Why is Christian education for our children so important? Here’s why stories and history and love of a good book bless our kids.
I blame J.R.R. Tolkien for my love of dragon tales, but I’ll begin by quoting his good mate, C.S. Lewis, who knew quite well how to tell a dragon tale of his own.
He begins one of my favorites, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, with this clever line, “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” Lewis tells us the boy “liked animals, especially beetles, if they were dead and pinned on a card. He liked books if they were books of information and had pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools.”
His school used well-researched methods and the most modern books; it certainly would have had the most advanced technology of the day and may even have had a new building (which we all know directly correlates with excellent learning and guaranteed future success for every child within its freshly painted walls).
His learning concerned itself with facts for practical use – and nothing more. He had no use for stories. He had not read Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, King Arthur or Sir George and the Dragon – all excellent dragon tales- and most seriously, he had never read the books of Genesis or Revelation (a dragon tale of another rank).
As a direct result, poor Eustace found himself in need of a rescuer and was not able to play the role of the rescuer himself, for he “had read none of the right books,” a crime which had rendered him defenseless in the face of a real dragon. Eustace was a boy unlucky enough to have received a modern education. He may have been well-prepared for employment but ill-prepared for adventure.
Why bother educating our children?
“But what do children’s stories have to do with raising a godly child?” you may wonder. And while I encourage your wondering and hate to interrupt it, I’m going to politely request we step back for a moment from the question of “How?” and deal first with the question of “Why?” because I suspect understanding the Why will lead us very quickly to the How.
Why educate your child? Let’s face it -it’s a lot of work! All those lunches to pack and papers to sign. Math problems beg to be checked and rechecked, and vocabulary and spelling lists pour out all over the dinner table. Homework assignments wreak havoc on the family dog’s digestive track.
This doesn’t even include the truly ambitious moms among us who choose to select the curriculum, read it, plan it, teach it, grade it and repeat on a daily basis. Whether we privately school, home school, government school, or board school, we must begin with this foundational question: Why? Why do we seek an education at all for our little ones?
Why not just send them outside to explore and play with a backpack of snacks and call them in for a recap when they’re about 18? Flashlight, bottled water and this education idea just got a whole lot easier!
Do we read great books to our kids so they end up with good jobs?
So, why do we educate our children? It’s not for fun, I’ll tell you that. I’ll start with the answer I hear more often than not: So they can go to college. So they can get a job. So they can be happy. So they can support a family. So they can raise children…who can go to college… and the cycle continues.
Yet we must take care not to fall into the trap which ensnared Mr. and Mrs. Scrubb. We must not mistakenly think education is a quest for the Holy Grail of employment, which leads to health, wealth and (if you are a Westerner) endless leisure and entertainment.
If you find yourself thinking it’s the key to your child’s future success and happiness, repent. Turn and teach them to turn to Christ, the only Source of joy.
We expose our children to good books for their future
You see, we, our children, our children’s children are (or will be) created by God and for His purposes. Fortunately for us, our God is most unlike the school house (“Experiment House” it was called) of Clarence Eustace Scrubb and does not concern Himself primarily with lists and charts and diagrams of facts- all the things a good pragmatist needs for success in this life (and a global economy).
Rather, God is a story-telling God. He is a fairy tale -telling God and the story He has chosen to write is – you guessed it – a dragon tale.
The scene opens in Genesis where all is good and right: man, woman, critters, land, food and a commandment to multiply and subdue. One No surrounded by a world full of Yesses. And yet, no good tale is without its antagonist…
Stories open children’s imaginations
Enter dragon. Damsel in distress; damsel deceived. Her hero comes not to her rescue but to seal her demise. But don’t despair! Where her hero failed, the True Hero will not. Enter curse; enter promise. The True Hero will suffer a bruised heel, it’s true, but the head of the dragon will be crushed, because this tale has a Rescuer.
He’s well-trained, well-prepared, and wielding a very large weapon (Revelation 19). This Rescuer understands His role as a dragon-slayer, as a fighter. He is not some silly sentimental sap of a man who sticks His head in the sand and tells Himself dragons are evil, swords are dangerous, and too much blood is simply not G-rated.
You see, any good story is really just a dragon story. Perfect world, dragon comes, hero slays, princess rescued. In fact, all rescuers will serve only as shadows of the True Rescuer. Moses points to Christ. King David points to Christ. Beowulf points to Christ. Batman (yes, even he) points to Christ.
