My principal told me of a conversation that he had with a Christian minister who was strongly against Christian Education. I asked him if he could send me a list of his objections so I could think about them. And when I think about things, I write about them.
1. Children need to be salt and light in the public school.
The first objection to Christian education is that Christians are called to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16), and by sending our children to a public school we are fulfilling this mandate. I agree that it is vital that Christians “let [their] light shine before men,” but this injunction is meant for Christians, not the children of Christians. I’m not saying that children of Christians aren’t Christian (although some would), but I am suggesting caution. To be salt and light requires the supernatural strength provided by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Children of Christians are often well mannered, respectful, kind and encouraging. A lot of children are, Christian or not, if have been raised in stable and principled homes. Being polite and encouraging is not the same thing as being salt and light. Children of Christians are not necessarily equipped for this task for it requires more wisdom and spiritual maturity than a child usually possesses.
We always take the injunction to be salt and light to be a command for individuals. This is, how we understand everything, but the biblical default is set to community. Jesus’ metaphor was to be like a “city on a hill.” To be salt and light, then, is a command to create communities that spread the light. A Christian school is this sort of community. Our light is showing how education ought to be done in our particular time and place if Jesus Christ were truly Lord of all things.
2. Where will the world be if all Christians pulled out of the world
Behind this objection is the assumption that Christians are to function (as “salt and light”) in culture only as individuals. This mistake is understandable, since we are incredibly individualistic in our culture. This is one of the very idols that a good Christian education attempts to reveal and combat. We tacitly interpret our world through an individualistic lens. There is no doubt that the world would be in bad shape if there were no Christians, but Christian schools do not cause Christians to disappear. They are still there. They are just in schools that proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all of life. The Christian school is salt and light in the world, but it is a corporate response, rather than an individual one. Christian school must, then, be very deliberate in engaging culture–their local community as well as the education community–so as to truly be a blessing to “the world.”
3. Children who attend Christian schools experience culture shock when they enter ‘real world’
This is a great danger if the purpose of the Christian school is to protect students from the “real world.” Some religious schools exist for this very reason, because they overemphasize the power of sin in the world. Other schools are only Christian in that they have morning prayer, weekly chapels and offer Bible classes. The problem with these schools is they overestimate the created goodness in the world. There is a third type of Christian school that believes all things are created good, and all things profoundly affected by sin. This Christian school would explore all aspects of creation, including culture, and celebrate the creational goodness that we find there, but it would also train students to discern evil, not just “out there”—where it certainly is, but also inside our most intimate circles and within ourselves. A child educated in this kind of school would not be shocked, but would be prepared to faithful living in the world.
4. Science, English, Math… its all the same whatever school you go to… the religion part can come from home and church.
This objection comes straight out of the Modern worldview. Modernism separates reality into public/private categories. The public sphere is where reason guides political, economic, educational, (etc.) discussions. The assumption is that reason is neutral, and out of this value neutral position, we can dialogue on how we can best organize society. All the non-rational, things, like beliefs, opinions, religion, etc. are relegated to the private sphere. Society works if these things are kept in the church, the mosque or the bedroom. The public school is such a place. Reason directs the curriculum and, in the absence of beliefs, it is value neutral.
Many Christian parents also accept the neutrality of reason and, therefore, of a public education. The church and the home need add the religion component and the overall experience of the child tips toward the religious. The problem is that the public sphere is not neutral at all. Modern rationalism is a belief system that stands in opposition to the teachings of the Bible. C. S. Lewis puts it this way:
There is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.
5. Christian schools inoculate youth to authentic Christian living and foster indifference to the beauty of the Gospel.
This is a danger whenever the gospel is merely an abstraction. If the church and family do not embody the gospel, the child will probably become desensitized to the “beauty of the Gospel” as well. At school it isn’t enough to study truth and then leave it in the students head. A Christian school needs to help student blur the lines between knowing and doing, and not just in extracurricular activities, like “missions trips.” And not just within the lessons themselves. The embodiment of the gospel needs to be systemic involveing, course offerings, programs, assessement, discipline, Special Education and Learning Assistance, athletics, awards, councelling, etc.
But the road along which we travel is fraught with perils on all sides. There are significant dangers in sending Christian children to the public school as well. One of them is probably not the desensitization to the Gospel by constant exposure to it. The dangers to which children of Christians are exposed in a public school are pretty serious. The idea that Science, English, Math, etc. are neutral is one pretty big one.
I think a better approach is, rather than risking these far greater dangers, addressing the “desensitization” issue of Christian schools very deliberately and ask how we can, individually and collectively, embody the Gospel.
6. My Christian school experienced was meaningless for growth for me as a Christian
Perhaps this is true. Of course I can’t possibly say. Perhaps his Christian school experience has no bearing on the fact that today he is a pastor. But there is some pretty good evidence that Christian education in general has a long term effect on the future of its graduates. The Cardus Institute published a study on Christian Schooling in both the United States and Canada. In the Executive Summary of the Canadian report, it is reported that
graduates of evangelical Protestant schools not only show more commitment to and involvement in religious rituals and activities compared with their government school counterparts with similar religious and socioeconomic backgrounds, but, despite having been educated among peers from similar religious backgrounds, are likely to be just as involved in civic affairs as all public school graduates, with the exception of protests.
7. The best thing for us is to have our kids going to school with their neighbours, and to put the onus for children’s discipleship back on the church.
My response to this objection is mathematical. In a seven day period a child spends at least 35 hours at school. The church cannot possibly compete, and it is a competition if we are talking about the public school. Even with the most incredible curriculum and leaders, how much can the church do in its few hours a week? If, however, the church and the school worked together in the discipleship of the children, how much more effective would we both be. I teach at a Christian high school, and the youth group leaders of the local churches are regularly at the school interacting with students and coordinating with administrators and teachers to discuss how to better serve the children, their families and our Lord.
At the Christian School, young people are meaningfully interacting with Christian adults. As they work on cars in the mechanics shop, or delving into Shakespeare, or practicing basketball students are being discipled in faithful living and their character is being developed through authentic relationships with Christian staff. The Christian school is not in competition with the church; the church, family and school work together in nurturing of children.
Christian schools aren’t all the same. My response to each of these objections is from a particular approach to Christian Education. For a more detailed description of the three types of Christian schools, read :