By Parnell McCarter


Education has for generations been an important matter for God’s people.  It is appropriate therefore to survey some of the history of education, in order to better understand what we today should do in the realm of education.  We can glean from earlier generations how they understood the scriptural rules for education.  So let’s consider education in Israel up to the time of Jesus Christ, in Ireland in the centuries following Patrick’s missionary efforts there, in John Knox’s Scotland, and in Britain during the time of the Westminster Assembly.


Alfred Edersheim provides the following insights on Jewish education in his book The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah in the chapter on the childhood of Jesus:

“From the first days of its existence, a religious atmosphere surrounded the child of Jewish parents. Admitted in the number of God's chosen people by the deeply significant rite of circumcision, when its name was first spoken in the accents of prayer,49 it was henceforth separated unto God. Whether or not it accepted the privileges and obligations implied in this dedication, they came to him directly from God, as much as the circumstances of his birth. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Israel, the God of the promises, claimed him, with all of blessing which this conveyed, and of responsibility which resulted from it. And the first wish expressed for him was that, 'as he had been joined to the covenant,' so it might also be to him in regard to the 'Torah' (Law), to 'the Chuppah' (the marriage-baldachino), and 'to good works;' in other words, that he might live 'godly, soberly, and righteously in this present world' - a holy, happy, and God-devoted life. And what this was, could not for a moment be in doubt. Putting aside the overlying Rabbinic interpretations, the ideal of life was presented to the mind of the Jew in a hundred different forms - in none perhaps more popularly than in the words, 'These are the things of which a man enjoys the fruit in this world, but their possession continueth for the next: to honour father and mother, pious works, peacemaking between man and man, and the study of the Law, which is equivalent to them all.'50 This devotion to the Law was, indeed, to the Jew the all in all - the sum of intellectual pursuits, the aim of life. What better thing could a father seek for his child than this inestimable boon?

49. See the notice of these rites at the circumcision of John the Baptist, in ch. iv. of his Book.

50. Peah i. 1.

The first education was necessarily the mother's.51 Even the Talmud owns this, when, among the memorable sayings of the sages, it records one of the School of Rabbi Jannai, to the effect that knowledge of the Law may be looked for in those, who have sucked it in at their mother's breast.52 And what the true mothers in Israel were, is known not only from instances in the Old Testament, from the praise of woman in the Book of Proverbs, and from the sayings of the son of Sirach (Ecclus. iii.53), but from the Jewish women of the New Testament.54 If, according to a somewhat curious traditional principle, women were dispensed from all such positive obligations as were incumbent at fixed periods of time (such as putting on phylacteries), other religious duties devolved exclusively upon them. The Sabbath meal, the kindling of the Sabbath lamp, and the setting apart a portion of the dough from the bread for the household, these are but instances, with which every 'Taph,' as he clung to his mother's skirts, must have been familiar. Even before he could follow her in such religious household duties, his eyes must have been attracted by the Mezuzah attached to the door-post, as the name of the Most High on the outside of the little folded parchment55 was reverently touched by each who came or went, and then the fingers kissed that had come in contact with the Holy Name.56 Indeed, the duty of the Mezuzah was incumbent on women also, and one can imagine it to have been in the heathen-home of Lois and Euice in the far-off 'dispersion,' where Timothy would first learn to wonder at, then to understand, its meaning. And what lessons for the past and for the present might not be connected with it! In popular opinion it was the symbol of the Divine guard over Israel's homes, the visible emblem of this joyous hymn: 'The Lord shall preserve thy going out and coming in, from this time forth, and even for evermore.'57

51. Comp. 'Sketches of Jewish Social Life,' pp. 86-160, the literature there quoted: Duschak, Schulgesetzgebung d. alten Isr.; and Dr. Marcus, Pædagog. d. Isr. Volkes.

