My friend is the old professor out of the movies. White-haired, white-bearded, a bit portly, almost always to be found wearing a tweed jacket and a tie. His home is stuffed with old furniture and books. He says grace at meals in Latin. (He teaches classics.) You’d spot him as a professor a hundred yards away.
Tomorrow he goes to his last commencement. I bring him up because I think the way he taught shows us why young people need Christian teachers. Not secularists, not even fair-minded secularists. Christians.
The Obvious Reason for Christian Teachers
There’s the obvious reasons. First, Christians teach the Christian story more fairly. They don’t teach the long history of Christianity as the age of ignorance and superstition and bigotry. They don’t treat the Enlightenment as the time man threw off the blindfold of religion and finally saw the truth, and brought all good things to the world, like science, and deodorant.
That’s the story my public school teachers taught me. The story’s almost complete rubbish, but I believed it for years, because that’s all I heard.
Second, Christians will teach the whole story. The story of our civilization includes a lot of Christianity, which secularists tend to leave out.
You can major in philosophy at some good colleges without reading a Christian philosopher. You might get a bit of St. Augustine and St. Thomas in the intro course, but after that, no Christians. You don’t know philosophy if you go from Aristotle to Descartes, with a glance at a couple guys in between.
We need Christian teachers to make sure our children get the whole story and get it right. Few secular teachers will give them that. But there’s another reason — not so obvious — we need Christian teachers.
The Not So Obvious Reason
Christian teachers teach their students how to see the world as a Christian. They show their students how to think as Christians should. Students only learn this by seeing it done over time.
Yes, not every professed Christian who teaches, teaches like this. Some of them do what the secularists do, only in reverse. Yes, some very secular teachers will teach like this. But many more Christians than secularists will teach like this, I think. The good Christian teachers like my friend do it, and there are a lot of them around.
They teach like that because they exercise the Christian intellectual virtues. They go the extra mile to be fair to an opponent, and work hard to dig for the truth. They’ve learned to listen before judging. They have a sense of their own sins and how blind they can be to the truth. They do unto other thinkers as they’d have those thinkers do unto them.
Such teachers don’t do this consciously. They do it because that’s who they are. Specifically, that’s who they are as Jesus’s serious disciples. As He works to make them holier, He also makes them wiser.
Take my friend. He’s a good example. I know this partly because I’ve learned from him myself. Think of a bunch of bright, opinionated guys at dinner. Someone declares Thinker X wrong and the other guys start to agree.
If he knows the subject, my friend will break in. He’ll say either that the matter is complicated, for these reasons, or that X is saying something we need to think about, for these reasons. If he doesn’t know the subject, he’ll ask probing questions. He wants to be fair, and he wants to know the truth. The rest of us may feel a little chastened.
Here’s How He Changes Students
Here’s one hugely important way Christian teachers like him change students. They’ll pick up his attitude to the work of the mind and to truth itself. That becomes part of how they see and think. These students will have learned something of the intellectual virtues because they’ve seen them exercised by the white-haired guy in the tweed jacket twice a week for fourteen weeks.
It may be, for example, that the student once inclined to respond to something new with “That’s dumb” now says, “I better see if there’s anything to it.” He’ll never realize that instinctive act of intellectual maturity came from ol’ Dr. Smith. But he’s still a different man, and a better thinker, than he would have been without the professor’s example.
It may be that he never reads the classics again, but he may listen to the old codger at work that everyone else ignores, because he suspects he knows something no one else does. He won’t know he learned that wisdom from his classics prof.
The student may start to say at dinner with bright, opinionated friends, “Well, you know,” about to lay down the law, and stop talking because he sees that he doesn’t know. He will have learned that from Dr. Smith.
Education is Implication
Students need Christian teachers who will present the material fairly and completely. They also need Christian teachers who will teach them by their example. Young people learning to think need to see Christians thinking and speaking like Christians. They need examples of wisdom in practice.
The world doesn’t teach them that. Secular education won’t teach them that. They need this not just to be better Christians but to be good thinkers.
G. K. Chesterton put it nicely. “Education is implication,” he said. “It is not the things you say which children respect; when you say things, they very commonly laugh and do the opposite. It is the things you assume that really sink into them. It is the things that you forget even to teach that they learn.” (For more from the author of “A Graduation Reminder: Our Children Need Christian Teachers” please click HERE)