We have been thinking about education in light of Dickens’ critique of it in his day, in his novel Hard Times. Dickens was striving for a balance between the wisdom of the head and the wisdom of the heart. In the story, Gradgrind was the head master.
Gradgrind’s protégé was Mr M’Choakumchild (another Dickensian name invented to describe the character). It was he who was being charged in the opening speech, before a classroom of students, to stick to Facts in his educational endeavours. However, as his character is developed, we read of him:
If only he had learnt a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more.
This sentiment provides a good litmus test for Christian teachers to see whether their model of education has been adversely affected by the modernist pursuit of knowledge now paralleled by the postmodernist pursuit of information. Are we too preoccupied with Heads? We may be sure we are not if we are willing for our students to learn a little less, and thereby be able to teach them much more.
Our task as Christian teachers is to explore the realm of “much more”. We may be so fixated on our subject matter - completing everything in the curriculum by the end of the year and finishing everything in the lesson plan before the bell goes – that there is no time for “much more”; our students end up with much less. God has much more for our students than a memory filled with bits of information.
To begin with, Christian education is not so much about what you know as who you know. Our students will not suffer if they leave school with fewer facts in their heads provided they can integrate the knowledge they have acquired into a living relationship with the Lord, and a desire to apply what they are learning in his service.
Secondly, the pursuit of knowledge must be twinned with the pursuit of wisdom. Young people need to know what to do with what they know, lest they end up as more sophisticated sinners, better equipped to live outside God’s ways. Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord (Prov 9:10).
And thirdly, knowledge must be connected with application. Where the Greeks revelled in abstract knowledge and esoteric philosophical ideas, the Jews kept their feet on the ground. John, whose writings demonstrate that he was well aware of dualistic Greek thought, uses, in contrast, the phrase “walking in the truth” (3Jn 3). Truth is not something we know but something we walk. Part of the “much more” of Christian education is walking the truth as well as knowing the truth.
The world oscillates between heads and hearts: rationalism or romanticism, rigorous academics or therapeutic sensitivity. But the Bible adjusts these humanistic notions of the nature of head and heart by making sure that heads and hearts are joined to hands. Knowing, feeling and doing. To mix our metaphors, an education that encompasses heads, hearts and hands enables students to keep their feet on the ground: to walk in the truth. Our task is not to get to the end of the textbook, but to “equip the [young] saints for works of service” (Eph 4:12). We are to feed their minds in ways that grip their hearts and inspire them to action with a passion for God’s glory and a love for people. This is the “much more” of Christian education: Heads + Hearts + Hands.