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Commentary and reviews by classical Lutheran education commentators.

Education: From Luther to Lutheran

Luther 02If we read Luther's treatises on education, introductions to the catechisms, and the visitation articles which describe a Lutheran school curriculum, would we find anything remotely similar to Lutheran education today? Is there any reason why it should?

In the introduction to his 1963 dissertation for the EdD program at Columbia University entitled The Growth and Decline of Lutheran Parochial Schools in the United States, 1638-1962, John Silber Damm notes the following:

"This project is concerned with the growth and decline of the parochial school among the Lutherans of the older bodies and the Missouri Synod. What happened? Why is it that, although both groups developed their school systems from the same basic commitment of the church to provide a Christian education for their children, the schools of the older Lutheran bodies declined during those very decades of the nineteenth century when the Missouri Synod was active in establishing schools? Why were the older Lutheran bodies unsuccessful in their attempts to revive interest in parochial education? Why was the Missouri Synod able to withstand attempts to close its schools and continue its system of parochial education to this day? The present study seeks to answer these questions.

It is the thesis of this study that, although the Lutheran parochial school was troubled with many problems that threatened its existence - lack of teachers and training institutions, meager financial support, immigration and language difficulties, and the rise of the common school, the growth and decline of the Lutheran parochial school is essentially dependent upon the confessional stand and organizational structure of the respective sponsoring bodies.

The historic confessional stand of the Lutheran Church insists that the Christian Church is to be found wherever the Word of God is correctly and purely taught and the Sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution. The form of polity which the Church adopts is secondary and does not alter the nature of the Church. Hence, the more determined a synod is to maintain purity of teaching, the stronger the organizational arrangement will be to insure this.

This study will attempt to demonstrate that the older Lutheran synods, due to their decentralized organizational structure and minimal doctrinal requirements, were not able to maintain or develop the school system an earlier generation had planted, and that the Missouri Synod, with its conservative confessional basis and stronger organizational structure was able, not only to establish a parochial school system, but to maintain it throughout the synod’s history in this country."

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Catechesis vis-a-vis Lutheran Education

Jules Alexis Muenier La Leçon de catéchismeReligion? Bible Study? Catechesis? Didache? Some struggle a bit with what to call the subject of teaching the faith whether it is referenced in a school's curriculum or on a congregation's calendar. The disambiguation of these might be taken up elsewhere, but I'd like to consider for a moment the juxtaposition of "catechesis," referencing in particular Luther's Small Catechism and "Lutheran education" in general.

There have been conferences and papers devoted specifically to "catechesis" almost as if it were something which existed in its own niche. I have not often found a treatment of catechesis depicted in the big picture of Lutheran education. Are the methods of catechezing markedly different from educational methods in general? And how does a commercially-produced religion curriculum from a Lutheran publishing house relate or compare to catechesis as such? Are they two different disciplines?

Can various approaches to catechesis range from nominalist to the progressive? On one hand, there can be an emphazing of teaching faith as if it consisted primarily of memorizing definitions of every concrete and abstract term in the Bible and memorizing the facts of Biblical accounts. On the other, it could be a pietistic, Romanticized moralizing of life.

Can one find examples of teaching-the-faith in the context of the liberal arts, an age-appropriate grammatical, dialectical and rhetorical Trivium of the faith? What would catechesis look like if one construed catechesis into the grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric stages?

I'd like to see a more deliberate approach towards how children can make the transition from concrete Biblical narratives to abstract Scriptural epistles. To date, I have not seen any curriculum achieve that. (And in the limited time I have between writing lesson plans, grading papers, fixing computers and ordering supplies, there is little leisure fo attempt one myself.)

Additionally, consider a list of distinctively Lutheran doctrines dealing with aspects of faith such as the proper distinction between Law and Gospel, simul iustus et peccator, the theology of glory as opposed to the theology of the cross, the two kingdoms, the priesthood of all believers (and there are many more). And consider the dangers which our children are facing in high school and college designed to fleece them of faith in the Good Shepherd: constructivism, materialism, nihilism, feminism, not to mention all the other powers and principalities which are set against them.

Can encouragements and cautions, promises and threats, be sufficiently covered in once-a-week Saturday catechism classes? And if not (and if a congregation or home school has the opportunity for extended teaching of the faith) where does one find a curriculum which deliberately nurtures, disciplines, and trains children to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, propelling them into a lifelong education of faith, hope, and love in Christ?

While I am familiar with the Concordia Curriculum Guide which purports to be "a practical, easy-to-use, dynamic new resource that equips Christian educators to incorporate the faith into every lesson throughout the school day" integrating "the Christian faith into every aspect of your curriculum," I don't get the impression that this fits the bill. Is it too contrived and stilted? Is it possible that there could be something better wherein one could conceive of a K-8 curriculum which treats catechesis in the way of the liberal arts, giving attention in content and method to the grammar, dialectic and rhetoric stages of the Trivium?

