Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Parents and the Portrait of a Graduate

In his end-of-year sermon in 1869 C.H. Spurgeon preached on Luke 16:2. He emphasized the stewardship responsibility of parents, and fathers in particular toward their children: “And the father’s influence,--oh! Fathers, you cannot shake off your obligations to your children by sending them to school, whether to a Sunday-school or a boarding-school. They are your children, and you must give an account of your stewardship concerning your own offspring.” Spurgeon stressed that parents must be concerned not only for their children’s temporary happiness but for their eternal happiness. 

Paul in Ephesians 6:4 has a similar message for parents, that they are not to “provoke their children to wrath” by “bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Similarly, Deuteronomy 6 includes the command that parents are to diligently teach their children the words of God. During the Reformation, in encouraging parents to take seriously this duty, Martin Luther wrote, “Where the Holy Scriptures are not the rule, I should advise no one to send his child.” The consistent message (which could supported by multitudes of additional witnesses) is that parents have the responsibility before God to steward the education of their children in the things of God.

True education is that which is dedicated to the growth in wisdom, virtue, and godliness, and  is intended to be a partnership between parents and the school. Parents are called to raise their children in the “discipline and instruction” of God, to be good stewards of the trust God has put on them. Schools assist in this important work, but the ultimate responsibility rests with parents.  Veritas’ ‘Portrait of a Graduate’, a set of statements that describe our ideal graduate, helps to guide our work with students both in and out of classroom. Under the parents’ authority, we seek to see these things lived out in our students, including that our graduates will:
·      -  spend some of their leisure time actively pursuing the liberal arts and attending to the fine arts
·        -use logical reasoning to draw valid conclusions, recognize invalid reasoning, and make wise decisions
·      -  practice their Christian faith in thought, word, and deed

How we choose to use our leisure time will indicate what we think is important. It may be too much to say that it is a window into our soul, but it certainly reflects our priorities and our view of our place in the world. Just as parents are called to be stewards of their children’s education, we are all called to be good stewards of our leisure. We desire that our students will want to use at least some of this time (which is increasingly abundant in our automated world) in an active, rather than a passive, pursuit of things that are distinctly human.   To make this possible we work to equip them with an understanding of, and a growing love for, the arts in many forms—literature, inquiry into the physical world, mathematics, music, painting, sculpture, etc. Parents, of course, must model this interest for the school’s impact to be most effective.

One of the hallmarks of classical education is the training of logical reasoning that supports wise decision making. To foster these habits words and truth in discussable propositions form key element in our curriculum. Writing, debate, and discussion are frequent classroom activities designed not for mere personal expression but for the development of sound thinking. We want our students to understand that wisdom comes primarily with the use of words that carry ideas, not images laden with vague impressions. Again, in their role of stewards of their children’s education parents will provide the most potent example of commitment to words, and particularly to applying the word of God to all of life. Words and ideas, not images, pervade the home where children are growing up into thoughtful and wise adulthood.

Of course, it is of vital importance that the elements of the Portrait are lived out in concrete ways and are not merely nice ideas to assent to. This is emphasized in the last of the points under consideration, that of practicing the Christian faith in thought, word, and deed. It is not enough to have correct theological positions. Christianity is to be incarnated. (There is a potential danger, perhaps, of hypocrisy here, but if students are encouraged to rely on the grace of God for these things in their lives, then the genuine strengthening of the faith of the humble is worth the risk that a few might try to fake it.)

The forces of modernism have reduced education to a system which trains humans to fit their roles in serving the machinery of the modern economy. This reduces people to mere interchangeable parts in this vast machine. Biblical education, however, offers a challenge to this view of a godless, materialist cosmos and man’s place in it. Classical and Christian education is a critique of these modernist assumptions, and it is built instead on a world where God is Creator and sustainer, where people are unique individuals made in the image of God for the worship of God and the service of others, and not for servitude to the state, the economy, or mere appetites. Classical, Christ-centered education supports the nurturing in wisdom, virtue, and godliness that parents, as stewards of their children’s souls, seek to encourage.

We rely on--and we rejoice in--the fact that only God can do these things. Faith is a work of the Holy Spirit not of classical, Christian schools. Wisdom and virtue can be cultivated, but God alone can give the harvest. But God uses means—parents, school, and churches. If our Portrait of a Graduate is to be realized in the lives of our students, if we all are to be found good stewards of the responsibilities that God has given us, then it will require a partnership of all of these God-given means ultimately led, directed, and supported by parents.