The Iron Law of EducationWritten by Finny Kuruvilla
In the gospels, what are the two most common titles of address for Jesus? A common guess is “Savior” and “Lord,” but the correct answer is “Lord” and “Teacher.” Jesus is called “Teacher” over thirty times in the gospels. In fact, it’s often used in contexts that are somewhat surprising. When the disciples believe they are about to die on the storm-tossed sea, they cry out to Jesus, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). It was “Teacher” that reflexively burst from their hearts in their near-death desperation. What title would you call Jesus by as you faced death?
The surprises continue. When his followers want a miracle from Jesus, they would often use the title Teacher. “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child” (Luke 9:38). When you want a miracle from Jesus, do you call him “Teacher”? His followers seem to recognize that his miraculous power was bound to his authority as Teacher. When his disciples wanted to make large requests of him, they could not help but address Him as Teacher. James and John came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask” (Mark 10:35). And in their intimate moments, “Teacher” came out as freely as we use “Sweetheart” for our loved ones. After the resurrection, with all of her surprise, fear, and love mingled into a frame of mind that can hardly be put into words, Mary cried to the resurrected Jesus walking in the garden, “Teacher!” (John 20:16).
Teacher. May that title be as near to us as it was with those who walked with the Son of God. In a world of false teachers who have deceived countless souls, could there be a title that more aptly befits the truest Teacher who ever lived?
Jesus, functioning as the Master Teacher, discloses the central principle of education– the great law that governs the entire enterprise. With a genius surpassing Newton or Einstein, he gives us the first law of education, the equivalent of the law of gravity. It is the starting principle, the central force that animates all that teachers do. This Iron Law of Education, Jesus described as:
"Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher. (Luke 6:39-40)
The Iron Law of Education is deceptively simple and unimaginably powerful: you become like those who teach you. Even if you are not conscious of this transformation, it’s happening – steadily and silently. The Master Teacher tells us how to avoid being the blind led by the blind: by choosing your teachers well.
The Iron Law is one of the most powerful forces, perhaps the most powerful force, that shapes the hearts of young people. Students during the formative ages between 5 to 25 are being actively shaped by the Iron Law to become like their teachers. The character of their teachers drives their destiny.
Neil Gross (a professor of sociology at Harvard) and Solon Simmons (professor of sociology at George Mason University) published a paper in 2007 entitled “How Religious are America’s College and University Professors?” Gross writes, “Professors who are born-again are extremely rare at elite doctoral institutions, composing only about one percent of professors at such institutions.” Thus, the average student at a top university has a 99% chance of being instructed by a person who does not claim to be born-again. Their teachers are filled with atheists, agnostics, or perhaps worse, nominal Christians who claim some affinity to Jesus without wanting to embrace his teachings, certainly not His command to be born again.
What does the Iron Law of Education predict from this setup? It predicts that most young people will have their faith damaged or destroyed during their years of college. Journalist John Dickerson summarizes the results of several research efforts: “In separate studies Josh McDowell, LifeWay Research, the Barna Group, and secular researchers, including at UCLA, have all landed at figures between 69 and 80 percent of evangelicals in their twenties who leave the faith.”
That number should break our hearts. But it should not surprise us. We have asked for this outcome. As surely as the acorn falls close to the tree, so does the Iron Law of Education work its effect.
This past week I had an encounter with a young lady who lost the faith of her parents. She had gone to a college that taught very differently than she was raised. Her foundations were destroyed and her family is groping for answers, devastated. Countless families could tell a similar story. But this is all tragically predictable.
How do we reverse this pattern? Quite simply, by choosing our teachers by different criteria than is currently being done. One of the major goals of a college education should be to learn and grow in the truth. Surely everyone could agree with that. The Master Teacher tells us how to grow in the truth: “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me" (John 18:37). Truth begins by listening to Jesus. If you want to know if your professors are on the side of truth, ask if they call Him “Teacher” and carefully observe if they listen to Him. Do they embrace everything Jesus commanded (Matt 28:20)? Should you not use this test as your criterion for selecting teachers and a college, beware of the Iron Law making you the blind being led by the blind.