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Diversity and Absolutes

A Christian Approach to

Individual Differences

with Application to Home Education

by
Earl, Diane & Joel Rodd




Are you aware of differences among children in their learning styles? In their whole personality? Are you aware of differences with your husband or wife? How can you know when these differences are caused by sin and need correction or when the differences are part of the diversity God speaks of in the "many membered" Body of Christ? This pamphlet establishes a Christian approach to individual differences in a practical manner, examining what we mean by personality and carefully describing the difference between God's absolute truth and God-made diversity among people. In addition, we briefly describe areas of individual differences in learning styles, curriculum approaches, and study habits.







Diversity and Absolutes

A Christian Approach to

Individual Differences


with Application to Home Education




Families Honoring Christ

"But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart
and a good conscience and a sincere faith."

Earl & Diane Rodd
6044 Pine Creek St. N.W. North Canton, OH 44720

Phone: (330) 305-9318

1st edition - January 1994

2nd edition - May 2000

Permission is granted to copy this article for personal sharing
but not for sale or other commercial purposes.



FHC is an Ohio based ministry providing information, encouragement
and fellowship to Christian families, natural and spiritual.




Unless otherwise noted, All Scripture quotations are from the

New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1988,

The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.



Additional copies of this booklet may be ordered from FHC by writing to the above address. The price is on the back cover of this booklet. Please add $1.50 for shipping regardless of the number of copies. A full listing of other books and booklets on related topics is also available from FHC at the above address.

Diversity and Absolutes



A Christian Approach to

Individual Differences

Introduction

In this pamphlet we seek to develop a Biblical approach to the study of individual differences and personality theory for the purpose of helping home educating families be wise in their educational methods, choice of curriculum, and family relationships. This pamphlet has two sections. The first develops a Biblical approach to individual differences. The second describes examples of educational applications of personality differences. The second section should not be read without first understanding the first section.

Diversity and Absolutes

Everyone observes numerous differences in personality in many areas of life. With regard to education, we see variances in distractibility, in learning styles, in preferred subject areas, and the effectiveness of divergent types of curriculum. Therefore, we all know that individual differences exist. Many theories have thus been proposed and hundreds of books have been written trying to categorize people. The psychology of differences is captivating because we are all aware that the individual differences exist. Unfortunately, much of what is written on personality differences has two serious flaws:

  1. The first flaw occurs when what is written lacks wisdom and is more confusing than helpful. Some methods of describing personality are too simple and therefore cannot accurately describe human personality. Methods which describe 2 or 4 or even 16 types of people are over-simplified models of personality. This can lead to confusion because people see themselves (and others) in more than one category. Also, when using an over-simplified model, we can make serious mistakes when we follow logic such as:

    We add a caution here that some people have been helped by reading books on personality types, even those which are far too simple or contain other errors, simply because it has opened their eyes to the existence of differences among people.

  2. The second flaw occurs when personality differences are used to justify sin. This is discussed extensively later in this article.

For a discussion of the popular "Four Temperaments" method of describing personality, see a later section of this article.

The authors of this article have worked extensively with a model of personality which we believe overcomes many valid objections to the use of personality theory and is very useful in helping people to perceive and understand the range of individual differences. This is described in the book, Personality, Education, and the Bible by Earl Rodd. The book is available from FHC. Other technical books are available and are referenced in the book by FHC. In particular, the book has a more detailed discussion of educational and other applications of personality differences than are presented in this pamphlet.

To begin our study, we first need to say what we mean by personality. Noah Webster (in his 1828 dictionary) says personality is "That which constitutes an individual a distinct person, or that which constitutes individuality." We believe that personality is a combination of two factors:

  1. Genetics. In this way, personality is like eye color, hair color, or height. Surprisingly little scientific research is available to demonstrate that some personality factors (or traits) are genetic. However, observation of people makes it clear that genetics do affect personality. Furthermore, many researchers in the field acknowledge that personality must be determined in part by genetics. Detailed research using the latest gene mapping techniques to try to identify personality factors which are carried on genes is now being proposed.
  2. Developmental pressures. Just as physical strength is influenced by exercise and type of work we do while growing up, so personality development is subject to pressures. From our study of personality and individual differences, there seem to be developmental stages of personality factors which are very much like physical effects in that once a person reaches adulthood, these factors no longer change. For example, in the physical realm, our height is affected by both our genetic makeup and our diet. However, once we reach adulthood, our height can no longer be affected by our diet. Some personality development seems to follow a similar pattern.

Now we must go beyond personality to look at behavior, attitudes, and learning abilities. These are a function of both :

  1. Personality
    and
  2. Moral choices .

Just as two people of the same height and weight may use their physical abilities differently, one for sin and the other to serve God, so two people with similar personalities can also follow in two different paths. A person who by personality type is a good follower and who works well with strong leadership can be a very loyal gang member or a gifted and effective helper in the Kingdom of God. It all depends upon the individual's moral choices - whether he chooses to submit his life to Christ or rebel against Christ.

When we realize that there are differences between people, differences in both personality and moral choices, then we must learn how to deal with diversity. Dangers lurk here, but God's word can show us the way of wisdom.

In our day, there is a heavy emphasis on individuality, which is confusing because it can mean either individuality in the sense of fulfilling the mission for which God made us or individuality in the sense of rebelling against God's Law.

