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Fiddling While Rome Learns
What is True Education?
By Mr. Josh Brisby, M.Ed.
In the past we have discussed the differences between classical education and public education. Yet, it is one thing to think of differences between different types of education; it is another thing to ask, “What is true education?” The following proverb is attributed to my favorite philosopher, Socrates:
Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.
Socrates was famous—or perhaps infamous—for always asking questions and seeking to define terms. And, as Plato’s dialogues show, Socrates was never truly satisfied with the definitions that his philosophical quandaries produced. So, to continue in his legacy, let us ask how we would define the word 'education.'
Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘education’ as “the action or process of educating or of being educated.” This, of course, begs the question, what is it to be educated? Webster defines ‘educate’ as “to train by formal instruction and supervised practice especially in a skill, trade, or profession” and “to develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically.”
As we can see, even what comes from a supposedly objective source, the dictionary, is quite vague as to what constitutes education. I teach my students to strive for seek the why of things. In this case, we need to seek which definition of education is correct—or perhaps none of them are—and then understand why we think so.
First, using the Socratic method of dialogue, we can seek to take a position and teem out its implications, drawing it to its logical conclusion. Take the above definitions. The first can be easily dismissed: “the action or process of educating or being educated.” This definition commits the logical fallacy of petitio principii, or “begging the question.” It defines nothing. It uses the same related word ‘educate’ so that it never defines education. I call this ‘the politician’s trick.’ Politicians are superb at this sleight-of-hand. “I’m going to fix the economy by making it better. And I’m going to make the economy better by fixing it.” Please notice, did the politician ever give the specifics of how he is going to fix the economy? Indeed, what does he even mean by fix? So we can easily do away with the first definition from Webster.
Let us now consider Webster’s second definition, “to train by formal instruction and supervised practice.” To be honest, this is probably the accepted definition today, at least in most schools. We can see this by how they approach the rest of the definition, “especially in a skill, trade, or profession.” What does it mean to ‘train’ someone? Is it not to mold someone to be or become what the teacher desires? In this sense, is it not simply ‘filling with knowledge’ for the purpose of a trade or skill? This second definition is exactly what Socrates wishes to avoid when it comes to education. The one who is ‘educated’ in this definition simply “receives knowledge of a skill,” nothing more. The child or adult, in this sense, is merely passive, a vessel through which so-called knowledge is poured.
Let us now look at Webster’s other definition of education: “to develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically.” This, I would argue, is what true education is. Why? Because we all, in our heart of hearts, know that an education is not merely training or the development of skills. When we think about people, we think about all the various qualities or characteristics that make up such a person. This even leads many to think of a good education as a well-rounded one. That person can only be made or formed if he or she is growing mentally, morally, and aesthetically. And that person cannot do that without all aspects of life, physical and spiritual. Further, that person is not merely passive in this education, but they participate actively. In this true education, the teacher is not only the facilitator, who ignites the spark. The teacher tends the spark and kindles the fire. The student participates in this education, fanning the flame, because the teacher instructs and piques the wonder and the curiosity of the student. As Socrates says, “I teach nothing. All I can do is teach them to wonder.” Socrates considered himself a “midwife,” merely giving birth to ideas. This is what true educators do and are. We teach our students how to think. We do not think for them. We inspire their wonder and curiosity of the universe, and we ignite that spark. We put the wind in their sails for them to navigate their ships.
This is true education. Why? The whole student continues to grow as a person, and we educate them not just for a forty-minute class period, but we inspire them for life. By the act of educating, students are inspired to begin and to continue with their education. This is why graduation is called “commencement”—which means “beginning.” Graduation is not the end. It is only the beginning. Now our students are ready to seek to always strive for education, to fan that spark into a flame, to strive to take their sails and navigate the vast ocean of wonder and curiosity that lies out there in God’s wonderful universe.
This is true education.
Sarah Mackenzie, The Read Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids (Zondervan, 2018).
Reading is essential. We all know this to be true, but we do not always take the time to read to our children. It is easy to put aside reading for pleasure during our busy schedules to tackle things that we feel are more important or necessary. However, we are missing a most important opportunity with our children when we eliminate reading time, especially read aloud time.
The Read Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie does an excellent job explaining the benefits of reading aloud to your family. I found this book to be inspiring and enlightening. Mackenzie simply encourages reading together with no other intent than to spend quality time together. Just read and eventually you will see the benefits of such a simple activity.
