Tuesday, February 02, 2010

How Christianity Transformed Civilization :: part 3

Imprints of Education

“These commandments that I give you
today are to be upon your hearts.

Impress them on your children.
Talk about them when you sit at home
and when you walk along the road,
when you lie down and when you get up.”
(Deuteronomy 6:6-7 NIV)

“The fear of the LORD
is the beginning of knowledge.”
(Proverbs 1:7 NIV)

Every school you see – public or private, religious or secular – is a visible reminder of the religion of Jesus Christ. So is every college and university,”[i] writes Dr. James Kennedy in his book What if Jesus had Never Been Born?. He continues,

“This is not to say that every school is Christian. Often the exact opposite is true. But the fact is that the phenomenon of education for the masses has its roots in Christianity. Nor is this to say that there wasn’t education before Christianity, but it was for the elite only. Christianity gave rise to the concept of education for everyone.

From the beginning of Christianity, there has been an emphasis on the Word of God. This grows out of its strong Jewish roots, since Christianity is derived from Judaism. Christians have often been called the “people of the Book,” which implies a literate people. Dr. J. D. Douglas, general editor of The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, writes: “From its beginning the religion of the Bible has gone hand in hand with teaching. . . Christianity is par excellence a teaching religion, and the story of it’s growth is largely an education one. . . as Christianity spread, patterns of more formal education developed.[ii]

Many of the world’s languages were first set to writing by Christian missionaries in order for people to read the Bible for themselves. Similarly, a monumental development in the field of human learning was the printing press. Johann Gutenberg (1398-1468), was the first to develop a movable type printing press that made it possible to mass produce books. Gutenberg is reported to have said, “I know what I want to do: I wish to manifold [print] the Bible.” To achieve this, he “converted a wine press, so it pressed pages onto the type blocks.”[iii]

“While Christians were not the first to engage in formal teaching activities in school-like settings,” writes historian Alvin Schmidt in Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization, “they appear to have been first to teach both sexes in the same setting.”[iv] Schmidt continues,

“Given that Christianity from its beginning accepted both men and women into its fold and required that both learn the rudiments of the Christian faith, both men and women were catechized before being baptized and received into church membership. Furthermore, catechetical instruction commonly continued after baptism.”

Instructing both men and women, as the early Christians did, was rather revolutionary. Although there is no unanimity among historians, many indicate that the Romans before the birth of Christ did not formally educate girls in literary skills. Their schools, says one educational historian, apparently only taught boys – and then only boys from the privileged class – in their gymnasia, while the girls were excluded.[v] In light of this ancient practice, Tatian, once a student in one of Justin Martyr’s catechetical schools, proclaimed that Christians taught everybody, including girls and women.[vi]

Formally educating both sexes was also largely a Christian innovation. W. M. Ramsay states that Christianity’s aim was “universal education, not education confined to the rich, as among the Greeks and Romans…and it [made] not distinction of sex.”[vii]

Christians taught individuals from all social classes and ethnic backgrounds, especially in preparation for church membership. There was no ethnic bias.

The most significant move in the direction of universal education occurred with the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century. Martin Luther and John Calvin both advocated for universal education. Calvin’s Geneva plan included “a system of elementary education in the vernacular for all, including reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, and religion, and the establishment of secondary school for the purpose of training citizens for civil and ecclesiastical leadership.”[viii] Martin Luther, along with co-worker Philipp Melanchthon successfully persuaded the civic authorities to implement the first public school system in Germany, which was tax-supported.[ix]

Thus, the desire to have public tax-supported schools, whether wise or not, even in a society where Christian values predominate, has its roots in the thinking of prominent Christian reformers like Luther, Calvin, and Comenius. Although public schools have by now become totally secularized, especially in the United States, they originated with individuals who were motivated by the love of Jesus Christ, whom they wanted taught for people’s spiritual and material benefit.

In addition, it was Christian ministers who were responsible for bringing Sign Language to America and developing educational schools for the Deaf. It was also a Christian man by the name of Louis Braille, who by 1834, gave to the world of the blind six embossed dots, three high and two wide, for each letter of the alphabet. So that Braille’s accomplishments don’t seem divorced from any influence of Christianity, listen to what he said as he lay on his deathbed, “I am convinced that my mission is finished on earth; I tasted yesterday the supreme delight; God condescended to brighten my eyes with the splendor of eternal hope.”[x]

Finally, let’s look at universities.

The best evidence indicates that universities grew out of the Christian monasteries. However, given the powerful influence that secularism now has on most Americans, they are probably not aware that “every collegiate institution founded in the colonies prior to the Revolutionary War – except the University of Pennsylvania – was established by some branch of the Christian church.”[xi] Nor are most Americans aware that in 1932, when Donald Tewksbury published The Founding of American Colleges and Universities Before the Civil War, 92 percent of the 182 colleges and universities were founded by Christian denominations.

Catechetical schools, cathedral schools, Episcopal schools, monasteries, and medieval universities, schools for the blind and deaf, Sunday schools, modern grade schools, secondary schools, modern colleges, universities, and universal education all have one thing in common: they are the products of Christianity. Individuals in Western societies spend many years in schools, colleges, or universities, but they have learned very little about the contributions Christianity has made to education, so highly treasured today. In the absence of this knowledge, it is not only Christianity that has been slighted, but Jesus Christ as well. Were it not for him and his teachings, who knows what stage of development education would be today?

Consider the following excerpt written by Dr. James Kennedy[xii]:

While more than 200 years of Christian education in this country produced a .04 percent illiteracy rate, what has public and increasingly secularized education succeeded in doing? In spite of the fact that more than a trillion dollars have been poured into the educational system, what has happened? The illiteracy rate has increased 32 times. Today, we have 40 million illiterates! In addition there are an estimated 30 million more functional illiterates in this country.

A report entitled A Nation at Risk, released by the U.S. Department of Education in the 1980’s, sums it up well: “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. . . we have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.”[xiii]

Pray: Take a few moments and pray for our local school

[i] Kennedy, What if Jesus had Never Been Born?, 40.

[ii] Douglas, The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, 330-331. Quoted by James Kennedy, What if Jesus had Never Been Born?, 41.

[iii] Hyatt Moore, ed., The Alphabet Makers: A Presentation from the Museum of the alphabet, Waxhaw, North Carolina, (Huntington Beach, CA: Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1990), 13. Quoted by James Kennedy, What if Jesus had Never Been Born?, 43.

[iv] Schmidt, Under the Influence, 172.

[v] Kenneth J. Freeman, Schools of Hellas, (London: Macmillan, 1922), 46. Quoted in Under the Influence, 172.

[vi] Titian, “Address of Tatian to the Greeks,” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 2:78. Quoted in Under the Influence, 172.

[vii] W. M. Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire Before A.D. 170, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1893), 345. Quoted in Under the Influence, 172.

[viii] Lars P. Qualben, A History of the Christian Church, (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1958), 270. Quoted in Under the Influence, 176.

[ix] Douglas H. Shantz, “Philipp Melanchthon: The Church’s Teacher, Luther’s Colleague,” Christian Info News, (February 1997). Quoted in Under the Influence, 179.

[x] Etta DeGering, Seeing Fingers: The Story of Louis Braille, (New York: Julian Messner, 1951), 11. Quoted in Under the Influence, 183.

[xi] Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times, (Rockville, Md.: Assurance Publishers, 1984), 157. Quoted in Under the Influence, 190.

[xii] Kennedy, What if Jesus had Never Been Born?, 55.

[xiii] A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, A Report to the Nation and the Secretary of Education, United States Department of Education by The National Commission on Excellence in Education, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Eduation, 1983), 5

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