For weeks a number of people have picketed and posted against President Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. People have mocked her, belittled her, and cast insinuations that she’s corrupt. Take, for example, the meme that found its way on Facebook, comparing Ms. DeVos to the fictitious Dolores Umbridge who abused her students and her power in one of J. K. Rawling’s Harry Potter books.
The great cry from those who actually say something intelligent on the subject is that Ms. DeVos will be bad for public education here in the US. First she has no experience in the field of education, and second, she’s been a supporter of charter schools—also funded publicly and therefore, also part of the public education system.
There are reasons for the friction between traditionally public and public charter schools. Generally those can be broken down into two categories: who gets the money and who has the power? Some chafe at the idea that “school factories” run by corporations might get their hands on education. I get that. I’m not particularly happy about it either, especially when I watch some of the self-serving twaddle that passes as “news” or “pre-game coverage” (here’s looking at you, Fox).
Will our kids’ schools start selling naming rights for their mascot? Wearing advertisement slogans on the sports jerseys? Ugh. The possibilities are a bit frightening.
But, the schools here in California are a mess as it is. We may not get the corporate party line, but we do get the welfare state party line. Meanwhile, kids in the inner cities fall further and further behind. Further, they’re exposed to gang violence and threats, drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, and all kinds of other activities that anywhere else would be labeled, Not age appropriate.
But they can’t get out. Their parents don’t have the money to send them to a private school or the wherewithal to get them to a charter school or the time and expertise to homeschool them. So in the public school system they stay.
What, if anything, does the Bible say about education?
Not a lot. Some mention is made of groups of prophets—the New English Translation (NET) calls them prophetic guilds—which might be thought of as training grounds for prophets.
Although no specific mention is made of education, we know that Moses was schooled in the courts of Pharaoh because Pharaoh’s daughter took him to be her son. He would therefore have received whatever training any of the other royal children received.
In various passages in the Old Testament, God commanded His people to instruct their children in the way of the Lord. Here are a few:
“what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?
“Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons. (Deut. 5:8-9; emphasis added here and in the following verses).
These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deut. 6:6-7)
Psalm 78 is a little more specific:
We will not conceal them [the things “we have heard and known”] from their children,
But tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD,
And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done.
For He established a testimony in Jacob
And appointed a law in Israel,
Which He commanded our fathers
That they should teach them to their children,
That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born,
That they may arise and tell them to their children,
That they should put their confidence in God
And not forget the works of God,
But keep His commandments, (vv 4-7a)
In short, God’s instruction was for the parents to teach their children the Law and the history of Israel—God’s work of redemption that brought them to the Promised Land.
Other references to education in the Bible include Daniel and his friends who were taken into the Babylonian court. The king instructed his chief of officials “to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.” Which he did, though Scripture credits God for their accomplishments: “As for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom” (see Daniel 1 for this and the previous quote).
In summary, a few individuals had the opportunity for what we might consider a formal education, but God put parents in charge of the spiritual education of every child.
I say, spiritual education, but God’s work in the history of Israel was foundational, and it was their history that parents were to pass on to their children, along with the Law and the commandments.
This parental instruction is reinforced in many verses in Proverbs. Parents are instructed to train up a child in the way he should go, and children are admonished to heed the instruction of their fathers.
In the New Testament, we see this idea continued. Paul commends Timothy’s mother and grandmother, for instance, for their example of faith which Timothy shared. Timothy, who had a Greek dad, saw the faith of his mom and his grandma, and Paul saw this same faith in this young man. Paul doesn’t come right and say these women taught him spiritual things, but the implication is plain.
Paul also instructed the dads in the church in Ephesus to “not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
Discipline and instruction. The two go hand in hand. So in Hebrews 12:4ff the writer compares God’s disciple of His people with a father’s discipline of his son. Though it may seem sorrowful for a moment, the end game is “the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
In some ways homeschooling seems to more closely mirror the kind of instruction people in the Bible received, but God did not endorse a particular educational style. He did put parents in charge of what their children were to learn. Whether that means they are to take a hands on approach in all matters or only in spiritual matters, they are to be a part of the process.
But does this involvement in education extend beyond the things of God? Again, Scripture doesn’t prescribe what or how the rest of their education was to take place.
We know that Paul, a strict, traditional Jew, sat under the instruction of Gamaliel. In fact scribes likely had places of learning where they penned the many copies of the Torah. On the other hand, the Pharisees referred to Peter as an unlearned man. He clearly did learn, but not in a formal setting. He learned largely at the feet of Jesus.
Not a bad place to start. Scripture tells us the fear of the Lord is the beginning both of wisdom and knowledge. And Scripture tells us parents are to instruct, train, discipline, all with the goal to bring up children in the way of the Lord.
In the end we can argue about the different educational programs and systems, but if parents neglect their responsibility, the programs and systems won’t matter. First the parents must own their responsibility and take whatever role they need to take to give oversight to their child’s learning.
There’s more I can say on the subject, but I’ll leave it here for now: Parents, part of parenting is doing the “passing down to your sons and daughters the things they need to know” work—that’s a long way of saying, teach your kids what is right. 😉