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Cultivating a Christian Mind

Written by Rev. C. Pronk
About a decade ago there appeared a book that drew a lot of attention in academic circles. Its title was ÒThe Closing of the American Mind.Ó In this book the author, Dr. Allen Bloom, professor at the University of Chicago, made some very radical claims about the state of education in America. One thing a professor can be absolutely certain of, he asserts, is that almost every student entering the university today believes or says he believes that truth is relative.
Relativistic Educators
One of the consequences of this belief, namely that there is no such thing as absolute truth, is that todayÕs students manifest little or no desire to pursue knowledge. Since there are many cultures in the world, each having their own value systems and standards of behaviour, it is useless to try and establish which are the right values and norms to live by. Solution: letÕs just get along with one another, and agree that no values are superior to others and worth defending. Not truth but pleasure has become the object of modern studentsÕ pursuit.

Much of the blame for this intellectual laziness on the part of our relativistic youth must be laid at the door of their equally relativistic educators. Many professors, anxious to gain and retain popularity with their students, are reluctant to steer them away from theatres, bars and sports arenas toward serious scholarly endeavours. Says Bloom: ÒWithout the aid of substantial books, without heroes, students lack the resources to fight conformity in a world that denies any basis for virtue.Ó

He then offers this solution: Get the students to read the classics , the great books from the past and let them read them for themselves, allowing the authors of these books to dictate what the important questions are, so the students can make up their own minds. Read the Bible, read Shakepeare, Plato, Augustine, Tolstoy and others who have made real contributions to worthwhile knowledge. Bloom argues that this is the only serious solution, but he realizes that it is one that most modern educators have been rejecting. Even those who recommend reading the classics force students to view them through radical lenses such as feminism or Marxism.

World Views Shape Education
Among those who have responded to BloomÕs book are also some Christian educators, e.g. Ronald Nash, chairman of the department of history and philosophy at the University of Kentucky. He has done so by writing a book with a similar sounding title: "The Closing of the American Heart." In this book Nash agrees with much of what Bloom is trying to say. As far as analyzing the problem of modern education, Bloom is on the right track, Nash admits. But he also has some critical remarks to make. For one thing, as to the question what it means to be educated, Nash argues that the answer to that question depends entirely on the educatorÕs world and life view.

Education can never be neutral because no individual is religiously neutral. Not only that, but all public policy is shaped by the ultimate concerns of those holding power in our culture. In other words, world views shape institutions and policies, which directly affect how children are educated. And the prevailing world view that seems to shape the minds of our youth today is that everything is relative and that there is no such thing as absolute truth.

What frightens Bloom and Nash is that most of our modern educators are firm in this conviction and that they do not allow for alternative viewpoints. TeacherÕs colleges, teacher's unions, and textbooks are systematically and ruthlessly eliminating world views that include supernatural explanations or moral absolutes. Yet they claim to be neutral players in the cultural war raging in our society between groups holding different world views.

Areas of Educational Illiteracy
Nash agrees with the dismal picture drawn by Bloom, but he adds another dimension to it. His book focuses on three areas of illiteracy in our country and among our students.

The first is most commonly known as functional illiteracy, the inability to understand the written word well enough to function within our society. Next is the problem of cultural illiteracy. This term describes students who can read but are unable to get on in the modern world because they lack the information necessary to interpret the material they read. The problem here is that many educators believe that a child's intellectual and social skills will develop naturally without regard to the specific content of education. Educators seem to be more interested in how children learn rather than what they learn. The result is that children fail to store away enough information to become culturally literate.

Nash sees the problem of moral illiteracy as a cultural war between those who are religious and support traditional values and those who are secular and advocate anti-traditional or modernist values. NashÕs concern is shared by non-Christians such as the Jewish scholar Will Herberg who writes:

We are surrounded on all sides by the wreckage of our great
intellectual tradition. In this kind of spiritual chaos, neither
freedom nor order is possible. Instead of freedom, we have the
all- engulfing whirl of pleasure and power; instead of order, we
have the jungle wilderness of normlessness and self-indulgence.

