There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. – Romans 10:12
I’m coming to this topic reluctantly. I don’t like making generalizations without all of the facts, yet that’s exactly where this conversation comes from. We’re talking about the respective influences of two ancient societies on the western education model. That’s a huge topic. I realize I can spend many more hours studying Greek and Hebrew educational models on my own to try to make a fair comparison (I do want to study both in more depth, but not to write a blog post), or I can just respond to the assumptions that initially bothered me in Robin Sampson’s book What Your Child Needs to Know When. I’ll stick to the latter.
Robin Sampson has written several homeschooling books. One is the book that I have, and another is the Heart of Wisdom, which presumably goes into more detail. The Heart of Wisdom website has the same chart (almost) that’s found in What Your Child Needs to Know… and that summarizes the author’s argument. Make sure you check out the chart if you want to follow this post.
My first objection comes from the titles of the columns. One column is “Ancient Greek Education (as taught in Public Schools today)” and the other is “Hebrew Education.” That doesn’t really sound like a fair comparison, because on one hand we’re looking at an ancient system as adapted in modern (US) schools. On the other side, we’re not really sure what time period of Hebrew education we’re looking at, but I can say with reasonable confidence that whatever time period it is, the second column probably represents the favorite concepts of that culture and leaves out the rest. I mean, it’s clear that the chart is supposed to show Hebrew education in a favorable light by comparison.
It turns out we’re probably not looking at “Ancient Greek Education (as taught in Public Schools today)” in the first column either. For one thing, Sparta and Athens were very different societies, but they are indistinguishably combined in this table. Next, this isn’t an ancient system adapted for modern schools. The row “How Accomplished” talks about things that really don’t go on in public schools, especially these:
1) Memorize the laws of Lycurgus, the Spartan lawgiver.
2) Memorize selections from Homer.
3) Develop physical excellence through games, exercises, and the pentathlon (running, jumping, throwing the discus, casting the javelin, and wrestling)”
Now, these might be ideals that our public school systems wish they could follow, but we haven’t gotten anywhere near reproducing these accomplishments on a large scale. Why not? Well… because our culture is not as close to Greek society as the author proposes. Most parents don’t expect their children to perform like this. Some parents do, some school administrators might want to see it happen (maybe not casting the javelin), but our society is fundamentally different from Sparta and most of the methods of accomplishing the Spartan ideal demand very strict discipline and break our society’s ethical code (taking young boys away at 12 or 13 for rigorous military training). We don’t have that discipline, and we don’t pretend to. It also stands to reason that if homeschoolers don’t want to teach this part of the Greek method but still want to teach the Trivium, then this chart doesn’t really help homeschoolers, the intended audience, make a reasoned judgment about why to avoid all Greek influence in their curriculum.
Okay, so the Ancient Greek column repeats that this method prepares children to serve the state, but in the very next row, “Result,” the Greek system is regarded as “self-centered” with the motto “my will be done.” If it’s all about the state, then I don’t see how self-centeredness is the logical conclusion of state-focused training. The last row, “Philosophy” also equates the Greek system to lawlessness. We know that’s not true in Athens, but it does have some semblance to Sparta. Yet I don’t understand the logical jump from “prepare… to serve the state” to “lawlessness: to each his own, look out for Number One, there are no absolutes.” If service to the state is the goal, then that’s a type of specific servitude. The goal of servitude to the state is not met with a philosophy of self-centered lawlessness.
(In Romans 6:18, Paul writes that all men are in servitude, either servants to sin or “servants of righteousness” – KJV. Yet this does not explain confounding servitude to the state with servitude to self, unless its simply that all things that do not serve God serve self.)
Something’s missing here. I think I know what it is. It goes back to that original problem of an “Ancient Greek Education” being merged with “(as taught in Public Schools today).” The self-centeredness of kids today is visible, and widely discussed. It’s not as much a result of Ancient Greek education or modern US education as it is a result of human nature unrestrained. A lack of moral grounding rather than a specific type of training. I think John Taylor Gatto makes a stronger case about public education being designed for the benefit of the state when he describes the much more recently developed industrialized model of education based on the Prussian system. The story behind this is fascinating. Common schools in the US began with a very strong religious motivation, but the goals were also humanistic, meaning to rid society of evil and corruption.
In addition to selfishness, Greek training is said to produce the results of “Violence, corruption, pornography, racial tension, promiscuity, abortion, infanticide, etc.”The Hebrew method is said to produce “Authority with responsibility. Literacy, strong family ties, love of learning, security, independent thinking, high morals and values.” Yet looking back at the common schools, public education in the US was designed for exactly the same reason, to rid society of the former and revive the latter. These goals are man’s– they are humanistic. Did this approach work in public schools?
