At the moment, Evangelical Alliance Wales are consulting Christians on a wide number of issues to put together a "Manifesto for Wales", a positive Christian vision for society. This is a great idea - Christian political engagement is often very reactive, simply trying to stem the tide on the secularisation of our society, rather than offering a positive alternative, so I'm glad EA is trying to get Christians together to think these things through.
I put together a few rough thoughts of my own on a Christian view of education to send to them. These are quite high-level principles, but we need to work these out before we can tackle specific practical questions with any hope of sense or coherence. This isn't exactly my area of expertise - I'm commenting as an informed and enthusiastic generalist, so I welcome discussion and criticism from others, especially teachers and others more informed than me! Anyway, here are my thoughts:
What is the value and purpose of education?Education is a blessing, but against liberal optimism, it won't save us or mend our society - only Christ can do that. But Christ brings renewal to all of life, including education. So we need to work out our view of education in light of the Gospel.
Universities in particular are having a difficult time answering this question against the demands of modern politics that education delivers "impact" in terms of economic value and training people for their careers. We should affirm the pursuit of knowledge, of goodness, beauty and truth, as having inherent worth as one of the ways we as human beings reflect the image of God. But education should be pursued for the common good of society, not simply for individual self-fulfilment or ivory tower academia.
One of the problems faced by the humanities in particular is that the postmodern scepticism of all value claims means that the academy lacks the intellectual resources to consistently justify its own existence in anything except utilitarian terms. As Christians, we have a real intellectual foundation for the university which modern secular thought lacks.
The education system can be said to include three elements, what C S Lewis termed in Rehabilitations and Other Essays "learning", "education" and "training". In his terms, learning is the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake - research and scholarship; education is the passing on of knowledge; and training is education for specific vocational purposes. He noted the tendency to reduce learning to education, and education to training, and I believe the same is even more true today. All three are important: as Christians we need to to affirm the value of knowledge in itself, and the value of a liberal education as the basis of a civilized society, and the value and dignity of "practical" work and labour as glorifying to God.
Who is responsible for education?Family, church, state and society generally all have a part to play, but where do the boundaries lie? Who holds ultimate responsibility? And who pays for it?
I believe that Biblically speaking, education is primarily the responsibility of the parents. We should resist all attempts by the state to claim ultimate authority over how we bring up our children (so it's important, for example, to defend the right in principle for parents to have the choice to homeschool, whether or not we think it's a good idea in practice). It's legitimate for parents to partially delegate their educational responsibilities to professional educators, whether state or private.
In terms of who pays for it, we need to balance education as a common good which society should provide, and education as something that benefits individuals to which they should contribute. Specifics are much trickier!
Are faith schools a good idea? Can there be a "neutral" education?The question is not whether to have faith schools, but which faiths we will have schools for. All approaches to education rely on fundamental beliefs about what human beings are, and what the purpose of our lives is that education should prepare us for; these beliefs are a "faith" in the broad sense, though not necessarily "religious". Education cannot in fact be neutral: it's impossible to educate without passing on beliefs and values. A secular school teaches the "faith" of secularism.
In today's multicultural society, every school will need to accommodate children of different backgrounds and beliefs. Practically speaking, not every child will be able to attend a school that teaches the faith they (or their parents) holds - Christian and Muslim children will end up in secular schools, secular children in "faith schools" and so on.
A good education, of any faith or philosophy, should teach people to engage with other points of view and to examine the presuppositions by which they are taught. Indoctrination is antithetical to Christianity because the goal of our faith is to love God, and so there must be freedom to choose or reject Christ.