by Marie K. MacPherson
Parents, pastors, and educators have the responsibility to teach children factual and biblical information about pro-life topics. However, many adults shy away from these discussions, concerned that they may expose children to “too much, too soon,” or even feel paralyzed that they haven’t done enough, “too little, too late.” However, there is a tool that can equip adults to confidently engage young people in life-oriented themes in a developmentally and age-appropriate manner: the three levels of learning. While these levels are used most commonly in classical schools throughout the world, they offer any Christian a glimpse into the minds of young learners which can be applied to any course of study, including a biblical, pro-life worldview! Classical education was developed by ancients like Augustine, accepted by reformers like Luther, and adopted by Walther as he established Lutheran schools in America. Thankfully, you don’t have to be a classically educated teacher in order to make use of this weapon against the culture of death.
“Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance” (Proverbs 1:5).
The first level of learning is called the “grammar” stage. While we tend to think of “grammar” as part of English class, every subject has its “grammar,” also known as building blocks. The “grammar” stage emphasizes exposure to truth, beauty, and goodness, as well as memorizing factual information. Especially for preschool through early-elementary children, this stage is an excellent time for adults to speak to children about the truth of God’s design for the body, the beauty of marriage and family, and the goodness of His timing for life and death. They can be encouraged to memorize Scripture. Children at this age do not need to be deliberately exposed to evil in our world; in fact, they should be intentionally protected from evil as they shape their conception of “normal.”
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).
The second stage of classical education, geared toward middle-school students, is the logic (or dialectic) level. Children at this age are grappling with the world they learned about in their younger years. They desire answers to their questions prior to adopting a pro-life worldview as their own. This group benefits from small, but regular, doses of exposure to evil in the world, scaffolded by discussion filled with reason, Scripture, and grace. Expect and encourage questions about homosexuality, abortion, human trafficking, and faith, even outside of Confirmation class. Don’t let students’ questions intimidate you; if you don’t know the answer, admit it and look for answers together. (Your pastor is probably a great resource!) This is also a wonderful age to introduce children to the study of formal logic as a supplement to their education, allowing them to reflect upon and build logically sound arguments! Jesus, according to His flesh, developed as a normal young man, both physically and intellectually. When He was twelve years old, He was likely passing through the logic stage as He listened to and questioned the teachers in the temple, astounding them with His knowledge (Luke 2:41-52).
The rhetoric stage, around the high-school years, is the third and final level. Students this age build on the pro-life foundation you have helped them lay in the grammar and logic stages. Through persuasion and apologetics, young adults figure out how to engage the world in a battle for life they’ve made their own. This is an excellent time to study apologetic tactics, speech and debate, and comparative world religions together. In this way, compassionate young adults will be equipped to bring the message of life to a confused and hurting world, without losing their faith in the process.
“Always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
While there are always exceptions to these stages with individual children, keep these levels in mind as you mentor the children in your life, confident that your words and exposure to the world fit well with whatever age you are teaching, to the glory of God, as we share the good news of forgiveness in Christ.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go” (Psalm 32:8a).
This article is excerpted from the Lutheran Education Association’s journal Shaping the Future, Winter 2020, entitled “The Frontlines of Spiritual Warfare: Creating a Culture of Life in Your Classroom and School.” Read the full article, including footnotes, at this link: https://tinyurl.com/y8joc7wq. Mrs. Marie K. MacPherson lives in Mankato, Minnesota, with her husband, Ryan, and their six children whom she homeschools. She is author of The Story of Baby Shalom, Meditations on the Vocation of Motherhood (2018) and Teaching Children Chastity for Life: Talking Points for Christian Parents, editor of Mothering Many: Sanity-Saving Strategies from Moms of Four or More (2016), and a certified classical Lutheran educator from the Consortium of Classical Lutheran Educators (CCLE).