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Education for Freedom

The basic form of education is the liberal arts curriculum, i.e., the curriculum whose purpose is to further the art of being a free man.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony,
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[Reprinted from The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1985), 153-157.]

The basic form of education is the liberal arts curriculum, i.e., the curriculum whose purpose is to further the art of being a free man. The problem, of course, is that there are differing definitions of what constitutes a free man. Even within humanism, there are variations of belief. In the Western world, we have the cynicism of Machiavelli concerning man, and hence the need for the control of most men by the superior few. We have Locke’s passive, neutral man whose mind is a blank paper, and we also have the good, natural man, derived from one facet of Rousseau’s thought.

Some humanists have summarized the issue as between the ideas of man as pilot and man as robot. In the man as robot view, most men need the planning and control of an elite group of men in order to achieve a “planned freedom.” A Hebrew myth derived from Babylon, tells of another woman in Adam’s life, the female demon Lilith. Buford Stefflre cites this myth and asks, “Left to his own devices, will man woo Lilith or Eve?”1

These various forms of humanism all assume either a common goodness or neutrality in all men, or else a common evil which an elite group can escape. This evil thus is curable by man. The elite group can then control and direct all other men for their own welfare and gain a freedom for all men through the mediation of the elite philosopher king or scientific, planning man. Freedom is thus a possibility for man through man and by natural means. The two basic instruments for the natural salvation of man are, first, education, and, second, state planning and control. Both these instruments are in full use today.

The salvation of man is not only to be attained by natural means but it requires freedom from God, freedom from supernatural laws and standards, in order to secure freedom for man. To illustrate, the December 20, 1976 New York Magazine suggests a reason why “musical superstar Leonard Bernstein” left his wife of twenty-five years, actress Felicia Montealegre. In commenting about some vocal sections speaking of death in Dimitri Shostakovich’s Fourteenth Symphony, Bernstein said in part:

Studying this work, I came to realize that, as death approaches, an artist must cast off everything that may be restraining him, and create in complete freedom. I decided that I had to do this for myself, to live the rest of my life as I want.2

The idea of living “the rest of my life as I want” is not limited to the artist. All humanists want this existential freedom, an independence from God, man, past, present, and future, to live out the demands of the ego, to be free to be one’s own god, determining what is good and evil in terms of one’s own desires. This is, of course, original sin as stated in Genesis 3:5; it is also existential freedom for modern man. Freedom from God means freedom from man also, because it is God’s law which establishes man’s duty to his Creator and to his neighbor.

In this point of view, education is self-realization, either as an individual or as a member of humanity. Freedom means, not salvation from sin through Jesus Christ, but the scientific method. It involves discarding all things which are not provable by the scientific method, and of course, the scientific method for modern man presupposes that God cannot exist and that man’s autonomous mind is the final arbiter of reality. In terms of this, freedom means the independence of man from God and from any God-given law and standard, so that law and morality are not God-given but are man-made and pragmatic and utilitarian. This educational goal of freedom is thus the freedom proposed by the tempter: “Ye shall be as gods (every man his own god), knowing (that is, determining for yourself, in terms of what is best for you, what constitutes), good and evil (ideas which are not absolutes but human constructs, in order for man better to realize his own self-created values and goals)” (Gen. 3:5). Freedom as defined by modern education is for Scripture simply sin.

Moreover, freedom in modern education means defiance, rebellion, and revolution. If man is free from any obligation to God, he certainly will feel no binding obligation to man. If God cannot command man, how can another man? Existentialism thus leads to a radical contempt for man, however much disguised. Humanism begins with the exaltation of all men as such and ends up with the exaltation by every man of himself and his own will. Quite logically therefore, Andre Malraux once said, “I love to displease.”3 Malraux thereby established his existential freedom from man.

In education, this means a pupil who, as he grasps the meaning of humanistic education and its goal of freedom, is progressively in defiance of his parents, teachers, and society. Liberal and radical parents and teaches have quite logically applauded this defiance. For them, it is a most hopeful sign. It means education is successful in part at least.

