In the Beacon Lights magazine of November 1960 we defended the proposition that in preparing for the ministry, seminary should be attended before college. This was done on the basis of the presupposition that there is in the world really no Christian college; at least, not in the strict, Reformed sense of the term, and that therefore the instruction from such an institution lies primarily in inculcating certain facts, which in itself is insufficient, inasmuch as the facts of themselves do not declare the whole truth. Something in addition to the facts is needed. For the truth lies in the interpretation of the facts. Mere facts, by themselves, without an interpretation mean nothing. However, if given the wrong interpretation they are made to teach and represent a lie. For example: it is a fact that 2 x 2 = 4. Now, what is the interpretation of that fact? One may say that 2 x 2 = 4 because that is the way it is. It is because it is. Another may say, No, it is not necessarily true that what is ought to be, merely because it is. What is is what ought to be only if it can be shown to be the only thing that can be. Rather Deistic and fatalistic thought! It really means that 2 x 2 = 4 whether or not God exists. But we would say that this fact must be understood in the light of God’s interpretation of it. Then we have the truth. This brings us to say that 2 x 2 = 4 because God created this fact that way, because God is the God of numbers, the God of all the mathematical sciences; He is the Holy Trinity, essentially One, yet, also ultimately, eternally Three. He made this arithmetical fact what it is, and therefore that is the only way it can be!
By this illustration we mean to show that God is the Creator of all reality, except Himself, and has interpreted all reality, including Himself, and that this interpretation of all reality is found only in God’s Word. What we are getting at is that knowledge of the facts may be imparted in so-called secular instruction, but Christian instruction must also impart knowledge of the truth, or interpretation of the facts. For the truth, and the truth only, makes the facts understandable, presents them as they are in relation to the Creator. Not the facts were objectively first in the mind of God, but the truth was before the facts, and gives meaning, interpretation, to the facts. The truth takes us back to and identifies itself with the eternal counsel of God. But the facts came into concrete existence with the creation; which creation is itself one of the most fundamental of facts. God created the whole universe, which remains an undeniable fact, as to its existence, to this day. But God also interpreted His own universe, and therefore to have the truth concerning the universe we must have God’s interpretation of it. For He has interpreted all things which He has made, and so given meaning and purpose to them. Apart from His interpretation it is not possible to have the truth about any fact.
Because these are true principles of Reformed thinking we advocated that training in the Scriptures as the Word of God should come before, with and as a background to all other training. For the truth should be conceived of as prior to, the ground for and the meaning of all reality. Hence, seminary before college, and for the above reasons. The knowledge of God is first. Even man’s, knowledge of God is more fundamental than man’s knowledge of the universe. The latter depends upon the former. The latter has no meaning without the former. To know the facts and understand them, we must know the divinely given interpretation to those facts. And to have that interpretation we must always be reinterpretative of God’s interpretation.
What we have set forth is a Reformed principle of education. The principle must stand. There may be practical problems which appear to contradict the principle. Nevertheless the principle is not thereby vitiated. It remains. Perhaps seminary need not come before college as long as Reformed principles of education are instilled before college is entered; and that is the case, to a degree, in the instruction of the Christian home, of the catechism classes and of the Christian schools. It would, to continue with the practical problem cited, be somewhat of an anticlimax to go from the theological and biblical language studies of seminary to begin four years of liberal arts study. It would be something of a let-down, for example, to leave the pursuit of Reformed theolo,gy to enter upon French 1 and Biology 1. Besides, the academic standards of the seminaries, of today presuppose a college education. The average high school graduate is therefore not equipped to enter seminary directly from the twelfth grade. Furthermore, the nature of college work is such that it costs higher, and is more intricate and complex than seminary work. It would then be more practical to complete the more complicated task first.