The Read Aloud Family is divided into three parts. In Part 1, Mackenzie illustrates the value of reading aloud. She explains how books help us to see the world beyond ourselves. By reading together a little each day, Mackenzie explains that you are creating a connection within your family that will run deep. Parents should read together with their children without setting expectations or making it a learning activity. Choose good quality books and read them aloud for pleasure. The topics of the books will open up family conversation and even the experiences you have together with books will create fun, family memories.
Stories are powerful, and they can impact the reader in a variety of ways. She recommends choosing books that inspire heroic virtue. Your children will live vicariously through characters as you read. Stories stoke the imagination and reach the heart of the reader, creating empathy and compassion through characters and plot.
In Part 2 of the book, Mackenzie focuses on how we can make connections with our kids through books. We usually do a great job reading aloud to our children when they are young, but as they get older and read on their own, we tend to abandon read aloud time with them. It is at this time that reading expectations at school become the main focus for children who strive for success in the school environment. Reading then becomes a duty. Mackenzie states that “parents who think the primary importance of reading is to be successful in school are less likely to have kids who enjoy reading than parents who see reading primarily as a venue for entertainment.” (p.93) Home is where your children have a chance to fall in love with books and read for pleasure.
This is not to say that reading at school is a bad thing. From my experience in both elementary and middle school, children enjoy reading and discussing books in the classroom. Teachers work to foster a love of reading. Parents, however, cannot rely on the school to create a love for reading. The most successful way to do this is to create an atmosphere in the home where reading is done simply for the pure joy of it.
With this is mind, we need to be intentional about making the act of reading aloud a part of our family culture. We need to make reading less of a duty and more of a delight. Put some snacks on the table, open up a book and read. Let conversation or questions naturally arise from the reading; do not read with the intent of quizzing your child on the book afterwards.
Mackenzie explains that reading aloud does not have to be long. Take whatever time you have and read. Books do not have to be heavy with content; they can be simple and fun. If a book choice for your family is unsuccessful, then simply choose a different book to read. You can even use audiobooks when traveling or commuting. Let your children work on something while you read. They do not have to be sitting still. It can be easy to turn reading into a habit in your home.
It is never too late to read aloud to your child. Even if your children are teens, read aloud together. The content of books at this age is as such that adults and older children can enjoy and talk about together. The time spent together with teens is also priceless and this simple act can foster a close relationship between you and your children.
Mackenzie also includes advice on how to choose a good book by using certain criteria and a series of questions. She explains ways you can talk to your kids about books by using both intentional and organic conversations, and she lists examples and explanations of ten good questions to ask about books.
Part 3 of The Read Aloud Family outlines the different age groups and what to expect when reading aloud to each group. It also includes a book list for each age group to give parents a resource as they begin or continue their read aloud journey.
As a parent and an educator, I have always understood the importance of reading. However, I have also always felt like I could do more by way of reading to my kids or my class. What I also found encouraging about this book is that Mackenzie explains that there are times we do not do as much as we want, but that every bit we have done already has been beneficial. I encourage every parent to read this book for inspiration and encouragement as you begin or continue your read aloud journey.
The simple act of reading aloud at home results in numerous benefits to your family. Begin reading aloud now. You will never regret the time you spent reading with your children.
**You can also listen to Sarah Mackenzie on her Read Aloud Revival podcast to get more ideas about reading in your home.
Mrs. Bohot, Kindergarten
TO MESS WITH THE SACRAMENTS IS TO MESS WITH THE GOSPEL
By Josh Brisby, M.Ed.
In contrast to American Evangelicalism and Reformed theology one will notice very quickly that Lutheranism is all about pastoral care. Pastoral care looks very different in Lutheranism when compared to other Christian denominations. Contrary to stereotypical assumptions Lutheranism is not “academic,” but pastoral through and through. It was birthed from Luther's struggles with assurance, particularly battling issues such as assurance he was of the elect, or God’s chosen for salvation.
One of the chief means of grace God gives us for assurance of salvation is the Sacraments. These Sacraments are connected to the universal grace of God in Christ, who died for the sins of all who have ever lived. God wants us to know that He loves us and that Christ died for us. He wants us to know that His intention for the world is one of grace and mercy. This Gospel message, the Good News, is one that is for you. Without the for you, the Gospel is truncated and perverted. And God gives the Sacraments for you so you can know His kind and merciful saving intention toward you.
How does “messing” with the Sacraments take away the for you of the Gospel? To “mess” with the Sacraments is to “mess” with the Gospel itself.
PASTORAL CARE IN EVANGELICALISM/NON-DENOMINATIONALISM
Most evangelical Christians will admit that Christ died for all. Often this is meant in a vague sense of "died for all so it can be appropriated when we believe." American Evangelicalism does not believe that Christ objectively reconciled and justified the whole world. Faith is seen as the work that applies salvation to the believer. The choice to “be saved” is operational.
