We have seen the insidious dualism that makes us elevate brainpower over manual labour. Genuinely Christian Education values both academics and practical skills. But it is not enough to simply validate and affirm those who are called to work with their hands. All that happens in the head must connect with the hands.
In a biblical perspective, knowledge in a purely cerebral sense “puffs up”. The antidote for such airheads is to make the vital connection between knowing and doing. We see this in Jesus’ educational methodology. In the Great Commission, in Matthew 28, he is speaking of making disciples - training students. This he defines as “teaching them to observe”; that is to say, teaching them to do what they have learned. Education is not about imparting information; it is learning what to do with the information we are receiving.
Many students are not motivated to learn because they see no connection between what they are learning and the life they are currently living or the life they hope to lead. We naively hope they will be motivated to study by the rewards associated with achieving good marks. But many students already know this is an impossible dream no matter how hard they try. A rarely achieved B+ grade on a paper will not provide sufficient reward for the amount of effort it will require. But the real motivator is to be able to learn in order to be able to do.
Some educational theories emphasize the merits of learning by doing. John Dewey advocated this approach. Neil Postman writes: “It’s not what you say to people that counts; it is what you have them do.” [Postman & Weingartner: Teaching as a Subversive Activity, p.19] There is certainly much to be said for that: in a practical apprenticeship program, learning takes place in a hands-on environment rather than in the abstraction of the classroom.
But this is not quite what Jesus is referring to when he makes the connection between learning and doing. As Jay Adams suggests, the biblical model is not so much learning by doing as it is learning for doing. [Adams: Back to the Blackboard, p.90]. When Jesus said that ideal students are those who have learned to observe, he is not speaking of them as onlookers. He is, in effect, saying that they are to be considered proficient students when they have reached the point where they are putting into practice in daily living what they have learned in the classroom.
What greater motivation can there be for our students than seeing that all they are learning is important because it has application to real life. They are not learning in order to get good grades on their next report card. They are learning in order to be equipped for life and ministry. We motivate them by enabling them to observe (see) that they will be able to observe (do) what they learn. They are learning for doing. If there is no applicable value in what they are learning, it is probably not worth learning; if they do not see the applications of what they are learning, they will probably not see the value of putting in the effort to learn it.
Of course it will be much harder to grade them for their success in such a model. The Great Commission suggests that they have been properly taught when they have learned to integrate what they have been taught into daily living, not when they score 80% on a quiz to see if they can regurgitate all the information they have been given. Perhaps our grading systems reflect the sad reality that we like students with big heads and little hands.