jasonbwatson

October 10, 2013

“Social Indoctrination”

No small part of the reason that public schooling has, in my mind, all but ceased to be an option for Christian parents is the increasing desire on the part of public schools to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable–which is, in fact, doing exactly the opposite.

California should almost never be used as an example for anything since it tends to be such a unique entity all on its own, but the foolishness going on there with the gender identity issue is a good example of the kind of thing I am talking about. As you have likely heard, and as I have addressed here before, California enacted legislation that permits transgender students to choose which restroom they want to use and whether to play boys or girls sports. Writing just this morning on this issue CBN Chief Political Correspondent David Brody said, “Critics say it’s all cloaked under the guise of fairness. But supporters say it’s important that transgender students feel comfortable and not isolated.”

That “cloak of fairness” is where the problem comes in. In this instance it pertains to gender identity. In other instances it pertains to sexual preference or religious belief or almost anything you may want to put in the blank other than conservative Christian beliefs. Somehow, the “cloak of fairness” does not seem to extend to evangelical Christians–no doubt because they are considered to be intolerant.

We all know life is not fair. Never has been, and never will be. That does not mean that public schools (or non-public schools, for that matter) should abandon any effort to be fair and equitable in decision making and policy enforcement. The reality, though, is that the “fairness” public schools seem to scrambling for is anything but fair. The first part of dictionary.com’s definition of “fair” reads like this: “free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice.” What the schools in California are doing with their gender identity policies is hardly free from bias. What it is, in fact, is biased in favor of any student who claims to feel like the gender he or she was not born.

The CBN article quotes California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, defending the legislation, as saying, “No student can learn if they feel like they have to hide who they are at school or [are] singled out for unequal treatment.” Absent from that silliness is the reality that no student can learn if they feel like they have to hide at school. I have no doubt that some young girls in California are quite concerned–scared, even–of using the bathrooms at their public schools for fear that a boy will come in to that bathroom. I doubt seriously that their fears are alleviated by the fact that any boy who does so supposedly identifies himself as being a girl. I am certain there are girls who will not join sports teams, or will join and have their play impacted, because there are biological boys who feel like girls playing on the team. I am sure there are boys who will not join sports teams, or will play differently than they would if only boys were playing, because girls who self-identify as boys are permitted to play on the team, too. In order to avoid having what are undoubtedly a very small number of students who claim that they were born with the wrong plumbing feel like they are treated unfairly every other student in the California public school system is treated unfairly instead.

Interestingly, the CBN article also includes a statement from a transgender student named Ashton Lee. I am not sure if Ashton is a biological boy or girl, but here is the statement Ashton made (notice I cannot even use a pronoun because of the ambiguity): “It’s going to take away that extra pressure of not knowing where to go and not knowing what classes you’re going to be in and not being treated the same as all the other boys and girls in your school.” Do you see the irony in that statement? Ashton favors this legislation because as a result of it Ashton will not have to worry about being treated the same as all of the other boys and girls! Translation: Ashton will be treated differently. More specifically, Ashton will have greater privileges and “rights” than the “other boys and girls.” So much for fair and unbiased, huh?

California Republican Tim Donnelly, a member of the state legislature, has taken his 13-year-old son out of the California public school system. Why? “The public schools are no longer interested in education,” he said. He continued that his son is “not going back to the junior high school for more of this social indoctrination. To me, they ought to be talking about reading, writing and arithmetic, not sexual identity politics.” Can I get an Amen?

This is the kind of thing that has, more than anything else, made public schooling a non-option for Christian parents. Once the truth of God’s Word has been abandoned there is no longer any guide for right and wrong. When there is no absolute standard for right and wrong those things become defined by whoever is in power. When those in power decide that what is right is for the whims of a miniscule few to override the rights of the overwhelming majority the only thing for the majority to do is take back control. That is what Donnelly hopes to see happen in California; if a half million signatures can be collected, the issue will go before voters next November in a referendum. I hope that happens, and that the law is overturned, but unfortunately, even if that does happen, public schools are not going to be much better for Christian children any time soon, if ever again.

Some people, though argue that leaving the public schools in response is exactly what Christian parents and students should not be doing because they need to be ambassadors for Christ, to be salt and light in their public schools. Why this is a flawed argument will be the subject next time….

October 9, 2013

“…the answer is increasingly no.”

Al Mohler begins his article “Is Public School An Option?” with this questions and statement: “Should Christian parents send their children to the public schools? This question has emerged as one of the most controversial debates of our times.” As I suggested in the previous post, I would have said “sure” if asked this question anytime prior to the early part of this century, and that was even after I had spent three years teaching in a Christian school. I felt that I had turned out just fine having attended public schools my whole life and, frankly, what I had heard and seen of some homeschooling and Christian school education made me cringe. I was convinced that public school education was usually more rigorous and better prepared students to be lifelong learners. Bottom line, I thought public school education was more legitimate.

