Monday, November 23, 2009

Democracy, Authority, and Education

from my Learning Theory class post

Democracy is popular in America. It runs the nation. John Dewey, whose progressive learning theories have been largely influential on the nation's current learning practices, was a proponent of democracy. He wanted to see democracy not only in the nation, but in the public classroom, beginning at the elementary level. This would mean that, as in the nation, so in the classroom - students should have a say in their education, so that educators teach them what they are most inclined to learn, or in the way that they are most inclined to learn within the necessary bounds of the curriculum. This, it was proposed, will make the students more engaged in their education, and prevent children from becoming passive sum-scribbling serfs under the despotic rule of a loveless lecturer. Best of all, it would equip children to grow up to be good citizens of a democracy, having been immersed in its practices from their earliest years.

Now, in a fallen world, where all people are sinful and fallible, democracy has proven to be one of the best political set-ups for a nation. This is mainly because an authoritarian government has often proven deadly to both the ruler and the ruled. Absolute power absolutely corrupts the already innately corrupt. Therefore, a nation may choose to counter the particularly concentrated corruptions of the one by parceling out the power into the hands of the many. This constitutes a democracy - the governors of a nation receiving their just power from the consent of the many who are governed. If democracy has proven the best way to politically organize a nation, why not the school? Why not have teachers receiving their just power of instruction from the consent of the educated? This is in measure what Dewey was asking for.

Here the answer to the question becomes a question of authority. Putting aside secondary and higher education, in which this proposition may have credibility, I want to focus the question on the education of the young, which happens to be my particular area of study, and answer it from the Scriptures. According to the Scriptures, the environment in which children are to be nurtured and trained is not one of democracy but of authority. The one basic command given to children in the Scriptures is "obey your parents". Christian parents and teachers must therefore see this mandate as the first and most important thing for a child to learn. This does not constitute a democracy. Of course, in a democracy, citizens must submit themselves to its leaders and its rules, and obedience to parents will prepare children to be cooperative citizens. But Christian parents are not to train their children merely for good citizenship of an earthly nation. They are to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of "the Lord". Here is a term of authority: "the Lord"! Christian parents are ultimately training their children to live under the rulership of the Lord Jesus Christ - to submissively do what he says and learn to love it. And it starts by learning to obey their parents, because Christ has commanded it. Sometimes this will mean doing things in which they do not see a point, or to which they are not innately inclined. But we are not cultivating the instincts of evolving homo sapiens, we are training young men and women in the knowledge of their Creator. This is the point of education. A good teacher will, of course, seek the good of their student by trying to make the learning enjoyable for them, even as a good governor seeks the good of the citizens. But when learning is not enjoyable - as it must necessarily sometimes be - the parents' authority wins the day, and the child must obey. When children obey their parents, they will be blessed. It's a promise. And it will not fail, even when democracies have crumbled.

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