The goal of education, many hold is to use Field’s term, “a personally meaningful purpose system.”4 It cannot be an imposed purpose system from God; it must be “personally meaningful.” To illustrate, modern art does not try to give us a structure in painting which has an objective meaning in God’s world; a resemblance to that real world is coincidental, not basic. The painting may be blobs of color and random lines; the meaning is purely personal. The question is, what purely private and personal meaning does this painting evoke in me? In terms of that purely personal or contemporary evocation, what is art today can be a garbage can reject tomorrow, or a relic for historians in a museum. Freedom in art means freedom from a given realm of reality and meaning in favor of a purely private one. As a result, art must seek the new and novel to demonstrate its reality by a continuously fresh freedom from the patterns of the last hour.

Education finds it more difficult in curriculum to achieve a like contemporaneous freedom, but it cultivates this spirit more successfully than the arts in the mind it creates. Whether in the arts, or with respect to tastes in music, dancing, or anything else, the student is a market for the new, for perpetual revolution against yesterday and today. This means perpetual revolution against himself, against what he is today in favor of some new idea of freedom. Not surprisingly, humanistic education produces not only a proliferation of sin but of mental problems and serious personality disorders.

The contrast between the two goals of freedom in education appears dramatically in sex education. Humanistic education strongly advocates an “open” view, i.e., sexual freedom in the sense that the criterion in sexual behavior is man’s desires and tastes. The intensity with which sex education is defended should not surprise us: it represents a very basic practice of the freedom to which all humanistic education points, the freedom for man to determine his own values and goals.

The Christian, however, also believes in sexual freedom, but he defines it differently. For him, sin is not freedom but slavery, and freedom is in Christ and from sin. For the true Christian, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and all other forms of sexual sin are not freedom but repulsive forms of slavery. A godly marriage is for him freedom, because it is God’s purpose and law; it alone gains God’s blessing, and it alone gives him freedom under God in the sexual realm, unless his calling is to remain single. In any case, for the Christian there is no freedom except in obedience to God’s law. He enters into freedom through the saving power of Christ; he lives in freedom by obedience to the law of God.

This means that Christian education emphasizes that freedom is through Christ’s salvation and in obedience thereafter to the whole Word of God. Instead of teaching freedom as a radical independence from God, the Christian school teaches freedom as a radical and total dependence upon God. It insists on the interdependence of all men under God and in terms of God’s law. It is thus a liberal arts curriculum for which Scripture is the key book, and in terms of which every subject and area is principled and informed. Teacher and student alike are under that binding word; and are free in terms of their faithfulness to it.

Both humanistic educators and Christian educators speak of furthering responsibility in their pupils. Humanism sees two kinds of responsibility. First, man can be viewed as responsible to society, to his country or to mankind as a whole. In this view, collective man replaces God as the agency to whom man is accountable. Second, man can be viewed as responsible to his existential self, called to rid himself of the accretions imposed by God, church, family, and society, and to realize himself as an existential man. Here, the individual replaces God. In both cases, freedom is from God to man.

For the Christian, man is responsible to God, and to man under God and according to the Word of God. Freedom is from sin, and therefore it is freedom from ourselves and from other men, and from slavery and bondage to ourselves and to men, to become the covenant people of God in Christ, our Redeemer and King.

Christian education is thus not the curriculum with the Bible added to it, but a curriculum in which the Word of God governs and informs every subject. Only the Christian school, when it is faithful to Scripture, can have a truly liberal arts curriculum.

1. Buford Stefflre, ed., Theories of Counseling (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965), 258f., cited in Frank L. Field, Freedom and Control in Education and Society (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1970), 14.

2. “Lenny Faces Existential Truth,” New York Magazine, Dec. 20, 1976, vol. 9, no. 51, 75.

3. “The Last Renaissance Figure,” Time, Dec. 6, 1976, vol. 108, no. 23, 39.

4. Frank L. Field, op. cit., 68. Italics in original.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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