“The rod and reproof give wisdom ….” A wise man wrote that more than 3,000 years ago. Now stop for a moment and think on that proverb. (That word wisdom means to become a skillful learner.) When is the last time you ever heard anyone connect—or even vaguely associate—a spanking with education?
Look at the rest of the proverb: “… but a child left to himself brings his mother to shame.” In other words, a neglected child brings shame on the family because that neglect adversely affects his ability to learn—to grow in wisdom and understanding. According to Lange’s Commentary, “left to himself” literally means, “he who is exempted from discipline, who is left to his own will” (emphasis mine throughout).
In that one proverb, Solomon actually described two opposite approaches to education. One is a disciplined, structured environment where children are corrected and punished in love. In the other, children are more or less left to themselves to decide right from wrong—an environment void of structure and discipline.
Let’s examine this biblical link between discipline and education. First of all, should there even be one? And if so, why? And what are the consequences of the opposite approach in educating our youth—one in which there is no discipline?
Rise of Rationalism
Over the last two generations, much has been written about the removal of structure and discipline in education. The late Allan Bloom described this cultural upheaval in his 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind. There he detailed the broad substitution of an accepted standard of absolute good and evil with “more flexible values,” and the “longing to shuck off constraints and have one peaceful, happy world.” Bloom attributed this 20th-century rise of value relativism in American education to the influence of German rationalism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He blamed German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche most for obliterating the idea that there is good and evil or right and wrong, as had been traditionally taught in education.
Many years before Bloom authored his critical analysis, another commentator correctly identified the main problem emerging in education. Well ahead of his time, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote nearly 40 years ago, “The 19th and 20th centuries have witnessed the absorption of German ‘rationalism’ into the educational bloodstream. There has been a dangerous drift into materialism and collectivism. God is ignored. Revelation is rejected” (Plain Truth, August 1965).
Rationalism is the belief that human reason is the final authority—the chief source of all knowledge. Encyclopedia Britannica defines the term this way: “In its commonest use it is applied to all who decline to accept the authority of the Bible as the infallible record of a divine revelation, and is practically synonymous with free thinking. This type of rationalism is based largely upon the results of modern historical and archaeological investigation. The story of the Creation in the book of Genesis is shown, from the point of view of chronology, to be a poetic or symbolic account by the discovery of civilizations of much greater antiquity” (11th edition).
Mr. Armstrong often pointed to the flawed foundation of modern education: the never-proven theory of evolution. Its underlying premise is one that rejects God’s authority, if not His existence. The problem with this, as Mr. Armstrong noted, is if you remove God from the educational system, you remove the absolute source of all true, foundational knowledge.
You remove the final authority for right and wrong. You also remove much of the discipline and structure needed in the classroom.
Not surprisingly, then, God’s saying “the rod and reproof give wisdom” doesn’t much matter in the field of academia. In fact, because God says it, is reason enough for man to search for some other way—to rationalize around God’s truth.
Paradox in Education
Last year in the Salisbury Review, Leonard Irvine made the case for the scientific link between the older, more traditional system of education and good behavior in human beings. He wrote, “Although it is arguable that the modern style of teaching can produce a reasonable standard of education, it certainly does not appear to produce good behavior in boys and youths. In primary education, the gradual abandonment of the traditional style of teaching, in favor of a lax and more pupil-friendly style, has coincided with the period that took this country [England] from one of the most lawful of Western nations to one of the most violent and criminal of the present time” (Summer 2003). The same comment could well apply to America.
Mr. Armstrong, who died in 1986, often commented on this paradox in education. Why such a remarkable disparity between educational advancements on the one hand, and yet pitiful social ills on the other? Western education has produced minds capable of advancing technology to a point of what, only a few years ago, might have seemed like science fiction. Yet, all of this knowledge has not solved man’s most basic problems. Scientific marvels in medicine have not ended sickness and disease. Advancement in communication, while dramatically changing the way we live, has not stamped out international wars, civil unrest or family strife. In fact, as Irvine notes in his article, the nations that lead the world in higher education are also the most violent!
What a paradox! How can a system of education so superbly advanced on the one hand be so inadequate in solving problems and eliminating evil?
The Scientific Link
Irvine continued in his article, “Various reasons have been put forward as to why crime is now so widespread. The ‘permissive society,’ decline of the nuclear family and the rise of the number of single mothers, drugs, etc. There is no basis for saying that any one, or all, of these reasons could have produced the increase in crime. What must be looked for is a change that made young boys and youths less able to resist bad behavior, less able to say no to the taking of drugs and less mindful of the consequences of their behavior for themselves and others. It is not violent crime that we must combat but the thing that makes a person a violent criminal. Although fighting crime ‘at the sharp end’ must continue, this society is producing more criminally inclined boys and youths than its law enforcement structure can possibly deal with.”