This way of looking at the atonement inevitably leads a person to ask, "do I have faith?" "Have I appropriated Christ?" This is why many evangelicals end up getting “rebaptized,” walking forward, or "rededicating" their lives to God many, many times. (Indeed, I was raised this way and did this at almost all the summer Christian camps I attended.) Baptism becomes something that they do for God, rather than something that God graciously does for us. Instead of baptism being a means of God’s grace that effects regeneration and salvation, it becomes an act of obedience or an "ordinance" commanded by God to show that one already believes. This turns a person toward their own faith instead of toward God who gives faith.
Because of this, when doubts creep in, one must inevitably be turned back to “their” faith, hence rededication, rebaptism, etc. This theology produces doubt, if one has faith or not, or if one has “enough fruit.” The evangelical/non-denominational pastor, therefore, has no objective means to turn a doubting person to, other than to ask them "do you have faith in Christ?" The poor soul is already doubting if they have faith, or if they have true fruit or enough fruit. To turn the doubter back to their fruit or to their faith many times just makes things worse.
PASTORAL CARE IN REFORMED THEOLOGY/CALVINISM
Although Reformed theology does talk about the sacraments as efficacious, they mean it in a completely different sense than Lutherans do. Lutherans, believe as the church fathers taught beforehand that the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper objectively work salvation and give the Spirit because of God's universal saving intention. However, under traditional Reformed theology, Christ made atonement only for the sins of the elect, that is those chosen for salvation. The Spirit's intention in the sacraments under Reformed theology is only to be present for the elect, and only to be present for those who have faith. Ironically, then, the doubter is once again turned toward their faith.
Some branches of Reformed theology, such as some of the continental Reformed brethren, will indeed tell a person to look to the sacraments. Nonetheless they confess and believe that the Spirit may not necessarily be present there, except only for the elect. How does one know they are of the elect? How can they look to the sacraments if God's saving intention is only particular, and not universal? Further, the Reformed confess that it is possible that one may have false faith, even though they may have all the fruit that appears to be of "true faith." How, then, can one know? Ironically, just like the Arminian who denies the sacraments but confesses universal grace, the Reformed end up turning a person back toward their own faith.
So, we see that both universal grace and objective sacraments are necessary for assurance.
PASTORAL CARE IN LUTHERANISM
Mankind wants to know that we have a gracious God. Other sacramental forms of Christianity, such as Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, although they share with us objective Sacraments, they nonetheless do not keep the doctrine of justification and the forgiveness of sins as primary. For Rome, the sacraments are simply things we do for God to achieve merit before Him. For the East, the sacraments are simply vehicles to aid mankind in theosis (becoming like God) and progress in sanctification. Unwittingly, then, they simply become aids or works. They become law. This turns a person back to their efforts.
In Lutheranism, the Sacraments are all about the forgiveness of sins, humankind's greatest need. In Holy Baptism, God washes away all our sin, both original and actual, past, present, and future. Holy Absolution, therefore, is a return to our Baptism. In this life, man cannot get past his need for forgiveness of sins. One do not always "feel" forgiven. So God gives these wonderful means of mercy and kindness for our assurance. These Sacraments are for us beggars. In the Holy Supper, Christ gives us His very Body and Blood to enjoy, to become one with us and with each other, for us, for the forgiveness of all of our sins. Our relationship to God, coram Deo, is always passive, completely righteous before Him because of what Christ has done, and because of His objective Gifts of grace and mercy given in the Sacraments. The Sacraments do *not* depend upon our faith. The Sacraments are objectively gracious because of God's universal grace. A Christian cannot get past justification. We are passive beggars who receive Gifts from God in Word and Sacrament. Because of this, we relate to humankind actively out of thankfulness to God.
So the Lutheran pastor counsels the doubter by pointing them to the objective universal grace, atonement, and justification given to them and for them on the Cross and in the Sacraments. The Lutheran pastor never turns a person back to his or her faith. God gives the Sacraments to offset our speculative tendencies, to correct our doubting, to prove God is objectively gracious. As one of my Lutheran pastors rightly once said to those who doubt, "The Sacraments say 'Shut up.' The Sacraments say 'Open up.'" With the Sacraments a Christian therefore has the Gospel, pure and simple.
Philosophy As Wonder, Curiosity, Goodness, Truth, and Beauty
By Josh Brisby, M.Ed.
