The Third Education Revolution: A plan for the future?
Recently, my son gave me a book, The Third Education Revolution with many contributors and edited by Vishal Mangalwadi and David Marshall. It is unusual for him to give me a book, knowing that I am more a viewer than a reader, but I guess he thought the topic would interest me. At over 700 pages I managed to sustain interest until the end. Here is a very truncated version of the main ideas and a comment on why I cannot subscribe.
The book is based on the premise that western society has lost the plot in education by abandoning its roots in Biblical Christianity and becoming the slave of secularism expressed through relativism and post modernism. Truth has been lost and indeed ultimate truth thought not to exist. The solution: give education back to the church.
The first and second revolutions
The first revolution is seen to be the influence of maintaining the Bible through monastic preservation and of the church taking hold of education by expounding the basic tenants of Christianity. The second revolution comes with the Reformation and the development of the printing press that made the Scriptures available in many languages to all who could read. The worth of every individual and their equality before God drove reformers to put the Bible into heart languages. Whole societies formed based on an understanding of Scripture. Biblical principles founded most European universities and truth was seen to be in characteristics of God and his actions in history as understood through the Bible.
However, from that point forward the challenge of other philosophies and rationalism changed the nature of universities, and the study of Scripture was minimised to allow secular approaches to studies of philosophy, the sciences and the arts. Secularisation led to universities giving up hope of finding the truth as it precluded the supernatural, spiritual dimension of reality.
At no point are any of the failings of the church recognised in this characterisation of the first and second education revolutions. The Age of Enlightenment became the age of moral darkness because of the divorcing of reason from divine revelation. Now today, western countries have education that is secular, emphasises relativism and where the pursuit of truth is not present because truth is seen to be relative. The new term “my truth” has become a common way that people justify their perception of truth.
Here in NSW, Christians are desperately trying to hang onto the last two divine inputs to the school curriculum - general religious education and special religious education. The former is ignored by secular curriculum writers and the latter under-resourced by the churches responsible for it.
The book argues that crowded out, religion has little place in western schools and universities as our society crumbles under the weight of diminishing standards and agreement about what is right and wrong. Relativism denies truth, challenges moral and ethical standards and undermines civil society. In such an environment, anxiety, depression, drug taking, suicide and more, reach new climaxes as hope is abandoned and the meaning and purpose of life obscured.
The Third Education Revolution
Into this scenario, a Third Education Revolution is introduced. It is based on the belief that only an encounter with God can know and uphold the values and attributes of God in this world. Moral education, character education, values education, and the like need to be anchored in the Scriptures so that they affect every subject and lead students to encounter Jesus, to know him and not only know about him. This will happen by churches partnering with Christian universities to deliver accredited courses including in Biblical understanding and including moral development. A key feature of the proposal is that churches will have academic pastors who will tutor and mentor students in the courses churches deliver for the universities and in the relationship that the student has with the university. The churches will have their input into the universities who will provide subjects from a Christian Biblical perspective. Other associated initiatives include: a promotion of the Great Books Curriculum, college-pedia (similar to Wikipedia), extensive e-learning, and media productions. To illustrate the thrust of the argument there are illustrations from existing college-church projects and also in a number of surprisingly different country case studies. Not a lot is said about school-church education but the concepts of home-schooling feature as a major source of entrants and at other points it can be assumed that school–church partnerships dominate.
This is a bold proposal for the church to take back the moral education of a nation from the secular hold of governments and existing institutions controlling tertiary institutions and schools. There are no kind words for universities who are seen to have fostered rationalism since the reformation, persisted with relativism and fostered post-modernism all while marginalising the Bible, ignoring their origins, and not attempting to pursue truth.
A few concerns
Status of the church in western societies (and other countries)
This most ambitious project relies on the capacity of the church to develop connections between Christian universities and local churches. The reality is that the church in western countries is struggling to maintain its congregations and has lost the confidence of the wider public through its long-term conservative approaches to moral issues, how it has dealt with child sexual abuse within the church and its accumulation of wealth and how it has been used. It’s difficult to see the third revolution as more than a minority group of universities with a Christian charter being linked to churches with academic pastors. Their clients are likely to be the children of Christians already in churches and Christian/church schools.
