The Principal Approach to Education: Reading, Grammar, History, and the Sciences
~ Whitney Ann
In modern American society, it is becoming progressively popular to dismiss youth as wholly incompetent of grasping or responding to mental challenges. As a result, children are generally identified as incapable of retaining any true form of responsibility. In truth, this understanding undermines the Bible’s calling to the very young; Jesus Himself insisted that little ones visit and hear His words (Mark 10:14), and a zealous Timothy denounced youth as an excuse in displaying a model of conduct and virtue (1 Timothy 4:12). A distinctly Christian education regards child-minds not as blank slates awaiting inscription, but as naturally inquisitive organs, ripe and highly potential for academic and spiritual harvest. As response is an inevitable product of reception, children must be guided in receiving knowledge which will encourage future analyzing and personal application consistent with a biblical worldview. The kindergarten pupil must be taught to read by principles which reflect his or her accountability in both the academic and spiritual realms. In directing the child to worthwhile age-appropriate literature and the phonetics theory, teachers simultaneously open a door to a lifelong love of reading, while sewing a harvest which re-affirms the student’s identity in Christ and encourages godly character.
Though inherently sinful, the Bible seems to concede that the smallest among us naturally possess hearts more inclined to receiving truth (Matthew 19:14). Upon this knowledge, it is vital to encourage every aspect of education as a means of comprehending and glorifying the Creator (Genesis 2:2). At the age of five or six, most children unquestioningly accept whatever information given them as factual, for both mind and heart are extremely and vulnerably trusting (Bluedorn, 313). Scripture directs to the inseparable relation binding thought and speech (Proverbs 23:7); indicated is the powerful influence of the mind over every facet of the body, heart, and soul. It is exactly within this tender age in which the seed and expectations of the Gospel must be planted, and it is this temporary window of time in which the child must acquire a taste for God-honoring literature.
It is profitable to remember that whenever Scripture is disregarded, moral autonomy, governmental bondage, and social imprisonment always ensue. Where the academic arena is often considered a theologically neutral, un-principled ground, corresponding cultural morality rates prove otherwise. On the contrary, every tangible object testifies the existence of the supernatural handiwork of God, and indicates an inseparable tie bonding the created world and its Creator (Psalm 19:1). When children are falsely assured that knowledge is subjective and exists in unattached relation to themselves, they act accordingly. When the principles of personhood, individual government, and objectivity are clearly pronounced in conjunction with studies, however, children recognize that such principles are academically, socially, and spiritually consistent.
God’s Word, the “logos” Itself (John 1:1), exists as the only inspired and living Book. As Truth (John 14:6), it is only reasonable that the child be familiarized with Its stories and passages initially, and as early as possible. Beloved Christian classics such as The Chronicles of Narnia series, The Little Pilgrim’s Progress, Martha Finley’s Elsie Dinsmore collection, and the works of G. A. Henty, also, all provide laudable examples of inspirational characters that consistently display feats of courage, moral strength, and Christ-like attributes. McGuffey Readers as popularized in the nineteenth century recount noteworthy virtues in the form of academic primers. While quenching the developing brain’s thirst for knowledge, such titles provide role models which embrace little ones’ imitative qualities (Bluedorn, 319). As in every branch of learning, memorization and familiarity precede a deeper understanding which reveals itself in a solid appreciation of the fullness of any study. While the works of C.S. Lewis might seem like fanciful adventures to the kindergartener, it is the hope of the Christian instructor that the spiritually mature themes woven within would instill principles later to be personally pondered and eventually acted upon.
In the student’s venture to learn, a methodology which clarifies and reflects his relation in the spiritual realm is vital. Unlike the method of “sight-reading” only recently furthered by secular masters such as John Dewey, the principles of the phonetic theory challenge young minds to seek the significance of each sound, relying upon reason and stored knowledge to decipher a word (Rose, 157). Where a comprehension of whole sight words quickly loses identity and creates confusion and discouragement for both teacher and pupil, phonetics cultivates assurance in dependable letter relationships (Rose, 157). Rather than abandoning the child to the futile attempt of distinguishing two different words with like-beginnings, words can be appreciated—both for their possible similarities and differences (Rose, 156). This method simultaneously relates to the child’s own personhood. Just as mankind does not exist solely as a corporate mass, a “face value” overview does not do justice to the uniqueness of individuals (Rose, 158). By directing to the separate significances and sounds of letters and letter combinations, children are indirectly and simultaneously revealed that the world is not a dichotomy of random principles, but a region continually referring to the same Designer (Genesis 1:1). While the child himself is not deistic, he is concurrently the crowning image of his Creator and earthly dweller (Genesis 2:2).
