I am becoming increasingly concerned about the growing obsession with getting your children into some sort of an institution as soon as possible. They call these institutions, day care, or preschool, or head-start. But I believe them to be quite sinister. I am at a bit of a disadvantage here, I am not a parent and so the most common sentiment these days that you must “walk a mile in someones’ shoes” in order to speak to someone is wholly ineffectual in my case. That other great modern motivator, statistics, is also something I could care less for. In fact that type of systematizing is part of, if not the main problem. Is your child a statistic? The institution thinks so. My aversion to this practice is not based on these but on my love for the successes of the past. A past I know perhaps better than the present in some respects. A knowledge which makes new problems appear more stark, than to those who find them common. Perhaps then, my distance from the situation is a bit of an advantage. I spend my time reading rather than changing diapers, though I am not unfamiliar with their changing nor afraid. I have plenty of experience borrowing the children of others, as well as thorough memories of my own childhood. I have spent a great deal of this time in the study of education, in the footsteps of my parents. I am actually the impetus for the creation of Petra Academy. I was there the first day, I worked hard to keep it alive and I was there on the last. Oh sure the corpse still walks about, reinvigorated by the Frankenstein of capitalist interests, but the heart and humanity are gone. Which is an apt description of modern education.
I think there are two main reasons people are so eager to sign up little Johnny for some sort of ’school’, as soon as they can. First of all raising children is difficult, and relentless, a job is quantifiable and finite. That is to say they do it for convenience, although there might be an element of fear in it, that element is also present in the second reason, a real desire to do what is best for Johnny. I don’t really think the first needs much rebuff. It should be obvious that if your only motive is to dump your children off on someone else so you can be free to make and spend money, you are a bad lazy parent. But, I’m sure there are a lot of parents like this. People these days are all too happy to have someone else do everything for them. They want to live in dormitories(condos) so they have no responsibility to the land. They want other people to pay all their bills and do all their thinking for them. So of course they want someone else to raise their children. They are all to happy to take advantage of before and after school programs, and weekend and summer programs and food stamps and welfare and unemployment and on and on. The statistics as well as the anecdotes on this one are clear. In short they want to be slaves, but more on this later.
The second group of people truly want what is best for their child. I didn’t really believe this was that big of a group until recently. Many of my friends began expressing this frantic attempt to sort out where little Johnny would go to preschool at age 3 or 4. I thought I still had a year or two to weigh in on the conversation with my two cents. But then it hit, all too real.
Jesus and Paul both refer to sin as slavery (John 8:34, Romans 7). We are not free to make the correct decisions because we are bound by sin to always make the wrong one. The light of God’s word in our lives frees us up to be able to choose the good. I hope that my words here can do the same. Because the situation is very similar; we have all been educated in a system, and getting beyond it and choosing something different is difficult. Being able to go beyond the default is freedom. I don’t want you to do things my way, I want you to be able to do them your way.
The main motivator for people who want the best for their child is peer pressure. It’s in all the movies; the stunning rich and famous characters portrayed on the silver screen always get their kids into the best preschools. And those actors in real life do the same thing. All the hip psychology books and magazines tell parents they have to get their kids into school ASAP. They often do it by ridiculously negative stereotypes of the sinister homeschooler. You know the characterization, the only thing thicker than his glasses is his obnoxiously awkward personality. Her frumpy clothes are designed to express no personality while still setting her off enough to be ridiculed by all. The greatest sin of the parent is inadequate socialization, socialization, socialization!!! And so parents flee to the nearest government certified program to cure Johnny of all that ails him. But this has been the trend now for the last hundred years. First we added Kindergarten and then we kept adding more sub-grades. How has this been working out for us? I actually have seen plenty of statistics on this. Not only do most Americans think the school system is bad, but they have thought so for decades. All these reforms geared towards earlier and earlier education have only made things worse. Test scores, continue to fall as the rest of the world passes us by. So we extend education on the other end, many people now go to college for seven to ten years. All this has done is prolong adolescense into the mid thirties. It seems to me that instead of starting education sooner, we need to end it earlier. Children growing up in these institutions never know a time without the herd. They become less able to act or think independently. They never develop individual skills or individual character, apart from the mass. And so, they are actually less socially adjusted, well depending on the society. They are perfect for despotism, that is slavery. So I think it is clear this isn’t working, why should we keep trusting these people?