The positive side of recognizing and dealing with diversity is that it allows us to let people be themselves and not misinterpret actions as things "done to bug us" or "things to cause us trouble" which can lead to contention and frustration.

How do we avoid the trap of justifying sin because of personality? The answer is that we must know what areas are absolutes and what areas are for diversity.

There are lots of simple examples of God-made diversity.

  1. God made a variety of skin colors. He does not say that one is superior.
  2. God made people in a variety of heights and weights. None has superior standing in His eyes.
  3. God made a variety of productivity levels. He expects multiplication such as taught in the parable of the talents, but we see the variety of amounts of multiplication in the parable.
  4. God made a variety of energy levels. He again expects mature fruit from His children, but not the same quantity and kind from each.
Beyond the easy examples lie the difficulties.

We must know God's Word - the only perfect statement of absolute truth. If we fail to operate with knowledge and understanding of God's Word, we can fall into two errors

3i.
1. Legalism - Man made absolutes where God has created diversity.
This means that we require others to "be like us" when God does not require so. We thus place demands which are selfish. Man demands absolutes where God has made diversity. In education, we can err on the side of legalism when we say that because a particular curriculum has worked for us or a friend, then it is the only curriculum which is "right" for Christians.
2. Antinomianism (lawlessness) - Man made diversity where God has created absolutes.
This means believing that there are no laws. We thus allow people to sin and justify it on the grounds of individual differences or personality. Man allows diversity where God commands absolutes. An example of an absolute principle in education is the importance of using godly curriculum because of the importance of using every opportunity to teach God's Word.

Diversity

The Bible gives us clear guidance on how to view the diversity which He has made. These Scriptures also establish that God has indeed made us different from one another, different for His glory.

I Corinthians 12:12
12. For even as the body is one and {yet} has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.
13. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
14. For the body is not one member, but many.
15. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I am not {a part} of the body," it is not for this reason any the less {a part} of the body.
16. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I am not {a part} of the body," it is not for this reason any the less {a part} of the body.
17. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
18. But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.
19. And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
20. But now there are many members, but one body.
21. And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."
22. On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary;
23. and those {members} of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly {members come to} have more abundant seemliness,
24. whereas our seemly {members} have no need {of it.} But God has {so} composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that {member} which lacked,
25. that there should be no division in the body, but {that} the members should have the same care for one another.
26. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if {one} member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
27. Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it.
28. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, {various} kinds of tongues.
29. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not {workers of} miracles, are they?
30. All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?

Here we see a strong expression of diversity among people - God created diversity. Note especially,

I Corinthians 12:21
21. And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."

This tells us to be cautious of becoming proud and oblivious of the strengths of others and our need for what they contribute.

Romans continues with this theme,

Romans 12:4
4. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function,
5. so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

The Bible tells us what our attitude is to be towards diversity,

Romans 12:3
3. For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.

James 2:9
7. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin {and} are convicted by the law as transgressors.

Thus, we are to be without partiality . The theme of partiality is a significant theme in the Bible. We can err by creating an absolute where God has created diversity by being partial towards certain kinds of people.

A simple Biblical example of diversity is seen in the story in Luke,

Luke 10:38
38. Now as they were traveling along, He entered a certain village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.
39. And she had a sister called Mary, who moreover was listening to the Lord's word, seated at His feet.
40. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up {to Him,} and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me."
41. But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things;
42. but {only} a few things are necessary, really {only} one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her. "

Martha was not reproached for her preparations. Her service was not the problem. Rather, two things stand out in Martha that needed correction.

  1. First, she was distracted with preparations.
  2. Second, she demanded of Mary the some narrow service.

Martha, seeing only the preparations, asked the Lord to instruct Mary to help her. Because Martha did not see what Mary was doing as essential, to Martha it was clearly unjust to have to do all the serving herself. Jesus gently corrected both problems. With regard to the first he diagnoses her problem: she was worried about so many things, and then explains the correct view of the situation - only a few things are necessary, really only one. With regard to the second, He states that Mary had chosen the good part, which would not be taken away from her. Jesus firmly resisted Martha's attempt to make Mary like herself.

It is interesting to note, however, that Jesus did not instruct Martha to become like her sister. That too would have been error. His remarks seem to suggest more that Mary ought to be left alone than that Martha should be like Mary. Jesus corrected Martha in terms of her own personality, and not Mary. He was forced to discuss Mary only because of Martha's demand.

In conclusion, Martha's personality needed some gentle guidance to keep her from going astray and maintain a correct balance and perspective. The demands which she placed on Mary because of that unbalanced view required firm denial. Perhaps the one conclusion we may draw is that "personality conflicts" usually result from either one's own personality gone slightly awry or attempts to change those of others which God accepts. Most often it is a combination of the two. Clearly, Jesus did not write off the problem to a "personality conflict." No, to do so would have been to deny the wisdom of God in making different personalities. Jesus' response indicates that God designed mankind to live in harmony with one another. When discord occurs it is the result of sin. In a harmony, each line is different, but complementary. So it is with personalities.

Sin

The gravest danger in dealing with diversity is to justify sin because of personality. Personality will influence how sin may manifest outwardly to be seen by others ; however, in God's sight sin is sin, as demonstrated in James,

James 2:10
10. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one {point,} he has become guilty of all.
11. For He who said, "\Do not commit adultery,\" also said, "\Do not commit murder.\" Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.