Mohler writes, “Until fairly recently, exceptions to this rule [the expectation that parents would send their children to public schools] have been seen as profoundly un-democratic and practically un-American. Homeschoolers were seen as marginal eccentrics, Catholics were seen as hopelessly sectarian, and those who sent their children to private schools were seen as elitist snobs.” Perhaps not exactly, but that fit my way of thinking pretty well.

Of course, as Mohler also points out, public education in America was under the oversight and influence of parents and the local community for hundreds of years; “public schools were public in the sense that they were community schools maintained for and by the citizens of a community.” That way of thinking has certainly changed, and beginning with John Dewey the influence of the parents and local community members on the curriculum and policies of the local schools has significantly diminished.

As Mohler states, “decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court secularized schools in a way that separated the schools from their communities and families.” Of course I am not old enough to remember when there was prayer and Bible reading in school, so that removal happened before I came along. And in that small Midwestern town where I went to high school there was still release time once a week when students could leave the public school during the school day and go for an hour to the church of their choice for “religious instruction.” Students who did not wish to go could stay at school for a study hall. My public high school choir performed their year-end concert in a church and the performances included doctrinally-sound Christian hymns like “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” So maybe my experience had not been the norm… And maybe the decreasing influence of the local community had not become the reality in the Midwest yet by the time I graduated high school.

What eventually changed my mind about public schools as a viable option and the legitimacy of homeschooling and Christian schools was the realization that schools were not ideologically neutral, which I had deluded myself into thinking they could be. Mohler writes, “The ideological revolution has been even more damaging than the political change. Those who set educational policy are now overwhelmingly committed to a radically naturalistic and evolutionistic worldview that sees the schools as engines of social revolution. The classrooms are being transformed rapidly into laboratories for ideological experimentation and indoctrination.” If I may be so bold I would disagree with Mohler on that last part, because I am now convinced that classrooms have not been transformed into “laboratories for…indoctrination” but rather always have been. “Indoctrination” means “the act of indoctrinating, or teaching or inculcating a doctrine, principle, or ideology, especially one with a specific point of view.” Public schools have always done that because it is impossible to teach without doing it. Christian schools do it, too; in fact, that is the whole reason most parents who send their children to Christian schools do so!

Am I suggesting that it is not possible to take a non-ideological position on any subject or that a teacher cannot impartially present information to students? No; that can be done–though it often takes real intentionality to do. What I am suggesting is that every teacher has a belief system, a worldview, that influences their way of thinking about every subject, and that worldview comes through in their teaching.

What has happened is that the right and wrong that public schools used to teach have become various versions of right and debate over wrong because everything is relative. What has happened to the public schools is the removal of certainty and absolutes and facts and the substitution of questioning and relativism and opinion. This is what has led to the ridiculous stories we hear and read about graphic sex ed classes, infringement of student rights to gather or pray or express a minority viewpoint and the support by public education leaders for teaching an acceptance and even and embrace of sinful behavior.

What caused me to change my mind about public schools, and to pretty well determine that my own children will never attend a public school, was the realization that what the schools teach–even the decent ones–is almost always taught from a perspective and toward and end that is completely at odds with what I believe and what I want my children to believe; specifically, what the Bible says. Local control of public schools is increasingly rare. There is more local (and school-level) control than many of the loudest conservative voices claim there is, but it is not enough. The tidal wave of mental manipulation and cconvictionless character has crashed into the public school system and as the water settles the ruins are increasingly visible.

Paula Bolyard, blogging for PJ Lifestyle, has responded to Mohler’s article, too. She correctly writes, “This is one of the most difficult questions a Christian family must wrestle with as school curriculum and speech and behavior codes increasingly stand in opposition to Christian teachings.” I am not by any means attempting to make light of this issue or suggest that it is an easy decision. There are people I know well and respect (indeed, people I am related to) who have chosen to send their children to public schools, and I am not sitting in judgment of them. I personally think that many of their reasons are flawed, but that does not mean they do not hold them sincerely. I will address some of these arguments in a future post.

