Helping Your Child in School


Over the course of their growing up, our two children have attended private Christian schools, public schools, and have been home schooled. To some, this personal experience makes us experts and is far more valuable than the twelve years I was a teacher and principal in public schools. To others my wife and I were merely confused and couldn’t make up our minds. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

I do know that nothing can be more exciting or frustrating than watching your child engage in the learning process and ultimately move towards mature independent adulthood.

Looking back at our twenty years of parenting, I would encourage all new parents to take the long view regarding the mental and moral development of their children. There are times when our little ones amaze us with their insight and precocious behavior. At other times we become desperate for any sign of intelligent life. Fortunately, most of our children will grow up to be capable adults. If we are patient and compassionate, not exasperating our sons and daughters with unreasonable demands (Eph. 6:4), we can not only enjoy a good relationship with them, but often they will follow our steps of faith.

A second axiom is that you are your child’s first and most important teacher. This point cannot be emphasized enough. In most cases, no one cares about your child as much as you care nor do they know your child like you do. This means that you must be engaged in the educational process of your child at every step regardless of the setting. Part of this responsibility includes deciding what goals should be accomplished by your children’s education. The answer to this question might seem obvious. However, quite a variety of goals have been suggested. Some believe that learning to live in a democracy is the ultimate educational concern. Others emphasize vocation training. Still others seek character development or becoming a global citizen. It would be time well spent to think about the kind of person that should emerge from twelve or sixteen years of schooling.

Next, I would argue that there is no such thing as a perfect school, but there are some really bad ones. Unfortunately, this is true about private schools and home schools, as well as public schools. Just because a school has chosen to call itself Christian, it does not automatically follow that the school offers a sound curriculum or that its teachers are capable and motivated. In fact, private schools can fall victim to many of the ills found in public schools.

Finally I would argue that, as parents, we are called to use discernment when making important educational choices. This demands that we take very little for granted when it comes to our children’s education. And one of the important aspects of our children’s education is the parent-school connection.

The Parent-School Connection

There is much more freedom today for parents to chose a school that fits their educational philosophy and goals. Rather than being the end of a parent’s responsibilities, selecting between a public or private school is really just the beginning. Once a child is placed in a school, the parent’s job as chief advocate begins.

Although teachers, counselors, and administrators are usually well intentioned, students slip through the cracks in even the best schools. Students can sometimes find themselves at odds with a teacher or administrator because of an oversight or immature behavior, or they fail to get important information regarding their course selection and requirements for graduation.

Under ideal circumstances, a parent would want to get to know, and be known by school administrators and other personnel before a problem occurs. Volunteering at the school–in the library, on committees, or in the classroom–is not only a positive civic service, but is also a good way to ensure a sympathetic hearing if a problem occurs later.

In order to be an effective advocate, a parent needs to be aware of the school’s authority structure and rules. Every school should publish a handbook with all the important rules and regulations, as well as graduation requirements. Students are notorious for not reading or taking these documents seriously. It is often parents who must guide their children through course selection and run-ins with school personnel. Another important source of information is the school’s open house. Schools usually host an open house each semester for the purpose of allowing parents the opportunity to meet their child’s teachers and see the rooms they are assigned to.

Though most parents are hesitant to interfere with their child’s schooling, my experience says that if something feels amiss, it is better to get involved rather than simply hope things will just work out. Teachers and administrators are public servants. Parents who are courteous, yet assertive, often get results when problems occur. Unfortunately, waiting and hoping for a positive resolution to a problem can result in long term difficulties for your child.

One obvious place for parental involvement is in your child’s placement. In grade school this might mean tracking or special education classes. In high school, it might be the choice between vocational college prep, and honors programs. Such decisions should never be considered final. Unfortunately, once a student is placed in one program there is a tendency for school personnel to stick to that decision. But children change. Sometimes an honors class proves too demanding, or a vocational curriculum is not challenging enough. The parent is usually the best person to make these assessments.

The Parent-Teacher Connection

Teachers are often hard working, dedicated, and sacrificial in the amount of time they devote to their profession. However, like most other workplaces, schools also employ many mediocre and some highly incompetent staff. No matter how good a school’s reputation might be, your son’s or daughter’s learning experience will be directly dependent upon the teacher standing in front of him or her. It is often left to the parent to determine the capability of their child’s teachers and then decide whether or not to leave them in the care of a particular teacher. If signs point to an abusive or merely incompetent teacher, do not wait for the administration to act. The impact on your child’s education and well being can be substantial.

Elementary level teachers who demand too much or too little of students, or who do not understand or manage classroom behavior well, are widespread. High school teachers who are asked to teach outside their area of expertise or who fail to do the work necessary to become minimally competent are also common. Unfortunately, new teachers are sometimes thrown into a classroom with very little support and that can result in problems over discipline or grading policies. Remember faculty difficulties occur in even the highest-rated schools.

When a problem does arise, meet with the teacher as soon as possible. Although one wants to hope for the best, look for signs that the teacher is disorganized or preoccupied with problems outside of the school environment. Talk with other parents to find out if the concern is a new one or if a pattern exists. If a serious problem exists, go to a guidance counselor and request a classroom or schedule change for your child. If this is not allowed, get the principal involved. Often, what appears to be an impossibility from the school’s position becomes a reality if a parent is patient and does not give in to the first “No.”

Let’s hope incompetence is not an issue. Even so, meeting your child’s teacher or teachers and letting them know that you are engaged in your son’s or daughter’s education is important. If a teacher already knows you, he or she will be more likely to contact you if need be. They will also be more inclined to engage your help in motivating your child before more serious problems occur. Most teachers really want students to succeed; if they feel that you are on their side, you will become an important ally in their work.

We should also to remember to pray for our child’s instructors. The group “Moms in Touch” does a great job of this. Most of all remember to be gracious; teachers have a remarkably difficult job and will appreciate anyone who supports them and acknowledges the importance of their work. We are ambassadors for Christ, even in our interactions with school personnel.

The Parent-Student Connection

It never seems to fail that you will hear how great all of your friends’ children are doing in school just when your son or daughter is experiencing their most severe classroom difficulties. The pain parents can feel when their child is struggling in school can be profound. Problems can range from relationships with other students to cases of severe underachievement or rebellion. Unsolved, these problems can destroy an academic career and worse, destroy the self-confidence necessary for a child’s success in life.

A strong parent-student connection is fundamental to avoiding major school problems. Contrary to popular belief, the need for this connection grows rather than diminishes as kids get older. High school students still need help in making critical decisions about class selection and extra-curricular activities, as well as occasional help in navigating the maze of modern high school life, and growth into adulthood.

Throughout a child’s education one of the most important parental role is to be a good listener. Fortunately, most young children want to talk about school. Make it a practice to have a daily debriefing time. As children get older, particularly during the high school years, parents may need to be more patient and creative in order to stay informed.

Teenagers are much more likely to choose their own time to let you into their life. The most important thing for parents is to be available when that time hits (often very late at night when you are exhausted). Teens, especially boys, seem to enjoy making provocative statements just to shock parents. Don’t react to the first words that come out of their mouths; eventually they will learn to trust you and realize that you really do want to listen, not just preach a sermon they already have memorized.

Parents should be constant encouragers. This doesn’t mean giving praise when it is not deserved, but rather praising real effort and pointing out signs of growing maturity and discipline. Parents should also offer personal support like helping a child to memorize a list of historical events or think through a geometry problem. Let your struggling student know that you are with him for the long haul, that together you can accomplish whatever school requires. If a student will not let you help, find an outside tutor who is acceptable. The money will be well spent.

In the rush for academic excellence, parents and guidance counselors can pile on advanced classes that crush even hard working students. Watch for signs of depression and irritability, and be ready to help your son or daughter out of a workload that may have become overwhelming.

Maintaining an honest and positive relationship with our children is essential if we are going to have much influence on their schoolwork. Compassion, humor, and loving guidance will go a long way towards keeping the door open to their mind and heart.


We have considered how parents can further their children’s education by developing connections to their school and with their teacher or teachers, by taking the time to know their children’s needs, and by being available to share their educational burdens.

In closing, I would like to spend some time putting academic success into perspective. Parents sometimes blindly accept the notion that academic success is the answer to every problem. Historically, this has been the position of Enlightenment thinkers from Rousseau to John Dewey. If God is out of the picture, human reason–enhanced by education¾is of paramount importance.

Christianity has always valued education because of the foundational nature of the Bible. Only a literate people could directly benefit from God’s revelation. However, the Bible never teaches that education is the solution to humanity’s problems. It is evidence of misplaced priorities if Christian parents stress academic achievements over all others. Ephesians 6:4 tells fathers to bring up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord. This is the only mandated education the Bible speaks about. If we push our children academically to the point where our relationship with them is in danger, we might just miss the opportunity to accomplish the Ephesians mandate successfully.

One extreme is to push talented students to achieve more and more, earlier and earlier. Often, these students find themselves academically burned out by college. I recently met a gifted student who took part in a program that placed her in a nearby college as a high school junior. From there she went on to study engineering at UC-Berkeley. Now as a college senior, she realizes that she doesn’t even like engineering and is worn out by the rush to finish. I have met other students who worked very hard in high school only to lose interest in college.

At the other end of the spectrum are those students who are underachievers from elementary school on and seem to need constant attention and encouragement. If we communicate that education is the only thing that is really important, failure in this area of their life can be catastrophic for both the child and the parent. Teenage suicide is one of the main causes of death among high school students and it becomes an option when a student feels trapped by rigid high expectations and sees no way out.

Our children need to know that God cares about school and their daily trials, and we need to pray with them about their schoolwork and the hard choices that they face everyday. However, He is even more concerned about the condition of their heart. As parents, our first priority is to teach our children to love the Lord their God with all their heart and with all their soul and with all their mind.


©2000 Probe Ministries

Worldproofing Our Kids

Lael Arrington has written a truly wonderful and exceptionally helpful book, Worldproofing Your Kids,{1} subtitled “Helping Moms Prepare Their Kids to Navigate Today’s Turbulent Times.” While she ostensibly wrote it for moms, any Christian parent who cares about helping his or her child develop a Christian worldview will enjoy it . . . and probably learn a thing or two (or three) in the process.

Lael has raised five questions that Christian parents would be wise to keep in mind, so we can relate them to what happens in our kids’ world and in the world at large. In teachable moments, we can help our kids to think through and then own their answers to these questions:

1. Who makes the rules?

2. How do we know what is true?

3. Where did we come from?

4. What are we supposed to be doing here?

5. Where are we going?

The first question truly is foundational, not just to the other questions but to a basic Christian worldview: Who makes the rules?

Who Makes the Rules?

As a nation, we used to believe that God makes the rules, and through special revelation He told us what they are. But there has been a shift in the culture, and now there are a great many people who “do not believe that moral truth is universal and final. They do not believe in special revelation from God that lays down what is morally right and wrong for all people for all time. They believe that . . . ultimately, man makes the rules.”{2}

We need to talk with our children about the consequences of each answer. When man makes the rules, when “everyone does what is right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25), there are dreadful consequences. Sometimes the strong and powerful lord it over the weak and defenseless. Sometimes, when man makes the rules, everything breaks down into chaos. In Worldproofing Your Kids, Lael Arrington provides some wonderful activities to help develop the elements of a Christian worldview. For example, she suggests we watch a video of Alice in Wonderland with our kids, and she provides some excellent discussion questions to bring out the consequences of what happens when anybody and everybody can make the rules.

The bottom line to communicate to our kids is that much of the pain and suffering in this life is the result of making our own rules and violating God’s.

But when we agree that God has the right to make the rules, and we follow them, life works the way it was designed. That’s because there are good reasons for the rules. We need to give our kids the “whys” behind God’s commands. In his book Right from Wrong,{3} Josh McDowell explains that God’s loving heart makes rules designed to do two things: protect and provide for us. Our kids need to talk with us about why God doesn’t want us to have sex before marriage–because purity protects our hearts and bodies, and purity provides a better sexual relationship within marriage. We need to talk to our kids about why God tells us not to cheat and lie: because He is truth, and He knows that honesty and truth telling protects us from the pain of lies and provides for a peace filled life.

The goal is not just to teach our kids that God makes the rules, but to choose to submit to those rules because it’s the right thing to do . . . and because it will make life work better.

How Do We Know What Is True?

Truth has taken a beating.

The Christian view of truth is a belief in truth that is true for all people at all times: absolute truth. The western world used to believe that all truth was God’s truth. After the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, which produced the byword “Man is the measure of all things,” truth became secular. People believed that there is a body of real truth “out there” that can discovered through our reason. God was no longer a part of it.

Now we’ve moved to the postmodern view of truth. There is no such thing as “true truth,” nothing that is true for all people at all times. Truth is now what I make it. Truth is whatever works for me. I create truth based on my feelings and experience.

So when we say things like “The only way to heaven is by trusting Jesus Christ,” we get responses like, “You narrow minded bigot!” and “That may be true for you, but it’s not true for me.” And the classic postmodern response to just about anything: “Whatever!”

How do we help our kids know what is true?

First, we start with the foundational truth of our lives: God’s Word. Remember, it’s not just a body of truth, it is alive and active (Heb. 4:12). We teach them the Bible’s strongest truth claims: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1); people are infinitely valuable (Isa. 43:4); we have a sin problem and we need a savior (Rom. 3:22-24); Jesus claims to be God (Mark 14:62, among others {4}). Our kids need to know the truth before they can spot a lie.

Second, we teach them not to be afraid of criticism from those who do not believe in truth. Those who trumpet a postmodern worldview don’t live by it, because it doesn’t match the real world we live in. People who sneer at Christians for insisting that there is such a thing as absolute truth still stop at red lights, and they expect everybody else to do the same. They may say they decide what is true for them, but they don’t try to pay for their groceries with a one-dollar bill and insist that, for them, it’s worth a hundred dollars.

Third, we can strengthen our kids’ confidence in the truth by teaching them logic. Begin with the simplest rule of logic: A does not equal non-A. Two opposite ideas cannot both be true. One can be true, they can both be false, but they can’t both be true. Teach them to recognize red herrings, ad hominem arguments, and begging the question. Get Philip Johnson’s terrific book, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds,{5} which has a great chapter called “Tuning Up Your Baloney Detector.” He covers several false arguments.

Make it a game: “Spot the lie.” Help them identify songs, movies, TV shows, advertisements, and articles that contain errors in logic or which go against biblical truth. Encourage them to recognize when people make up private meaning for words. Postmodern people who believe they can create their own truth say things like “Well, that depends on what the meaning of the word is is.”

