crossing the line

interrogating boundaries

Objections to Christian Education

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SchoolMy 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.

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 :

Why Christian Education? — Part 1 and Why Christian Education? — Part 2

Written by Trent

October 28, 2013 at 2:49 am

6 Responses

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  1. I am a pastor at a church and though my children do attend one of the Christian Schools in our community my wife and I would push back gently against some of these responses. We value the choice of either public, private or homeschooling eduction. All three schooling systems have improved dramatically over the last few years and the old arguments in support of Christian education are not able to keep up.

    1. If children are not capable of being filled with the Holy Spirit then why would we baptize them in the name of a Triune God? Do we really believe that the fullness of the Holy Spirit can not shine forth from a child? I believe in Matt 18 it is the faith of a child that becomes the standard. I do agree that it might be unfair to lay the burden of being salt and light on a child as part of their call to be evangelists in a public school. Particularly if parents have no ability or desire to actually walk them through that process. But are children capable of reflecting the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? YES.

    2. Yes the individualist tendency is to look at the one as opposed to the community of Christians. But then again what are we doing to a public school system when we try to recruit Christians out of the community of Christians that reside there? I know at least one of our public high schools has a math teacher that hosts a prayer meeting with his christian students. The Christian individuals make up the Christian community in public schools also.

    3. Sheltering kids from the real work is not what a christian school is about. However MANY christian school kids do live in an isolationist bubble that in effect does shelter them from the real world. This is not only the schools problems but family and church also. Just look at the reputation of some of the Post Secondary schools our christian schools feed into for a “sobering” reality check concerning the “casting off restraints” reality. I do believe christian school needs to do a better job of bridging partnership with all schools in the community. Us vs. Them is a bad way to go about the conversation.

    4. Good logic in this response. But the christian day school is not the only system equipped to teach the christian worldview. The rise in the enrollment of “out-of-the-box” homeschooling options in our community reveals this to be true.

    5. Ummm yeah. Church, christian day school and family are all too blame for the inoculation against the potency of the gospel. I’m not sure that in a christian school its safe to assume there is a constant exposure to the actual gospel (same for within a church). Be wary of all “things” labeled christian I always say. The christian school environment may lay a great gospel foundation but it ultimately must be lived outside of those schools to be of any “Jerusalem, Samaria and ends of the earth” benefit.

    6. I’m sad for the poor guy. I had a great experience myself.

    7. Ah yes the trifecta response. I’d have to say that for the trifecta (family, church, school) to be of any value, the working reality needs some SIGNIFICANT re-tooling (not just in our town but across the continent) This is the oldest and sadly weakest link in christian education. The trifecta is weak because as the christian school system itself knows the relationships between family, school and church are largely assumptive (checking a box off on an enrollment form does not indicate relational health of the three) The school can only assume the other two are effective. The same with the other two. In some ways I think the public schools because if it’s own admitted weakness (largely voiced in lack of funding realities) relies more on parental support than the christian schools do. If the trifecta is the asset it is purported to be by the pro-christian school vision, the parents need to be engaged more not less than in the public school system. Reality check christian schools and churches are in similar evaluation phases. Churches have less members and the Christian school systems have lower enrollment. Sadly the responses often create strain not synergy. The churches do more of the same things that are not working (sigh), but they just try to do it better and with better theological justification. The christian school systems are now trying to the same things the churches are doing but better and with better pedagogical justification. Less assumption and more actual living partnership will give the trifecta a breathe of fresh air.

    Great stuff here…

    Koenraad

    October 29, 2013 at 6:10 am

    • I really appreciate the comments Koenraad, and I don’t disagree with anything you said. Your “push back” is very helpful in bringing out the nuances in this discussion. The area that I am spending most of my time thinking (and doing something) about is #5. How can we more authentically embody the gospel so the exact opposite of inoculation occurs? Thanks for reading and for the very thoughtful comment.

      Trent

      October 29, 2013 at 3:02 pm

  2. I like the hermeneutic approach to culture you mentioned. In my opinion however, hermeneutic engagement is not served by indefinite dualities like

    Modern rationalism is a belief system that stands in opposition to the teachings of the Bible.

    Might it be more accurate to say that some interpretations of some rationalists can sometimes oppose some interpretations of some teachings of the Bible?

    Dylan

    October 29, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    • Yes, absolutely, Dylan. This has been the Christian’s task for centuries — to discern created goodness in a fallen world. What did Origen say, “Plunder the Egyptians”? Modern rationalism does not, of course, stand in complete opposition to the teachings of the Bible. Thanks for reading, and for using the word “hermeneutic” in your comment.

      Trent

      October 29, 2013 at 4:36 pm

  3. I would like to submit one more reason to forego “Christian education.” Faculty and staff at Christian schools can generally hope to earn roughly half–sometimes far less–than the typical salaries earned by public school teachers. Given how often our society bemoans that, “teachers are under-paid,” we ought to downright horrified that, as Christians, we are asking our own teachers to live on much, much less.

    In fact, at my own Christian school, several employees are on food stamps and other forms of welfare. These are full-time workers, some of whom have multiple graduate degrees.

    Related to this, there is an inherent bias against families. A single adult can hardly hope to live on $28,000/year–much less a married man with a child or two. For all the talk about the goodness of the family, Christian schools cannot even pretend to care for the families they employ. In fact, many involved in these schools, particularly the well-paid higher-ups, are vocally against the pervasiveness of welfare (which is a fine position in its own right), yet rather than paying their workers livable salaries, they send them off to the state to receive the same forms of assistance they happily denounce.

    It seems to be that Christian education is almost hopelessly broken.

    Anonymous5

    November 25, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    • If conditions are as you describe, there is certainly something wrong with Christian Education where you come from. Thankfully, this is not the case in all Christian schools. Christian education needs to be paid for by the community, not just a few people in the community. I think that Christians ought to be ready to pay for the cost of what they receive, be it a t-shirt, a cup of coffee or their childrens’ education. Making someone else pay for it (factory workers in Bangladesh, the people and enviroment in Nicaragua or the teachers at Christian school). Thanks for reading.

      Trent

      November 26, 2013 at 1:54 am


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