How would this proposal work in countries where there are few Christians often facing a hostile nationalism based on a different religion as in India and many Islamic countries?
The book does provide examples from other countries including Uganda where a larger nominally Christian population may be willing accept the existing Christian education institutions to model this approach. But there are other issues to face.
Diversity among the churches and narrowness in theological position
The Christian church is very fragmented with each denomination or even individual church holding strong views on a range of theological and social issues. It is likely that the sponsors of the universities linked to particular Christian groups will not be trusted to deliver the theological and social outcomes expected. As this proposal comes from an evangelical-reformed and possibly fundamentalist theological background, acceptance in the wider church community is problematic. Already the proposal for a third education revolution is being complicated by fiercely held positions on current issues like abortion, gender, and same sex marriage.
Secular governments and their control
In Australia, like many western countries, education both at the school level (through curriculum and funding) and at tertiary level (through funding) is controlled by the government. The government promotes a secular education as it represents a secular society. Christians and other lobbyists may attempt to exert influence within this given secular structure. Many Australian schools are run by churches and Christian groups. Given that they must teach the state curriculum, some wonder how the impact of their Christian studies, chapel and the other school cultural features, including the faith commitment of staff, impact on students’ Christian commitment and future educational directions? Are these students the ones that will enrol in a new Christian university and become the students under an academic pastor in their local church? Is Australian education in a better position than most western counties to adopt the third revolution?
Critical masses to move forward
The book provides examples using a diverse range of countries to illustrate how this proposal might move forward. If it is to take effect, it will need some successful implementation stories and not only potential scenarios. This is to be the model where the churches in the long-term take back education starting slowly and building momentum so that a secular society accepts the need to return to the Bible and focus on Biblical values. It must be shown to work with student character outcomes being observable. What will be the indicators of a more civil society based on pursuing the truth in this revolution?
These outcomes will come when the model is seen to work in one or preferably more countries leading to a more civil society where Christianity holds sway through the pursuit of truth to develop social norms of right and wrong.
There is an alternative to this structural change to education to ensure that Christian values are effectively raised in secular countries in which relativism and post modernism prevail. In Matthew 5:13 Jesus requires his disciples to be the light and salt of the world – displaying the truth and preserving the good by the word and actions of his followers. As Dr Anna Hogg points out in her famous Aims of Education lecture (JCE Vol 5 No1) Christians failing to do these things reduces their effectiveness to keep a society from decay. If Christians are to be the yeast, they need to be in the world. These proposals about a third education revolution focused on Christian schools and universities with on-ongoing relationships of mentoring from academic pastors sounds more like withdrawal from the world and a return to the first education revolution where knowledge was kept by a few and followers protected. Closeting the truth in Christian ghettos does not sound like a way of transforming a wider society, except that a jealous secular community wants the better outcomes demonstrated in a Christian education formed in a school and university and church partnership.
What are God’s plans?
While the church taking back education might sound attractive to churches and Christians struggling in a post-modern society where relativism has a hold on truth, what might God’s plan be for his followers and the church?
My reading of the Bible is that Christians are called to be faithful in whatever context of life they find themselves and not to seek a level of power and control over their non-Christian society that was never the intention of Jesus. It seems from Scripture that the world in which war escalates, corruption increases unabated and hedonist self-interest dominate, that the world is approaching the end times. It is hard to imagine that a revolution in education involving the church will rise up to destroy the beast, but there are many fanciful interpretations of such events. Nor should Christians lie down and let secular society run over them. This is not consistent with being salt and light. But as Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6:12 the fight is not against flesh and blood but the powers of a dark world and in his letters to Timothy against false teaching. Christians need to be faithful to fight against the secular views of the world and seek participation in every forum to influence education with Biblical truth.
Ultimately, the Bible paints a triumphant picture of Christ’s return. Until then, Christians are called to be faithful in every context.