Truth matters to God, because He is truth. We need to teach our kids that it should matter to us as well.

Where Did We Come From?

I especially appreciated the way Arrington explained the importance of addressing the worldview question, “Where did we come from?” and the closely related question, “Who are we?” She points out that the way we answer these questions will also determine how we deal with the issues of animal rights, abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.

The “Where did we come from?” question isn’t about sex and the stork; it’s about creation and evolution. There are really only two basic answers. Either God made us, or we are an accident of the universe, the unplanned product of matter plus chance plus time.

If God made us, then we are infinitely valuable and intrinsically significant because God personally called each of us into existence. And not only are we valuable and loved, but every other human on the planet is equally valuable and loved. If evolution is true–defining evolution as the mindless, impersonal chance process that produces the stuff of the universe–then there is no point to our existence. We have no value because there is no value giver. Honest evolutionists recognize this: Cornell professor William Provine has said, “If evolution is true then there is no such thing as life after death, there is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning for life; there is no free will.”{6}

We come hard wired from the factory with a longing for transcendence, desperately wanting to be a part of a larger story where we are beloved and pursued. We long to know that there is meaning to the world and to our lives. We come equipped with an innate sense of fairness and justice, concepts that have no meaning in a world without a God who is absolutely just and moral.

As parents, we need to tap into these basic longings to teach our children that only the creation story adequately explains our legitimate thirst for relationship and for significance, for fairness and for transcendence. Then we can explain how the creation story (and I define story as “the way things happened,” not “wishful thinking”) also helps us understand other issues. We can teach our kids that it is not murder to use the flesh of animals for food and the skin of animals for clothing because animals are not like humans; only human beings are made in the image of God. We need to be good stewards of the animals that God made, but not elevate them to the same level as mankind–or devaluate man to the level of animals.

With an understanding that the creation story makes human life sacred and holy, we can teach our kids why it is wrong to kill babies before they are born (abortion), and after they are born (infanticide). We can teach them why it is equally wrong to kill the sick and the infirm when it is inconvenient for us (euthanasia).

Lael writes, “The common thread between evolution, abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia is the devaluing of human life and the way our culture has responded with options for disposal.”{7}

What Are We Supposed to be Doing Here?

This section of Lael Arrington’s book is called “Work, Leisure, and the Richer Life: I’m tired of paddling! Are we there yet? I’m bored!”

If we were to get an honest answer to the questions, “What are you supposed to be doing here? What’s your purpose in life?,” many high school and college students would probably say, “To have as good a time as possible.” Our culture has raised the expectation that everything is supposed to be fun and entertaining. When my mother managed the layaway department of a Wal-Mart a few years ago, she said it was frustrating to deal with the young employees. They came in feeling entitled to a paycheck but didn’t want to work for it. Work wasn’t “fun.”

One of the greatest gifts we as parents can give our children is to cast a vision for their part in the larger story of life, one that involves a planning and purpose for their life, a calling from God to play their specially designed part. Our innate longing for transcendence means that we need to teach our children that they are a specially chosen part of the cosmic story of creation, fall, and redemption.

First, we need to teach by word and example that work has dignity and value. Work isn’t part of the curse; it is part of God’s perfect design for us. God gave Adam and Eve the responsibility of stewarding the garden before the Fall (Gen. 2). Part of our purpose in life is to be a difference maker, and work is part of how we do that. Whether one’s work is to be a student, a fast food counter person, a house cleaner, a computer programmer, a mechanic, an administrator, or the really super important roles of mother or father, we are called to make a difference in the world and in God’s kingdom.

Second, we can be a cheerleader for our children’s God given gifts and talents. We need to be students of our children so that we can understand and appreciate the unique package that God put together. It helps to explore the various personality styles to help our kids grow in understanding of themselves and others. John Trent has written a book for children using animal motifs called The Treasure Tree.{8} Tim LaHaye{9} and Ken Voges{10} have explored the temperaments in slightly different ways, but they’re both very helpful.

As we discern how our children are gifted with natural talents and abilities, we need to acknowledge those gifts and encourage our kids to develop them. If our children have trusted Christ as Savior, they have received a whole new set of spiritual gifts for us to be on the alert for. Of course, we need to have a working knowledge of the gifts and learn how to spot them. God gives personality gifts, talent and ability gifts, and spiritual gifts to equip our children for whatever He has planned for their lives. What a privilege we have as parents to help them discover that they are called to a special place of service with a special set of equipment to do whatever it is God has called them to!

Where Are We Going?

The last part of the book Worldproofing Your Kids deals with citizenship–especially our heavenly citizenship. Another way to inspire confidence that the Christian worldview is true is to celebrate the fact that the best part of life is still ahead.

If we want our kids to recognize the larger, cosmic story of creation, fall, and redemption, then we need to point them continually to their future (Lord willing) in heaven, where we will finally experience real life, real riches, and real intimacy with God. We need to remind them that their choices on earth, for good and for bad, are determining their future in heaven. This is an important part of our roles as parents, of course–to teach them the wisdom that comes from considering both the long term and short term consequences of their choices.

Lael Arrington urges us to take our children to biblical passages and good books that give them a glimpse of where we are going. Help them catch the vision of what C. S. Lewis was describing:

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”{11}

And speaking of C. S. Lewis, please do yourself and your children the favor of reading The Chronicles of Narnia, which is a series of books for children of all ages which will capture their hearts for the world to come and make them fall in love with the Lord Jesus.

Lael writes, “Perhaps we are now qualifying for what degree of power and authority we will be granted when we reign with Christ. The New Testament assures us that those who endure, those who serve now, will reign later (2 Tim. 2:12, Rev. 5:10, 22:5). We can challenge our [children], ‘Are we making daily decisions to serve, to develop our gifts and talents so we will be best prepared to reign with Christ?’”{12}

I love the story of the godly old woman who knew she was about to die. When discussing her funeral plans with her pastor she told him she wanted to be buried with her Bible in one hand and a fork in the other.

She explained, “At those really nice get-togethers, when the meal was almost finished, a server or maybe the hostess would come by to collect the dirty dishes. I can hear the words now. Sometimes, at the best ones, somebody would lean over my shoulder and whisper, ‘You can keep your fork.’ And do you know what that meant? Dessert was coming!

“It didn’t mean a cup of Jell-O or pudding or even a dish of ice cream. You don’t need a fork for that. It meant the good stuff, like chocolate cake or cherry pie! When they told me I could keep my fork, I knew the best was yet to come!

“That’s exactly what I want people to talk about at my funeral. Oh, they can talk about all the good times we had together. That would be nice.

“But when they walk by my casket and look at my pretty blue dress, I want them to turn to one another and say, ‘Why the fork?’

“That’s what I want you to say. I want you to tell them that I kept my fork because the best is yet to come.”{13}

The author gratefully acknowledges the generous assistance of Lael Arrington in the preparation of this article.


1. Lael Arrington, Worldproofing Your Kids (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1997).
2. Ibid, 42.
3. Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler, Right From Wrong (Nashville, TN: Word Books, 1994).
4. See also the Probe article “Jesus’ Claims to be God” on the Probe Web site (
5. Phillip E. Johnson, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997).
6. William Provine and Philip Johnson, “Darwinism: Science or Naturalistic Philosophy?” (videotape of debate held at Stanford University, April 30, 1994). Available from Access Research Network (
7. Arrington, 179.
8. John Trent, The Treasure Tree, rev. ed. (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 1998).
9. Tim LaHaye, The Spirit-Controlled Temperament (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993).
10. Ken Voges and Ron Braund (contributor), Understanding How Others Misunderstand You (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995).
11. C. S. Lewis, A Weight of Glory (New York, Macmillan Co., 1949), 1-2.
12. Lael Arrington, personal correspondence with the author, February 26, 2000.
13. Jack Canfield, ed., A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul (Edison, NJ: Health Communications, Inc., 1996).

© 2000 Probe Ministries.

Darwinism Takes a Step Back in Kansas

Has Oz Returned to Kansas?

Suddenly, the mere mention of the Kansas State Board of Education in most educational and academic circles brings derisive giggles and sneers. In August the Kansas State Board of Education voted to remove references to macroevolution from state science testing standards. A wave of revulsion gripped the nation’s media. In Time magazine, Harvard University paleontologist Stephen J. Gould trumpeted, “The board transported its jurisdiction to a never-never land where a Dorothy of the new millennium might exclaim, ‘they still call it Kansas, but I don’t think we’re in the real world anymore.’”{1} Gould further belittles honest concerns about the teaching of evolution by proclaiming: (1) no other nation has endured any similar movement (this makes us look bad overseas); (2) evolution is as well documented as any phenomenon in science (it is perverse to call evolution anything but a fact); and (3) no discovery of science can lead us to ethical conclusions (believe what religion you want, science doesn’t threaten you).

That’s a pretty scathing reaction. Let’s see what else we can find.

Here’s one from nationally syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman of the Boston Globe.{2} Ms. Goodman declared that “removing evolution from the science curriculum is a bit like removing verbs from the English curriculum. Evolution can still be taught, but it’s no longer required, it won’t be tested, and it will be discouraged.” (However, natural selection, variation, and microevolution will still be recommended and tested.) Later she decries the fact that “In 1925, creationists dragged a young biology teacher, John Scopes, to the courtroom for the infamous ‘Monkey Trial.’” Actually it was the ACLU that dragged Scopes into the courtroom. He couldn’t even remember if he had actually taught evolution. They needed a “volunteer” to defend to test the new Tennessee law. (See Phillip Johnson’s Defeating Darwinism By Opening Minds, 1997, IVP, Chapter 2 for the real story of the Scopes trial and its shameful portrayal in the play and film, Inherit the Wind.) Goodman also pontificates that “there is no serious scientific dispute about the fact of evolution.” Notice that Ms. Goodman indicates that evolution is a fact, therefore beyond question. She also cleverly indicates that if you dispute evolution, you must not be a serious scientist.

In the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Sean Gonsalves laments, “Educated people everywhere are still in shock over the appalling ignorance displayed by the Kansas state board of education that voted two weeks ago to effectively remove evolution and the ‘Big Bang’ theory from the state’s science curriculum. Is there still a science curriculum in Kansas?”{3}

Well, those unruly, ignorant anti-evolutionists really seem to have overstepped their bounds this time! You would think that we would be cowering in the corner somewhere after all the abuse from such heavy hitters, but no, actually, we’re quite ecstatic. I have given you only a small example of the media and science firestorm, but it is just more of the same. While nobody enjoys being the butt of jokes and verbal abuse, what is significant are two things. First, the Kansas board has dealt Darwinists a severe blow by not mandating creation, thereby eliminating Darwinist’s usual rallying cry of science versus religion. They have simply searched for a more objective means of presenting evolution. That’s tough to argue against. Second, Darwinists have been flushed out into the open. Flimsy, ad hominem attacks, appeals to authority, and question begging have been brought out in the open for all to see. The Kansas State Board of Education has unintentionally raised the stakes in the decades old creation/evolution discussion.

What Really Happened in Kansas?

Given the reaction to the decision by the Kansas State Board of Education you would have thought the six board members who voted for the new standards in a close 6-4 vote were part of some dastardly plan to underhandedly bring God into the classroom. Also seemingly at stake was the reputation of the whole state of Kansas if its citizenry did not rise up in revolt against such an irrational decision. Apparently, Kansas had been set back decades in science literacy.

Well, what actually happened in Kansas? What did the board actually do and why? It is important to realize that the Kansas board authorized a 27-member panel of scientists and science educators from the state to revise the current state science testing standards. These standards do not mandate what can and cannot be taught, only what likely will be included on state science tests. What the board received was a highly prejudicial document making evolution the single unifying concept to the state’s biology standards. When board chairwoman Linda Holloway asked the committee representatives for evidence of macroevolution they essentially replied, “We’re the experts, and that will have to do.”{4} What that means is that she received no evidence, just an admonition that, with their position as scientists, she should just trust them.

Rather than turn the Kansas high school classrooms into a propaganda machine for materialist philosophy, the board decided to amend the standards to maintain microevolution–natural selection acting on genetic variation–but not macroevolution¾the claim that microevolution leads to new complex adaptations and new genetic information. They also left it up to the individual school districts to determine how much or how little evolution to teach. Evolution was not removed from the curriculum, as so many news stories reported. Creation was not mandated, Darwin was not banned, and evolution was not censored.

What this does do is leave open to school districts the opportunity to teach the surging controversy surrounding evolution. Actually, what many in the intelligent design movement would have preferred, if possible, is to teach more evolution, not less. Meaning, let’s teach not only the evidence for evolution, but also the mounting evidence calling the naturalistic creation story into question. Students should be familiar with evolution. It is the major story of origins within the scientific community. But in the interest of a true liberal education, the serious questions regarding evolution should also be included. Students should be allowed the privilege of weighing the evidence for themselves, not just accepting it because their teacher tells them to.

This is really where the threat to the scientific community lies. The more doubt about evolution that’s allowed, the trickier the educational landscape becomes for a fully naturalistic, materialistic approach to education.

In the past, the media barrage over such an anti-evolutionary decision has been decidedly one-sided. What is significant this time is that the Kansas board has received some rather hefty and significant support from invited articles, guest columnists, and op-ed pieces in prestigious news outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Times. The debate is indeed changing.

Some Surprising Support for Kansas Board of Education

Amidst the unusual rancor and indignation from the media and scientific community following the decision of the Kansas State Board of Education, many have missed the small, yet significant, support the board has received for the spirit of their decision: namely, to try to find a way to disrupt the universal agenda to present scientific naturalism as the only possible explanation of where we all came from.

On August 16, 1999, the Wall Street Journal published an article by UC Berkeley law professor and Darwinian critic, Phillip Johnson.{5} Johnson quotes a Chinese paleontologist who openly criticizes Darwinism as wryly commenting that “In China we can criticize Darwin but not the government. In America you can criticize the government but not Darwin.” After summarizing the frantic response of scientists and educators, Johnson commented, “Obviously, the cognitive elites are worried about something a lot more important to themselves than the career prospects of Kansas high school graduates.”

Johnson pointed out that evolution is the main scientific prop for scientific naturalism, a philosophical system that leaves God totally out of its picture of reality. Quoting well-known scientists such as Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Stephen J. Gould, and Richard Lewontin, Johnson makes clear that this is the real battle. Allowing evolution’s flaws to be detailed in classrooms would allow a broader discussion of fundamental assumptions. Johnson concluded optimistically, “Take evolution away from the worldview promoters and return it to real scientific investigators, and a chronic social conflict will become a chronic intellectual adventure.”

