A recent New York Times op-ed piece about how Common Core teaches moral relativism has Christian educators all riled up. Sadly, they have missed the point entirely, again.
Moral relativism is nothing new in education. Even John Dewey, the father of modern education, wasn’t doing something new when he stripped education of any transcendent purpose and made it about social conditioning. He was merely bringing educational theories up to date with the current thought.
For Dewey, education was merely a social function. In the broadest sense, he believed that education was the means by which a society passed on it’s parochial values. To him the society’s values were as irrelevant as the individual child in the society. In Dewey’s words a child was the “unit who is the carrier of the life-experience of his group.”1 In short, everything is relative. The only thing that mattered was figuring out the most efficient method of socializing children into their tribe.
This works just fine as long as society agrees on values. But what happens when the only “value” a society can agree on is that there are no objectively true values to agree about. What happens when all value judgements are merely matters of personal preference?
Common Core is just an evolved method to achieve nothing.
In that case, Dewey’s theory demands that we find the most efficient method to train students to be valueless. Common Core is just an evolved method to achieve nothing. It is a better means to no end at all.
So bickering about Common Core is like arguing over the color of an airplane’s seats while ignoring the fact that the navigational equipment is broken. What we should be worried about is: where are we going to land? Common Core is nothing more than the latest attempt to fix the wrong problem. Unfortunately, many Christians are just as ignorant about the true purpose of education as the authors of Common Core.
Here’s a corrective. Christian parents, ask yourself this simple question: “Why do I want my kids to get an education?” Think carefully about your answers. Are you stumbling over a handful of competing thoughts? Why are we so confused?
It boils down to fear. We’re afraid that our children won’t be happy. We’re afraid that they won’t get a good job. We’re afraid that they won’t be respected, etc. etc. etc. In other words, we’re thinking like pagans. We think of education as a mere means to social acceptance or material gain.
Jesus thinks differently. He’s not afraid. He says, “I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. . . For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you” (Luke 12:22-23; 30-31, ESV).
So let’s cast our cares on him, quiet our hearts, and ask again, “what is the purpose of education?”
The Lord says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).
And again he says, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Eccl. 12:12-14).
And finally he says, “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:20-27).
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It’s simple really. Education’s purpose is to prepare our children for eternity. But this is no squishy, feel-good, moralistic goal. It’s a solid reality that provides shape to our methods of education. It provides an end by which we can judge our means.
To prepare children for eternity we’ll certainly want to hone their God-given skills and abilities. We’ll make absolutely sure they can read, write, and do arithmetic. But we won’t stop there. We’ll also tune their hearts to beauty, open their eyes to wonder, and sharpen their minds to discern truth. We’ll see education as part of God’s work to form a child’s body, mind, and affections to be receptive and appreciative of objective reality.
It’s only when we know the goal that we can intelligently figure out the best means to get there. I’m not afraid of Common Core. It’s merely a means to an end. And it’s not the means that I’m afraid of. What does scare me is the goal, or more accurately, the lack of goal.
1Dewey, John (2009-10-04). Democracy and Education: an introduction to the philosophy of education (p. 2). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.
The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis