One of the many evil byproducts of the Prussian system of education that has been embraced by our public schools is a system of grades.1 This artificial designation takes children from the family, groups all children of a certain age into one class and teaches them from a stagnant curriculum, designed by experts for that age group, not taking into consideration the personal development or skills of the individual child.2
Because this system has been a part of America's educational system for so long, parents often ignore their own observations and gut instincts regarding their child and accept all sorts of diagnoses presented by the public school experts who say the child is a slow learner, has ADD or ADHD, or is dyslexic, and so on. The diagnosing of these children is based on a godless system of psychology that sees the child not as an image-bearer of God but as an animal that can be trained and manipulated. This philosophy retards the child from developing into all that he can be under godly nurture. Many children have suffered much harm as a result of being so labeled by public school authorities.
In accepting these labels, parents defer to the realm of psychology in place of Biblical Christianity, because a Biblical psychology is not taught in public schools or from our pulpits.
Humanistic psychology gives us a doctrine of man radically at odds with Scripture. It has become routine for clergymen to look to humanistic psychologies for guidance in pastoral counseling, and books applying such psychologies to pastoral problems have a ready market and widespread influence. The result has been the steady infiltration of humanism into Christian circles and the steady erosion of the Biblical doctrines of man and salvation.3
Psychology is properly categorized as a branch of theology. It concerns itself with man's nature and inner life, the realm of the soul or the mind.4 The doctrine of man as laid out in Scripture begins and ends with man as a creature. Sin is what polluted God's creation and only God's remedy (salvation through Jesus Christ) repairs the breach. To leave children in the hands of humanistic psychology and its practitioners in public schools and elsewhere results in a warped view of children and numerous ungodly ways to relate to them.
Rushdoony makes it clear,
Man was created a mature being, not a child. This is a fact of central importance. We cannot make child psychology basic to an understanding of man ...
If man in his origin is a product of a long evolutionary past, man is then best understood in terms of the animal, the savage, and the child. However, since man was in his origin a mature creation, his psychology is best understood in terms of that fact. Man's sins and shortcomings represent not a lingering primitivism or a reversion to childhood, but rather a deliberate revolt against maturity and the requirements of maturity. By ascribing to man, as humanistic psychologies do, a basic substratum of primitivism and racial childishness, this revolt against maturity is given an ideological justification; the studied and maturely developed immaturity of man is encouraged and justified.5
Biblical nurturing is based on the development of the child, recognizing what he is capable of at each stage of development, and customizing training based on the individual. This nurturing must be grounded in the reality that,
The child is not only a person but a concept; in that each culture has its own particular idea and expectation of a child ...The child is born into a culture and is loved and honored as it meets the expectations of that culture.6
Christians need to adopt expectations for their children based on Scriptural principles. What follows is intended to encourage parents to think outside the pagan, psychological and educational box.
Stages of Childhood
The Biblical view of children is that they are a blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127). That doesn't mean they are sinless. A proper understanding of the Fall and the need for atonement must be among the first lessons parents impart to their infant children. How parents deal with a newborn should reflect that however innocent the child may appear, sin is part of the equation. Everything the parent (or caregivers, be they grandparents or siblings) does for the child must be in this context. Does that mean a crying baby is manifesting deliberate wickedness? Certainly not. But the child is demonstrating a self-centeredness that includes the attitude, "I don't like what is going on and I want what I want when I want it!"
Rushdoony notes that since man was created in the image of God, man must live by revelation. He states, "Every fiber of his being must respond to God's law for its health."7 Thus, from the outset, a mother must instill in her child the reality of God's law-word, purposefully framing all her interactions with her infant accordingly. Feedings, diaper changes, and naptimes should be opportunities to speak to her baby the truths of Scripture, knowing that although the child may not comprehend all the words, he will respond to the emotional context in which they are spoken. What a blessing to be able to say there was never a time in his life where the Word of God was absent!
There is a point when a child goes from being a "new" baby to just being a baby. It is at this stage where there is some recognition by the child that there are boundaries. It's easy to tell when this occurs because there is a more urgent necessity to communicate the concept of No! in order to keep the child safe. However, the use of the word No should always have included with it an explanation. The parental retort, "Because I told you so" is not Biblical. If the parent's authority doesn't come from God, the parent does not have legitimate authority.8 If interactions with the child are grounded in Scripture, then there will be no need for this refrain, because the child will be aware that the parents' requirements are in terms of God's Word.
For example: "Stop crying," is better expressed, "Crying will not bring your food any sooner. You must learn to be patient. The Bible states ..." If the mother is faithful to teach this during the many opportunities to deal with a sobbing baby, the child will learn that he does not set the agenda for the household. Care should be taken to treat tantrums and outbursts as futile efforts on the part of the child to gain control. Again, although the child may not understand the full meaning of the words spoken, communicated properly the intent will be understood.
When children leave the baby stage they become aware of their new abilities, and thus test boundaries. Mobility and language propel the child into entirely new arenas of life. It is at this point that the mother's work escalates and she earns her stripes. Catechism memorization (teaching the doctrines of the faith) is a fundamental step in stewarding a child's life. Parents need to establish the foundation upon which their household runs (Josh. 24:15), and regularly evaluate their family policies and practices to ensure that they haven't strayed off the "straight and narrow path." By establishing the foundation for obedience, transgressions can be dealt with in terms of repentance and forgiveness.
Responsibility is the key ingredient in determining when your children fit into the category of "older children." Rather than rely on the artificial method of grades or even age, the criteria should include how well your son or daughter responds to instruction and family guidelines within the context of God's law-word. This may be different with every child in the family. If the earlier paths have been properly travelled, the family gains a tremendous asset as these members move beyond being total dependents to active participants in the life of the family.9
In each of these stages of growth, motivation plays an essential part. Tied into the concept of motivation is that of incentivizing behavior. Just as most adults don't pursue certain activities without a reason or compensation (most wouldn't show up for a job if a paycheck was not part of the deal), children need to be dealt with in terms of payment or reward. I am not talking about bribery. I'm referring to the intrinsic need to be working toward a goal with purpose. By failing to establish this, children can easily become bored, time wasters, or mischievous. Even Jesus promised rewards in heaven (Matt. 6:20) as an incentive for faithfulness.
Some children seemingly start off in life with a strong desire to please and this makes it much easier to spend time with them. However, if pleasing others becomes paramount rather than obedience to God's Word, then it is likely that the child will learn how to adapt to anyone in authority and become pragmatic in his actions and decisions. Instilling in children a desire to "fear God and keep His commandments" will also unearth those particular gifts and abilities that God has placed in each individual child. When these surface, proper incentive and motivation become much easier to practice.
That said, not all children approach life this way and parents must continue to inculcate in their more difficult children a sense of duty and responsibility that trumps their particular desires or whims. The message is the same, regardless of the temperament of the child, but requires a bit more consistency with those who seem to fight at every turn.
It might be helpful at this point to illustrate the concept of providing an incentive or motivation in some of the more mundane aspects of family life.
Each of my children struggled with this maneuver. By knowing them as individuals, I was able to appeal to "what made them tick" in order to help them succeed. With my son, who refused to take responsibility for a task he was quite capable of completing, it took an ultimatum on a Friday afternoon. I informed him that he was going to miss participating in the Saturday soccer game if he was unable to tie his own cleats. Rather than fight with him, I told him that we would find other things to do with our Saturday morning-maybe even sleep in. Now, he needed my help, and rather than being resistive, he was motivated to receive instruction. I didn't make a threat; I promised him a consequence. In this way I was treating him as God treats His children: blessings for obedience and penalties for disobedience.
In my youngest daughter's case, her inability to perform this task had more to do with her tendency to act as though she understood the instructions of her father, when she really was quite lost. Because her dad didn't understand this character flaw in his daughter, he would become frustrated and assume she was being deliberately disobedient. He would get angry and she would cry. It was a vicious circle. I was able to mediate the situation finally and promising her that by that day's end, she would know how to tie her shoes. She remembers the episode vividly: I broke the process down into simple steps, encouraging her as she repeated each one over and over. By the time we were nearing the end, she'd say, "I can do it all now." I would tell her not to jump ahead and keep doing the earlier steps. By the time her dad came home, she met him at the door with a big smile and said, "Watch this!" I was just imitating our God who teaches us line upon line, precept upon precept.
A Sick Child
Parents often dread the scenario of dealing with a sick child. Pushing liquids gets to be a chore and a source of confrontation at a time when neither mom nor child needs a fight. Instead of fighting and threatening punishment, I endeavored to get my children to enjoy the process. So, depending on the child, I would take a ball point pen and draw a bunny or a cat or a puppy on their tummies. I would tell them that the bunny was thirsty and it was time to give it a drink. If they hesitated, I would make a whimpering sound and let them know that he was crying. They would take a sip from the straw and sometimes I would catch them taking an extra sip just to be nice!
I would do the same thing with the wearing of seatbelts in the car. Rather than make it a police action, we would have seatbelt races. Each child wanted to be declared the winner, and I would often "lose." The result was that I was able to get cooperation rather than a fight by orchestrating what would bring about the result I wanted.
Finding One's Calling
I used to tell my children that they didn't have to search too hard for what God was calling them to do. As young ones in a family, they arrived with the duty to be a son or a daughter, a sister or a brother. As they matured, the role of student was added to the "job description." As they learned and experienced many facets of growth (academics, music, arts, athletics, and service) certain assessments were made by them of things they enjoyed and wanted to pursue. From a parental viewpoint, I found it important to show them how to hear God's specific call, rather than rely on me to announce it. I used to say, "God won't leave a message for you on my answering machine."