A few days later, the Washington Times{6} chided the rest of its media cohorts for a vast overreaction and actually cited evidence that calls Darwinism into question. The friendly editorial concluded with “No one, and certainly not the Kansas Board of Education, is saying that evolution should not be taught; it remains the prevailing scientific theory of creation. Rather, some healthy agnosticism and scientific open-mindedness on the matter would seem to be in the best interest of everyone curious about the greatest mystery of all.” Hear, hear!

The Chicago Tribune, while openly critical of the action of the Kansas Board of Education, also criticized previous actions of the National Association of Biology Teachers concerning evolution.{7} The association initially used the words unsupervised and impersonal to describe the evolutionary process. These clearly non-scientific terms were eventually and reluctantly removed by the association, who explained they didn’t think the terms would be construed negatively, which the Tribune called either a lie or clear demonstration of scientific fundamentalism.

Finally, the Washington Post{8} printed an article by Jay Richards, senior fellow and program director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. The CRSC is currently the only think tank I know of that openly supports and endorses intelligent design. Richard’s final point, “Fairness and objectivity in the science classroom require that teachers teach the controversy, not deny its existence,” is fair, lucid, rational, and appealing. “Teach the controversy” has become a rallying cry. You are bound to hear it more and more. The debate in Kansas has resulted in similar debates around the country, to which we now turn our attention.

Darwinism Assailed in Other States

Following the recent decision by the Kansas State Board of Education the teaching of evolution was big news around the country. In Kansas there were roundtable discussions, lectures, and debates. Some were in academic settings, such as the University of Kansas and Washburn University, some were in churches, and some were sponsored by a humanist skeptic organization. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) was prompted to publish their own statement deploring the action taken by the Kansas Board of Education.{9}

You might think that all the negative publicity would cause other states to back off any changes in their own science curriculum. But apparently, all this publicity has encouraged other school boards to chart their own course or adopt the methods of other states before them.

The Oklahoma State Textbook Committee voted to adopt a disclaimer to be placed on the inside cover of all biology textbooks. Unhappy with the propaganda-like treatment of evolution in the majority of textbooks they looked at, the committee needed the disclaimer to be able to recommend a sufficient diversity of biology texts for the state. While arguably not the best statement on the subject, the disclaimer labels evolution as controversial, a separation of microevolution and macroevolution, and encourages students to study hard, keep an open mind, and perhaps they can contribute to the origins discussion in the future. Nothing is said about creationism, intelligent design, or any other theories. Basically the statement wants students to think critically about evolution.

What has been missed in the newly swirling controversy about the disclaimer in Oklahoma is that it is nearly a direct copy of the disclaimer adopted by Alabama over two years ago which has not been challenged in court. However, instead of mentioning the obvious connection, journalists attempted to draw parallels to a Louisiana school district directive that was recently struck down because it specifically mentioned creationism. The two disclaimers are not related, but in the attempt to make it look as bad as possible, the chosen tactic is to mislead.{10} Once again, a very reasonable, but not perfect resolution was dismissed as simply another attempt to smuggle creationism into the public schools.

Meanwhile in West Virginia a similar controversy hit the news. The Kanawha County Board of Education is considering a resolution that would allow for the teaching of theories for and against the theory of evolution. It soon came to light that Illinois and Kentucky had previously passed resolutions similar to the one in Kansas. Commentary and editorials were appearing in major and local newspapers across the country taking sides in a suddenly public and heated discussion. Clearly, something has changed. The usual evolutionist hand-wringing is sounding more like whining and the previously unheard-of support for a revision of the instruction in evolution is suddenly receiving a cautious but receptive ear in important academic, educational, and media circles. While it must be kept in mind that all of these “victories” are relatively small and can be easily overturned, nonetheless their simplicity, objectivity, and legal savvy are raising eyebrows that paid little attention before.

What Does All This Mean?

The flurry of nationwide activity concerning the teaching of evolution in our public school systems, while noteworthy, is not terribly new. This battle has been going on for over three decades, but with seemingly little change. However, this time, as I have documented, there has been surprising support and very public discussion over the last few months. Phillip Johnson and others have been invited or allowed to offer their impressions and rebuttals in newspapers, journals, and magazines across the country. Public lectures, debates, and roundtable discussions have been offered before large crowds.

Something has definitely changed. I think we can isolate the change in two places. First some of the cherished, misleading evolutionary explanations are being rebutted openly and decisively in these public discussions. Second, the public is becoming better educated on the issues involved and they are less intimidated by the evolutionary rhetoric.

One of the favorite lines used to dismiss critics of evolution is to label them as religious zealots and fundamentalists. Religion and science, says this argument, have nothing to say to one another so you can’t bring religion into the science classroom. Stephen Gould states the case in his usual journalistic style, “Science and religion should be equal, mutually respecting partners, each the master of its own domain, and with each domain vital to human life in a different way.”{11} Elsewhere it becomes plain that Gould means that science deals in facts and religion in the intangibles of morality and such. This is seen more and more as condescending nonsense. Other evolutionists like Douglas Futuyma readily admit that, “By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of life processes superfluous.”{12} The negation of a theological principle is itself, a theological principle. Besides, any theory which purports to explain where we came from will contain the seeds of ethics and morality.

Robert E. Hemenway, chancellor of the University of Kansas, tried to say that the Kansas decision is a rejection of science altogether.{13} But when you actually read what the Board of Education did, they actually expanded the coverage of evolution from the previous standards and required students to know a very decent description of Darwinian evolution.{14} Skepticism is healthy in science. The new standards actually promoted questioning and critical thinking. This kind of obfuscation was not so easily foisted on the public.

The educational effort of many organizations over the past several decades has begun to yield citizens surer of themselves and not so easily intimidated. Seeing articles appearing in major news outlets like the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, and the Chicago Tribune, as well as appearances on CNN, have galvanized popular opinion and provided means to critically counterattack the bluster of the opposition.

Although the coverage has not always been accurate and completely positive, and the actual decisions by education boards have not always hit the mark, the net effect has been a major opening up of the debate. Change has been accomplished in these few months that would have ordinarily taken years. As mentioned previously, the phrase “teach the controversy” will be found more and more in the public discussion. That’s exactly what needs to happen.


1. Stephen Jay Gould, “Dorothy, It’s Really Oz, 1999,” Time vol. 154, no.8 (August 23, 1999), 59.

2. Ellen Goodman, “Those Ever-Evolving Creationists,” Boston Globe, Aug. 19, 1999, A19.

3. Sean Gonsalves, “Kansas School Board Fighting the Wrong Theory,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 24, 1999, A11.

4. Jeremy Johnson, “Media Pigeonholes Board into Stereotype,” Kansan, August 19, 1999.

5. Phillip E. Johnson, “The Church of Darwin,” Wall Street Journal, August 16, 1999, A14.

6. “Editorial, Kansas Conundrum,” Washington Times, August 19, 1999, A16.

7. Steve Kloehn, “In a Word, Kansas Tries to Make Evolution Go Away,” Chicago Tribune, August 20, 1999, 10.

8. Jay Richards, “Darwinism and Design,” Washington Post, August 21, 1999, A19.

9. “AAAS Statement on the Kansas State Board of Education Decision on the Education of Students in the Science of Evolution and Cosmology,” Science, vol. 286 (November 12, 1999), 1297.

10. Diane Plumberg, “Panel Plunges State into Debate about Evolution,” Daily Oklahoman, November 12, 1999.

11. Gould, 59.

12. Douglas J. Futuyma, Evolutionary Biology, 3rd ed. (Sunderland MA: Sinauer Assoc., 1998), 5.

13. Robert E. Hemenway, “The Evolution of a Controversy in Kansas Shows Why Scientists Must Defend the Search for Truth,” Chronicle of Higher Education, October 29, 1999, B7.

14. Jonathan Wells, “Ridiculing Kansas School Board Easy, But It’s Not Good Journalism,” Mitchell (South Dakota) Daily Republic, October 14, 1999.

©2000 Probe Ministries

The Social and Historical Impact of Christianity

Probe founder Jimmy Williams examines the charge that Christianity has been detrimental to society, providing evidence for the contrary–that it has been a force for good.


W.E.H. Lecky has commented on the Enlightenment that “The greatest religious change in the history of mankind” took place “under the eyes of a brilliant galaxy of philosophers and historians who disregarded as contemptible an Agency (Christianity) which all men must now admit to have been . . . the most powerful moral lever that has ever been applied to the affairs of men.”{1}

And yet, the West is in the process of abandoning its Judeo-Christian base which was the very source of this social development (Is this good or bad? Can we even ask such questions of history?).

The Negative Charge:
Christianity has been a repressive force against the advancement of civilization.

A. Karl Marx termed Christianity an opiate of the masses, a tool of exploitation.

B. Sigmund Freud called Christianity an illusion, a crutch, a source of guilt and pathologies.

C. Bertrand Russell: “I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of the moral progress in the world.”{2}

D. Arnold Toynbee: “When the Greco-Roman world was converted to Christianity, the divinity was drained out of nature and concentrated in a single, transcendent God. Man’s greedy impulse to exploit nature used to be held in check by his awe, his pious worship of nature. Now monotheism, as enunciated in Genesis, has removed the age-old restraint.”{3}

E. Gloria Steinem observed that human potential must replace God by the year 2000.

F. Lyn White: “Christians, in absolute contrast to ancient paganism and Asia’s religions, not only established a dualism of man and nature, but also insisted that it is God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends.”{4} “The crisis will not abate until we reject the Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man.”{5}

Summary: Christianity. . .
1. Is a crutch
2. Impedes science
3. Is a source of bigotry
4. Causes wars
5. Causes pollution and animal extinction
6. Contributes to the population explosion
7. Causes inflation.

Analysis of the Charges

(Unfortunately, some of the charges are true.)

A. The church, as an institution, has not always been a positive influence for social change.

1. Two major errors:

Platonism — The spiritual sphere is the real world. Matter is evil. Thus, the body is the prison of the soul. This sacred/secular distinction has resulted in the “pie in the sky” religion which has at times not been concerned about social reform.

Humanism — Views the physical and social needs of man as the only importance. The institutional church has, at times, failed at preaching regeneration.{6}

2. Jesus was concerned for the total man. Should we put a “new suit” on the man, or a “new man” in a suit? Jesus would have done both—put a new suit on a new man! (See the Gospels).

B. When the church is assimilated by the culture in which it finds itself, it loses its cutting edge. Example: Under Constantine in the 4th century, “The church became a little worldly and the world became a little churchy.”

C. The institutional church and true Christianity are not always synonymous. Professing Christians many not live up to the ideals and practices of its Founder (“Faith without works is dead,” James 2:26).

1. Renaissance popes are not Christianity; St. Francis of Assisi is.

2. Pizarro and Cortez are not Christianity, Bartolome de Las Casas is.

3. Captain Ball, a Yankee slave captain, is not Christianity, Wilburforce is.

D. Jesus Himself foretold that “tares” would be won among the “wheat.” (Matt. 13:25-39 ff).

Christianity’s Positive Impact

A. The Rise of Modern Science

1. Science rose in the West, not in the East. Why?

2. Whitehead and Oppenheimer insisted that modern science could not have been born except in a Christian milieu.

3. Many pioneering scientists were not only theists, but Christians: Newton, Pasteur, Kepler, Paschal, Fleming, Edwards.

4. Concepts conducive to scientific inquiry were expressly Christian:

a. Positive attitude toward the world.

b. Awareness of order (i.e. cause/effect, cf. Rom. 1:20).

c. Views of man as a superintendent of nature.

d. Positive attitude toward progress (“Have dominion . . .” [Gen. 1:28ff])

B. The Development of Higher Education

1. The Puritans were 95 per cent literate.

2. The University movement and the quest for knowledge (Berkeley, Descartes, the British Empiricists, Locke & Reid).

3. 100 of the first 110 universities in America were founded for the express purpose of propagating the Christian religion.

4. The American university emerged from American Seminaries (Witherspoon, Princeton; Timothy Dwight, Yale).

C. Christianity and the Arts: the influence has been so broad as to be inestimable.

D. Social Change

1. Means of Social Change

a. Reform—moderately effective, but slow. Not always good.

b. Revolution—more rapid, but usually bloody.

c. Regeneration—Changing persons changes society. Jesus said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. . .That which is born of flesh is flesh: that which is born of spirit is spirit” (John 3:3,6). Paul spoke of the Christian rebirth in this way, “Do not be conformed to this world-system, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .” (Romans 12:2).

d. There is a difference between professing Christianity and possessing a personal relationship with Christ.

2. Examples in the Early Church

a. In 252 A.D., the Christians of Corinth saved the city from the plague by responding to the needs of those who were simply dragged into the street.

b. In 312 A.D., half of the Roman Empire came under the political and social influence of Christianity under the rule of Constantine.

c. Early Christians stood in opposition to infanticide, degradation of women, gladiatorial combats, slavery, etc.

3. Examples in the Middle Ages (Consider the Monks, not the knights.)

a. Monasteries served as hospitals, places of refuge.

b. Monastic schools trained scribes to preserve manuscripts.

c. Monasteries also developed agricultural skills and knowledge.

d. The Scholastics remain a pivotal period of intellectual growth.

e. A time of major artistic development: architecture, music, literature.

4. Examples during the Reformation

a. A myriad of forces were at work in the vast social and religious shift known as the Reformation (i.e. Luther, printing, Gutenberg Bible).

b. Calvin and the other reformers must not be ignored. Says Fred Graham in The Constructive Revolutionary, “Economic, scientific, and political historians . . . generally know little about Calvin’s own secular ideas. They assume that it was simply the rupture with tradition made by Calvinists which produced certain changes of life-styles which, in turn, affected society in Protestant countries in later centuries. But the heart of this study shows clearly that Calvin himself was aware of the epochal character of his own (social and economic) teaching and of the transforming implications of the Genevan pattern which he had a hand in forming” (11).

5. Examples in Colonial America.

a. The First Great Awakening (1725-75) raised up many American universities. 100 of the first 110 American universities were founded expressly founded for the purpose of training men to propagate the Christian faith.

b. American educational and political systems, Christian influences.

1) Colonial education was classical and Christian, with the Bible and its principles primary to all learning. The New England Primer appeared about 1690 and was almost universally adopted. It was the chief beginning reading book for American schools for over 100 years. The contents clearly show its religious character and purpose which included forty pages containing the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

2) Framers of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. The vast majority at the Constitutional Convention (55 delegates) were members of Protestant churches: 28 Episcopalians, eight Presbyterians, seven Congregationalists, two Lutherans, two Dutch Reformed, two Methodists, two Roman Catholics, three Deists, one unknown.

c. The Wesley-Whitefield revivals resulted in millions of Christian conversions. Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was converted after hearing the preface of Luther’s commentary on Romans read at Aldersgate: “About a quarter before nine, which they were describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, and Christ alone, for my salvation, and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine.”

d. Wesley preached the social responsibilities of Christian piety:

1772 – Slavery was judicially excluded from England, 14,000 freed

1792 – Conditions aboard slave ships were regulated by law

1808 – The English slave trade was abolished.

