In chapter 4 of The Case for Classical Christian Education Douglas Wilson takes up the topic of “The Nature of Man.”
There are some quotes in this chapter that are, frankly, shocking. But they are not by Wilson. More on that later.
It is impossible to understand or practice education well apart from understanding philosophy. Methods, statistics, budgets, procedures, techniques, and formulas have their place. But if a biblical worldview teaches us anything, it is that there is such a thing as worldview. Big philosophical questions matter, questions like
- What is real?
- How do we know what we know?
- What is good?
- What is the meaning of history?
- What is the world and where did it come from?
- What is man?
A biblical worldview teaches us that these questions are relevant to everything; they are foundational. And further, without the Triune God, His Word, and His wisdom, we can neither make sense of the world nor live truly meaningful and unified lives. So classroom management and educational statistics and curricular procedures and pedagogical methods have their place. But first principles are first. And this is why Wilson is beginning with a question that would undoubtedly appear to many educational technicians to be utterly irrelevant.
I am speaking of the last of the questions listed above: What is man?
Here is Wilson’s point: “Every builder should have a blueprint. He should not build in a random or haphazard manner. It is the same with educators. They should have a blueprint. Where are we going with this? . . . In order to teach a child rightly, his parents must know both who and what they are, and they must know on the authority of God’s Word.” They must know that mankind has fallen away from his original task; he has been corrupted in his mind, body and soul; and he has had the image of God in him defaced and deformed. Jesus Christ has come to re-establish man in his Edenic work, to redeem him from his corruptions, and renovate the image of God in him by conforming him to Himself.
Without that storyline, education cannot have its proper place or goals, and our service to our children falls apart.
But now the shocking (perhaps I shouldn’t be shocked anymore) quote:
Again I would say, that, whenever a human soul is born into the world, God stands over it, and pronounces the same sublime fiat, ‘Let there be light;’ and may the time soon come when all human governments shall cooperate with the divine government in carrying this benediction and baptism into fulfillment!
These words, spoken by educational innovator and father of American government education Horace Mann, demonstrate his belief that when we finally “[supply] free, universal education — the fulfillment of inherent human goodness will be at hand.”
Here is one species of the basic humanistic answer to the question, What is man? Man is a basically good creature whose flaw is ignorance, and education serves the purpose of dispelling that ignorance and therefore lifting him up to where he belongs and fulfilling him.
How does the humanistic approach solve a child’s problem of ignorance? One answer is “to fill the student’s head with facts . . . presto, the ignorance is gone.” The other more subtle answer is to “help the rational side of the student learn to suppress the passionate side.” However, “both approaches exhibit a deep commitment to reason — to reason as a savior.” There is an inherent tendency toward idolatry here.
Central to the task of education, then, is a biblical answer to the question, What is man? And when we allow the Bible to answer that question, we find that the image of God in man and the recovery of that image in Jesus Christ is central to our understanding of who we are. If we do not look to the Savior for knowledge and freedom, we will be enslaved to any number of harsh masters who convince us that they are saviors.