Grace and I will never forget the first days of school for each of our five children. We walked each to their classroom where they nervously took their seat ready to begin a new phase of their little life. Meanwhile, we walked to our car, shut the door, looked at each other, and started crying. We did this five times! Knowing how to best educate our children is a difficult task. Christians with strong and vocal opinions often disagree. Perhaps briefly examining the history of modern education can help set a foundation so that parents can make a decision regarding the education of their child.
As a teacher, Jesus the rabbi has made an unparalleled difference in education. Christians are called People of the Book, and as Christianity has spread, so has language translation, publishing, education, and literacy.
Many of the world’s languages were first set to writing by missionaries seeking to translate the Bible into the native language of a people group. They recognize that God loves people from every nation, tribe, and tongue of the earth. This work continues today as the Bible has been translated into roughly 3,000 languages. When Christians encounter a people group without a written language, ministries such as Wycliffe actually create a written language for such people prior to translating the Bible into their newly created language.
In the so-called Dark Ages, many of the classics of Western literature were preserved by priests and monks who hand-copied them and started the first European universities in cities like Paris and Bologna. The printing press was invented by the Christian man Johannes Gutenberg (1398–1468). Bibles and other Christian literature were chiefly in his mind when he created the revolutionary device. Soon thereafter, Christianity became the leading force in literacy and education in the Western world.
With the landing of the Christian Puritans in the United States came this passionate commitment to literacy and education. From the time the Pilgrims landed in 1620 until 1837, virtually all American education was private and Christian. In the 19th-century colonies of Massachusetts and Connecticut, the literacy rate among men ranged from 89% to 95%. The pastors in the colonies were often the most educated men and led both the intellectual and spiritual life of the people. In Puritan New England, the first schools (known as common schools) were founded as distinctively Christian. Soon, tax monies were raised to support these schools, and the first public schools in the United States were Christian. They remained that way for 217 years.
Regarding higher education, nearly every one of the first 123 colleges and universities founded in the United States was of Christian origins, including Yale, William and Mary, Brown, Princeton, NYU, and Northwestern. Harvard was started by a donation of money and books from Rev. John Harvard. Dartmouth was founded to train missionaries to the Native Americans.
The correlation between literacy, education, and Christianity was also common in other nations. By the turn of the 20th century, largely non-Christian nations such as India and China had literacy rates ranging from 0 to 20%; primarily Catholic nations had literacy rates ranging from 40 to 60%t; largely Protestant nations had literacy rates ranging from 94 to 99%.53
The practice of widespread, accessible Christian education continues in many other nations where Christian schools have been established by missionaries. For example, Nelson Mandela, who has been lauded by many as a hero for his stand against apartheid, graduated from two missionary schools.
As the United States became increasingly more Unitarian (a disbelief in the Bible, Jesus as God, and heaven and hell) there came a great push among non-Christians to have public schools that were not Christian. At the turn of the 20th century, Christian pastor R.L. Dabney said, “Nearly all public men and preachers declare that the public schools are the glory of America. They are a finality, and in no event to be surrendered. We have seen that their complete secularization is logically inevitable. Christians must prepare themselves, then, for the following results: All prayers, catechisms, and Bibles will ultimately be driven out of the [public] schools.”
This prediction came true when Horace Mann (1796–1859), who was raised in a Calvinistic home but became Unitarian, successfully fought to remove Christianity from public education in 1837, forming the first non-Christian public educational system in Massachusetts. John Dewey (1859–1952) is largely responsible for taking this concept of “progressive” non-Christian education nationwide with the intent of not merely educating children but also shaping social change with a markedly non-Christian hope. Dewey was the president of the American Humanist Association and the first signer of the Humanist Manifesto, which denied creation, stated that science should reign over Scripture, argued that miracles and life after death are myths, and declared that the glory of man is the highest good. Dewey is the father of modern American public education, and his influence is seen therein.
Today, there are numerous educational options available to children – more options than at any time in the history of the world. A Christian parent has a lot of complicated variables to consider in choosing how their child will be educated. The words of Jesus show just how important a teacher is, saying in Luke 6:40, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Since a child will be like his teacher, choosing the best teacher is vital for parents to wisely consider.
How do most other Christian parents that you know educate their children? Do you think this is a good plan? Why, or why not?
Note: some of this devotional was adapted from the book Vintage Jesus by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears. Many of the details on the history of education in America were summarized from the book What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? by Kennedy and Newcombe.
53. Kennedy and Newcombe, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? 46.