What Is the Chief End of Education?

Becky Aniol

silhouette of child sitting behind tree during sunset

As the blog title suggests, Poetics & Paideia /pie-DAY-uh/ will be centered around the beauties and disciplines of growth in Christlikeness. I’ll be talking about discipleship of children, disciplines of godly motherhood, atmosphere and liturgies of the home, family worship, worldview and educational philosophy, homeschooling helps, and more. But before I offer any book reviews or curriculum recommendations, before I share tips on choosing a college or teaching your kindergartner, I need to answer this question: What is the chief end of education?

Ask evangelical church-goers why they chose a certain school for their children (public, Christian, or otherwise) or what colleges they’re looking at with their high schoolers, and most would answer that those schools have the best opportunities for future success—the most college or career potential, the best sports programs, the highest academic ratings. Similarly, what is the homeschool parent’s greatest fear? That their children won’t know enough to succeed in college or career.

Why learn math? So you can do your taxes . . . and get into college. Why learn grammar? So you can communicate at your job . . . and get into college. Why learn Latin, classical children? So you can better understand English grammar and organize your thoughts . . . and get into college with higher scores! Why learn literature? Well, I don’t know, so just get through the test.

These answers and fears indicate a belief, whether conscious or not, that the chief end of education is for children to accumulate enough information to do well on tests so that they can get into a good college, get a good job, and live a comfortable life. This is pragmatism, not Christianity.

While getting into college, getting a good job, and living a comfortable life are not intrinsically evil, they’re also not ultimately Christian goals. Christians should, above all, have Christian goals. Living with the end in mind is one of the great privileges of the Christian life.

Q: What, then, is the chief end of education?

A: The chief end of education is to glorify God and enjoy him forever by being conformed into the image of his Son (Rom 8:29, Rom 12:2, 2 Cor 3:18, Phil 2:5, Col 3:10).

In other words, the goal of education, for the Christian, is not information accumulation. The goal of education, like that of the Christian life as a whole, is sanctification—putting on “the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator…compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…and above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:10-14). Commencement begins not with graduation but with glorification.

Education is not ultimately about how much our children know; it’s about how much—and Whom—they love.

And the chief end affects the beginning and the middle—the process of education. You can’t choose a curriculum or a college without some sort of goal, and for the Christian, Christlikeness must be that goal. Through each academic discipline, children should be learning how to love God and their neighbor—how to be like Christ in thought, word, and deed. Each book read should teach the child about the human condition, each history lesson about the human plight and Sovereign hope of living in a Psalm 2 world, each science lesson about the endless wonder of creation. As their knowledge grows, children should learn humility at the vastness of what they do not yet know and at the mysteries that will be revealed only in heaven. At each difficult lesson or test, patience and self-control and, again, humility are the most important lessons.

Through each academic discipline, children should be learning how to love God and their neighbor—how to be like Christ in thought, word, and deed.

This doesn’t happen by checking boxes and passing tests. This happens through discipleship. “Teach them diligently” to “love the LORD their God” (Deut 6). “Teach them all that I have commanded” (Matt 28). “‘Which is the great commandment in the Law?’ . . . ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt 22). For if our children “understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, they are nothing.”

Education is not ultimately about how much our children know; it’s about how much—and Whom—they love.

Author silhouette of child sitting behind tree during sunset

Becky Aniol

Becky Aniol is a wife, keeper of the home, and mother of four children aged 3–15, whom she homeschools. She has a PhD in Christian education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Becky writes and speaks at conferences on education, discipleship, and the Christian imagination and leads expository women's Bible studies in her local church. Her desire is to equip women with tools for discipleship-parenting and personal growth in Christlikeness.

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