Learning by the Book: A Superior Education by Abigail Mara Rose, a screenwriter and non-theologian, starts off with a very promising introduction, one echoing much of what R. J. Rushdoony, Samuel Blumenfeld, Andrea Schwartz, Ronald Kirk, and other Chalcedon writers have written on the nuts and bolts of education. She holds that “in Bible-based education, God, His Works and His Word are … acknowledged and taught as the foundation, sustaining power and standard for all things seen and unseen.” She contrasts this with godless education, tabulating all the stock rationales people use to justify sending children to public school and promising to dismantle them at the root and equip the reader to do the same by “using a simple repetitive THREE STEP system.” It first seems that by repeatedly claiming that a Bible-based education is superior to public education, contra the critics, the author reveals a merely pragmatic or utilitarian streak, but when she fleshes out her case on the following pages, we see a more sophisticated and powerful argument actually being marshaled.
Disarming in tone, crystal clear, and easy to read and understand, this short book (126 pages) does something rather amazing. Without coming even close to explicitly saying it, and using innocuous, unthreatening language, the author leads the reader to conclude that for Christians to put their children in a public school is to spit in God’s face. By exploring all the implications of such choices, innocently showing what is at stake (and what people either neglect or block out of their minds), she heaps coals of fire on our heads by gently opening our eyes to what our actions reveal about our attitude toward God Himself. Her text takes no such overtly harsh turns as I’ve just described, however: the reader draws these conclusions because the text is so masterfully crafted.
Ms. Rose is far more than a mere popularizer: she has concentrated the issues in the most potent form I’ve encountered, made all the more penetrating because the kid gloves never seem to leave her hands. Only in hindsight does one realize that the mortal wounds appearing upon public education’s body are wounds the reader instinctively inflicts after being graciously invited to lower the rose-colored glasses for but a moment. And that’s all it takes.
Ms. Rose’s three step system is letter simple.
Using three simple STEPS, we will see what really happens when God, His Works and His Word are “omitted” from education. STEP ONE is the starting point: God is There (because God IS There). STEP TWO reflects what happens when the fact of God, His Works and His Word are merely omitted from education: Gaping Holes. STEP THREE shows that in reality those Gaping Holes, where God, His Works and His Word originally were, get filled up: Replacing God. (p. 4)
Concerning the Omitting of God, Ms. Rose adds an important warning:
STEP TWO is Omitting God. This is an important STEP to remember for two reasons. First, because we have been ledto believe that this is all that public school does, omit God, which leads us to believe that public school is not saying anything bad about God because it’s not saying anything at all about God, just doing its business of benignly educating. The second reason is we never actually see STEP TWO in education. (pp. 5–6)
She calls the resulting holes Gaping Holes:
A Gaping Hole is where God, His Works and/or His Word have been omitted. No one has denied God or said anything bad about Him. We have simply extracted Him, made Him go away, gotten rid of Him, resulting in a Gaping Hole. (p. 6)
Obviously, Godless education, public, private, or charter, does not have these Gaping Holes … When education omits the fact of God, His Works and His Word, it immediately fills the blanks with something else. (p. 6)
When the Gaping Holes are filled without God, we’ve reached the third step: Replacing God. But the proposed replacements directly contradict what God’s Word says, denying God and His Work, creating “new knowledge and understanding that sets itself up against the knowledge and understanding of God (2 Corinthians 10:4–5)” (p. 11). In other words, “public school takes the step beyond a benign, God-friendly, not-saying-anything-bad-about-God education to an education that is in a constant state of rejecting, denying, disowning and opposing God, His Works and His Word,” the result being “a false account of reality” (p. 11).
Once God is omitted, STEP TWO, public school has no choice but to jump to STEP THREE, replacing God, His Works and His Word in all knowledge, wisdom and understanding and building from there—in everything! (p. 12)
Ms. Rose acknowledges that public schools stop at step three, but there is an additional step implemented by many Christian educators: “It is STEP FOUR – The Mix: a form of godliness.” What R. J. Rushdoony would call by many names (baptized humanism and syncretism being the most common) is reduced to its essence by Ms. Rose: it is, simply, The Mix, where a Christian face is re-pasted onto the educational enterprise. She provides four potent examples (theistic evolution being prominent among them) and points out the crux of the problem:
Here we see that unlike public school, the fact of God and the fact of the Bible are acknowledged … But we also see that the Works of God are not what God’s Word says they are in the Bible. The Works of God are what STEP THREE, Man’s Word, says they are. This makes STEP THREE, Man’s Word, the authority on God’s Works. When Man’s Word becomes the authority on God’s Works, it automatically vitiates God’s Word … Simply put, no matter how much Man talks about God and the Bible, if he is using STEP THREE as his foundational authority for truth, it is a classical example of The Mix. (p. 13)
Ms. Rose masterfully deals with the “five stumbling blocks that have caused many to lose faith in the legitimacy of Bible-based education” (pp. 15–23). She notes that “each one of these … upholds a positive view of Godless education while simultaneously attacking Bible-based education, creating doubts about its tolerance, its science, its impact, its reliability and even its facts” (p. 16). She first demonstrates how public schooling isn’t neutral. In fact, its position necessarily “is the antithesis of neutrality.” Sounding all the world like Cornelius Van Til or R. J. Rushdoony, she concludes that “No education is neutral” (p. 17, emphasis in original). After dealing next with creation/evolution issues, she responds to the charge that children “stuck under the Bible day-in and day-out turn out to be weird and clueless about the real world” (p. 19). Arguing from examples such as America’s founding fathers, Ms. Rose holds that such children, far from being ignorant or clueless about the real world, will not only understand it better but will actually be in a far better position to shape the real world.
