September 16, 2010

Secularization and Education

I started reading through Wisdom and Eloquence: A Christian Paradigm for Classical Learning by Robert Littlejohn and Charles T. Evans this morning.  Though I've only begun reading, the book has already proven to be stimulating and instructive in a variety of ways.  One statement by the authors was particularly thought-provoking:
"The inevitable effect for Christian schools that adopt progressive ideas uncritically is a de facto dualistic compartmentalization in the curriculum, separating the sacred from the secular.  Though it would be unfair to characterize progressively oriented Christian schools as 'secularized,' still it is a characteristic of un-Christian thinking to separate the sacred and secular.  To the extent that the curriculum structures in our schools do not uphold a consistent, pervasive integration of the sacred into the students' academic and social experiences, we have allowed ourselves to become secularized" (24).
I've heard it said that reactionary, private, and allegedly Christian schools that use the same basic curriculum as public schools but with a Bible class added on remain basically un-Christian schools.  This seemed right to me, though I wasn't sure why.  This paragraph from Littlejohn and Evans explains it. 

Secularization is not the removal of the sacred from society.  It is, rather, the compartmentalization of the sacred within society such that the sacred is no longer allowed to speak in a normative way to society.  This, of course, describes precisely what has happened in the United States.  We are told that it's fine for us to practice our faith on our own.  But we are also told not to think that our faith is in any sense normative for the anyone else, let alone the rest of society.  This is secularization.  The sacred is placed in its box separate from everything else, and there it is to stay.

This is particularly important for education.  Thus its inclusion in Littlejohn and Evans' book on the matter.  Many Christians would be satisfied if public schools added an elective Bible class to the curriculum.  That would ensure that our voice is heard at the table.  But if the sacred text is not allowed to be normative for the rest of the curriculum, then the problem for the Christian is really only compounded.  If the students learn in Bible that God created all that is and that he alone is sovereign over the work of his hand, and learn in science class that they are the product of Darwinian natural selection, then the sacred has not been integrated normatively into the whole.  It is a sideshow, an appeasement.  The message sent to the student is this: what your God says is trivial and has no real bearing on what we do here.  Education is only sufficiently desecularized when the Lordship of Jesus Christ is acknowledged over the whole curriculum.  As it has been said before, Christians should not be satisfied merely with a place at the table; we should only be satisfied when Christ is acknowledged at the head of the table.


ἐκκλησία said...

This is an excellent and insightful observation:

It (secularization) is, rather, the compartmentalization of the sacred within society such that the sacred is no longer allowed to speak in a normative way to society.

ἐκκλησία said...

The strength of your argument is more serious than it seems. Consider the 3 blind men and the elephant.

Subjectivism says that what is true of the elephant is only what each blind man experiences as he explores it. This assumption says because each man experiences something different the elephant itself cannot be known, only the individual experience of each man can be know, and what is true of the elephant is therefore wholly subjective.

Objectivism says that in fact, the elephant is the definitive norm of the men's collective experience (and perhaps something more). This recognizes that each man does not fully grasp the reality of the elephant itself, by their experience. This means that individual experience with the objective reality of a thing cannot fully grasp the truth of it unless we first share our experience with others, and likewise share in their experience in return.

If subjectivism is true, it means that communication about truth is irrelevant.
If objectivism is true, it means that all truth must be communicated to be understood correctly.

Doesn't Jesus command us to share the truth of the Gospel with others so that we witness the truth?
Aren't we also commanded to commune together with other believers so that we can also experience the truth of the Gospel from their experience?

Your point about the sacred no longer being allowed to speak in a normative way to society automatically makes our faith 'untrue'. Worse, its subjectively makes it irrelevant (as far as non-believers are concerned).

More alarmingly, it contradicts Christ's great commission to communicate the Gospel, and prevents believers from faithfully stewarding the covenant they've inherited.

This is serious stuff, Matt.

Matt O'Reilly said...

Good points. Indeed, it is quite serious stuff, which is why Christians must think carefully and clearly about the way we allow our children to be educated.