In adopting the privilege of leading children to information which will abide with them forever, it must be remembered that such a privilege nonetheless involves a duty not to be flippantly administrated. When the instructor fails to exhibit godly behavior, or when she neglects the superiority of Christ in all intellectual aspects, she may also cause her student, too, to stumble from truth. As ambassadors of God, educators must remember the needs of their children with compassion, specially recognizing and attempting to treat their particular weaknesses—spiritual, physical, and academic. Additional patience is demanded in the cases of often un-met needs such as dyslexia and autism in which reading is most difficult. In such cases, special methods such as pronouncing words beginning with the left and standing by the coinciding side of the chalk-board, greatly strengthens the confidence of otherwise very bright pupils (Sanseri, 68). It is perhaps most veritable that patience revealed to the least in the Kingdom of Heaven nonetheless produces the greatest satisfaction.
Grammar and Penmanship
While often reduced to a systematic word placement or structure, grammar involves the scope of communication as a whole. Characterized by Webster as the “art of speaking or writing,” grammar involves in reality the externalization of reading; as reading absorbs and reflects, grammar relates (Webster). Such relating constitutes the core biblical purpose of speech. Within Scripture, men are repeatedly challenged to provide a sound defense for the convictions that they hold dear in the motivation of upholding Christ in the Gospel message (I Peter 3:15). Efficient communication is the channel which extinguishes chaos and defines meaning—a skill which dramatically affects relationships from personal to professional levels, depending upon the communicator’s competence. Christ’s ability as a child to convey truth won Him the respect of the learned scholars (Luke 21:37); modern children, likewise, are to grasp a form of language which will aid them in enlightening the world. An approach to grammar which emphasizes the biblical significance, context, and style of words in speech will prepare the student to communicate God’s Word in sensitivity, clarity, and reverence.
Scripture directs to the value of words. With words, the celestial beings were brought into existence (Genesis 1:17), all of creation was deemed “good (Genesis 1:31),” and men and angels alike uttered praises to their Creator (Revelations 1:6). In the same way, a misuse of words produced strife between twin brothers Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:31), cost a boastful Jewish father his daughter’s life, and robbed Ananias and Sapphira of their lives (Acts 5:4). Whether uttered from discerning or foolish lips, it is clear that words and their significances possess the power to bless or destroy according to corresponding use. The scribes of the Greek New Testament understood the confusion ensuing flippant articulation, and took great care to assert as possible the particular term which best described the initial intent of the writers. Note, for example, the distinct relevance of the translated word “world” in the passages of John 3:16 and 1 John 2:15. God’s agape love for the world contextually objectifies a mass of humanity whereas the latter passage prohibits that same love for a mass of sinful desires characteristic prior to the individual’s regeneration. We must encourage our students to integrate in their discussions an unceasing quest for precision; like the inspired authors, we must instruct our pupils to refute confusion in the face of those willingly hardened against truth in order that many might be drawn to Him (John 14:6).
In the challenge to avoid excessive complexity, an understanding of grammatical identification must be understood and confirmed. Contrary to common opinion, it would be unjust to attempt to decipher a word’s grammatical identity exclusively apart from its contextual position. Many an instructor has made the unforeseen error of directing pupils to identify singular words, only to arouse confusion when what they had memorized to be a noun was discovered to be a verb. Attention to verbal surrounding, however, would affirm that words are typified as nouns, prepositions, and verbs always and only according to their position in syntax. A thorough understanding of this method encourages a contextual notice vital to every composition and comprehension. As one cannot justifiably label a word in and of itself, a biblical passage must not be interpreted apart from its surrounding verses or chapters. Eliminating inscriptive domain limits understanding and constitutes the greatest breeding ground for heresy.