To his credit, Irvine attempts to get at the cause of our societal evils—especially that of crime and violence. “The paradox is that in the time up to the 1950s, discipline at home and at school was harsh. Then there was little crime. Today, with the ‘child centered’ style of education and the abolition of any form of smacking in school, children are more violent than they ever were.” He makes this point to attack the modern thinking that discipline either causes children to withdraw or else teaches them that violence is acceptable. In fact, what Irvine suggests, is that students need more discipline and structure at home and in school—not less.
To support his conclusions, Irvine offers a scientific explanation—pointing to the modern phenomenon of mental disorders among children in Western society, like attention deficit disorder (add). One in 20 children (in Western society, that is; seldom does one ever hear of adhd sweeping across some, non-Western, Third World nation) is now diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder of some kind. By 2007, some experts say, the number will increase to a staggering one in seven. This is cause for sounding the alarm because, as Irvine notes in his article, “The link between antisocial behavior and a short attention span is acknowledged by all professional bodies concerned.” In other words, most troublemakers were brought up in an undisciplined environment.
So how ought we to go about improving the attention span of our children—to help bring more structure and discipline into their lives? Mr. Irvine suggests eeg Neurofeedback as one possible solution. This treatment consists of monitoring a child’s brainwaves with an eeg machine, while teaching the subject’s brain to function better through various exercises and games. (A number of athletes use these techniques to enhance their concentration skills in sports.) Treatment might typically involve two or three sessions per week over the course of six months or so. Irvine says it can sometimes bring spectacular results, though it is so expensive few people actually try it.
Instead, most people opt for mind-altering drugs, like Ritalin. It helps regulate a child’s disruptive behavior at home and improves concentration at school. Understandably, many parents and teachers are avid supporters of the amphetamine-type drug.
But there are also an increasing number of critics who point to the drug’s many side effects: lethargy, depression, poor appetite, insomnia—not to mention the long-term effects which have yet to be determined, since the drug’s popularity only exploded in the 1990s. Aside from these side effects, the drug does not bring about permanent change. A change in behavior is noticeable only while the subject is on the medication.
Both of these “solutions” deal only with the effect of the problem, rather than its cause—which is another story in itself. But there is an important point to be made from the findings of scientists who spend their lives dealing with effects. Irvine stresses this point in his article: “Independent tests have shown an increase in IQ of 23 points in children treated foradd. The really important point is that the treatment approximates [or brings one near] to normal learning. … What the treatment does is to lengthen the attention span of the subject.” In other words, a student learns more—is, in fact, smarter—when he can pay attention! Now that we can prove this scientifically, we should all be able to sleep better at night.
The Other Alternative
So what should we do if we want smarter children? Should we ignore the long-term damage and side effects of drugs and opt for a quick fix like Ritalin? Or should we mortgage the home to make sure our children receive their regular neurofeedback treatments?
Well, there is another, more practical, much less popular, alternative to improving the attention span of youths, which Mr. Irvine proposes in his Salisbury Review article: a return to the more disciplined form of teaching and educating children! In comparing these traditional teaching methods with neurofeedback technology, for example, Irvine explains that the latter helps correct problems with short attention span, but without increasing one’s storehouse of knowledge. (Upon correcting the problem, however, a student’s cognitive ability to learn more, from that point forward, will undoubtedly improve.)
But there is no substitute for properly training and teaching children—from the point of infancy on up—to concentrate, pay attention and obey certain definite instructions! This, as Irvine explains, does increase the child’s storehouse of knowledge, because as the child’s attention span improves, year by year, he is learning along the way—adding on top of his previously acquired knowledge.
These early years in a child’s development—from infancy to about age 6—are his most formative years. This is when the child’s personality, character and intelligence are, in many ways, set for life! Child development experts will tell you that about half an individual’s intelligence—his ability to learn and grasp new concepts—is developed in his first three or four years of life! (About 80 percent of that ability is developed by age 8.)
Think on that for a moment! My daughter will be four years old in a few months. To think that half her intelligence is already set—before she has even stepped foot into a classroom—is a sober, if not frightening, reality for me as a father. It makes me wonder, has my teaching and training really helped prepare her for what’s ahead? Has it brought discipline into her life? Is she gradually learning how to be more attentive so that she might learn more down the road—and at a faster pace? I suppose no parent would be completely satisfied with his responses to those questions.
