Why Christian Education? (Part 2)


Read: Why Christian Education? (Part 1)

Several years ago, my pastor at the time, and friend, and I had a long discussion regarding Christian Education. He felt that for Christian parents to send their children to a Christian school was dualist (in the sense that the things of Christ are considered separate from the things of life—a sacred/secular dualism). My response to this was that the sort of Christian school that I worked at was founded on the premise that that one can’t separate Christ from the rest of life. He may have been equating Christian schools in general with the sort that arises out of what Niebuhr called Christ against Culture stance (Read more). This view is certainly dualist for its advocates see a separation between the things of this world and the spiritual world ruled by God. My school, and others like it, expresses a rejection of the sacred/secular dualism.

In this part, I would like to address this and some of the other objections to Christian schools.

To my pastor, I argued that if he wanted to avoid dualism, he ought to be hesitant about sending his children to the local public school which operates under the same dualistic philosophy, albeit from the other side. My contention is that the ideas of modernism are still deeply rooted in our culture and foundational to modernism is the separation of the religious from the secular.

Many aspects of North American culture are still largely under the influence of modernism. In a recent instalment of the CBC program Ideas (“After Atheism, Part 3”) producer David Cayley says, “To be modern is to divide the world up into two realms, a public secular sphere in which things are judged rationally according to agreed standards of evidence and argument, and a private religious sphere in which irrational opinion and existential decision hold sway.” Religion was seen as the “source of oppression, obscurantism, and unending war, until the state tamed this unruly power and put it in its place.” This idea, says Cayley, “is in many ways the founding myth of modern society.”

. . . crossing the lines between sacred and secular, between public an private,

Not surprisingly, this modern view of religion is apparent in our modern institutions. In the United States, the idea of the separation between church and state has come to mean exactly this. In Canada, the courts have determined that the “freedom of religion” guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, means that citizens have the right to follow their own religious beliefs, but it does not only mean freedom OF religion, but also freedom FROM religion. In order to satisfy both, religion is relegated to the private sphere. Canadian courts have also said that the Charter applies to school boards. Schools recognize the importance of religion in providing a moral and spiritual framework for life so religion can be taught, but must be done so in a neutral and academic fashion.

There are two problems with this idea, however.

The first is that neutrality is not possible. A neutral stance toward religion is not a neutral stance.  In that the preferment of neutrality is a way of looking at reality in general and all other religions in particular, it is, in essence, a religious claim. To claim that we ought to exclude the religious voice from public discourse is implicitly religious for it is based on a set of beliefs about the world and the human beings’ place in it. My argument here is that the idea of a non-religious school is a myth. The question is not whether or not one should send one’s child to a religious school; the question is, to which religious school will one send them?

The second problem with relegating religion to the private sphere is that religion can’t be private. It is impossible for anyone to enter the public sphere and leave their convictions at the door. This is true of every belief, including those of secularism.

Christianity certainly cannot be relegated to the private sphere. Paul says of Christ, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 15-17).

C. S. Lewis says the same thing: “There is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.” I like how Abraham Kuyper puts it. In his inaugural address at the dedication of the Free University, he said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

My pastor friend was resistant to the dualism inherent in the Christ against Culture type of Christian school, because it limits the Lordship of Christ to only a narrow slice of life. But I think that it is equally problematic for those who believe in the universal sovereignty of Christ to send their children to a school which insists Christ’s authority is to be confined to the private realm. Both are based on false dichotomies: public/private, culture/Christ, physical/spiritual, reason/faith, to name a few.

Christianity, at its core, is an orientation of one’s entire life toward a person—the Son of God and Redeemer of all that is. Every other belief is subordinate to this Truth. Our culture, however, asks us to subordinate this Truth to the truth claims made by a secular religion. I do not hold this against its proponents, for every religion subordinates the beliefs of every other religion to its truth claims. It’s just that the devotees of this modern secular religion insist that their beliefs aren’t religious.

