Following Jesus

The Most Important Aspect of Education

September 3, 2018 by

Tomatoes are rolling in, peaches are ripe, we’re enjoying watermelon off the vines as a welcome mid-afternoon refreshment, and corn on the cob for dinner. The weather is hot and humid, and I want to tell myself that it is still summer. But the chirping of crickets and the earlier sunsets indicate that fall is rapidly approaching.

Many schools open this week. The children will have to return to their routines – getting up early to catch the bus, finishing their homework, studying, practicing. But as academics and athletics resume, it is good to take a moment to remember the most important aspects of education: that of the character, mind, and soul.

For Eberhard Arnold (father of five children and founder of the Bruderhof) the primary goal of education was to awaken in children a reverence for God. The following words, which apply to educators and parents alike, are excerpted from an article published in 1928.

We enjoy the children’s delight in nature, in the flowers and woods, in horses, dogs, cows, goats and rabbits, in deer and birds and all living things. We enjoy seeing them digging tunnels and caves, as intent as if they were building an elegant palace. We enjoy seeing them play at their work and work at their play. In playing, children learn how things are made, how values are formed, how culture is created.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God belongs to children.” Just for this reason, it is terrible when the will to do evil arises in a child and urges her on to action. Children must be occupied with good things, take interest in the things of God, and be filled with the powers of the divine. Their free will must not be left unprotected to fall prey to evil. It must be won over to the good.

a boy and his dog sitting on a hilltop

Educating children does not mean scolding and criticizing. It means trusting them, inspiring them, and lending them a helping hand. It means recognizing and encouraging the childlike nature in every child. It is this childlike nature that stimulates the educator and fills her with new strength.

The true educator tries to strengthen the child’s energies for good. These values apply to instructing and educating older children as well. We will enjoy mental and practical work with the children when we realize that it is possible to have unspoiled joy in every kind of work. It’s possible to have joy in any sphere of interest. There is no object in heaven or on earth in which God has no interest; therefore any object is of interest to a genuine child.

We have touched upon the mystery of the child only when we ourselves are touched by that mystery. We want to educate children to be orderly, clean, truthful, loving, interested in learning and thinking, and disciplined in body. We can do this only if we, the educators, are so captivated by the divine mystery of the child that we are inwardly stirred by the marvel of love and joy that lies within her, waiting to be awakened. This holy vital spark must be fanned into flame in us and in the child through whatever activity we do together.

Education is a service of adoration. Not adoration of the child, but reverence for the divine mystery, the resemblance to God, which in the child is not yet completely buried. Our calling as humans is to portray and represent God’s character. It seems hopeless for us adults to fulfill this destiny. But in children it has not yet been betrayed and lost by a definite act of will. Anyone who has a sensitivity to God’s image is overwhelmed by this whenever she is with a child.

All those who are responsible for the child’s education need an alert heart and an active love. How difficult and weighted with responsibility educating children is for us who are unfree in all this. Only wise men and saints are fit to be educators. Our lips are unclean. Our dedication is not unreserved. Our truthfulness is broken. Our love is partial. Our kindness is not without motives. We are marked by lovelessness, possessiveness, and selfishness. We are unjust.

So it is the children who lead us to the gospel. The task which the gospel lays on us shows us that we are not worthy to educate even one single child. If we realize this, we are led to grace. Without the atmosphere of grace, no one can work with children. We can educate and be with children only if we stand like children before God.


About the author

Emmy Maendel

Emmy Maendel

Emmy Maendel, an author with a particular interest in Bruderhof history, writes a regular blog post featuring timely...

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