In late June, twelve Doctor of Ministry students and I met for a week of intensive study of the history and philosophy of education. We covered more than five centuries of thought from some of the prominent philosophers and explored the connections between their works and times and ours.
In ancient times when books were few, students memorized what they were taught and asked to repeat the content back verbatim so that the teacher would be sure that they knew the text. Then they would begin to debate and challenge the context. Today’s learners, memorize information in order to pass a test, and then move on to the next subject. Somehow the opportunity for challenging and engaging the context has been lost in today’s educational process.
The class also explored the influence of religion on the educational process. It was the church that made it possible for learning to be available to all people. The church secretly educated slaves, began Sunday schools so that poor children could learn to read, founded universities so that clergy could become educated. The church today continues this work through volunteers who tutor in schools, offer English as a second language courses, and support programs that give free school supplies to children whose families cannot afford to buy them. But, the church can do more.
What history tells us about education is that reading the Bible is basic to any one person’s education. Many classic and current books have a biblical basis or references that are important to the meaning of the story. Since Bible is not taught in public schools, churches need to step up to the plate and provide opportunities for everyone regardless of age to begin or expand their knowledge of the Bible.
Our philosophy about learning has changed a great deal with current psychological and brain research. We know that experience is one of the best ways to learn, that children are not blank slates, but come preprogrammed to learn and to grow, especially in faith.
We can learn from the past–from history, but our focus is on today and tomorrow. We are called by God to learn and grow in our faith. Our real philosophy of education comes from scripture:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deut. 6:4-9
Amy Dyer, Ph.D.
James Maxwell Professor of Christian Education and Pastoral Theology