by Juan J. Guajardo
The educational world took little note when the little but significant book was published in 1981 by Ross House Books (Vallecito, California). Today, R. J. Rushdoony’s The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum is even more important than it was when he submitted it to Valley Christian University as partial requirement for a doctoral degree. Christian parents and pedagogues would do well to heed Rushdoony’s template for a God-centered course of study for our children.
The thesis of this book is that whereas the public school curriculum “to be true to itself, must teach statism [the supremacy of civil government], a Christian curriculum, to be true to itself, must be in every respect Christian.” (p. 12) In each of his 37 short chapters, Rushdoony hammers home the antithesis between his ideal of a Christian curriculum and philosophy, and the curricula and philosophy he calls statist, relativistic, or humanistic (that which views human beings as the ultimate standard for right and wrong, “the final reference point in human experience” (p. 95)). He identifies the basic curriculum as the liberal arts, the original term for the course of study of a free man.
The short excerpts below give glimpses into Rushdoony’s prophetic ideas and incisive writing. Chapters are divided among five untitled parts.
Chapter 1: “Religion, Culture, and Curriculum” (pp. 3-12)
When a state takes over the responsibilities for education from the church or from Christian parents, the state has not thereby disowned all religions but simply disestablished Christianity in favor of its own statist religion, usually a form of humanism.
Only by reclaiming…the curriculum of Christian liberty…can education be again a liberating force, and man be delivered from the devastating and enslaving forces of amoral statism and anarchistic individualism.
Chapter 2: “Changing a Curriculum” (pp. 13-14)
The area of the unchanging is in God and eternity, not in time and man. When China adopted a relativistic faith in change as ultimate, its education became static and unchanging, because no transcendental God and law remained to provide a critique of history or a principle of differentiation.
The sound curriculum will be the relevant curriculum, and relevancy requires two factors, a world of absolutes and a world of change. It is not enough to hold to God’s absolutes: they must be continually and freshly related to the changing times. Relevancy is more than subjects: it is also a faith which makes connections, establishes relationships, and grows by its ability to bring things into meaningful and useful relationships. A curriculum cannot be relativistic without failure, but it must be relevant.
Chapter 3: “Education and the Autonomy of Critical Thought” (pp.15-25)
The basic and central offense of Christianity was its doctrine of authority, the concept that an absolute and sovereign God has an absolute authority over man, is man’s only savior, and provides man with an infallible word.
As long as the educational curriculum functions consciously or unconsciously in terms of the autonomy of critical thought, the school remains, however evangelical its faculty, an implicitly anti-Christian institution. The autonomy of critical thought is an educational philosophy which spells the death of educational, personal, and social progress.
Chapter 4: “The Curriculum and the Resurrection” (26-33)
The fall of man was into sin and death; the redemption of man is into righteousness and life towards a purpose.
A humanistic and relativistic education has no transcendental frame of reference; it has no goal or purpose outside of man. Education then has as its goal education for man’s sake….
A Christian liberal arts curriculum is a purposive curriculum in terms of the doctrine of the resurrection and the calling of man to exercise dominion and to subdue the earth.
Chapter 1: “History versus Social Science” (pp. 37-43)
Modern texts are written as the story of man’s evolution upward to the liberating world of science. For writers of statist textbooks, man makes history. From the Biblical perspective, God is the determiner of history.
History is not a social science; it is a theological science, because it is an aspect of God’s creation.
Chapter 2: “Teaching Bible” (pp. 44-47)
Bible classes are a failure unless the essentials of Biblical faith are applied to every course in the school.
Only those who feel its power and excitement can communicate it, and only those who know the God of Scripture can teach the truth about it.
Chapter 3: “Grammar” (pp. 48-50)
A people’s religion will profoundly affect in time their language and grammar.
Language and grammar reflect the time-sense of a people, their religious faith concerning the meaning of time.
Chapter 4: “Teaching Composition” (pp. 51-54)
Grammar gives structure, intelligent sequence, and temporal order to work arrangements.
The teaching of language far more than the teaching of logic is the teaching of sound and logical thinking.
Condensing encyclopedia articles is good training.
