Back in the late 50′s and early 60′s, school for me meant a daily mile-long trek through “the village” [of Ansnorveldt] with my siblings to a one-room schoolhouse, where my brother, sisters, and about 25 students–more or less– from first to eighth grade shared a single classroom– along with spelling bees, Christmas concerts, multiplication tables, art projects, and reading out loud.
One-room schools at that time were not the norm, but living just outside of a sizable Dutch settlement, my siblings and I daily walked past the large Christian Reformed School that most of our neighborhood friends attended, on our way to school. Most of our other remaining neighborhood friends were bussed off to the big Catholic school in town, and consequently there were so few of us left that the public school we attended was by far the minority.
Our administrator/teacher was a big, calm and efficient Catholic man named Mr. Blake. I do not remember seeing him upset or angry. He managed to maintain order and kept us inspired and eager to learn. My siblings and I often laugh over stories of growing up in that schoolhouse because overwhelmingly, the experience was pleasant. However, it wasn’t all fun and games. When a student was disobedient or disrespectful and warranted correction, Mr. Blake simply grabbed “the strap,” calmly took the student out to the privacy of the cloakroom momentarily, and administered a quick, stinging slap on the palms of the student’s hands. I managed to avoid the experience, but I will never forget my heart breaking for one of my sisters who returned to the classroom with big repentant tears rolling down her cheeks as she rapidly blew on her stinging palms.
As students in that one-room schoolhouse, we learned very quickly that if we wanted to avoid the harsh “external government” of our teacher, we needed to govern ourselves well internally. The more self-control (or self-”government”) we were able to exercise, the less we needed Mr. Blake’s corrective control (or corrective “government.”)
Unfortunately, like one-room schoolhouses, punishment for disobedience in the classroom (and in many homes) has gone the way of the dinosaur. It’s become almost extinct. The tried-and-true philosophy of education that once produced self-controlled, productive individuals has been replaced with child-centered entitlement and a refusal to restrain misbehavior. Yet the philosophy of education in one generation will always be reflected in the next, and will produce that generation’s form of government. The implications of failing to teach our children to be self-governed individuals are huge. Today we are witnessing the chaotic results of unrestrained behavior not only in our homes and interrelationships, but also in our nation.
Last week, Newt Gingrich likened this generation to entitled, self-focused individuals who excitedly jumped with enthusiasm into a political system that promised everyone a “free trip to Disneyland”–yet they didn’t have the wisdom to discern that in order to get their free ride, it meant crashing the plane into the park. There is no free ride. Too absorbed in satisfying their own immediate wants and desires, no matter what the cost, they are led like sheep to the slaughter.
The self-governed individual, on the other hand, understands the value of hard work, sacrifice, self-control, and patience that ultimately will lead to true freedom, and less intrusive civil government.
God has ordained two distinct spheres of government: internal, and external.Good government begins internally, with self-government, and will always be revealed externally.In Luke 6:43-46, Jesus said, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit…The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks.”
Whatever is in the heart of an individual will be evident in his conversation, actions, and manners–and ultimately in relationships, businesses, and civil institutions. The external characteristics are the true mark of what is internal. Man must necessarily be governed, either by internal self-government, or by external civil restraint. If we want limited, nonintrusive civil government, then we must earn it by exercising consistent internal self-control.
Around 1852, Robert Winthrop said, “All societies of men must be governed in some way or other. The less they may have of stringent state government, the more they must have of individual self-government. The less they rely on public law or physical force, the more they must rely on private moral restraint. Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within, or by a power without them; either by the word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible, or by the bayonet.”
We don’t need to return to the one-room schoolhouse in order to find our way back to the “good old days.” We only need to practice, and to diligently teach our children, the truth of Proverbs 4:23, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”
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