Furthermore, Paul explains in Romans that any and all sin causes us to fall short of the glory of God.

Romans 3:21
21. But now apart from the Law {the} righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,
22. even {the} righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction;
23. for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

We justify sin when we say that a person (or ourselves) does something because of his personality. This is a very common outcome of much counseling. This corruption relies upon Freudian analysis to find who is to blame for a person's difficulty. Once blame is established, the sin of the person being counseled is acceptable. When counseling has this influence, sin is justified. Such Freudian influence can be very subtle because it replaces repentance with the placement of blame on another person. The only guard against this influence is knowledge and understanding of God's Word.

We believe that personality does influence how sin will be manifest in the man or women who rebels against Christ and His commands. Another way to express this thought is to say that different personality types are more tempted by some sins than by others. This does not excuse or justify any sin. We believe that this is why the Scriptures make little attempt to prioritize sin; all sin is bad. Many people have had the experience of struggling with a particular sin in their lives and then encountering a Christian brother or sister for whom this sin never seems to have been a problem. It is like it almost does not exist, and certainly has not been tempting to them! Many have also had the experience of counseling another brother or sister who is struggling with a sin which seems very powerful and tempting in their life, a sin which for us seems so simple to deal with by saying, "Just don't do it." Thus most of us have experience with varying temptation of a sin from person to person.

We have seen an application of this principle in press reports (containing very poor science) which have attempted to convince us that some immoral and perverse behavior is caused by a certain "gene". Even if a certain genetic factor is found in many people committing a certain sin, we would say that this genetic factor may be involved in making that sin (whether it be murder or homosexuality) more tempting for them than for some people. But the sin is still a sin!

A clear example of the this error was in the headline "Man's Genes Made Him Kill, His Lawyers Claim" in the November 15, 1994 Wall St. Journal . This is the latest in a series of claims that what the Bible clearly calls sin should be attributed to "genes" or "personality." Many are attempting to show that homosexuality, again clearly described by God's Word as sin (an abomination), is caused by a "gene." If Christians compromise on homosexuality, attributing it to "diversity", soon even murder becomes excused by "genes!" God gave us His Word as an absolute guide.

Absolutes in Christian Principles

Personality is a combination of genetics plus the results of various development pressures upon us by others and ourselves. We can make an analogy to physical growth. We are all born with certain physical characteristics. Some of these are affected by pressures or environmental factors. For example, a person's strength and the size of his bones is affected by the amount and kind of physical work he does while growing up. Diet radically affects overall size. A child's combination of genetics plus diet (plus whatever else may affect it) causes him to be to a certain physical size as an adult - height and build. No matter how much training he goes through later in life, he will not be able to change this size. He can gain weight, he can strengthen muscles, he can even strengthen bones, but some things are fixed by the end of the growing years.

We believe that some aspects of personality work the same way. The human personality is a combination of what God gives (genetics perhaps) plus the results of various developmental pressures and environmental factors plus the individual's responses to them. With the adult personality, he can make many changes and grow in wisdom and experience just as in the physical he can train to strengthen muscles and eat correctly. But just as training cannot change height, so counseling cannot (1) essentially change personality. Instruction and training can teach how to be wise with the personality God has given us, but no one can alter what God chose to give us.

Matthew 6:27
27. "And which of you by being anxious can add a {single} cubit to his life's span?

As we have pointed out earlier in this essay, moral factors are vitally important! Even though a person cannot change how God given physical and personality traits, he can make wise choices. Jesus taught us,

Acts 2:38
38. And Peter {said} to them, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.


Note: Repent is the correct Biblical word for choosing the right way.

Furthermore, many aspects of the developmental process and interaction with our environment as we grow up cannot be changed. We cannot go back and change them. Nor can we change the way they have helped to mold our personality. However, we can apply sound Christian principles to our developmental years. If we have been wronged or hurt, we can (and are commanded to) forgive . We deceive ourselves to think that we can go back and dredge up every hurt and pain (psychoanalyze) and some how change the past and its effect in molding us. This is as futile as mentally imagining that we had a different diet growing up and make ourselves 3 inches taller as an adult.

Our analogy to the physical is simple. We can't change the fact of our height even though we know that factors (genetic and otherwise) in our upbringing have affected it. We can work with the height we are and be wise in what we do with our bodies. With personality, we cannot change how God has made us nor aspects of the effects of developmental pressures. We can make wise use of the way God has made us by the application of absolute Christian principles of forgiveness, spiritual warfare, and righteousness in our relationships.

Where there are spiritual difficulties (fears, hurts), they must be attacked straightforwardly with spiritual weapons (forgiveness, repentance, prayer, the Word of God) and not by trying to change the way God has made us or deny the path He has taken us on thus far in our lives. We need to be delivered from fears we picked up in early life. We may need to forgive those who made errors in how they treated us. We may need to repent of poor moral choices we made, but we cannot change the fact that those things happened and molded us (helped or hindered). The 12 disciples of Jesus were radically different men after their years of encounter with Jesus and the Holy Spirit - freed from spiritual bonds and empowered with the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet, they were still the same men. A person today may have a fear of heights (or elevators, or cars) which is the result of a spiritual bondage. As a new creature in Christ, he can be free of this spiritual bond, but he is still the same person with the same height and same personality.

