Fiddling While Rome Learns
Throwing Down the Gauntlet: Public Education vs. Classical Lutheran Education
By Mr. Josh Brisby, M.Ed.
One of the things that distinguishes us here at Memorial Lutheran School is that we are a “classical” school. But, not only are we a classical school, but we are also a classical “Lutheran” school. For many folks, when they hear the word “classical,” this usually evokes in their minds pictures of prep students, people who study dry, dusty books, or people who usually reject any or all uses of technology in the classroom. Yet, classical Lutheran education is an entire way of thinking. In fact, this thinking is starkly contrasted with the popular public pedagogies of our day; so much so, in fact, that it would be helpful for us to discuss the differences between modern education in the public schools, and classical Lutheran education.
WHAT IS PUBLIC EDUCATION?
First of all, public education is pluralistic. “Pluralism” for the purposes of this essay can be defined as the acceptance or basis of more than one view as the background and interpreting principle of a society or institution. In this case, the society that is pluralistic is our country, the United States. It is pluralistic because we accept all religions or faiths into our society, given the First Amendment in our Bill of Rights. Therefore, when any institution of higher learning is “public” in our country, it is funded by our tax dollars. Since the public of our country is composed of several faiths, then by definition the schools funded by the public’s taxes must be pluralistic. If the government of a pluralistic society were to use public funds in preference of one religion, one could easily argue that that said government would be violating the very definition of a public school. This opens up debate over constitutional law, of course, but that is beyond the scope of this essay.
Secondly, public education’s main purpose is to serve the public through preparing their students for the job world. When one has a pluralistic classroom, usually one cannot concern oneself with questions of ethics, virtue, morality, religion, the spiritual, etc. Indeed, the focus in our modern times has been to neglect the humanities in favor of the sciences, because the other above issues must be left for the parents.
Thirdly, public education is diverse. All kinds of children from all kinds of backgrounds and faiths have to be served in public education, and therefore it is difficult, if not impossible, to discuss questions of the deeper issues such as goodness, truth, and beauty. Related, subjects in the public schools most of the time have to be compartmentalized, and separated without connection. It is rare to see a connection in postmodern society between school subjects, since postmodernism tends to deconstruct even language itself. It has led to a disordered way of thinking (or more precisely, lack of thinking).
So, to summarize, the main purpose of public education is to prepare a child for the job world in our diverse and pluralistic society. Questions of morality, ethics, religion, etc., are usually deferred to the parents. Public education is less concerned with the good, true, or beautiful, and more concerned with telling children what to think and how to do.
WHAT IS CLASSICAL LUTHERAN EDUCATION?
The public school pedagogies in general are to be contrasted with the main purpose of classical Lutheran education. So what is classical Lutheran education?
First of all, classical Lutheran education is “classical”. This goes without saying, of course. But what do we mean by classical? Classical education is concerned with the good, the true, and the beautiful. The classical pedagogy desires to train up our children in the virtues. It is geared toward the development of the whole child, both spiritual and physical. Indeed, one may say that classical education is concerned with the making of a person. Classical educators also recognize that the child develops in various stages. We commonly call these stages the "grammar" stage, the "logic" or "dialectic" stage, and the "rhetoric" stage. Each stage is geared toward the development of the whole child. Although we recognize that all three stages also overlap, the focus of the grammar stage is laying the foundation through rhyme and repetition; the focus of the logic stage is to teach the children critical thinking, making connections, and how to think; and the focus of the rhetoric stage is to teach the children to be confident, articulate, and well-written and well-spoken.
Second, classical Lutheran education is “Lutheran.” Indeed, how can we be concerned with the making of a person if we leave religion and truth out of it? How can we care about the good, the true, and the beautiful if we do not show them that the pure Gospel found in Lutheranism? The Gospel shows us that Christ is our ultimate Good. Christ is our ultimate Truth. Christ is Beautiful because not only is He good in and of Himself, but that He also makes us beautiful by giving us His Righteousness on the Cross and delivering it to us and wrapping us in it in Holy Baptism. Our students learn then that Lutheranism is good, true, and beautiful. How? We are convinced that the Bible is the Word of God, and that the true understanding of the Word of God is summarized in the Book of Concord, the Lutheran church’s confessional documents. This leads us to our next point.
Third, classical Lutheran education is catechetical. We place a heavy emphasis on catechesis, or training in the Lutheran faith, not only for our confirmands, but for all our students. We do indeed serve students of different backgrounds here at Memorial Lutheran School. But we are unashamedly Lutheran. We cannot talk about the good, true, and beautiful, if we were silent about what is “true.” Therefore we catechize our students to learn Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. We have daily chapel services in which our students learn and participate in the historic liturgy of the Church. We teach our students the Book of Concord, which is a summary of the Lutheran faith. And we believe that in doing so, they will rejoice in the Gospel that was placed on them in their Baptisms, and they will desire in turn to serve their neighbors out of thankfulness to God.
So we may say that the “classical” trains our children in how to think and what to do, and the “Lutheran” does the same. The main purpose, therefore, of a classical Lutheran education is to continually train our children in their standing before God (coram Deo) in the Gospel as forgiven completely in Christ, and to respond in love to their neighbor (coram mundo) in service and good works. Classical Lutheran education teaches our students how to think and what to do. The job world is only one of many benefits that a child trained under the classical Lutheran pedagogy will receive. We train them to go out in society as well-rounded individuals who will love and serve their neighbor, and to rejoice in the pure Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Christ apart from works.
In conclusion, we have seen that public education is pluralistic and teaches children what to think and how to do things. Its main purpose is to send workers into the job world. Classical Lutheran education is centered on truth and goodness and beauty and teaches children how to think and what to do for their neighbor. Public education tends to usually place the focus on technology and acquiring skills. Classical Lutheran education places the focus on the forgiveness of sins, and to become thinkers and articulate individuals who will serve their neighbor and bring this goodness, truth, and beauty into society.
We have not had time in this essay to discuss the differences that become fleshed out in the various school subjects, but that will be reserved for a future essay. So we must conclude by asking ourselves, do we want an education for our children that may train them to be workers for society, or do we want an education for our children that will train them to be thinkers that bring the Good News of the Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins in Christ to our society?
For this classical Lutheran educator, the answer is clear.