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Marshall McLuhan and the Classical Trivium

Perhaps like many people, I knew little more of Marshall McLuhan than a few of his pithy witticisms like "The medium is the message," and "We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us." (Or even "Diaper spelled backwards spells repaid. Think about it.") These were sufficient for me to have a skin-deep appreciation for one who liked to play with words.

But to my surprise, when milling about in some backwater website, I came across a used book entitled The Classical Trivium by Marshall McLuhan. I couldn't not buy it. It turned out that this book, edited by W. Terrence Gordon, is the publication of his doctoral thesis from Cambridge University where he studied between 1934 and 1936.

While I have only begun to turn the pages, I wanted to post this in hopes that someone else here might know something about it -- or to tip off others for whom this book might also offer some helpful threads to pull. The Table of Contents runs like this:

     I: The Trivium Until St. Augustine

    II: The Trivium from St. Augustine to Abelard

   III: The Trivium from Abelard to Erasmus

   IV: Thomas Nashe

and for each section, there are A, B, and C sub-sections entitled Grammar, Dialectics, and Rhetoric.

There is little which could be deemed pithy in this dissertaion -- perhaps the Cambridge dons would not have suffered such. Witticisms would have appeared out of place in this substantive treatment, but one cannot help but wonder how this laid the foundation for McLuhan's later observations of Western media. 

While not writing for the casual reader, McLuhan introduces us to other works such as Aubrey Gwynn's Roman Education from Cicero to Quintilian which might be more readily accessible: "when the Church became the inheritor of the Graeco-Roman civilization, she used the artes liberales as a convenient framework for the new Christian education taught in her schools" (p. 246).

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So Little for the Mind

NeatbyIn 1953, a Canadian educator by the name of Hilda Neatby, hit a nerve with her book, So Little for the Mind. She drew the title from a Cardinal Newman quote, "Any self-education in any shape, in the most restricted sense, is preferable to a system of teaching which, professing so much, really does so little for the mind."

Neatby caused a stir because of her disrespectful use of the expression "expert in education," considering it to be an insult to a noble calling. "It degrades the most difficult art of nourishing and disciplining and inspiring the mind to the level of a special technique. It de-humanizes education. I could pay no higher compliment to an educational leader than to say that, although he may have expert knowledge in certain fields, that is the leat of his qualifications for the extremely important work that is given him to do."

Even though some of the details of her work address issues in the Canadian system of education, she has much that is worthwhile for the consideration of education as a whole. I include this extended excerpt from her Introduction, in which it is declared that Progressive education is anti-intellectual, anti-cultural, and amoral (p. 15 f):

"Democratic equalitarianism encouraged the idea of a uniform low standard easily obtainable by almost all. Special attention was given to all physical, emotional, and mental abnormalities, but the old-fashioned things called the mind, the imagination, and the conscience of the average and of the better-than-average child, not not exactly forgotten, slipped into the background. As a result, the much-maligned tranditionalist is now retorting with some pretty rigorous criticisms of progressive education as he sees it.

"It is frankly anti-intellectual. There is no attempt to exercise, train, and discipline th mind. This is old-fashioned language, now forbidden by the experts, but its meaning is still clear to the literate person. The traditionalist firmly and even brutally conveyed a body of facts which must be learned precisely, and which provided, as it were, the material of thought. Or he might demonstrate the process of thought through the admittedly painful process of causing the pupil to memorize a mathematical proposition and its proof. True, the matter often began and ended with memorizing, and never reached the stage of thinking. The progressivist noted this, but instead of taking over and doing the thing properly, he threw up the sponge. Because, he argued, inteelectual training is difficult and painful and many fall by the wayside, throw it out alltogether. Failures spoil the record. The denial by the schools of the duty of intellectual training is neatly reflected by the current fashion of lightly dismissing in argument an unanswerable fashion of lightly dismmissing in argument an unanswerable proposition as "a question of semantics."

"Progressivism is anti-cultural. This is quite in keeping with the revolutionary, pseudo-scientific materialist fashions of the day. In this scientific age, we find that everything, not just educational methods, but everything, is better than it used to be. It is the pride of the machine age that we can now understand, manipulate, and control men as we do machines. Why should we look at the evidence of human joys, sorrows, failures, and achievenments of the past? It would almost be an admission of defeat. We manage everything better now. . . .

"Progressive education is, or has been, amoral. There is something of a reaction today, but for a generation it has been unfashionable, to say the least, to speak openly of right and wrong actions. Teachers take cover instead under "desireable" and "undesirable" "attitudes" or "responses." But these are not enough. The pupil soon learns that in a democratice society he has as much right as anyone else. Even the elementary discipline of establishing rules which the child was required to keep was questioned. True, rules certainly existed in practice; but pragmatic theory frowned on all external control and therefore rules were enforced uneasily and with a bad conscience. The general tendency of the progressive approach has been to weaken respect for law and authority as such, and to dull discrimination between right and wrong, by the teaching, implied if not expressed, that "desireable" actions on the part of the child (actions pelasing to others) will bring "desireable" responses (actions pleasing to him)."

