responds by summoning up the pantheist who believes that “everything is actually one.” (p.14). If everything is all “one,” then 2+2 cannot equal 4. So apparently the pantheist does not “know” this mathematical axiom we take for granted. And the pantheist is not the only one who has a problem with such “knowledge.”

Now Wilson grants that one need not subscribe to the Apostle’s Creed in order to affirm that 2+2=4 or any other mathematical proposition. (p. 15). Yet one must ask how it is that the unbeliever has come by this knowledge, historically speaking. One must further ask which worldview sustains such knowledge. Christian premises must be borrowed in both cases, (p.16), and non-Christian premises will not allow the unbeliever to arrive at the true conclusions he holds. (p. 17). But so what? What does this have to do with education? Wilson gets down to the ultimate rub: “The government school system is not just one in which the true conclusions are taught, and where the false premises are ignored or given a miss. No, the whole system is taught together. The secular worldview is taught, top to bottom. The includes origins, the nature of knowledge, the progressive view of history, and so on.” (pgs. 17-18). What this means is that parents cannot simply “opt out” of the day the schools teach gay pride and thereby preserve the the neutrality of the knowledge their child is receiving. The secular premise – “Jesus has nothing to do with knowledge” – necessarily suffuses everything the government schools teach, and what’s worse, the effects of this premise on individual children are often difficult to discern.

My primary response to Wilson’s arguments in these chapters is that they need to be presented by pastors in the church. Education and epistemology should be addressed from the pulpit, not merely in Sunday School. In my experience, these topics are almost entirely neglected, which is why I began given them more attention in my Bible classes. Further, as a practical matter, once the church begins to teach these things, the church should then stand ready, as Wilson’s church is ready, to provide financial help to those who take these arguments to heart.

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

December 29, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Posted in Duenes, Education

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