“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
During a biblical text lesson in Israel, I discovered a Hebrew translation of this verse: “Train a child in the child’s own way.” It has become my preferred translation of Proverbs 22:6. Why do I prefer the Hebrew translation? I believe that it better fits with the pictures that God paints for us of children throughout Scripture.
God has created each child uniquely and in his image. Every child is wired in his or her own way. Each is endowed with distinct gifts and talents. Children learn differently. Children do not learn at the same rate. Children have innate abilities. Children develop different interests. Certain skills come more easily to some than to others.
There are two boys in our family. One is highly academic. He has become a teacher and school leader. The other could not wait to finish with his formal education. He is a builder and gifted with the skills for finish carpentry. I am even more aware of the differences in interests and learning styles among our grandchildren. As their parents deal with the challenges of raising children, we grandparents can sit back and marvel at the way they were woven together and wonderfully made.
In reflecting on our family and the extended family of the thousands of students who were under my care in my many years in Christian schools, the words “train a child in the child’s own way” resonate. The challenge for parents and educators who seek to be obedient to God’s instruction is to guide and nurture the child as they discover their gifts, develop them, and walk on the path that uses these gifts to the glory of God. We should grieve when a square-peg child is forced to fit into a round hole.
Standardizing seems to me to lead us in the opposite direction of the intent of God’s command. When I read educational literature advocating for standardized testing of kindergartners and when curriculum seems singularly focused on standardization based on tests, then I find myself increasingly uneasy. It seems that children are being forced to fit into predrilled holes. I fear the pendulum has swung too far toward standardization.
Certainly there is a place for common standards and certainly there is some baseline of core knowledge that every child should know and understand. But there must also be sufficient space for important things like play, exploration, creativity, and dreams. Without those things, will there be explorers, inventors, composers, artists, and authors among the next generation? Without those things, will our children discover the wonder of the works of their Creator?
Those who are called to lead should continually be challenged to be discerners. We should not be among the rigid who believe that pendulums should never swing. But better for us to watch the pendulum as it swings and discern the best point in the arc than to climb onto the arm of the pendulum as it swings to extremes. We owe that to our God and to his children.
Devotionals are written by Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Membership