Also, please remember that a person using his personality traits for evil (e.g. loyal gang member) will look radically different when he repents and turns his life and body over to Jesus. He will still be a loyal person, but now his loyalty will be used for God's purposes!

In reading the Bible accounts of the lives of Jesus, the apostles, and other significant men and women, it seems to us that while we see the personalities of many Bible characters, we do not see the personality of Jesus. We know many things about Jesus, all pertaining to His teaching or to His response to sin and righteousness. Perhaps God has hidden His personality from us just as God has hidden any physical description of Jesus from us. We believe that the same reason lies behind both omissions. If the Bible contained either a detailed physical description or detailed personality description, then men would deify those physical and personality traits as absolutes even though they are traits which are part of God's diversity . What we do see of Jesus are absolutes which all of us can imitate.

Biblical Example of Education

There are many applications of individual differences to education. One of them is a difference between those who learn by understanding and those who learn by details. The one who learns by understanding learns by feel and needs to know the big picture. This person has a strong need to understand why he is being asked to learn something before he can understand what he is learning. He needs to see how the new subject fits in with what he has already learned. The one who learns by detail learns by starting with details and builds to a more global understanding. This one learns well by rote.

Believing that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and that God has provided for the perfect instruction of all men, we looked for examples in the Bible of instruction for both the big picture, concept learner and the rote, step-by-step, details-first learner . One clear example is found in the first verses of the gospels of John and Luke. First, let us look at John.

John 1:1
1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2. He was in the beginning with God.
3. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
4. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
5. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
6. There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John.
7. He came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him.
8. He was not the light, but {came} that he might bear witness of the light.
9. There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.
10. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.
11. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.
12. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, {even} to those who believe in His name,
13. who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

After only twelve verses, John has explained the whole gospel starting with the creator ("the Word"), the creation ("all things came into being", the creation of life ("In Him was life"), the forerunner ("There came a man ... for a witness"), the coming of the Messiah ("There was the true light"), who Jesus came to ("He came to His own"), and finally the way of salvation ("Receive Him ... born of God"). In these verses, the reader understands the purpose of Jesus' coming, to give men the right to become children of God. Furthermore, we see relationships among all of the people (e.g. He was not the light...there was a true light).

In contrast, let us look at the beginning verses of Luke.

Luke 1:1
1. Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us,
2. just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word have handed them down to us,
3. it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write {it} out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus;
4. so that you might know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.
5. In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.
6. And they were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.
7. And they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.

In these few verses, The reader is told that we will be given an account "in consecutive order" and the "exact truth". We then learn details such as who was king of Judah, that Zacharias is a priest, the division he belongs to, His wife's name, and that she is of the daughters of Aaron. The reader is not told the purpose of the gospel or even that this book is about Jesus.

The Four Temperaments

Best selling books have been written using the "four temperaments" model of personality. In the business world, management training and consulting often include a mixture of business principles and psychology, including personality models. In this environment, different models of personality are used which also divide all people into 4 categories. The well known Myers-Briggs model describes 16 personality types.

We have strong reservations about the four temperaments model for three reasons:

  1. It is based upon an ancient, non-Biblical, view of the nature of man. There is evidence that it began with the Greek philosopher Empedocles, a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah, and developed until the current names of types (melancholy, sanguine, choleric, and phlegmatic) were formulated by the Roman physician Galen about 200 A.D. The use of four temperaments is related to the Greek ideas about the physical world in which the four elements of the Greeks, air, fire, soil and water, were related to Greek god's (idols).
  2. Four types is not enough to be accurate. Therefore, use of the system often causes confusion with people incorrectly assessing themselves and others.
  3. Individual differences and moral choices are confused. For instance, laziness is given as a personality trait. Therefore, users of the four temperaments system may identify a person as a particular temperament, and then by reading the book, expect that person to be lazy. Or a person may identify himself as a particular temperament and become convinced that since laziness is a part of that temperament, then it is acceptable for him to be lazy. The Bible makes it clear that laziness is sin, not a personality trait.

    Temperaments teaching often uses the word "weakness" when describing a temperament. This teaching makes "sin" a relative word because weaknesses provide excuses to sin with a way to blame the sin on God who made us. In the garden, Adam and Eve committed only one sin. They were obedient in all else! We can presume that Satan attacked at the greatest point of "weakness", and Eve, then Adam tried to blame the sin on someone else. God corrects Eve, Adam, and Satan. Remember, sin is sin!

Extensive critiques of the four temperaments model have been published.

In summary, it is only by knowing all of God's Word that we can avoid the twin errors of legalism - making absolutes where God has made diversity - and anti-nomianism - making diversity where God has declared absolutes! We live in an age of rapidly changing morals and standards, along with attempts to use science or any other means to justify simple immorality and selfishness. God's Word and the daily instruction of the Holy Spirit provide the only sure path.

Applications to Education

Specific Applications
Before discussing specific applications to education, we want to emphasize that much of the value to the reader lies in being aware of the range of differences among individuals. It is not necessary to know personality profiles of children in order to use this information. If the parents know that various differences exist, then they know when to be on the lookout for these differences and be encouraged to experiment with different methods and curriculum and be confident when God leads them into a method or approach very different from their prior experience. We pray that knowledge of educational differences will lead the reader to greater dependence on the Holy Spirit, not men, for wisdom day to day.

