The End Goal of Education

White rose

What is the goal of education? Every teacher and homeschool parent contemplates this, year in and year out, when planning and implementing the school curriculum. Is the goal to get a job, go to college, get married and have a happy life? Or maybe the goal is to become a good citizen of one’s country, producing goods and helping those in need? In the ancient world, education of children was the chief concern of the Greek nation: teachers, parents, and government officials alike. The goal was all of these things. To raise up a child fully encultured in the Greek ways, knowledgeable in truth, and ready to serve the country. It went beyond the constraints of school subjects and focused on the entire life and personhood of a child into adulthood. This great work of bringing up Greek children was called Paideia. This word, so entrenched in Greek education, also shows up in Scripture in the New Testament. “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) This verse in the original Greek language states “bring them up in the ‘paideia’ of the Lord.” St Augustine, and later Martin Luther, treated education with the same respect the earlier Greek civilization did. Thomas Korcok in his book Lutheran Education states, “Augustine returned to the Greek conception of an all-encompassing education. He believed that the student was not so much to be taught various subjects as to be led on a journey through the humanities.” So what is the Paideia of the Lord? What would it look like to bring up our children in the full enculturation of the Lord?

To know how to enculturate our children in the ways of the Lord, we first need to look at the end goal of education. What do we hope for our children? I think as Christian parents we all hope for our children to live eternally in heaven. This is our end goal. C.F.W Walther spent many years forming and leading the newly founded Lutheran schools in America in the 1800’s. What he ran into time and time again from other Christian groups was that their focus in education was solely on practical matters of the temporal life. The end goal of eternal life was not foremost in their schools. So let us too not fall into the trap of separating education from faith. The chief aim of Christian education is that of eternal life. To train up our children in the paideia of the Lord means to teach them the doctrine of the church and to teach them to live and abide in the means of grace. Just as Deuteronomy 11:19-20 states about the law of Moses, “speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” We also should teach the Truth continually and without ceasing.

So is that it? Teach our kids the Lutheran faith and our goal is met? Not according to Martin Luther. Later in his book, Thomas Korcok states on the history of Lutheran education: “For Luther and the sixteenth-century Lutheran pedagogues, one of the core functions of education was to prepare the individual for a life of vocation. The liberal arts were seen as the ideal tool with which to accomplish this.” The second goal of education is to prepare our children to be servants for their neighbor here on this earth. God rules the earth but he uses people to do it. He uses each of us in our own stations to tend to the needs of others. Some are engineers, some are secretaries. Others are grocery clerks, and garbage collectors, and pastors, and teachers. Education gives our children the tools they need to carry out their vocations here on earth. As parents, we all have the vocation of teacher. We are entrusted with the care of our children and entreated to “bring them up in the paideia of the Lord.” To enculturate our children in the Lutheran faith and to train them up in the service of their neighbor: these are the chief aims of education. Let us be diligent to press on toward the goal.

Laura Mears

Laura Mears is a co-founder of the Lutheran Homeschool Association. She and her husband, Joshua, homeschool their four children in Lakeville, MN.

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