Imagination versus memorization in education

The Triune God of the Bible has declared that His thoughts are not our thoughts, and that to be able to live in accord with the reality of the universe that He has created, we need to think His thoughts after Him.  This highlights a tension between memory and imagination.  God’s complaint is that “The Lord saw the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5) … “for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21).

Rushdoony (2008), commenting on the Songs of Moses (Exodus 15, Deuteronomy 32 and Psalm 90), writes:

There is a contrast in our text between imagination and memory.  Men must not trust in the imagination, because it reflects their fallen history.  God’s appointed servants must discipline and teach, so that man’s memory is mindful of God’s works, covenant, law, grace and mercy.  The issue is between educational approaches stressing memory versus those stressing imagination.  To stress imagination means to believe in the child’s or person’s creative powers, whereas to emphasize memory is to maintain that the future must be built on the knowledge of the past under God.  Knowledge is not manufactured anew with every generation.  It is a growing structure based on biblical premises, whereas modern education is deliberately rootless and barren (Rushdoony, 2008, p. 491).

There are windows of opportunity in a child’s life, where memory and repetition are fun.  If you miss those windows, then it is harder to develop a discipline of memorization later in life.  Home-based education should include sessions of memorization, of things like: Books of the Bible, names of the Patriarchs and the Apostles, significant historical events, and their dates (Bishop Ussher’s (2003 [1658])  Annals of the World is helpful with this) — i.e Creation, Deluge, Tower of Babel, etc. — Creeds and Catechisms, countries around the world and their capitals, local mountain ranges and rivers, and many other things.

An education is much more than memorization, but at the same time must include memorization.


Rushdoony, R. J. (2008). Commentaries on the Pentateuch: Deuteronomy. Vallencito, California: Ross House Books.

Ussher, J. (2003 [1658]). The Annals of the World. U.S.A.: Master Books.

Education, Education and the Family, Education and the State, Funding, Home-Based Education, State Schools, Teaching

Globalisation, Schools and Home-based Education: the economic pressures

Sean Casham (2014), writing from an unashamedly socialist perspective, discussed the impact of globalisation on education, in his paper: Globalisation and Education.  He argued that globalisation has ensured that schooling is finance-driven rather than education-driven.  Measurable outcomes, such as high exam scores, become the educational objective of schooling to attract parents to enroll their children and to secure government funding.  These globally originated economic pressures, from such sources as The World Bank (Casham, 2014, p. 2), create insecurity of employment for school staff and ensure that there is a need for particular teachers to prove their ongoing right to be employed.  In this context, data collection becomes connected to professional competence, rather than actual teaching ability and learning outcomes in the lives of the children; value is given to things that can be measured and produced, rather than to the elements of a true education.  Casham writes: “By focusing on the knowable and instantly quantifiable, we may diminish the more abstract qualities of being human, such as kindness and wisdom” (p. 2).

Casham points out that Waters (2011) wrote: “In Australia, 25% of our young people (aged 15-19 years) have a mental disorder and 1 in 3 young people experience moderate to high levels of psychological distress” (Waters, 2011, p. 75).  This figure is an increase on the number of mentally disturbed young people reported in the earlier Sawyer, et al. (2000) Mental Health of Young People in Australia, report.  In the Sawyer report it was recorded that “Fourteen percent of children and adolescents in Australia have mental health problems” (p. xi).  However, it is interesting to note that Sawyer, et al. claimed that there was “a higher prevalence of child and adolescent mental health problems among those living in low-income, step/blended and sole-parent families” (Sawyer, et al., 2000, p. xi).  The Sawyer report claimed to be accurate because “the prevalence of mental health problems identified in (the) survey (was) very similar to the prevalence identified in previous Australian and overseas surveys” (p. xi).

Casham suggests that  these globalisation pressures may have a negative influence on young people.  Making educational processes finance-driven rather than education-driven may be limiting our human capabilities, and “limiting our human capabilities could paradoxically prove harmful to our mental health and the economy” (Casham, 2014, p. 2).  Maseman (2007) pointed out that the increasing trend in measuring school effectiveness “rests on productivity-oriented criteria, and analysis that is used on every level of education from early elementary school up to the tertiary level” (Maseman, 2007, p. 101).  This has led to “the increasing homogenization of the culture of education on a worldwide scale, with the accompanying assumption by educators that there is only one valid epistemology” (Maseman, 2007, p. 110).  Casham summarises this phenomenon by suggesting that “financial objectives can … be at the expense of a truly coherent focus on school improvement” (Casham, 2014, p. 6).

