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A Musing on the Importance of Education for our Community - 3/8/23

I would be lying if I did not share that I am looking forward to Sunday and our guest speaker, Mr. Michael Kobito, the current state teacher of the year in Georgia.

I think all who attend will be enlightened and blessed. Mr. Kobito is both a dynamic educator and speaker. And I believe his message about how education and particularly quality public education is key to our communities and nation.

As I spoke with a reporter who is going to be sharing our event in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, I had to admit that for communities today it is the schools rather than churches that are the center of civic life, and that the church would be remiss if it did not support the work of these institutions just like churches have supported medical missionaries and foodbanks and other works of compassion. I noted that this was not about saving souls but about working to help break cycles of poverty and abuse that often are generational.

I then noted that for Presbyterians in general, education has always been a high priority. I wanted to dive into a history lesson and had to bite my tongue to keep from doing so but I do not have to in this musing. Additionally, I think it is important that we know the reasons—both historically and currently— why we are restarting our public forums with the topic of public education.

Historically education and Presbyterians go back to that French Theologian John Calvin. The protestant reformation leader felt education was essential to a full life. So, while pastoring in Geneva, Switzerland, Calvin created a college.

According to historical writer Hannah S. Bowers:

Prior to Calvin’s college, school was reserved for the aristocratic elites of society; common people were excluded from any form of public education. Calvin divided his college into two divisions: a public school and a seminary. The public school became known as Calvin College, and the seminary because known as the University of Geneva. Historians have stated that both of Calvin’s schools were the “forerunners of modern public education,” in part because they were tuition-free .1

Calvin firmly believed that Christian influence touched all areas of life. Since Calvin believed that faith and education belonged together, he drew up a catechism for parents to teach their children while receiving a secular education. Calvin also added departments of law and medicine to his college, making it the first liberal arts college since it also taught Hebrew, Greek, and the Arts. Historians have noted that “Calvin’s Academy became the standard bearer for education in all major fields”.2 The Academy educated the masses, trained pastors, and provided an excellence in education for international students. Overall, the University of Geneva was one of Calvin’s greatest contributions to society.

Calvin greatly influenced the society of his day for the better. One of his students returned to England to establish the Bodleian Library, a famous research facility. His Academy also trained missionaries to reach the countries bordering Switzerland. John Knox took Calvin’s training back to his native Scotland where he championed the Protestant cause.3

Calvin is still important today because he properly recognized the importance of education. He fervently believed in seminary training, supporting the Biblical training of future pastors, a practice still prevalent in America.4

It is clear the Presbyterian Church has played a key historical role in creating tuition free public education available to all people, even “foreigners.” And this was not just religious education but a broad scholarly education that included the arts, sciences, and humanities.

More recently the modern Presbyterian Church studied the issue of K-12 education in a report approved by the 219th General Assembly entitled - Loving our Neighbors: Equity and Quality in Public Education (K-12).

In its adoption it made the following of many powerful statements including the –

Reaffirmation of the long-standing commitment of the PC(USA) to public education as an essential institution contributing to the common good in a democratic society by its commitment to equip all children to be effective citizens, capable of living full and meaningful lives and contributing to their society.

The report calls for the PC(USA) to recommit to the principle of equal educational opportunity for all children in the United States, different as each child may be, and affirms them all as our children, neighbors in our care.

And further, its report adoption calls for greater quality in public education - Supporting reforms consistent with the social fairness and holistic vision of human development that public education is to serve, understanding “quality” in part to mean exposure to art, music, sport, and humanities for all students (not simply those bound for college), to encourage critical thinking and moral development and not only test determined proficiency in a restricted set of subjects.

In other words, education is about the whole child and the whole community and that when the community works to develop each child to their own unique potential, we are closer to seeing the beloved kin-dom of God.

The truth is in this world we have lots of disagreements, but I believe we all recognize that every child is a gift from God and is a miracle. They are a statement from the creator that God has not given up on the world yet. That God has hope for us and for humanity. Therefore, we too should be like Christ—serving the children and noting that they are indeed the example of what the kingdom of God is made of.

I hope you join us Sunday afternoon and you bring a friend or several.

Clay Gunter

Hall, D. (2008). The legacy of John Calvin: his influence on the modern world. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing

Bowers, Hannah S. (9/2013)


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