Guiding principles are fundamental, but insufficient in themselves to distinguish good from bad in educational practice. It is necessary to translate these principles into concrete goals. If we accept balanced growth as the main general goal of education, we must ask next, how does growth manifest itself? What does it mean to be mature in each of the four important respects—in mind (intellectually), body (physically), spirit (spiritually), and soul (socially)? A full examination of this question is impossible here. Yet, we will offer some preliminary suggestions.
Just as an education overall must be balanced, in recognition that children are multifaceted beings, so must an academic education be balanced. An educated man must be able to cope with all the intellectual demands of life. His mind must be equipped to range without confusion over questions from the extreme of practical to the extreme of theoretical. He must therefore have both common sense and critical intelligence. On one hand, he must be able to manage his money, to keep his home and automobile in good repair, to use medical and legal services, and to handle all the other problems of everyday life. On the other hand, he must exercise good judgment in evaluating abstract arguments in theology and politics.
Thus, an adequate schooling cannot fail to offer the standard academic curriculum. At the same time, it must offer training in what might be called the practical arts. To include these would not be truly innovative, since they were part of the curriculum in many early American schools (1). Even within the realm of academics, the instruction must be as broad as possible, both in subject matter and in the cognitive abilities which it seeks to improve. Every course need not promote the same mix of skills, but in at least some courses students must acquire a greater power to absorb facts, and in at least some others they must refine the higher-level thinking involved in weighing arguments, generalizing from isolated instances, resisting unwarranted generalization, seeing analogies and differences, recognizing motive, and distinguishing right from wrong.
In too many schools, physical education revolves about competitive team sports, as if the purpose were to prepare students for future careers as professional athletes. It is evident that a program limited in this way is pandering to the fantasies of both parents and children rather than meeting a real need. Gaebelein's comments on athletics are not obsolete forty years later.
The temptation to be like the Philistines is ever with Christian education, and in few places is it stronger than in relation to the athletic program (2).
The proper goal of physical education is to help students develop habits that will aid good health throughout their lives—habits of sleep, diet, and exercise. A regimen of exercise should therefore be worked into the daily schedule, and the course on practical arts should include regular instruction on the subject of good health.
It is unrealistic, however, to suppose that on health-related matters, a school can overturn bad influences in the home. How a child treats his own body probably depends more on parental example than anything else. The best strategy for teaching principles of good health is therefore to involve parents as much as possible. A Christian school should not conceive of its mission as restricted to teaching students only. It should also accept responsibility for teaching parents. The administration should meet with parents regularly, perhaps once a month, with a threefold purpose: to explain what the school is trying to accomplish, to enlist parental support for school goals, and to instruct parents in ways of promoting the same goals at home. Physical education would be only one of many topics considered.
Some people might think that the chief purpose of Bible instruction is to make sure that students know the Bible, so that from the raw material of knowledge the Holy Spirit will be able to build strong convictions. But facts alone, though they are the facts in divine revelation, have little impact on opinion or behavior.
Other people might think that Bible instruction should give priority to securing spiritual decisions. But a decision is meaningless unless it proceeds from understanding.
In my youth, I memorized what the Bible said, and I heard endless appeals for repentance or dedication. Yet neither knowledge nor decisions born of emotion kept me from later wandering away from the Lord. I lived outside His favor until I reached my mid-thirties, when He restored me to Himself. In the last analysis, the blame for what I did rests on me alone. I did what I did because I am a sinner with a perverse will. Yet the church was not altogether without blame. It failed to give me the input I needed most: not teaching of facts, not altar calls, but thoroughgoing instruction in a Christian interpretation of life. From my schools, my reading, and the media, I was imbibing a secular interpretation of life, and the church provided no effective antidote.
Therefore, in the Bible courses I have taught, I have, besides presenting Bible content and pressing for decisions, also provided interpretive discussions, covering such topics as Christian evidences, the marks and fallacies of humanistic thought, the exploitative nature of youth culture, and the loving nature of good standards. I feel that such topics must be incorporated in any curriculum that aims at turning out students who are spiritually mature.
Good manners are a natural outgrowth of good character. So it is not possible to separate social training from spiritual training. Bible courses must teach students how to treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, how to honor all men, and how to love even the unlovely. Yet, other courses can also be designed to serve the same goal. They can incorporate units seeking to nourish the following skills:
- etiquette (in table manners, introductions, etc.)
- courtesy (using polite expressions, showing proper respect for people higher in rank and for the opposite sex, queuing, sharing, not interrupting or speaking rudely)
- preferring one another (yielding first helpings, last helpings, the best seats, as well as more important things)
- keeping a civil tongue (shunning impudence, insult, and innuendo)
- good sportsmanship
- working in groups (knowing how to work as either leader or follower)
- giving and receiving criticism
- honesty and transparency (recognizing and abhorring all the devices of a politician)
- being neither too bold nor too shy
- interpersonal sensitivity (recognizing the strengths, weaknesses, aspirations, and ultimate worth of another person)
- peaceful conflict resolution