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.


  • I thought you might have abandoned your blog.

    These are good ideas, and I am always challenged by the spirit of keeping communion with Christ the top priority.

    In my experience, I believe that betraying the conscience is the gravest sin; if you believe even slightly that you are doing something wrong, best to at least step back and reevaluate before acting.

    But so often in our lives we come into situations where action is required immediately; to hesitate sends a signal of stupidity or weakness, but if you offer your gut reaction of caution from your conscience you will still be persecuted as someone close-minded or maybe even still lacking intelligence, when in fact it shows a commitment to integrity above the opinions of others.

    Such a difficult thing. And so important. They say that nothing will cost you more than following Christ.

    Except, of course, not following him.

    By Blogger Joe, at 6:38 PM  

  • I really like your thought of community in relationship to identity. I couldn't agree more.

    You're right about your public school thoughts: they are provocative. I am currently sorting through my thoughts about it. I'll let you know more when they solidify.

    By Blogger The Fitch, at 8:06 PM  

  • This is interesting, because I am an atheist who is very sympathetic to this. (If you want to read some great stuff on the subject, check out some of the essays in Stanley Fish's book "The Problem with Principle," where he writes very well about the impossibility of educational neutrality within the public schools).

    I have long been in favor of a pluralistic voucher system, and think that one could be created that would be able to deliver strong education in a pluralistic manner better suited to the American public.

    The hardest issue right now for many Christians is the issue of teaching evolution. I am of the opinion (I am more tempted to say "knowledge) that evolution is a true theory, but certainly sympathize with Christians who are compelled to send their kids to (or at least, support) schools that do not share their views.

    Maybe it would be interesting to ponder an education system where those who don't want their children to attend public schools could take them out and recieve a credit for the tax money they've paid towards education on the condition that they use that money towads tuition to an accredited private program.

    By Blogger Kevin Currie, at 12:52 PM  

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