But think about how many parents have never even asked those questions. How many have simply passed the buck—letting the responsibility of training and teaching their children fall upon other individuals or institutions? How many parents have simply left their children to fend for themselves?
Train Up a Child
Writing for the Daily Mail in London, Colette Douglas Home asked, “How many dog owners do you know who check their pooch into kennels during office hours? I can’t think of any. Time without number I have heard people who would love to own a dog lament their inability. ‘It wouldn’t be fair on the animal because we both work,’ they say. ‘We can’t offer a dog the attention, exercise and established routine it takes to make them a well trained pet’” (Aug. 1, 2003).
Yet, she continued, many of these same people drop their kids off at daycare facilities without hardly batting an eye. “No doubt those parents will gnash their teeth in fury at the implication that using daycare is treating an infant worse than they would a dog. I don’t apologize. If we wouldn’t do it to a dog, it is something we all need to think about.”
She went on to explain that if a dog goes berserk and tears up the house, we discipline and train it. But if a child throws a tantrum and does the same, we put him on Ritalin. I’m not suggesting that child rearing is as simplistic as training a canine. A child is not an animal. But that’s the whole point! If we would invest time, energy and money into teaching an animal how to behave in the house, isn’t it a thousand times more important for a little human being made in the likeness and image of God?
When animals are brought into this world, they are equipped with instinct. And while domesticated pets might be trained to behave a certain way, or perhaps perform a few tricks, they are still, in the end, just animals with instinct. They cannot learn to think or reason or acquire knowledge. Never will they be able to develop language or writing skills. Neither will they be able to appreciate fine culture. And yet, within just a few weeks after birth, sometimes days (depending on what it is) animals can pretty much fend for themselves.
Human babies are different. They are born utterly helpless—with no knowledge. Everything they do in life they must learn to do—eat, crawl, walk, talk, dress, tie shoes, read, write, sing, etc.
A little one must also learn to respect authority, to follow instructions, to pay attention, to think and reason. That child must learn how to learn! And parents—whether we accept it or not—are responsible most for preparing their children for education—to teach them how to learn. We are their most important educators in life. Not public or private schools, not higher education, not government programs or community organizations—and certainly not music or television programs.
God’s instruction on this subject is clearly outlined in another succinct proverb: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
How many parents today view themselves as educators, first and foremost?
The Lesson of Obedience
Perhaps the greatest sin in the prosperous, highly educated nations of the West is that of omission—or neglect. We’ve certainly committed our share of sins against God’s law—doing things God forbids. But we are also guilty of not doing that which God commands. God says in James 4:17, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” In Hebrews 2:3, God says we could miss out on salvation by mere neglect.
That children cannot pay attention in school is not the real problem here. The problem is with parentswho will not pay attention to the needs of their children. It’s with deadbeat dads who will not step forward and lead the family with loving authority. It’s with mothers who are too busy competing in the workplace to care for their children at home.
Too often, children are left with daycare, teen babysitters, television and movies, video games, sugary snacks, and lots of toys—anything parents can think of to keep them occupied, or to prevent tantrums. Then, when they enter the more structured environment of school at age 5 or 6, we can’t understand why they won’t pay attention.
Here is how Mr. Armstrong described every parent’s responsibility in raising children: “Always give your children an abundance of love.Show your affection. Then, from tiniest infancy, by loving but unquestionable insistence, bring your child to absolute recognition of your authority—and before he reaches the end of his first year! If spanking is necessary, use it—always being careful not to injure the child, yet making it smart enough to get results” (The Missing Dimension in Sex).
A super-abundance of love—and insisting on obedience. It’s not that complicated. But it is difficult to put into practice because it takes so much time and unselfish sacrifice. It takes parents who pay attention to their children—educating, teaching and training.
“Don’t be afraid of what the crackpot child psychologists fear,” Mr. Armstrong continued, “to make him feel ‘guilty.’ When a child disobeys, he is guilty, and must be made to realize it!
“When we disobey God, He tells us plainly, in the Bible, that we are guilty! Yet God loved us enough to give Christ to die for us, that the sin may be forgiven, upon repentance.
“So let the child know he is guilty—but he can be forgiven upon repentance—which means to change from the spirit of rebellion to an attitude of willing obedience.”
In other words, teach our children what God is teaching us! That has always been God’s way.
Man’s way is to let children do as they please. If they don’t want to listen, it’s just a passing phase—if they throw a tantrum, just let it run its course. Then, hopefully (with fingers crossed), they will turn out to be smart, well-disciplined, law-abiding citizens who raise happy families. That might be the way it works in movies. But not in real life.