I think what it comes down to is this assertion by Bolyard: “The stakes are very high. Consider the effects of thirty or more hours a week in a government school where you have no control over what your children are taught — where your local teachers have little or no control over the content of their lessons. Where the federal bureaucrats — many of whom have antipathy toward your Christian values — dictate what your children learn, all day long. How much time are you willing to invest in debriefing your children?” That’s just it. Students will spend some fifteen thousand hours of their lives–their most formative years–in school. Does it make any sense for me to knowingly and willingly place my children for that length of time into an environment that I cannot control and that I increasingly am in opposition to? I don’t think so. If I do, I will have to deal with these candid questions Bolyard asks: “How will you convince them that you are the authority on any given subject — that what you’re teaching them is right — and not their teachers? Is it fair to put a young child in the position of choosing between what their teacher is telling them and what their parents and Sunday school teachers say?”

Nearing the end of his article Mohler asks and answers the question that is the basis for the entire article. “Is public school an option? For Christians who take the Christian worldview seriously and who understand the issues at stake, the answer is increasingly no.” I absolutely agree. In fact, I may well have left the word “increasingly.”

October 8, 2013

Changing My Mind

Now back to our previously scheduled programming…I will resume my multi-entry look at education in America.

In the October-December 2013 issue of Answers Magazine Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler, Jr. wrote an article entitled, “Is Public School an Option?” The title of the article struck me for two main reasons: (1) As a Christian school administrator I was curious to read what Mohler would say, and (2) I am well aware that my own position on this question has changed completely in the past decade and a half. Mohler writes, “I spent every minute of my school life from the first grade to high school graduation in a public school.” I can say the same thing, but throw in kindergarten for me, too.

I had some cousins who attend Christian schools, but they did not live in my community. Other than them, I do not recall knowing anyone who went to a Christian school. I grew up being in church every time the doors were open. No one in the two churches our family attended between my ages five and thirteen attended Christian schools that I know of. I surely do not remember anyone who was homeschooled, either. When I was thirteen my family moved from just outside of Washington, D.C. to a town of 20,000 in the upper Midwest. (At the time I thought that had to be the smallest town in the country. Ironic, given that I now live thirteen miles outside of a town of about fifteen hundred people…not all that much bigger than my high school in that town of twenty thousand!) I was satisfied with my education in public schools. I had good teachers, there were minimal blatantly unbiblical influences that I recall, and only once do I remember my parents having me “opt out” of viewing a movie that was being shown in class. I went on to attend a private college, but not a Christian one.

Interestingly, after college I was teaching in a Christian school and even then I was adamant that there was nothing wrong with most public schools. Given that I was back in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. I was well aware that there were some poor public schools (and some dangerous ones) but I was not a die-heard devotee of the Christian school movement. I was even further away from the homeschooling movement. I was skeptical of the ability of most parents to effectively teach their children, skeptical of the quality of the education those children who were homeschooled were receiving, and skeptical of the futures those homeschooled children would have. I can remember telling my wife early in our marriage that if we ever had children we would not homeschool them and I was not even sure I would send them to Christian school. This was a bit brazen for me to say given that my wife had only ever attended Christian schools until she was in high school when her parents began homeschooling her and her five younger siblings. My in-laws were, in fact, still homeschooling until the end of the last school year.

In the years since then my mindset has changed dramatically. I have been married for fourteen years and now have two children, neither of whom has ever attended a public school. We have homeschooled and both are now in a Christian school where I am also the administrator. How did my mind change so completely? What does Al Mohler have to say in his article, and do I agree or disagree with him? Come back next time to find out….

October 4, 2013

True Education

My plan is to spend the next several entries addressing education. For starters I would like to reflect on an article R.C. Sproul, Jr. wrote for the May 2013 issue of Tabletalk entitled “The School of Christ.”

Sproul correctly points out that “it is not hard to complain about the government’s schools,” and that just about everyone seems to have something to complain about–atheists complain about prayers, Christians complain about sex education and everyone complains about graduation rates and standardized test scores. From there, though, Sproul makes an assertion that many will undoubtedly find startling: he says that American schools “are not actually designed to train up scholars…their goal is neither intellectual nor moral giants. Rather, they function to prepare men and women to work.” He continues, “The entire system looks at children as if they were widgets, entering the education factory as toddlers and coming out the other side when they are grown.”

Sproul takes issue with this approach and, whether or not you agree that schools operate this way, I suspect you would, too. “This is not how God designed the rearing of children,” Sproul writes. “To be sure, our children must learn things, but they are not so much widgets in a factory as they are plants around our tables (Psalm 128). They are not products to be manufactured but lives to be nurtured.”

