Monday, May 21, 2007

Does Jesus Want Academic Mediocrity?

A cliche among a certain subset of the Christian homeschooling community is the saying "I'd rather my child get into Heaven than Harvard" as if the two were mutually exclusive destinations. A recent Christian Broadcasting Network news article comparing socialization in traditional schools vs. homeschools and a post on an email list to which I belong got me thinking about this type of anti-intellectual bias.

In a discussion of Dr. Michael Mitchell of Oral Roberts University's research, the CBN article contrasts the aims of traditional schools with that of Christian homeschools as "selfish ambition and self-aggrandizement" and a drive "to achieve high marks in order to attain lucrative and prestigious jobs" vs. "integrity, responsibility, respect for others, trust in God, biblical soundness and an amiable disposition." Academic excellence is set in direct opposition to Christian ethics.

I wrote the following in response to a fellow Christian homeschooling parent who felt frustration about the perceived lack of interest in the pursuit of academic excellence in the Christian homeschooling community:

"As a Christian who strongly believes that individuals have a duty to maximize their God-given talents, this attitude really bothers me. Yes, Christ preached humility and cautioned against materialism, but I certainly don't think He intended his followers to underachieve. Matthew 5:14-16 calls Christians to be a 'light unto the world' and to not 'hide it under a bushel basket' but to 'shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Heavenly Father'. How exactly does wasting one's potential glorify God?

Of course I want my children to build character and become good disciples of Christ. That is the central mission of my homeschool. However, I also want to provide them with a strong academic foundation that will allow both my son(s) and daughter(s) to serve God in whatever vocations He chooses for them. Currently, my DD says she wants to be a physician for the poor when she grows up. That is a very noble calling, and one that requires a high level of academic preparation. I'm committed to doing my best to provide that for her."

Faith and Reason are complementary ways of knowing as St. Thomas Aquinas famously discussed in his Summa Theologica. Academic excellence is perfectly compatible with Christian ethics and both should be important parts of a Christian homeschool.


Sherry said...

Agreed. Reminds one of the parable of the talents. Don't waste what God gives you, and always remember God blessed you with it to begin with.

Anonymous said...

To be honest, I have always felt that public schools, and probably most institutions of learning fall far short of really "educating" students. It's enough to look to the origins of compulsory public education (19th century Prussia) to see that the aim of school is to school, that is, to produce a group pf economically useful, stunted robots who can follow instructions, not real human beings who are inspired to wisdom and truth and to seek it independently. How much of the material that you learned in school can you say you truly understand? Very little. Most was acquired through memorization of methods, of various pieces of information fed to us, but none of it is established as necessary, and it remains, like any flash in the pan nonsense, just another idea. This has repercussions later since those who "excel" in school are often those who have a complete blind faith in the system, and who derive an imaginary sense of meaning and self-worth, pride if you will, from it. These same people will likely continue to defend the establishment for this reason, because hey, who wants to look back and think "who I believe I am is a fraud"? Because to these arrogant closet Platonists, there is no difference between an idea and the real.

What happens further: you see certain unquestioned, tacit beliefs propagated through academia and society in general. Academia is notorious for it's fads and self-aggrandizement, for its snobbery, shallowness and stupidity, it's navel-gazing and ideologies. What do academics care about the most? Prestige, money, comfort, tenure, approval from others, etc. What you would like is acamedia to be a place of iconoclasm, but what you have is a rotation of idols. There is no honesty, only agenda.

So, that being said, if a child is homeschooled properly, he can learn to self-cultivate and become a powerful weapon against the world. Too many Christians fall into the complacency of secularism by simply falling into the convenient, life-depriving patterns and bogus life-denying values layed out for them by the establishment.

This is not a war cry. It is an awakening. As Christ said, live in the world, but be not of the world. The world is an illusion, a game that masks the truth. But once you know this, you can play the game to your advantage and live free, embracing the truth.