Another concerned educator, Boston University president John Silber states,

In generations past, parents were more diligent in passing on
their principles and values to their children, and were assisted
by churches and schools, which emphasized religious and moral
education. In recent years, in contrast, our society has become
increasingly secular and the curriculum of the public schools has
been denuded of almost all ethical content. As a result,
universities must confront a student body ignorant of the
evidence and arguments that underlie and support many of our
traditional moral principles and practices.

Non-directive education, which makes use of values-clarification and moral reasoning skills, is often blamed for breaking down the transmission of values from parents to their children. Psychologist Carl Rogers and others taught that to become self-actualized individuals, children must reject the absolute values they have been taught at home or church. Students are supposed to seek values within themselves. Educators are to be facilitators--helping students to discover their values--not teachers of values. The main vehicle for this process is the use of moral dilemmas. Students are presented with difficult situations that adults rarely confront and, as a result, are thus brainwashed to believe that there are no right answers to moral questions.

The movement that began as encounter groups, Gestalt Therapy and other self-help techniques in the 1960s has become part of the public school curriculum. This model of teacher as therapist has gone a long way towards replacing the concept of teacher as scholar and has been implemented to combat social ills from teen pregnancy to drug use.

True, some educators do talk about the need for values to be communicated in our schools, but they adamantly reject any notion of absolute values. This leaves them without a consensus of what to teach and without any criteria for positing values that have real meaning. We need not be surprised, therefore, that in such an environment, students have little reason to feel any responsibility to a higher order.

The Necessity of A Biblical World-and-Life View
While Nash agrees with Bloom that the great books of Western Civilization are valuable as a contribution to a well-rounded education, he believes that the array of ideas contained in them will baffle students unless they have an over-arching philosophy to guide them through the maze. Without the right kind of teachers to guide them, how are they to assess the value of these books? Since the authors disagree intensely on basic issues regarding the nature of reality and humanity, are we not promoting a new relativism in place of the old? For instance, do we accept Augustine's "Confessions" and his views on the sinfulness of mankind, or Rousseau's "Confessions," which posits a naturally good human nature?

Nash contends that one condition of being an educated person is that he or she have a single, unified world and life view, something not found in the great books. From the Christian perspective this can only be a biblically based world-and life-view.

Human beings are never neutral concerning the nature of God. What people believe to be true, will ultimately affect their view of education. Although Bloom talks about how modern education has impoverished the souls of today's students, he leaves us without any indication of how those souls should be fed or what connection should be made between knowledge and virtue.

In Nash's words,

While the Bible does not teach physics or astronomy, it does provide a structure for human thought, a perspective on reality. The biblical perspective can, among other things, inform us of the limitations and proper aims of theoretical inquiry. It tells us that the pursuit of knowledge, while important, is not the sum total of human life. It also provides a basis on which we may evaluate non-Christian presuppositions and conceptual schemes.

Applying Biblical Truth
Nash makes some general recommendations to parents who are concerned about their children's education. The first is to revitalize the educational role of the family. As J. Gresham Machen once wrote, ÒThe most important Christian education institution is not the pulpit or the school... It is the Christian family. And that institution has to a very large extent ceased to do its work.Ó Parents need to be actively involved in seeing that their children mature theologically and intellectually. Theologically, children need to know what they believe in. Our children need to learn to love God with all of their minds, as Matthew 22:37 calls all Christians to do. In order to love God with our minds we must know about Him as our Creator and Redeemer.

Intellectually, we must avoid the danger of compartmentalizing knowledge into sacred and secular components. This division is unbiblical and leads to the wrong notion that secular knowledge is not only unnecessary but even harmful for the spiritual Christian.

Families and the Christian community need to work together to develop a Christian mind in their young, one that can apply Christian truth to all areas of life. In an age when biblical Christianity is under attack as never before, we must equip our children and young people to be apologetes (defenders) of the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints (Jude3).

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