It is here when the paradigm of grade levels and judgments based on age can be detrimental. If we approach all four-year-olds the same way, determining that the most significant criteria for success and advancement are in terms of fine and gross motor skills, how well they draw or use scissors, we are missing the most important part of receiving the Kingdom as a child (Mark 10:13-16). Jesus was referring to the tender hearts of children who have no difficulty understanding their dependence and need for parental care and instruction.10
Children should be taught from an early age that part of maturing into adulthood is to discover those unique gifts that God has placed within them and that concomitant with these gifts come duties and responsibilities.
Recognizing them as Individuals
My son, from the time he was little, demonstrated entrepreneurial tendencies. When we would have discussions about him making this bed, he informed me that he was going to invent a machine that would handle this chore he disliked so much. When we discussed the practicality of such a device, he then told me that if he couldn't make one, he would have to make sufficient money to pay people to do this for him. By listening to him and relating to him as someone who was entitled to his likes and dislikes, throughout his growing-up years, I was able to understand how he was oriented and could always incentivize his behavior by a system of rewards that fit his personality. His competitive spirit could always be counted on to play a prominent role in any endeavor he undertook. So, when I wanted him to memorize Scripture or the Westminster Shorter Catechism, I arranged for a meaningful prize to accompany the accomplishment.
My youngest child, fourteen years her brother's junior, entered our family well into our homeschooling journey. The tendency for me was to assume she'd react and relate to incentives as had her older brother and sister. She was not entrepreneurial as her brother, nor as strong-willed as her sister. She did manifest some obvious musical gifts and an empathetic spirit very early on. The mistake I made at the outset was to assume I could deal with her just as I had done with the other two. By eventually viewing her as the individual she is, with definite strengths and weakness, I was better able to provide the guidance that my job as her mother required. Neither her age nor her size was any reason to try to bulldoze her into adhering to false standards of accomplishment. Patience and God's road map (His unchanging law applied to parenting) helped me prioritize what things I should emphasize regularly and what I could make of secondary emphasis. I stopped majoring in the minors and placed her relationship to God as a top priority.
[O]ur lives and our schooling cannot be for our pleasure or profit, but for the glory of God ...
[T]he focus of education is not on the child, nor on the parents, nor on society. It is on God. Education is thus primarily theological, God-centered, not vocation-centered nor knowledge-centered. Because of the Biblical doctrine of calling or vocation, the Christian School will strive to excel all others in preparing its pupils, but the focus will be on our necessary service to God. Because God's revelations give knowledge, and because knowledge is an aspect of God's image in us, we will seek to surpass all other schools in this respect also. Our focus, however, will be on the competent and faithful service of God.11
Eternity in the Hearts
Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, "He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end."
It is precisely by recognizing that children are eternal beings and that they have no less a standing in God's eyes just because of their size or age, that we can guide them into paths of righteousness. Thus a mother's privileged role is to steward the life of her child, acknowledging from the outset of their relationship that her child is made in God's image and that His creative efforts will manifest and are to be developed.
When adults speak to children, it should be with these realities in mind. The personhood of all children (from the moment of conception onward) is such an important doctrine for our day. Devaluing the life of the child in the womb has served to devalue children in general, often classifying them as burdens or trophies or slaves of a tyrannical state, but certainly not as the eternal beings they are. If we wish to reverse this revolt against maturity, here is a place to begin.
1. The Prussian system of education was a godless system that trained children to become beneficial servants of the state instead of nurturing their God-given talents for His service.
2. Homeschooling has debunked this contrivance inasmuch as it allows a child to learn at his own pace and consults understanding as a prerequisite to "moving on" with his studies, rather than cheapen learning with the concept of merely "passing."
3. R. J. Rushdoony, Revolt Against Maturity (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1987), 5.
4. Ibid., 1.
5. Ibid., 6.
6. R. J. Rushdoony, Intellectual Schizophrenia (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books,  2002), 73.
7. R. J. Rushdoony, Revolt Against Maturity (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1987), 9.
8. See my article in the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of Faith for All of Life.
9. Some decry the practice of older brothers and sisters taking on significant responsibilities with their younger siblings in the areas of care and schooling. This is a direct result of failing to view the family as God's primary institution. What is so sad when it comes to Christian families making use of public schools to educate their children is that children become conditioned to believe that school teachers and classmates/peers are their best allies and where their responsibilities lie.
10. I've seen more than a few homeschooling moms torture themselves because they use these artificial standards to assess themselves as teachers and their children as students. When they buy into the idea that success for their children are in the categories of what they can do rather than who they are there is often undue heartache and distress.
11. R. J. Rushdoony, The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books,  2001), 142.