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Junk it or Overhaul it?

I’m about to declare the Christian Day School movement a colossal failure. Society is worse than it was, the Church is weaker, the graduates are more worldly, the education is crummy, and the retention rate of graduates in the Church is abysmally low. One school that I worked with can claim less than 25% of its graduates in a church of any kind after 30 years of ministry. I say the Christian School needs to be junked or overhauled. What do you say? What are your thoughts?

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9 Responses

  1. I attended a Christian school and college. Overall, I say junk it. A few reasons… 1) I think the Christian school movement has a false premise–that we can educate Christianity. The fact is you can’t. Christian school kids will struggle with depravity as much as public school kids do. They might not struggle with the same vices, but they will struggle with vices nonetheless. And some vices are specially created in that environment–like false religious pride, for instance. That being said, I do think that Christian education can be a means of God’s common grace in not allowing the sinner to be as bad as he can. 2) As a corollary to this first point, I think parents often use the Christian school as an easy way out of the struggles of raising kids to the glory of God. If the kid isn’t involved in drugs (because he’s never had the opportunity to be), he’s a good kid right? 3) Christian schools can be a type of isolationism. I don’t really feel like I grew up in my hometown. I grew up at my Christian school. I grew up with Christian friends. When we played soccer, all the Christian school parents were on one end of the field and the local public school parents were on the other. If I had attended the public school, my parents would be rooting (sp?) for the same team alongside non-believing parents–another possible venue for witness. 4) Related to the last point, by creating our own schools, we’ve pulled much of the Christian voice out of the public school system. I think we should be at the PTA meetings trying to exert Christian influence on education. 5) Christian instruction should be taking place in the church context. True, many Christian schools are started directly by local churches; however, they are not church. Also, by having Christian school every day and requiring church on the weekends, I think we lose some of the special occasion/privelege of gathering together with the body every week–because everything to the Christian school student is “Christian.” I know, when I worked in the summers, I looked forward to church on Sunday much more.

    With all that said, public schools have many downsides as well. Also, I think each kid is different, and parents need wisdom in how to educate each of their children. Ideally though, I think either public school or homeschool with social involvement in community sports programs/music/etc. is the way to go. At least, that’s what I think right now.

  2. Not being a parent, I don’t know if my input will be much good: I’m not facing the complexities of parental desire for a child. But since you’re soliciting for opinions and that seems to be most of what I’m doing lately ;-), I figured I might as well jump in.

    I’ve had a pretty solid rearing through Christian schools. I’ve been in them all my life, from kindergarten through grad school. My parents strongly believed in Christian schooling, and we even moved to a town an hour away from home in order for us kids to go to a decent Christian school. (Dad continued to drive the hour-each-way commute for as long as he was physically able.)

    But at this point in my life, I’m not terribly favorable toward Christian schooling. As Kevin mentioned, I think it encourages a form of isolation from the town or broader community. People refer to it positively as the “greenhouse effect,” but those of us familiar with horticulture know that any plant left in a greenhouse for too long has great difficulty surviving when transplanted to its natural environment.

    On the other hand, many plants don’t survive in the natural environment either. I wonder how the statistics hold for young people reared in public schooling remaining active in the church. It might not be too different from those in Christian schools. And are those active in church just there for appearances or personal comfort/familiarity, or are they committed believers? (I know we can’t answer that question very well, not knowing people’s hearts.)

    I’ve also worked in the home schooling industry. If I were to homeschool, I would probably use BJ HomeSat (shameless plug for my company). However, my feelings on homeschooling run parallel to my thoughts on Christian schooling. While it probaby isn’t intended this way, homeschooling often appears to be amazingly postmodern (to tie in with the GenX fundies discussion). It’s a further individualization and isolation drawn from the Christian school model. But now, instead of having interaction with other believers who could possibly have some differences from us, the child remains within his family at all times, providing a homogenous and unchallenged worldview (or challenged only within parental allowance). The broader societal structure (school) has been broken down into structured and controlled viewpoints (Christian schooling and unchallenged humanism in public schools as the Christians left) and finally reduced as small as education is possible (a parental-teacher and child-student). While the addition of occasional social interaction helps in rounding the child a bit, again, it is under strict parental control, regulation and choice: controlled isolation. As far as societal interaction goes, the child is again limited to a largely Christian group, but this group tends to be other Christian home schoolers, a further subset of the believing community.

    I guess my conclusion would be that if done properly and carefully, any form of schooling can work well. The most desireable form depends largely on the parent, the child and the available options. But right now I lean toward public education with parental involvement.