Oral composition is excellent training. It requires us to face the results of our thinking in their audience impact. Its necessary ingredients are the same as writing: having something to say, and saying it clearly and ably.
“How to” writing is also good. Sentence structure is important. Outlining an essay, locating topic sentences, parsing, etc., all need to be taught.
A proverb can be used as the first sentence of an essay to develop and explain its meaning.
The goal is not creative writing but good writing.
Chapter 5: “Mathematics” (pp. 55-58)
Greek humanism was hostile to the idea of infinity, in mathematics, science, and religion. [M]odern humanism ascribes infinity to the universe… It is religiously essential for them [all] that man create his own world and hence his own mathematics.
The Christian metaphysics of mathematics is founded in the being of the triune God.
Chapter 6: “Teaching Civics, Government and Constitution” (pp. 59-62)
A faithless ministry in the state should be as important a concern to us as a faithless ministry in the church.
Chapter 7: “Science” (pp. 63-66)
In every area of life and thought, all facts derive their meaning from the religious presuppositions of man.
Some sciences have indeed had a major impact on modern life, not in their theoretical aspects, but in their practical effects.
With a few exceptions, the great advances in the sciences have come in association with industry, and the research scientists associated with the various corporations are basic to the modern world.
We are also told that because the sciences are concerned with the physical world, they are concerned with reality, it being implied that Christianity is not concerned with reality but with vague spiritual assumptions.
Chapter 8: “Science and Freedom” (pp. 67-70)
It is basic to any teaching of science to discard the idea of an impersonal realm of law and matter.
Science cannot long continue when the physical universe becomes a world of brute, meaningless factuality, and man’s only hope then is in freedom as the gratuitous act of negation.
Chapter 9: “Teaching Science” (pp. 71-74)
The humanist’s hope rests on the faith that infinite potentiality belongs to nature rather than to God.
If we teach the history of scientific research, development, and invention, and the role of the various areas in that history of development and application, we will more accurately know the place of science and its meaning.
Chapter 10: “The Experimental Method” (pp. 75-79)
If science is limited to the experimental method, a great many of the sciences, such as geology, paleontology, botany, and more, are not scientific.
We must grasp the implications of the pretensions of the scientific method. If not, because it is so deeply imbedded in our culture and books, students will unconsciously pick up this equation of science with knowledge, a dangerous and fallacious equation.
Apart from the Bible, we have the superstitions of modern humanistic education (e.g., spontaneous generation, evolution, etc.) and a growing moral decay and social disintegration. Education declines, and barbarism sets in.
We begin with the fact of God as creator, and the world as His handiwork. Apart from that fact, we have, not knowledge, but misinformation.
Chapter 11: “Music” (pp. 80-84)
The focus of humanistic music is on “the life of the individual.” By means of music, the individual is to find his emotional self-expression, development, and enrichment.
Bach’s music followed the standards, i.e., expressing religious emotion, joy, or in some other way manifesting a unity of mind and feeling.
We sometimes hear in the new music, not only a tonal dissonance, but a clash of emotional and intellectual responses, so that we cannot react as we normally do.
Chapter 12: “Foreign Languages” (pp. 85-87)
[A]s Adam,…redeemed man is sent into all the world [with the dominion mandate]. Christianity has fostered foreign language study because Christianity sees its necessary commission to all the world.
[O]ur faith places emphasis on languages as the vehicle…of God’s revelation, and it tells us of the origin of diverse languages in the curse of Babel… The Bible reshapes every language it is translated into, and it draws it closer thereby to all other languages.
Chapter 1: “Education and the Fall: Up or Down?” (pp. 91-96)
[W]hereas once the reformed faith was a total world and life view, it is now only a theology, a fact which is compelling evidence of retreat.
The Christian believes that man feels guilty and is guilty because he is fallen….The humanist believes…that man is fallen because he feels guilty.
Chapter 2: “The Covenant: With God or Man?” (pp. 97-100)
[M]an cannot in his rebellion do more than try to appropriate the conditions of God’s creation without God Himself.
[W]here man declares his independence from God, he will…declare his independence from man also, and the result is radical anarchy.
