Dr. Phyllis Rand (ed.)
We at Abeka keenly feel the responsibility to never “remove the ancient landmarks” of evangelism, Biblical character training, and excellent academics. They define true education and sum up our purpose and philosophy. They are our traditions.
It is to these ancient landmarks that we look rather than the latest educational reforms and psychological theories. In fact, we reject those trends and theories. This stance, of course, sets us apart from secular education and even some Christian education.
We still use the names traditional and progressive. Instead of progressivism, we could use the names “experimentalism,” “instrumentalism,” “pragmatism”; but progressivism is a good overall word, and it is accessible to everyone, not just philosophers. Because the term progressive sounds so positive and because the term traditional may sound passe or out of step, perhaps it is worth saying that Abeka does not reject innovation or improvement. We are always looking for better ways to do things. What we mean when we say we are traditional is this: American education, like our other institutions, was founded on a Christian worldview. American educational traditions are Christian.
Progressive education is the development of those who rejected the Christian worldview and traditions of their fathers and transferred their faith to science, evolution, and psychology. It is secular. It is humanistic. It is more than an attempt to just bring more freedom and activity into the classroom. It is not an exaggeration to say that progressive education under whatever name it goes by today is the greatest force in what Henry Morris calls “the war against God.” By its fruits we can judge the damage of progressive methodology today: dumbed-down academics, self-centeredness, and rebelliousness.
So when we speak of traditional and progressive education we mean two completely different ways of looking at the world. Because a man’s philosophy or worldview informs his thinking and practice, it is not surprising to learn that the methods and purposes of traditional and progressive educators are very different. We have a Christian worldview so our purpose and methods align more with traditional education than progressive education.
As Christians, we know that a child is born on one path, not going in God’s direction at all. God tells parents and teachers that we are to steer children toward another path so that they will choose to leave their natural one for God’s path. There is much important soul teaching to do. Classrooms are not child centered; they are in effect teacher centered. The progressive worldview rejects this and sees children as naturally good.
Because of our Christian worldview we believe in authority—parental authority, the teacher’s authority, civic authority, and so on. Progressive teachers reject the teaching of submission and self-control but instead stress self-esteem and self-actualization and empowerment. Naturally the teacher’s role in these two philosophies greatly differs. Richard Fugate in his book Will Early Education Ruin Your Child? says you can always judge wrong educational practice by asking, what does it assume about authority and the nature of the child? That test judges all popular psychological theory and progressive practices as wrong.
Our Christian worldview teaches us that there are absolutes and objective truth. There are character traits, actions, ideas which are good and bad. There are eternal verities. There is right and wrong. To a progressivist, nothing is always true or always false. Truths change, values change, teaching methods change. He must build new “truths” through experience and group judgment.
A traditional curriculum emphasizes reading and writing and language because our religion is one of the Word—when we do not use language well, we are blunting the edge of our greatest tool. Because of progressive education, millions of Americans are basically illiterate and cannot read the Bible—or are attracted to watered down versions or use words in inexact ways.
When John Dewey and others first promulgated the new progressive philosophy in the early 1900s, it no doubt sounded terrible to the teachers in the classrooms who still thought children needed to be taught skills and information and trained in righteousness. But Dewey and others kept writing and teaching in the graduate schools of education and psychology until progressivism eventually worked its way down to the local schools through the new teachers and administrators. Today we see the full flowering of their work: every manifestation of Christianity has been eliminated from American public schools, and social issues and fads receive more attention than academic learning.
There is a greater need than ever for solid traditional Christian schools and teachers. Abeka’s calling is to spread the vision and to be of help to those who share it.