One obvious problem with the widget approach is that widgets are produced best and most efficiently when there is a system that treats every widget exactly the same, replicating the same process hundreds or thousands of times a day, day after day, month after month. Once in a while an improvement or adjustment comes along, and the improvement or adjustment is input into the system, calibrations are altered, and every widget thereafter has the exact same improvement or adjustment. The workers have no personal relationship with or attachment to the individual widgets; their sole concern is that the machinery works properly, the procedures are followed precisely, and the product output is maintained if not increased. Children cannot be treated this way. Well, they can be, actually, but treating children this way will have the exact opposite effect as treating widgets this way. Rather than increasing productivity, efficiency and consistency this approach will hinder learning, frustrate children and result in little if any learning.

Another problem with this approach though, and the one that Sproul dwells on, is that the Bible addresses the responsibility of raising and teaching children by using “natural and organic terms, rather than mechanical or industrial terms.” In other words, education, properly done, cannot be confined to the hours between the first and last bell of the school day like manufacturing can be restricted to the time between the first and last bell of the work day. Referencing Moses and Old Testament instruction for teaching children Sproul writes that parents are to provide their children with “an immersive educational experience–we are to talk about the things of God with our children always and everywhere. The things of God are to be the very warp and woof of our daily conversation.”

The greatest (read biggest) part of that responsibility for parents to recognize and accept that the education of their children is their responsibility. The education of children is not the job of the state, is not the job of the pastor, youth pastor or Sunday school teacher, and is not even the job of the tutor or teacher. Minus the state, each of those individuals can have a role and an influence on the education of children, but the responsibility is ultimately and preeminently on parents. As an educator I am obviously not opposed to schools or advocating that every parent homeschool their children (though homeschooling is a terrific option for many families). What I am advocating is the point that Sproul is making–that parents must see the school and the church the same way they see the doctor and the coach. The school and the church are important pieces of the education of children and they each play specific and necessary roles. So too does the doctor and the coach. These individuals have expertise (or, in the case of the coach, a willingness even if the expertise is lacking) that can benefit children when they are sick or are engaging in athletic activity. But those roles are finite and restricted. Parents, on the other hand, have a never-ending role.

Regarding the command in the Shema to talk to their children about the things of God all the time, Sproul writes, “in order to do this, of course, we who are parents first must be thinking about the things of God all the time. Most of us are the products of schools that taught us to divide our lives, to separate what we think about Jesus and what we think about our work, to separate what we think about our work and what we think about our play. We give time to Jesus on Sundays, perhaps on Wednesday nights, and, if we are particularly pious, every day during our quiet times. These all may be terribly good things, but not if they are hermetically sealed. We dare not believe that Jesus matters only during these times while he is beside the point the rest of our days.”

This is true education. Dictionary.com defines education as “the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.” As significant a chunk of the early lives of children as the 15,000 hours they will spend in school may be, it is not sufficient by itself to accomplish that task, regardless of how terrific the school may be. Many of the next few entries will address the formal education that takes place in institutions of learning, but I felt it important to state that education is, first and foremost, the responsibility of parents. It is an incredible responsibility but it is also a tremendous privilege. Think about it…God Himself knits together little lives and then hands them to human beings and entrusts them with the power of molding and shaping that life, of educating that human being. Between you and me, if I were God I think I would deliver the little ones pre-programmed. But I am not God (for which we can all be grateful!), and He has chosen to give the task of educating children to the parents. Do not take that role lightly, do not abandon it to others. Seize it!

May 28, 2013

Jesus Matters All the Time

In a recent article in Tabletalk, a monthly periodical with articles and Bible studies from Ligonier Ministries, R.C. Sproul, Jr. wrote an article entitled “In the School of Christ.” The article begins with this paragraph:

It is not hard to complain about the government’s schools. The government, at least during every election cycle, seems less than satisfied with its own product, ever promising us that it will improve. Atheists complain about prayers before football games. Christians complain about the teaching of sexual (im)morality. Everyone complains about graduation rates and test scores.

When it comes to government schools, Mr. Sproul is right; there is plenty to complain about, and the complaints come from all sides. And any efforts at improvement are met with new obstacles. Michelle Rhee faced overwhelming opposition when she tried to clean up the mess that was Washington, D.C. public schools. No Child Left Behind, a joint effort of the unlikely-combo of Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush did seemingly little to accomplish the goals it established for improving the education (read, test scores) of American school children, and the newest version, Race to the Top, is not any better. Now Common Core State Standards have been almost unanimously adopted in the U.S. to establish clearer expectations of what students in schools should be learning, and when, and these are encountering opposition and obstacles of their own–some perhaps legitimate, others seemingly concocted from thin air by Glenn Beck and others.

Private schools tend to fare better than public ones in the test scores and graduation rate areas. The school where I serve, for example, had a 100% graduation rate this year, and last year, and our high school students’ mean scale scores exceeded the national norm group in every subject area in our standardized testing this year.