Having declared himself to be god, autonomous man will allow no other gods before him and will be at total war with God, man, and meaning.
Chapter 3: “Education and the Death of Man” (pp. 101-104)
The problem then is that man cannot know himself in a world without meaning, because there is no criterion for knowledge, discernment, or judgment… [T]he logical conclusion of the Death of God idea is the death of man.
Chapter 4: “Conflict and Resistance” (pp. 105-109)
The Christian today, as in the days of Rome, is dealing with a state [centralized civil government] which denies that there is any conflict even while it persecutes the Christian, a state which says that the Christian’s life and existence must be on its terms, and which affirms another god while denying that it is hostile to Christianity.
The civil authority, where it regulates a building as a building per se, i.e., for sanitary facilities, fire protection, and the like is to be obeyed, whether or not the law is to us a sound one. However, where the state seeks to license, accredit, control, or in any way govern the Christian School as a school, it is then another question. It is a usurpation of power by the state, and it involves the control of one religion, Christianity, by another, Humanism.
Chapter 5: “The Sovereignty of God in Education” (pp. 110-115)
[T]he heart of Moloch worship was not the human sacrifice by blood but the human sacrifice in daily submission to the king as absolute lord and sovereign.
The issue today is Moloch worship. The very reason for the establishment of state schools has been, since the days of Horace Mann, the control of man by the state.
Chapter 6: “Christian Education and the University” (pp. 116-118)
The modern idea of the school, in particular as it comes in focus in the university, is very plainly Christian. The classical world had a few academies, but the idea of a university was alien to it. The presupposition of a university is a universe, a unified entity. This is clearly the world created by one God, with one law, and one universe.
Chapter 1: “The Philosophy of Discipline” (pp. 121-123)
Chastisement is corrective and merciful in purpose… The word discipline is close to the word disciple. It means to…drill and educate them [sic], and to bring them into effective obedience to someone or something. Chastisement without discipline is ineffective.
A man who can barely read and write, and whose ability to organize and order his life is almost nil, becomes, when converted, a redeemed child of God, but a very ineffective one.
Parents need to be told that they are not paying the Christian School to take over the problems of education and discipline from their hands, but to assist the parent in that task.
Undisciplined schools and teachers cannot be productive of disciplined students.
Chapter 2: “Student Problems” (pp. 124-127)
The state schools are increasingly incompetent in dealing with problems of delinquent behavior because they begin with false premises… The root problem in all delinquency at whatever age is always sin. In any case of unrepentant sin, the Bible gives…a clear-cut duty: excommunication.
There is a legitimate place for unbeliever’s children in a Christian School, but there is no place for a delinquent child, no matter whose home he comes from.
Chapter 3: “Humanism in the Classroom” (pp. 128-131)
A man cannot be holy or moral outside of Jesus Christ, nor can a man have true knowledge apart from Him… A school course which is not systematically Biblical is a hidden enemy to the faith.
Chapter 4: “The Teacher as Student” (pp. 132-135)
The teacher who does not grow in his knowledge of his subject in methodology and content is a very limited teacher, and his pupils are “under-privileged” learners.
Our teaching must be well organized and systematic; if we ourselves are not prone to being orderly in our thinking, our teaching will not be so.
Chapter 5: “Sexual Differences in the Christian School” (pp. 136-139)
The two areas in which alone men excel are aggression (Christians would say dominion) and abstract thought.
It is…desirable, where the growth of a school permits it, to have separate classes for both boys and girls in each grade. It will increase the learning potential of the boys.
The humanistic categories of equality and inequality should be alien to us. The key factors are grace, God’s creation and ordination, and our faithfulness and obedience to Him.
It is not a man’s world, nor a woman’s world. This is God’s world, and we are His creatures, called to serve Him. Our differences are God-given and are to complement one another in His service and to His praise and glory.
Chapter 6: “Whose Child?” (pp. 140-143)
For us as Christians the family is the basic institution in society, but the family is the trustee and steward of its children, not their owner.
Chapter 7: “Biblical Motivation for Teachers and Students” (pp. 144-148)
In our day,…sin is not seen as depravity but as deprivation.
