Back in the 90’s, when I had to find a new career, I took education courses at Cameron. One of the first courses was the history of education. Even though formal education has been around since the first civilization, the Sumerians, it hasn’t usually been effective in creating a literate populace of moral, creative thinkers. Many think today’s schools are failing, or at least need a change. I like to approach a problem by asking, “What would Jesus do?”
This morning, I read Mark 4, where Jesus taught about the sower and four different soils. I see this as a parable about education. Since I believe that Jesus is the perfect man and the Son of God, then his ideas about learning should be revolutionary and superior to other methods. So I read about the four soils to discover Jesus’ teaching methods and compare them to historical methods. What did I find?
For those who are not familiar with the parable, it’s about a man who sows grain on four different types of soil and only the last soil produces a harvest. The grain is truth or knowledge but the focus is on the preparation of the heart to receive it. So the first principle I see is that education is the responsibility of the learner more than the teacher. A good learner guarantees success.
Most education focuses on teaching rather than learning. Classical learning was based on the trivium and quadrivium, or the seven liberal arts, which were grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. Early American schools are run by the “Lancasterinan” method of rote learning. We remember “Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic, taught to the tune of a hickory stick”. Ouch! In the early 20th century, Jean Piaget explained how children learn. Even when teachers understood how students learn, they implemented teaching through behaviorism, which I would describe as trying to trick students into learning through better motivation. Few people own the responsibility of learning.
Many theologians have compared the four soils that represent four types of learnings. Briefly, the first two soils are hard and the last two are not. What was Jesus saying? It can help us to think about them outside of a purely religious setting. Let’s start with the hard soils.
The first soil was hard because it was the pathway where people walked; the second was hard because it had too many rocks in it and there wasn’t enough sod. Hardened hearts keep people from learning. Obviously, we’re talking about moral learning, which is fundamental to a good society. People are damaged because they get walked on, and because they have baggage from their past. Other rocks might be cultural prejudices that have been in the ground for ages. We have to plow up the ground by forgiveness that removes deep-seated bitterness from our lives. It is not possible for the hardened heart to understand godliness.
The third soil is fertile but filled with weeds. These ideas grow without discernment. Even in good soil, weeds can destroy a crop. Too much information is as bad as not having enough. In the Internet age, we face the problem of information glut. Ideas that are not true are false, and we need wisdom to identify the weeds and pull them out.
Since I’m over 65, I’ve been able to audit three college classes for free. The last one was French Renaissance literature. I also go to the library, read widely, meditate, and write because I believe that the purpose of education is not just to get a job and make money. Education should make us a better person. What would Jesus have me do? He would have me take responsibility for my learning.