Virtue-Free Education—Long Live the Democracy!

It might go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway to make sure we are all on the same page—modern American education is based upon a progressive worldview. This model of education is used almost wholesale in the Government (aka “Public”) schools and appears to be the most prevalent model in private (even Christian private) schools. One important difference in the educational approach (what is referred to as “pedagogy”) is fleshed out from the lowest grades, even in pre-school. Many Christians who have their children in Government schools and even in many Christian private schools believe that the fundamental problem with education is a theological one (i.e. what is believed about God). Those in the Government schools might say, “I know that my child’s school cannot talk about God, so I will make up for it at home by talking about God more.” This might make them feel that they have adequately compensated. Those who have their children in a Christian private school would address the question similarly, yet feel that they have made the wiser choice because they have chosen a school that does believe in God.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that while the theological question might be the most important question, there is another that comes in a close second (and could be argued to take precedence). Which question is that? It is the Anthropological question. Just as the word “Theological” can be broken down into its components to get a good idea what it means (“Theo” = “God” and “Logical” = “concerning such” or “study of”), so can “Anthropological” (“Anthropo” = “Man” or “Mankind” and “Logical” = “concerning such” or “study of”). So if the Theological question is “What do you believe about God?” then the Anthropological question is “What do you believe about man/mankind?”

How does this flesh out in education? In fact, this is the most fundamental question of education—”what is the problem with people and how is it resolved?” Progressive models of education believe there is a problem and it needs to be resolved. Classical models of education believe there is a problem and it needs to be resolved. So what’s the difference?

A progressive worldview believes that people are inherently good. They are born good. They want to be good. Goodness lives in their heart, mind, and bones. So what’s the problem? The problem is other people. The problem is poor parenting. The problem is bullies at school. The problem is an oppressive society. The problem is that people are keeping them from letting their “true self” out. As Katy Perry sings, “Do you know that there’s still a chance for you/ ‘Cause there’s a spark in you/ You just gotta ignite the light/ And let it shine.” The belief of progressives is this: if all the hindrances of the “outside world” can be removed, children would naturally develop into beautiful butterflies and everyone would live at peace. So the progressive pedagogy is one that seeks to develop “free thinking”, “self-expression”, and “world-citizenship” (because national ideologies are violent constructs, of course).

So what’s the problem with the progressive view of man, with their anthropology? One problem is that it has been universally rejected by almost all people, everywhere, always. The second, of course, is that Scripture clearly teaches that man is born depraved. What are the implications of this for education? Since children are born inherently with a problem, the problem is a part of their nature. They need someone to help them become virtuous. Aristotle, in describing the goal of the city to train its citizens through education, says, “Legislators make their citizens good by habituation; this is the intention of every legislator, and those who do not carry it out fail of their object.”[1]The modern educational system of America, we can safely say, is failing at their object. Why? At least one reason is due to an anthropology that is completely backwards. As Christians with children in a progressive model system, we do not simply face a theological problem, but an anthropological one, one which may cost more in the long run. By subjecting our children to “value-free” (read “virtue-free”) education in the Government schools, our children are missing an opportunity to be habituated in virtue on a daily basis. The same could be said of the Progressive model of many Christian private schools that are “healing the wound lightly” by simply addressing the Theological question without seriously addressing the Anthropological one. The goal of education should go beyond getting your child to the age of 18 with good prospects for a career and rejecting Evolution. It must be about the cultivation of virtue. So how would Aristotle feel about an educational system devoid of virtue formation? He says, “So it is a matter of no little importance what sort of habits we form from the earliest age — it makes a vast difference, or rather all the difference in the world.”[2]

[1] Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics. trans. by J.A.K. Thomson. p. 32.

[2] Ibid., p. 32.

2 thoughts on “Virtue-Free Education—Long Live the Democracy!

  1. “The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin–a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt.”
    – G.K. Chesterton in “Orthodoxy”

    Liked by 1 person

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