Needed: An Educational Creed

by Donald Oppewal

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Unless my ear to the ground is full of wax, it would seem that most Christian school teachers and principals agree that we do not have in writing a well-developed philosophy of education for the Christian school. By it they seem to mean that there is not a body of literature to which they can turn with the expectation of receiving substantial help in the making of the thousand and one educational decisions that are thrust upon them by the events of the day and week. While the literature contains scores of hortatory moral preachments, and a number of theological treatises, and even several exploratory documents on general aims and purposes, these have not appreciably helped the practicing educator to make explicit to himself or others the connections between his religious commitment and the specific decisions he makes on content, methodology, or general school policy.

All this is not to say that he receives no help from the literature on the Christian school The moral preachments have often inspired him to greater effort, the theological treatises have often given him the assurance that there is sound theology behind his efforts, and the exploratory statements have for some expressed our common aims and assumptions about the child and the school.

Our Present Need

However, granted the usefulness of all these efforts, what is thus far lacking in the literature is a serious and systematic attempt to relate theology to specific school practices, or religious aims to specific positions taken on controversial educational issues. And yet, unless I am thoroughly mistaken in reading the mind of the Christian school educator, what he wants most desperately to know better is the connections between specific items in his theology or world-view and one or more of the alternatives that face him at every turn in his school day. What textbook should he choose out of what is perhaps a bewildering array? Should he practice or prevent corporal punishment? Should he favor or fight movements to seek government support of private schools? Should he agitate for or against a student council with real decision-making powers in his school? Should he choose Huckleberry Finn or The Red Badge of Courage as a novel to be taught in the ninth grade? Should he support, teach against, or ignore racial apartheid at home or abroad? These are but illustrative of the choices that constitute the warp and woof of the educator's working day, and often his nights. If he reads one or more professional education journals or books on curriculum he sharpens considerably his grasp of the alternatives, and sometimes simply heightens his confusion about what he believes. Thus, both his day-to-day experience and his reading in education serve to sharpen his awareness of both the range and depth of the choices that shape any educational enterprise. They jar him loose from any complacency into which he may have fallen. On the one hand his experience and his reading in education present him with alternatives. On the other hand the literature on the Christian school gives him mainly theological beliefs and broad generalizations. The literature does not help him relate these two influences in his thinking. He perhaps could be content with this state of affairs were it not that from pulpit and platform he is constantly told and taught that his religion is relevant to all areas of life, as well as that the Christian school is distinctive because it is a concrete manifestation of a religious commitment. It is this third influence on his thinking that makes him uncomfortable in the presence of the other two.

Attempts so far have assumed that what educators need most is more 'philosophy' from philosopher-theologians, that is, more comprehensive or more eloquent (or both) statements about the goals and purposes of the Christian life, with only tangential references to implications for the conduct of the institution called the school.

The alternative proposed here is that each item in the "creed" be a statement not of some abstract general principle relevant to all of life, but a position taken on a live educational issue. Some examples of what is meant follow shortly, but it should be noted that our forefathers in the ecclesiastical arena did just this when formulating their creeds. They concentrated on those areas in which they felt their witness was needed and where they combatted specific errors in Christology, soteriology, eschatology, church government, etc. They sometimes adopted their positions on live issues as a result of a convocation of scholars (e.g. Synod of Dordrecht) which discussed a specific heresy or distortion (e.g. Arminianism) and produced from it the Canons of Dort. They sometimes adopted the eloquent statement of a single spokesman (e.g. Guido De Bres) because he strongly protested some specific historical happening (e.g. persecution by a Roman Catholic government) and thus adopted the Belgic Confession.

What these documents have in common is that they speak directly to choices that men and churches had to make, and made no pretense to completeness, thoroughness, or comprehensiveness. That is one reason why Reformed churches have at least three major creeds.

What our forefathers did then in the ecclesiastical arena we must do now in the educational arena: create ringing documents which show concretely the differences between our schools and other schools, both public and parochial. This will not be readily accomplished by general statements about God, man, sin, Scripture, creation, etc., no matter how eloquently or succinctly put, but by stating our educational beliefs and supporting them with selected Biblical concepts and principles. It will not be as readily accomplished by specialists in theology or philosophy as by the practicing career educator who is trained to support his educational choices with adequate theory.

