But there is more that we may learn from Dewey, especially when he advocates the teacher’s forming a proper attitude in the pupil to the subject under study, and to all of life in general. The most important attitude, he says, is the desire to go on studying. We agree that this is a very important attitude, but it certainly is not the most important. The most important attitude is that whether we eat or drink or study or whatever we do, we do all to the glory of God; that we seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness in all of life. However, there is a proper attitude toward study, viz., to go on studying, always to learn all through life. This attitude we must strengthen, intensify and use to enlarge our capacities, so that we are fitted to serve God in the place He gives us in His kingdom.
To develop this proper attitude toward study, we must avoid extremes in the educational process. Dewey urges that we avoid such fanatic devotion to a leader or to a system that there is no room for thinking the issues through for ourselves, but merely swallow down whole the regurgitations of another without rumination or assimilation. A man of originality and unusual power may have such influence on others that they may blindly and slavishly adhere to his cause or party. Such extreme devotion to a man and his work may hinder intellectual progress. “Those influenced by him often show a one-sided interest; they tend to form schools, and to become impervious to other problems and truths; they incline to swear by the words of their master and go on repeating his thoughts after him, and often without the spirit and insight that originally made them significant” (p. 634). This Dewey—an criticism is not without justification. We do not want our pupils or any of our brethren to take what we teach them, or what our ministers believe, and automatically acquiesce to that teaching merely because it is our teaching, or the doctrine of one of our founding fathers. Rather we would instill the attitude of the noble Bereans who “received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).
However, there is an opposite extreme to be avoided, which Dewey does not mention. It is either to depart from the teaching of our founding fathers, or to take their teaching and pervert it, or carry it to an extreme. Suppose the former were done with respect to the principles of our American Constitution. That could open the doors to Communism and the worst anarchy. Suppose the latter were done with respect to it! That could make such a totalitarian god of democracy that the most democratic would be regarded as enemies of the state. In our churches tie have suffered the results of these two extremes. For some repudiated the teaching of our founding fathers, and went to the extreme of “conditional theology,” while others perverted the teaching of our founding fathers, and carried it to the unwarrantable, untenable extreme of “antinomianism.” It is one thing to flatly and groundlessly reject the testimony of a credible witness. It is another thing to so interpret his testimony as to make it suit our own ulterior ends. But it is perfectly legitimate to examine the valid testimony of the accredited witness, search out its basis, seek to comprehend its depths and make it our own as a result of personal, individual, intelligent investigation.
Another extreme to avoid, as Reformed believers, is that too much education, or too much reading has a tendency lo lead one to stray off into the mazes of false doctrine. It is probably true that some who became voracious readers found this intensive contact to be a springboard which threw them into heresy. But that avid reading leads to false doctrine is a non sequitur: it does not follow. “Children who read omnivorously” may develop into book-worms; and that is an extreme to be avoided. For the book-worms fail to develop their “social and executive abilities and skills” (p. 649). The pupil must be taught to read well, be encouraged to a wide range of reading out of an insatiable hunger for knowledge and an unflagging interest in the mysteries of God’s creation. He must also learn to study to show himself approved unto God, a workman (not a mere bookworm) that needs not to be ashamed. The workman must realize a sense of accomplishment in the kingdom of God, which he does, in part, by judicious reading, as proper reading is work; but this accomplishment is produced by much more than mere reading—by willing the will of God! by learning to will and to work for His good pleasure!
We must now say a word about traditional versus progressive education. Dewey is definitely not of the traditional school system. But neither will he have anything of the idiosyncrasies of the progressive system. From Dewey we may learn of certain weaknesses in the traditional system. The traditional school continued for years without a consistently developed philosophy of education. It continued with the implied presupposition that it could get along just as well without a well worked out view of education. About all that it had was a smattering of abstract terminology like “culture,” “discipline,” and “our great American heritage,” etc. This paucity was furthered by failure to develop these concepts; and so educational guidance was provided not from them, but from worn out custom and stereotyped routines (p. 661). But progressive education, on the contrary, “requires . . . a philosophy of education based upon a philosophy of experience” (p. 662). We believe that education ought to be based not on philosophy, or a philosophy of education, but upon a Christian world and life view. We want a truly Reformed view of education—a Protestant Reformed view of education. This being so, we do not for a moment believe that such Reformed principles of education are based upon human experience. This would place our system of education upon the level of trial-and-error, and would mean that we must proceed from the false to the less false in a continual attempt to approximate if not actually reach the truth. Our principles would then not be based on the truth, but upon results in search for truth. This implies that truth is purely relative, and amounts to that which a man finds, as a result of experiment, to work and obtain results for today. But Reformed principles of education are based on the revelation of God as found in the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments. Here we have the truth and the foundation of all truth. “If they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20).
Many educators, with Dewey, would today agree with his criticism of traditional education that it does not approach by half the democratic ideal of American life that the progressive movement does. Traditional education is too encrusted with an autocratic spirit (p. 662f). Traditional education may be contrasted with progressive education in that the former is dictatorial and harsh, while the latter is democratic and humane. It would appear a distinct advantage if progressive education be really democratic and so wonderfully humane! But we are reminded that the spirit of democracy which pervades progressive education is one which, although it is not against religion (which, by the way, should not at all be taught in the public schools), but against organized and institutional religion. Democracy is against the multiplication of rival and competing religions (p. 713). We ask, Where then is the guarantee of the American Constitution that men may come to this land and worship according to the religion of their choice? According to the principles of democracy, is it not the will of the people, at present at least, that multiplied and competing religions exist? Is democracy a vacillating, weathervane genius? Or does democracy, if truly followed, lead to a merger of all religions to form the one-world Religion of Man? If this is the proper concept of democracy, it is certainly viciously subversive of Christianity. For this understanding of democracy makes “instituted religion” a segregation movement which thrives on social division and renders impossible the promotion of social unity (p. 713). This is a latent if not blatant attack on the Church of Jesus Christ, which God has instituted on earth under the headship of His Son. It is particularly a blow directed against the divinely instituted religion of the Reformed Faith. Modern education brands Christianity and Christians as most offensively un-democratic, and intolerable enemies of the American State. Deweyan thought may be neither traditional nor progressive, but it is also neither constitutional nor humane.