52. Ber. 63 b.       53. The counterpart is in Ecclus. xxx.

54. Besides the holy women who are named in the Gospels, we would refer to the mothers of Zebedee's children and of Mark, to Dorcas, Lydia, Lois, Eunice, Priscilla, St. John's 'elect lady,' and others.

55. On which Deut.vi. 4-9 and xi. 13-21 were inscribed.

56. Jos. Ant. iv. 8. 13; Ber.iii. 3; Megill. i. 8; Moed K. iii.       57. Ps. cxxi. 8.

There could not be national history, nor even romance, to compare with that by which a Jewish mother might hold her child entranced. And it was his own history - that of his tribe, clan, perhaps family; of the past, indeed, but yet of the present, and still more of the glorious future. Long before he could go to school, or even Synagogue, the private and united prayers and the domestic rites, whether of the weekly Sabbath or of festive seasons, would indelibly impress themselves upon his mind. In mid-winter there was the festive illumination in each home. In most houses, the first night only one candle was lit, the next two, and so on to the eighth day; and the child would learn that this was symbolic, and commemorative of the Dedication of the Temple, its purgation, and the restoration of its services by the lion-hearted Judas the Maccabee. Next came, in earliest spring, the merry time of Purim, the Feast of Esther and of Israel's deliverance through her, with its good cheer and boisterous enjoyments.58 Although the Passover might call the rest of the family to Jerusalem, the rigid exclusion of all leaven during the whole week could not pass without its impressions. Then, after the Feast of Weeks, came bright summer. But its golden harvest and its rich fruits would remind of the early dedication of the first and best to the Lord, and of those solemn processions in which it was carried up to Jerusalem. As autumn seared the leaves, the Feast of the New Year spoke of the casting up of man's accounts in the great Book of Judgment, and the fixing of destiny for good or for evil. Then followed the Fast of the Day of Atonement, with its tremendous solemnities, the memory of which could never fade from mind or imagination; and, last of all, in the week of the Feast of Tabernacles, there were the strange leafy booths in which they lived and joyed, keeping their harvest-thanksgiving; and praying and longing for the better harvest of a renewed world.

58. Some of its customs almost remind us of our 5th of November.

But it was not only through sight and hearing that, from its very inception, life in Israel became religious. There was also from the first positive teaching, of which the commencement would necessarily devolve on the mother. It needed not the extravagant laudations, nor the promises held out by the Rabbis, to incite Jewish women to this duty. If they were true to their descent, it would come almost naturally to them. Scripture set before them a continuous succession of noble Hebrew mothers. How well they followed their example, we learn from the instance of her, whose son, the child of a Gentile father, and reared far away, where there was not even a Synagogue to sustain religious life, had 'from an infant59 known the Holy Scriptures,' and that in their life-moulding influence.60 It was, indeed, no idle boast that the Jews 'were from their swaddling-clothes...trained to recognise God as their Father, and as the Maker of the world;' that, 'having been taught the knowledge (of the laws) from earliest youth, they bore in their souls the image of the commandments;'61 that 'from their earliest consciousness they learned the laws, so as to have them, as it were, engraven upon the soul;'62 and that they were 'brought up in learning,' 'exercised in the laws,' 'and made acquainted with the acts of their predecessors in order to their imitation of them.'63

59. The word brefoV has no other meaning than that of 'infant' or 'babe.'

60. 2 Tim. iii. 15; i. 5.       61. Philo, Legat. ad Cajum, sec. 16. 31.       62. Jos. Ag. Apion ii. 19.

