The goal of education isn’t a student that is able to do certain types of things, but a student who has become a certain type of person. This begs the question: how do we actually do this?
First, we need to recognize that people are created with a certain end in mind. We can distinguish a healthy tree from an unhealthy one because we know what a healthy tree is. If we fail to recognize that people are created with a certain end in mind we won’t seek that end. We will say that every end is equally good and that we shouldn’t judge or impose our morals, but be tolerant so long as people are nice and not hurting anyone. Recognizing the end for which people are created does not mean they will reach that end, but I think that in most cases it is a necessary first step.
Second, we need to know the end for which people are created. Man was made to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This is a great general goal, but the Bible gives us more than this goal, it gives us the model of Jesus Christ as well as the patriarchs and prophets that preceded him and the apostles that followed him.
Knowing not only that there is a purpose, but knowing the purpose enables us to construct a community around that purpose. For example, we need to have standards of behavior and uphold them—this is wrong, and here is why. But we must also endeavor to train the affections of the heart—this is not only wrong, but it is ugly and disgusting. Cowardice is not just a sin, it is ignoble and base; selfishness is not merely immoral, it is a petty and weak thing. And we must uphold these things in light of the Gospel—when a student sins he is to be encouraged to confess, repent, and believe. When a child succeeds in an endeavor, it must be made clear that his sanctification is a beautiful thing, it is part of what Christ died for, and it is by His power, not their own, that he is growing in Christ-likeness. Let me emphasize: I don’t think it is sufficient to simply say these things. Growth in faith and virtue are more often caught than taught. These things need to be embodied and lived out in the community for therein lies their real power.
Lastly, I think a key element in a child’s education has to be good stories. We need books that don’t just tell kids about what is good, true, and beautiful, but show them. Enlistments went up 500% after the original Top Gun was released. Why? Because Tom Cruise is awesome and Top Gun was a most triumphant movie. We need to surround our children with compelling stories like that, stories that inspire their moral imaginations and make them want to be men and women of godly character, men and women of faith, hope, and love. Our daughters should read about the March family and long to be courageous like Jo, tactful like Amy, pure and unafraid of death like Beth, and women of inner beauty like Meg. Our sons should read about Aeneas and watch how he time and again sacrifices his hopes and dreams in order to do what is moral and serve his people. Our students should see in Dante that when there is no hope and there is no way out, God in His grace will provide a way and rescues us from our despair; they should read about Raskolnikov and shutter when they see how sin brings with it its own punishment, its own hell.
These stories, the best that humans have written, coupled with a community wherein the Gospel is lived out, all connected to a family and church that instruct the child in the faith and likewise lives out the Gospel, is the way to educate a child.