Yesterday and Tomorrow

Lutheran Education Yesterday and Tomorrow

Our Lutheran schools were built with the idea that they would equip God’s people for works of service to the church and society. This involved an excellent education, not only in Biblical studies, but also in all other areas of knowledge. Philip Melanchthon, author of the Augsburg Confession, regarded learning as a tool needed to recover the Word of God, which is in its purest form encased in languages that could be learned only by diligent study of a number of subjects. He wrote, “Without in understanding of language, one cannot read the Old and New Testaments; and to understand languages one need all sorts of related knowledge in history, geography, chronology, and other liberal arts.” Melanchthon further considered learning essential to faith and good order in society. He wrote, “ Without education, religion and the arts will decline and mankind will be reduced to animality. … Only through the maintenance of learning can religion and good government endure, and God demands that children be brought up in virtue and piety.”

Upon arriving in America, the first building the Saxon immigrants erected was not a church but a school. Although referred to as a college, in its early years it served nine students ranging in age from 4 to 13. Concerning this school, Walther  wrote, “We the undersigned, intend to establish an instruction and training institution which differs from the common elementary schools principally in that it will embrace, outside of (in addition to) the general and elementary curriculum, all branches of the classical high school, which are necessary for a true Christian and scientific education, such as: Religion, the Latin, Greek, Hebrew, German, French and English languages; History, Geography, Mathematics, Physics, Natural History, Introduction to Philosophy, Music, and Drawing.” It was a truly “classical” school.

In recent decades, our Missouri Synod schools have wandered further and further down the road of progressive education. Progressive education is founded on the beliefs of Jean Jacques Rousseau who taught that there is no original sin and that the first impulse of the child’s nature is always right. Therefore, Rousseau asserted that the child’s own nature is the ultimate good and should not be corrupted by authoritative or directive teaching techniques. His views have given rise to such failed educational concepts as “whole language,” “child-directed learning,” and “social promotion.”

Rousseau’s educational ideas were scorned in his home country of France, but they were embraced in America primarily through the work of John Dewey. Mark Milliron explains Dewey’s educational philosophy, “The radical humanist platform for education, in which the child was seen as inherently wise and disciplined, was the philosophy upon which Dewey built his progressivist paradigm. It led to the ‘child-centered’ pedagogy that is almost universally promoted in faculties of education and subscribed to by provincial ministries of education. According to the child-centered model, what mattered was not the learning of subject matter, neatly and logically arranged, but the child’s own development. Thus, academic content was minimized and student-directed activities were increased. Because content was seen as secondary to process, curricular outcomes were rewritten with activities that built ‘ self-concept’ and ‘classroom community’ replacing academic standards. Assessment of performance was made anecdotal and relative, so that the fragile egos of flowering personalities wouldn’t be nipped in the bud of their development.”

In the 1970’s and 80’s, Missouri’s schools adopted the progressive methods thinking them to be modern and neutral. They believed they could use secular methods and still retain their Lutheran doctrine. But methods cannot be separated from their underlying philosophy. With these methods came the humanistic and socialistic philosophies that spawned them. The result has been a corruption of our doctrine, a reduction of academic requirements, and an erosion of piety and virtue in our schools.

Classical education seeks to restore that which was once good and right in our schools. It does not deny or neglect the use of modern technologies (e.g., computers), but it emphasizes training the child in the way he should go so that when he is old he will not depart from it. Dr. Gene Edward Veith contrasts the goals of progressive and classical education, “[Classical education] turns right side-up the modern Romantic 'child-centered' approach to education. ... Because [romantic educators] believe childhood is a time set aside for pleasure and freedom, they want learning to be fun and entertaining, scarcely distinguished from games and play. ... The classicist sees childhood very differently. He knows that 'children ... want to be brought up; they do not want to remain 12-year-olds.' The [classical] teacher aims to form the adult-to-be, not liberate the-child-within.”

Classical education is built on the foundation that truth is transmittable. It seeks to train the mind to think with an adequate base in language, literature, and general knowledge; a thorough understanding of logic and argumentative fallacies; and much practice at defending the Christian faith with both reason and piety. P.E. Kretzman wrote, "The aim of Christian Education is: 1) faithfully to imbed and anchor in the intellect of the rising generation all the holy truths upon which the life of the mature congregation fundamentally is based ...; 2) to stir their emotions to a vital interest in these truths; and 3) to bend the will, so that it may run in the paths in which the Holy Spirit, turning to account those truths in His own time and hour, lifts them into personal faith ...." Such are the aims of a Lutheran and Classical Education.

We need to restore this kind of education in our Synod. We need it for the sake of our children that they might be well educated. We need it for the sake of our schools that they might be centers of learning and equippers of God’s people. We need it for the sake of our church that it may remain faithful to Christ’s truth and endure until His return. The renowned Missouri Synod theologian, J.T. Mueller, wrote about our schools, “Our pioneer fathers had, to a remarkable degree, the gift of vision, particularly educational vision. They distinctly foresaw the tremendous possibilities involved in Christian education as a basic means by which to develop, promote, and safeguard the existence of the Church, founded upon the preaching of God's pure Word.”

I believe the very survival of the Lutheran church - at least as a Bible-believing and God-honoring church - is dependent on our ability to indoctrinate our children in the faith, teach them to love it, and equip them to defend it. Lutheranism is not retained by buildings or bureaucracies; it is retained and transmitted only by God's people well indoctrinated and well equipped to adorn their lives and their lips with God’s truth. Thirty years of progressive education in Missouri Synod schools have left us ignorant of the truth and ill-equipped to defend it. It is time for a change.

William C. Heine

Education Chairman

Wyoming District, LCMS

January 2000