Manual Arts – Extraneous?

Do you believe that manual training is an essential factor in the education of our children? Then you will agree with the stand of the Christian educator who wrote this article.

For a first-hand account of the story behind North Central Association’s dropping of Holland Christian High School from its list of accredited schools read Wilma Par Bouman’s article in the August issue of The Reformed Journal. Mrs. Bouman, together with Dr. Clarence De Graaf, whom she consulted in the writing of this article, played an important part in this accrediting controversy. It was quite inevitable that out of this controversy should emerge statements of educational philosophy. Those reported encourage critical thinking. It may help us to refine our thinking about Christian education by capitalizing on the stimulus which Mrs. Bouman’s article engenders.

Well-known thinkers are referred to freely in the article. No one thinker is more relied upon so much as Dr. De Graaf. He is reported to have said that from a Christian point of view the emphasis in education must be placed on those factors that reflect the image of God. That statement is hard to contradict. Is it really anything more than a truism? Since man is created in the image of God, how can one educate him without emphasizing those factors? Not so, however, for Dr. De Graaf. Like Solomon of old he orders the child cut in two. With a classical knife he divides certain parts of the child as belonging to the image of God and other parts as belonging to something else. Discussing factors that do reflect the image of God he says, “These are not the manual skills.”

If manual skills do not reflect the image of God, whose image do they reflect? Dr. De Graaf says that the factors that do reflect the image of God are, “judgment, understanding, insight, moral responsibility to God, distinction between good and evil, the recognition of evil in a secular society…” One cannot help thinking of Noah’s manual skill in building the Ark and the manual skill of Bezalel and Aholiab of whom we read in Exodus 31 that they were filled with the “Spirit of God…in all manner of workmanship…” God also chose the family of a carpenter to prepare Jesus for His great work. Thus from the Scriptures we learn that God used manual skills not only to effect redemption but also to teach it. How can one say that the development of these skills does not reflect the image of God?


Dr. De Graaf is not alone in injecting a classical dualism into Christian educational theory and practice. We read in this account that “the opinion held by some of our leaders who had studied this matter (Dr. Henry Stab, Dr. John Van Bruggen, Dr. Lambert Flokstra, and the late Dr. Henry Zylstra) was that instruction in manual arts and home economics is extraneous (unrelated) to the purpose of Christian education. This does not mean that these may not have practical value, but they are not essential to the responsibility of providing a distinctive Christian education.” A little reflection on this statement weaves a nest of problems for the Christian educator.

If man is of one piece, if he acts and reacts as a whole person, how can his education be fragmentized into parts that m’e Christian and parts that are unrelated? If Calvinism is a world and life view, how can anything be unrelated in such a comprehensive view? If within such a view all things are included, how can any instruction pertaining to it be unrelated in a system of education based upon it? In the Netherlands we have Christian trade and technical schools. On the basis of the above quoted statement, are these schools justified?

Once a person begins to discriminate between factors in education as Christian and non-Christian, where does one stop and who or what stops the differentiation? The aim of industrial arts in a Christian school is to give the student an understanding of his industrial age, to acquaint him with its products, and to teach him to use these industrial products creatively for his own development as an image-bearer of God. Home economics, or home-making, is taught to develop within our students, especially our girls, the ability and desire to become competent homemakers for their Lord. To say that instruction in these two areas is extraneous to covenantal Christian education is, it seems to me, to open the way to a complete abolition of the Christian school system. One can with equal justification ask whether arithmetic, reading, and penmanship are not in themselves, per se, extraneous to Christian education. This is no idle threat. Isn’t this exactly the position of many of our Reformed brethren?

Once the notion of a basic dualism penetrates one’s view of Christian education, our whole structure of Christian schools, from the kindergarten through the university, is jeopardized. How many instructional offerings could not then be deleted from our Calvinistic schools? The “extraneous list” could swell to tragic consequences. To cut Christian education in two would have the same fatal result that would have followed Solomon’s command to divide the child, had it been carried out. The American world generally is satisfied to agree with the woman whose child it was not when she said, “It shall be neither mine nor thine: divide it.” Doesn’t that somewhat characterize American public education.

Education, all of it, the whole of it, belongs to the Lord. Man, all of him, the whole of him, was created in the image of God. How can the refinement of any skill help but brighten that image; or how can any factor in education which contributes to the development of any aspect of that image be extraneous to the purpose of Christian education?