TALK ABOUT IT versus THINK ABOUT IT

Some children learn best by talking about lessons and others learn best with time to think about the concepts or details. Sometimes the "think about it child" may actually ask the parent-teacher to stop talking and let them read (and think). Like all traits mentioned in this short discussion, children (and adults) vary from being very strongly "talk about it" to a mix of both to very strongly "think about it". Also, the picture in real life is complicated by children who are natively one way but trying to learn to be the opposite.

Another way to put this is to say that "talk about it" children need help to develop intellectual discipline and work independently and "think about it" children need help to develop intellectual discipline and stay in contact with reality.

Study Environment

Some children (and adults) study best in a very quiet environment. This is true of the "talk about it" learner. This kind of student, especially one who is very aware and sensitive, will be distracted by relating to every distraction. He will become involved in every conversation he can hear, every construction project he can see or hear and every radio program. Often, this student will try to convince his parents that he studies best with a radio going. This is not true. It is true that he likes to listen to the radio rather than do the thinking work studying.

One way to achieve a quiet environment can be quite simple. Provide background (or white) noise such as a quietly humming fan which blocks out the "people" noise of an active family. Another good kind of white noise is natural noise such as chirping birds or cars on a freeway.

By contrast, a "think about it" learner can work and study well even with background activity. Those who have not attempted to balance this trait actually study best with distractions. This child, if left in a quiet, serene place to study will internalize to the point of doing nothing with his lessons. He will study best in the family room with people talking and even music playing or a radio playing. What we believe happens is that the distractions keep him in contact with his studies. This is in contrast to the opposite type of child for whom the distractions take him out of contact with his studies.

This same principle applies to other activities such as organizing a room, planning a trip, or doing lesson plans. One personality does best with a distraction free environment whereas the other does best with distractions.

WORKBOOK versus TEXTBOOK

One application of the above principles is in curriculum. What we write here has not been subjected to rigorous research. It is an observation and theory of the authors. However, we believe it to be sound. When we started home education, we used some workbook programs (e.g. A.C.E. or Alpha Omega Lifepac) but preferred textbooks. Our oldest son had used workbooks in school and was not fond of them! As time went on, it became clear that our children neither liked nor learned efficiently with workbooks. Our temptation was to discourage others from using workbook curriculums. However, we were tempered in our judgement by examples of strong, successful families who used workbook curriculums exclusively. These families were very successful, and the children liked the programs. This was always a puzzle to us, but we accepted that God made each family His way.

However, through a series of events, we came to a possible explanation of what we observed. We have checked our understanding in working with a number of adults and children. At the extremes, the strongly "talk about it" oriented child does not like workbooks. It seems that the act of constantly picking up a pencil and writing an answer (as is required in workbooks) is very distracting.

On the contrary, the strongly "think about it" child finds textbooks difficult. He has difficulty reading and understanding the textbook. He will internalize to the point that he does not like textbooks because he knows that when he sits down to read and study one, he will lose contact. This is a somewhat frightening prospect. Workbooks, however, with the requirement to frequently pick up a pencil and write an answer, keep him involved. Thus, he enjoys workbooks and will be more successful with them than with textbooks.

Note that in the Bible, there are examples of Bible reading in a wide variety of settings ranging from personal reading to regular oral readings by the men in the synagogues to oral reading and explanation to the entire congregation of Israel.

Direction

Another difference related to the above is the amount of direction a student needs. Some personality types work well with direction and need direction in their work. Obviously, as children grow older, they need less direction. Yet, in addition to this maturity factor, there is a personality factor which needs direction even in adulthood. This is not a "weakness"! Remember how I Corinthians 12 :12-30 instructs us of the importance of every member of the body.

Parents need to pray for discernment to tell the difference between a child who is being stubborn and one who simply is very self directed at an early age. Likewise, parents need the Lord's wisdom to discern a child who lacks maturity from one who needs and works well with direction. Direction means giving specific assignments, course outlines, and schedules.

The Thinker in School

In a school situation, children who are naturally "think about it" may be left alone since they are quiet and cause little trouble. Of course, they are not learning either. This is the greatest danger for these children in school because they will not be learning. Because the school is content to allow children who don't cause trouble to continue to sit and be quiet, they will lose valuable years of learning. This child needs a lot of direction which is not usually available in the classroom setting with its lack of individual, personal tutoring.

Sibling Variety.

Before going to other educational applications, we pause to inform the reader that within a family, children may differ significantly. When the parents are quite different from each other, it is common for one child to be a strong personality in one direction and another to be equally strong in the opposite trait. Therefore, it is important for parents to be diligent in seeking the wisdom of the Holy Spirit about how to train each child. The methods discovered to be successful for one child may not be as successful for another child. This is not an issue of birth order. It is an issue of different personalities.

When we consider the proverb,

Proverbs 22:6
6. Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.

we can see two aspects to the way he "should go". One aspect is the absolute command to submit to Christ and all that follows in doing so. The second aspect is the specific call of God upon the life of this specific child.

Literal

There is a personality trail called "Regulated/Literal" (the details, rote learner). His focus on detail (seeing the trees and missing the forest) makes him very literal. As such, he has difficulty with work which requires grasping subtleties and feelings. Probably no area presents more difficulty than interpreting poetry which is not literal. This does not mean that he cannot appreciate poetry. He will often be very intrigued by the various literary devices (metaphor, simile etc.) as long as he has someone to show him specific examples of their use.