63. Jos. Ag. Apion ii. 26; comp. 1. 8, 12; ii. 27.

But while the earliest religious teaching would, of necessity, come from the lips of the mother, it was the father who was 'bound to teach his son.'64 To impart to the child knowledge of the Torah conferred as great spiritual distinction, as if a man had received the Law itself on Mount Horeb.65 Every other engagement, even the necessary meal, should give place to this paramount duty;66 nor should it be forgotten that, while here real labour was necessary, it would never prove fruitless.67 That man was of the profane vulgar (an Am ha-arets), who had sons, but failed to bring them up in knowledge of the Law.68 Directly the child learned to speak, his religious instruction was to begin69 - no doubt, with such verses of Holy Scripture as composed that part of the Jewish liturgy, which answers to our Creed.70 Then would follow other passages from the Bible, short prayers, and select sayings of the sages. Special attention was given to the culture of the memory, since forgetfulness might prove as fatal in its consequences as ignorance or neglect of the Law.71 Very early the child must have been taught what might be called his birthday-text - some verse of Scripture beginning, or ending with, or at least containing, the same letters as his Hebrew name. This guardian-promise the child would insert in its daily prayers.72 The earliest hymns taught would be the Psalms for the days of the week, or festive Psalms, such as the Hallel,73 or those connected with the festive pilgrimages to Zion.

64. Kidd, 29 a.       65. Sanh. 99 b.       66. Kidd, 30 a.       67. Meg. 6 b.

68. Sot. 22 a.       69. Succ. 42 a.       70. The Shema.       71. Ab. iii. 9

72. Comp. 'Sketches of Jewish Social Life,' pp. 159 &c. The enigmatic mode of wording and writing was very common. Thus, the year is marked by a verse, generally from Scripture, which contains the letters that give the numerical value of the year. These letters are indicated by marks above them.

73. Ps. cxiii. - cxviii.

The regular instruction commenced with the fifth or sixth year (according to strength), when every child was sent to school.74 There can be no reasonable doubt that at that time such schools existed throughout the land. We find references to them at almost every period; indeed, the existence of higher schools and Academies would not have been possible without such primary instruction. Two Rabbis of Jerusalem, specially distinguished and beloved on account of their educational labours, were among the last victims of Herod's cruelty.75 Later on, tradition ascribes to Joshua the son of Gamla the introduction of schools in every town, and the compulsory education in them of all children above the age of six.76 Such was the transcendent merit attaching to this act, that it seemed to blot out the guilt of the purchase for him of the High-Priestly office by his wife Martha, shortly before the commencement of the great Jewish war.77 78 To pass over the fabulous number of schools supposed to have existed in Jerusalem, tradition had it that, despite of this, the City only fell because of the neglect of the education of children.79 It was even deemed unlawful to live in a place where there was no school.80 Such a city deserved to be either destroyed or excommunicated.81

74. Baba B. 21 a; Keth. 50 a.       75. Jos. Ant. xvii. 6. 2.

76. Baba B. 21 a.       77. Yebam. 61 a; Yoma 18 a.

78. He was succeeded by Matthias, the son of Theophilos, under whose Pontificate the war against Rome began.

79. Shabb. 119 b.       80. Sanh. 17 b.       81. Shabb. u.s.

It would lead too far to give details about the appointment of, and provision for, teachers, the arrangements of the schools, the method of teaching, or the subjects of study, the more so as many of these regulations date from a period later than that under review. Suffice it that, from the teaching of the alphabet or of writing, onwards to the farthest limit of instruction in the most advanced Academies of the Rabbis, all is marked by extreme care, wisdom, accuracy, and a moral and religious purpose as the ultimate object. For a long time it was not uncommon to teach in the open air;82 but this must have been chiefly in connection with theological discussions, and the instruction of youths. But the children were gathered in the Synagogues, or in School-houses,83 where at first they either stood, teacher and pupils alike, or else sat on the ground in a semicircle, facing the teacher, as it were, literally to carry into practice the prophetic saying: 'Thine eyes shall see thy teachers.'84 The introduction of benches or chairs was of later date; but the principle was always the same, that in respect of accommodation there was no distinction between teacher and taught.85 Thus, encircled by his pupils, as by a crown of glory (to use the language of Maimonides), the teacher - generally the Chazzan, or Officer of the Synagogue86 - should impart to them the precious knowledge of the Law, with constant adaptation to their capacity, with unwearied patience, intense earnestness, strictness tempered by kindness, but, above all, with the highest object of their training ever in view. To keep children from all contact with vice; to train them to gentleness, even when bitterest wrong had been received; to show sin in its repulsiveness, rather than to terrify by its consequences; to train to strict truthfulness; to avoid all that might lead to disagreeable or indelicate thoughts; and to do all this without showing partiality, without either undue severity, or laxity of discipline, with judicious increase of study and work, with careful attention to thoroughness in acquiring knowledge - all this and more constituted the ideal set before the teacher, and made his office of such high esteem in Israel.

