Pastor's Blog - Education a Hot Topic

December 4, 2016

(excerpted, in part, from an article by David Lose, President of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) LW = Luther’s Works

The topic of public education in Grey and Bruce Counties has been in the news a lot lately, and particularly after Chapman’s recent proposal to help save Beavercrest Public School in Markdale. So I thought you might find it interesting and appropriate to reflect upon the place of public education in the mind of Martin Luther. For Luther it had a lot to do with good government or the lack thereof – a topic which has lately also been on the minds and lips of a lot of people in Grey and Bruce Counties.

To address what he saw as something sorely lacking – namely a good educational system – Luther, in the 16th century, made an urgent appeal to the city councils and magistrates of Germany to establish schools as an example of what government was for: to care for the welfare of its people like parents care for their children. Along the way, and in the middle of the treatise, Luther made an extraordinary assertion, writing to those in charge of civic affairs across Germany: My dear sirs, if we have to spend such large sums every year on guns, roads, bridges, dams, and countless similar items to insure the temporal peace and prosperity of a city, why should not much more be devoted to the poor neglected youth – at least enough to engage one or two competent [persons] to teach school (LW 43:350). Imagine, if you will, for a moment: that we would value what we spend on education just as highly as we value what we spend on, recreational facilities, infrastructure, and defense? Think of the schools we would have and, even more to Luther’s point, the kind of educated citizenry we’d enjoy. The recent events in the United States should be a wake up call to all of us as they clearly point to what can happen if the public isn’t properly educated on what their founding legal documents actually say and how their own government is supposed to work. I ask you, ‘Whatever happened to civics classes?’ Luther was ahead of his time, realizing nearly five hundred years ago that the greatest threats to any civilization are always internal, not external. And so he asserts, A city’s best and greatest welfare, safety, and strength consist rather in its having many able, learned, wise, honorable, and well-educated citizens. They can then readily gather, protect, and properly use treasure and all manner of property. (356) Absent sound education and a responsible, well-educated citizenry, nothing else much matters because nothing else will last. And so he exhorted those in power to care for the young by providing good schools and competent teachers. And, if and when those in government were reluctant to spend money on education, he was not above chiding them, arguing that There is not a dumb animal which fails to care for its young and teach them what they need to know (353). And, as is usually the case with Luther, it’s difficult to separate the practical and the theological, as Luther believed it was our God-given duty to care for the emerging generation and so believed when we fall short we not only fail our young (and, by extension, ourselves), but we also sin against God: What would it profit us to possess and perform everything else and be like pure saints, if we meanwhile neglected our chief purpose in life, namely, the care of the young? I also think that in the sight of God none among the outward sins so heavily burdens the world and merits such severe punishment as this very sin which we commit against the children by not educating them. (353)

So, I ask you, what kind of schools would we have if we took Luther seriously? What kind of citizens? What kind of country? What kind of world?