Philosophy of Education

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Education and Community

Here's where I've been going recently with my thinking about education and community. It seems obvious to me that moral education takes place within concrete, particular communities. We pick up our values from these communities, and while we have some flicker of autonomy and can change our beliefs, our default moral settings come from the community we are raised in. In general, children raised in Christian communities will have Christian values (even if they don't abide by them) and children raised in secular communities will have secular values. Making a change in values usually results from moving into contact with a different community. Most Christian conversions happen when one person is brought into contact with a community of Christians who challenge their beliefs while showing them Christian values, like faith, hope, and love (for more on this, see Rodney Stark's The Rise of Christianity).

An interesting thing about communities is that we are part of many communities all at once and these communities, in large part, define who we are - how we answer the question, "Who am I?" I say, I'm a husband, which means I am a part of a matrimonial community. I say I'm a son and a brother, meaning I'm a member of a family. I say I'm a Christian, meaning I belong to a community of Christian believers and even more, that I commune with Jesus Christ. I'm also a United States citizen, a Texan (despite myself), a member of the philosophy department at Baylor, etc. These relations define my identity. Moreover, the define my moral identity. I am the person I am, I have the character I have, I act the way I act, based on how I understand myself in relation to others.

The interesting thing about communities and identity is that I place some communities above others when I think about who I am. I have loyalties to all my communities, but if my communities should ever conflict, I will remain true to the community that I value more. So, for example, I am first and foremost a Christian. That relation to Christ trumps all other relationships. It informs what kind of husband, son, brother, citizen, and graduate student I am. It is unlikely that my relation to Christ will ever get in the way of my other communities, but if it does, then I will have to give up my loyalty to those communities. If, for example, my country tells me I may not pray, then I must engage in civil disobedience. If I do not, then I am not a Christian. The way I put this in a recent paper I wrote is that we have some causes and communities that are at the focus of our understanding of ourselves and some that are on the periphery.

Now, when it comes to education, I already said we are formed by the communities we participate in. Why, then, would any reflective Christian parent send their children to be morally educated by an institution whose cause lies at the periphery of their and their childrens' identities? I'll say more later, but I hope this was provocative enough.

One disclaimer - I am not suggesting Christian adults get out of the public school system - that would be disasterous. But I am pondering the value of sending Christian children to public schools.

All these thoughts are tentative and I invite feedback.