In addition, the style, or manner in which we convey messages can appropriate meaning as evident as words themselves; the emotions guiding speech can override or defeat our language if improperly conducted. Not only must we be quick to ensure that our words are properly placed and structured, but we must also be certain to heed Peter’s warning to “account…with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15).” In voicing our message to any audience, we must emotionally assume the message that is being shared. If our message, for instance, primarily concerns Christian love, we must write or orally pronounce in a convincing tone. In any and every message, our speech should glorify the God who gave us mouths and hands, and should reveal His love and sincerity (Philippians 4:13). An abuse of words involves over-using as well as neglecting their placement or meaning; when a sentence is needlessly complex, lengthy, or flowery, such derisions can easily distort or distract the author’s design. It is always better to speak as little with definite meaning than to boast in lengthy syllables ignorantly placed.
The smallest task is never too menial when performed in the sincerest attitude of pleasing Christ. While the skill of penmanship, for example, is so often perceived a meaningless employment, it nonetheless testifies the care taken in both relaying a message, as well as the genuine concern placed upon the reader. A slovenly composed letter to a friend leaves little doubt in the recipient’s mind that the sender took little care in fact to ensure that his words were understood, and reveals—to the recipient’s ability or inability to discern—a disdain for order as well as for effort. On the contrary, the professing Christian must recognize that all things bear witness to his or her personal testimony. As in all academic pursuits, we are to obtain all knowledge not for the sake of inflating egos, but to exalt Christ. With all possible veracity, students are to be evangelically driven—to achieve blamelessness in the fact that every aspiration is guided by a godly consistency.
From grade school, the study of American history enthralled and ignited in my heart a mutual understanding in relation to the figures of each story. Upon reviewing the account of Columbus and his ambitions towards the East, fear gripped and clouded my face as the crew of the Santa Maria planned hasty mutiny; centuries later and pages following, tears stung my eyes as I witnessed the first assassination embedding the presidential legacy. As exciting as these historical excerpts proved to be, however, they signified only fragments—broken and detached from the remaining curriculum. If I simply studied long and diligently enough, I could pass with commendable marks, only to confront similar pieces in the upcoming grade. When in my third-grade year I entered the academic arena of home schooling, an introduction to a profoundly different insight counteracted any former dissatisfaction with public school textbooks. Suddenly, history was not merely a compilation of tales of adventure or tragedy, but a tapestry of human events woven by God. History no longer represented the story of humankind, but His story (Beliles). For the first time in my education, I understood that the birth and growth of man held purpose and hope alone in the Creator’s purpose and timing. At the reiteratation of authors Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn in their book, Teaching the Trivium, I was reminded of the essential element neglected in my formal schooling studies—the sovereignty of God within world events and studies (Bluedorn, 41).
Contrary to popular theory, a particular worldview underlies every field of study; bias is inevitable. In virtually every public school textbook, it is presupposed that man gradually develops, and that by natural fortune and increasing complexity, he determines the fate of himself and of other men (Bluedorn, 38)). In the spirit of the “fittest,” every individual is abandoned to personal ability and discernment in random order and establishment. Often referred to as “humanism,” such a perspective boldly opposes the providential understanding of God (Beliles)—that is, the firm conviction that in good will and righteousness, God foreordains historical events in alignment with His purpose and pleasure. In a strictly naturalistic view of humanity, man is only a product of the universe—a temporary, amoral being whose chance to succeed in life depends solely upon the ability to will and intimidate. Man is observed merely in relation to his evolutionary status, and is valued by what he can achieve to the benefit of society. An invisible influence of cyclic determinism reigns as consecutive generations deny moral objectivity. While such a view seeks to elevate man, however, evidence of its fruit concerning government has only increased humanity’s bondage; the most godless of nations such as China, Russia, and North Korea have also proven the most tyrannical. In truth, man is valued only when he is understood in the context of his Creator.
A biblical view of history would direct readers to perceive an active presence of the divine Being in all things (Psalm 136:33). From the book of Genesis, man is disclosed his origin in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), his moral restrictions (Genesis 2:17), and the promise of redemption in Christ (Genesis 3:15). It is in this forethought from which all conclusions are to be derived. Rather than glimpsing tragic world events as evidence of an inactive god, believers may confidently anticipate such tremors as forerunners of His promised return (Revelations 6:17). The developmental success of humanity is measured not by the capital horded nor the captives broken, but by whether or not a particular people is intimately claimed by God. Such a nation determinately find definition not in a foundation of slain enemies, but as an impenetrable city upon a hill (Matthew 5:14). The man who acknowledges that God is trustworthy understands that each person is rewarded according to his actions, and that only a body of people that acknowledges His Kingship in all things shall prosper (II Chronicles 7:14). Fear and hesitance are extinguished in the fact that while men may attempt to mar the body, they cannot kill the soul which God has ordained (Romans 8:28). The individual is assured by the fact that whatever circumstances might befall him, he is protected in God’s placement in time.