This is why I am a passionate supporter of Christian Education for all Christian families. No education is neutral and all education is religious. For Christian families, the education their children receive in school ought to be one that places Christ at the centre.

There are a few other objections to Christian education that I wanted to address directly. The first is that Christian schools shelter children from the real world. The second is that the Bible calls us to be salt and light to the world, and by sending children to a Christian school, we are, in effect, hiding out light under a bushel. And third, Christian education is too expensive.

First, Christian schools shelter students from the “real” world.

This is an objection that comes from the assumption that all Christian schools are as Niebuhr’s Christ against Culture stance. Hopefully, the awareness of the other two has taken care of this objection, but I will offer one more word. First of all, it is not even possible to shelter students from sin. Sin lives in the Christian school when the first person unlocks the door in the morning. So we have to deal with idolatry and selfishness and gossip and bullying and theft just like every school does. The difference in the Christian school is that it brings the Word of God to every situation in the lives of the children. We don’t just “explore, evaluate, and experience” sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, but “all of life under God.” The selection of teaching materials and library books, etc. is not based on the protection of our students from the evil in the world, although age appropriateness is one of the criteria. These resources are selected for their usefulness to explore as well as discern the world. We don’t shy away from issues around sexuality, violence, justice, nor do we avoid non-Christian thinkers and authors, film makers, or artists. We hold up expressions of faith to the critique of deconstructionists, feminists and Marxists. Our work is not characterized by isolation, but inoculation.

A second objection to Christian education is that Christians are called to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16), and by sending out children to a public school we are fulfilling this mandate. I agree that Christians ought to “let [their] light shine before men,” but this injunction is meant for Christians, not the children of Christians. I would also suggest that even if a child is a Christian, to be salt and light requires some wisdom and spiritual maturity.

Secondly, I suggest that we not limit the call to be salt and light to the individual Christian. North Americans, including North American Christians, are tremendously individualistic. 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. The Christian school is salt and light in the world, but it is a corporate response.

This has been born out continuously at Abbotsford Christian School. Just as an individual Christian teacher is salt and light to their colleagues in their public school, so too is the Christian school salt and light in the field of education. Individuals cannot be salt and light in the same way that communities can, and vice versa. We have something to share regarding teaching practices, employee relations, special education and learning assistance, recycling, bullying, assessment, supervision of teachers and students, etc. We have something to share because what we believe about Jesus Christ is true, not just for Christians, but for everyone and everything. So, we collectively witness to all those involved in education. Our staff is involved in many professional groups relating to their specific field within education. We are also visited frequently by teachers and principals, special education and learning assistance teachers and coordinators, coaches, counsellors, government inspectors and elected officials. Further, our students are involved, as Abbotsford Christian students, in the community. We regularly hear that Abbotsford Christian School is being salt and light in the broader community, by that very community.

I am not saying that Christian teachers ought to be teaching only in Christian schools, as a matter of fact, this is a vital place where the light of the gospel needs to be reflected. I also want to be clear that I am not saying that sending one’s children to the public school is the wrong thing to do. I have heard many stories of Christian children being a blessing in their local schools. What I do want to claim is that the salt and light argument ought not to be understood as a Biblical injunction to send Christian children to a public school.

A third objection is that Christian Education is too expensive. I agree that it is expensive—especially where the schools receive no government grants and the full cost falls to parents. In general, though, I would say that there are many things we can do without, or delay, that are less important than an education that reinforces a transformational and integrative view of life. I see this in our school community. For many, the family summer vacation is camping at the local provincial/state park. The cars that drop off the kids at school in the morning are often older than 10 years. It helps that Christian education is a community project in that the older generations continue to support the school which helps keep costs down. Also, local church congregations and the school itself may have programs available to help cover the costs of tuition for those who can’t afford it.

