It is not hard to complain about the government’s schools. The government, at least during every election cycle, seems less than satisfied with its own product, ever promising us that it will improve. Atheists complain about prayers before football games. Christians complain about the teaching of sexual (im)morality. Everyone complains about graduation rates and test scores.
What precious few complain about, however, is where the schools succeed. A cursory study of both the founding fathers of the modern American educational system and its most esteemed pundits in our own day demonstrates that schools are not actually designed to train up scholars, that their goal is neither intellectual nor moral giants. Rather, they function to prepare men and women to work. School-to-Work programs, Vision 2020—these are just rehashings of the original Frankfurt School philosophy. Schools exist to create workers. It is less important, in this model, what is said between the bell that rings at 8:30 a.m. and the bell that rings at 9:15 a.m., and more important that the bells ring. We learn to think about an artificial, hermetically sealed body of information for a time. Then, when the bell rings, we turn our attention to some other artificial, hermetically sealed body of information, until another bell rings to tell us to go home. The entire system looks at children as if they were widgets, entering the education factory as toddlers and coming out the other side when they are grown.
This is not how God designed the rearing of children. To be sure, our children must learn things. But they are not so much widgets in a factory as they are plants around our tables (Psalm 128). They are not products to be manufactured but lives to be nurtured. The Bible presents the raising of children in natural and organic terms, rather than mechanical or industrial terms.
This is why we are called, according to the Shema, to speak to our children of the things of God when they lie down and when they rise up (Deut. 6:7). This poetic expression should itself be seen organically. That is, Moses is assuredly not saying, “Don’t speak to your children of these things when they are seated,” or, “Do speak to them when they walk by the way, but if they are jogging, be silent.” That is, Moses is talking about an immersive educational experience—we are to talk about the things of God with our children always and everywhere.
The things of God are to be the very warp and woof of our daily conversation. God does not here call us to be sure to have or add Bible curricula to our educational programs. He does not command us to sign our children up for Bible memory programs at our local churches. He does not require that we hire others to teach them their catechism answers. Instead, He tells us parents that we are to speak with our children about the things of God all the time.
In order to do this, of course, we who are parents first must be thinking about the things of God all the time. Most of us are the products of schools that taught us to divide our lives, to separate what we think about Jesus and what we think about our work, to separate what we think about our work and what we think about our play. We give time to Jesus on Sundays, perhaps on Wednesday nights, and, if we are peculiarly pious, every day during our quiet times. These all may be terribly good things, but not if they are hermetically sealed. We dare not believe that Jesus matters only during these times while He is beside the point the rest of our days.
When Jesus calls us to seek first His kingdom, He is not narrowing our focus. He is not saying: “Set aside kingdom building for your best hours of the day. Then, when you are tired, you can go about your own business.” Jesus does not reign in one kingdom that we pursue through the means of grace and in another kingdom that we pursue some other way. He does not take His world and slice it into class periods. Rather, He ever, always, and everywhere reigns. How we live our lives must not merely acknowledge that, but subsist in it. Therefore, how we train our children must not merely acknowledge that, but subsist in it. It is not enough that we say a blessing over our days and go on as if the One to whom we have prayed can be ignored.
The Shema tells us not only of the God of the covenant, but of the first law of the covenant—that we are to teach the covenant to our children. The Shema, in a new covenant context, calls us to acknowledge and proclaim the lordship of Christ over all things. It is a clarion call to all God’s people to rejoice in God’s reign over all things. It is a constant reminder that Jesus is not a subject to be mastered, but that we are subjects of Jesus, the Master. The school of Christ never takes a weekend. The school of Christ never takes a vacation. The school of Christ never takes a snow day. And the school of Christ hands out diplomas only when we die.