However, that does not automatically mean that our school is successful. It does in a graduation rate and standardized test conversation, but that is not the sole reason why our school exists. Our school exists to invest in the entire student, body, mind and soul–spiritual, physical, intellectual, communal and emotional (SPICE). Sproul writes later in his article that children “are not products to be manufactured but lives to be nurtured.” Referencing the Shema, Sproul says, “Moses is talking about an immersive educational experience–we are to talk about the things of God with our children always and everywhere. The things of God are to be the very warp and woof of our daily conversation.” Sproul is specifically challenging parents to be instructing their children about God all the time. And that is what sets our school apart from government schools. The students at our school–and at many Christian schools–are receiving excellent academic instruction, but are also receiving intentional and intensive spiritual instruction, being taught about God in Bible class, yes, but also in science and history, in physical education and music, at the lunch table and after school. Effective Christian education destroys any boundaries that exist between the five SPICE areas outlined above.

Sproul continues,

Most of us are the products of schools that taught us to divide our lives, to separate what we think about Jesus and what we think about our work, to separate what we think about our work and what we think about our play. We give time to Jesus on Sundays, perhaps on Wednesday nights, and, if we are peculiarly pious, every day during our quiet times. These all may be terribly good things, but not if they are hermetically sealed. We dare not believe that Jesus matters only during these times while He is beside the point the rest of our days.

That is exactly right, and that is exactly what sets truly Christian education–whether it takes place in a Christian school or in a homeschool–apart from education at government schools or even most private schools: Christian education does not believe that Jesus matters only during specific times set aside for Bible study and worship, but that Jesus matters all the time.

May 15, 2013

The end of another year

Filed under: Christian Education — jbwatson @ 9:30 pm
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Another school year has now come and gone… People talk about time flying, and getting even faster as you get older, and like anyone else I suppose I was always skeptical. But this year went by even faster than the last one, so perhaps there is something to that after all.

Last week also happened to be Teacher Appreciation Week, and I read a devotional in David Jeremiah’s Pathways devotional book that is quite fitting for teachers even though his intended target was parents.

Dr. Jeremiah quotes from Tom Baker, the character played by Steve Martin in the film Cheaper by the Dozen, who explained his explanation to walk away from coaching college football by referencing the stress his job had on his family. When asked by his boss if he would have any regrets for his decision, Baker replies, “If I screw up raising my kids, nothing I achieve will matter much.”

Jeremiah then transitions to how Jesus made essentially the same point, though worded differently, when he said, in Mark 9:42, “But whoever causes one of these little ones…to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.” “In other words,” Jeremiah writes, “raising children is a serious responsibility and privilege; we should treat it that way and give our best to this high calling.”

This is certainly true of parents, but it is also true of teachers. Teachers are in positions of incredible influence. Sadly, there are teachers in the world who do cause their students to stumble. Many more of them, however, are doing their very best to influence their students, to teach them, to equip them to accomplish great things. This is true of many teachers in public schools as well as Christian schools and other private schools. What separates the Christian school teacher–or should–from those teachers in other schools is that they recognize the spiritual aspect of their responsibility. They are not simply equipping students to get high scores on tests, to get admitted to the best schools or to obtain the best positions in the workforce. While they may be doing those things, they are also–and more importantly–focusing on the spiritual development of their students.

Jeremiah writes, “The world says we ought to pursue degrees, titles, salaries, and accomplishments. But if you look intently into the eyes of your child [or student, I might add], the things that are truly important will become clear. The title you hold will fade, and your accomplishments will someday be forgotten; it is the investment you make into the spiritual life of your children that will outlive you and carry on into eternity.”

This is why Christian school teachers do what they do. They certainly do not do it for the money or for the hours. They do not do it for the reasons the world says we should do things. They do it because they have been called by God to teach, to invest in the lives of their students, and to make a difference for today and for the future.

May 2, 2013

Brainwashing Kids?

On Tuesday, April 30 Answers in Genesis posted an article entitled “Intolerant Atheists Viciously Attack Christian School.” In the article, written by AiG founder and president Ken Ham and Mark Looy, it is revealed that a fourth grade student who attends Blue Ridge Christian Academy in South Carolina recently wanted an AiG video in her science class and took a quiz on the video. The student received a 100% on the quiz, but apparently both her father and a family friend were quite angry when they learned that she was learning a biblical understanding of creation in general and dinosaurs specifically. The friend took a picture of the two-sided quiz and posted it on Reddit, and it then made its way through the atheists blogosphere. Then Snopes got a hold of the story and decided to investigate, since the original posts did not name the school where the quiz was given. Amazing, isn’t it, how incensed people can get over an 18-question elementary school science quiz when the questions on the test stem from a biblical worldview.

