THE PURPOSE OF EDUCATION
Rev. David O. Jones
I have heard it said that “you need to get a good education so you can get a good job.” Entrepreneurs respond by saying, “There is no such thing as a good job.” Both statements focus on the job and the income, but our focus is on the education. So we ask questions: What is the purpose of education? What is the motivation for parents to make the time, monetary and emotional commitments to teach their children? What motivates the student? Why should day-schools exist…or should they?
J.Gresham Machen was one of the men who left Princeton to found the conservative and biblically oriented Westminster Theological Seminary in 1930. He began a speech to the National Union of Christian Schools (Chicago in 1934) by referring to the idea stated above. “What is the purpose of education? One view which has been widely held is that the purpose of education is to enable a man or woman to earn more money…the so-called vocational view." (note 1) Nearly a century ago, it was widely recognized that better education equals better job. But the income difference between the average attorney and the average autoworker is negligible.
A second concept promotes seeking an education (or knowledge) for its own sake. I once was told that the body of human knowledge doubles every ten years. I believe it. The growth in known facts may even be progressing faster than that, but technical facts cannot be an end in themselves. Only God is omniscient; only God knows everything. The man who determines to be a perpetual student is like the pot of stew which is constantly having ingredients added, but is never served.
A third familiar theme is “knowledge is power.” (Or as I have also seen it printed, “knowlege is powr.”) With this theme comes the concept that an education will allow one to be master over others. The Readers Digest has long had a column entitled “Word Power.” But Machen also said that there is “a better view of education." (note 2)
All of the ideas stated above show that education is meant to enhance the man in some manner for his own purposes. For us as Christians to understand the real purpose of education, it would be helpful to first understand the purpose of man. The Westminster Larger Catechism’s (note 3) first question asks, “What is the chief and highest end of man?” And the answer: “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.” Man is to glorify God in a variety of areas of life: vocation, family, recreation, faith, etc. It therefore follows that if man’s purpose is to glorify and enjoy God, education must then serve that purpose.
Education goes beyond the technical understanding of facts, for it should presuppose the effective integration of those facts into life and all its areas. I may read a book on marriage and family, in fact I may read a whole shelf of such books, but until I integrate the information which I read into my family’s life, I cannot say that I have been educated. When my wife and family experience the benefit of that information, then they know I have learned something and in the process I have glorified my Father which is in Heaven by being obedient to His principles for family living.
Martin Luther stated that there is no “mean work.” There is no occupation (as long as it is moral) which should be belittled. Man can glorify God as a ditch-digger as well as as a king. Education can enhance our effectiveness and usefulness in our vocation and as a result we are able to more fully glorify our Father which is in Heaven. Education can also create an opportunity to change vocations and increase wealth, but the end purpose is not simply for us to be richer; the end purpose is still to glorify God.
In another speech, Machen stated, “the aim of education is not to conform human beings to some fixed standard, but to preserve individuality, to keep human beings as much unlike one another in certain spheres as they possibly can be.”(note 4) Here is another aspect of our purpose of glorifying and enjoying God. Every Tom, Dick and Harry, or Talissa, Doris and Harriet, young, middle-aged or older, is to be learning in order to become the very best person God created us to be. Each of us is a uniquely created individual with God’s stamp of potential upon us. It is only as we continue to learn that we explore the depths and heights, the riches and the rewards of being the “who” which He intended us to be.
Finally, after exploring how we might glorify God in education, we come to the most significant issue. “The most important Christian educational institution is not the pulpit or the school, important as these institutions are; it is the Christian family.” (note 5) As is stated in the Heritage Covenant Schools Philosophy of Education, “We believe that the Bible clearly instructs and enjoins parents, not the Church or State,(note 6) to ‘bring children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.’”(note 7)
It has become a common practice in these United States for parents to routinely ship their children off to the local statist indoctrination center (also known as a “public school”). It has also become the sin of the American pulpit to encourage such action. No child will ever be taught to “glorify God” within those places, rather they will learn to pay homage to the state as they are taught that the state is their real provider and protector.
The purpose of education is that the person recognizes their individuality before God and so glorifies Him in all they know and do and say. Only obedient Christian parents have the desire, calling and opportunity to provide such an education.
1 Education, Christianity and the State, J. Gresham Machen, The Trinity Foundation, Hobbs, NM, p.124
2 -ibid. p.125
3 -A catechism is a series of questions and answers which helps the believer be better equipped in understanding what the Bible teaches concerning the Christian faith. The Westminster Catechism was completed in 1646 and is held as a significant and primary document of the Protestant Reformation.
4 -From an address entitled, “Shall We Have a Federal Department of Education?” delivered before the Sentinels of the Republic, Washington, DC, January 12, 1926. Education, Christianity and the State, J. Gresham Machen, p.91
5 –ibid. p.8
6 -In this context, state means any unit of civil government.
7 -Heritage Covenant Schools Handbook