What Is a Good Education?

Rev. Theodore E. Clater, Pd.D.

Executive Director
Keystone Christian Education Association
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Considering how much it costs us, and considering that our children and grandchildren spend so much time at it, one would think that we adults would give more thought to it. Even worse, despite all of the contemporary (and constant) talk about "reforming" education, the basic components have not changed.

The politicians of today, and the typical educator, make it sound like education is so complex that regular citizens would find it hopeless to try to comprehend it. However, a quick review of your family dictionary will bring you a pleasant surprise. One common dictionary says simply:

"Education -- The process of training and developing the knowledge, mind, character, etc., especially by formal schooling."

Notice, please, that the definition of "education" will naturally lead you to think of some common synonyms. My thesaurus reads:

"Education -- edification, instruction, study, schooling, direction, tutelage, training."

From cradle to kindergarten there are many graphic illustrations of our little ones being "educated." They are continually "discovering" new things. Each "discovery" can lead to more advanced "discoveries" as the child learns about himself, his family, neighborhood, church -- his whole world. Those same principles continue throughout childhood and youth. Some "discovering" is totally informal, but the experiences of attending school are usually more structured. The totality of this "discovering" is the heart of the teaching/learning experiences that we call education.

One should notice that the definition of education has three key words. The dictionary says:

"Process -- a continuing development involving many changes."

"Train -- to guide or control the mental, moral, etc. development of; bring up; rear."

"Develop -- to cause to grow gradually in some way; cause to become gradually fuller, larger, better, etc."

These three words tell us that education, by its very nature, is more involved than at first appearance. To the conscientious Christian family, the process, training, and development must be "just right." (Caution! It is natural for parents to seek what they deem as a "perfect" education for their children. No such situation exists. We will find it only in Heaven.)

Parents are responsible to God for the education of their children. Unless a family lives on an otherwise uninhabited island, every family chooses other individuals to assist in aspects of education, be they a teacher, coach, principal, baby-sitter, tutor, or pastor. But while some may assist, the God-given responsibility cannot be given away.

Education takes work -- hard work. It is a sobering responsibility. Upon examination, there are four basic components of education, of schooling, of directing. These have not changed from century to century. Look at this listing and a brief summary of each component.

1. Development Of Intelligence. Remember that the definition of education includes "knowledge" and "mind." This would probably be the first idea that enters the minds of parents. However, on deeper reflection, the development of intelligence includes three major components. Incidentally, illustrations of all three can be found in the Holy Scriptures.

  1. Develop A Knowledge Base. This is often referred to as a student gaining a "basic education." It includes learning the core curriculum (reading, writing, arithmetic, spelling, etc.) at the elementary level and learning content in "academic" courses as one proceeds into and through the secondary grades.
  2. Develop An Ability To Reason And Think. From a child's earliest years, every parent should be helping that child develop the skills needed to conquer new situations and experiences. It is impossible to "teach" everything. All of us, and every child, need to gain skill in taking what we know and applying it to a previously unknown situation. All adults that work with children should realize that they seek to develop these skills within the children in everyday experiences. In formal education, we do the same things in an organized fashion. We integrate activities into the classroom so as to bring opportunities for reasoning and thinking skills development into the schooling experiences of every child. Two formal terms that might be familiar to all parents are "inductive reasoning" and "deductive reasoning." Other aspects include teaching a child to use his knowledge base to confirm what is right or wrong.
  3. Develop The Talents And Abilities Of Each Student. Historically, it is noted that every child needs a knowledge base and that every child needs reasoning and thinking skills. But it is also acknowledged that every child is unique in the areas of talents and abilities. We that educate are charged with developing those uniquenesses as part of the schooling experience.

2. Development Of Character. A key component of education is the development of an inner system of "rights and wrongs," an inner system of how to conduct one's life. Lest it surprise you to have this listed as part of "education," please look at the dictionary definition. Every child is educated in this arena. Every school is distinctive. The difference is only in what kind of character system is implemented in the child. It could be based on conservative ideas, relativism/situation ethics, a Judeo-Christian ethic, humanism, strict Bible teaching, or whatever. But it is impossible to educate without character, and it is impossible to have character without it being transmitted through education.

3. Development Of Livelihood Skills. There comes a time when a typical student ceases a life with books, teachers, and classrooms, even a time when he wants an independent life with prospects of spouse, family, job, house and car, managing time and money and responsibilities, etc. Again, every school teaches these skills, but the philosophy at each school will vary greatly.

4. Development To Fit In One's Culture. In this sense, education is the current generation of adults passing their common thinking on to the next generation. Education typically defines this role as "passing on" a culture, usually with thought of "improving it," from generation to generation. Like each other part of education, there is a core of material to which all can agree. We should be passing on our language, an understanding of our coinage and geography, and certainly the knowledge of what side of the road to drive a car! However, there is wide diversity among schools, and teachers, as to other aspects of culture. Contemporary illustrations could include how a school addresses "alternate lifestyles," alcoholic beverages, use of spare time, family living, religion, sports, and money. Some system of thought, and action, will be taught.

Those are the four distinct components of education, of schooling. Having listed and summarized them, it is wise to make a number of practical observations.

Copyright 1994. May not be reproduced, in whole or in part, by any process or in any medium, without the written permission of KCEA. Quantity prices available upon request.