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Theology by Analogy

Many pastors and teachers resort to analogies,  allegories, and abstractions -- figures of speech -- when explaining the Bible and theology to children. Some of them are quite creatively-presented in puppet shows, "object lessons," Children’s sermons, skits, and multimedia. Such practices, however, deserve some scrutiny among classical Lutheran educators.

One red flag regarding the use of use of analogies to teach children comes from some of the heroes of progressive education themselves, e.g. Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg. While classical educators may look askance at the prescriptions of such child developmentalists, they need  not entirely eschew the descriptions of their observations. So, for example, the demonstration that young children are not capable of comprehending the kind of analogies likely to be present in an object lesson, not to mention distinguishing between fact and fiction, reality and imagination, good and bad, silly and serious.

It is beyond the scope of this brief essay to relate the basic principles of concrete, formal, operational stages and moral development -- which can easily be found online. The point of this informal composition is to highlight some considerations about teaching theology by analogy -- and if someone wishes to address it more fully, formally and carefully than I have do here -- well and good.

In the realm of theology, if one asks, "Why did Jesus teach with parables?" many people are likely to repond with something to the effect that Jesus was using parables as illustrations to explain a thological point.

But if one rephrases the question thus: "What did Jesus Himself say was the reason that He told parables?" one might get a blank expression from the same respondents as they hear Luke 8:10, "To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that 'SEEING THEY MAY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND" [Isaiah 6:9-10; Matthew 13:13-14; Mark 4:11-12].

Additionally one might point out that if parables were intended to make things easier to understand, then why did Jesus' own disciples fail so frequently to understand what Jesus meant by His parables, asking Him to explain them? Indeed, why do they say, "See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech!" (John 16:29; cf. v. 25)

Furthermore, when Jesus makes statements like "I am the Door" or "I am the Bread of Life," we must ask, "Is our Lord merely using a figure of speech to convey an esoteric truth?" If Jesus is only a metaphorical door or if He is only a symbolic bread of life, then where is the REAL door? Where is the REAL bread of life? I cannot live by metaphor. My faith cannot cling to a figure of speech. I need true door and an actual bread of life. I don't need an analogous Christ -- I need a real Savior.

The following quote (a secular acknowledgement of the limitations of metaphor attributed to the French philosopher Paul Valery), makes a good point: “The folly of mistaking a metaphor for a proof, a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truths, and oneself as an oracle, is inborn in us.”

And this essay regarding the doing of theology by analogy by Dr. James E. Smith, "The Bible Professor," also presents some arguments worthy of consideration:  http://www.bibleprofessor.com/files/TheologybyAnalogy.pdf

An allegorical approach to Scripture is something which Luther held in contempt:

"For an allegory is like a beautiful harlot who fondles men in such a way that it is impossible for her not to be loved, especially by idle men who are free from a trial. Men of this kind think that they are in the middle of Paradise and on God’s lap whenever they indulge in such speculations. At first, allegories originated from stupid and idle monks. Finally they spread so widely that some men turned Ovid’s Metamorphoses into allegories. They made a laurel tree Mary and Apollo they made Christ. Although this is absurd, nevertheless, when it is set forth to youths who lack experience but are lovers and students of literature, it is so pleasing to them at the outset that they devote themselves completely to those interpretations. Consequently, I hate allegories. But if anyone wants to make use of them, let him see to it that he handles them with discretion." [On Genesis 30:9-11; AE 5:347-348].

Or again, 

"But it was very difficult for me to break away from my habitual zeal for allegory; and yet I was aware that allegories were empty speculations and the froth, as it were, of the Holy Scriptures. It is the historical sense alone which supplies the true and sound doctrine. After this has been treated and correctly understood, then one may also employ allegories as an adornment and flowers to embellish or illuminate the account. The bare allegories, which stand in no relation to the account and do not illuminate it, should simply be disapproved as empty dreams. This is the kind which Origen and those who followed him employ. Where can it be proved from Scripture that Paradise denotes heaven, and that the trees of Paradise refer to the angels? These ideas have been thought up as something most absurd and altogether useless. Therefore let those who want to make use of allegories base them on the historical account itself. The historical account is like logic in that it teaches what is certainly true; the allegory, on the other hand, is like rhetoric in that it ought to illustrate the historical account but has no value at all for giving proof." [AE 1:231f]

By this post, I do not intend in any sense to throw out all analogies, metaphors, similies and other figures of speech the way that Karlstadt called for the effacing and destruction of ecclesiastical art in Luther's day. In fact, I encourage readers to take a look at Bullinger's monumental Figures of Speech Used in the Bible in print or online. The intent and hope of this essay is that all parents, teachers, and pastors would be conscientious regarding the limitations of analogies in communicating Law and Gospel, God's living and holy Word.

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