82. Shabb. 127 a; Moed K. 16. a.

83. Among the names by which the schools are designated there is also that of Ischoli, with its various derivations, evidently from the Greek scolh, schola.

84. Is. xxx. 20.

85. The proof-passages from the Talmud are collated by Dr. Marcus (Pædagog. d. Isr. Volkes, ii. pp. 16, 17).

86. For example, Shabb. 11 a.

Roughly classifying the subjects of study, it was held, that, up to ten years of age, the Bible exclusively should be the text-book; from ten to fifteen, the Mishnah, or traditional law; after that age, the student should enter on those theological discussions which occupied time and attention in the higher Academies of the Rabbis.87 Not that this progression would always be made. For, if after three, or, at most, five years of tuition - that is, after having fairly entered on Mishnic studies - the child had not shown decided aptitude, little hope was to be entertained of his future. The study of the Bible commenced with that of the Book of Leviticus.88 Thence it passed to the other parts of the Pentateuch; then to the Prophets; and, finally, to the Hagiographa. What now constitutes the Gemara or Talmud was taught in the Academies, to which access could not be gained till after the age of fifteen. Care was taken not to send a child too early to school, nor to overwork him when there. For this purpose the school-hours were fixed, and attendance shortened during the summer-months.

87. Ab. v. 21.

88. Altingius (Academic. Dissert. p. 335) curiously suggests, that this was done to teach a child its guilt and the need of justification. The Rabbinical interpretation (Vayyikra R. 7) is at least equally far-fetched: that, as children are pure and sacrifices pure, it is fitting that the pure should busy themselves with the pure. The obvious reason seems, that Leviticus treated of the ordinances with which every Jew ought to have been acquainted.

The teaching in school would, of course, be greatly aided by the services of the Synagogue, and the deeper influences of home-life. We know that, even in the troublous times which preceded the rising of the Maccabees, the possession of parts or the whole of the Old Testament (whether in the original or the LXX. rendering) was so common, that during the great persecutions a regular search was made throughout the land for every copy of the Holy Scriptures, and those punished who possessed them.89 After the triumph of the Maccabees, these copies of the Bible would, of course, be greatly multiplied. And, although perhaps only the wealthy could have purchased a MS. of the whole Old Testament in Hebrew, yet some portion or portions of the Word of God, in the original, would form the most cherished treasure of every pious household. Besides, a school for Bible-study was attached to every academy,90 in which copies of the Holy Scripture would be kept. From anxious care to preserve the integrity of the text, it was deemed unlawful to make copies of small portions of a book of Scripture.91 But exception was made of certain sections which were copied for the instruction of children. Among them, the history of the Creation to that of the Flood; Lev. i.-ix.; and Numb. i.-x. 35, are specially mentioned.92

89. 1 Macc. i. 57; comp. Jos. Ant. xii. 5. 4.       90. Jer. Meg. iii. 1, p. 73 d.

91. Herzfeld (Gesch. d. V. Isr. iii. p. 267, note) strangely misquotes and misinterprets this matter. Comp. Dr. Müller, Massech. Sofer. p. 75.

