One of the greatest thinkers in education, Jean Jacques Rousseau, once proclaimed in his masterpiece “Emile” that the business of education is to educate human beings to be true human beings. For Rousseau, educating humans to be true humans is natural. Therefore, as Rousseau contended, consequently to understand education educators must understand human nature. The Greeks got it right through the famous phrase “Gnothi Seauton” or “Temet Nosce” in Latin, which means “Know Thyself.” However, Gnothi Seauton alone is not complete for understanding human nature, thus to complete Rousseau’s contention we must refer to John Calvin’s argument in his Institutes of the Christian Religion that to know the self, one must know God.
According to Calvin, and to the Christian faith respectively, the secret lies in the truth that humans are created in the Image of God. This secret can be found in the Creation account in the Scripture. No wonder Cornelius Van Til, one of the greatest Christian theologians and philosophers in the 20th century, pointed out that to understand education one must begin with Creation. In the Creation account, God revealed the truth that humans are created by God himself for a clear purpose to rule the world according to God’s will. Humans are created uniquely and distinctly after the Image of their Maker. This is why humans are in many ways like God, as Richard L. Pratt, Jr. contended in his famous Designed for Dignity.
Since humans are Imago Dei, then our education must follow our nature. Now, understanding Imago Dei is very crucial in our quest here, because if we misunderstand it, then our philosophy of education collapses entirely. Nothing can explain and describe humans better than their Maker. So, it is reasonable to refer to the primary source of God’s revelation concerning who humans are and who God really is, the Scripture. Our world today deals with education more on the basis of psychological research rather than on the basis of theological truths. Such statement is not meant to undermine psychology and elevate theology instead. But, while a lot of psychological researches have found truths regarding human nature, my concern is that most of the psychological researches only look at humans as we can observe at the moment. This is a great disadvantage if we are to suggest a holistic understanding of human nature, for with the limitation of psychology we can not know who humans really are apart from God’s truthful and reliable revelation as written by His faithful servants in the Bible.
It is true that since Rousseau’s Emile was published in 1762, the face of education changed dramatically. Even the great Pestalozzi, Froebel, Maria Montessori, and Jean Piaget were indebted to Rousseau in their educational endeavors. Moreover, Rousseau’s call for education to pay serious attention to the understanding of human nature has influenced psychological course tremendously. Timothy O’Hagan concluded that Rousseau’s Emile is a pioneer work for developmental psychology. John Darling and Maaike van de Pijpekamp stated that all the works in progressive education are footnotes to Rousseau. [For further discussion on Rousseau’s philosophy of education, please consult my article on Rousseau: “Examining Rousseau’s Philosophy of Education: A Christian Account,” Christian Education Journal series 3, volume 1, no. 3 (Fall 2004): 80-98, published by Talbot School of Theology, Los Angeles]. The quest to discover humans’ true nature has heightened ever since Rousseau’s Emile was launched. Psychology picked up the call, and has been pursuing it to this day.
With psychology running the race to understand human nature, actually theology should be benefited greatly. Ideally, theology provides the basis for the pursuit of psychological research on understanding our nature. However, regretfully, psychology does not commonly start with theology. Rousseau’s Emile was actually completely rejected by the church, which is very unfortunate. Worse, theology did not answer the need to understand humans the way psychology did. The break up between theology and psychology proves to be fatal. Christians were too late in accepting psychological approach in understanding humans, and this caused psychology to have its foundation merely on the basis of human perspective. The God perspective is thus neglected. Therefore, with theology sidelined and psychology becomes the champion in the foundation of education, the understanding of human nature through the eyes of psychology is partial. Consequently, this leads to the partial understanding of education.
Educating Imago Dei cannot be based merely on our current knowledge of human nature according to psychology. Since the word Imago Dei implies the God perspective, then theology should be taken seriously as the foundation of any psychological research and knowledge. Here I propose for psychology to return to its true role in complementing theology for the understanding of human nature. Starting from accepting the truth that humans are created in the Image of God, then psychology will see our true dignity as human beings. Only then can our noble task of educating Imago Dei be done accordingly. Only then is educating human beings to be true human beings possible. Only then can we understand why we teach, what to teach, and how to teach Imago Dei.
The next article[s] will discuss further the why, what, and how to educate Imago Dei.
* The Business of Christian Education VIII