Education as Training in Worship

Why Quantity Along with Quality Time Matters

Larry Alex Taunton recently devoted a long thread on Twitter to what he says is the “hard truth” Christian parents don't want to hear about public education. He was responding to the report that Elon Musk blames woke colleges for turning his son against him and accuses America’s elite institutions of teaching “full-on communism.” For those who have had their cultural eyes opened these past few years, this will come as no surprise.

Taunton’s main point is that God holds Christian parents (and fathers especially) responsible for the education of their children. Fathers are charged with raising their kids “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). That means something very specific, and it’s something that public schools are simply not equipped to do. As a general theme, this has been hammered over and over again. Consider this article, and this, and this, and this for just a small sampling here at Salvo.

Every Christian should consider the nature of spiritual formation in education. It is blatantly false (and always has been) that the secularism of public schools in America means “religiously neutral.” The question is not whether our educational institutions will train our kids to believe certain things from a certain perspective, but what things from which perspective they will be taught — as is clearly seen in the case of Musk’s son.

Man as a Worshiping Creature

Every single man, woman, and child is born a worshipping creature. We were created to worship. We were created to recognize, honor, and submit to God as our Creator. That impulse was not lost in the Fall. It was only bent: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!” (Romans 1:24-25 ESV). Worship is an inescapable concept. There is not a question of whether we will worship, but which what or who will stand behind the altars of our hearts.

When we send our kids into the classroom, we are sending them into a sanctuary. In that sanctuary, with all the maps, formulas, quotations, portraits, and cartoons push-pinned onto the wall, human souls are being oriented toward a certain end. In the deepest sense possible, they are being taught to love something. And I don't mean that they are filled with a pleasant emotion, or that they are being taught to love history the way they love ice cream.

No. Something much more important is happening. Their hearts are being trained to love something, with the kind of love that has the potential to orient them in a certain direction for the rest of their lives — the kind of love that is the beating heart of worship. Augustine, bishop of Hippo, understood how this worked. In talking about the nature of the soul, he said:

[We bear the image of God not] because the mind remembers itself, and understands and loves itself; but because it can also remember, understand, and love Him by whom it was made. And in so doing it is itself made wise. But if it does not do so, even when it remembers, understands, and loves itself, then it is foolish. Let it then remember its God, after whose image it is made, and let it understand and love Him. Or to say the same thing more briefly, let it worship God, who is not made.[1]

In this the bishop offers us a necessary way of understanding education. In everything we do, memory will lead to understanding, which will lead to the love of something ultimate, some final principle or end. The object of that love becomes the defining element of our lives. If that object is self, or anything less than God Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, the soul will be foolish, no matter how many letters follow a person’s name. But if the object of that love is God, then that soul will be wise, no matter how lowly their status in this world may be.

What Augustine describes parallels the process at work in the classroom. Classrooms are like sanctuaries. Either God Himself or lesser gods (i.e., idols) are being worshiped there. Teachers are training kids to remember, understand, and love something. Given the nature of public education today, that something is not likely to be the Triune God of Scripture.

Quantity over Quality

How are the loves that define our worship developed? Church and family obviously are key components, but this is one of those rare cases when quantity may be more important quality. Taunton notes this briefly in his thread, but it is worth expanding. There are only 168 hours in a week, of which we are awake for only 112 or so. Christians spend 1.5-2 hours a week (if that) at church. If families eat dinner together every night (which is another big if these days), and dinner takes half an hour, that’s 3.5 hours spent around the table. Now, if those kids are in day school, from 8-3, that means they are in the sanctuary of the classroom for 35 hours.

Nearly a third of their waking hours are spent in the company of peers under the tutelage of potentially hostile worldviews. Factor in the amount of time in the afternoons and evenings spent on homework, and that number goes up. A conservative estimate might be 2 hours/weekday spent on work for the day school. That means 45 hours spent at the altar of another god (potentially), compared with the 2 hours spent at church, and the 3.5 hours spent around the dining table with the family. That’s 40 percent of a child’s life when they are at their most impressionable, during the very years when their loyalties and loves are being formed. This is completely setting aside the amount of time spent on social media or with video games.

When it comes to education, quantity time is important. The lessons that are most drilled into a student’s mind and heart will likely win. Are those lessons geared toward teaching our children to remember, understand, and love the One who created them? Or are they being taught, both by direct instruction and unconscious immersion, to worship some creature instead?

To use Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, we will be taught, reproved, corrected, and trained in something for the purpose of making a soul complete, equipped for a particular work. That will happen. It is inescapable. It is not whether this will happen, but which teacher will do the instructing. What are your kids being taught and trained to worship? Which priests and priestesses are leading your kids toward which altar? What are they being trained to love?

Unfortunately, Musk has learned this lesson the hard way. His son, born Xavier Musk, now wants to identify as a woman, go by the name Vivian Wilson, and have nothing to do with his dad. According to the world’s richest man, it was the “full-on” communist schools of American higher ed that brought about this tragic end. He may very well be right. While Musk probably wouldn’t put it this way, Vivian (now his legal name), like every child in every classroom in every state, has been trained to remember the world in a certain way and to understand it according to a particular lens. This has led Xavier-Vivian to a certain kind of ultimate love. And, consistent with the dominant religion of our secular culture, it is a love that gives absolute loyalty to self-created identity. While there is certainly more going on behind the scenes in the Musk household, the reality of this antipathy is still to be mourned.

However, sadly, it should not surprise us. The uncritical outsourcing of the education of our children to institutions that preach a different gospel, raise a different altar, and congregate in a different sanctuary, will necessarily lead to division and heartache. To put it bluntly, as Taunton says in his thread, “Until parents fully accept that it is their responsibility to educate their children and not that of the state, the cultural situation will only get worse.”

And he’s not wrong.


 On the Trinity. Translated by Arthur West Haddan. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff, Series 1, vol. 3, 1886. Reprint, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, 2004. 191

(MA Humanities) is a poet and translator living in the DFW metroplex with his wife and son. His new blank verse translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, as well as accompanying reader’s guides, are available at

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