92. Sopher. v. 9, p. 25 b; Gitt. 60 a; Jer. Meg. 74 a; Tos. Yad. 2.

It was in such circumstances, and under such influences, that the early years of Jesus passed. To go beyond this, and to attempt lifting the veil which lies over His Child-History, would not only be presumptuous,93 but involve us in anachronisms. “


 In the centuries following Patrick’s missionary efforts in Ireland, education was a preeminent concern.  Here is how Rev. James Aitken Wylie has described education in Ireland at that time, in his book History of the Scottish Nation:


“Leaving the missions for after narration, we shall here offer a brief sketch of the schools of Ireland. We have already said that wherever Patrick founded a church there he planted a school. From this good custom Patrick's successors took care not to depart. The church and the school rose together, and religion and learning kept equal pace in their journey through Ireland. The author of the ancient catalogue of saints, speaking of the period immediately succeeding Patrick, says, "It was the age of the highest order of Irish saints, who were, for the most part, persons of royal or noble birth, and were all founders of churches," and by consequence planters of schools.[1] The historian O'Halloran writes, "Every religious foundation in Ireland in those days included a school, or, indeed, rather academy." "The abbeys and monasteries," he continues, "founded in this (sixth) century, are astonishingly numerous." And again, "The abbeys and other munificent foundations of this (seventh) age, seem to have exceeded the former ones."[2]

Curio, an Italian, in his work on Chronology, also bears testimony to the number and excellence of the schools in Ireland. "Hitherto," he exclaims, "it would seem that the studies of wisdom would have quite perished had not God reserved to us a seed in some corner of the world. Among the Scots and Irish something still remained of the doctrine of the knowledge of God, and of civilization, because there was no terror of arms in those utmost ends of the earth. And we may there behold and adore the great goodness of God, that among the Scots, and in those places where no man could have thought it, so great companies had gathered themselves together under a most strict discipline."[3] We do not wonder that this learned Italian should have been filled with astonishment when the cloud lifted, and he saw, rising out of the western ocean, an island of wise men and scholars where he had looked only for barbarous septs tyrannized over by brutal chieftains. We at this day are just as astonished, on looking back, to find Ireland in that age what these writers have pictured it. And yet there comes witness after witness attesting the fact. "The disciples of St. Patrick," says our own Camden, "profited so notably in Christianity, that in the succeeding age nothing was accounted more holy, more learned, than the Scottish monks, insomuch that they sent out swarms of most holy men into every part of Europe." After enumerating some of the abbeys they founded abroad, Camden goes on to say, "In that age our Anglo-Saxons flocked from every quarter into Ireland as to the emporium of sound literature, and hence it is that in our accounts of holy men we frequently read, 'he was sent for education to Ireland.'"[4]

Not less explicit is the testimony of the historian Mosheim. "If we except," says he, speaking of the eighth century, "some poor remains, of learning which were yet to be found at Rome and in certain cities of Italy, the sciences seem to have abandoned the Continent, and fixed their residence in Ireland and Britain." And again, "That the Hibernians were lovers of learning, and distinguished themselves in these times of ignorance by the culture of the sciences beyond all other European nations, traveling into the most distant lands, both with a view to improve and communicate their knowledge, is a fact with which I have been long acquainted; as we have seen them, in the most authentic records of antiquity, discharging with the highest reputation and applause the functions of doctors in France, Germany, and Italy, both during this (8th) and the following century."And speaking of the teachers of theology among the Greeks and Latins in the ninth century, Mosheim says, "With them authority became the test of truth, and supplied in arrogance what it lacked in argument... The Irish doctors alone, and particularly Johannes Scotus, had the courage to spurn the ignominious fetters of authority."[5]

It is hard for us at this day to realise the Ireland of those ages as these witnesses describe it, the picture has since been so completely reversed. And yet, if it be possible to prove anything by evidence, the conspicuous eminence of Ireland during those centuries must be held as perfectly established. Like Greece, it was once a lamp of light to the nations; and, like Egypt, it was a school of wisdom for the world a lamp of purer light than ever burned in Athens, and a school of diviner knowledge than Heliopolis ever could boast.