The "flexible/sensitive (big picture learner)" is the person who can see through a poem to what the author is saying even though the literal words do not say it. This student will always read more into a subject or situation that can objectively be observed by the literal personality.

To make a literal child (especially if that trait is very strong) write poetry can be cruel torture! To make a big-picture, concept child write procedures for a computer may also be cruel torture.

Procedures

Many tasks are procedural in nature. Learning to perform the task requires learning specific procedures. For example, the use of computer programs such as word processors, spread sheets, or print managers is a procedural task. A big picture (learn by understanding) child (especially one strongly bent in that direction) may find such tasks very difficult to learn. Procedural tasks include:

Creative Writing

Educators have gone through large swings in how they teach composition. A recent trend has been to assign young children creative writing tasks in the belief that this will hold their interest. First of all, we state a general principle that if a child is assigned creative writing tasks before he has a firm grasp of the mechanics of writing (spelling, punctuation etc.), he will find the task of composition very frustrating. Even if he can think what to write, he cannot transfer his thoughts to paper readily. He has to work so hard on the mechanics that he loses track of his purpose. We strongly recommend against using creative writing as the first writing exercise a child does.

Creative writing can also lead to moral problems when children are encouraged to write based upon characters and actions in popular entertainment (movies, TV, toys) which are immoral.

Beyond the general concerns expressed above, there are PAS considerations with creative writing. We are speaking of creative writing in the sense of making up stories or variations of known stories. Not all children are equally gifted by God to do creative writing.

When the purpose is to teach writing skills, a variety of kinds of assignments can be used. Parents can easily observe what kinds of writing are suited to different children. For example, the externally-oriented, talk-about-it, literal, child can be assigned tasks of writing instructions (how to make something) or descriptions of how something works. The externally-oriented, but learn-by-understanding child can be assigned writing tasks which include his own feelings in real life situations as well as his analysis of emotional stresses and challenges in the lives of others (either in personal experience or history). Both of these are externalized exercises in that they deal with external reality. Other writing assignments include book reports, descriptions of current events which are discussed in the family, and logical arguments (which can begin on a very elementary level such as why we should make certain good moral choices). We conclude with the caution that all children should experience a variety of writing assignments. Our purpose is to expand thinking about the kinds of writing assignments which can be assigned. We don't want our comments to be construed to limit some children to only a narrow range of writing assignments. We just want to minimize frustration levels.

Social Adeptness

Some children are socially adept. This is a personality factor which is not related to understanding situations or people, but rather involves the ability to pick up social cues and play the correct role for a situation. We can say that some people are "role adaptive" and always respond socially according to what is expected. Like all personality traits, this has strengths and weaknesses. One weakness is that the role adaptive child will respond socially as the parent-teacher expects even when he does not know the material well.

With regard to teaching methods, there is one simple caution for teaching role adaptive children and a different caution for teaching role uniform children.

The role adaptive child is socially dependent and will often be more interested in social interactions than in intellectual achievement. He makes others feel liked and others like him. The role adaptive child can become a "con" man to his teacher - not in the moral sense of cheating - but in the sense of being more motivated to please the teacher by charm than by achievement. The caution when teaching the charming, role adaptive child is to be certain that the child is actually learning the material. Because parents always want their children to do well, they eagerly look for signs that the child has learned the material. Thus, they are very susceptible to fall for the social charm of the role adaptive child. The solution is simple. Parents should "over teach" the role adaptive child to be certain that he knows the material. Remember, with an role adaptive child, you are not dealing with a moral choice to deceive you but with a child who has good interpersonal skills. The parent, who always wants the child to succeed, will mistake positive responses for mastery of material.

The caution when teaching a role uniform child, who misses social cues, is to be wary of mistaking social blunders for lack of mastery of material. This child will often appear to know less than he does. He may need encouragement because he is so accustomed to rejection. He will need to learn social mores by rote memory and learning what are appropriate responses. It is easy to overlook the fact that very often we humans do not accurately express to others what we are seeing or feeling. Role uniform children must learn to express themselves so that others will understand them. They find unfamiliar surroundings, and especially new situations where other people are involved, stressful. They may react with hesitancy, as they are unsure of themselves, and appear snobbish, or they may not be aware of all that is going on and say something that does not quite fit, and thus appear rude.

Also, the role uniform child is more prone to misinterpreting instructions for exercises and test questions than a role adaptive child. This is especially true when the child is a literal, detailed learner. Parents can help children who seem to have difficulty in interpreting instructions carefully by training them to read instructions twice, by training them to repeat instructions to the parent, by training them to see how many tasks are given, and by training them in specific types of exercises and test questions so that when they encounter them in an important situation (e.g. college entrance exams, application forms), they will be familiar with the instructions and will not under-perform due to misinterpreting instructions.

Teaching Techniques

In today's world of entertainment, there has been a lot of effort in curriculum development to make textbooks, worksheets, exercises, tests, and workbooks "interesting." There is a grave danger in using "cute" exercises and tests because the parent may end up testing a genetic personality trait and not the subject material.