The question of whether such positions stated should be called articles of confession, sections of a manifesto, or an educational creed is not as important as its content. Whether this is finally organized into a document by a contemporary educational Guido De Bres, or formulated by an educational council at a contemporary Dort is less important than that each of us contribute insights in writing. This Journal can become the place where such a "creed" is hammered out on the anvil of debate,

The following definition and samples of an educational creed are offered for your emulation, revision, addition, or rejection. The concluding section of this essay provides space for you to try your own hand at writing an item, article, plank, or canon.


An Educational Creed Defined

An educational creed is a series of propositions which exhibit positions taken on live issues on educational policy and program. The defense of the position, in distinction from the statement of it, draws on selected aspects of theology and Biblical evidence, as well as whatever factual or scientific data is available. The creed should contain a reasonably extended statement of the details of the position, including the rejected alternatives. Then should follow a relating of the specific educational position to some theological concept or Biblical principle.


1. Sample Item on Content Commitment

Educational policy: In the treatment of the past and present actions of men, whether in classes that are labeled geography, history, literature or social studies, intellectual and moral forces in the shaping of social and cultural events shall be given fully as much prominence in the content of the course as economic and physical forces. The economic interpretation of history and of culture will be rejected in favor of one that acknowledges the spiritual and ideational aspects of man's life. The study of the actions of men will be used to demonstrate that ideas and ideals have a dynamic of their own, and therefore a potent role in the shaping of political and social situations and human behavior in general.

Some illustrative instances of where this belief would make a difference:

1. Religious and moral beliefs, and not simply economic hardship and political oppression, caused the movement of Puritans to America.

2. The moral ideal of revenge, and not simply sexual jealously, led Hamlet to wish to kill his uncle Claudius

3. Cheating on a test is not simply the result of poor supervision, but also a result of faulty operation of ideals.

Defense of the policy: The Bible teaches that man is the crown of creation, created only a little lower than angels. Created in the image of God, he is, unlike animals, the master and not simply the servant of impersonal or economic forces: he is ultimately the victor over and not the victim of his physical and economic environment. He furthermore has the God-given and God-like power to formulate ideas and ideals which are guides to his action, so that he is not at the mercy of either simply his instincts, his irrational drives, or economic necessities. This Biblical truth concerning man's freedom and moral responsibility is in opposition to those mechanistic and deterministic conceptions of man and society that make him, individually or collectively the victim of historical, physical, or economic forces beyond his control.

2. Sample Item on Discipline Procedure

I propose that teachers in the schools should not use corporal punishment as a means of discipline or punishment. This injunction forbidding corporal punishment is meant to include public as well as Christian schools, and the primary grade school student as well as the high school student.

But what does corporal punishment in the school mean? It can be defined as the teacher laying hands on the pupil by way of punishment. And usually we think of the teacher spanking the pupil or hitting the pupil's hands with a stick.

When I say that I am against corporal punishment does it mean that I do not believe in "Spare the rod and spoil the child?" Not exactly. I would be the last one to say that a child should never be hit or spanked. But I believe this is the duty of the parents, not the teachers. Also, it is the very young child who has the greatest need to be disciplined by "licking", because he does not know how to reason yet, and trying to instruct him in the "what and why he did it" will mean absolutely nothing to him. The parents, not the teacher, care for the child during this period.

In my statement of position I want to add that teachers must be permitted to use corporal punishment in cases when it is necessary for the preservation of life. Generally, discipline can be administered effectively without corporal punishment, but when a student does something to threaten the life of another student or of the teacher, the teacher should have the authority to use immediate force on the threatening pupil.


Personal Experience Arguments

I have not really had too much experience in school with teachers who used corporal punishment. Maybe this very fact contributes to my position against bodily punishment. Perhaps I subconsciously noticed that discipline could be had in the classroom without corporal punishment. However, I distinctly remember one incident that happened in sixth grade. One boy in the class had done something which the teacher did not like. The teacher immediately strode over to the boy, grabbed him, pulled him out of his seat, shook him, said some angry words to him, slapped him, and jerked him out of the room. I cannot remember the exact details anymore, but I do know that I was really scared.