We have called these institutions schools. The chroniclers of the middle ages, who wrote in Latin, term them monasteries.[6] We prefer to speak of them as schools. It is the word that rightly describes them. The term monastery conveys to the modern mind a wholly false idea of the character and design of these establishments. They rose alongside the church, and had mostly as their founders the same royal or noble persons. They were richly endowed with lands, the gift of kings and chieftains, and they were yet more richly endowed with studious youth. They were just such monasteries as were Oxford and Cambridge, as were Paris and Padua and Bologna in succeeding centuries. They trained men for the service of church and state; they reared pastors for the church; and they sent forth men of yet more varied accomplishments to carry on the great missions movement in Northern Europe, which was the glory of the age, and which saved both divine and human learning from the extinction with which they were threatened by the descent of the northern nations, and the growing corruption of the Roman Church. Even Bede [7] speaks of then as colleges, and so, too, does Archbishop Usher. The latter says, "They were the seminaries of the ministers; being, as it were, so many colleges of learned men whereunto the people did usually resort for instruction, and from whence the church was wont to be continually supplied with able ministers."

Historic truth, moreover, requires that we should distinguish between these two very different sets of institutions, which are often made to pass under the same name, that is, between the schools of the sixth and seventh centuries, and the Benedictine monasteries, which were obtruded upon and supplanted than in the twelfth and thirteenth. Till times long posterior to Patrick no monk had been seen in Ireland, and no monastery had risen on its soil. On this head the evidence of Malachy O'Morgain is decisive.

Malachy, Archbishop of Armagh, was one of the earliest perverts to popery among the Irish clergy, and he was one of the main agents in the enslavement of his native land. His life was written by his contemporary and friend, the well-known St. Bernard of Clairvaux in France. This memoir lifts the veil and shows us the first monks and monasteries stealing into Ireland. "St. Malachy, on his return to Ireland from Rome," says St. Bernard, "called again at Clairvaux... and left four of his companions in that monastery for the purpose of learning its rules and regulations, and of their being in due time qualified to introduce them into Ireland." In all countries monks have formed the vanguard of the papal army. "He," (Malachy) said on this occasion," continues St. Bernard, "They will serve us for seed, and in this seed nations will be blessed, even those nations which from old time heard of the name of monk, but have never seen a monk."[8] If the words of the Abbot of Clairvaux have any meaning, they imply that up till this time, that is, the year 1140, though Ireland was covered with institutions which the Latin writers call monasteries, the Irish were ignorant of monks and monkery. And this is confirmed by what we find Bernard afterwards writing to Malachy: "And since," says he, "you have need of great vigilance, as in a new place, and in a new land that has been hitherto unused to, yea, that has never yet had any trial of monastic religion, withhold not your hand, I beseech you, but go on to perfect that which you have so well begun."[9] This evidence is decisive of two things: first, that monasteries, in the modern sense of the term, were unknown in Ireland till the middle of the twelfth century, when Malachy is seen sowing their seeds; and second, that the ancient foundations were not monasteries, but schools.[10]

The primary and paramount study in these colleges were the SCRIPTURES. They were instituted to be well-springs of evangelical light. But they were not restricted to the one branch of theological and sacred learning, however important it was deemed. Whatever was known to the age of science, or art, or general knowledge was taught in the schools of Ireland. The youth flocked to them, of course, but not the youth only; patriarchs of sixty or of threescore years, in whom age had awakened a love of knowledge, were enrolled among their pupils. As every age so all ranks were permitted to participate in their advantages.