She next deals with the complaint, “Why does real education have to have the Bible crammed into it?”:
This question assumes that the starting point and standard for real education is Godlessness and from there man erroneously crams God into it creating an educational aberration. Nothing could be further from the truth …
Simply put, because God, His Works and His Word are intrinsic to the real universe and real man, they are therefore intrinsic to education regarding the real universe and real Man. Consequently, they cannot be crammed into education, only subtracted from it. (p. 20)
Last, she responds to this siren song: “Because all facts are the same anyway, can’t schools just teach the facts?” What we’re confronting here is what Van Til and Rushdoony called the humanist’s appeal to brute factuality. Ms. Rose clarifies this vital concept so that any parent can understand it:
[F]acts do not live in a vacuum. The fact that “salmon migrate from the sea into rivers to spawn” does not exist unto itself but is always in relation to God and the knowledge, wisdom and understanding He provides through His Word and Works: knowledge regarding the Creator, the seas, rivers, fish, fishing, man, pollution, etc., wisdom regarding God’s sustaining, constant Power in and throughout His creation, and understanding of man’s responsibilities to God’s creation. In other words, salmon are not salmon for salmon’s sake but are always in relation to their Creator, Sustainer and Lord. Likewise, facts are not facts for facts’ sake but are always in relation to God the Creator, Sustainer, and Sovereign Lord.
In addition, students are not just fact-machines. Students have hearts, minds, souls and strengths …
Schools should just teach the facts is a false expectation of education. It is a stumbling block. The true building block is: Because education is more than preparing for a game of “Jeopardy,” schools teach more than facts, teaching entire belief and life systems. (pp. 22–23)
In chapters two through five, Ms. Rose applies these k
een analytical insights to the language arts, science, history, and the creative arts. A brief dip into language arts is representative of her approach. In the early 1980s during her pre-Christian past, Ms. Rose worked at “a Women’s Center on a UC campus” where … one of our most important weapons was language. If the language of our culture changed, converts could be won more easily…
Understanding that language can only be changed one word at a time, we went after words, one at a time, knowing that as each old word or its old foundational meaning disappeared, exchanged for our new word or new foundational meaning, then the old ways of thinking would disappear, exchanged for our new ways of thinking. (p. 25)
Today, because of the success of small dedicated groups like ours, Godly language in the public and private sector is not only an outdated thing of the past, but regarded as taboo. So much so that Christians are tongue-tied, unable to use words like “homosexual,” “sin,” “Jesus,” the “Ten Commandments,” even “Christmas,” without some kind of media backlash …
I relate this story to make the point that the Godless understand the importance of language and contend mightily for it, word by word …
If we let Godly Biblical words and their Godly Biblical meanings disappear, then Godly Biblical thinking disappears with it. (p. 26)
An eight-page fleshing out of the implications concludes with an At A Glance comparison chart (p. 34), leading into the short application essay that ends each of these demonstration chapters (pp. 35–38 for language arts). This first essay is a total gem, deconstructing a sentence that is usually defended with tenacity: “The Christians are the Light in public school” (p. 35). After surveying the five classes of Scripture that speak to the term “Light,” she concludes that none of this Light “is in public school education because God, His Works and His Word are banned. Simply put, the Light has been thrown out. When Godly Light is gone, only Darkness remains. Therefore … even though Christians are in public school, there is no Light in public school education, only Darkness” (p. 36).
Ms. Rose then deals firmly with the most common evasions: that Christians are the Light in public school “because Christians: (1) stand for family values, life, and abstinence, (2) are especially kind, (3) invite someone to church, and/or (4) pray for students” (p. 36). She gently but firmly dismantles the comforting illusions embodied by these excuses that, in actuality, sell Christ for thirty pieces of silver. Not that Ms. Rose uses any such in-your-face language: she’s never anything but “harmless as a dove” (Matt. 10:16). But one can’t help but feel the exceeding weight behind the ideas contained in her words. One is reminded of Jonathan Edwards’ reportedly quiet, monotone preaching of his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” which, delivery notwithstanding, caused listeners to feel like the earth was opening up to swallow them. Something similar is happening here.
Of course we’ve all heard these ideas expressed for decades by R. J. Rushdoony and other Chalcedon scholars. Education is a primary focus for Chalcedon to this day. The ideas in this book look quite derivative (they’re not; remarkably, Ms. Rose independently arrived at her various positions); but therein lies its strength. The author knows how “to speak a word in season” (Prov. 15:23; Isa. 50:4) that can reach Christians not likely to crack open a Chalcedon volume. But … this book is a contagious stepping-stone, creating and fueling an appetite for the works of Rushdoony, Blumenfeld, Schwartz, Kirk, and Bruce Shortt, where no such interest previously existed. A remarkable achievement, overall: the reader never realizes he’s being doused with teaching on presuppositionalism, syncretism, ontology, and the philosophy of ultimacy. This small book is a camel that knows how to get its nose under the tent. The rest inexorably follows.
For readers from mainstream evangelicalism who are new to its thesis, this book will do two things: (1) make them think, and (2) make them want to think. Can’t get someone you know to chomp into a seminal volume by Rushdoony? Before reading Ms. Rose’s book, I wouldn’t have believed it possible, but it is clear that a spoonful of sugar does help the medicine go down. She simply figured out how to make the medicine taste like sugar while tripling its potency. God will use this book.
Review by Martin G. Selbrede, Vice President Chalcedon Foundation
originally posted at Faith for All of Life, August/September 2007, used by permission.