I have talked several times in this space about what Christian school is, as well as its purpose. Perhaps it is also important to discuss what it is not. Quite simply, the Christian school is not a repair shop. It is not the purpose or mission of the Christian school to “fix” children whose parents have not fulfilled their responsibility of parenting them, either by refusing to do so or not knowing how.
The Christian school at which I began my teaching career was located in an area with a very large population, a very high cost of living, and very poor public schools. As a result, no small number of parents enrolled their children at the school because it was a more appealing alternative to the public schools–safer environment, more stringent academic standards, etc. There were also more than a few parents who looked to the school to fix their children after their children had been expelled from public school or had become so disrespectful and unruly at home that the parents simply did not know what to do with them any longer.
Just last week this particular attitude toward Christian school was reinforced for me again when I received a phone call from a parent. Much to my surprise, one of the first things out of this parent’s mouth was this statement: “To be honest, the boy is a real pain in the a**.” He repeated this general opinion of his child several times during the rest of the conversation. He also proceeded to tell me that the boy often refuses to go to school, and wanted to know if we would make him attend classes. At one point he stated that he and his wife had threatened to send their son to our school before.
I was able to avoid having to go into too much detail about why this was not likely to be an ideal match by telling this man that it would be very unusual for us to admit a new student to our school for the fourth quarter. Had I received this phone call at the beginning of the school year, though, it would have necessitated a much lengthier discussion about the role of the Christian school and the role of the parents.
Except in those few instances when a Christian school is founded specifically for the purpose of creating a safe alternative education environment and/or serving a “reform function” for students who have needs that are not being and/or cannot be met at home, the Christian school exists to come along side parents, to partner with them in training their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. As I have discussed before, the responsibility to educating children resides with the parents. Ideally, the parents, the church and the school will work together, aligned in purpose and conviction, to raise and educate children. The three institutions together work like the three legs of a stool or the three strands of a rope, strengthening each other and reinforcing the overall effectiveness.
When a family is not part of a church, one strand or one leg is missing. In the case of the rope it can still function but it will not be as strong. In the case of the stool, it requires a very careful balancing act in order to make it work. When the family is also not fulfilling the God-given responsibility of raising the children, and instead looks to the school to fulfill this role, it simply does not work. If balanced perfectly I suppose a one-legged stool could stand, but the smallest turbulence would cause it to topple.
It is for these reasons that a Christian school simply is not appropriate for every student. If the parents of the student and the school are not in one accord then there will be a disconnect–a disconnect that students will very quickly recognize. The students will, at best, be confused by this disconnect, and at worst they will exploit it, playing one institution off the other. The Christian school cannot replace the parents of a student, nor should it ever try. This is why effective Christian schools very carefully interview parents of potential students as well as students themselves during the admissions process.
It is possible with older students for a Christian school to be the right environment for a student whose parents are not in complete agreement with the school’s statement of faith. However, for this to be effective, the student must on his or her own recognize the importance of a Christ-centered educational environment, realize that his or her parents do not hold to the same position of faith and be able to respect them as parents while simultaneously knowing they are wrong about the gospel, and be able to overcome the potential challenges that this creates. Even in this situation, though, the parents of the student must be willing to at least support the policies and standards of the school, because even the most willing and desirous student can rarely if ever overcome a parent or parents who actively oppose and undermine the school.
So make no mistake… The Christian school should never be used as a threat for a misbehaving student, because there should be nothing scary, menacing or disciplinary about attending a Christian school. Furthermore, the Christian school should never be pursued by parents solely for the purpose of fixing their child’s attitude or behavior. The purpose of the Christian school is to work with parents and churches to provide academic and spiritual instruction that will assist in the spiritual, physical, academic and emotional development of the child–not forcing a child into compliance or reform through Bible reading and rules.