Here at Memorial Lutheran School we teach Logic as well as Speech and Debate during the middle school or “logic years.” We inspire our students to love wonder, curiosity, goodness, truth, and beauty. These topics all converge in a subject usually reserved for college students: philosophy. However, philosophy certainly has a place in middle school and high school because of the connections between inquiry and wonder, curiosity, goodness, truth and beauty. Philosophy has traditionally been divided into various academic fields. Let’s explore how each field can find its place in the classroom.
The inquiry of metaphysics and ontology inspires us to be curious about the questions “what is real?” and “what is the nature of reality?” Many of us take this for granted. For example, I assume the laptop on which I am typing this article, right now, is a real entity. I can “feel” it and “see” it. Yet, if I assume it is real merely because my senses notice it, then how am I sure I am not hallucinating? Rene Descartes in particular went so far as to doubt everything but concluded that at least he must exist, since he was thinking. “Cogito ergo sum,” “I think therefore I am” is his popular contribution to thought. Was he right? In exploring questions of being and reality, we can respond to this with a critique as well. Asking our students “why?” gets them to think. I often tell students I am the “why guy.”
The inquiry of epistemology inspires us to wonder about the question “how do we know?” For example, we take for granted that atoms exist. Have you ever seen an atom? We take for granted that Hawaii exists, or that George Washington existed. How do we know that all this is not some grand conspiracy? Of course, that would be pretty over-the-top; but, at the very least it raises the question. Can we have true knowledge simply because someone else has told us? Philosophers ask the question of how knowledge is justified and warranted. Can I have true knowledge if there is a possibility I could be wrong? Or does this knowledge have to be infallible to be real and true? The nature of knowledge is even a topic that some Christian philosophers have sought to address. They usually point to Colossians 2:3, “in [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Yet of course I would ask them if this passage is really talking of Christ in the sense of epistemology. The Bible is sufficient for knowledge of salvation. But is it sufficient for the rules of chess or a flight operator’s manual, etc.? The question of “how do we know” brings students and teacher alike to curiosity and wonder together.
The inquiry of aesthetics asks “what is beautiful?” You have heard that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Is this really true? Does not God have an ultimate standard of Beauty? The philosopher Plato responded to this question with his theory of the forms. Everything is a lesser copy of an ultimate Form, insofar as there are therefore different degrees of “beauty,” with ultimate “beauty” being the “perfect form of beauty.” For Plato, “ugliness” is therefore not a “thing,” but simply a lack of the “form of beauty” on this “chain of being” or a lower rung of the ladder. When discussing “beauty” then philosophy permits us to move beyond opinion and into a substantial discussion with the ancients.
The inquiry of ethics asks the question “what is good”? It also therefore deals with the inverse, what constitutes evil. What are the virtues? What are the vices? Aristotle believed everything could be thought of in terms of excess or deficiency. The in-between, or the “Golden Mean” is how one can find the “good” or the “virtues.” This branch of ethics is called “virtue ethics.” For example in Aristotle’s system, the virtue of “courage” has an excess of “foolhardiness” and a deficiency of “cowardice.” No one would say a man that rushes into battle without weapons or planning is “courageous.” Nor would one say that a man who runs away from battle is “courageous.” But a man who plans and receives counsel and training and weapons before running into battle would be considered courageous. How philosophy intersects with ethics provides for ample discussion on the question of what is “good.”
The field of logic is the study of proper argumentation and how to apply those arguments. What is an “argument”? A formal argument has premises and a conclusion. An informal argument will not be as “polished” as this, but will be an assertion backed up with evidence. We all make arguments every day. Even something as simple as this assertion, “mom, we need to get gas for the car because the needle is on empty,” is an argument. The mother in this example could respond with a counter-argument by saying “no we don’t because the needle is broken.” The son or daughter could respond in turn with another counter-argument in saying “but daddy had the needle fixed so we really do need gas”, etc., until one side finally concedes. Here at Memorial we enjoy this especially in Logic class and in Speech and Debate. Of course, we teach our students to argue respectfully and logically.
There are other fields of study as well, such as cosmology and cosmogony which have to do with the nature and origin of the universe. Here at Memorial we have what we would call a “Christian cosmology” and even a “Lutheran cosmology” in that we affirm that everything in this universe is ultimately about the Cross of Jesus Christ as the center point of all of history.
Philosophy has a significant place in the classroom at a classical Lutheran school. Here at Memorial, it is taught in ways that inspire love of wisdom, and of wonder and curiosity. The Good, the True, and the Beautiful are found in Christ and in His Word and in His creation. He is true Wisdom. Equipped with this Wisdom by faith, our faculty and students stand ready to venture into areas of philosophy inclined to wonder as they think and live in the world.