E=mc2 is a simple equation compared to the mystery of what goes into good education. But I’ll take a shot at proposing an education equation.
(1) Start with the three Rs, reading, ’riting, and ’rithmetic.
(2) Move quickly to the opening line of a great John Newton hymn repopularized by Jars of Clay: “Let us love and sing and wonder.” If children don’t develop a sense of wonder about this astounding, God-created world, they’ll miss a lifetime of excitement. Music, art, history, science, foreign languages, and more should all make school wonder-full.
Our new testing regime doesn’t leave much time for wonder, and educators pay attention to the W only if they answer accurately a basic question: Who are my students? Are they animals with above-average intelligence (compared to horses and caterpillars, but maybe not dolphins)? Are they low-grade computers with below-average memory and above-average weight (compared to a MacBook Air)? Or are they human beings created in the image of a God of wonder?
(3) Add a C for specifically Christian education, for only in Christ do all things hold together. If students don’t understand that God created us, they are likely to become practical atheists. If they don’t understand that God gives history meaning, they are likely to become nihilists. Schools cannot give kids faith in Christ -- only God can -- but they can help students recognize their need, yearn for meaning, and not be content with wasting their lives.
If teachers want to be educators rather than prison wardens, it’s vital for them to think Christianly about their students. If they see students as bucking broncos, they’ll think the job of schools is to break them. If they see students as fleshly computers, they’ll want to perform an information dump. But if they understand that students are God’s children and have souls that never die, they’ll understand that just teaching to the test fails the biggest tests.
(4) The G is for the four-letter word that more than any other determines educational and occupational success: grit. University of Pennsylvania professor Angela Duckworth developed a “grit scale” and found that undergraduates with determination were more likely to obtain high grades than those with higher SAT scores but less grit. The grittiest West Point students she tracked did better in cadet training than those who scored higher on traditional aptitude tests.
Part of grit involves fighting the desire for immediate gratification, an impulse measurable at age 4 via the marshmallow test, which starts with a small child in a room with a marshmallow and an adult. The adult tells the child he’s leaving the room to run a short errand. During that time the child is free to eat the marshmallow -- but if he waits until the adult comes back, he can then eat not only that marshmallow but a second one as well.
Children’s ability to wait for gratification varies enormously. When Stanford psychology professor Walter Mischel, inventor of the test, looked in on those 4-year-olds a decade later, he found the impatient eaters had “lower SAT scores, higher body mass indexes, problems with drugs and trouble paying attention. … The seconds of time preschool children were willing to delay for a preferred outcome predicted their cognitive and social competence and coping as adolescents.”
Another study showed self-discipline to be twice as important as IQ in predicting grades of eighth-grade students. One large study, which traced about 1,000 New Zealanders from childhood through age 32, similarly found that those with less childhood impulse-control were more likely to be alcoholics or drug abusers, overweight or unhealthy -- and were more than three times as likely to have been convicted of a crime. So, schools along with teaching the three Rs, W, and C need to do all they can to develop G for grit.
So, that’s my formula: E=R3WCG three Rs times Wonder times Christian understanding times Grit. We need all of those elements: A Christian school that has chapel yet doesn’t encourage wonder and grit among its students is wasting money and lives. But don’t take school formulas too seriously: Kids are individuals and flexibility is important. Please do take Christian education seriously: No other work is more important. May God bless all those who make large sacrifices to bless other parents and children.