The evils of society mentioned above are just as applicable to Hebrew society at various times in history as they are to today’s society, and to Ancient Greek society. From the Bible, we know that the Hebrews weren’t always in line with God’s plan. After all, the well-educated (by Hebrew standards!) Pharisees of the New Testament put the Son of God to death for blasphemy. If the Pharisees are not a perfect example of violence and corruption in Hebrew society, then I think the author has a different definition of violence and corruption than I do. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether we’re Ancient Greeks, Ancient Hebrews or modern Americans. If you study the Bible it is clear that sin nature is what corrupts and leads to these vile results.
Then there’s the bizarre “curriculum subjects” section. On the Hebrew side it is asserted that Hebrew education teaches “Creation science.” Yes the Bible includes the story of Creation but that does not automatically make this story a “science.” “Creation science” never really became a subject until well after the theory of evolution appeared to threaten the story of Creation. Creation science, which, unless I’ve misunderstood it, typically seeks physical evidence to support the Creation story, isn’t exactly obedience to God’s authority. Science doesn’t demand reverence, God does.
I must briefly digress. Collecting evidence to support a claim either carries the risk of rejecting the claim (hypothesis), or it’s not science. You don’t collect evidence only to prove a hypothesis. Approaching God’s revealed creation as a scientific hypothesis is a dangerous place to go because you’re admitting a willingness to reject it. With that said, I don’t study Creation science and I would not consider approaching God’s story as a science to be the same as Creation apologetics, which might be supported by scripture (1 Peter 3:15). If you want to reject evolution, you either do it by science or by faith, or even by argument. But you can’t turn science into faith, or faith into science.
The Greeks are said to have taught humanism, evolution and social studies. Of these three, I know the theory of evolution absolutely did not exist in Ancient Greece. When it emerged at the end of the 19th century, atheism played a major role in its development. Unbelief in the one, true sovereign God predates Greek society by just about as long as humans predate Greek society, but the Greeks did give atheism the benefit of its own precise definition. Therefore, I wouldn’t consider atheism a product of Greek society as much as a beneficiary of it. Evolution is a product of atheism plus centuries of thought piled on top of ancient Greek philosophy. You simply couldn’t say the Greeks created or studied Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Finally, there’s the Trivium. The three stages of learning were enunciated in the middle ages, but grammar, logic and rhetoric were all components of Greek education. Grammar is the basics of language, logic is reasoning (like mathematics), and rhetoric is the art of argument. Robin Sampson considers these three simple stages to go hand-in-hand with the legacy of horrors that have come from the Ancient Greeks.
Although it’s not actually in the chart on the website, in What Your Child Needs to Know.., the Hebrew education system is credited with the “three learning stages” of “knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.” While you can read the Bible and see that these three things are valued at times (and at other times considered “a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:17)) I don’t think that they were ever considered “three learning stages” until Robin Sampson began developing a curriculum meant to compete with the Trivium, which has dominated for centuries. My biggest complaint about this is that, unlike grammar, logic and rhetoric, “knowledge, understanding and wisdom” are not easily distinguished. Unless preserving the vague, immeasurable characteristics of knowledge, understanding and wisdom is beneficial for children, then I have to say that the Trivium still seems to be the best traditional approach.
This is where I get really cynical about the whole comparison. Sampson claims that the Hebrew education model has the ultimate outcome of children who “learn to learn.” This parrots the statement made by Dorothy Sayers in 1947 about the classical method and the Trivium. Dorothy Sayers is regarded as a Christian humanist, so maybe that’s what makes Sampson uncomfortable with the system that Sayers championed. I don’t know. But after reading Sampson’s method (Heart of Wisdom or HOW) closely, she does advocate “reasoning” and “higher-level thinking” despite the fact that these very things have been so aggressively attacked by her where they appear in Greek culture or public schools.
Ultimately, it feels like the “Hebrew education” or “biblical” model proposed by Robin Sampson is actually Robin Sampson’s “biblical” model and not an unadulterated model practiced by Ancient Hebrews, nor commanded by God. In fact, it is Sampson’s curriculum. It’s the HOW method, an eclectic method that borrows from all kinds of philosophies, including classical Greek, medieval and, perhaps, Hebraic. But it is absolutely not THE Hebraic education method (study the Talmud with a Rabbi if you want that), nor is it THE biblical method that all Christian homeschoolers must follow to preserve the Christian worldview.
Yet this belief seems to be recited by plenty of homeschoolers, including Kelly Crawford at Generation Cedar (where there’s lots of *ahem* rhetoric if anyone hasn’t had enough of it.)
Most importantly, I feel I should point out again that the New Testament is written in Greek. I was reading some of the comments on the HOW page, and people are suggesting that we somehow get all of the Greek out of the Bible. If we purify the New Testament of all of the words and thoughts that came from Greek, we will end up with a handful of verses in Aramaic that are repeated from the Old Testament. The New Testament was written in Greek! If this was pleasing to God, then we must accept that. Speculating that He made an error, and that it was all meant to be in Hebrew? Yikes!
My previous posts on the subject are:
Christian Homeschooling: Greek vs. Hebraic tradition
Christian Homeschooling Part 1: Discipleship
And Understand our language, a pondering on Christian worldview and (specifically American) cultural diversity.