It is my argument that schools cannot be improved, whilst they are the recipients of Government funding.  It is the pressure of Government accountability measures that is apparently skewing pedagogical approaches.  Teachers who are anxious about their job security will not be primarily concerned about the educational outcomes of their charges, rather they will be driven by considerations that revolve around assessment imperatives.  Testing does not deliver an education.  Tests test whether the students have memorised the data that is deemed important to pass the test.  An education results in a lifestyle change.  Testing involves cramming as late as possible before the test date, then promptly forgetting as much as possible after the test.

Home-based education does have its financial pressures.  Home-based education families mostly choose to live a leaner lifestyle than they could if both parents were working and the children were sent to school.  However, when there is a resolve to live contentedly within the family’s single-income means, there are no pressures for financial accountability in relation to the education of the children.  Time can be dedicated to education, and if there is no state-mandated registration, then the testing regime can be done away with all together.  The proof of educational success is not in the results of tests; the proof is in the adjustments to lifestyle that the children make as a result of their educational development.

Casham’s essay is helpful in understanding some of the pressures upon schools and their teaching staff.  Those pressures may also be contributing to the poor mental health of many of the children attending the schools.  Add the pressures of globalisation to the factors of bullying, academic struggle and the corresponding shame that many children experience, and it is no wonder that a large number (between 14% and 25%) of children exhibit mental health problems.  However, Casham holds out hope for schools, and this is where I depart from his analysis.  The hope will be found in strengthening families, and then mandating families to deliver an education from the base of their own home sweet home.


Casham, S. (2014). Globalisation and Education. Unpublished Masters level assignment.

Maseman, V.L. (2007). Culture and Education. In: Arnove, R.F. and Torrens, C.A. (eds). Comparative Education: The Dialectic of the Global and the Local, 3rd Edition. pp. 101-116.

Sawyer, M.G., Arney, F.M., Baghurst, P.A., Clark, J.J., Graetz, B.W., Kosky, R.J., Nurcombe, B., Patton, G.C., Prior, M.R., Raphael, B., Rey, J., Waites, L.C. and Zubrick, S.R. (2000). Mental Health of Young People in Australia. Child and adolescent component of the National Survey of Mental Health and Well-being.  Canberra: Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care.

Waters, L. (2011) A review of school-based positive psychology interventions. The Australian Educational and Developmental Psychologist. 28(2), pp. 75-90. DOI 10.1375/aedp.28.2.75

deschooling, Discipleship, Education, Education Delivery Programs, Ivan Illich, Socialization, Teaching, Unschooling

Reflections on Illich 22: Unschooling and a flexible learning web: the dangers of age-segregation in schools

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC.  Downloadable from:

p. 93  “The inverse of school would be an institution which increased the chances that persons who at a given moment shared the same specific interest could meet–no matter what else they had in common.”

One of the important defining characteristics of school and schooling is age-grade segregation.  Age-grade segregation is justified on grounds of socialization and child-development theory.  It is argued that children need to be exposed to peer-relationships so that they can learn how to relate to a cohort of children their own age.  It is also argued that all children pass through development stages at the same time, and therefore they need to be related to, in an age-appropriate manner.

These two presuppositions are fallacious at several points.  Firstly, God placed children into families.  In most cases, families grow at the rate of one child at a time, with significant age intervals between each child.  God is wisdom personified.  The only wise God, our Saviour, would not ordain a process that is fundamentally flawed.  Therefore, I argue that the best learning environment is not age-segregated, but multi-generational, with a broad range of ages represented in the learning environment.  I have worked in schools for 25 years.  I can speak with a measure of authority.  I have worked in Christian schools, state schools, private schools, schools for Aboriginal children, and the common factor between all these schooling contexts is that age-segregated children degenerate to the lowest common denominator.  Children crave attention.  If they cannot get it from the overworked teacher, they will look for it in their peers, and the peer that they usually crave attention from is the coolest dude–the naughtiest kid in the class.  Their socialization is downwards through the pressure of wanting to conform to be accepted–even in the case of a good family, good kids are dragged down, in the school context, and many good families have lost their children to the pressures of socialization in schools.  In an inter-generational, multi-age learning setting, the child will look for attention from the strongest role model–their socialization is upwards, into the lifestyle of the patriarch of the learning environment.

Secondly, children are not equal.  There may be general growth phases, but not all children reach the same milestones at the same time in all areas of growth.  To presuppose equality of development, will lead to holding back of those who are ready to move on in some areas, and forcing outcomes from those who are not ready in other areas, and generally trying to squeeze the cohort of children into a teacher-determined mediocrity.  In this context, none of the children are fully developed in any of their strong areas, many of the children are crushed because too much is expected of them in their weak areas (and as a result of the crushing they lose confidence to learn in their good areas) and every one has the desire to learn taught out of them.

