Character training is one of the supreme goals of Christian education. God says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Children must be faithfully trained, line upon line, precept upon precept, day after day after day. It is not enough to merely present a list of character traits and definitions for students to memorize and then suppose that the job of character training has been accomplished.
Character training through biblical discipline
To train means to exercise, to discipline, to teach and form by practice. When a person is trained, it becomes part of his character to do what he has been taught. It is built into his spirit, and he has to go against his own spirit to do the wrong thing. Training builds habits that are right, and training must take place all through the day, not merely in a “character lesson” taught once a day or once a week.
Every subject area, every teaching method, every attitude, every action of student or teacher is a means of training character. Character training is taking place throughout the day, no matter what else is being taught. The sobering question each teacher must ask is, “Am I teaching right character or wrong character?” The teacher who maintains an orderly, structured classroom and expects the students to work hard to learn content, whether they feel like it or not, is teaching them to:
- respect authority.
- pay attention.
- obey willingly and immediately.
- apply themselves to the task at hand.
- learn rules and apply them.
- do their best.
- learn to love hard work.
- understand how things work together.
- finish the job.
- do right because it’s right to do right.
- work hard to get the right answer.
- know that there is a right answer.
- love wisdom.
- choose things that are excellent.
- develop habits of orderliness, carefulness, alertness, obedience, persistence, honesty, accomplishment, cooperation, faithfulness, accuracy, industry, perseverance, self-control, attentiveness, fairness, thoroughness, confidence, responsibility, decisiveness, effort, steadfastness, discipline, endurance, helpfulness, reasonableness, neatness, patience, judgment, loyalty, and respect.
There may be a place in the curriculum for teaching character traits in the abstract, and it is certainly important to give students a wealth of reading material in which good character traits are acted out, but it is not enough to simply talk about doing right. The child must be expected to do right, and even, so to speak, be forced to do right time and time again by means of godly discipline until the time comes that he has learned to choose the right on his own based on right teaching, common sense, and the Word of God.
Character training through traditional teaching methods and curriculums
A teacher who is faithfully teaching by the traditional methods of lecture, reading, memorization, drill, recitation, and oral and written examination will be doing much to build habits of good character. A school that emphasizes respect for authority trains the student to hearken wisely unto counsel (Proverbs 12:15) so that in time he may be a just authority for future generations. A curriculum that teaches the traditional subject matter of language (correct reading, writing, and speaking), content (Bible, history, literature, science, and mathematics), and biblical character training strengthens and enriches the child’s character through every word, every thought, every example, as the child learns that all truth is God’s truth and that for the Christian there is no difference between the secular and the sacred. (To see how character is taught in every subject throughout the day in the Abeka curriculums and texts, see chart below.)
Traditional teaching methods, Biblical discipline, excellence of content—all work together in the Christian school to produce students with outstanding character.
Character training through Bible teaching
The most important area of the curriculum for character development is, of course, actual study of the Bible itself. It cannot be stressed enough that Bible study is the main means of building character —not the study of some man’s distillation of the Scriptures by means of notebooks, workbooks, or systematic theology—but a study of the Bible itself in the way that God wrote it. Such study should begin in the lower grades with the concrete stories of the Old and New Testaments. In high school it should gradually progress to the somewhat more abstract statements in the New Testament epistles and the wisdom books. Doctrines should also be taught at appropriate times.
The teacher should clearly teach the students that it is not enough to merely hear the Bible taught in school and in church, but that it is their privilege and responsibility to read the Scriptures for themselves that God may speak directly to them through His Word. Indeed, the principle of each person reading the Bible for himself is the core, the essence, the key to individual liberty, responsibility, and character.
Character training through the formation of habit
The final aim of Christian education is the production of individuals who will habitually choose to do right because it is right to do right. Christians have a standard of right and wrong, the Word of God, and we must train students to habitually choose to act upon the teachings of that standard.
This goal is accomplished by carefully and clearly laying down rules and principles, and through biblical discipline, getting the students to 1) act in accordance to these principles time after time and 2) learn how to carefully think about the principles and consciously choose to apply them. Finally, by force of habit, each student will on his own be able to deliberate and choose to do right because the faithful training of his teachers and parents has allowed him to choose the dictates of reason rather than the dictates of the passions. It is at this point that God, through Christ, enables the individual to serve the law of God rather than the law of sin (Romans 7:25). God does the work, but it is the responsibility of the parents and teachers to lay the foundation, and it is the responsibility of the individual to choose to do right.
Teaching character through reading
The following guidelines were used for the selection of the stories in the Abeka readers:
- They must be good literature. Literature is a way to understand people better and broaden one’s life. The best readers are not those written to order by two or three modern educators, but those that draw from the vast storehouse of the best literature of the ages. God says, “Whatsoever things are true…honest…just…pure…lovely…of good report…think on these things” (Phil. 4:8).
- They must develop character-building themes in a natural, nonpreachy way. Children are developing their character now. They need to see in the lives of great men and in the lives of children like themselves the great virtues of Christian character lived out. We need to give them, through books as well as through our lives and words, ideals to reach for and examples to follow.
- They must be true biblical principles. “The Bible spells out precepts, the teaching of God’s plan for man. It also tells us about real people—their faith, their sins, their courage, their disbelief—and we see the fruit of each in what follows in their lives. Good books fulfill our human need for adventure and wider experience, but they also provide support for the kind of character development of which the Scriptures teach!” —Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Child’s Heart
Teaching character throughout the school day
Traditional Christian textbooks and traditional Christian teaching methods work together as one important means of building traditional Christian character traits. The teacher who faithfully teaches the traditional subjects in an orderly, structured way will be training students in the following character-building habits and attitudes.