1831 – All European slave trade abolished. England spent 15 million pounds for enforcement, even making payments to Spain and Portugal to stop the trade.

1833 – Slavery abolished in British Empire: 45 million pounds paid in compensation to free 780,933 slaves. Wilberforce, along with Buxton, Macaulay, and Clark . . . all evangelicals who were converted under Wesley’s ministry, were the top leaders in ending slavery (This British action in the 1830’s profoundly affected American attitudes which resulted in the Civil War).

e. Prison reform: John Howard, Elizabeth Fry (England); Fliedner (Germany). Florence Nightingale, the mother of modern nursing, was trained in one of Fliedner’s schools in Kaiserswerth.

f. Labor reform: Anthony Ashley Cooper (Earl of Shaftesbury, self-described “Evangelical of the Evangelicals” pioneered child-labor laws, prohibited women working in the mines, established mental health sanitarium, built parts and libraries).

g. Harriett Beecher Stowe. Daughter of a preacher, married to a preacher; all her brothers were preachers. Her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin ignited the minds and imaginations of people in both North and South. “So this is the little lady who made this big war,” said Abraham Lincoln upon meeting her for the first time. Her book was the first great American bestseller. (Initial print run was 300,000 copies. Sold three million copies in America, then 40 million worldwide in 40 languages).

h. The Third Great Awakening (1858-59) produced a rash of missionary and philanthropic organizations in the U. S. and England:

• Barnardo’s Homes (world’s largest orphanage system)
• William Booth’s Salvation Army
• Henri Dunant, a student evangelist in Geneva, founded the Red Cross in 1865
• YMCA was founded in 1844 and grew greatly
• The missionaries from William Carey on:

—CMS (Christian Missionary Society) taught 200,000 to read in East Africa in one generation
—Secured the abolition of widow-burning and child sacrifice
—Brought medicine to the world
—Actually founded the educational systems in China, Japan, and Korea.

i. Today: World Vision, Wycliffe Bible Translators, Mission agencies, Parachurch groups, Denominational missionaries, medical personnel, teachers, and volunteers.


“It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the coming of Christianity. It brought with it, for one thing, an altogether new sense of human life. For the Greeks had shown man his mind; but the Christians showed him his soul. They taught that in the sight of God, all souls were equal, that every human life was sacrosanct and inviolate. Where the Greeks had identified the beautiful and the good, had thought ugliness to be bad, had shrunk from disease and imperfection and from everything misshapen, horrible, and repulsive, the Christian sought out the diseased, the crippled, the mutilated, to give them help. Love, for the ancient Greek, was never quite distinguished from Venus. For the Christians held that God was love, it took on deep overtones of sacrifice and compassion.” – R. R. Palmer (standard college history text)

“The history of Christianity is inseparable from the history of Western culture and of Western society. For almost a score of centuries Christian beliefs, principles, and ideals have colored the thoughts and feelings of Western man. The traditions and practices have left an indelible impress not only on developments of purely religious interest, but on virtually the total endeavor of man. This has been manifest in art and literature, science and law, politics and economics, and, as well, in love and war. Indeed, the indirect and unconscious influence Christianity has often exercised in avowedly secular matters—social, intellectual, and institutional—affords striking proof of the dynamic forces that have been generated by the faith over the millenniums. Even those who have contested its claims and rejected its tenets have been affected by what they opposed. Whatever our beliefs, all of us today are inevitable heirs to this abundant legacy; and it is impossible to understand the cultural heritage that sustains and conditions our lives without considering the contributions of Christianity.”

“Since the death of Christ, his followers have known vicissitudes as well as glory and authority. The Christian religion has suffered periods of persecution and critical divisions within its own ranks. It has been the cause and the victim of war and strife. It has assumed forms of astonishing variety. It has been confronted by revolutionary changes in human and social outlooks and subjected to searching criticism. The culture of our own time, indeed, has been termed the most completely secularized form of culture the world has ever known. We live in what some have called the post-Christian age. Yet wherever we turn to enrich our lives, we continue to encounter the lasting historical realities of Christian experience and tradition.”{7}

In contrast to the Christian system, modern materialistic philosophies do not provide a strong basis for reform. Humanism is, in effect, a philosophic smuggler; it has borrowed the “dignity of man” from Christian precepts and has not bothered to say, “Thank you.”


1. W. E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals, NY: Appleton, 1905, Vol. I, 28-29) (explanatory insert mine).
2. Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian, p. 21.
3. Arnold Toynbee, Horizon magazine, 1973).
4. Lyn White, Science Magazine, 1967.
5. The Environmental Handbook, p. 25.
6. Alan Menninger: Whatever Became of Sin?
7. Roland H. Bainton, Professor Emeritus, Ecclesiastical History, Yale University. Horizon Magazine, Marshall B. Davidson, et. al., American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc.: New York. Distributed by Harper and Row, 1964.


Cairns, Earle E. Saints and Society. Moody Press, Chicago, 1960.

Graham, W. Fred. The Constructive Revolutionary. Atlanta: John Knox, 1971.

Hooykaas, R. Religion and the Rise of Modern Science. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Kirk, Russell. The Roots of American Order. LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1975.

Latourette, Kenneth Scott. A History of Christianity. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1953.

Moberg, David O. Inasmuch. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Moeler, Bernd. Imperial Cities and the Reformation. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. 1972.

Rookmaaker, H. R. Modern Art and the Death of Culture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1970.

Whitehead, Alfred North. Science and the Modern World. New York: Macmillan Co., 1926.

© 2000 Probe Ministries International


Education: The Three-Legged Stool

In the late 80’s when the Communist walls were coming down in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, columnist Jack Anderson commented: “I don’t mean to minimize the Soviet danger, but while spending trillions of dollars on the military, we’ve completely neglected our economic defenses, while the Japanese have been assaulting our economic citadel . . . Japan is a nation of engineers and producers. We’re a nation of lawyers and consumers. Japan sacrifices today for tomorrow. And we sacrifice tomorrow for today.”

After the Revolutions, the possibility of armed aggression (time will tell) upon the U. S. seems at present even more remote than Anderson noted. But the second part of his comment focuses upon the present concerns of the Clinton Administration and others with respect to America’s flagging educational endeavors. That is, we are told we must upgrade learning at all levels so we might again compete economically with Japan and the European Community and reclaim our “rightful” place as “Number 1” in the world.

Competition is a healthy thing to a point. But I submit that whatever Herculean measures undertaken by educational agencies might actually produce the mathematicians, engineers, and scientists needed to bring us back up to global “par,” we would still be woefully short of proper educational goals for the nation. The educational crisis of the 90’s has shown to be a supreme failure, as it is driven mostly by economic concerns, ignoring Jesus’ reminder that man simply cannot live by bread alone. We must therefore insist that the educational establishment do something beyond cranking out human “hardware”–graduates who perform acceptably in the market place in the production of competitive goods and services, but have chests with no hearts.

It is one thing to teach young Americans how to make a living; it is quite another to teach them how to live. This is the “software” part of the educational process. The tension between intellectual and moral development in educating the young is as old as civilization. Aristotle spoke keenly to this point in the fourth century B.C. when he said,

“Intellectual virtue is for the most part produced and increased by instruction, and therefore requires experience and time; whereas moral or ethical virtue is the product of habit . . . . The virtues we acquire by first having practiced them, just as we do the arts. It is therefore not of small moment whether we are trained from childhood in one set of habits, or another; on the contrary it is of very great, or rather of supreme, importance.”

The real question educationists must answer was posed by Jack Fraenkel: “It appears important to consider, therefore, whether we want values to develop in students accidentally or whether we intend to deliberately influence their value development in directions we consider desirable.” It goes without saying that the “values clarification” approach of today never intends to accomplish the latter, and there is no guarantee that even the former is being achieved among today’s young!

Our Founding Fathers faced clearly the necessity of providing an educational experience that encompassed both the cognitive and moral spheres. As early as 1787, Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, setting aside land for educational purposes with these words: “Religion, morality, and knowledge being essential to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

This three-legged stool upon which children could learn and a vibrant, strong society could be built encompassed the inter- relatedness and necessary cooperation of the church, the home, and the school. Sadly, today the “stool” is largely missing a couple of legs. And the third (public education) has assigned to itself (with our increasing encouragement) the task of providing all three! This is neither possible, nor is it desirable. By its very nature, pluralistic public education dictates a methodological approach that of necessity dilutes religious and moral teaching to abstract speculation with no direction or call for personal commitment to a point of view. Rather, the goal is simply that everyone should have a point of view! The paralysis of this approach with respect to religion and moral values spills over to the knowledge “leg” as well. Deprived of metaphysical and moral certitude, information proliferates and expands like so much pizza dough; it is swung wildly around classrooms, but it won’t stick to anything!

No wonder learning is such a chore, such uninteresting, laborious work for our sons and daughters. Bombarded with information, many youngsters face life on “perpetual overload,” stunted and numbed in the process because they lack the intellectual, skeletal framework upon which they can separate and arrange the truly important from the trivial.

We who have children must increasingly look to ourselves to remedy this situation. And we are in good company. Most of the best education throughout history has not occurred in public educational arenas. Its has emerged from the hearts of caring parents who refuse to sacrifice their children upon the altars of popular educational notions and experiments. Dr. Ronald Nash’s penetrating analysis of this struggle in The Closing of the American Heart charts a path that you and I can follow in identifying the real roots of the American educational crisis and what to do about it.

“And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; And you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. . . . And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. And shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:6-9

©2000 Probe Ministries.

Church and State


Soon after assuming office as president, Thomas Jefferson received a letter from the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut containing warm congratulations for his victory. In January of 1802 Jefferson drafted a response of unpredictable importance. The contents of the letter have influenced the shape of the American debate over the place of religion in public affairs ever since. Addressing the Baptists, Jefferson wrote:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinion, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. {1} (emphasis added)

The idea of a “high wall of separation” first entered into our nation’s judicial conscience in the 1947 Everson v. Board of Education case. Although the court decided to allow public funding for the transportation of Catholic school students, it invoked the “high wall” doctrine as a rule for determining the future use of public funds. Justice Hugo Black appealed to Supreme Court precedent as well as the intent of the Founding Fathers in winning his 5-4 decision which included the “high wall” language. Justice Black wrote that our founders “reached the conviction that individual religious liberty could be achieved best under a government which was stripped of all power to tax, to support, or otherwise to assist any or all religions, or to interfere with the beliefs of any religious individual or group.”{2} This 1947 decision became the catalyst for a growing debate in the last half of the 20th century regarding the relationship between faith and government in America.

The phrase high wall of separation has divided Americans into a number of different groups depending upon their theological and political leanings. Some feel that the high court drastically overstepped the original meaning of Jefferson’s words, going far beyond his original intent. Others applaud the Court’s attempt to separate once and for all this country’s bias towards Christianity, especially its Protestant wing. Since the question often revolves around the original intent of the Founding Fathers, many seek to determine whether or not the Founders supported a Christian state, a secular state, or something in between.

All of this points to a few important questions faced by Christians. How should individual believers and the church as a whole relate to the state and its various institutions? What about the role individuals should take in politics, efforts to reform government, and attempts to pass laws that make our society behave more “biblically”? In this article we will look at three different responses to these questions and examine some of the pros and cons of each. Since every believer is limited in both their time and resources, it is important to think carefully about where we focus our efforts in furthering God’s kingdom. The purpose of this discussion is not to question anyone’s commitment to Christ, but to merely step back and look at some of the underlying assumptions held by each of these three positions.

Anti-Religious Separatists

Americans support the notion of separation of church and state by a small majority.{3} Just what we mean by separate seems to be the real issue. Some go as far as to argue that any position on public policy that is motivated by a religious belief is out of bounds and should not receive a hearing. This group, who might be called “anti-religious separatists,” argues that religion is fine as long as it does not invade the public sphere. Religion must impact only private morality; if it leaks into the public square where policy making actually occurs, it is inappropriate at best. There are many examples of such anti-religious bias. Writing about a speech that Ronald Reagan made that included religious overtones, a New York Times article said, “You don’t have to be a secular humanist to take offense at that display of what, in America, should be private piety. . . . Americans ask piety in Presidents, not displays of religious preference. Mr. Reagan uttered not just an ecumenical summons to the spirit. He was pandering to the Christian right that helped to propel his national political career.”{4} Another presidential candidate wrote, “No president should attempt to transform policy debates into theological disputes.”{5} Some believe the separation of church and state to mean a complete separation of religious values from public policy debates.

It’s one thing to complain of inappropriate public piety, it is quite another to apply an anti-religious bias to court decisions and other actions that affect all Americans, religious or not. In one of the most important Supreme Court decisions on the separation of church and state in regards to education, Justices William Douglas and Hugo Black concurred that religious schools are by nature harmful. Writing specifically about Catholics schools they said:

The whole education of the child is filled with propaganda. That, of course, is the very purpose of such schools, the very reason for going to all of the work and expense of maintaining a dual school system. Their purpose is not so much to educate, but to indoctrinate and train, not to teach Scripture truths and Americanism, but to make loyal Roman Catholics. The children are regimented, and are told what to wear, what to do, and what to think.{6}

Although this quote refers specifically to Catholic schools, its description could apply to many types of private religious schools. This caricature of private Christian schools, that they do not teach but indoctrinate, that they fail to convey Americanism (whatever that is), is still a concern of many who have observed and objected to the recent rapid growth in private schooling.

Those who hold an “anti-religious separatist” viewpoint often talk positively of an American civil religion. The idea is that some religion might be better than no religion at all, but it must never actually enter into policy decisions. A thin veneer of religion is all that is needed. An example might be President Dwight Eisenhower urging Americans to spend the first Fourth of July holiday of his administration in prayer and penance. He then proceeded to fish in the morning, go golfing in the afternoon, and play cards all evening.{7}

When Christians advocate such a vague form of public religion, they do great harm to the faith. A lukewarm civil religion does not address the redeeming sacrifice that makes Christianity what it is. Nor does it value the revealed knowledge found in the Bible. The idea of providing America with a non- preferential treatment of religion is legitimate. The danger lies in the promotion or religious activity that waters down the beliefs of the various faiths, both Christian and non-Christian.

