Education: A Definition Discussion
A formal definition of education can be difficult to develop. A definition of Christian education can be even more difficult. As Richard A. Riesen (2002) points out at the beginning of Piety and Philosophy: A Primer for Christian Schools, there is not always much difference between a sacred and secular education.
By education I mean simply what most schools do, and they do pretty much the same thing. Public or private, religious or nonsectarian, almost all are set up to instruct in English, history, mathematics, foreign languages, science, art, music, and the like… I mean a course of study that in its basic outline Christian schools share with all other schools, and in many cases is taught no differently in Christian schools than anywhere else. (p. 19)
Riesen goes on to say that education, as it is practiced in current culture, has no biblical foundation or example. In Kingdom Education for the 21st Century, Glen Schultz disagrees and offers three definitions of education (2011). The first is a secular definition of education. The second comes from the book Upgrade by Kevin Swanson. The final definition is what Schultz calls a biblical definition of education. Each of these definitions offer positive and negative insight to what education should become to assist building a foundation for Christian education that is consistent with biblical truth, in spite of the lack of direct scriptural evidence for an organized, formally structured educational institution.
The first definition offered by Schultz (2011) is a secular definition that says education is, “the formal and informal process of instilling knowledge and skills into a child’s life to produce a productive citizen.” The strength of this definition is the inclusiveness of informal educational experiences as well as the traditional. Many of life’s greatest teaching experiences come through the experiences of failure. Informal life experiences serve as a valuable compliment to the instruction of both academic and character studies. The glaring weakness of this definition, and the gross failure of secular education, is the emphasis on bettering human society for the sake of human society. Not only does this view of education remove instruction in biblical teachings, it also makes the purpose of education self-gratification and narcissistic.
The second definition Dr. Schultz (2011) offers for consideration comes from the book Upgrade by Swanson, stating that education is “the preparation of a child intellectually, physically, socially, and spiritually for life and eternity.” This description of developing a child in all four areas of their life is biblically sound as parallels the description of Jesus Christ’s development as a child. It also recognizes that preparation is needed for something beyond the here and now. Where this definition falls short is again the ultimate purpose of education. It is not enough to be prepared for “life and eternity”. It may be implied in the definition that mankind’s purpose is not narcissistic, but something this important needs to be spelled out. The question remains unanswered as to why one needs to be prepared. Additionally, it may not be the intention of the author of this definition to imply that education is only for children, but it should be noted that education is a lifelong process and a complete definition should not be limited in scope.
The biblical definition of education offered by Schultz (2011) is, “the study of God’s creation through which God reveals His nature to man so that He will get the glory.” Many Christian schools adopt the phrase To Know Him and Make Him Known as part of their mission statement. This definition accurately reveals the great purpose of education to be discovering the creator, knowing Him better, in order to better live as an image-bearer who strives to bring God glory in all aspects of life. Not only is God the centerpiece of this definition, He is clearly the purpose and the end objective. As clear as this statement is, it still does not go as far as it should. Consider the limits placed on studying God’s creation alone. Creativity and reason are equally important in education and should be included in a complete definition.
These definitions offered by Dr. Schultz provide a solid framework for the development of a complete definition of Christian education. Based on the analysis of these three definitions of education, this writer proposes that education is defined as formal and informal learning experiences that reveal the nature and being of God through intellectual study and discovery, physical activity, social interaction, and spiritual development of all created mankind so they, through word, deed, and all things, might bring glory to an Almighty God.
John M. Furrow
Westminster Catawba Christian School
Presented in Partial Fulfillment of
Kingdom Education FDS
EDU 9950 (FDS)
Dr. Milt Uecker
Columbia International University
Posted with author's permission
Riesen, R. (2002). Piety and philosophy: A primer for Christian schools. Phoenix, AZ; ACW Press
Schultz, G. (2011). Kingdom Education for the 21st Century. DVD Series