Looking back on what happened, I see some arguments which make me revolt against such a corporal punishment. This extreme. instance of my teacher using bodily force made me actually scared of the teacher. It made me as a pupil feel miles away from my teacher. This kind of feeling does not aid learning. I could not talk or communicate with him because I was afraid, of him. He was not interested in me as a person, only as an object which is expected to do everything correctly. As a result of the whole thing, I lost some respect for the teacher. As a person and as a teacher I thought he had done something wrong and inconsiderate, and consequently I could not look up to him as much. Even now I do not consider him to have been a capable teacher at that time.

Theoretical Arguments

What are some theoretical arguments that would support a belief in non-corporal punishment in school? First of all, the rod should be spared because its use goes contrary to the general aim of education. Children are educated for the purpose of becoming better citizens of either an earthly kingdom or a spiritual kingdom. The former is characteristic of public schools, the latter is added in Christian schools. A better citizen is one who acts positively, one who can choose between right and wrong, and one who can solve practical problems. Corporal punishment does not help the pupil develop any of these marks of a good citizen. Corporal punishment makes the child blindly accept and obey the teacher's standards. On the contrary, if the teacher uses reasoning instead of the rod, he can show the pupil why what he did was wrong and he can offer alternative ways of acting. The enlightened pupil can then choose the way he wants to behave. Thus the child is acting positively and is getting practice in choosing right from wrong and in knowing how to solve practical problems of human conduct. In short, he is being prepared to live as an informed, contributing citizen, not as an uninformed, docile citizen.

Another argument for refraining from corporal punishment is that the teacher who uses corporal punishment does not investigate the causes of misbehavior. Psychologists tell us that all behavior is caused and that there must be a reason why a child acts as he does and why he misbehaves. Therefore, the way to correct the child's actions is to help him understand his own behavior. Such an understanding will often make the child more willing to learn new ways of solving conflicts. In contrast, corporal punishment does not encourage studying and acting upon the underlying causes of misbehavior.

Corporal punishment accomplishes little. It is seldom an effective deterrent. For a time it may seem to be a good deterrent, but really it is not effective until the child accepts in his own heart the conviction that he must behave differently. If corporal punishment makes the child scared of the teacher, the child may refrain from that particular action for a time. But we have already seen this to be a poor answer to the problem.

Corporal punishment, instead of accomplishing something, actually pulls the pupil away from the teacher. The indignity of physical force stirs dislike and erects a barrier between the pupil and the teacher. The child may feel very embarrassed at being spanked in front of his classmates, and therefore, he resents his teacher. Such an attitude, of course, is not conducive to the teacher teaching anything or the child learning anything.

Philosophical - Theological Argument

We could say that the ethical principle of being kind to each other is being violated by the practice of corporal punishment. It is generally agreed that we should be kind to and help our neighbor. We should not do something which will harm him. Thus it follows that if corporal punishment is not thought to be the way to effectively solve disciplinary problems in school, a practice of corporal punishment would be thought to harm the individual. Corporal punishment is not a good deterrent. It does not give better alternative ways to act. It does not help the teacher-pupil relationship. Therefore, it is for the "good" of the individual that physical force not be used.

That the child has a worth of his own is a Biblical notion of the child. This same thought is reflected in our idea of a democracy. We believe in the worth and value of every individual, and this includes children. The Bible teaches that children, too, are important in the sight of God. And our whole Christian religion is not one which takes the group as a whole, but one which emphasizes the individual and his active part in salvation. Keeping the idea of the value and worth of the individual in mind, I find it difficult to reconcile corporal punishment with it.

Making Your Own Contribution

You can test both your understanding of-the creed concept here presented and defended by writing on an issue in educational practice or policy which you believe is distinctly Christian education

Specific educational policy / practice urged:

Specific educational policy practice negated or rejected:

Empirical Psychological Evidence to support the above:

Theological Biblical Evidence to support the above: