Education is formation, not information. Here is an idea worthy of meditation. If you truly embrace this ideology, the implications for the education of the students entrusted to you can be spectacular.
Herbert Spencer, an English philosopher, liberal political theorist and contemporary of Charlotte Mason, put it this way, “Education has for its object the formation of character.” Although dear Charlotte certainly disagreed with Spencer on some things, this wasn’t one of them.
Charlotte said, “The formation of habits is education, and education is the formation of habits.” Charlotte spoke and wrote prolifically on the development of good habits. But why all this fuss about habits anyway? Because, she says, “the habits of the child produce the character of the man.”
Oh, so that’s what it’s all about – producing character. I see. But wait, is that really so? Can we produce character? Think about that one for a minute.
About five years ago, I came together with several other pioneer types (under the prompting of the Holy Spirit) to open a new school in North Carolina just south of Charlotte. We felt led to train our teachers in the philosophy and methods of Charlotte Mason. I was delighted to learn that a fellow CM enthusiast and indeed an expert on Charlotte Mason lived practically in our backyard, in nearby Boiling Springs, NC. I invited Dr. Carroll Smith to come and speak to our first group of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed teachers. Dr. Smith taught us how to conduct a nature study and a picture study and how to recognize a living book, but the thing I took away from his first training that impacted me most, was a very simple and yet profound statement he made: “Education is a spiritual thing.” Wow! I never heard that in the school of education from which I graduated.
Education is a spiritual thing. What does that mean for me; a school director, administrator, curriculum coordinator, and principal? It means that I can’t make it happen! He is the God who teaches us, inspires us, and gives wisdom. Good character is the result of (or fruit of) my clever behavioral modification techniques. Wait, that’s not right. It is the fruit of Spirit – His Spirit! He is the God who makes us Holy. Our students learned this important truth in Assembly this week. We have been studying the names of God with our students this year to learn more about His character. This week we learned that He is Jehovah Mekoddishkem, which means “The Lord who makes you holy.” Leviticus 20:8 states “Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy.” I don’t know about you, but this swells up in me a big sigh relief. We can point these students toward Jesus; we can teach, model and reinforce good and godly habits, but we can’t make them holy! Only God can do that. He is Jehovah Mekoddishkem.
The precious children entrusted to our care, whether in our homes or classrooms, are not mere sacs to be filled with information; they are vessels of the one true God.
This past week I asked my teachers to ponder the idea that education is formation, not information. Here is what one of my wonderful teachers, Joy Fisk, had to say; I think she is spot on.
“I think this means that we are not just to provide our students with data to “fill their heads” with facts, but that we are to view them as living vessels, in the process of being molded by God “to do good works.” God is doing the molding, not us, and we, along with the student’s parents as their primary teachers, get to be a part of that.
I think about the verse in scripture about how we are “broken cisterns” that cannot hold water. It is the paradigm of so many schools to “relay facts,” trying desperately to fill up kids with information, but in many cases, it just runs out like so much water through a container with holes in it. I think about how much “information” I actually retained in years of science classes, for instance. In actuality, I would learn something in my short-term memory, spit it back on a test, but because it never became a part of me; it never stayed around long.
Education as formation, by contrast, is about allowing God to fix the cistern itself- so that He can be the one who fills us up with so much more than mere information. As we are being formed more in the likeness of God, the information we are learning relates to something that matters; it sticks. We learn about the life cycle of plants and it matters because it is evidence of a Creator God who loves us and whose designs are perfect and detailed and lovely to behold. We respond not just with more information, but with worship.”
May we all respond with worship as He continues to “educate” and transform each of us more and more into His likeness each day.
Naomi Heidorn is the Director of Arborbrook Christian Academy near Charlotte, NC.