Lately I’ve been reading some secular works on the education of young children, and some of the social advantages in home education. If you read this blog regularly, you will know that I am a Christian who believes the Bible to be the living word of God, the absolute truth and final authority on all matters. Many of the books and resources that I read and refer to are by authors who hold a similar view. But lately I am reading academic works from those who do not make clear whether or not they believe in the same truths. Is there a paradox? I have some Christian friends who are cautious, indeed at times suspicious, of anything written from this perspective; they explain clearly the differences between wisdom that comes from God in heaven and ‘worldly’ wisdom which often has a very different motivation. However, I’d like to add a short note to explain my stance on this.
Firstly, I read everything through the lens of my biblical worldview. There are books, magazines, and blogs which I glance at and then go no further as I feel the attitude with which they are written is simply not helpful, and that I will not be able to draw anything beneficial for my family from them (I must comment that this will include writings by Christian authors, which I simply do not find helpful or encouraging). With others, I can recognise truth, indeed wisdom, and then I ask myself whether this fits in with my understanding of how God sees things. Is what I am reading consistent with a biblical view on children, family life, marriage, humanity, society and so forth? Using the recent example of John Holt’s 1967 publication, ‘How Children Learn’ I will illustrate this.
What does the Bible say about children? How does God view children? This list is far from exhaustive!
Psalm 128: 3-4: ‘Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house, your children like olive plants all around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord’.
Psalm 127: 3-4: ‘Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth’.
In the words of Jesus,
Matthew 18:3-5: ‘Assuredly I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.’
Matthew 19:14: ‘Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven’.
The following principles can be drawn:
· Each child is known by God; indeed, each child is placed within a family as a blessing from God
· God entrusts our children to us, to train them as arrows in the hand of a warrior (with purpose)
· Each child is precious
· Time invested with children is more important than much time invested elsewhere; Jesus’ disciples thought He had more important priorities, and He rebuked and corrected this view
· The childlike mind is different to that of an adult, and finds it easier to trust and accept things about the world around them; Jesus does not suggest that children are too young, simple or naive to understand the things of God, but quite the contrary.
Reading John Holt, I see certain things about his attitude towards children, and the attitude he is keen that the reader comes to adopt:
· He respects children as individuals
· He trusts children, and is impressed by the workings of their mind and their understanding
· He sees each child as unique, precious, worth investing time in
· He has a desire that each child should be nurtured and encouraged rather than forced into a mentality of failure and disappointment
· He has a humility, recognising that in fact children can teach us many things
There is no appreciation in Holt’s writings of a greater purpose, of a perfect creator. There is no reference to the verses in Deuteronomy Chapter 6 which exhort us: ‘And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.’ – but his model of education approaches this holistic description (except sadly lacking in the spiritual dimension which one could argue is the most important of all). It is sad that a man with such a gentle, humble, and dare I say, enlightened, attitude towards children could not see beyond the created beings to the glorious Creator. (I could also comment that his attitude towards children seems to me more Christlike than some of the attitudes I have encountered within the church, where it can seem that they are a nuisance, to be seen and not heard, and certainly not to be encouraged to remain during the full worship service on a Sunday morning! But I’ve discussed this aspect elsewhere under my posts on ‘Family centred church’ and some of the writings and sermons of Voddie Baucham).
And there are elements that are absent by omission. No mention is made of discipline, for example, although a reasonable proportion of Bible teaching on child-rearing relates to consistent and firm discipline when it is needed. None of the children Holt described were his own, and he did not spend prolonged time with any of these; I wonder whether some of his approaches may have led to a home which is dominated by the whims of a wilful toddler. This is a limitation, but I do not believe detracts greatly from the value of the thesis.
Can a non-believer offer anything of value to a Christian parent? I sometimes am asked a similar question in relation to my own scientific academic work, and I believe the question shows a fundamental misunderstanding of a human being in relation to God. The letter to the Romans starts by describing how ‘since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse...for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.’ (Romans 1:20, 2:14-15). All people are made in the image of God. Much of God’s glory and goodness is made manifest in creation; even by examining the workings of a young child’s mind, it is conceivable that John Holt was able to glimpse something of God’s amazing creator, and perhaps in his heart may have cried out with the psalmist ‘I will praise You for I am fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139). Even if not, is it not within the bounds of possibility that his writings were able to capture some essence of God’s love, compassion, concern and purpose for children?
Yes, one must be careful in how far this argument is taken. And I pray that I have the wisdom to read what is helpful and to ignore that which is not. I pray that what I write here on this blog is a challenge and encouragement to both Christians and to those who perhaps do not know and love this God, but are keen to explore the fact that there is a spiritual dimension to this world.