Their doors stood open to the son of the serf as well as to the son of the prince. No nation but was welcome. From across the sea came youth in hundreds to be taught in them and carry back their fame to foreign lands. Thus they continued to grow in numbers and renown. Kings and noble families took a pride in fostering what then saw was a source of strength at home and glory abroad. In the centuries that followed the death of Patrick these schools continued to multiply, and the number of their pupils greatly to increase. In some instances the number of students in attendance almost exceeds belief: although the cases are well authenticated. We give few examples. At Benchor (White Choir) there was at one time, it is said, three thousand enrolled students. At Lismore, where the famous Finnian taught, there were three thousand. At Clonard, nearly as many.

One quarter of Armagh was allotted to and occupied by foreign youth, attracted by the fame of its educational establishments. At Muinghard, near Limerick, fifteen hundred scholars received instruction. These foundations came in time to be possessed of great wealth. They shared, doubtless, in the revenues of the ancient priesthood on the downfall of Druidism. Moreover the waste lands with which they were gifted, and which the pupils cultivated in their leisure hours, were yearly growing in fertility and value, and yearly adding in the same ratio to the resources of the establishment. No fee was exacted at their threshold. They dispensed their blessings with a royal munificence. So Bede informs us.

Speaking of the times of Aidan and Colman (A.D. 630-664) he says, "There were at that time in Ireland many both of the nobility and of the middle classes of the English nation, who, having left their native island, had retired thither for the sake of reading God's word, or leading a more holy life.... All of whom the Irish receiving most warmly, supplied, not only with daily food, free of charge, but even with books to read, and masters to teach gratuitously."[11]

Estimating it at the lowest, the change which Patrick wrought on Ireland was great. Compared with the reformation of Luther, it may be readily admitted, that of Patrick was feeble and imperfect. It did not so thoroughly penetrate to the roots of either individual or social life as the German reformation. The fifth century was poor in those mighty instrumentalities in which the sixteenth century was so rich. It lacked the scholarship, the intellectual vigour, the social energy, and the brilliant examples of personal piety which shed so great a splendour on the first age of the reformation. The fifth century had no printing press. It had no Frederic the Wise; it had no theological treatise like the "Institutes," and no compend of the Christian revelation like the "Augsburg Confession."




Moving forward many centuries to the time of John Knox, here is the model for Scottish education envisioned in The First Book of Discipline:


“For the Schools


Seeing that the office and duty of the godly magistrate is not only to purge the church of God from all superstition, and to set it at liberty from bondage of tyrants; but also to provide, to the uttermost of his power, how it may abide in the same purity to the posterity following; we cannot but freely communicate our judgments with your honours in this behalf.


The Necessity of Schools


Seeing that God has determined that his church here in earth shall be taught not by angels but by men; and seeing that men are born ignorant of all godliness; and seeing, also, God now ceases to illuminate men miraculously, suddenly changing them, as that he did his apostles and others in the primitive church: of necessity it is that your honours be most careful for the virtuous education and godly upbringing of the youth of this realm, if either ye now thirst unfeignedly [for] the advancement of Christ's glory, or yet desire the continuance of his benefits to the generation following. For as the youth must succeed to us, so we ought to be careful that they have the knowledge and erudition to profit and comfort that which ought to be most dear to us-to wit, the church and spouse of the Lord Jesus.


Of necessity therefore we judge it, that every several church have a schoolmaster appointed, such a one as is able, at least, to teach grammar and the Latin tongue, if the town is of any reputation. If it is upland, where the people convene to doctrine but once in the week, then must either the reader or the minister there appointed, take care over the children and youth of the parish, to instruct them in their first rudiments, and especially in the catechism,[10] as we have it now translated in the book of our common order, called the Order of Geneva. And further, we think it expedient that in every notable town, and especially in the town of the superintendent, [there] be erected a college, in which the arts, at least logic and rhetoric, together with the tongues, be read by sufficient masters, for whom honest stipends must be appointed; as also provision for those that are poor, and are not able by themselves, nor by their friends, to be sustained at letters, especially such as come from landward.


