So you think you can spell?

The Higher School Certificate (the final school exams before university entrance in New South Wales) is a strange beast: apparently it is the biggest test you will ever face in your life. Whoever got that rumour going among the high schools has obviously never tried to understand a mobile phone contract. But the rumour lives on, and it can be used to generate pressure on the students—sometimes a pressure that is too great for them to bear. It is sad to see such high hopes placed upon one exam. It is even sadder to see those high hopes end in tragedy.

Education: who would want to be without it? The rich wealth available for human knowledge in science, the arts, literature and the rest add to life as surely as any compilation of little-known items of sporting trivia—perhaps, arguably, even more so. Education brings us information, knowledge and, occasionally, even wisdom. Education promises improvement, advancement, enhancement. For many, it promises upward mobility and a better life than that of the previous generation.

Education: its value was once a point in common between Mr ‘Enlightenment Man’ and his Christian neighbour. To be ‘enlightened’ was to have the soul flooded with the pure light of reason, and once that happened, life could never be the same again. Primitive thoughts led to primitive lives; rational thought led to rational and morally improved lives. Christians got involved in education, in curriculum and in the founding of schools because education was the way to moral improvement in society. The Christians, however, fought tooth and nail for the Scriptures to form a part of a child’s education, for how can moral improvement come if the light of Christ is not there alongside the light of reason?

A lot happens in a school. There are values and attitudes that are taught; there are values and attitudes that are just caught. There are things being taught powerfully by the teacher’s classroom curriculum, and there are things on the hidden curriculum that are learned even more powerfully. A lot happens as the light of reason is turned on. Many things begin to seem reasonable. Other things are deemed unreasonable.

Peter, the likeable but ham-fisted chief disciple, once found something unreasonable about Jesus. Even if he had a reasonably good education by the standards of his day, it was probably nothing compared to most of those who can now read about his encounter with his master. But by his ‘light of reason’, Peter didn’t like Jesus talking about Jesus’ coming death, and he tried to hush him up. “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus rebuked him. “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:33).

Interesting: just to think like a human being is to think not like God. Just to be ‘reasonable’, according to human ways of thinking about this world, is to be on the side of Satan.

Education: without God’s word, there is no illumination. In fact, education solely by the ‘pure light of reason’—without revelation—is an education that keeps us all in the darkness. It is perfectly possible to be always learning but never arriving at the truth (2 Tim 3:7).

Education: a force greater than ourselves—a force capable of much good. But when severed from the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ, education is a force also capable of much harm. Sometimes when it is blown up out of all proportion to the rest of life, it can even kill.

Learning to spell can seem so harmless. Yet in the very same class, we can be imbibing the philosophy of a godless world. I wonder what education is really teaching us.

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