Specific examples of the kinds of exercises and tests to which we refer are exercises made into games with pictures to match, or pictures in which to find the missing part. There is a test for a particular personality factor which uses this exercise. Research shows that skill at finding missing parts of pictures is either present or absent by young adulthood and does not change. Therefore, to use "cute" tests with this technique will penalize children who have a certain personality factor.

Other kinds of games and puzzles favor other personality factors. The solution is to use tests and exercises which are closely related to the actual skill or mastery of what is being learned.

Hearing

The detailed, literal child, especially with a strong trait, can often literally fail to "hear" instructions. He may be highly focused on his work, the activity outside the window, the toy he is playing with, or the book he is reading and fail to be sensitive to an instruction you give. The parent may be in the middle of instructions when the focused child begins work at step 1 and stops hearing the remaining instructions. While he needs help and encouragement in how to pay attention, parents should not misinterpret this failure to "hear" as a moral choice to "ignore" or "rebel" or as a physical hearing problem.

Parents can be fooled with some children, because they are externally oriented (talk about it) and capable of hearing their name mentioned half way across the house while failing to hear a clear instruction given while standing face to face. Because he likes to relate (talk), he will want to be involved anywhere there is relating going on and especially if his own name is mentioned! Thus the strongly relating child may be in an upstairs bedroom and hear his name spoken in a normal voice downstairs and come running to be part of the discussion. This same child, if he is also a very focused, literal, step-by-step child, may honestly fail to hear a command spoken from within the same room when he is focused on another activity. Parents can help this child by having him repeat instructions and by working with him rather than treating every instance of not hearing as a moral choice. Parents should ask if the child heard the request and have him repeat it. Ask what he is focusing on and can he stop for now and give attention to the instructions.

Speed Reading

Most people would like to read very fast with reasonable comprehension (speed reading). Many of us have taken speed reading courses in our life time, and most of us know someone who can read very, very fast. While some of us have had success in learning to read fast, others have seen little change in their reading ability, despite trying hard and taking speed reading courses.

We believe that part of the explanation for the diversity in ability to speed read lies in personality. Studies of speed readers show that to some extent, speed readers are "skip" readers, that is, they obtain their speed by skipping many words and phrases. Thus, the key to speed reading is the ability to read only some of the words, phrases and sentences and still comprehend the main points of the material being read. Some personality types are far better at skip reading because they read for concept, not details. Thus they can piece together the story without reading all the words. Other personality types must read every detail to understand the information.

Versatility

Different children/students have varying intellectual and academic "versatility". A student with limited versatility is one who performs very well in subjects he likes and poorly in those he does not like. Versatility is the relationship between how well a student likes a subject and his performance ; it is different from the relationship between ability and performance. A child with limited versatility may be quite capable in a subject area, but because he does not like it, performs poorly. This child can confuse parents by a sudden ability (or apparent loss of ability) in a subject. What changes is not ability, but interest. Some children are very versatile - they will perform up to their ability in all subject. Others lack this versatility and over-perform in subjects they like and under-perform in those they do not.

Computer "Games" & Learning

In our entertainment based culture, there are many temptations to yield to a program of entertaining children rather than training them. Many have attempted to justify entertainment with computer games because they are "educational." The most common explanation is that computer games develop "eye-hand" coordination. This is a foolish and groundless concept. Each computer game is its own independent skill. The only thing learned by practicing a computer game is how to play that game! We believe that the entertainment syndrome in our culture is essentially anti-intellectual. The explanation for our belief is complex and beyond the scope of this pamphlet. However, we say in summary, entertainment and intellectual achievement are inherently incompatible. Also, in moral terms, life is too rich and work to rewarding to allow children to waste their time learning to enjoy what is useless.

Memorizing

Ability to memorize abstract items such as numbers or words is a genetic personality trait. There are different kinds of memory such as remembering phone numbers or remembering a tune to a song. Here we speak of memorizing lists of words or numbers or speeches or Scripture verses. Some of us are better at this than others. Like speed reading, those who are good at it innately are the ones who do well in (and develop) memory systems. Others remember Scripture far better by talking about it and how to apply it than by memorizing it.

The Scriptures speak of "hiding God's Word in our heart." This speaks of a great absolute principle of truly incorporating God's Word into our very being, the "heart". Rote memorization may or may not accomplish this.

Those who find straight memorizing exceedingly difficult should not feel condemned and those who do it well should not be shy to learn Scripture in this way. In a time or place with no written Bibles, the Body of Christ needs those who have committed large passages to memory.

Special Techniques

We have mentioned the differences in types of curriculum material and the use of puzzles as tests. In general, we need to be on the lookout for special teaching techniques whose effectiveness may be very sensitive to the personality of the student. We often hear of people teaching special techniques for learning mental arithmetic, techniques for memorization, techniques for building vocabulary, special methods to learn algebra etc. Many of these techniques contain insights of value to everyone. However, some techniques are far more effective with some personality types than with others. Knowing this, parents and students can try such techniques, exploit those which are effective, and discard those which are ineffective without feeling that they have failed or are inferior. What works for one person simply may not be as effective for another!

The problem with this trial and error method is the amount of money parents can spend trying to find the "right" curriculum to match the student's learning style. There are several solutions to this problem:

For example, children with some personality factors can take courses in memory techniques (usually written by those with the opposite personality factor) and never gain a great ability to memorize. Those who don't memorize well will enjoy the lectures and enjoy talking about the techniques, but will not make practical use of them.

