Friday, February 06, 2015

Educating Persons, Made In the Image of God

Charlotte Mason's first principle of education is that children are born persons. This is the foundation of her educational philosophy. What does being born a person mean? At the least, it means that the child is a person already, not one in the making. A child from birth, or might we say from conception, is a person made in the image of God. This may seem natural and it is, but it is rarely if ever taken into account when educating a child. In our day, we label children as though they are products. We treat them as empty buckets to be filled or clay to be molded. Many educators believe children are no more than animals. Therefore, Charlotte Mason's foundational principle that children are born persons is really a colossal statement.

Our view of the child is of primary importance, for it will determine how we choose our curriculum, how we go about applying our methods of education, and how we treat our students. As Christians, we affirm that children are born persons. They are not animals or products, but persons made in the image of God. With this is mind, let us begin by asking, what sort of curriculum is fitting for a person?

 Anthony A. Hoekema's book, Created In God's Image, is a very thorough explanation of man being created in God's image. It explores the relevant biblical passages and discusses historical interpretations of the Imago Dei.  He makes many interesting points, but what stands out for us as educators, is his emphasis that, "The image must be seen in man's threefold relationship: toward God, toward others, and toward nature." (p.95) Charlotte Mason recognizes this threefold relationship and shows that the education of a person lay in these three areas. As a person the child ought to know about God, mankind, and the world in which he lives. Jack Beckman expounds on this idea in his essay, “Education is the Science of Relations.” He says,

"As the child enters this world of truth [the reality of the fall of man, the created order, and the redemptive work of Christ]...perspective of the world comes into view- a lens the child uses to evaluate and judge, peruse and wonder upon what she sees, hears, and reads. The worldview is developed as the child comes more and more into relationship with her primary Source found in the Savior and Scripture. And this worldview becomes the foundation for understanding and enjoying many other aspects of knowledge. Built upon this foundation is the knowledge of humankind as expressed through history, literature, citizenship, morals and ethics, composition, languages, art and music, as well as the knowledge of the universe through science, geography, mathematics, physical development, and handcrafts.... In fact, the curriculum of the school must be structured around these three relationships.... the knowledge of God, humankind, and the universe..." (When Children Love to Learn, ed. by Elaine Cooper, p. 120)

What we see is two fields of learning flowing from the first and foremost relationship, that of our relationship with our Creator and Savior. A comprehensive curriculum will be sure to include all three fields of study, for these are fitting for a person.

The threefold relationship determines the proper curriculum for a person, but one must not forget the three aspects of a person. A person is not just a physical mind, but he also has emotions and a will.  In the above mentioned book, Hoekema spent an entire chapter discussing the image as relating to the whole person. In this chapter he emphasizes the fact that we are more than physical. We are both physical and spiritual. He says, "The teacher should never forget that the pupil he or she is teaching is a whole person. The school therefore should not just train the mind, but should also appeal to the emotions and the will, since effective teaching should produce in the pupil both a love for the subject and a desire to learn more about it.” In reading this, one cannot help but think of CS Lewis', The Abolition of Man. Lewis makes the tongue-in-cheek comment that today many so-called educated people may seem as though they have large heads, but in reality it is just that they have no chests. His point is that modern education has abandoned trying to persuade the heart and has focused only on a non-emotional appeal to mind. Hoekema goes on to say, “Schools, further, should evidence a concern for the body as well as for the mind." (p.224) Sitting at a desk all day without giving thought to the needs of the body is a failure in many of our schools that can easily be remedied. Allowing children more time in the outdoors on a daily basis will certainly benefit the education of the whole person. This neglect of the body and emotions is due to a deficient view of who the child is. When we see the child as a person we see his needs and we are able to respond accordingly.

Let us, as Christian educators, not get pulled into a narrow vision of education, one that is only filling the mind with information or developing skills for a career. We are not educating products or animals.  We are seeking to educate persons made in the image of God. Therefore, we must remember this threefold relationship that is their inheritance and let us give them a robust education, an education for the whole person or as Miss Mason would say, let us lay before them a feast.