Christian America

It is a popular notion among Christians that America was founded as a Christian nation, and that the goal of believers everywhere should be to place our government back into the hands of committed Christians who hold acceptable views on theological and moral issues. As a corollary to this position, it follows that our nation’s institutions, its schools, courts, regulatory commissions, etc, should be established on Christian principles. Various Christian groups use language that supports this view. The Christian Coalition, Eagle Forum, Concerned Women for America, and others often present this perspective. Jerry Falwell has stated, “Any diligent student of American history finds that our great nation was founded by godly men upon godly principles to be a Christian nation.”{8} John Whitehead, in his 1977 book The Separation Illusion, wrote, “In recent years Christians and non-Christians alike have been questioning whether America was ever a Christian nation. Without doubt it was, but secular historians have eradicated as much Christian influence as possible from history.”{9}

Pat Robertson began the Christian Coalition in response to this perceived conspiracy to purge our history and government from Christianity. Stating its goals, its executive director said, “What Christians have got to do is take back this country, one precinct at a time, one neighborhood at a time, and one state at a time, I honestly believe that in my lifetime we will see a country once again governed by Christians . . . and Christian values.”{10}

This view has much to commend itself in the actual words used by our Founding Fathers. John Eidsmoe, Peter Marshall, Marshall Foster, and David Barton have provided a wealth of examples in their writings of how the Founders used Christian ideas and terminology to describe their efforts to create a new nation.

Those who hold to this view are comfortable with making Christianity the semi- established religion of America. Everywhere the government is involved in our lives would take on a Christian flavor. Every citizen, regardless of religious affiliation, would be responsible for understanding and adjusting to this ubiquitous Christian culture.

To many, this would be doing to those of other faiths, including atheists, just what we have been accusing them of doing to Christians. Forcing people to separate their public lives from their beliefs and thus denying them their first amendment freedom of religion. Another question that arises is, What are Christians going to do if they fail to muster the necessary votes to put into place the people and legislation that they desire?

This line of thinking can easily lead to a “whatever it takes” mentality to return the nation to its Christian roots, including armed revolt if necessary. This form of Christian ethnocentricity discounts the importance of Christians in other countries and the possibility that God might use other nations as well as the U.S. to accomplish His purposes.

There is no question that we have been blessed as a nation because our Founding Fathers built our government on Christian principles regarding human nature and a theistic view of reality. We enjoy common grace as a people when our laws conform to God’s standard of justice. The question that we must ask is, Can we as Christians can impose a biblical culture on a majority who no longer acknowledge the authority of Scripture? Since only 32 percent of Americans agree that “The government should take special steps to protect the Judeo-Christian heritage,” this question is more than theoretical.{11} Perhaps a better goal would be to work for a government based on the concepts of freedom and neutrality with regards to religion.

Positive Neutrality

The idea of positive neutrality begins with the assumption that both religious structures and the state possess a certain degree of sovereignty over their respective domains. Each possess certain rights and responsibilities and should be free to operate without interference from the other. As the Dutch Protestant Abraham Kuyper stated it: “The sovereignty of the State and the sovereignty of the Church exist side by side, and they mutually limit each other.”{12} Christians can find support for this view in biblical passages that describe both the church and the state as divinely ordained realities (1 Peter 2 and Romans 13).

Positive neutrality argues that religious organizations have both rights and responsibilities. According to Stephen Monsma, author of Positive Neutrality, religious groups have the right to develop and teach their core beliefs, to shape their member’s behavior and attitudes, to provide a wide range of services to members and non-members, and to participate in the policy making process of our republic. On the responsibility side, religious organizations must both accept and seek to enhance the authority and legitimacy of the state and encourage its members to obey its lawful decisions. Religious groups should also seek to develop civic virtue that enhances public life and not attempt to take over those things given to the state to perform. This does not mean that religious groups do not have the right to criticize the state; it means that they may not work to remove its legitimacy.

According to the notion of positive neutrality, the state also has certain rights and responsibilities. The government should make decisions that coordinate, protect, encourage, and empower society’s various spheres of influence (including the religious sphere) with the goal of promoting justice, the public interest, the common good, or some other similar goal. The state is not to transgress the sovereignty of the other spheres although there are times when it is appropriate for the state to give material aid, in a neutral manner, to organizations in another sphere.

The immediate impact of moving towards a system of positive neutrality would be reflected in three areas. First, our political system would have to tolerate and accommodate a wider range of religious practices. Second, the state would have to protect the right of religious groups to influence public policies. And finally, rather than working only through secularly based groups and programs, the government would fund the activities of both religious and secular groups for the purpose of providing needed social programs. These changes may be possible only by dropping the “secular purpose” part of what is known as the Lemon test, a three part test for appropriate government spending resulting from the Lemon v. Kurtzman Supreme Court case in 1971.

What this means, in effect, is that when the government gives financial aid to schools, homeless shelters, day care, or other agencies, it cannot discriminate against religiously based organizations. To continue to do so shows a bias towards secular organizations, motivations, and ideals.


We have considered three views of how the church and the state should relate to each other. The first was the anti-religious separatists. This group included those who desire what could be called a naked public square, naked of any religious influence. The second was the Christian America perspective; it advocates a sacred public square and the semi-establishment of the Christian religion. The third view is called positive neutrality, which argues for an open public square. The first two positions discriminate against the religious rights of Christians or non-Christians, the last treats all religious groups equally and does not favor secular organizations over religious ones.

Let’s look at the specific issue of religion in our schools and see how the notion of positive neutrality might change what we consider to be constitutional and what isn’t. Currently the Court uses a three part test to determine constitutionality. First, a program must have a secular purpose. Second, it cannot further a religious effect, and finally, it may not cause excessive entanglement between religion and the state. In its attempt at applying these rules, the Court has created a very unclear line of what is permissible and what isn’t. It has forbidden state-composed prayers, Bible reading, reading of the Lord’s Prayer, posting the Ten Commandments, a minute of silence for meditation and prayer, mandating the teaching of evidence for creationism, and certain types of prayers at graduation ceremonies. However, it has permitted release time programs held off campus for religious instruction, teaching about religion, transportation for private school children, a minute of silence for meditation, and voluntary, student-led and -initiated religious clubs.

The obvious result of the Lemon test has been a bias against the religious and for the secular, not neutrality. In trying to account for local religious practices, some justices have argued that prayer and religious celebrations are actually secular and traditional activities rather than acts of worship. This tactic satisfies no one. Positive neutrality argues for a full and free play of all religious groups and of both religion and secularism. True neutrality is achieved by welcoming and encouraging all religions and secular philosophies to participate in the open marketplace of ideas on campus.

True neutrality could be accomplished in our public schools by applying the equal access principle the Court used in Westside Community Schools v. Mergen. This decision treated all extracurricular clubs, both religious and secular, with neutrality. This principle could be applied to prayer, the study of origins, and the posting of the Ten Commandments. In effect, this would remove some of the anti-religious bias that pervades public schools.

Neutrality is also enhanced when the government encourages educational choice by funding private schools regardless of their religious or non-religious nature. By allowing vouchers for parents to use to send their children to religious schools of their choice, the government would be treating religious and non-religious schools in a neutral manner.

Positive neutrality insists that religious ideas should never be forced to hide themselves behind secular ones in order to participate in the public square. The government is not being neutral when it endorses a secular idea over a religious one in our schools or in other social programs. While many Americans are unhappy with the government’s current bias against religious beliefs, it remains to be seen if they are ready for real religious freedom that would allow full participation in the public realm by all faiths and philosophies.


1. Edwin Gaustad, Sworn On The Altar Of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 99.

2. Wayne House, ed., Restoring The Constitution (Dallas, TX: Probe Books, 1987), 298.

3. Stephen V. Monsma, Positive Neutrality (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 57.
4. Ibid., 63.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid., 71.

7. George Will, “Who Put Morality In Politics?” Newsweek, 1980.

8. Monsma, 73.

9. John Whitehead, The Separation Illusion (Milford, MI: Mott Media, 1977), 17.

10. Monsma, 73.

11. Ibid., 57.

12. Ibid., 179.

©2000 Probe Ministries

Rousseau: An Interesting Madman

Popular song lyrics often have a way of reflecting what many people think, but rarely articulate. Recently, a song with a catchy tune and lots of airtime verbalized a way of thinking about God that is quite popular. The song, What God Said by a group called the Uninvited begins with the lyrics, “I talked to God and God said ‘Hey! I’ve got a lot of things to say; write it down this very day and spread the word in every way.’” This is a remarkably evangelistic idea in this day of absolute tolerance for other people’s beliefs. However, this god who has revealed himself to the songwriter doesn’t expect much from the listener. According to the first verse we are to floss between each meal, drive with both hands on the wheel, and not be too sexually aggressive on the first date. In the second verse god wants us to ride bikes more, feed the birds, and clean up after our pets.

The third verse gets a little more interesting. God supposedly reveals that humans killed his only son and that his creation is undone, but that he can’t help everyone. These obvious references to the incarnation of Christ and the Fall of Adam set up the listener for the solution to mankind’s situation which, according to the song, is to “start with the basics—just be nice and see if that makes things all right.” The chorus drives home this theology by repeating often that “I talked to God and God said nothing special, I talked to God and God said nothing that we shouldn’t already know, shouldn’t already know.”

This idea, namely that any revelation from God would consist primarily of common sense notions, is a product of the Enlightenment and found an extraordinary voice in the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau argued that all one needs to know about God has been revealed in nature or in one’s own conscience. Rousseau is often called the father of the French revolution, a movement that exalted the worship of reason and attempted to purge the clergy and Christianity from French culture. Although Rousseau wasn’t around for the bloodshed of the revolution itself, his idea of a natural theology helped to provide a framework for rejecting special revelation and the organized church.

Few people in history have caused such a wide spectrum of responses to their ideas. At his death, Rousseau’s burial site became a place of pilgrimage. George Sand referred to him as “Saint Rousseau,” Shelly called him a “sublime genius,” and Schiller, a “Christ-like soul for whom only Heaven’s angels are fit company.”{1} However, others had a different perspective. His one and only true love, Sophie d’Houdetot, referred to him as an “interesting madman.” Diderot, a long time acquaintance, summed him up as “deceitful, vain as Satan, ungrateful, cruel, hypocritical and full of malice.”{2} In addition to anything else that might be said about Rousseau, he was at least an expert at being a celebrity. He was a masterful self-promoter who knew how to violate public norms just enough to stay in the public eye.

Interestingly enough, Rousseau’s ideas have actually had greater and longer impact outside of France. Two centuries later, his natural theology plays a significant role in determining our society’s view of human nature as well as how we educate our children. Thus it is important to consider the thoughts of Rousseau and see how they impact our culture today, especially in the realm of education.

Rousseau’s Natural Theology

To begin our examination of the thoughts of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his impact on our view of human nature and education, we will turn our attention to the foundational thoughts of his natural theology.

Rousseau often claims in his writings that all he seeks is the truth, and he is very confident that he knows it when he sees it. Being a child of the Enlightenment, Rousseau begins with the Cartesian assumption that he exists and that the universe is real. He then decides that the first cause of all activity is a will, rather than matter itself. He states, “I believe therefore that a will moves the universe and animates nature. This is my first dogma, or my first article of faith.”{3} He then argues that this “will” that moves matter is also intelligent. Finally, Rousseau writes that “This ‘being’ which wills and is powerful, this being active in itself, this being, whatever it may be, which moves the universe and orders all things, I call God.”{4} So far, so good, but according to Rousseau, to guess the purpose of this being or to ask questions beyond immediate necessity would be foolish and harmful. Rousseau writes “But as soon as I want to contemplate Him in Himself, as soon as I want to find out where He is, what He is, what His substance is, He escapes me, and my clouded mind no longer perceives anything.”{5}

The problem with Rousseau’s view of God is that we can know so little of Him. Rousseau rejects special revelation and argues that it is only by observing nature and looking inward that we can perceive anything at all about the Creator. Rousseau perceives from nature that the earth was made for humans and that humanity is to have dominion over it. He also argues that humanity will naturally worship the Creator, stating, “I do not need to be taught this worship; it is dictated to me by nature itself.”{6} In Rousseau’s opinion, to seek any other source than nature for how to worship God would be to seek man’s opinion and authority, both of which are rejected as destructive.

Rousseau believes that humans are autonomous creatures, and that humanity is free to do evil, but that doing evil detracts from satisfaction with oneself. Rousseau thanks God for making him in His image so that he can be free, good, and happy like God.{7} Death is merely the remedy of the evils that we do. As he puts it, “nature did not want you to suffer forever.”{8}

Rousseau is clear about the source of evil. He writes, “Man, seek the author of evil no longer. It is yourself. No evil exists other than that which you do or suffer, and both come to you from yourself. . . .Take away the work of man, and everything is good.”{9} It is reason that will lead us to the “good.” A divine instinct has been placed in our conscience that allows us to judge what is good and bad. The question remains that if each person possesses this divine instinct to know the good, why do so many not follow it? Rousseau’s answer is that our conscience speaks to us in “nature’s voice” and that our education in civil man’s prejudices causes us to forget how to hear it.{10} So the battle against evil is not a spiritual one, but one of educational methods and content.

Although Rousseau thought he was saving God from the rationalists, mankind is left to discern good and evil with only nature as its measuring rod, and education as its savior.

A Philosophy of Education

Whether you agree with his ideas or not, Rousseau was an intellectual force of such magnitude that his ideas still impact our thinking about human nature and the educational process two centuries later. His work Emile compares to Plato’s Republic in its remarkable breadth. Not only does the book describe a pedagogical method for training children to become practically perfect adults, but he also builds in it an impressive philosophical foundation for his educational goals. Emile is a very detailed account of how Rousseau would raise a young lad (Emile) to adulthood, as well as a description of the perfect wife for his charge. Along the way, Rousseau proposes his natural theology which finds ardent followers all over the world today.

Although Emile was written in the suburbs of Paris, Rousseau’s greatest impact on educational practice has actually been outside of France.{11} French educators have been decidedly non-Romantic when it comes to early childhood education. Rousseau had a great deal of influence on the inventor of the Kindergarten, Friedrich Froebel, as well as the educational Romantics Johann Pestalozzi and Johann Herbart. These three educators’ names are engraved on the Horace Mann building on the campus of Teachers College, Columbia University. Columbia has been, and continues to be, at the center of educational reform in America, and happens to have been the home of John Dewey, America’s premier progressive thinker and educational philosopher. Dewey and William Heard Kilpatrick further secularized and applied the thinking of Froebel, Pestalozzi, and Herbart, and thus Rousseau.