Home-based education that is firmly grounded on unschooling principles, with a discipleship emphasis, is the best means of establishing individual learning needs in children.  If there were local Flexi-Learning Centres scattered around the country, then a register of learning opportunities could be kept so that children could be connected with an appropriate local custodian of specific knowledge sets, skills, and experiences.  Those who gather around this local expert will be there because they want to learn, not because they are of the same age.  Such learning contexts may include multi-generational learners, and a distribution of a wide range of ages.  No one should be excluded from learning simply on the basis of age.  Older learners will be there to help younger learners, and learners who teach other learners will enhance their own learning–a fresh look at peer tuition.


Certification, deschooling, Education, Education Delivery Programs, Ivan Illich, Schooling, Schools

Reflections on Illich 21: Schools militate against the reality that we are not all created equal

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC.  Downloadable from:

p. 92  “At their worst, schools gather classmates into the same room and subject them to the same sequence of treatment in math, citizenship and spelling.  At their best, they permit each student to choose one of a limited number of courses.  In any case, groups of peers form around the goals of teachers.  A desirable educational system would let each person specify the activity for which they sought a peer.”

In his essay, ‘Human Variation and Individuality’, from the book, The Twelve Year Sentence, H. George Resch (1974) argues that there is no such thing as equality in the universe.  At every level, every human being, and every other created thing, has stamped upon it individuality.  The modern mantra of equality spits in the face of reality.  We are not created equal.  We should not be treated equally.  The expectation of equal outcome from equal opportunity is a hollow expectation.  It is demanding greater and greater resources for lesser and lesser result.

Those who espouse equality despise the Sovereignty of God; they despise the idea that God has fore-ordained and pre-determined all things–including our roles and functions in society.  It is true that some have used the idea of ordained roles and functions to suppress others and appoint them to positions of slavery.  This is a perversion of the doctrine of Sovereignty.  “For freedom Christ has set us free, … do be not submit again to a yoke of slavery,” Galatians 5:1 teaches us.  No, God is an infinite God, and He has created  an infinite variety in expression of the roles that He has ordained.  This means that individuality needs to be nurtured, encouraged, and allowed to become an expression of expertise.  This means that each person requires an intimately individualized education track.  Sure, there will be core skills that many will share.  However, not everyone will need all of those core skills to be the best that they can be in whatever it is that God has created them to be excellent in.  Mandating core skills will inhibit the growth and development of some for whom such skills are not appropriate.

The educational paths of individuals should touch and part, mingle and separate, and trace a learning dance across the community.  Some will learn some things from this person, but then learn different things from a range of other people, in totally different contexts.  This dance of learning will be encouraged and facilitated by parents, but be tempered with a consideration of the interests, gifts, passions, calling, abilities and other marks of individuality within the student.  It cannot be centrally predetermined.  It cannot be centrally administrated.  It cannot be centrally certificated, regulated, and controlled.  It is an expression of the creativity and providence of the Infinite Triune God.

Certification, Education, Ivan Illich, Teaching

Reflections on Illich 20: We need to consider the wealth to be gained from deregulated teaching in the marketplace

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC.  Downloadable from:

p. 91  “To guarantee access to effective exchange of skills, we need legislation which generalizes academic freedom.  The right to teach any skill should come under the protection of freedom of speech.  Once restrictions on teaching are removed, they will quickly be removed from learning as well.”

Freedom can only be found in the Lord Jesus Christ: “For freedom Christ has set us free; …” (Galatians 5:1).  It is the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the Law of God which provide the constraints around freedom that prevents it from becoming license.  To legislate for freedom, without first ensuring there is a change in heart of the majority in the community, is only to entrench greater and greater measures of license.  So-called academic freedom in the west has morphed into an unchecked attack on truth.  Academic freedom has come to mean the proclamation of anything, without accountability.  Being that, as it may, laws concerning libel and slander and inciting riot do place a measured check around license, therefore political censorship of all speech is contrary to the freedom that Christ has offered those who believe in Him.

Furthermore, the notion of rights under girds all kinds of aberrant lifestyles and behaviours.  The Bible knows nothing of rights.  The Bible teaches privileges and responsibilities.  Those who bear their responsibilities enjoy the privileges that come with them.  Those who shirk their responsibilities lose their privileges.  Without such a balance, the claim for rights, without a corresponding check, leads once again to unrestrained license.

Having said all this, the point that Illich makes concerning the deregulation of teaching is a valid one.  Teaching should not be limited to those who hold a state-issued license.  The issue of false and dangerous teachers can be addressed with laws that prohibit the propagation of ideas that incite violence, riot, and promote degenerate and immoral lifestyles.  The free exchange of ideas is an important part of community growth and development.  New ideas, that are tested and weighed against old values, when they survive the debate, and blossom out of the trials, can lead to better conditions and enjoyment of life.  New ideas should not be feared, simply because they are new.  Untested, and unchallenged ideas cannot be embraced without due diligence.  A free education market is the best place to ensure that such ideas do get considered, debated, trialed and either embraced or rejected by the community.

