Education Service 2003

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Education poses problems for parents, teachers and pupils alike. Here are a couple of reports on Winston Churchill. This is from his first school as a young boy: he ...

"... is a constant trouble to everybody and is always in some scrape or other; he cannot be trusted to behave himself anywhere."

And this is a report from Harrow school where he went for secondary education:

"Constantly late for school, losing his books and papers and various other things into which I need not enter. He is so regular in his irregularity that I really don't know what to do. He had such good abilities but these would be 'made useless by habitual negligence'."

However, his mother decided to put some pressure on the young Winston; and it worked. His leaving report, aged 18 was as follows:

"His work this term has been excellent. he understands now the need of taking trouble, and the way to take it and, whatever happens to him [possibly a reference to his failing the exams for Sandhurst] I shall consider that in the last twelve months he has learned a lesson of life-long value."

Are you worried about the reports on your son or daughter? You may be looking at a future Prime Minister! People are worried about Education. A famous book written in 1961 by a distinguished Christian academic, Christopher Dawson, was entitled The Crisis of Western Education. It has recently been republished. But what is education? Well, we know it is something God uses for his purposes - even pagan education. Moses was educated in the court of Pharaoh. This undoubtedly fitted him for the leadership of God's people. Acts 7.22:

"Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action."

The philosophers of education tell us that education is the passing on, I quote, "of values and the accumulated knowledge of a society." The social scientists call this "socialization" or "enculturation". This happens in primitive societies in simple ways and in sophisticated societies through modern educational systems. Of course, there is little problem with the passing on of accumulated knowledge. The problem comes over the passing on of values and beliefs. Are they right and true values and beliefs? The Christian has a clear understanding of what is right and wrong. The greatest educational handbook in the history of the world is the book of Proverbs in the Bible. It tells you that it is written:

"... for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young" (Prov. 1.2-4).

And where does all that begin? It tells you:

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (Prov. 1.7).

So much by way of introduction. Now to help with our thinking, I want you to look this morning at Hebrews 13.1-10 our Bible reading. Particularly I want to focus on those words in verse 8:

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."

And you might like to jot down my headings. There are only two: first, THE CHANGING WORLD OF EDUCATION; secondly, THE UNCHANGING JESUS CHRIST; and, finally, a conclusion.


Every society has some method of passing on its values and knowledge. But what we mean by education in the West, and what the rest of the world wants when it copies Western education, has distinctly Christian origins, roots and methods. Yes, the early Christians made use of the Roman patterns of education they inherited. But their great motivation in education was teaching people the Bible. They knew it was so important that people should be able to read "God's word written" - as the Bible is called in the Church of England's Thirty-nine Articles. It was Christians who pioneered modern education. Let me give you a whistle stop tour through English history with some examples. When England itself was a mission field, the only schools available to our Anglo-Saxon ancestors were those provided by Christians. Just across the river Tyne, in Jarrow, in the 8th century was one of the greatest centres of learning in Europe - at the monastery there. Later in the 9th century Alfred defeated the pagan Danes and brought education to Wessex. At the end of the 14th century William of Wykeham founded a school at Winchester and also New College, Oxford. His aim, I quote, was ...

"... chiefly so that Christ may be more fervently and frequently preached, and faith and the worship of God's name increased and more firmly maintained."

At the beginning of the 16th century a new Renaissance school was founded by Dean Colet, the Dean of St Paul's in London and called St Paul's school. Colet said:

"My intent is by this school specially to increase knowledge and worshipping of God and our Lord Jesus Christ and good Christian life and manners in the children."

Then came the Reformation. People rediscovered the Bible. Now free to read it in their own language, obviously they wanted to set up schools where the Bible might be studied. So you have all those King Edward VI schools founded in the middle of the 16th century. Edward VI was the great champion of Reformed ideas and beliefs. In the 18th century Robert Raikes and others began the first Sunday Schools for poorer children to learn to read (the Bible) and to write. And so it went on in the 19th century with more church schools. In 1870 the State joined in. And in the 20th century there was the famous 1944 Education Act. But still the values and assumptions were fully Christian. Lord Selbourne introduced the 1944 bill in the House of Lords. He spoke for the vast majority when he said:

"The real enemy is naked materialistic paganism which has reared its head in Europe to a height unknown for a 1,000 years which threatens Christianity today and with it our civilization, our homes and our people ... Anglo-Saxon democracy would perish without the Christian ethic and unless we are brought up to be a God-fearing Christian nation, all our vaunted progress in other directions will crumble into dust."

And that would have been the view until the late 1960's and 1970's in this country. Indeed, in 1973 the aims of the Newcastle upon Tyne Education Committee were, I quote:

1) To help the pupils towards an understanding of the Christian Faith in Jesus Christ as "the Way, the Truth and the Life" (John 14.6) and to provide a basis from which they may move toward the belief that "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing they may have life through his Name" (John 20.31); and,

2) To enable pupils discover how the Christian Faith has been practised today by relating the individuals life in the community etc. to Christ's standards of life and work.

But we are light years away from that now. I haven't time to give you all the sad and sordid details. So what has happened? What has gone wrong? That brings me to my second heading ...


And look at verses 7-8:

"Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."

A famous book that summarized at least what most people wanted from British schooling (until recently) was Tom Brown's Schooldays. It was written in 1857 - just when this church, JPC, was being founded. Squire Brown, sent Tom off to Rugby school, and mused about the advice he should give his son:

"Shall I tell him to mind his work, and say he's sent to school to make himself a good scholar? Well, but he isn't sent to school for that - at any rate, not for that mainly. I don't care a straw for Greek particles, or the diagamma; no more does his mother. What is he sent to school for? Well, partly because he wanted so to go. If he'll only turn out a brave, helpful, truth-telling Englishman, and a gentleman, and a Christian, that's all I want."

