Alert as I am prone to be in regards to information, commentaries, and most varied and sundry thoughts on the topic of education (of the young that is), my interest was piqued when I read an observation put forth by Pearl Buck in her autobiography My Several Worlds.
But upon education one can write many books. Examinations, tests, grades, competition, these are all obstacles to true learning. Were I young again – how many things I would do if I were young again and in my own country! I would create a school where children could drink in learning as they drink in fresh milk. They drink because they are thirsty, and children are always thirsty for learning, but they do not know it. And in schools sources of learning are fouled with tensions, anxieties, competitive sports and the shame and fear of low marks, and it is no wonder that we are not a book-loving people. We have been made to hate books and therefore to scorn, with private regret mixed in, the educated man because he is an intellectual. Compulsory education? I doubt the wisdom of it, and certainly the use of the word compulsion is not wise. Education, yes, but not this sausage mill, this hopper, into which our children are all tossed at the age of six, and from which they emerge, too many of them, in dazed confusion, somewhere along the way, as rejects or as mass products.
For me, the date of this observation was as interesting as the thought itself, for this has a copyright date of 1954. Modern Christian critics of the present day public school system will often point to a singular event as the great divide marking the decline of public education – the infamous 1962 Engel vs. Vitale Supreme Court decision to remove prayer from schools. Certainly this was detrimental to the purpose of generational building and holistic education, but was it cause or effect?
According to Buck’s observations, the system was in trouble long before 1962. Engel vs. Vitale, it seems, was the result of an existing defect, a second problem altogether. The decision to refuse prayer to be expressed in the public classroom reflects a society bent on turning from God. Buck’s observations were in regard to a fundamental concern in the method of education itself. Her postulation addresses the challenge to traditional classroom methods used today, regardless of worldview.
This brings us to the question of how to best educate the children entrusted to our stewardship. What will protect the individual destiny hidden within each life? How can we ensure that the unique gifts and talents will blossom to full health, bearing mature fruit? Surely we do not want to subject them to the mass production so commonly envisioned when thoughts of our current institutions come to mind. Try as we may, there is a general tendency toward a cookie cutter approach – efficient, practical, simple mass production.
But children are not lifeless lumps of dough to be rolled out, pressed into shapes, and baked to golden brown. Each life, full of promise, talent, and ability must be nurtured through careful observation, tailored methodology, and customized curriculum. Academic and character growth requires individual attention as well as individual application.
Within every soul is an inherent desire to learn and grow. Individuals will display differing degrees of abilities and talents, but everyone desires to attain some measure of growth, learning, and achievement. We can either nurture that desire through gentle, careful encouragement and instruction, showing a high regard for every unique gift, choosing to understand that every human being has a part to play in this grand scheme called life on earth or we can crush such desire through careless indifference to the individual strength and beauty, displaying a course failure to appreciate those who are different in their makeup.
Actually, we have now entered into the discussion of worldview – the previous concepts can be embraced only when one believes in a Creator who is involved with the forming of every person, intimately involved with every single person. If we believe that human existence is predicated upon chance, mere happenstance, than we have no confidence in the value of that child sitting in the third row, two seats back. We only know that they don’t measure up to the status quo; their mind doesn’t grasp academic ideals, raw talent is not evident. They are relegated to the group marked slow, and their demise has begun. If we fail to understand gifting through the paradigm of human value bestowed from above, we mishandle the gift. What about that other child, the one in the back corner who aces every test while never doing the homework, the one who acts up in class and has become nothing more than a disruption to somehow be endured? He has long ago lost interest in learning. His glaring lack of character was overlooked because of his sheer brilliance and now even that brilliance is being forfeited.
This is not intended to be a full blown dissertation on the subject of education and various methodologies and philosophies. I simply want to suggest this: a love for learning is a fragile, delicate thing. In certain individuals this desire to learn has a measure of virility lending a strength which may allow survival, even prosperity, in less than ideal learning environments. A more average appetite may barely survive and a weak passion may succumb altogether. I am convinced that almost all will suffer some loss when subjected primarily to the confines of institutional settings.
What is to be done? How can society support the kind of nurturing suggested here? Where would we find the number of genuine and concerned teachers needed to meet such a demand?
The Biblical mandate is upon parents to provide for children. It is not a governmental mandate, nor is it given to community to supply such care. The obligation rests upon the family and within the family it falls primarily to the father. We have wandered far from this pattern.
Can this now be remedied through legislation? Is indeed governmentally required compulsory education a possible solution? Can families be forced to comply through law and regulation? Again the question comes – what is to be done?
It must begin with individuals; the very nature of God’s plan is individualistic. The command to teach children was put forth to fathers and mothers, not to an organization, government, or community. A simple method was prescribed – to teach diligently, routinely, and daily. (Deuteronomy 5)
An appeal can be made. We can teach this concept. We can pray for His wisdom to be made manifest. We can look for Him to bless obedience and prosper His word.
And we ourselves can begin to serve the vision. Through serving the vision, we will serve another generation. The nurturing of individuals will be accomplished and greater fruit will be born.
Instead of Oreos (and mind you I love Oreos, but please, let’s recognize that not everyone does and that variety packs have more to offer) there will be beautifully decorated sugar cookies, robust fruit-filled bars, chocolate delectables drenched in fudge frosting, airy meringue delights, spicy molasses crinkles, simple but rich melt-in-your-mouth shortbreads, and so much more. (Forgive the over indulgence of illustration…my taste buds were carried away.)
The value of the individual will not be sacrificed at the expense of the multitude. And in the end the multitude will be enriched.
I think Pearl Buck’s observation of 1954 has merit still today – a great deal of merit.