Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Is Christian Education, Well, Christian?
A few preliminaries. First, I have been involved, at some personal cost, in the starting up of a Christian school, had many dealings with a Christian school board, and watched the products of Christian education from my youth up.
We have also, briefly, home schooled our children. Now, they are in public schools. Some of you will cry "Ichabod," I know. More on that to follow.
I have also been, in the past, a total Christian and home school partisan. But, life is rarely simple, and God mercifully does not leave us with unexamined prejudices, if we are his children.
My contention is this: the modern Christian education movement, for its many strengths, remains, at this point in its young history, sub-Christian.
This is not a curricular matter, necessarily, though it can be. It is not a matter as to whether one adopts the classical model or not --which is a good model, after all.
It is not so much about content as it is about ethos, and ethos is a slippery thing to critique, because it is often a matter of unspoken, unexamined presuppositions. My purpose in this is to help advocates of Christian schools examine their presuppositions, and right the ship. This nation would be enormously benefited in perhaps no greater way than to have real, robust Christian schools.
The first thing Christian schools need to do is forget about vouchers. Vouchers are bad news. The experience (and probably the precedent) of Grove City College v. Bell (of which my alma mater Hillsdale College was also a victim) means that any money that passes through federal hands is federal money, and that comes with federal mandates. Private schools do not want to kowtow to federal mandates. God will supply all the money to do all that he intends for us to do, if we are faithful to ask him, and trusting him ourselves by our sacrificial giving.
The second thing Christian schools need to do is to endeavor to cease being the province of rich Caucasians. Christ's kingdom did not consist only of those people who could afford to breathe the rarefied air. If the Christian school is at all like Christ, should it not be reaching out to the least of these --raising money to pull kids out of failing inner city public schools? The objections inevitably are, "Where does the money come from?" "But, 'they' don't know how to behave, have the home life, etc etc." That is racist code, in case you don't speak White. Do we sound like a bunch of pre-resurrection disciples or what? Faith endeavors require faith --surprise, surprise.
If Christian schools are comfortably the province only of the wealthy and white, they aren't Christian, quite simply because they aren't ministering like Christ did.
The third thing Christian schools need to do is to stop simply ministering to the academically excellent. How often do Christian school boards say, "We need to make a choice: minister to the academically gifted, or the academically challenged. We choose the gifted." Who would Jesus have chose? I think we know the answer to that. There are exceptions to this rule, but they are few and far between. It is excused by shortage of resources, etc, to which Jesus may just say, "Why are you discussing among yourselves that you have no bread?..you have not because you do not ask, and when you ask, you ask wrongly." Faith moves mountains; it can certainly fund schools. Where is the faith?
The fourth thing Christian schools need to do is to ask themselves what percentage of their graduates are actually vibrant, productive Christians. How often schools protest that this is not their job. But, if they claim to be a Christian school, then of course it is their job to make every effort to see that their graduates are living for Christ; if they don't see this as their job, then why take the name Christian? It is not exclusively their job: parents and church share the responsibility. But, if Christian schools are not graduating Christians, then the school ought to do some real soul-searching, and examination of priorities. If our goal is to graduate Christians, and we are not, why not? Now, of course, only God can change the heart. But, this in no way lessens the school's responsibility to gear its entire ethos towards the conversion of its pupils.
The fifth thing Christian schools need to do is to abandon the covenantal model. That's right. You heard me, loud and clear. The alternatives are not just "Covenantal" or "no standards." The third way is the evangelistic model: where it is clearly set before parents and pupils: this is what is taught, this is the discipline that is practiced. If you are willing to abide by these standards, and submit to this discipline, then we will take you, regardless of belief.
The covenantal model fails because it is simply flawed theology. The fact that one parent can give a testimony does not at all indicate that the family is living for Christ, only that one parent believes him or herself to be a Christian. It does not at all judge whether the child is a Christian or whether the parent is bringing that child up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. It teaches us that the New Covenant is an externalized thing, which is a lie that destroys entire denominations. If the school keeps the gospel at the center, establishes prayer as a fundamental feature of its community life among faculty, board, and parents, it could be a powerful force for the gospel. But, to do this, it must seek people outside "the covenant." This, after all, is what Jesus did. If a school is to be Christ-ian, should it not be like Christ?
So, our children are in public schools. I would not put them in public schools everywhere. But, in our situation, the public schools are excellent and Christian friendly. We have had teachers and administrators freely share their faith. Our son came home and announced, "'Jingle Bells' is not a Christmas song. It is a winter song. It is secular, not sacred. He is quite adamant, now, about our choice of Christmas music." He learned this in music class. Our daughter's class read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
Our eldest has had significant learning challenges due to a recalcitrant form of epilepsy. We had her in Christian schools in our previous charge. They tried their best (well, at least one teacher and one aide (both dear family friends) did), but were inadequate to address all her needs (and we did not know the full extent of her problems, either). In our public school, she has received the best of personal care and attention from loving teachers, many (if not all) of whom are outspoken Christians. She has received occupational therapy, speech therapy, and educational help. She has been loved and ministered unto. We suggested an educational aid to them (phonetic reading by the Barton method), and they got it approved and now use it throughout the district. They have been most responsive to parental concerns.
I am not naive enough to think that this is not an exception to the rule. But, praise God for the exceptions. I also realize full well that this is not the same as a comprehensive world-and-life-view curriculum. But, that, after all, is the responsibility of the parents. And, one is left to ask, if the Christian schools are sub-Christian in significant ways, and the local public school is at least Christian friendly, which choice may be better for my children?
The school of the wealthy and white that bears the name Christian may lead my children to think that being Christian is the same as being wealthy and white. At least in the public school, the battle lines are clearly drawn. My children know and challenge things they are taught that don't comport with what they believe. And, they do this at 11 and 8 years of age. My eight year old son has non-churchgoing friends to whom he speaks, fearlessly, about God, the Bible, and Jesus, who he invites to church, and for whom he prays regularly. I pray he doesn't lose that heart for his lost friends. I think he would, were he in a "covenantal" situation, where "everyone" is a "Christian."