God says if you have a foolish child, you drive out the foolishness with the rod of correction (Proverbs 22:15). Here again, we find spanking and discipline closely associated with a child’s ability to learn. The rod and reproof, as we covered earlier, actually give wisdom and understanding.
How is this even possible? How can administering discipline make a child more educated? Because in order to receive knowledge, a child must first learn how to listen and pay attention. (Remember, this has now been scientifically proven!) And nothing establishes this as habit in a little one quite like discipline and correction. How can a human being ever learn from those in authority unless he or she has first been taught to obey and listen to those in authority? If a child has never been taught that, why should we expect him to receive knowledge from an authority figure?
We find, then, that what Leonard Irvine set out to scientifically prove in his article on education is actually somewhat similar to a principle God revealed in Scripture millennia ago. He didn’t quite get to the depth of the solution, however. In his view, a more disciplined and structured educational system will help to improve behavior in students, leading to a society with fewer criminals and thugs. In other words, let’s return to the more traditional style of education and then we will see an improvement in human behavior. Certainly, that would help.
But with God, the emphasis is on changing human behavior first—which then leads to becoming truly educated! Teach a child to honor and obey his parents first (Ephesians 6:1-2; Colossians 3:20)—then they can understand and learn.
Few commentators are willing to go this deep in proposing their “solutions” because it involves much more than changing a curriculum and the disciplinary measures at the local elementary school. In fact, it transfers most of the burden of responsibility to teach, train and discipline youths from the educational system to where it belongs—the parents!
This solution—God’s solution—means fathers must regain control of their families with loving leadership—as provider, protector and educator. It means mothers should assume their primary role as helpmeet to the husband, keeper of the home and the daytime caregiver to the children. And it means children must learn the lesson of obedience first, while growing up in a loving family environment at home.
God Is Ignored
Let us return one final time to Mr. Irvine’s Salisbury Review article. In it, he described the upbringing young people used to enjoy some 12,000 years ago. The mother devoted her whole life to bearing and raising children, whereas the father was always out hunting and killing. This fortuitous predicament gave women more things to think about, whereas with men, their single focus was on finding food for the family. Thus, women came to think differently than men. They developed better communication skills between the two halves of the brain. Men, on the other hand, developed into more focused thinkers. As these special abilities evolved over time, the gap between Homo sapiens and all other species widened. We became far more intelligent.
These differences between men and women cave-people also necessitated the need for different educational training for boys and girls. Boys, he said, need more discipline and structure because they are bigger and stronger and tend to be more violent. Our great patriarchs, after all, killed wild buffalo with sharp stones.
How ridiculous! After correctly identifying a huge problem in our society, he draws a conclusion based on the unproven theory of evolution. Where in the universe is GOD? He either doesn’t exist, or He is completely ignored.
The vast difference between man and animals is there because God created it that way.Man alone,of all living creatures, was made in the image and likeness of the Creator God. Furthermore, the biological, emotional and mental differences between men and women are there because God created both to fulfill altogether different—yet equally important—roles within human marriage and family. Marriage, unimaginable between two creatures of any animal species, is unique to human relationships because God ordained it from the beginning. (If God didn’t ordain it, when and how did it evolve? Which couple, if not Adam and Eve, was the first to “marry”?) Reproduction, though common in all species, is unique among humans because it is a physical type of spiritual salvation. Also, human offspring, unlike animals, must be educated. This process, as we have explained, begins within the family. Children are first taught the lesson of obedience and honor to their parents. And in rearing their children properly, parents too will learn in the process. With everyone fulfilling his or her God-ordained role, we all come to better understand the way God’s family is organized. This awesome purpose is clearly outlined in the pages of the Holy Bible.
To acknowledge any of this—not to mention accept it and live by it—is simply not an option for the most highly educated of our day, whether “conservative” or “liberal.” To even suggest it is to admit that the great Creator God knew what He was doing when He created us. It would imply that the “Instruction Manual” God sent along with His creation, the Holy Bible, is the final authority—the foundation on which all knowledge would be acquired. It would mean that God’s instruction would be the foundation of true education. And that educational system, first and foremost, would require total obedience on our part. It means we would have to behave and pay attention to what God taught. It would bring more discipline and structure in our lives.
But wait a minute. Isn’t that what Mr. Irvine proposed in his article? In some ways, yes—only without God.
It’s difficult to determine what’s worse: The ignorance of many liberals who unabashedly reject God and His way of life, or the arrogance of many conservatives who, while they might advocate certain godly principles, never seem to credit their Source. Both are products of man’s educational system. And modern education, at its worst, denies the very existence of man’s Creator. At best, it simply ignores Him.
In either case, we don’t want to pay attention to our Father. We would just as soon be leftalone.