Which brings us to the next point, just who are these people? Another motivator is the notion that education must be done by professionals. Just what exactly are the qualifications for these professionals? Most people probably know more about their babysitter than they do about the person who spends eight hours a day doing god knows what to their children. All these certifications and degrees are handed out by the government, which most people distrust. As Christians, we should pay a little more attention to scriptures like Psalm 1 that warn of sitting in the seat of the scoffer. And these teaching degrees almost guarantee that your child’s teacher has sat under many scoffers. You have probably been to college, you know what a godless evil place it is. Even the best Christian schools get most of their curriculum from the world with a few Bible classes tacked on, that is the reality. Education degrees didn’t exist 50 years ago. Schools just made them up. They made up the whole ‘profession’. They take a bunch of godless general education classes that used to mean something but everyone has long since forgotten what. They add on some methods classes with big text books by social psychologist descended from the German ‘thinkers’ responsible for the holocaust. Throw in a couple hundred thousand dollars and bang you are a teacher. Seriously, your child is better off at home with you. This notion of professionalism is sick anti-Christian evil. This is simply the worship of science trying to take over the government of the family established by God. All the worst Presidents we have had were the most ‘educated’. Professional dictators tried to treat mankind like a science experiment time and again Hitler, Stalin, Mao and millions died every time. As G. K. Chesterton said in his wonderful book Orthodoxy,
“In short, the orthodox faith is this: that the most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men themselves–the mating of the sexes, the rearing of the young, the laws of the state. This is democracy; and in this I have always believed.”
You don’t need professionals. I think the fact that a school like Petra now has a daycare also adds clout to the issue. But perhaps if you considered the motives you would not be so romanced. The purpose of a moral Godly school is to act ‘loco parentis’ that is the school is an extension of the parent. Historically Classical education began somewhere between age six to nine. This is how nearly all of the founding fathers were educated. They carved the most advanced civilization the world has ever seen out of a wilderness. At the time of the founding literacy was near universal, which included Latin. Men like Peyton Randolph, John Jay, and John Adams will blow you away. An institution cannot do what you can in the home, in those early formative years. But Petra like many schools built a big expensive building, and they need to pay for it. Some people have invested big money and they want a self sustaining business, which means screw loco parentis, screw the heart of Classical education. Daycare means more money with limited expenses, no hundred dollar textbooks here. Parents met with the demands of an oppressive government are all to happy to drop their four-year-old off with their six-year-old at school so they can go earn more money. In addition the thinking is that if you get started at a younger age you will continue with the school K-12. They bribe you with square footage and student to teacher ratios instead of the tried and true Classical education of Christendom. What noble motives.
I would ask you well meaning parents who want to hurriedly get your child into an institution as soon as can be, what is the purpose of education? I think the question reveals a lot. It goes back to the slavery issue; Are we to be cogs in a social machine? Is the purpose of education to make good little worker bees? Or, is there something more? I think there is, the men of old thought so too. Do we want our children to get a good job or have good character? As C. S. Lewis says in Our English Syllabus
“Vocational training, on the other hand prepares the pupil not for leisure, but for work; it aims at making not a good man but a good banker, a good electrician a good scavenger, or a good surgeon. You see at once that education is essentially for freemen and vocational training for slaves.”
Education should liberate. That is the whole idea of medieval classical liberal education. Sure we still have some of the vestiges of that system left, but they are quickly fading. You hear people complain all the time in college about “why do I have to take this class, I will never use it”. Oh that evil word ‘use’ as if we were magicians conjuring so many spells, which is not far off from the modern ideas of science. Those classes were there to give you a broad base to build on for a lifetime of learning. A liberal education is one that equips us to tackle any obstacle. It frees us to exercise our humanity in any number of outlets. As Christians we should understand that the purpose of education is to build moral men. As C. S. Lewis says in The Abolition of Man, ‘men with chests’. That is men who can use their minds to govern their appetites. The chest unites the head with the stomach, the seat of desire, to create complete men. We don’t want men who are all brains and no action, or men who are all impulse. But modern industrial men had other designs. They wanted a populace just literate enough to work in their factories and buy all their wares like mindless drones. So men like Henry Ford and John Dewey, set about changing education. And they have all but succeeded. This is the difficult part, because how are we to teach a liberty to our children that we don’t even know? Giving your children to the government at a younger and younger age is not the answer. Let your child have a few years of freedom to interact with the real world on his own, so that later he can remember a time before he was institutionalized.
We are not fatalists, we are Christians who believe in the blood of the Lamb, repentance is possible. And there are so many resources available. Medieval man sorted out all of these problems before the darkness of modernity began throwing out everything traditional and Biblical. Oh sure we have powerful cell phones in our pockets, but we are less able to choose the good than men were hundreds of years ago. What does it profit a man if he gains power over all the integrated circuits but loses his own soul? I would start with reading Dorothy Sayers Essay, click the quote above.
Then read The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis, it’s a little more difficult, but there are plenty of explanations available online.
Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, Douglas Wilson
The Well Trained Mind, Susan Wise Bauer
A Students’ Guide to Liberal Learning, James V. Schall
Association of Classical Christian Schools Lectures
Now you have more tools, you have more freedom, go and give your children even more!