The Christian School must restore God’s requirements in order to get godly results. The sinners and the lazy need to be afraid, and the godly need to be encouraged and praised.
[W]e cannot ask the teachers to subsidize the school-children’s parents by keeping tuition low, and therefore salaries low. This is a sin….
Chapter 8: “The Purpose of Learning” (pp. 149-152)
For the Christian, all factuality is God-created and the product of His eternal purpose; all facts are thus totally rational….
Everything that the state school teaches is governed by an over-riding premise, that man be served, not God.
Chapter 9: “Education for Freedom” (pp. 153-157)
The two basic instruments for the natural salvation of man are, first, education, and second, state planning and control. Both these instruments are in full use today.
Christian education is…not the curriculum with the Bible added to it, but a curriculum in which the word of God governs and informs every subject.
Chapter 10: “Education and Power” (pp. 158-161)
Education is…the power area in the modern world and the arena for the struggle between Christianity and humanism.
The recovery of the power of godliness requires a radical break…with humanism and humanistic education.
Chapter 11: “Theology and Pedagogy” (pp. 162-164)
The Christian child is confirmed in the faith of his fathers as he approaches maturity; the confirmation rite of the humanist child is adolescence and its rebelliousness or existentialism.
Chapter 12: “The Impossibility of Neutrality” (pp. 165-168)
[Humanism] presupposes neutrality in the knower and the known. [I]t assumes that man is not a fallen creature, at war with his Maker.
If my children act as though I do not exist, nor am to be thought about, spoken about or referred to, then they, without a word said, are manifesting hatred of me, and are warring against me.
Chapter 1: “Christianity versus Humanism” (pp. 171-174)
It is the obligation of every area to be Christian: church, state, school, family, the vocations, the arts and science, and all things else, must serve only Christ the Lord.
The purpose of state schools, as laid down by Horace Mann, James G. Carter, and others, was…first, to establish centralism, the priority of the state over every area of life, and second, to eliminate Biblical faith.
Christian Schools are a necessity, or else we will have anti-Christian schools. For Christianity to by-pass education, to neglect Christian schools, is suicidal.
Chapter 2: “Humanism: The Established Religion of State Schools” (pp. 175-183)
[A]ll education is religious… [A]ll schools are religious establishments… [T]he function of state schools is therefore a religious function.
Chapter 3: “The Religious Goals of Humanism (pp. 184-190)
Dewey regarded his position as a religious one. For him, truth came, not by revelation nor from the supernatural; rather the “one sure road of access to truth” is “the road of patient, cooperative inquiry operating by means of observation, experiment, record, and controlled reflection.”
For Dewey…the unity of mankind is an unquestioned and dogmatic faith… The goal of history for Dewey is a humanistic New Jerusalem and millennial regime he calls…“the great Community.” There is grace in Dewey’s religious world, but it comes, not from God but from the human community…
This is the new model for democracy: its great instrument of control is the state school. The struggle for Christian Schools is the battle for the survival of Biblical faith. The Great Community…is simply Babylon the Great of Scripture, the great enemy of the faith and of Christian man.
Decades before Ray Sutton identified the structure of the biblical covenant (see That You May Prosper, Institute for Christian Economics), Rushdoony was already writing in covenantal terms. Rushdoony’s book is replete with discussion in those concepts, i.e., sovereignty, hierarchy, ethics, sanctions, and succession.
Before providing a nine-point contrast between Christianity and humanism (pp. 172-173), he points out that they “are diametrically opposed religions; one is the worship of the sovereign and triune God, the other…the worship of man.” When one does not presuppose the creator who is above all His creation yet who can live personally in His children, one must then presuppose that power comes from elsewhere or someone else. As listed above, Chapter 5 of Part III concentrates on the issue of sovereignty in education. Rushdoony criticizes an unfaithful church influenced by “neoplatonic and Manichaean ideas,” consequently withdrawing “from the world,…from education,…and all things else.” (p. 114) This visible Church of Christ has rejected His lordship, denying at least implicitly His transcendence and immanence.