The common bond that connects these educators is a Romantic view of human nature. Besides a general faith in the goodness of all humanity, there are two other Romantic fallacies that are particularly dangerous when carried to extremes. The first is what is called the doctrine of developmentalism, or natural tempo, which states that bookish knowledge should not be introduced at an early age.{12} Second is the notion of holistic learning, which holds that natural or lifelike, thematic methods of instruction are always superior.{13} Both ideas tend to be anti-fact oriented and regard the systematic instruction of any material at an early age harmful. This has had a profound effect on how we teach reading in this country. The ongoing battle between whole- language methods and the use of systematic phonics centers on this issue. When the Romantic view prevails, which it often does in our elementary schools, systematic phonics disappears.

Rousseau’s theology and educational methods are tightly bound together. He argues against the biblical view that humanity is fallen and needs a redeemer. He believes that our reason and intellect are fully capable of discerning what is right and wrong without the need of special revelation or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As a result, Rousseau argues that a proper education is man’s only hope for knowing what limited truth is available.

Rousseau and Childhood Education

An interesting aspect of Rousseau’s child-raising techniques is his reliance on things to constrain and train a child rather than people. Rousseau rightfully asserts that education begins at birth, a very modern concept. However, in his mind early education should consist mainly of allowing as much freedom as possible for the child. Rebellion against people is to be avoided at all costs because it could cause an early end to a student’s education and result in a wicked child. He puts it this way: “As long as children find resistance only in things and never in wills, they will become neither rebellious nor irascible and will preserve their health better.”{14} Rousseau believed that a teacher or parent should never lecture or sermonize. Experience, interaction with things, is a far more effective teacher. This dependence on experience is at the core of modern progressive education as well.

As a result, Rousseau was remarkably hostile towards books and traditional education’s dependency on them. From the very beginning of Emile, he is adamant that books should play little or no part in the young man’s education. He claims that, “I take away the instruments of their greatest misery—that is books. Reading is the plague of childhood and almost the only occupation we know how to give it. At twelve, Emile will hardly know what a book is.”{15} At one point Rousseau simply says, “I hate books. They only teach one to talk about what one does not know.”{16}

A corollary aspect of this negative view of books is Rousseau’s belief that children should never be forced to memorize anything. He even suggests that an effort be made to keep their vocabulary simple prior to their ability to read. This antagonism towards books and facts fits well with Rousseau’s notion that people “always try to teach children what they would learn much better by themselves.”{17}

He also believed that children should never memorize what they can not put to immediate use. Rousseau acknowledged that children memorize easily, but felt that they are incapable of judgment and do not have what he calls true memory. He argued that children are unable to learn two languages prior to the age of twelve, a belief that has been refuted by recent research.

Prior to that age, Emile is allowed to read only one book, Robinson Crusoe. Why Crusoe? Because Rousseau wants Emile to see himself as Crusoe, totally dependent upon himself for all of his needs. Emile is to imitate Crusoe’s experience, allowing necessity to determine what needs to be learned and accomplished. Rousseau’s hostility towards books and facts continues to impact educational theory today. There is a strong and growing sentiment in our elementary schools to remove the shackles of book knowledge and memorization and to replace them with something called the “tool” model of learning.

Rousseau’s Philosophy and Modern “Tools”

Rousseau argued against too much bookish knowledge and for natural experiences to inform young minds. Today, something called the “tool” model carries on this tradition. It is argued that knowledge is increasing so rapidly that spending time to stockpile it or to study it in books results in information that is soon outdated. We need to give our students the “tools” of learning, and then they can find the requisite facts, as they become necessary to their experience.

Two important assumptions are foundational to this argument. First, that the “tools” of learning can be acquired in a content neutral environment without referring to specific information or facts. And secondly, that an extremely child- centered, experience driven curriculum is always superior to a direct instruction, content oriented approach.

The “tool” model argues that “love of learning” and “critical thinking skills” are more important to understanding, let’s say chemistry, than are the facts about chemistry itself. Some argue that facts would only slow them down. Unfortunately, research in the real world does not support this view of learning. Citing numerous studies, E.D. Hirsch contends that learning new ideas is built upon previously acquired knowledge. He calls this database of information “intellectual capital” and just as it takes money to make money, a knowledge framework is necessary to incorporate new knowledge. To stress “critical thinking” prior to the acquisition of knowledge actually reduces a child’s capacity to think critically.{18} Students who lack intellectual capital must go through a strenuous process just to catch up with what well-educated children already know. If children attempt to do algebra without knowing their multiplication tables, they spend a large amount of time and energy doing simple calculations. This distracts and frustrates children and makes learning higher math much more difficult. The same could be said for history students who never learn names and dates.

The second idea is that students should learn via natural experience within a distinctly passive curriculum. While there is wisdom in letting nature set as many of the limits as possible for a child—experience is probably the most powerful teaching method—Rousseau and progressive educational theory go too far in asserting that a teacher should never preach or sermonize to a child. At an early age, children can learn from verbal instruction, especially if it occurs along with significant learning experiences. In fact, certain kinds of learning often contradict one’s experience. The teaching of morality and democratic behavior involves teaching principles that cannot be experienced immediately, and virtually everything that parents or teachers tell children about sexual behavior has religious foundations based on assumptions about human nature.

The bottom line seems to be that if higher math, morality, and civilized behavior could be learned from simply interacting with nature, Rousseau’s system would be more appealing. However, his version of the naturalistic fallacy—assuming that everything that is natural is right—would not serve our students well. Rousseau’s observations about the student-teacher relationship fall short first because of his overly optimistic view of human nature and because we believe that there is truth to convey to the next generation that cannot be experienced within nature alone.


1. Paul Johnson, Intellectuals, (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), 27.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid., 273.
4. Ibid., 277.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid., 278.
7. Ibid., 281.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid., 282.
10. Ibid., 291.
11. E.D. Hirsch, Jr., The Schools We Need & Why We Don’t Have Them (New York: Doubleday, 1996), 81.
12. Ibid., 84.
13. Ibid.
14. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile or On Education, trans. Alan Bloom (Basic Books, 1979), 66.
15. Ibid., 116.
16. Ibid., 184.
17. Ibid., 78.
18. Hirsch, 66.

© 1999 Probe Ministries International

Intellectual Capital

The Learning Gap

A recurring truth of education in America is that children from high income homes who have highly educated parents tend to do well in school. Likewise, those from low income households who have relatively uneducated parents tend to do poorly. In this country, no other factor comes close to explaining the success of some students and the failure of others.(1) What is worse, recent studies are beginning to show that the gap between low socio- economic students and their fellow classmates is beginning to grow again after a period of narrowing.(2) Because of this, a major goal of education reform is the eradication of this learning gap which is arguably the primary cause of continued poverty, high crime rates, and general distrust between those who participate in the American dream and those on its margins. Unfortunately, there is considerable disagreement as to how American public education should be reformed.

Professional educators have tended to endorse a package of reforms that have been around since the 1920s and 30s. These reforms are associated with the Progressive Education Movement which emphasized “naturalistic,” “project-oriented,” “hands-on,” and “critical- thinking” curricula and “democratic” education policies.(3) Beginning in 1918 with the Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education, published by the Bureau of Education, educators have challenged the emphasis on subject matter and have attempted to replace it with what might be called the “tool” metaphor.

The “tool” metaphor maintains that students should not be filled with a lot of useless knowledge, but instead, should be taught how to learn. Although various arguments are used to promote this view, the one most often heard goes something like this: “Since knowledge is growing so quickly, in fact it is exploding, we need to teach kids how to learn, not a bunch of facts that will quickly become outdated.” It has been shown by historian Lawrence Cremin that our elementary schools have been dominated by this metaphor since the 1960s, and that our secondary schools are not far behind.(4) The result of this monopoly has been a reduction of what might be called “Intellectual Capital.” The loss of this “Capital” is the focus of an important book titled The Schools We Need, by E. D. Hirsch. Hirsch is an advocate for what has been called “cultural literacy,” the notion that all children need to be taught the core knowledge of our society in order to function within it successfully. Implementing his arguments may provide our only chance for equal opportunity for all Americans, regardless of class, race, or ethnicity.

For Christians, this is an issue of justice and mercy. Unless we are comfortable with the growing number of people unable to clothe, house, and feed themselves and their families, we need to think seriously about why our educational system fails so many children. Teachers are more educated than ever before, class-sizes have continued to decline, and teachers have made great gains in personal income. But while America continues to spend much more to educate its children than do most countries of the world, it also continues to fall behind in student performance. Could it be that the problem lies in the philosophy which drives what teachers teach and how they teach it? Our argument is exactly that–that educators, particularly at the elementary school level, have adopted a view of education that places an extra burden on those who can least afford it, our least affluent children.

Defining Intellectual Capital

Earlier we stated that poverty and suffering in America can be partially blamed on an education system that fails to prepare children from lower socio-economic backgrounds with a foundation that will allow them to compete with children from middle and upper-class homes. Central to this argument is a notion called intellectual capital. Let’s begin this discussion by defining the term and explaining its importance. In his book, The Schools We Need, E. D. Hirsch, Jr., argues that “just as it takes money to make money, it takes knowledge to make knowledge.”(5) He contends that those children who begin school with an adequate level of intellectual capital have a framework upon which further learning may be built. Those who lack the necessary educational experiences and sufficient vocabulary tend to fall further and further behind.

Not just any information serves as intellectual capital. According to Hirsch the knowledge taught and learned must be of a type that “constitutes the shared intellectual currency of the society,” or put another way, “intellectual capital has to be the widely useful and negotiable coin of the realm.”(6) Just as play money doesn’t purchase much in the real world, neither does knowledge that falls outside of this “shared intellectual currency.” The current controversy surrounding Ebonics is an example. I doubt that Hirsch would agree that time spent either teaching or affirming a supposedly African-based language system is helpful to young people who need to compete in the American economic system.

Understanding Hirsch’s point about intellectual capital would interesting, but not very useful, if not for the fact that research has shown that initial deficits in specific children can be overcome if done so at an early age. Other nations, with equally diverse populations, have shown that early disparities in learning can be remediated if this notion of a shared knowledge base is taken seriously. France is an example of such a nation. Its “knowledge intensive” early childhood education programs have performed an amazing feat. “Remarkably, in France, the initial gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students, instead of widening steadily as in the United States, decreases with each school grade. By the end of seventh grade, the child of a North African immigrant who has attended two years of French preschool will on average have narrowed the socially induced learning gap.”(7)

One might ask what American schools are teaching if not a knowledge intensive “core curriculum” like the one found in the French model. This question is difficult to answer because there is no agreed- upon curriculum for elementary students in this country. Our desire to treat teachers as autonomous teaching professionals often means that little or no supervision of what is taught occurs. There are a number of good arguments for local control of our schools, but when it comes to the curriculum, it has resulted in little consistency from one school to another, and even from one classroom to another in the same building.

Can’t we all agree that by the end of the first grade students ought to be able to do and know certain things? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. At this point, we will look at some of the philosophical reasons for the vast difference in teaching methods and goals that are being advocated by different education experts.

Romantics and Traditionalists

In his book The Schools We Need, E. D. Hirsch argues that there are two distinct camps of education reformers in our country today. One group, virtually in control of the elementary and much of the secondary school curriculum, consists of what Hirsch calls the anti-knowledge progressives. This group emphasizes critical thinking skills over mere facts, the “unquestionable” value of self-esteem as a curricular end, and teaching “to the child” rather than from a curriculum focused on the content of the subject matter. They also argue against forcing a child to learn what they believe to be developmentally inappropriate schoolwork. This thinking reflects the eighteenth century Romantic era view that all children possess a spark of divinity, a notion that coincides with the pantheistic philosophies of eighteenth-century thinkers like Rousseau, Hegel, and Schelling. In 1775, Schelling wrote that “the God-infused natural world and human nature were both emanations of the same divine substance.”(8) All things natural are good. Evil lies in separation from nature, such as seating children in rows and requiring intense study from books for several years.

Rather than allowing for a mystical view of child development, traditionalists support a “core curriculum.” Hirsch points to four errors made by progressive reforms. He argues that: “(1) To stress critical thinking while de-emphasizing knowledge actually reduces a student’s capacity to think critically.(2) Giving a child constant praise to bolster self-esteem regardless of academic achievement breeds complacency, or skepticism, or both, and ultimately, a decline in self-esteem.(3) For a teacher to pay significant attention to each individual child in a class of twenty to forty students means individual neglect for most children most of the time. (4) Schoolwork that has been called ‘developmentally inappropriate’ [by progressives] has proved to be highly appropriate to millions of students the world over, while the infantile pabulum now fed to American children is developmentally inappropriate (in a downward direction) and often bores them.”(9)

As parents and taxpayers, the most vital question we want answered is, “Who is right?” Is there research that supports one side of this debate over the other? Hirsch contends that there is much evidence, from various perspectives, that supports the traditional view. However, because of the current monopoly of the progressive mindset in public education today, the traditional view is rarely even considered. Hirsch goes as far as to say that for most public school officials there is no *thinkable* alternative to the progressive view. “No professor at an American education school is going to advocate pro-rote-learning, pro-fact, or pro-verbal pedagogy.”(10) Education leaders usually respond in one of four ways to criticism: 1) They deny that our schools are ineffective. 2) They deny the dominance of progressivism itself. 3) They deny that where progressivism has been followed, that it has been authentically followed. 4) They blame insurmountable social problems on poor performance rather than the prevailing educational philosophy.

Remember, this discussion is about more than which group of experts wins and which loses! If Hirsch is right, our current form of schooling is inflicting a great injustice on all students, but even more so on those from our poorest homes and neighborhoods. Now, we will look at some of the evidence that argues against the progressive approach to education and for a more traditional curriculum.

Looking at the Research

Research has confirmed the superiority of the traditional, direct instruction method which focuses on the content to be learned rather than on the child. E. D. Hirsch, in his book The Schools We Need, has a chapter titled “Reality’s Revenge” which lends considerable detail to his argument that progressive educational theory lacks a real world foundation.

Hirsch uses evidence from three different sources to support his rejection of the progressive model for instruction. Classroom studies, research in cognitive psychology, and international comparisons all point to a common set of practices that promote the greatest amount of measurable learning by the largest number of students. This list of common practices are remarkable in that they are exactly what progressive educators in this country are arguing that we should do *less* of.