The fruit and commodity hereof shall suddenly appear. For, first, the youth and tender children shall be nourished and brought up in virtue, in presence of their friends; by whose good attendance many inconveniences may be avoided, in the which the youth commonly fall, either by too much liberty, which they have in strange and unknown places, while they cannot rule themselves; or else for lack of good attendance, and of such necessities as their tender age requires. Secondly, the exercise of the children in every church shall be great instruction to the aged.


Last, the great schools, called universities, shall be replenished with those that are apt to learning; for this must be carefully provided, that no father, of what estate or condition that ever he be, use his children at his own fantasy, especially in their youth; but all must be compelled to bring up their children in learning and virtue.


The rich and potent may not be permitted to suffer their children to spend their youth in vain idleness, as heretofore they have done. But they must be exhorted, and by the censure of the church compelled, to dedicate their sons, by good exercise, to the profit of the church and to the commonwealth; and that they must do of their own expenses, because they are able. The children of the poor must be supported and sustained on the charge of the church, till trial is taken whether the spirit of docility is found in them or not. If they are found apt to letters and learning, then may they (we mean neither the sons of the rich, nor yet the sons of the poor) not be permitted to reject learning; but must be charged to continue their study, so that the commonwealth may have some comfort by them. And for this purpose must discreet, learned, and grave men be appointed to visit all schools for the trial of their exercise, profit, and continuance: to wit, the ministers and elders, with the best learned in every town, shall every quarter take examination how the youth have profited.


A certain time must be appointed to reading, and to learning of the catechism; a certain time to the grammar, and to the Latin tongue; a certain time to the arts, philosophy, and to the tongues; and a certain [time] to that study in which they intend chiefly to travail for the profit of the commonwealth. Which time being expired, we mean in every course, the children must either proceed to further knowledge, or else they must be sent to some handicraft, or to some other profitable exercise; provided always, that first they have the form of knowledge of Christian religion: to wit, the knowledge of God's law and commandments; the use and office of the same; the chief articles of our belief; the right form to pray unto God, the number use, and effect of the sacraments; the true knowledge of Christ Jesus, of his office and natures, and such other [points] as without the knowledge whereof, neither deserves [any] man to be named Christian, neither ought any to be admitted to the participation of the Lord's Table. And therefore, these principles ought and must be learned in the youth.”


Finally, we have the model of education proposed by the Westminster Assembly in The Form of Presbyterial Church-Government in the Westminster Standards:


“Teacher or Doctor.


THE scripture doth hold out the name and title of teacher, as well as of the pastor.[22]


Who is also a minister of the word, as well as the pastor, and hath power of administration of the sacraments.


The Lord having given different gifts, and divers exercises according to these gifts, in the ministry of the word;[23] though these different gifts may meet in, and accordingly be exercised by, one and the same minister;[24] yet, where be several ministers in the same congregation, they may be designed to several employments, according to the different gifts in which each of them doth most excel.[25] And he that doth more excel in exposition of scripture, in teaching sound doctrine, and in convincing gainsayers, than he doth in application, and is accordingly employed therein, may be called a teacher, or doctor, (the places alleged by the notation of the word do prove the proposition.) Nevertheless, where is but one minister in a particular congregation, he is to perform, as far as he is able, the whole work of the ministry.[26]


A teacher, or doctor, is of most excellent use in schools and universities; as of old in the schools of the prophets, and at Jerusalem, where Gamaliel and others taught as doctors. “


From the information that can be gleaned in the articles above, and most importantly from scripture itself, we can deduce the following principles concerning education:


  1. The truths of scripture are the foundation of a proper education.
  2. Parents are the ultimate stewards of their children’s education. 
  3. Parents should use reasonable means to provide their children with an education in conformity with the doctrines of scripture, so excellently summarized in the Westminster Standards.
  4. The schools should be overseen and run by the reformed church.
  5. The state should provide funding for the schools run by the reformed church.
  6. When the state and church in the area of one’s residence fail to provide sound schools, it falls to the parents to do their best to provide a sound education, under such difficult circumstances.