Sunday, October 26, 2008

Real Education

The more I read of the life and work of J. Gresham Machen, the more I find a kindred spirit in his thoughts and life. Not only was Machen a first class theologian and teacher, he also expressed concern for the future of general education in America. He appeared before the House and Senate in 1926 to voice his concern against the proposal to form the Department of Education. Up until then, there had only been a bureau of education. Why did Machen oppose this proposal? Looking back we can see he is almost prophetic in his reasons. The source of this information is from Stephen Nichols book about the life of Machen.

  1. As a libertarian, Machen opposed this formation on principle. He preferred individual liberty and state's rights over centralized federal control of the education system. He wanted the states to have control over public education and for private and parochial schools to operate unencumbered by federal regulations.

  2. He felt that this move would standardize education. While some may see this as good, Machen sums it up by likening this standardization to Henry Ford's car company in that students (and teachers) are not cars - they are individuals with idiosyncrasies.

  3. He also felt that this move would lead to bureaucracy with slow grinding wheels.

But even more than these, I appreciate his concern for what this change would do and has done to the very nature and process of education. He felt that this change would move education into a more pragmatic nature with a focus strictly on the preparation of one for their life's work. This put Machen in agreement with a W. E. B DuBois who wrote at the turn of the 20th century that "education is not simply job or even life training; it has to do with cultivating one's character and with gaining an exposure to and appreciation of the grand heritage, in the case of Americans, of Western culture."

Machen wrote, "to tell the student that there is no royal road to learning, that short-cuts lead to disaster, and that underneath all true research lies a broad foundation of general culture." Machen stresses content, while the establishment wanted to stress methods. Do we not see the fruits against which Machen argued against today? We tell our children to seek education solely for the reason of job/life training - so that they can make a lot of money or have prestige. I have seen my share of students in my lifetime, even those who I attended seminary classes with, whose sole goal was to simply get through the class doing the least amount of work possible so that they could move on to the "work of the ministry". They did not want to dig into the content of the course and see the glory of God in the subject matter. Education for them was simply a stepping stone to jump over quickly and hopefully without too much work or effort. This attitude is the results of our educational system. We should teach our children to be self and lifelong learners. Let us not grow lazy in our learning. Every day offers us more opportunities. One's time is never wasted in spending time with those teachers, past and present, who would give us more knowledge and understanding of this world that God has gifted to us.

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