The point is, in spite of problems, we must interpret all reality, or any part of the whole, according to God’s interpretation in Scripture. But, according to Modernist principles of education, we should abandon the attempt to interpret the whole of reality for the simple reason that we can have no complete knowledge of the universe, because, being finite human beings, we cannot have absolute comprehension in knowledge. But actually we do not need absolute comprehension in knowledge. All we need is God’s knowledge in finite, limited form. We need truth in limitation. We need not become God in order to have the truth. We simply need God’s knowledge, according to His revelation and our capacity, as our basis and starting-point. With this in mind, we shall begin to evaluate some of the rudiments of the Modernist educational process, especially as propounded by the John Dewey philosophy (Modern Library, 1939)) speaking on, “An Evaluation of the Modern Educational Process,” and considering
I. Self-Activity in Education
II. Traditional vs. Progressive Education, and
III. The Schools and Religion.
According to this philosophy, the ultimate educational ideal is the doctrine of learning by self activity. Pupil “action done under external’ constraint or dictation . . . has no significance for the mind of him who performs it.” Mere habitual action which has become “routine or mechanical,” as well as action which the pupil performs because of outward constraint from parent or teacher is not action where an educative process is going on. For mere “routine action” is not necessarily intelligent performance; habitual action is not necessarily right intellectual habit.
To this we must remark that the ultimate educational ideal is not “self activity.” Man is, at best, would be autonomous, not actually so. For “In Him we live and are moved and have our being.” We must rather say that the educational ideal is “The training of the child through the impartation of knowledge, the knowledge of God’s revelation in creation as interpreted in the light of Scripture, so that the child may live in all the relationships of life as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.” By the impartation of knowledge is not meant the idea of pouring in, that is, learning by passive absorption. We would not have mere spoon feeding of the child so that he experiences no active participation in the educative process. We may therefore formally agree with Dewey when he says that educative training is, development of curiosity, of suggestion, of habits of exploring and testing, and such development which creates sensitiveness to questions which press for answers, and love of inquiry into the puzzling and unknown. The training should arouse fit suggestions, and control their succession in a developing and accumulative order. Educative training makes increasingly clear the sense and force of every fact considered (p. 617). Therefore children should not be hushed up when they ask questions; nor should their investigative nature be regarded as a nuisance, nor their queries taken as too inconvenient to answer (p. 618). With this we concur, for the child is a thinking, willing and active being who absorbs education consciously, and actively participates in the educative process to which he has submitted.
You can see from the ultimate aim of this educational ideal that it centers in man and in man’s self activity. There is no higher authority than man: The authoritarian principle is rejected in favor of the autonomy of man. An authority imposed from above, especially from the Triune God, is regarded as the worst straitjacket in which man could become trapped. The, Reformed principle of authority is especially a hindrance when introduced into the educational process. Not that there is any difficulty in some antagonism of methods and results, or of some disparity between theory and practice. No, Dewey claims, it lies in uneducated habits of teachers who set up authorities in Israel. They themselves are not authorities, and they know they will not be recognized as such, “so they clothe themselves with some tradition as a mantle,” and emphasize not so much what they say, but some lord who speaks through them, that is, some school of thought held to. Now it may be safely admitted that there are teachers who do not weed out their “uneducative habits,” and so make their instruction more routine than educative. Also their weakness may be that they set up authorities and array themselves with some tradition. Think of the Romanist principle of authority, which is the church, and the traditions of the church. For Romanist school teachers, the church and its body of traditions are of higher authority than the Word of God. For the church alone has the authority to say what the Word of God means. But we hold the Reformed principle of authority, which is that the Scripture is the source of authority, or rather God is the sole source of authority, and the Scripture is the only standard of that authority. The Scripture is a complete and self-sufficient revelation of God and His will for the whole universe of angels and men. It is to be believed on its own account, and interpreted in its own light, Scripture interpreting Scripture. The church is a source of authority only in so far as it proclaims Scripture and exhibits the knowledge of God. Its authority is only derivative, declarative and exhibitive. But the Word of God is our authority for instructing in righteousness. He commands it. Otherwise we go forth without being sent, and labor without being called. However, the Modernist criticism of our teaching on an authoritarian basis is that our teachers are like a carpenter who builds always and only the same kind of a house of one fixed design without variation. It is impossible to learn from such an instructor. His teaching causes his pupils to be emotionally suppressed and intellectually stunted. We cannot agree that this necessarily follows from the Reformed authoritarian principle. We cannot believe that anyone who believes the Christian doctrine of creation, or the doctrine of the Trinity, or the doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God, and bases his instruction on that foundation is apt, ipso facto, to be stereotyped and unoriginal. He of all educators sees the vast possibilities for variation imbedded in God’s star-studded heavens and everywhere among the myriad creatures of the world. The one so liable to be emotionally inadequate and inexpressive, so intellectually limited, is the one who does not take the Bible into account as the Word of God, and does not learn, think and teach according to that fundamental principle of Calvinism, the sovereignty of God!