Because of the sensitivity of some methods and technique to personality, the reader should be cautious of declaring that a particular method is totally ineffective just because it did not work for him. If a technique is ineffective, he can counter claims that it will work for everyone , but he should be cautious to condemn it as ineffective for everyone .

The Basics

We have discussed many areas of education in this section. We have noted that some subjects are better suited to some children than others. It is important to realize the balance which parents must walk. They must put appropriate pressures on children so that they will become more balanced in terms of God's absolutes (Galatians 5 :22-23) and better able to handle whatever situations they encounter in life and use them to the glory of God. On the other hand, it is both pointless and painful to demand that children completely conform to that which is the opposite of their natural bent, when the difficult thing that is required by the particular curriculum, teaching style, or method has no value in itself but is simply a matter of style and personal preference. How are we to treat this information in light of God's Word? We call the reader's attention back to the section, "Diversity and Absolutes". There are absolutes with regard to educational basics for the Christian. There should be several basics in any educational program for disciples of Jesus Christ.

  1. Knowing Christ.
  2. Obeying Christ.
  3. Making disciples of all the nations.

Under those general headings are further divisions. Christ, as our Creator, demands our complete being, and it is both our privilege and our duty to use our entire selves for Him.

Mark 12:30
30. and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. '

Thus, the separations between "academics," labor and apprenticeship, and spiritual maturity and insight all blur in the light of Christ, since He governs all. Our study of personality is similarly global, for it describes us as people - our complete being is involved.

As this relates to education, children are to be taught that "wisdom is better than gold" and that the benefits of wisdom cannot be overemphasized. We must attack this from both angles. It is true that we must teach our children that godliness and the fear of the Lord make knowledge useful. However, we must not forget the other aspect. They must also understand that part of living a godly life in the fear of the Lord is pursuing wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. That is, not only must we see the relationship between godliness and the other aspects of life, we must recognize that all the other aspects of life are part of godliness. Stated another way, we have a God-given mandate to take dominion in the world, pursue knowledge, and strive for understanding. It is true that spiritual things are more important. It is also true that the other areas of life were also created by God and thus are also directly related to God. If we separate "spiritual things" and our relationship with God from our day to day life, academics, mechanics, the pursuit of knowledge, the pursuit of wisdom, and all else that composes our created human existence, then we eliminate the theatre of real life in which we see God moving - we deprive ourselves of relating to God in fullness.

In view of this big picture of our purpose on earth, it is interesting how God defined diversity and absolutes: He clearly defined sin. He did not describe the details of the diversity of all the things we can and should be doing, for no book could contain them all. God gave us principles by which to operate, as with the Proverbs. He gave us details to avoid sin. In molding our children's personalities, we must deal firmly with sin. We ought to both guide them into productivity, and keep them from putting burdens on themselves and distorting the diversity God has put within them. This is especially important as they get older.

Thus, in defining what should be the basics of any educational program for disciples of Christ, we must also include the basics for what Christ is doing in our generation, in western culture. We must include all that is involved in our Christian existence on earth.

Thus, there is a place for studying mathematics, geometry, poetry, history, foreign languages, law, the physical sciences, psychology and personality theory, as well as all the other areas of life which have not been divided into subjects.

Let each family and curriculum developer examine why each of these is important, and to what degree. Let us see why psychology and science are so distorted and corrupted by humanism and evolution and why mathematics seems more acceptable to Christians and non-Christians alike.

Some areas, such as psychology, have been greatly influenced by anti-Christian thought. Thus large parts of the subject are based on an anti-Christian foundation. The un-Biblical development of such subjects needs to be discarded. There are things we need to eliminate from our curriculums. This does not mean that we do not study any psychology, but that we must carefully examine why any particular material needs to be learned.

Thus we have two criteria to carefully examine each subject area, and each topic within a subject area, to determine if it is a "Basic" to include in our curriculum.

  1. Is the subject material anti-Christian in background and foundation (absolutes)?
  2. Is the subject area truly a basic in terms of God's absolutes, or it is a subject which will be of interest or importance to only some children or families (diversity)?

In light of what we have learned about the glorious diversity of talents God has made among His children, parents must be cautious lest they interpret "basics" too widely. We do children a disservice when we make them adhere to a program of specific academics through high-school level just because that was the way we did it when we were in school! God may have more important things to be learned. We also do them a disservice when we neglect to provide direction. There is an exciting world of learning that they will not discover unless we help them.

This is an area just beginning to see development in Christian home education. In Christian education, we first had programs which were essentially secular subject material with a "Bible" course added or a paragraph added to each chapter to make it "Christian." We now have further development of Christian programs where the authors have attempted to make the entire approach Christian. We are confident that there is far more development required in this direction in order to educate our children as God wants them educated - to be strong disciples who know and demonstrate the love and power of God.

Footnotes

  1. Yes, counseling sometimes brings great changes. These changes are generally attributed to moral choices and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. As we look at personality development, we will see more clearly why we make the statement that personality does not generally change in counseling
  2. The Biblical Method of Education consists of learning to listen (hearing), seeing by example, discussing (asking questions), and writing. See the pamphlet "The Biblical Method of Education" by Earl and Diane Rodd for a full development.

Copyright by Earl & Diane Rodd