Philosophy of Education

More and more as I read critiques of our time it seems to me that one thing is lacking: a right understanding of man as God’s image bearer. This has a direct effect in the way we view education.

One author I read recently described what he called the ‘stewardship principle’, which was basically the cultural mandate.  I think he was right to emphasize this. The only reason we value education is that it enables us to think about the world in an orderly way, allowing us to cultivate it. The ways in which it enables us to take raw creation and make something beautiful from it, are the ways in which God’s image is reflected.

Obviously there are benefits to businesses for hiring employees who have been well-educated etc. But, I submit that this benefit is subservient to the ultimate motive; cultivating a beautiful society thereby reflecting God’s image.  Prosperous businesses are only good insofar as they benefit society. The emphasis on the trade-training aspects of education for the sake of job preparation puts the cart before the horse. Rather, it exalts one aspect of education and sacrifices the real goal.

I would think that education has three reasons for which we Christians ought to value it:

– It enables us to bear God’s image on many levels

– It enables us to make things beautiful and learn to see beauty

– It enables us to create cultural vocations or ‘covenants’ of specialized knowledge. (Here businesses would fit in. More like it would be trades, both the glorious and gritty.) This allows greater cultivation and greater prosperity.


PS. This is borrowed from Gene Edward Veith’s blog, where he quotes David Brooks discussing vocation. Its good and its what I had in mind for the third benefit of education:

“In this way of living, to borrow an old phrase, we are not defined by what we ask of life. We are defined by what life asks of us. As we go through life, we travel through institutions — first family and school, then the institutions of a profession or a craft.

Each of these institutions comes with certain rules and obligations that tell us how to do what we’re supposed to do. Journalism imposes habits that help reporters keep a mental distance from those they cover. Scientists have obligations to the community of researchers. In the process of absorbing the rules of the institutions we inhabit, we become who we are.

New generations don’t invent institutional practices. These practices are passed down and evolve. So the institutionalist has a deep reverence for those who came before and built up the rules that he has temporarily taken delivery of. “In taking delivery,” Heclo writes, “institutionalists see themselves as debtors who owe something, not creditors to whom something is owed.”

The rules of a profession or an institution are not like traffic regulations. They are deeply woven into the identity of the people who practice them. A teacher’s relationship to the craft of teaching, an athlete’s relationship to her sport, a farmer’s relation to her land is not an individual choice that can be easily reversed when psychic losses exceed psychic profits. Her social function defines who she is. The connection is more like a covenant.


One thought on “Philosophy of Education

  1. Tom Robbins says:

    Amen! (I said, and then as I filled in my work email address below, I went arrrggghhhhh, it’s true)

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