First, let’s consider the finding of two examples of classroom studies. Jane Stallings studied 108 first grade and 58 third grade classes taught by different methods and found that a strong academic focus rather than the project-method approach produced the highest gains in math and reading. The Brophy-Evertson studies on elementary students in the 70s found that classroom teaching was most effective:

• When it focused on content
• When it involved all students
• When it maintained a brisk pace
• When it required students to read aloud often
• When decoding skills were mastered to the point of over-learning
• When each child was asked to perform tasks resulting in immediate nonjudgmental feedback.

Summarizing the results of numerous classroom studies, Hirsch states, “The only truly general principle that seems to emerge from process-outcome research on pedagogy is that focused and guided instruction is far more effective than naturalistic, discovery, learn-at-your-own-pace instruction.”(11)

Cognitive psychology confirms, from another viewpoint, what classroom research has already told us. Research into short term memory has uncovered important reasons to have children in the early elementary years spend considerable effort memorizing language and mathematics basics. The argument goes something like this: Individuals have only so much room, or short-term memory, in which to juggle a number of ideas at once, and this memory space is particularly restricted for young children. In reading, children end up having to focus on both the basics of decoding and word recognition as well as on high level comprehension strategies. This gives those who have memorized phonics and who have a larger vocabulary a significant advantage over those who don’t. Children who over-learn decoding and word skills, have more time, memory- wise, to focus on higher-level kinds of thinking. In other words, rote memorization of the basics leads to higher order thinking, which is exactly the opposite of what is being stressed by progressives.

If Christians want to see our public schools become tools for social justice, to educate all children regardless of background, a content-oriented curriculum is essential. An early emphasis on higher-level thinking skills is not only a poor use of time in the classroom, but can actually slow down students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is particularly true of early elementary years when decoding skills and a large vocabulary are being acquired.

Next, we will see how international studies add more evidence to this argument for a content-focused curriculum.

International and Domestic Examples

In the discussion thus far we have been trying to discern why much of what happens in many of our classrooms fails to provide the intellectual capital elementary school children need. At this point, it should be noted and emphasized that we are not questioning the desire of our classroom teachers, or those who write curricula for the classroom, to benefit our children. We do argue that the philosophical foundations for today’s educational theories are often not supported by research, nor by a biblical view of human nature.

Earlier we noted classroom studies and findings from cognitive psychology that refute progressive educational practices. Now we will turn our attention to large-scale international comparative studies. These examples can be found in E. D. Hirsch’s book, The Schools We Need.

Just as it was found that the best American classrooms were businesslike and focused on the job at hand, international studies found that Chinese and Japanese teachers have a low tolerance for errors and rarely let self-esteem issues get in the way of correcting them. In fact, these errors are used by the teachers for assessing the strengths and weaknesses of various tactics for solving a problem. Asian classrooms begin a period with reciprocal bows and a description of what will be accomplished during the lesson. The period ends with a summary of the work. The pace tends to be slower than American classrooms, but skills are taught with greater thoroughness. Fewer problems are covered with the focus on mastering them rather than simply getting them done.

Asian teachers tend to use whole-class instruction, utilizing students’ responses to generate dialogue that moves the class towards the desired knowledge or skill. Students know that they may be called upon at any moment to provide a solution to the problem at hand. They are engaged and focused on the material. During the period students might work together in groups on a problem, but only for a short time. Asian teachers assign less seatwork to their students and embed it throughout a lesson rather than at the end of class. The American practice of giving students a long block of time at the end of class to do homework usually causes students to lose focus and become bored with the repetitive tasks.

To achieve the greatest results, the classroom must be content oriented and the teacher must be working hard to keep all students engaged in the work. Too often, American classrooms lack one of these two essential ingredients.

Hirsch’s proposals, although revolutionary to many of today’s teachers, would seem obvious to most teachers of a generation ago. They are also obvious to many Christian educators. A good example is the classical Christian education model advocated by Douglas Wilson and his Logos Schools organization.(12) Wilson endorses the Trivium curriculum model which focuses on grammar in the early grades, dialectic or logic in the middle school, and rhetoric in high school. Grammar is the memorization of the basic rules and facts of any subject matter, whether it be language or mathematics. The dialectic stage teaches students how the rules of logic apply to a subject area, and rhetoric teaches students how to communicate what they have learned. All of this can be done in a way to make it both challenging and meaningful to the vast majority of public and private school students. However, failing to accomplish this soon, we will continue to see a widening gap between those who have been vested with intellectual capital and those who have not.


1. “Quality Counts,” A special supplement to Education Week, Vol. XVI (22 Jan. 1997), p. 19. The text notes that a major study concluded that 75% of students’ achievement is the result of home and family.

2. “Achievement Gap Widening, Study Reports,” Education Week, Vol. XVI, No. 14 (4 Dec. 1997), p. 1

3. Hirsch, E.D., Jr. The Schools We Need: And Why We Don’t Have Them (New York: Doubleday, 1996), p. 7.

4. Ibid., p. 49.

5. Ibid., p. 20.

6. Ibid., p. 21.

7. Ibid., p. 42.

8. Ibid., p. 74.

9. Ibid., p. 66.

10. Ibid., p. 69.

11. Ibid., p. 184.

12. Wilson, Douglas. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1991), p. 91.

©1997 Probe Ministries

Politically Correct Ethics

Liberal Idealism’s Approach to Ethics

Ben and Jerry’s ice cream is renown for being the ice cream for those who want to be friendly to the environment. Ben and Jerry’s Homemade Inc. built a national reputation by (1) claiming to use only all natural ingredients and (2) sending a percentage of the profits to charities. The company’s Rainforest Crunch ice cream supposedly uses only nuts and berries from the rain forests.

But there is a lot more to ethical behavior than a laid-back, socially correct agenda. An audit of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. revealed the use of sulfur dioxide preservatives and use of margarine instead of butter in some of the flavors. Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. also served on the editorial board of Anita Roddick’s Body Shop, another company expounding the use of natural products. It took an article in Business Ethics to expose Body Shop’s false advertising claims and other ethical failures. Synthetic colorings, fragrances, and preservatives were being used in Body Shop products.{1}

Today we live in a world engrossed in the ideas flowing from a socially correct agenda, and it is overshadowing the time proven priority of basic business ethics. It is an agenda centered in tolerance and environmentalism. (Interestingly, those on the environmental side are not very tolerant of those who do not hold to their rigid perspective, such as their stand on not using animals in product testing.)

Levi Strauss is another interesting case in point. The company has a strong politically correct mindset, and diversity and empowerment are central for their organizational ethics. They have demonstrated a strong concern for human rights, yet they are clearly on the liberal side of family values. They have been boycotted by the American Family Association for their support of homosexuality providing benefits for the “domestic partners” of their employees.

Although this socially correct movement expounds the idea of tolerance for all, proponents tend to be very intolerant of anyone who may support a position they do not agree with. Kinko’s Copies found this out the hard way when they advertised on the Rush Limbaugh show. A boycott was quickly threatened until Kinko’s promised not to advertise on Rush’s show again.

There is great danger in using political views to measure business ethics because social goals can become equated with business ethics. This is not right. Business ethics is concerned with the fair treatment of others such as customers, employees, suppliers, stockholders, and franchisees. Truth in labeling and advertising is paramount in establishing a business enterprise and is even more important than the issues of animal testing and commitment to the rain forest, as important as they may be.{2}

This approach to ethics comes from liberal idealism. We see this perspective in Robert Bellah’s book, The Good Society. Liberal idealism seeks to transform society by social engineering. The liberal idealist looks for ways of managing a modern economy or developing broad social policiesthat will meet the needs of society as a whole. This system believes in the innate goodness of mankind, the worldview of enlightenment thinking, that men and women are fully capable of reasoning what is good and right, i.e., the autonomy of human reason. There is no felt need for revelation or any authority beyond themselves. Liberal idealism is marked by a lot of faith in government and the ability of organizational programs to orchestrate a healthy society.

We will be contrasting this line of thought with a more bottom up view that emphasizes personal integrity and greater concern for individual moral convictions.

Bottom up Ethics

But there is another more traditional way of looking at ethics. It is an individual model, rather than an organizational one. It demonstrates a greater concern for the moral conviction of individuals. This view emphasizes that institutions don’t make ethical decisions, people do. It stresses that virtue comes from the individuals who make up the many small groups and larger institutions, from families to voluntary associations to multinational corporations. The goal is to convert the individual in order to change the institution. Answers are sought more through education and/or religion to reach the individual in the belief that transformed individuals will transform their institutions.

A corporation that has established an ethics department with an approach more along the lines of the individual model is Texas Instruments. Their theme is “Know What’s RightDo What’s Right.” Their emphasis is on training individuals within the corporation to know the principles involved in each unique ethical dilemma that may present itself and motivating the individuals involved to make good ethical decisions. The company maintains various avenues of support to assist individuals within the corporation in making difficult decisions. Carl Skoogland, vice president of the Ethics Department at Texas Instruments, has said, “In any relationship an unquestionable commitment to ethics is a silent partner in all our dealings.” Their seven-point ethics test is oriented toward individual initiative:


  1. Is the action legal?
  2. Does it comply with our values?
  3. If you do it, will you feel bad?
  4. How will it look in the newspapers?
  5. If you know it is wrong, don’t do it!
  6. If you’re not sure, ask.
  7. Keep asking until you get an answer.{3}

Although critics might say these types of simple maxims lack in specific guidance, when combined with an overall educational program they help individuals think through issues and make the right decisions themselves, multiplying the base of ethical agents within the corporation.


Traditional Western culture, which has given us the most advanced and free lifestyle of any culture, has been based on both a Greek model of transcendent forms and a Judeo-Christian model of God- given objective standards. This tradition has taught us that we are all flawed and need a personal transformation before we can be of any true value in transforming society.

Religion and Education in Ethical Development

Earlier we mentioned Robert Bellah’s book, The Good Society, and its support of liberal idealism, or the ability of government and organizational programs to orchestrate a healthy society through broad social agendas.

William Sims Brainbridge, in writing a review of Bellah’s book, makes a statement that could well apply to so many of the modernist writings: “The book’s prescription sounds like a highly diluted dose of religion, when what the patient needs might be a full dose.”

This “organizational model” fails to fully appreciate the need for integration of religion and education in order to provide a united front against the materialism and self-centeredness of our present culture. As long as we allow our educational system to teach that we are evolved animals, here by chance and of no eternal significance, we can only expect short-sighted self-interest. If fundamentally all there is is matter, energy, time, and chance, why can’t one believe in anything such as apartheid, or ethnic cleansing, or euthanasia, or genocide? Where is liberal idealism’s source for personal integrity and convictions other than in cultural relativism? Under a theory of cultural relativism all intercultural comparisons of values are meaningless.

The need, of course, is for transcendent truths. By transcendent, we mean an ethical ideal independent of any given political system or order. This ethical ideal can then serve as an external critique of corporate or political aspirations or activities. Is this not what Plato was referring to when he discussed his theory of universal forms, that there are ideals beyond the reality of this physical world? In this postmodern world we are now experiencing a complete rejection by many of any objective truth. In fact, anyone who still believes in the search for truth is often labeled as ethnocentric, i.e., the liberal idealism of our present age refuses to accept that someone might find a truth that has universal application.

The ethics of enlightenment thinking do not appear to be the answer. Crane Brinton, in his book, A History of Western Morals says, “the religion of the Enlightenment has a long and unpredictable way to go before it can face the facts of life as effectively as does Christianity.”{4} We appear to have an implosion of values in a society that is seeking to teach that there is no God and no afterlife, but if you live an ethical earthly life somehow it will pay off.

British historian, Lord Acton, is best remembered for his warning that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. He believed that liberty was the highest political end. But, he also recognized that liberty can’t be the sole end of mankind. There must also be some kind of virtue, and virtue has its roots in religion. Lord Acton’s work showed that no society was truly free without religion.{5} Professionals must be educated to understand the moral worth of their actions and the roles religion and education play in promoting self-control.

Religion and Education at Odds

We have been discussing the need for both religion and education in establishing an ethical base for all our actions. But the question arises, how will we find the needed balance in an American society in which public education and traditional religions are at odds with one another over very basic presuppositions such as the nature of the universe, humanity, ethics, culture, evil, truth, and destiny?

The liberal solution has been to remove the traditional truths and make our institutions humanistic. The conservative response has been to establish an independent educational system in which those who hold to more traditional values can integrate religious truth with educational aims. We now have two major educational tracks, the public track based on the religion of secular humanism and the private track based on the religion of biblical Christianity. The professionals involved in the educational institutions must decide how to deal with the tension between the two tracks. The need is to resolve tension and build bridges of understanding, rather than intensify the cultural war. But, as Christians, we must not compromise truth. There must be cooperation without compromise.

John Adams, our first vice-president, said, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and a religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”{6} Meaning is the living fabric that holds us together with all things and meaning for life will only be found through the transcendent values of religion. In his article, “The Globalization of Business Ethics: Why America Remains Distinctive,” David Vogel writes, “Thanks in part to the role played by Reformed Protestantism in defining American values, America remains a highly moralistic society.”{7}

At this point, in realizing the need to be fair, we must be willing to give a critical assessment of the gross behavioral failures that have occurred in the realm of the religious. The most blatant examples are probably the numerous TV evangelists who have fallen prey to greed and other temptations that have destroyed their lives and ministries. Another example is the many ministers and priests who have practiced sexually deviant behavior with children in their care. Many of these religious leaders are now or have been serving time in prison for their personal moral failures.

These examples highlight the moral depravity of mankind. But this does not mean that we need to adopt the sixteenth century views of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) who had a very low view of human nature. Unfortunately, much of the world has been heavily influenced by the amoral perspective of a Hobbesian foundation of ethical behavior. Hobbes decided that what is good or bad is based on what society likes or dislikes. This is cultural relativism, the rejection of any standard beyond that established by the present culture. Hobbes, like so many others, seems to have had an innate fear of the possibility that there might be a transcendent truth out there worth pursuing. Because of our personal inner moral failure, we must look outside ourselves to find the standards by which we are to live and establish those standards in our laws and in our educational systems.

Does a Rising Tide Lift all Boats?

President Kennedy said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” But think about it! Does a rising tide lift all boats? Not if some of the boats have holes in them.

In this essay we have been discussing the contrast between a politically correct ethical approach to dealing with our ethical concerns against a more bottom up individual responsibility approach.