Snopes investigative efforts eventually led to an e-mail from the father of the student whose quiz was posted, in which he stated the following: “I didn’t know that this was being taught to her until we heard a radio commercial together about the Discover the Dinosaurs exhibit was coming to the TD Convention Center [in Greenville, South Carolina]. … The test showed up a day later to my disgust. It’s a great school for Reading, Writing and Math. She is ahead of most of her peers and also is taking Latin there. But I now know to be vigilant for the rest of the year about her science teachings. She will not be attending the school next year….”

It is difficult to countenance someone saying that they were completely surprised that this was being taught, given that the web site of Blue Ridge Christian Academy includes the school’s Statement of Beliefs, which begins with this: “We believe the Bible to be inspired; the only infallible, authoritative, inerrant Word of God (2 Timothy 3:15-16; 2 Peter 1:21).” Furthermore, if you make another click or two with your mouse you will find that BRCA’s web site also includes information about its curriculum. The Lower School Curriculum page states that Christian Schools International (CSI) materials are used for science classes, and states this: “Science lessons are creation-based, student-centered and hands-on.” Take a few more clicks with your mouse and make a few keystrokes and literally within less than 15 seconds I find the information on CSI’s web site regarding their science curriculum: “Christian Schools International’s 2nd edition science curriculum, revised in 2011, leads students to see God’s hand in the world around them. The materials will enrich their knowledge of creation, affirm their faith in the creator, and empower them to be good stewards of creation.” I am sure that BRCA requires parents of its students to sign an agreement acknowledging an understanding of the school’s Statement of Beliefs and an understanding that students in the school will be taught accordingly. Furthermore, it is a bit absurd for the father of this student to say that he had no idea this was being taught when his daughter has been at the school for who-knows-how-long already and when it is easily discernible within a few minutes on the computer.

Another blog site, entitled the Friendly Atheist, had this to say about the quiz in question: “…even if it’s legal, no school should be brainwashing kids like this in the name of science, and the father and the Reddit submitter have a duty to name the school when the time comes so we can expose them.” When I read that I was not sure whether to laugh or cry. This person is accusing BRCA in particular, along with Answers in Genesis, and anyone who holds to a biblical view of creation in general, of “brainwashing kids…in the name of science”! Isn’t that exactly what public schools are doing all across the country, teaching children that the earth is the result of a big bang and that life evolved over millions of years from some kind of ooze eventually becoming a monkey eventually becoming a man? Aren’t evolutionists the ones brainwashing kids in the name of science, touting the theory of evolution as scientific fact even though there is no scientific evidence to support the theory? And isn’t it ironic that in any other field of academic inquiry most intellectuals and academics and yes, liberals, claim to love the idea of exposing students to as many theories, opinions, arguments and just plain speculations as possible, but when it comes to science the creationist position must be shut out?

If you look around a little bit online you will find that the atheist, evolutionist and anti-Christian community is aghast that such stuff would be taught in a Christian school. The AiG article includes this reaction from the BRCA administrator: “The school administrator informed us she knew that the school would be involved in a spiritual battle after the quiz went public, but she was not expecting such ferocity. She told us she was shocked at the level of hate that the atheists poured down upon her, the teacher, and the school in general.”

I for one hope that BRCA will continue to stand strong for the truth of God’s Word in the face of this criticism, and that it will accept the hate being sent its direction as a high honor, a sign that the school is doing what God has called it to do. After all, Jesus Himself said that the world will hate His followers because it hated Him first (John 15:18).

I must echo Mr. Ham and Mr. Looy, who included this statement in their article: “More than ever, God’s people need to be standing up publicly and unashamedly for the authority of His Word.” Amen!

May 1, 2013

The Real World

I have one other issue with the column I addressed yesterday by Joy Pullman on the topic of online education. At the conclusion of the column Pullman quotes Angelika Weiss, the pastor’s wife and homeschooling mother of four from southern Minnesota who provided most of the material for Pullman’s column, saying this: “With online education, there is so much time not wasted in the classroom. My son can be out in the community volunteering or working. Let’s face it: The inside of a classroom isn’t the real world.”

That’s true, Mrs. Weiss, the inside of a classroom is not the real world. But then neither is the inside of a church. Should we all skip church on Sunday morning so we can spend more time working or maybe volunteering in the community? After all, we can read the Bible on our own, listen to Christian radio and watch or listen to sermons from respected pastors on our computers, so why go to church? Going somewhere where everyone either professes to be a Christian or to be open to the gospel, where we sit in classrooms to study the Bible together and in pews or padded chairs to sing hymns and praise songs before listening to someone teach the Bible…none of those things are anything like “the real world.” Given that Mrs. Weiss’s husband is a pastor, though, I suspect it would be safe to assume that neither she nor her husband would agree that we should all skip church in order to avoid “wasted time.”

