The biggest graduation requirement for students leaving a Christian school is not  knowing the right answers to give. Rather, it is knowing the right questions to ask. As Alice Wellington Rollins put it, "The test of a good teacher is not how many questions he can ask his pupils that they will answer him readily, but how many questions he inspires them to ask which he finds it hard to answer."

That sets the agenda for our High School programs. The goal is to enable our students to become questioning. We said in an earlier post that our model student is to be Jesus as a child. As he entered his teenage years, we see a young man slowly emerging into his destiny in the transformative Q&A environment of the Temple. He was asking questions. But there is much groundwork that has to be done to prepare our students for that. The key to success is to make a distinction between a questioning mind and a questioning heart. It's great to teach kids to ask questions, but first we must make sure that we are not training them to question authority.

The Bible distinguishes between children (which roughly corresponds to elementary school age) and sons (the young adults who begin to emerge in the teenage years). So far as children are concerned, the one fundamental principle in the Bible is that children are to obey. They have to learn obedience before they learn questioning. We saw that the child is the one who listens rather than always having something to say, and this idea is reinforced in the etymology of the word "obey" which, in the Greek language, has two parts: "to hear -  under". Obedience is a matter of listening attentively in a submissive posture under authority. Attentive obedience is the key to a successful elementary school program.

The Jews understood this. In his helpful book "Assumptions that affect our lives", Christian Overman  quotes Abram Sachar to describe how different the Jewish model was to the Greek model that has undergirded much our our western view of education. Sachar painted the contrast between the Greeks who asked "Why must I do it?" and the Jews who learned to ask first "What must I do?". The latter assumed an authoritative revelation of truth that was utterly trustworthy, rendering the need to know "Why?" initially redundant. To begin with, our youngest students need to know that two plus two equals four; the question of why that is so can come later. This is one reason why rote learning is so important at an early age. There are many "Why?" questions for which a sufficient answer at this point is simply "Because it's true", or even "Because I say so." They must learn to not be questioning in their hearts as they "listen under".

But of course it must not stay this way for long. The growth process is one that takes them from knowing what they ought to do to knowing why they ought to do it. Rote learning, being able to regurgitate the right answers (or guess them in a multiple choice quiz), is disastrous in the teenage years. Rote is replaced by reasoning - a heart that does not question the authority of the teacher now releases a mind that begins to ask questions in an attitude that still listens under a teacher, in confidence that the teacher actually knows the answers. Questioning without questioning.

We see this transition in the book of Proverbs. So far as children are concerned, the goal is simple obedience - with the use of external restraint where necessary. But there is no rod for the son. The wise father now says "My son, if you receive my words..." (2:1), knowing that in the greater freedom of the teenage years his son might not receive those words. So now he begins to give all kinds of reasons why it would be far better if he did take those words to heart. This surely was the educational model that was at work in the Temple when Jesus, while still determining to be unquestioning in his heart as he willingly, without external force, submitted to his parents, nonetheless began to reason with the religious leaders in a question and answer dialogue which enabled him to discover not simply what he must do but why he must do it.

Such an approach to our students will result in graduates who are wise as well as knowledgeable. Ironically, it also opens the door to ever increasing knowledge beyond graduation. As Neil Postman writes, "Once you have learned to ask questions - relevant and appropriate and substantial questions - you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know."

We explore this transition from unquestioning obedience to submissive questioning in Chapter 3 of "Pupils who can see" - a book that helps us build our educational programs with children in mind as it takes a look at a biblical view of the child as a student.

Pupils who can see is now available in all e-book formats through a variety of outlets at $1.99. 

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