A productive, historical study promotes the origin of man within biblical enlightenment. Every individual began first in the foreknowledge of God, and was deemed purpose before the beginning of time. The distinctions of personhood, uniqueness, and innate dignity as image-bearers of God remind students of the significant impact of their actions, refuting the deceptive circulation that personal actions do not carry weight or witness with surrounding neighbors. When the theme is instilled in child-minds that every attitude is captured by the discerning eye of the omniscient God, students are motivated by a sense of accountability and self-worth. Hence, little ones can obtain wisdom from both the negative and positive examples of those before them, and teachers may instruct in the assurance that even Scripture did not refrain from recounting the failures of godly man as appropriate warnings to those in the future. As observed by the Bluedorns, education is never theologically neutral nor absent or neutral of a worldview (Bluedorn, 41). On the contrary, bias certainly underlies every field of study; academic and spiritual productivity only ensues when God’s Word is considered supremely authoritative. The goal of “teaching the trivium” of knowledge is to enable each student to comprehend and respond well in grammar and every form of rhetoric; a Christian understanding of this philosophy includes the centrality of Scripture in every subject. The Bible does, indeed hold “everything necessary to completely educate a man (Bluedorn, 37).”
God’s ultimate purpose in allowing and propelling every historical event is to disclose the redemptive hope in Christ. Ignorance of this principle as well as the characteristics of God’s sovereignty and good will is devastating to the hope of mankind (Bluedorn, 38). Unfortunately, so many persist in refusing a biblical worldview simply because the truths of the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man are seemingly irreconcilable. Biblical context would attest, instead, that the foreknowledge of God and enacting of men work simultaneously and seamlessly in the divine scheme. While He utilizes the wicked for the unfolding of His purposes, He does so in accordance with their will. While sin, sadness, and injustice plague this world, God’s curse is only upon the disobedient and obstinate, for He desires none to perish (2 Peter 3:9). God’s mercy befriends those who seek to obey Him (Romans 8:28), and bestows an eternal legacy of righteousness upon all figures that unabashedly recognize His Lordship (John 3:16).
Arithmetic and Science
In most educational institutions, arithmetic is introduced primarily because it is academically and state-required. Though textbooks claim significance in a knowledge of real numbers or an order of operations, strain to simply “pass and be done” prohibits questioning the study’s life-long relevance. Propelled by ritualistic efforts and an anticipation for good grades, pupils accept most information given them without explicit goal or purpose. An institution which claims Christ’s Headship, however, should not be so easily satisfied. Rather than aimlessly trudging through word problems, instructors are to prove the binding Theme central to all knowledge (Bluedorn, 37). Directing pupils to the spiritual structure underlying principles of the revealed world reveals profound characteristics of God’s character, and proves mathematical and scientific efforts both temporarily and eternally beneficial.
Throughout the history of man and especially from America’s nineteenth century, humankind has seemed characteristically incapable of mentally reconciling the supernatural and natural realms. Views regarding the extremity or over-emphasis of either have been perhaps the greatest preventative to the scientific field today. Where areas deemed “religious” are typically removed from observance of the rational, however, Scripture indicates the wholeness of God. As Creator of all, He is Overseer of the invisible and visible (Genesis 1:1). The earth operates according to His command regarding the natural as well as “supernatural” events. The same One that abnormally raised the dead also sanctioned the days of the week, the seasonal and cosmic legalities, and issued His Gospel through divine and natural channels of revelation (John 1:1). In the study of arithmetic and its related study of science, students recognize perhaps more than ever that the triune God is additionally singular in will and purpose; everything set before their eyes holds heraldry of Him if sought in proper perspective. If divine activity can be unearthed by the abstract, then He can be equally discovered in the revealed sphere! The concept that the natural world complements special revelation provides the cornerstone of a worldview which initiates in God and ends at man. In the knowledge that the natural typifies the invisible, pupils understand that every searchable thing agrees with, rather than contradicts, His immutable character.