Now I can already hear Mrs. Weiss and others responding with utter shock that I would suggest such a thing. “That’s not the same,” I can hear. Really? And why not, may I ask? Why do we go to church anyway? I mean sure, the Bible says we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves together but why not? What do we get by going to church with fellow believers that we cannot get by staying at home and tapping into the multitude of resources available online, on TV, on radio and in print? We get interaction with other human beings. We get the accountability. We get the fellowship. We get to talk and question and wrestle with how to deal with “the real world” when we leave the church. With all due respect to my pastor and yours, I could find “better sermons” from “better preachers” than I am going to get when I go to church (and the people who sit and listen to me when I preach surely could!) but that does not mean I should skip church.

Sitting in a classroom may not be “the real world,” but it does prepare students for the real world. As with church, the experience of being in a school with other students–and teachers–provides a much richer educational opportunity than does sitting in front of a computer screen and interacting through typed text. That kind of interaction has its place, don’t get me wrong–and the opportunity to interact with people from around the country and around the world makes that kind of interaction very valuable as an element of a well rounded education. But I would suggest to Mrs. Weiss and to anyone else who laments the “wasted time” in school classrooms that–at least in a good school with effective teachers–there is not really much time that is truly wasted…and even that which might be is probably far better than the multitude of other ways students waste time every day.

April 30, 2013

Undermining Beliefs

A couple of months ago I read a brief news column in WORLD Magazine by Joy Pullman about the variety of online educational opportunities available today, and how homeschooling families are utilizing these opportunities to provide classes for their children that either they are not qualified or capable of teaching or their local public schools do not offer, classes like logic, Latin and church history. I should state here and now that I am a huge proponent of teaching Latin and logic, so I have no qualms at all with this idea. I also agree that there are an abundance of educational opportunities made available through the Internet that would have been unthinkable not all that long ago, and I support families utilizing whatever options they believe will best meet the needs of their children and will be consistent with their worldview.

That said, Pullman includes a few things in her column with which I take issue. Pullman includes several quotes from Angelika Weiss, a pastor’s wife from southern Minnesota who utilizes online courses for at least one of her four homeschooled children. First, Pullman quotes Weiss’s assessment that “online high school is a lot cheaper than private school.” That is true, and it is no wonder. An online class does not require classroom space or the costs associated with heating/cooling and lighting the classrooms, the cost of insurance, and the various other expenses involved in operating a “real school” within four walls (not least of which is the cost of teachers). Furthermore, online schools are able to enroll students from all over the country or the world, providing a much larger potential student body–which can both decrease expenses per student and maximize possible profit. Too, online schooling offers a lot of flexibility that cannot be found in a formal classroom setting.

Pullman also writes, though, that “many Christian families are also choosing tax-sponsored online education because it costs less than private schools without undermining their beliefs.” Maybe…but probably not. Not to the expense aspect–of course online schooling will cost less than private schools. After all, private schools do not accept government funding, meaning the full cost of operating the school must come from “paying customers” and any donations and grants received. Interestingly, though, private schools do cost less than public schools in most instances when you look at the cost-per-student. Since the private schools do not get government funding, however, the cost must be paid by the family of the student, and anything is more expensive than the “free” education in public schools.

No, my concern is with the statement that the online education does not undermine their beliefs. That depends on their beliefs, of course, and on which online school they utilize (there are a number of Christian ones), but given that Pullman is talking about “tax-sponsored online education” that does not seem to be the case here. Rather, Pullman is referring to public schooling offered online instead of in the local school. I have to respectfully challenge Mrs. Weiss and others who think this option does not undermine their beliefs. How does it not? There is no such thing as a neutral education; all instruction is informed and shaped by the worldview of the educator and the educational institution. If Mrs. Weiss would not send her children to the local public school, why does she feel it is okay to invite the local public school into her house through her computer? If her argument is solely the availability of courses not offered at the local school, fine; but she is deceiving herself if she thinks that by using the online public school instead of the brick-and-mortar public school that she is not undermining her beliefs.

Another important issue, of course, is the fact that the more people who utilize anything the more of it is going to be available. In other words, by utilizing the “free” (tax-sponsored) online schools instead of the Christian online schools requiring tuition payments or the local Christian schools requiring tuition payments Mrs. Weiss and others are contributing to the expansion of the former and the decline of the latter. If every Christian who claims to want to avoid having their children influenced by the worldview of the public education system in the United States would commit to an online Christian school option or a local Christian school the cost would become manageable and the Christian schools would flourish.