I wouldn’t be honest if I said that any school executes this model of Christian Education perfectly, because it’s very difficult and we suffer from all those human limitations. Also, it’s hard to discern the degree to which our collective view of the world is acculturated; it’s easier to swim with the cultural current than against it, and to constantly evaluate every part of life through the interpretive lens of the Gospel is hard work. There are many things to talk about – How we celebrate the graduation of our students in a way that reflects Christ’s Lordship? How do we create meaningful interaction between students of different ages and between students and older generations? We also need to continually talk about technology, which is always changing. There are many more.

It is most effective, and most fun, when we engage in the process of discerning and transforming our culture in community, including students. I also find it a tremendous blessing to work with others that have a clear focus—“to be faithful, discerning, obedient and creative servants of God and of neighbour, and stewards of His creation.”

If you are looking for this type of education for your children, you can search for a school in your area at Christian Schools International (http://www.csionline.org/schools).

2 Replies to “Why Christian Education? (Part 2)”

  1. Thanks for pointing out the dual danger of dualism. Two sides to the same coin.

    I find the fact that Christianity lives and breathes in a type of “ghetto environment” in the public school system fascinating and breath taking. When christian students in a public “modernist influenced” institution seek each other out and work together to bless their community that is the Kingdom of God at work. When they study the Bible and pray together at lunch because they need each other it’s pretty amazing to see.

    I’m concerned about the fact that this “ghetto environment” does not exist as desperately in the Christian school. Christianity is an assumed given from the application form to the “Square Inch” curriculum. I love the leaders, teachers and staff in the Christian school environment. They get it. But the students do they get it? Is the desperation with which their public school counterparts need each other felt in the Christian school? Is the desperation with which they gather for prayer as potent? I wonder…

    I work with youth and 89% or more attend one of our towns Christian schools. I love them tremendously, yet it’s a significant challenge to remove Christianity from the academic box “I already know this stuff” and move it into the “what does this potent gospel mean for my life” box. I am pleased to see our own local Christian school begin to bring the “curriculum” into the “living”.

    I find Chap Clark’s research into the HS students ghetto to be fascinating. We can talk all we want about the value of Christan schools and the potency of Christianity, but if the value is lost in the ghetto (HS student subculture) it becomes a two headed reality.

    In the last few years Christian Schools have become less denominationally affiliated (could be a good thing). In that time I have observed sessions offered at Youth Pastors conferences for those working with Christian school students. The sessions cover the unique ministry realities that exist in youth groups with both kinds of students (they talk about home school kids more too). I love these kids. I’m glad I get to walk alongside them in their journey. I’m glad their schools invite me to do it as I walk the halls.

    Great topic Trent. Can we expect a third installment?

    1. I went to a large public school; I wasn’t in the Christian ghetto as you describe. I didn’t understand the small minority of Christians that were. I was outside of that group. The issues that were important to me, weren’t important to them at all. I agree with you, now, that the strength of these Christian students is amazing. But I didn’t get what I needed until I went to a Christian university where I found out I didn’t need to jetison my brain to be a Christian. As a matter of fact, the opposite is true.

      As I write this response I wonder if I am saying that one type of Christian might flourish in the public school, but I would argue that they would also flourish in a Christian school. I’m thinking that the other kinds of students benefit from a variety of approaches which, hopefully, are represented by the variety of adults with whom they come in contact. This sort of thing can happen in the public school as well, but then the common ground may just be Christ. In a Christian school the common ground may be Christ/mechanics, Christ/literature, Christ/music, etc. For me, I would have benefited from Christ/ideas.

      I think your critique of the “I already know this” mentality is legitimate. It’s ridiculous of course–I’ve been reading and thinking this stuff for decades and I don’t “already know this stuff.” I think the “embodiment” peice might go a long way to help with what we are talking about here. It wouldn’t be a silver bullet of course, but doing is important, that’s what the “Christian ghetto” kids are doing in their environment. In the Christian school we need to continue to have a variety of ways by which we can act out what we beleive.

      Thanks for the thoughts, Koen. There will likely be a part 3, when it hits me.

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