It is the narrowing of curriculum, through the centralization of curriculum choice, that does the most damage to education.  Centralized curriculum is indoctrination, not education.  A free education market will guarantee a much broader  curriculum in the marketplace.  Local decisions will adjust curriculum to local need, and the sharing of educational content between communities will ensure that the best of ideas are generally accessed.  This will allow individuals to follow their gifting, their passion and their interests more fully, ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to become an expert in something.  This will result in a much wealthier community that is served by a plethora of experts in a hugely diverse range of knowledge sets, giftings and skills.

Ivan Illich, Schooling, Schools

Reflections on Illich 18: The thing that schools are best at is training up workers for the schooling industry and other total institutions

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC.  Downloadable from:

p. 48  “School either keeps people for life or makes sure that they will fit into some institution.”

I have finally left school.  I am nearly 58 years of age.  The best years of my life were given to schools and schooling.  However, when I took small breaks from school, I found myself caught up in other total institutions, the most significant being four years serving in the Australian Army.  I am living evidence of Illich’s words.  Upon deep reflection, I have come to believe that schools are poisonous places, and many attendees of schools are wounded for life as a consequence of their schooling experience.  The only real survivors of schooling are those who are oriented to the schooling process, and therefore are easily groomed to perpetuate the institution at one of its many levels (child care, pre-school, primary/elementary school, high school, university, post-graduate school, trade school, Bible school, etc.).   But are these survivors really survivors at all.  There is something satisfying about sharing knowledge with others.  However, the total institution of school breeds workplace bullying, academic ladder-climbing, playground bullying, workload stress, and gives opportunity for despots to rise to the top of the bureaucratic pyramid.

All of this is just not necessary for an education.  It is necessary to keep an industry flooded with public money to fund: mortgage payments, extended paid leave, sabbaticals, superannuation, textbook writing, seminars, tenured university positions, research projects, education journals, etc.  However, an education does not cost any where near the cost of funding public-financed schooling.

A truly educated person is not institutionalized.  An educated person knows how to live life to its fullest, is productive, creative, and knows how to think outside the school-set boundaries–an entrepreneur, an inventor, a pioneer.  A schooled person thinks narrowly, and is trained to believe that there is only one answer–the answer required by the teacher on the test that is coming up.  A schooled person is politically correct. A schooled person is passive, and expects others to provide for them–the well-trained dole recipient, or compliant worker in the top-down corporation.

It is said that it takes at least one month of deschooling to counter each year that a person has been schooled.  I have been deschooling for 15 months as of this post.  I only have three years of deschooling to go, and hopefully then I can start becoming a useful person in my community.  What a waste of a life!

A deschooled society will save the community an enormous amount of wasted money, and provide a much better educated community, as well.



Education, Ivan Illich, Life Learning, Teaching

Reflections on Illich 17: Don’t wait to be taught: have a go and learn.

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC.  Downloadable from:

p. 48  “School prepares for the alienating institutionalization of life by teaching the need to be taught.  Once this lesson is learned, people lose their incentive to grow in independence; they no longer find relatedness attractive, and close themselves off to the surprises which life offers when it is not predetermined by institutional definition.”

It has been very painful to watch someone I know struggle with the helplessness that they feel because their schooling has instilled in them that unless they are taught, they cannot learn.  Actually, this is the condition of a number of people that I know.  They have been schooled, and they have been schooled exceptionally well.  These people live less than satisfying lives because they are always blaming their lack of knowledge on not having been taught such and so.  It is a debilitating condition to be in.

I remember that I did not really start learning to drive until after I had been given my driver’s license.  I was taught the basics, but the real lessons came from repeated practice on the open road, and having to learn how to adjust to the unpredictable as it came in my ongoing driving experience.

A proper education is like this.  At the beginning we do need to be taught some basics, such as: moral precepts, decoding/encoding skills, mathematical tables, and some basic historical, geographical and scientific facts.  However, if we are spoon-fed beyond the basics, then we lose the capacity to self-learn, and as a consequence become dependent upon others to teach us.  Those who have been institutionalized by schooling and its spoon-fed learning model, are not able to cope with the learning opportunities that life throws up at them.

The best context for learning is to have a go, fail, consider the lessons that can be learned from the attempt, then have another go with better insight.  To wait until someone teaches you, before having a go, means that you are ever learning, but never arriving at the truth, or never learning at all.