I am not suggesting, by the way, that all Christians are required by God to send their children to Christian schools. I believe that is a decision that must be made after prayerful consideration by the family, after seeking the Lord’s will for their children. My point is simply this: just as James says that someone who claims to be religious and does not bridle his own tongue is deceiving himself (James 1:26), so any parent who thinks that by utilizing the tax-funded online school is avoiding the influences of the tax-sponsored local public school is equally deceived.

April 8, 2013

The Safest Poison?

I have mentioned here before that I am part of an online community of Christian educators and in the forums provided through that community there are many discussions on a wide range of topics of interest and concern to Christian educators. Not too long ago there was a discussion about science textbooks for high school science classes–how to select the best books, thoughts on the offerings of specific publishers, etc.

One of the comments was made by a school administrator who quoted his school’s biology teacher. Part of his comment was this statement: “What I found was that the [publisher’s name] was a good curriculum; however, my concern was with the student text generating student interest. There seemed to be a lot of text compared to pictures, models, graphics, and diagrams.” I found this statement troubling for a couple of reasons. First, we are talking about textbooks for a high school science class, not an elementary school class. By the time they reach high school students need to have learned how to learn, and they need to be beyond the stage when their interest in and attentiveness to a text is driven primarily by the colorful pictures and graphics a book may contain. There is a place for graphics, illustrations, models, etc., I do not dispute that, but selecting a textbook because it has the best graphics–or, on the contrary, excluding a textbook because it does not have great graphics–is a dangerous basis on which to make a decision, not to mention silly one. One of the best series of history books I have ever seen is the four-volume The Story of the World series by Susan Wise Bauer, and those books contain no photos. Whatever maps or illustrations are included are in black and white, yet students enjoy the books because they are well-written and tell the narrative story of history.

The second comment made by the quoted biology teacher was, unfortunately, exponentially more troubling than the first. He explained that their school eventually chose a textbook from a secular publisher, and hailed the wonderful extras that came with the adoption of that book, including access to online resources. Then he made this statement: “Choosing this secular curriculum has been a blessing because my class is very captivated and ‘in love’ with biology. It was the least infiltrated with evolution compared to other secular publishers.”

Now I need to state here and now that I am not one who holds rigidly to the position that Christian schools should only utilize textbooks and resources from Christian publishers. My philosophy has always been that the textbook that will best meet the needs of the students is the one that should be used, and that it is the responsibility of the teacher, regardless of the textbook used, to ensure that courses incorporate a biblical worldview. And I have not seen the specific textbook in question, so I cannot definitively state that it is a “bad” book or that it should not have been selected.

What I can say with confidence, though, is that the very suggestion that a book is “okay” because it is “the least infiltrated” with evolution or any other theory or position that is counter to Scripture is highly troubling. Does the individual in question think that his assertion is even possible? A textbook is either infiltrated with evolution or it is not. A person either has a biblical worldview or they do not. A person is either for the Lord or he is not. There is no middle ground. And infiltrated, by the way, does not mean that the book contains the theory of evolution. Every good biology textbook should include the theory of evolution, since part of effectively teaching students is exposing them to the various theories that exist and equipping them to counter those that are in opposition to Scripture. No, infiltrated means that the textbook’s author’s wrote the book with an evolutionary worldview. It means that they believe that human beings evolved from apes, and apes evolved from something else, and on down the line to the primordial ooze or whatever building blocks man supposedly evolved eventually from. It means that the book’s author’s deny that God spoke the world into existence.

That has implications that are vast, and will touch every page of that textbook, despite the biology teacher’s assertion that “Evolution references were primarily localized in the evolution unit.” Baloney. The evolution references may be localized, but the idea of evolution, the belief in evolution, and the implications of evolution are not localized; they cannot be localized. I would certainly hope that a biology teacher at a Christian school would not say that the creationist viewpoint is localized to the chapter on origins in Christian textbooks, or that his own creationist viewpoint is localized to his teaching about origins. I would hope that his viewpoint infiltrates (to use his word) every lesson he teaches.

With that in mind, the suggestion that the book “least infiltrated with evolution” is a good and safe choice is really not much different than saying that the student’s can drink the beer with the lowest alcohol content, smoke the cigarettes with the lowest nicotine content, watch the movies with the lowest number of obscenities or least amount of nudity, use the drugs with the lowest likelihood of addiction, and play Russian roulette with the gun with the fewest number of bullets. Those suggestions are absurd, I know. But the textbook least infiltrated by evolution is not really any different…because there is no amount of poison that is safe.

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