In order to develop this ultimate educational ideal of “self activity,” it is not to be confused with the principle of absolute freedom. By the way, Dewey does not care for absolutism of any kind. But to show his aversion to absolute free will, he refers to some schools of educational thought which regard themselves as well advanced, teaching that we should create an environment for the pupils in which they are surrounded with all the necessary materials, tools and appliances needed to learn and do. Then let these pupils “respond to these things according to their own desires.” No suggestions of any kind are to be made to them, as that would be an infringement upon their freedom. Do not indicate any purpose or plan; do not imply what is to be done, as that would amount to an encroachment upon the pupils’ “sacred intellectual individuality.” Dewey rejects this method as stupid (p. 623). It is stupid because it is impossible. Pupils cannot start out on their own regardless of the experience of others. If they had the best stocked laboratory in the world, they would use it only casually, spasmodically, and the results would be fatiguing and discouraging (p. 624). According to this stupid principle of absolute freedom of the individual, the pupils actually should have no finished tools, but should start from “scratch,” and learn to scratch out their own tools from sticks and stones. We agree. The idea is like that of pure Pelagianism gone crazy.
No, Dewey does not like thought suggested by the imposition of some alien standard, i.e., some extraneous authority, or some authoritarian principle, as that limits the intellectual horizon of the pupil to about eight degrees above his shoetops (p. 626)! Yet neither does he like the idea of absolute personal freedom. He does not believe there is such a thing, nor can be. He reasons this way: if the pupil on his own initiative is to suggest to himself what to do, where does he get his suggestion? According to this theory of self-rule, not from the teacher! Then whence? From something or somebody at home? from one on the street? from one of the more aggressive fellow pupils? or perhaps from the school sexton? Then he would not be really free, and would not develop his freedom. What shall we say to this? That it is impossible for a Fan to be strictly his own man. Absolute freedom is an abstraction, a figment. The railroad locomotive suddenly bursting out into absolute freedom thereby loses its freedom. It is truly free only while on the tracks. So true freedom for man exists when he conforms to the law of God. He loses his freedom when he goes off the straight track of God’s law. In God’s service is perfect freedom. Within the law is the perfect law of liberty. The outlaw is a slave!
Still, although certain external authority is rejected, Dewey would not have us believe that “all authority should be rejected, but rather that there is need to search for a more effective source of authority” (p.658). For him, that source of authority is to be found neither in the church, nor in God, nor in Scripture. Where then? He is not clear on this point. Perhaps in the rationalistic principle of authority? According to this, the human mind becomes the standard of all things. The idea is “Whatever does not conform to my 2 x 0 brain does not exist!” Man’s thimble-brain stands in perfectly adequate judgment on all reality—history, science, religion, Christianity or you-name-it. Dewey, however, does not seem to want rationalism for his basic educative principle, for rationalism can be very imposing. He neither advocates absolute “free thought,” nor thought according to an imposed standard. What then? He is somewhat vague: thought which considers what has been done in the past (history? experience?—RCH), how it has been done (methodology?), and thought which decides for itselfwhy it should continue to be done, or whether it should (p. 627). Apply this line of thought to the fourth commandment. Then this divine good would be regarded as an evil; first, because it is established by the fixed standard of God’s law, and then, also, after considering what has been done in the past it would be found that the world’s great, the world’s majority never observed the Lord’s Day. That we should consider whether it should continue to be kept implies that man may set aside this injunction whenever he assumes it to be practical. According to this thought, it may at any time be regarded as a foregone conclusion that the Sabbath no longer should have a name and a place in our modern existence. To the Christian, this educative principle is destructive of all education. It seems that for Modernism, its principle is to have no principle.