  3. It seems to me that the problems with Christian schools are simply reflective of the problems with the American church. We want our ‘religion’ on the cheap, with the least impact on our comforts as possible. Many parents want the schools (‘Christian’ or gov’t) to rear their children for them, and they want the diploma w/o any difficult learning to be necessary. Many churches expect the school to disciple the students. And schools have attempted to do tasks that they are manifestly unsuited to do. The school is to be an assistant to the parents who have the God-ordained responsibility to teach their children. Christian schools are pathetic because parents allow/encourage them to be.

  4. From Douglis Wilson in “Classical Education and the Homeschool” – Parents are coming to see that it is simply not enought to pull the kids out of the government schools. When a demon is cast out, and nothing put in its place, the final result can be seven times worse (Mt. 12:45). Reactionary Christian education is consequently not really a permanent alternative. Many Christian parents who had initially just reacted to the godlessness of the government schools are now seeing the shallowness of that kind of Christian response.”

  5. a few comments:

    1. i’m not sure the “junk it or overhaul it” approach will lead to the right conclusion. It presents only two options. It limits solution-and idea-oriented thinking, though it does make for discussion.

    2. However, it is a start.

    3. I’m not sure it’s great to focus on “Christian” verses “public” verses “home school.” People have debated this for decades, and it will never end. And someone might as well write “public schools– junk them or overhaul them?” Because they have just as many problems/successes. “Homeschools–junk them or . . . ”

    What are we expecting of a school? (This varies by parent.)

    What is the real dissatisfaction that Pastor Bob is experiencing? That something that calls itself “Christian” fails to produce godly children? That we’re expending so much energy on “Christian schools” and the result is bad Christians?

    Are we discussing whether or not Christian school is working/helping to ruin Christian kids? And if it is, why is it?

    What’s the real problem here?

    You can teach a student that Creationism is true, but how can you teach holiness or devotion to God? How can you teach someone to love God with all his heart and not pursue idols?

    So is that the problem? That “Christian schools” aren’t fulfilling this spiritual instruction? Is that their purpose? If so, is it correct that we expect this from them? If so, why isn’t it working?

  6. I have been enrolled in a few types of schools — public (for elementary), Christian day school (for 6th-9th and 11th-12th grades), home-school (10th grade), Christian college and seminary.

    As for what I should/should not have been exposed to as a child, I can’t really give an account. I can give the facts: I learned swear words and crass phraseology and sexual inuendos but was never tempted to utter them myself or explore meanings more than cursorarily.

    I have a photographic memory when it comes to songs (if that is the way to describe it) and can quote you lyrics (and tell you where they were on the page) from one day in a 5th grade music class where we learned songs with lyrics like “tonight it’s very clear, as we’re both lying here” and so on.

    My parents pulled me from that section of music class, but not before I learned some lyrics that imbibe the world’s minus-God definition of positive encouragement for children: “I believe that children are the future; teach them well and let them lead the way / Show them all the beauty they possess inside / Give them a sense of pride, to make it easier…/ I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadow / If I fail, if I succeed — at least I know what I believe / No matter what they take from me / they can’t take away my dignity…/ I have found the greatest love of all is happening to me…/ The greatest love of all is inside of me.” (I can even sing it with all of Whitney Houston’s voice distinctions if I really want to. 🙂

    I think it would be more than safe and just to say that I learned a lot of things prematurely (finding contraceptive devices on the playground does tend to trigger a youngster’s curiosity), but I can’t answer for how those revelations affected my upbringing and future direction. Do I remember incidents and details? Yes. But heavens, I remember everything! Including quite similar obscenities that occurred on the playground at my Christian day school a year later.

    At a Christian day school, my parents didn’t have to keep pulling me out of the pop music and sex ed classes, because there weren’t any. Unlike some Christian school parents, they remained involved in my life. In those years, they were not real vocal (or at least within our family culture, none of us were real vocal) about spiritual things. The Christian school (its goods, its bads, its teachers, its students) and my church were certainly strong forces that influenced me and guided my thinking.

    I can look at the volume and extent of that influence (as it is pitted up against the proportion of influence I received at home) and recognize that the question (what to do about educating our children) is indeed a magnanimous question. I also see the uniqueness of each child, the uniqueness of God-ordained family situations and decisions. I would not take a pragmatic approach to education, but I would probably set entirely different guidelines than those that are often set before me as the embodiment of God’s will. For instance, I don’t label [education from a Christian day school] as “Christian education” just because [education] comes from a Christian day school. Education is not inherently Christian just because it’s labeled so or because of the connotations and associations that come with church-owned facilities or dress codes or poorly-paid faculty.