As we consider raising rescuers for the glory of God, we must maintain the proper foundation for why we want to educate rescuers in the first place. The truth of the Gospel is that we live in a dragon tale.
And though we have confidence that this tale’s Rescuer has already finished the work necessary to defeat the dragon, we await as imitators of our Hero, while simultaneously playing the role of the Damsel, the Bride. We want to educate our little people for the purpose of understanding the story – their story, knowing their role in it, and playing that role well and with joy. This is why we educate.
Christian education is like a history lesson
True Christian education is like a map of every historical event, scientific finding, philosophical idea, mathematical discovery, and theological revelation spread out before our eyes. Fortunately for us, this map is both ancient and new, adorned with the architecture, carvings, paintings, stories, and songs of the generations.
It is a glory to behold! As parents, our purpose for our children’s education is to unfurl that map before their eyes, point out as much of the wonder of it as possible in the very short time they are in our care, and most importantly, help them find the red X labeled, “You are here.” Bonus points for the child who understands her red X isn’t in the center of the map.
A wise man once said true education answers these questions: Who am I? How did I get here? What is my purpose? A wise parent will understand how answering these questions can and will prepare their child for the full scope of human experience: as a spouse, neighbor, church member, friend, caretaker, boss, parent, leader, follower, employee, and yes, even as a college student.
Now we’ve established the Why, let’s quickly address the How. A few thoughts from my personal experience, but more importantly (and more helpfully) from the gathered experiences of every author I’ve read on the subject of Christian education.
How to educate a child who cares and loves others
let’s dive in!
Raise A Reader
I’ve heard it said, Christians are people of the Word and ought to likewise be people of words. Read as much as you possibly can with your child in your lap, as he plays, bathes, eats, or rides in the car. No matter how much time your family’s schedule allows for reading, find more. You can’t read everything, but you can read something.
Read only the best quality literature you can get your hands on. It doesn’t have to be old, but it shouldn’t all be new. Chronological snobbery works both ways, mind you.
Many good lists float about. Here’s one. http://www.christclassical.com/forms/ReadingList.pdf You will do yourself and your children well to remember that reading the great books is an undertaking worthy and suitable for a Christian.
Difficult work is more necessary for the post-modern Western Christian than it has ever been in the history of Christendom for the same reason walking is now more important than ever in a vehicle-driven society. We must do it because we don’t have to do it.
Raise a fighter
I want my Rescuer well-armed with a well-worn hilt. Ferdinand may have liked to do nothing but sit and smell the flowers, but my rescuer can’t afford that luxury and it certainly won’t prepare her for the battle which she has been born into.
Little ones should be wielding Styrofoam swords and backyard sticks. They should be taught that dragons are to be slain, never released on good behavior (that is not a comment on prison inmates; we’re talking dragons, here, folks). Older ones need practice with the sword of God’s word as often as possible.
Do everything you can to educate your child Christianly – at home or at school. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). What is the source of knowledge at your kids’ place of learning? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher (Luke 6:40).
Are your kids’ teachers worthy of such a calling? Christian education may take you a few years to plan for, but joining a solid Christian church which understands how serious a task it is to raise godly offspring does not. Do both as quickly as you can.
Raise A Bride
In God’s tale we play many roles, but the primary role of the Redeemed is that of the Damsel in Distress. Regularly model your desperate need for a Rescuer in your life; teach your kids to do the same.
Run from man-centered theology and practice and cling to a tradition which holds a high view of Christ and a humble view of man.
Remember our children are not made merely for college entrance exams or employment; they are not simply worker bees. They have roles to play and should learn the role, then take great joy in playing it for God’s glory. They were made in God’s image for work, yes, but also for adventure – a dragon adventure, at that!
Don’t allow your children to grow up to be like Clarence Eustace Scrubb, the boy who read all the wrong books and found himself unable to identify or combat the dragon. Educate your children so that their maps are worn at the edges, their sword is worn at the hilt, and their helmet is worn on their heads. Educate them to rescue and be rescued.
Educate the dragon-slayer. Educate the bride. Educate a rescuer.
Additional reading suggestions:
Future Men – Douglas Wilson
Repairing the Ruins – Douglas Wilson
Give Them Grace – Elyse M. Fitzpatrick
Family Driven Faith – Voddie Baucham
The Abolition of Man – C.S. Lewis