The Philosophy of New Church Education
What's Special About New Church Education?
There's something special about New Church schools, but it's hard to explain what, or why, in a sound byte. To explain it satisfactorily, we need to dig into beliefs, and how they play out in how we teach children. So, if you're willing to read on, we'll try to make the case.
Values-Free Education - Not Possible
Much of the difficulty in modern education is caused by the effort to teach without values. It is, in our view, a doomed effort. There really can't be a values-free education. For example:
Student: "Why do we study history?"
Teacher: "So that we can learn from the successes and failures of earlier peoples"
Student: Why should we do that?
Teacher: "So we can do better than they did."
Student: "How do you know what is better?"
Well...what do you answer? More material wealth? More power? Less pain? Longer lives? More leisure? More happiness? More fairness (and what IS fair)?
Every answer is going to reflect underlying values. There's no such thing as values-free thinking.
The real question, then, is this: What values are we going to base our teaching on? At bottom, there aren't all that many choices.
One big choice: God, or Not?
If we suppose that God doesn't exist, and that the physical universe is without purpose, and that we are, as Bertrand Russell put it, "random collocations of atoms" then it is completely arbitrary to teach that something is right, and something else is wrong. That sort of arbitrariness doesn't make sense to us.
If, on the other hand, we suppose that God does exist, and made the universe, and, eventually, human beings, and that he did so for some reason, and that one of the things we need to do is try to understand the reason… then we have a very different school.
Let's consider what that school might be like. (It's going to take a little explanation, so take a deep breath, and… let's get into it.)
It's probably obvious that we believe that there is a God, and that there is an inner spiritual dimension to the universe that corresponds to the outer physical dimensions. We don't think there is a real conflict between true religion and true science at all; in fact, they can inform each other. The processes of nature reflect and ground out spiritual processes.
We believe that God is love itself, and has as his underlying purpose of creation the development of people who can choose freely to receive his love, return it, and - in doing that - be happy. It's the reciprocal pursuit of happiness.
People that are not free to say "no" to God aren't really free. So, if you accept for the moment that we have freedom, we then also need rationality, so that we can think clearly about how to use our freedom. Rational minds need to be fed with truth, and encouraged to develop loves for good things.
Ever since the dawn of human rationality, there has been religion. There's been a human perception that there is a God, and that we can communicate with him on some level. The communication has depended on our abilities to listen and think - and, after writing was developed, to read. In the New Church, we believe that sacred texts in Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Hinduism and other religions were at least in part revelatory, suited to the spiritual receptivity of people in those places and times.
OK. Let's go back to the idea that we need spiritual freedom - to choose whether or not to turn ourselves towards spiritual influx, and rationality, to help inform our choice. The freedom is an aspect of our human will - it's what we love, or want. The rationality is an aspect of our understanding - it's what we know, think, and understand
The will and the understanding need to grow together. As a person grows up, he develops a "ruling love", and it falls on one side or the other of a clear dividing line - the selfish/unselfish line. On the unselfish side of the line, the person is mostly governed by love to the Lord, and to the neighbor. On the selfish side, the person is governed by love of self and love of the world.
- Matt Olson, PNCS Dad
You can imagine that, in a society where most people love themselves better than their neighbors, things get unpleasant. In a society where everyone is looking out for the other guy, it's pretty nice. We read stories about both kinds of behavior in the news every day, and we see them played out in less dramatic fashion, all the time, in our daily lives.
At PNCS, we're trying to develop and inform the rational minds of our students, and we're trying to help them learn to love God and the neighbor. It's an effort that is very well grounded in life.
A School to Educate the Whole Child
In a school that was founded on beliefs like these, you would expect to find more emphasis on kindness, obedience, good manners, and thoughtfulness. You would also expect that children would learn about the world around them - from the standpoint of a respect for and interest in the way things work, since they are a part of the universe which God has made. You would also hope that the school would teach the children about the Lord, from stories from the Word, and from a thoughtful philosophy of education based on His teachings. This is the kind of school we are trying to create.
We are far from having established a perfect educational model. It is still very much a work in progress, even after over a century of New Church education. But we are pleased when we see our students helping each other, working together, and growing up nicely. We're very pleased when they come back from high schools and colleges to visit, and to tell us that PNCS prepared them well, for school, for work and for living a useful, happy life.
So...the whole child...spirit, mind and body. Without question, the three are highly interconnected. Unlike most schools, we work with all three.
We try to encourage healthy bodies through physical education classes, active games at recess, class activities such as circle games, crafts, and large scale art projects, and fairly light homework loads.
Working with children's minds is a more subtle challenge. The growth of the mind has been an area of particular study for New Church educators.
We've learned that four-year-olds typically love movement, sense experiences, singing, simple tales, and lots of hugs from their parents.
Eight-year-olds will have more ability to imagine. They'll appreciate the rich variety in skies, and rocks, and colors, and peoples. They love stories, and reading, and they begin to see deeper levels of meaning in characters and events.
Twelve-year-olds love learning about the natural world, and they like to begin classifying, and seeing geometry at work. Their social horizon broadens from the classroom to the local community, and they get interested in legends, and history, and heroes, and literature. This stage is a great time for teaching science, and craftsmanship, and skills such as mechanics, weaving, and gardening.
All these stages are part of an orderly progression, in which the natural mind is opened, and filled with knowledges which can later form the foundation of higher thinking, and more spiritual awareness. The spiritual nature of children is developed by learning stories from the Word, by imagining heaven and eternal life, and by early efforts to live by the Golden Rule, the Two Great Commandments, and the Ten Commandments. We therefore teach stories from scripture to all ages, choosing ones which are appropriate for the various age groups, and gradually building up a sense of the continuous threads running through the Old and New Testaments. This distinctly New Christian education is an important foundation for later life, in which these truths will have to be called in times of temptation and doubt.