    To answer the junk vs. overhaul question, I can’t. I may be in the position in a few years to do one or the other, or at least to do it on a microscopic level with my own little charges. I would like to mention one thing, though, more in response to Anne’s response:

    Anne rhetorically? asks:
    “How can you teach someone to love God with all his heart and not pursue idols?”

    I think the Bible implies that this is indeed possible. I think the OT and NT both point to BOTH godly families (private home / biological family) and godly communities (corporate church / spiritual family) as those parties who should set up memorials and inculcate biblical doctrine and convey passion for God and exemplify spiritual living. We are to be exemplars, disciplining and imparting what we’ve learned. I think the Bible is very clear as to our responsibilities, so they must not unattainable if God grants us the grace to strive for and accomplish that (Hebrews 6 reminds us that the prerogative is ultimately his).

    Maybe it’s not so much that Christian schools CAN’T pass down godliness as that they’re NOT? Maybe the question should be asked on an individual level — is this individual educational unit/system/school succeeding in teaching my individual child to live an authentic God’s-child life and contributing to my own efforts to teach my child so?

  7. I believe Christian schools are simply reflective of the problems common to our churches and average Christians. It seems as though traditional Christian schools are going through the same kind of inertia that the Israelites allowed during the times of the judges. When the movement was new, there was an excitement, a willingness to sacrifice, and a commitment across-the-board by those involved. Apathy now reigns as people are expecting more while willing to do less. (How many times will parents rather write a check than commit time to a fundraiser?)

    We need a renewed vision and a willingness to go the course only with those families, teachers, and leaders who are committed to the same vision. This is not to say that every person will fully understand or adopt the vision immediately. But schools have ‘killed the goose’ by retaining families and/or teachers who can fill a position or write a tuition check, even if they are not in agreement with the distinctives of that school. Eventually the only distinctive of many a Christian school is that it is not-a-gov’t-school. Committed parents have recognized this and begun home schooling their children. Traditional schools are left with a high percentage of apathetic families, and the spiral continues.

    However, we must always keep in mind that Christian schools are a part of the solution – and a secondary part at that. God gave parents the responsibility to teach their children. A role of the church and the role of the Christian school is to assist the parents. If there is not a harmony of thought and understanding among those three authorities, the child will suffer and the task will fail. If Christian education is to accomplish what it should, churches and families will need to be revitalized in Truth.

    Junk it? No, please no. Overhaul? Let’s roll up our sleeves to begin the work. Where shall we start?

    I believe Christian education (whether homeschool or in a corporate setting) can be an effective tool in nuruturing Godly generations. But it will necessitate rebuilding from the foundation up. If a school cannot articulate exactly what that Christian school ought to be doing, it should not be in business. Platitudes and generalities won’t cut it any longer.

  8. I’ve just returned from an 8-day trip to the west coast where I represented the ministry I work for. During this time of year I spend quite a bit of time standing in convention halls talking to Christian school teachers and administrators.

    A common observation is that Bible is prioritized below any other subject. That’s why the P.E. teacher ends up teaching Bible class (after all he went to a Bible college which qualifies him, right?). That’s why teachers tell me they can’t afford student manuals for their class even though they can afford student manuals for all other subjects. That’s why they combine 7th through 12th grade into one class. And on and on. That’s why when I ask teacher’s what curriculum they use they say they use the Bible and develop their own lesson each night. Can you imagine a teacher doing this for Science?

    I could offer several other observations, but since most of you don’t want to suffer through a long post let me get straight to the point.

    Nowhere in Scripture is there a mandate for academics (Science, Math, English, etc.); however, there are multiplied instances where we are commanded to teach our children the ways of God, the works of God, and the wonders of God.

    The problem as I see it is that we have bought into the world’s system and we have tried to mirror it’s education by creating our own schools–and, oh yeah, while we’re at it add a bit of Bible and not teach evolution so we can call it “Christian.”

    I think the results might be different if schools put a MUCH higher priority in training their students to have a passion for God and developing classes to accomplish this.

    Let me ramble just a bit more. Our own school here in town has an “open enrollment” which allows almost anyone to attend. Yeah, the students have to sign a “statement of faith” but anyone can sign a piece of paper (I taught a class of 8 Juniors and Seniors a couple years back and only 2 of them could or would give me a salvation testimony. The others literally refused to do so or said they couldn’t remember). Approximately 70 percent of the student body is from other churches. Many of them, we separate from ecclesiastically.

    ANYHOW, I’ll shutup now. Go to the following to hear a FANTASTIC mp3 on the subject. It is Chuck Phelps who is the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, NH.

    http://www.positiveaction.org/shannon/school.mp3

  9. Do you really think that there is not a mandate to know the sciences, etc.? I’m not so sure.

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