The historic roots of the American experience are bound up in the idea of individualism, a political tradition that enshrines individual liberty as its highest ideal. But democracy requires a degree of trust, and unfortunately, our heritage of trust is eroding. American businesses have been transformed from comfortable and stable rivals into bloodletting gladiators.{8} There is a problem in emphasizing individual freedom and the pursuit of individual affluence (the American dream) in a society with an economy and government that has rejected the principles of natural law. Too many of our boats have holes in themi.e., little or no personal integrity. We must work at restoring the principles of individual integrity and personal responsibility before we try to establish an ethical agenda for our organizations. Unless we realize our own morally flawed state, we will seek to repair the institutions without the humility and personal transformation necessary to afford any hope of ultimate success. Organizational ethical behavior is very important, but it must be elevated through an upsurge of individual ethical behavior.

Those coming from a liberal idealism approach to ethics hold noble ideas of common good based on a belief in the inherent goodness of men and women. They believe that if we just change the structures of society, the problems will be solved. Their perspective is that greater citizen participation in the organizational structures of our government and economy will result in a lessening of the problems of contemporary social life. What they neglect to consider is that government attempts to make people good are inherently coercive. Our constitution rests on the premise that virtue comes from citizens themselves, acting through smaller groups, such as the family, church, community, and voluntary associations. The stronger these small, people-centered groups are, the less intrusive the government and other large organizations need to be.

But how do you deal with the need for individual transformation? A common phrase we often hear is “You can’t legislate morality.” In reality all laws are a legislation of morality. All we are doing is changing an “ought to do/ought not to do” into a “must do/must not do” by making it a law. A solid base of moral law helps to establish the standard for individual behavior, but as the New Testament so clearly tells us, the law is inadequate to the task at hand. It is the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ that enables us to overcome the forces within and without that seek to destroy our God-given abundant life. Only by placing our trust in Christ can we begin to repair the holes in our life. When the internal integrity of our life is as it should be, we are then ready for the tides of life to come. A rising tide does lift all boats that have internal integrity.


1. Marianne M. Jennings, “Manager’s Journal,” Wall Street Journal, 25 September 1995.
2. Ibid.
3. Texas Instruments, publication TI-28172.
4. Crane Brinton, A History of Western Morals (New York: Paragon House, 1990), 462.
5. Charles Oliver, “Leaders & Success,” Investor’s Business Daily, 14 December 1993.
6. Quoted in John R. Howe, Jr., The Changing Political Thought of John Adams (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966), 185.
7. David Vogel, “The Globalization of Business Ethics: Why America Remains Distinctive,” California Management Review (Fall 1992), 44.
8. Robert Reich, “Corporate Ethic: We can change behavior by altering mix of incentives,” The Dallas Morning News, 14 January 1996, 5J.

© 1996 Probe Ministries.

Education Beyond the Classroom

What comes to mind when you think of education? School buildings? Libraries? Textbooks? Curricula? Teachers? Most of us probably associate education with at least one of these things, and surely many more could be added. But does education take place outside of such formal settings? Can curricula be found beyond that of the normal course of study? And can teachers be found who are teaching outside of the classroom?

If we simply consider the amount of time students spend outside of class the answer to these questions would surely be a resounding “Yes!” And if we add the strong probability that many of the hours spent outside the class are consumed by various media, for example, we can see another strong reason to answer in the affirmative. Students are virtually suffocated with ideas when they leave the confines of the school building. For many their education has just begun when the last bell rings each day. In fact, many students use whatever mental energy they have to learn only those things that interest them outside of school.

Educational Sources: Parents

What are some of the sources from which students learn? Let’s begin with parents. After years of ministry among youth I am convinced that students want to learn from their parents. In fact, some are desperate for their parents’ wisdom. Thankfully, I have seen the wonderful effects of respect between parents and children. The children are taught the most important truths of life in the home and those truths are accepted because there is a large measure of respect for the parents. Such an atmosphere is patiently developed through the parents’ concentrated, time-consuming dedication to their children. And I hasten to add that I have observed this in single parent as well as blended families. The result is that children who are raised in such a home will usually compare what they are taught outside the home with what they are taught in the home. And the lessons they learn from parents outweigh other lessons.

Unfortunately, though, this situation is much too rare. Many students, including those raised in Christian homes, are left alone to discover what they can without the guidance of parents. When we realize that “true, meaningful communication between parent and child … occupies only about two minutes each day”(1) there should be reason for concern. That amounts to slightly more that 12 hours per year. If that is compared to the amount of time spent in school, for example, what the parents teach in that brief time can be overwhelmed with contrary ideas. Students spend much more time learning at school per week than they do with parents per year! This situation should be seriously considered by Christians when evaluating the current educational climate. If Christian parents are not willing to educate their children there may not be much room for complaining about what is learned outside the home. Children have always needed parental guidance and they always will.

One of the most important directives for the ancient Jews applies to parental responsibility for the education of their children. Deuteronomy 6:4-7, the revered Shema, states that “(5) You shall love the LORD your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (6) And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; (7) and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” This strategic passage was reemphasized by the Lord Jesus (Mark 12:28-30). What a student learns outside of class should begin at home.

Educational Sources: What is Heard, Read, and Seen

Where and by whom is a student educated outside the school and home? Actually the question should use both past and present tenses. Since we are concentrating on education outside the classroom, it’s important to realize that students are constantly being educated, whether they are aware of it or not. Education does not just apply to some type of formal education; it is very much a part of daily life. The Christian student who is attempting to think God’s thoughts after Him is profoundly aware of this. He lives in a world of ideas, and ideas have consequences. Those ideas are so much a part of life that it’s as if they’re a portion of the air we breathe. Students should be conscious of this, but the same is true for all of us. All of us are students.

So where do we find the teachers? There are at least three other sources: what is heard, what is read, and what is seen.

First, what is heard? One morning as I went to the front yard to get the newspaper I heard a loud, repetitive noise that sounded as if it were a woodpecker hammering on metal. When I located the source I realized to my amazement that indeed it was a woodpecker pecking on a metal light covering near our house. My curiosity was aroused so I pursued an answer to my crazy woodpecker question. It turns out that the bird could have heard his prey inside the covering, but couldn’t distinguish for the moment the difference between wood and metal.

The point of this illustration is that the wondrous nature of nature had provided a teachable moment. God’s creation abounds with such opportunities to observe the variety He has given us. And such moments are part of our daily lives.

But most students hear from more obvious sources: peers, radio, television, movies, music, etc. These sources provide a profusion of ideas. They are teachers. And just as in the formal classroom, the student should be listening carefully to see if the lessons should be considered, discarded, or believed.

The second source focuses on what is read. Some studies indicate that people are not reading any longer. This is curious in light of the growth of enormous bookstores filled with many obscure and weighty titles. Be that as it may, the printed word still has an impact. Most students give some attention to reading. Words still have meaning, in spite of the efforts of those who would use words to say that words are meaningless. This is especially true for the Christian student. If he doesn’t revere the Bible to the point of reading and understanding it as the foundation of his education, he is like a ship without a rudder. The ship is afloat but it’s at the mercy of the sea and its currents.

The last of our sources concerns what we see. Since a large percentage of students spend an enormous amount of time viewing television, movies, magazines, and other media, this is a major educational element. Images abound in their lives. This challenges the Christian student to be especially alert to the multitude of ideas that come through her eyes and into her mind.

Educators beyond the classroom are continually vying for the minds of students. Let’s do what we can to lead our students through this maze of ideas.

The Curriculum

One of the major elements of a formal education is the curriculum. This curriculum is usually set for students in the primary grades, it contains some flexibility in middle school, more flexibility in high school, and significant flexibility in college. Regardless of the educational level a student attains, his formal education includes variety. The same is true outside the classroom. The education he receives there includes a varied curriculum. And that curriculum can be found in varied places, from conversations with those with whom he works, to his magazine subscriptions, to the movies he rents. Let’s consider several ideas that generally are found in the educational curriculum outside the classroom.

Man is the Measure of All Things

First, man is the measure of all things. That is, man is the focus of what is taught. This course is called naturalism. God either doesn’t exist, or He may as well not exist because He has nothing to say to us that has meaning. Thus man is left alone to create meaning, value, morality, religion, government, education, and all other aspects of life. This is probably the most influential way of thinking in this country.

Think, for example, of the television programs you may have seen lately. Now consider whether or not those programs included the presence and guidance of a deity, whether the God of the Bible or not. With rare exceptions, the education one receives through such sources doesn’t include any concept of God. Instead, man deals with all problems in his own way, through his own ingenuity. Of course the student usually isn’t able to see the long term results of such decisions. As wonderful as the resolution may appear at the end of a program, the ultimate consequences may be disastrous.

Pleasure is the Highest Good

The second portion of the curriculum is based upon the idea that pleasure is the highest good. This course is called hedonism. Perhaps one of the more obvious places to find this is in your local grocery store. The “textbooks” that are found in the magazine rack near the checkout island contain this message in abundance. The articles, advertisements, and pictures emphasize the supremacy of pleasure above virtues such as self-control and sacrifice. Take a moment sometime just to scan the articles and emphases that are highlighted on the front covers of these magazines. For example, the contents of a recent teen-oriented publication for girls include: “Look Hot Tonight,” “Stud Shopping Tips,” “Love Stories: Secrets of Girls Who Snagged Their Crush,” “Hunky Holidays: Meet the 50 Most Beautiful Guys in the World,” and “The Ultimate Party Guide.” All these titles revolve around the idea that pleasure is the highest good.

True Spirituality Has Many Sources

Third, true spirituality has many sources. This course is called syncretism. Current spiritual emphases have led many students to believe that it doesn’t matter what path you take as long as you are on a path. A trip to a large book store will demonstrate this. For example, you can find many books that contain many ideas about angels, but most of them have nothing to do with biblical doctrine. Or you can find a section dedicated to an assortment of metaphysical teachings, none of which align with biblical teaching. When confronted with such variety the student can be tempted to believe that true spirituality can be found in many places. The Christian student must realize this isn’t possible if his allegiance is to Christ as Lord of all.

What Works is Good

The fourth idea is that what works is good. This course is called pragmatism. This is a particularly attractive part of the curriculum for Americans. And this certainly includes the American Christian student. But it’s a deceptively attractive course. It may lead to results, but at what cost?

I think of a revealing scene in the disturbing Academy Award- winning movie A Clockwork Orange. A young British hoodlum in a futuristic England is programmed to abhor the violence that he continually practiced with his gang. This abhorrence is brought about by forcing him to watch scenes of horrible violence while his eyes are forced open. When he is brought before an audience to demonstrate the change, his programmer tempts him with several opportunities to do violence while the audience watches. He resists the temptations. After the demonstration a clergyman protests by saying that the “boy has no moral choice.” He was manipulated. The programmer scoffs at this claim and states that the result of the experiment is good because “the point is that it works.” “It has relieved the ghastly congestion in our prisons.”

These first four parts of the curriculum are naively optimistic. They describe either present or future existence positively because of supreme confidence in man and his abilities. Other portions of the curriculum are not so optimistic. In fact, they can be frighteningly pessimistic at times.

There is No Meaning

A fifth aspect of the curriculum denies meaning. This course is called existentialism, and sometimes nihilism. The “big” questions of life are asked, but no answers are found. Then the response is either total denial of hope, which should logically lead to suicide, or living by simply acting in the face of absurdity. These perspectives can be found, for example, in some contemporary music and movies. The songs of Nine Inch Nails, the moniker for a musician named Trent Reznor, sometimes contain ideas that are indicative of this. The movies of Woody Allen often contain characters and scenes that depict a search for meaning with no conclusions other than individual acts.

There is No Truth

The last portion of the curriculum is closely connected to what we have just discussed. This course can be called postmodernism. We are living in a culture that increasingly denies an encompassing paradigm for truth. This can be demonstrated by considering what Francis Schaeffer meant by the phrase “true truth.” That is, there is no “big picture” to be seen and understood. We only have individuals and communities who have their own “little truths.” And nothing connects those truths to something bigger than themselves and more lasting than what might work at the moment. This can be heard, seen, and read incessantly. There are too few teachers in the culture’s curriculum who are sharing ideas that are connected to or guided by “true truth.” The ultimate outcome of such thinking can be devastating. Chaos can reign. Then a sense of desperation can prompt us to accept the “truth” of whoever may claim to be able to lead us out of the confusion. Germany experienced this under the reign of Hitler. We should not be so smug as to think it could not happen to us.

Responding to the Curriculum

Man is the measure of all things! Pleasure is the highest good! True spirituality has many sources! What works is good! There is no meaning! There is no truth! These are the ideas that permeate the education a student receives outside the classroom. How can a Christian deal with such a curriculum? Some suggestions are in order.

First, the student should be encouraged to understand that God is the measure of all things, not man. God is an eternal being who is the guide for our lives, both temporal and eternal. Thus we don’t first ask what man thinks, we ask what God thinks. So this means that the student must decide on his primary textbook. Is it the Bible, or some other text?

Second, the student should be led to realize that God’s will is the highest good, not pleasure. This is very important for the contemporary Christian to understand in light of the sensuous nature of our culture. A student easily can get the idea that God is a “kill joy” because it may seem that everyone is having a good time, but he can’t because of God’s restrictions. If he can understand that God’s ideas lead to true freedom and joy, the student can more readily deal with this part of the curriculum.

Third, the student should be challenged to realize that true spirituality is found only through a relationship with the risen Jesus. Jesus lives in us through the indwelling of His Spirit. And this indwelling is only true for the reborn Christian. Yes, there are many spiritual concepts alive in this culture. Many people are searching for something that will give meaning beyond man’s ideas. There is a spiritual hunger. But if we try to relieve that hunger through ideas that come from man’s perceptions of spirituality, we are back where we started: man is the measure of all things.

Fourth, the student should be taught that what works is not always good. Satan can make evil work for a time, but he is the father of lies, and lies lead to spiritual and moral decay.

Fifth, the student should be led to believe that life has meaning. The Christian can see the world around him with the eye of hope because God is in control. As chaotic as things may appear, there is a purpose, there is a plan. People have meaning, past events have meaning, present events have meaning, and future events will have meaning. Christ has died to give us salvation, and He has risen from the dead to give us hope for the present and the future. A student whose mind is infused with meaning will be able to handle the despair around him, and he can share his secure hope in the midst of such despair.

Sixth, the student should be guided to think in terms of the big picture. Imagine a puzzle with thousands of pieces. Now think of attempting to assemble the puzzle without having seen the picture on the box top. That would surely be a frustrating experience. You would have individual pieces but no guide to fit the pieces together. Many attempt to live this way. But the Christian student has the box top. He can begin to put the puzzle of life together with God’s picture in mind.

So, does education take place beyond the classroom? Certainly! May God guide us to help students learn the proper lessons.


1. J. Kerby Anderson, Signs of Warning, Signs of Hope (Chicago: Moody, 1994), p. 136.


©1996 Probe Ministries