Regarding hierarchy, Rushdoony echoes the biblical commands to the parents to rear their children in the Lord. Chapter 6 of Part IV deals with the ownership of the child; neither the family’s nor the state’s, he belongs to God. However, when the family abdicates its responsibility and privilege, other institutions will step in loco parentis. Since American churches have not been very supportive of families in the educating of their children, parents have far too often entered into covenant with the civil ministers. The book is a bit dated, for in the last three decades the home school movement (of which Rushdoony himself was an integral part) has forced the church to deal with Christian education beyond Sunday school and Children’s church.
Ethics deals with the rules of right and wrong. Rushdoony addresses the antithetical nature of the issue: either the Bible is the standard, or some man-created, man-centered system of thought governs the actions of mankind. The Bible must be the plumb line, the measuring stick for every facet of every subject matter to which our children are exposed. Unfortunately, however, “If the Bible has any place in the modern curriculum at any level, it is no longer as the word of God; it is now taught as ‘The Bible as Literature,’ i.e., the Bible as a human resource for man’s enjoyment.” (p. 160)
But God will not be mocked. The American abandonment of biblical principles and standards for all of life has brought upon us sanctions of sobering proportions. Rushdoony writes, “In 1815, the average age of criminals in the United States was 45, in 1960, 19.” (p. 8) By 2011, about 97,000 children are being housed every day in juvenile criminal facilities, while another 10,000 await trial in adult facilities (chidrensdefense.org). These numbers do not include youth who are not processed and jailed, not to mention all those who do not even get arrested. We might add declining scores on standardized exams, unemployment rates, and a host of other ills; but suffice it to say that American education is not a pretty picture. Despite the educational establishment’s insistence on shifting the blame (which arguably can justifiably be placed on families and churches), the fact remains that as our society has sown to the flesh, corruption has our culture reaped.
And that leads us to the fifth point of covenant: succession. What is the future of our people? Christian parents, pastors, and public servants must repent of our war on and hatred of God. We must return to a comprehensive view of the application of God’s Law/Word in every area of life, not the least of which is the training of our children. That was Rushdoony’s passion. His book is a prophetic call for educators and those interested in our future to align ourselves with what God says are the essential elements of a liberal arts curriculum, i.e., what a free man must learn and master.
The chapters of this book were delivered as one or more lectures to a variety of groups… The contents were written over a period of fifteen years, and sometimes expanded as Christian School teachers and administrators by the hundreds discussed these matters with me in question and answer sessions. (Foreword)
The dating of this book is more apparent when we consider that some of the writing took place as far back as the 1960’s. Not knowing how much editing and revising were done before publication, we can presume to be 21st century armchair editors and critics.
The nature of the original oral genre delivered at different times and sites makes organization more of a challenge than taking a set of written compositions and piecing them cohesively into one book with one thesis. One challenge is minimizing redundancy; another is chapter and Part(s) groupings.
Today’s reader could benefit from having the major sections (Parts) titled. If the chapters are organized into five parts there must be a thematic, chronological, or otherwise rhetorical reason for such grouping. If so, simple titles or headings would be helpful. We won’t presume to edit a new edition of The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum here, but if Chalcedon (the educational organization founded by Rushdoony) were to update and revise the book, it should be well received in our current climate of educational crisis.
This book majors on the “what” of education, with only a couple of chapters discussing the “how.” That is what its title promises, and that is what it delivers. Overall, the book is a jewel, one dripping with nuggets to be taken. But beyond its power and excellence, it addresses a topic that is crucially important for today’s Christian community. We must return to the study of what God says is important, not what man’s opinions tell us we should teach our children. We conclude with Rushdoony’s vision and appreciation for American education:
I believe that the Christian Schools will triumph and will educate all America in terms of God’s word and requirement. I believe that we shall see a steady stepping-up of the teaching, so that, in due time, the content will be increased, and the time-span of education shortened. I believe that, in due time, the Christian School will teach more than is now taught in kindergarten through high school in seven or at most nine grades, so that students will enter colleges, universities, and vocational schools in their very early teens, and enter the world of work by the time they are twenty. The Christian School movement is the Quiet Revolution of our time, the great and enduring one.
I am grateful that I have had my small part in that revolution. (Foreword)