Arithmetic, or the “study of numbers” according to Noah Webster, introduces children to the realistic concepts of method and consequence (Rose, 239). Real life calls for foresight in choosing a method which will, to our best knowledge and discernment, obtain the desired consequence or right solution. The use of numbers not only helps to identify amount, but demands close attention and analytical skills vital in developing thought. The logic required in advancing numerical orders or examining word problems requires that children accept whatever consequence pending their thought processes. In the same way, believers are called to reason in wisdom regarding the consequences of their behavioral motives and actions. As the slightest failure in consulting and following perfectly arithmetic rules deems the whole problem erroneous, so does the most menial degree of foolishness in ignoring Scriptural wisdom spoil every good intention (James 2:10). If youths are to advance in any pursuit, they must recognize the significance of every action, whether academic or leisurely, spiritual or physical. Such an understanding serves a reminder that no choice is neutral—and that no thought or deed, commendable or shameful, can escape from eventually surfacing to view.
As with all things, arithmetic has been disclosed in the anticipation that men might increasingly know God (John 20:31). Author James Rose recounts the early biblical record of Adam counting and naming the creatures, of God’s numbering the stars to typify Abraham’s descendents, and of Christ’s careful reckoning of His sheep (Luke 15:4). In each example, claims and notational skills were necessary for revealing certain and total possession, of specifying mark to dominion and special “designation (Rose, 236).” Children, likewise, are to recognize the divinely-appointed cultural mandate possible within the mathematical world. As astronomical discoveries increasingly advance, the use of knowledge accentuates the complexity and vastness of God. As has been the case for too long, Christian education has erroneously divided the tangible from the intangible, and the rational from the supernatural. If God is rightly considered sovereign within the classroom, however, all is to be acknowledged as His footstool. In such a mindset, a division between man’s territory and God’s is incomprehensible. Earthly knowledge in proper perspective cannot secularize nor contaminate when married to and underscored by biblical insight. Rather, together they produce an ever-clearer glimpse of the Creator’s infinite existence.
The ambition of the Principle Approach is to direct children to the centrality of Christ in all facets of learning by the means of paralleling biblical and academic truths. Rather than presenting the studies of Scripture and natural laws separately, the philosophy founding America’s first educational institutions seeks to prove that all can be used and attained for the glory of God—that nothing must occupy our minds or time apart from Him. Such a theory is founded upon the command to set the mind, heart, and soul upon the Savior and His values, and ultimately anticipates a transformation of the mind through the influence of the Holy Spirit. Serious enactment of this philosophy prevents the usual indifference towards mathematics, replacing a sense of wandering with new motivation. Though not every student will likely pursue a career in engineering or meteorology, mathematics holds temporal and eternal value for everyone. Practical skills such as measurement and percentages are useful to both carpenter and construction worker, seamstress and busy mother. The study of the earth’s operation is not reserved to the intellectually elite nor pompously ambitious, but provides confidence in the least complex of life-dilemmas. A man of simple trade, Noah constructed so skillfully an ark perfectly envisioned by God that flood tremors could not destroy it—it was soundly proportioned! The Ark of the Covenant and the Temple of Solomon were also divinely inspired, and established by learned men. Christ Himself was a carpenter, and no doubt excelled in the understanding of numbers; Moses was instructed in every knowledge of his time (Hebrews 11: 24). When motivated in obedience to God, knowledge is obviously appropriate and a good pursuit which allows man to be prosperous as God intended.
Beliles, Mark A. and McDowell, Stephen K. America’s Providential History. Providence Foundation. Charlottesville, Virginia. Eight Edition. 1989.
Bluedorn, Harvey and Laurie. Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style. Trivium Pursuit. Muscatine, Iowa. 2001
The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids, Michigan. Zondervan Publishers.1984
Rose, James B. A Guide To American Christian Education: For the Home and School. American Christian History Institute. Palo Cedro, California. 1987
Sanseri, Wanda. Spell To Write and Read. Back Home Industries. Milwaukee, Oregon. 2002
Webster, Noah. American Dictionary Of the English Dictionary. Foundation for American Christian Education. San Francisco, California. Fifth Printing. 2006