What is this modern view with respect to the schools and religion? It is not only contemptuous of Modernism and inimical to Romanism, but, because of its purely Atheistic spirit, also opposed to supernatural religion in any form. It is particularly hostile to consistent Calvinism as advocated in the Reformed Truth. To disparage the truth, it claims t5at supernatural religion has been emptied of meaningful content by modern scientific thought. In scientific thought we reach intellectual advance. This advance may cause a certain amount of loss of joy and inspiration, together with an increase of widespread uncertainty. But there is no profit in going back to religious views which have become incredible, and only lead to confusion. This criticism is also applied to so called liberals, the Modernists, for their views tend to emotional hypocrisy, phrase-mongering, and the use of terms which say one thing, but mean the opposite (p. 706). We agree with this last remark so accurately describing Modernism, but disagree with the thought that science has voided Christianity. True science does not have this effect. It is not science, but some philosophy which stands in conflict with the Christian religion. It is the spirit of “Seek ye first the kingdom of democracy and of modern science, and all these things—including the best in education—will be added unto you!” To make this our primary quest, religion must not be taught in the public schools. For to do so is, under the guise of culture, to form habits which are at variance with the spirit of democracy and science. In fact religion ought not to be taught in any (of the private) schools, for religion is unscientific, and all modern science has shown religion to be empty. Religion does not belong in the schools, and this “is not laziness nor cynicism which calls for this policy; it is honesty, courage, sobriety and faith” (p. 706). Is this not a note of emotional hypocrisy and phrase mongering struck here in the use of terms such as “honesty,” “courage,” “sobriety” and “faith” which “really” import the opposite from that of Scripture terminology and that of the Reformed Faith!
Why is the American tradition so strong against any connection of state and church? Not because of the Reformed principle of “sphere sovereignty,” namely that the home, church and state are separate spheres of life, each with its own authority and calling. But this practice stems from the Greek idea that the state is of more importance than the success of any segment of life, or any class. For this reason, religion was not permitted to interfere with the state. The converse was not considered—that the state must not interfere with religion. Thus the American tradition is not based on the Scriptural principle of the authority of these three divinely appointed spheres of life, but upon the heathen Greek conception of all of life sacrificed to a democratic state.
But if religion is not to be taught in the schools on the ground that to do so would be neither democratic nor scientific, then may not, at least, virtue be there taught? But Dewey, like Plato, does not know what virtue is, nor whether it may be taught (p. 708). “Virtue” is another abstraction which the traditional public schools invented to slow up education into a routine existence. Furthermore, and it is wisely queried, If religion is to be taught by the state schools, which religion is to be taught? the Jewish religion? Many schools are predominantly Jewish, and are supported by Jewish taxes. Also the Jews are among the loudest antagonists against religion in the public schools. What then? Shall we there teach Christianity? WhichChristianity? Romanist “Christianity”? Modernist “Christianity”? Baptist Christianity (p. 709)?
No, religion must go, and especially every form of supernatural religion. But if we bring about this complete disappearance of the dogmatics of theology, that would not be a sign of growing irreligion. It would be a sign of increasing knowledge of nature and of natural piety. Organized religion must have a short-lived influence, since it lacks cohesion. But this does not mean that religion is on the decrease. Monopolistic religion is on the decrease. But the religion of democracy produces a fruit of a broader humanism (p. 715). What is the support and stay of this “broader humanism”? The state schools (p. 723)! But what is the future of education, according to this humanistic philosophy? It is fraught with much risk, no matter what course of action we may choose. For “fortune rather than our own intent and act determines eventual success and failure . . . We survey conditions, make the wisest choice we can; we act, (then) we must trust the rest to fate” (p. 279).
What admitted miserable failure in the modern educational principle and process! It proceeds from no better motive than the good of the state. This is far from the highest good. For whatsoever is not of faith is sin. It proceeds according to no standard, depending entirely upon human experience for guidance. This also is sin, for it rejects the standard of God’s Word to revert to the wisdom of men. It moves to no purposeful end, because it does not know whence it is, why it is here, or where it is going. This, too, is sin; for the chief end of man is to glorify God and fully to enjoy Him for ever. It has no unifying principle, and so utterly lacks cohesion. This is sin, for the true unifying principle for all of life is the covenant of friendship in whit!? God, our Sovereign Friend, makes us His redeemed friends. The unifying principle of true Christian education is the aim to have home, church and school train the covenant child to live as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven in every aspect of life. This is no abstract idealism. It means that the child is divinely called to love the Lord his God with all his being, and evidence that love in seeking the welfare of the church. In the Christian school he is to learn to devote his whole life to the church for the sake of God’s kingdom. The school must train him to dedicate himself in total consecration to the cause of God and truth. His Christian training must lead him to know the truth, speak the truth, love the truth, walk in the truth with his family, in office, shop or farm, with his wages, in his contacts with the world, weighing every thought, desire and action in the light of God’s glory and the good of the church. It is no education, if it does not prepare and enable the child of God to enter upon life with his wife and children, his money, his home, his possessions, his talents, his gifts, bodily and mental powers, his education, knowledge, prayers and love—all in the service of God’s kingdom, as manifested in the church of Jesus Christ!