Review: Gordon Clark, Christian Philosophy of Education

This is one of the early forays into the modern approach to Christian education/Christian schools. Clark doesn’t give anything like a program or curriculum.  He does give good guidelines. And as always, his writing style is top-notch.Image result for gordon h clark

The first half of the book is a summary of A Christian View of Men and Things.  But perhaps his attack on “neutrality” is a new emphasis.  As the beginning of the book is on worldview, and since he covered the same ground in A Christian View, we will just summarize the high points.

(1) Education presupposes a view of man (Clark 9). Is man a monkey? A machine? A bunch of atoms? Or the image of God?

(2) The failure of agnosticism/skepticism regarding ultimate matters: a skeptic finds that nothing is to be found, presumably including knowledge.  This makes it worthless for education. The agnostic says he does not know which propositions are true, but presumably he knows that it is better to eat than to starve (34).

(3) The atheism of Russell (unyielding foundation of despair) leads to the pessimism of the existentialists, prompting Clark’s remark: “The only reasonable reaction to humanism is suicide….If the humanists want to be consistent they should kill themselves” (54).

(4) Clark anticipates Alvin Plantinga’s argument against naturalism by noting that the evolutionists can’t give an account of teaching math: “Sooner or later….the pupil will ask, “‘Why should I learn arithmetic? Then if the teacher is authentic and honest she will say, ‘Arithmetic helps you when you lose your faith in God.’ Or, she will say, with more truth, ‘Arithmetic will help you gain power and dominate other men.’ Or, with true zoological scholarship she may say, ‘Arithmetic is a phase of the evolutionary process that leads to the extinction of the human species’” (58-59).

The Problem with Dewey

This is the meat.  I want nothing short of a scorched-earth, nuclear wasteland when dealing with John Dewey.  But let’s keep it brief, at least as regards his theory of progress. “There is no criterion by which to judge of change, nor is there a goal which fixes the direction of progress” (Clark 89).

Goals of education

“Education should be as thorough as technical training; but not so narrow and restricted; for the aim is a complete man and a well-balanced life” (203).

Neutrality isn’t just impossible.  It is silly

“O God, we neither deny nor assert thy existence; and O God, we neither obey nor disobey thy commands. We are neutral” (207).


The book can’t help the fact that it is dated in some respects.  On the other side, that can also be seen as evidence of how prophetic Clark was. And while there are a bunch of good jokes/horror stories/news reports about how silly some of the education curricula is, and no matter how disliked Common Core is, improvements have been made.  No one is incompetent 100% of the time.

Clark has a section on whether emotions are proper to the Christian.  To his credit, he notes that the dictionary definition of emotion can’t apply to the Christian or the Christian’s God.  Such a view would have the perfect changing to the imperfect, or given over to rationality. Well and good. It’s not so clear how Clark deals with proper emotions as found in the psalms.


5 thoughts on “Review: Gordon Clark, Christian Philosophy of Education

  1. Why do you hate Dewey?

    Also, I don’t know how you can possibly back-up the idea that education (in practice) requires a teacher or a curriculum that grasps first principles. If you want to argue that schools should impart wisdom, ok, they’re failing. But if all a school should do is give you accreditation for tasks (doing math, reading, writing, competency is variety of sciences, etc.), then you don’t need to address depth.

    But I think the ideal of a liberal arts school is elitist, an illusion, and, in today’s climate, a joke. So, I have no expectation that schools (of whatever grade) should be able to form character or impart wisdom.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Can you give any more specifics? What I understand is that he focused on holistic learning, hands-on crafts, less authoritative teaching strategies involving group work and discovery etc.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hands on learning is fine if that is what is needed for the lesson. Educators go astray when they force every lesson to be hands-on. Group work is good on the extremely rare occasion.

        The above is fine as a tool. Dewey, however, went beyond that. He didn’t believe in the supernatural or in anything that didn’t reduce to physical atoms. Therefore, anything that reinforced habits was what was needed.

        Now I am speculating, but I think it is a legitimate inference: he probably didn’t like lectures because of the intellectual focus. Early materialists like Dewey and Skinner knew they really couldn’t explain how abstract concepts arose from sense-formation; therefore, remove the focus from abstract concepts.

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