Parents no longer talk that language. But in their heart of hearts that is what many still want for their children. They want them to be able to earn their own living and stand on their own feet. More than that they are concerned with good character. But what is a "good character" and how do you get it? That is the vital question. For all the Christian centuries the answer was that good character is based on Jesus Christ. No matter what age you were in or whatever the knowledge base that was to be transmitted, the "values" of education were those of Jesus Christ. Why? Well, however much the world was changing, he never changed. As he was yesterday, so he is today and so he will be for ever. The model for your education was not Hitler nor Stalin nor Mao nor even more acceptable figures like Winston Churchill, but only Jesus. And why believe that? The writer to Hebrews tells us in chapter in chapter 2 verses 3 - 4:

"This salvation which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will."

And the greatest of all signs and wonders was Jesus' Resurrection from the dead that first Easter Day leaving a tomb empty. And what was the underlying philosophy of that Christian teaching on salvation? Answer: Hebrews 1 verse 3:

"The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word [Jesus Christ is an almighty creator even before he is an almighty saviour; and the verse goes on ... ] After he [this Jesus Christ] had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven [that is how his entire ministry is summed up - as 'purification for sins']."

The Bible sees the human problem, and the educational problem, as the problem of sin - of men and women, boys and girls going their own way and not God's. And the Cross is the answer to that human sin - where Christ died for you and me, in our place, bearing our guilt. It is a very simple analysis. But that doesn't mean to say it is not true. So when the Bible talks about education, it takes all that on board. Proverbs again - chapter 22. 6 and 15:

"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it ...
... Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him."

That is not politically correct. But Proverbs is not talking about child abuse. Nor is it talking about parents loosing control and bullying their children nor any of the other bad things that can happen. As Augustine of Hippo, a massive Christian intellectual of the 4th century, once said: "the abuse does not take away the true use." But what Proverbs is saying is that children are not the little angels of fantasy. They are born not as saints but as sinners who need saving. They all have an innate tendency to go their own way and not God's. That is why education and training is so vital. All that has been assumed in Christian education down the centuries. But in the 18th century there was new teaching, which seemed so much more reasonable - as much heresy initially seems. It came from Jean Jacques Rousseau. He taught that you could forget the Bible because actually children were little angels. The problem was society. Education should really just let children be "natural" and unfettered. And many were, and have been since, hooked on that teaching. The great message of Hebrews is that it is so easy to drift away from faith in Christ as the only way. The writer says in chapter 2.1:

"We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away."

And look at verse 9 in chapter 13:

"Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings."

Rousseau has, in fact, made thousands drift and carried them away with his "strange teachings". For two centuries Rousseau's ideas had been fermenting. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th John Dewey, the famous US educationalist, gave them great popularity. By the 1960's and 70's there was a massive drift. A new version of Rousseau's ideas were being taught in many University Departments of Education. We have yet to recover. The watch-word became "permissiveness". And children and adolescents were to be allowed to do what they wanted both intellectually and morally. And the results now are the very opposite of our passage - verses 1-5:

"Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have."

Polls are showing that many young people are more selfish, more materialistic and more sexually immoral than they were before the 1970's. And if that doesn't convince you, you can see how wrong all this is, when you take the advice of verse 7:

"Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith."

That is a vital principle. If you are a Christian teacher, you can influence your students by the "outcome of your way of life". Christian school teachers, certainly, had a great effect on me. But this is important at the level of assessing these philosophers and theoreticians who cause havoc in the first place. It shows you who are true and who are false. Take Rousseau. Besides teaching that children were born innocent and then corrupted by society, he taught a doctrine of love, claiming to be a friend of all. But what was the outcome of his life? Well, he stayed for much of his life with a hotel servant, Thérèse le Vasseur, who bore him five children. He said of her that he never, I quote,

"... felt the least glimmering of love for her ... the sensual needs I satisfied with her were purely sexual and were nothing to do with her as an individual."

All five children, without being named, were packed off to a foundling hospital where most children died. In his Confessions he said he felt no shame about this. Later, he felt guilty and it drove him our of his mind. You can never fool with God. Look at verse 4. It says that ...

"... God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral."

Yes, there is forgiveness if you repent. But no, not if you rebel and defiantly go your own way. It is clear to me which philosophy of education is true and which is false - the one based on the unchanging Jesus Christ, not on the tragic romantic, Rousseau, and his disciples like John Dewey.

I must conclude. So what will be your response to the current situation? May I briefly suggest six things. One, make sure that you are committed to Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Two, face the reality of the situation we are in. You then can, and must, compensate for it if you are a parent, a teacher or a student. For example, find the support of other Christians. If you are a parent join with other parents (ideally three or more) and challenge head teachers and others for deviating from Christian principles or when they prevent Christian groups or Christian teaching. And help set up Christian groups. Point out the facts of the new census figures that the majority - over 70 percent - are still like to identify as Christian. Only a tiny percentage are of other faiths - 4 or 5 percent. And why not try to be a school Governor? Three, pray for Christian teachers in secular schools and Christian workers going into these schools. Four, pray for the setting up of a new Christian City Academy in the West End of the city and for other Christian schools, like Grindon Hall and Emmanuel Gateshead and the new school in Middlesborough and John Burn and all his work involved in that. Five, pray for those Christian parents who are home-schooling. Six, realize that there is going to be a struggle now in education. You will often have to be in a minority of one, when you take a stand. But be encouraged. Remember verses 5 and 6 of our chapter:

"God has said,
'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."
So we say with confidence,
'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'"

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