Two main issues arise here:
Even in what we enjoy or feel to be the right course of action, we need
As parents we should encourage habits of diligence (Prov 22;29) thoroughness, a servant attitude, having a right opinion of oneself (Rom 12: 3); being reliable (Prov 25:19), seeking wisdom, being determined to keep our flesh in submission (I Cor 9: 23-27).
We should discourage traits like laziness, half-heartedness, being foolish, (Prov 24:30-34), being unmotivated (Prov 25:28).
A sensible approach to life is to be learned (Prov. 23: 12, 17, 19), as well as a realistic knowledge of ourselves (Prov 27: 19, Romans 12:3).
The idea of ourselves as a servant of others does not come naturally - especially not in present-day Western civilisation. Self-centred pleasure-seeking philosophies need a corrective - the concept of “my life is not my own” (I Cor 6: 19-20)
A child has little self control, which is why he needs firm boundaries, to be moved back gradually as he grows older, to enable him to make wise choices for himself. Requiring a child to meet certain standards or to fulfil certain tasks is not being cruel - as long as they are within his capabilities. It is giving him the option of bringing his will to bear on his own reluctance, and feeling a sense of satisfaction when he has achieved it.
You might never persuade a child that a certain subject is enjoyable, but it can be undertaken as part of a training towards having a right attitude, which we are all called to have, e.g. Coloss 3: 17, 23.
Ways to reach the desired goal
Sometimes academic requirements can be the arena where we train our mind, our hand, our body to do what we require, but they are not the only tool.
One of the main ways we can encourage positive attitudes towards living unselfishly in our children is to model them ourselves. We can give them opportunities for chores or practical tasks, we can provide openings for service to others. These may not be received cheerfully, but they have an important part to play in counteracting the me-centred culture we are surrounded by.
A systematic curriculum or a dip in here and there approach?
An ordered approach to study is also of some value. A lot can be learned by following up spontaneous interests, and by random entry points into knowledge, but “flitting” will not build the whole picture, nor will it guarantee a Christian world view.
My guess is that people accumulate their total knowledge by a combination of methods, some by structured learning situations and some by random contact with things which catch the interest. Some things are assimilated fine by the latter method, in much the same way as one might pick up a piece and see if it fits in a half-finished jigsaw. Other things benefit from a more ordered, step by step approach, where a more total picture can be built up.
Rigour or fun?
“Rigour” in the educational context is a rather outmoded word in some circles. Some have tried to sugar the pill and reduce the material to be learnt to bite-sized packages. There is a tendency to look for novel ways of presentation and to make everything “fun". This can be observed in the different way many subjects are taught today. Where should a Christian align themselves in this debate? Surely not on the extreme where to be regarded as thorough and effective a thing has to be boring and old-fashioned, but neither would I expect to find them at the other end of the spectrum where novelty and fun are paramount, and the overall understanding of a subject is sacrificed for the comfort of a generation of learners who have never learned to cross the pain barrier. Even the recent revision series produced by CGP have to admit: “Yeah, I know it’s kinda scary, but if you want to get anywhere in life you’ve got to face up to a bit of hardship. That’s just the way it is.”
Surely a parent is in a privileged position - they are familiar with the full range of their child’s work and also with their disposition. They can decide what to require at each stage, and can use some of these experiences as character lessons as well. If a child is moving forward quickly in a subject, then consolidation is usually valuable, otherwise they will reach a position where they half-know a lot of things, but cannot properly recall them. In the home this does not have to be undertaken in an insensitive or rigid manner, but only until the parent feels confident that the child has really mastered the previous work, so they can profitably move ahead.
Loving God with all our mind
To learn to think as a Christian in all areas of life is not a light matter - it takes commitment and time. Having a Biblical world view and loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength is something we grow into if we aspire to it, and ask God to renew our thinking. It does not just drop on us from heaven automatically, and this will not happen for our children either. God is a rewarder of those who seek him, Heb. 11:6. Present-day trends prefer easy methods of assimilating information, and do not encourage a thinking response. People tend to be passive and unquestioning about the hidden messages behind a book or a TV programme. We need to be clear-thinking rather than stodgy and dull, taking things on board without question. It is also good to encourage a child’s curiosity for the world around them, and foster a response of faith and gratitude for the wonders of creation, as well as a desire to seek out a deeper understanding for themselves.
So we should seek materials fitted to our children’s age and aptitude which can help us towards these ends. For some it may be a packaged curriculum produced by an organisation which has done a lot of the spade-work and “pre-digested” the material for the parents/teachers. Others may prefer a more DIY approach, gathering materials from a variety of sources, but submitting them to the same reality/suitability checks.
Another question worth pondering is this - do we learn the majority of our information from the book or from the teacher? The book is a great assistant in that it sets forth the material in an ordered fashion, but a lot of enthusiasm is caught, not taught, and there is nothing like an enthusiast for a subject for inspiring a child to go on in his studies. Relationship plays a big part in encouraging our children in their learning.
The books are our servants, not our masters, but they can make our task
a lot easier.
Sometimes we submit to their requirements to see if we have really understood and can recall the information they are supposed to have taught us. If we forsake a subject the moment it becomes challenging, we do ourselves no favours in the matter of perseverance. If a book meets our needs in part, but is repetitive and unnecessary in other parts, then we are free to make use of what will do us good, and leave the rest to one side.
Keeping the long view
This is always easier said than done, but it is really vital so we don’t get bogged down in all the minutiae and lose sight of our overall goals. Children who know their own strengths and weaknesses, who are prepared to wrestle with something until they have really grasped it, who have the skills to find out information they do not presently have ... these sort of general targets will help us to sort through the range of materials we could make use of, and select the ones which will get us there effectively, while we keep reinforcing the value of relationship and togetherness on their journey to maturity.
What is the source of our educational philosophy?
Confusion sometimes exists in our minds between knowledge (information/skills) and wisdom. Any educational system can impart knowledge to some extent at least, but a Christian parent should be careful to impart the fear of the Lord which is said to be the beginning of wisdom. This can be all too easily missed out, which is tragic, as it is the foundation on which all other abilities should rest.
A society without a Judeo-Christian basis to its outlook may well value academics and philosophy, and rate intelligence very highly, e.g. the Greeks, who sought wisdom (I Cor 1;22). Moses was brought up in the learning of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22) and Daniel was skilled in the language and literature of the Chaldeans (Daniel 1:17), but it was not the input from those societies which made them great men of God. True, they learned many useful skills from their years in the “system”, but it was their attitude towards the Lord which made them outstanding. They were not proud of themselves, but they depended on God and feared Him, so they were given unusual wisdom which was apparent to those around them.
When a society fails to give glory to God as Creator and Sustainer of everything, it embarks on a process of decline. Romans 1 details this very graphically. Though they may claim to be “enlightened” and “sophisticated”, they are actually the victims of a darkened mind, which God has allowed to come upon them. The education they offer to the next generation will therefore be flawed, because they are under delusion to some degree themselves. Any culture which exalts man and secular wisdom, and which turns away from the living God will be able to teach our children some skills and information about how the world works, but we should handle with extreme caution the hidden agenda which comes as part of the package.
Here is an interesting quotation from a book called “Educational Ideals in the Ancient World” by William Barclay, (Baker):