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Discovery Magazine 8/1/2002

Schooling at Home-An Early Biblical Custom

by  Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

Most students today dread the words "pop quiz." While it's no fun to take a pop quiz in math or science, it is normally harmless (aside from possibly receiving a bad grade). But consider what would happen if students in the Old Testament failed a "pop quiz" over God's law. Stu­dents in Bible times were required to ''hear" and "remember" the Law of Moses (Proverbs 1:8; Deuteronomy 5:1). These students needed to know precisely what God required of them. Today, many people view education as simply ''learning." To the Jews, education was not just learning, but also involved students and their relationship with God. In order to ensure the law was passed on correctly, priests were given the responsibility of teaching rituals and preserving the law.

Education was highly valued in ancient Israel, but we have very little information regarding the practices of ancient schools. Archaeologists have discovered clay tablets at Ur of the Chaldees, which prove schools existed in the city of Abraham's youth. However, we know that during biblical times, there was a great deal of turmoil, and threats from neighboring countries also were a problem. Thus, young people mostly learned the Mosaic law at home (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). Can you imagine sitting in a school classroom while a battle was being fought just outside your classroom win­dow? It definitely would be hard to concentrate on what your teacher was saying. Also, families were often required to move in order to have proper grazing land for flocks, or to avoid battles over land-which meant "home-schooling'' was the only choice.

We also know that the primary textbook that students used to learn to read and write was portions of the Old Testament. The Bible also informs us that both mothers and fathers took an active role in the education of their children. Proverbs 1:8 states: "My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother." Parents also taught their professions to their children. Sons would often watch, and help their fathers tend flocks or plant crops. Girls learned important tasks such as baking, spinning, and weaving from their mothers. While students in biblical times may have learned differently than students today, it is important to realize how much emphasis they put on God and learning about Him-something we, too, should emphasize more!

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