As a City on a Hill

One of the great privileges that I have is teaching dual enrollment U.S. History and U.S. government to some of the juniors and seniors at Sunshine Bible Academy. This privilege is two-fold. On the one hand, it is just plain fun for me. I love American history–especially early American history–and I love studying and teaching about U.S. government. On the other hand, I have the opportunity to teach these subjects in a Christian school, meaning that I have the opportunity to explicitly teach the Christian elements of American history that are not always explored in sufficient detail in the sterile, politically-correct classrooms of most public schools.

Today was one of those days when I was reminded particularly of the latter. As I taught my U.S. History students about the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony I was able to go much further than just a passing mention of the motivations of John Winthrop and company when they founded the colony, and much further than a glossing over when discussing the establishment of Harvard College (now Harvard University), the first institution of higher learning in America, and much further in explaining the Ole’ Deluder Satan Act beyond simply stating that it created the first public school system in America. Why do these things matter? For one, because they allow for a complete and accurate understanding of history, which also means that, two, the realities of the Christian influence in America’s founding can be presented.

I am not going to suggest that John Winthrop or the Massachusetts Bay Colony were perfect. Their complete lack of toleration of those that did not agree completely with their understanding of the Bible is not something I would like to see repeated today, for example, but they got a lot of things right, too.

For example, in 1630, while still aboard the Arbella en route to the New World, Winthrop wrote “A Model of Christian Charity,” and then delivered it orally to those aboard the ship. A few snippets of that address make it into many history books–specifically, his statement that the Massachusetts Bay Colony would be “as a city upon a hill.” That’s an important part of the address, but unless the full context of the thesis is understood, it lacks the power behind it. Throughout his address Winthrop expounded on the responsibilities of Christians toward each other and toward their neighbors. We went so far as to point out that there were no rules for dealing with enemies, since “all are to be considered as friends in the state of innocence, but the Gospel commands love to an enemy. Proof: If thine enemy hunger, feed him; ‘Love your enemies… Do good to them that hate you’ (Matt. 5:44).” Winthrop was preparing his fellow passengers for the challenges and responsibilities of creating a brand new society in a completely unknown environment–something we will likely have the opportunity to do–and his instruction bears remembering.

His address is filled with Scripture references, and reminders that each person has a part to play, and is an integral part of the whole. Winthrop was quite serious about the weight of that responsibility. Toward the end of the address, he said, “…if we shall neglect the observation of these articles which are the ends we have propounded, and, dissembling with our God, shall fall to embrace this present world and prosecute our carnal intentions, seeking great things for ourselves and our posterity, the Lord will surely break out in wrath against us, and be revenged of such a people, and make us know the price of the breach of such a covenant. Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck, and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God.”

And what exactly was the context when Winthrop said the colony would be like a city on a hill? Here is what he said immediately thereafter: “The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.” An excellent reminder for anyone who claims the name of Christ, and the responsibilities that come along with representing Him, and a good reminder for America as a nation.

And by the way, why was Harvard founded? To make sure that when the founding generation had passed away, that the next generation was prepared, equipped with a knowledge of the Lord and ready to carry on. And what about the Ole’ Deluder Satan Act–why did the Massachusetts Bay Colony require each town with 50 families to hire a teacher to teach children to read and write, and each town with 100 families to build a grammar school? To make sure that every person could read, and thereby be able to read the Bible for him- or herself, and thus defeat Satan and his attempt “to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures.” If only our public schools today had such a focus….

God Will Provide

As part of a professional network of which I am a member I was recently among a group of Christian school teachers and administrators who were asked about our experiences with funding from the state and federal government. Programs such as IDEA and ESEA, among others, provide funding from the government for various educational purposes, ranging from professional development to textbook purchases to services for students with disabilities.

Sadly, in my opinion, more and more Christian schools are looking for, finding, and utilizing government funds for parts of the services that they provide. There is even at least one internationally recognized Christian school association that encourages this.

My opinion, based on my own experience with federal/state funding of any kind is “stay away from it.” I have had experience in Christian ministries in both the residential childcare and Christian education fields, and in both settings I dealt with state regulations for licensing/accreditation, and in both settings I/we had the opportunity to “tap in” to funding streams from the state and federal governments. The temptation is strong for ministries that rarely if ever have any extra money and are always struggling to find ways to pay for much needed benefits or services. But the reality is that state/federal funding always comes with strings attached. We (collectively) have probably perfected the art of justifying our acceptance of such funds in one way or another–typically by saying the funding will go directly to a SPED provider not to the school, for example; that it will be used to pay for textbooks that we would have purchased anyway; or that it will enable us to provide services to students–or potential students–that we otherwise could not have provided (particularly in the area of IDEA).

My considered and strong opinion, however, is that accepting government money of any kind is a definite step on to an extremely slippery slope. Such a step will inevitably result in (1) relaxing some standards/requirements/convictions that we held in order to allow ourselves to accept the “necessary” funding, and/or (2) will result in us getting so comfortable with/dependent upon that funding that if and when the day comes that we must refuse it because the conditions for accepting it have finally gone too far, we will be scrambling to make up for that funding or will suddenly have to make major cuts to services or spending. The usual reality, though, is much like like the frog in boiling water–we would jump out immediately if thrust into boiling water, but when we get in and the water feels fine, we tend to stay put as the temperature is gradually increased until it’s too late and we have boiled to death.

Christian schools should absolutely endeavor to provide services that are as comprehenive and far-reaching as possible in order to serve as many students as God has called them to serve. That will look different for different schools, of course. At the end of the day, though, if God calls a school to do it, He will provide the funds necessary to accomplish it.

Keepers of the Lights

Most anyone who knows me is aware that I could be called a lighthouse enthusiast. I do not remember really being all that interest in lighthouses until I was in college, but ever since then I have been intrigued by the lights themselves, the stories of the people who kept the lights, and the accounts of the ships and lives that have been saved by the beacons on the shore. My fondness for lighthouses developed on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The series of lights along these barrier islands stand upon the shores of some of the most dangerous waters of the world’s oceans, an area that has been called “The Graveyard of the Atlantic.” Lighthouses, of course, were put in place specifically to alert ships to danger, and to help guide them safely through the dangers around them–dangers often unseen to the naked eye.

Today, children have to make their way through some of the most dangerous waters society has ever presented them with. Everywhere a child looks or goes there is another rocky shoal upon which the hopes and successes of their life could be dashed, damaged or destroyed. I do not necessarily buy into all of the arguments that children and teenagers today have far tougher conditions to grow up in than any previous generation. Indeed, along with the challenges of peer pressure, drugs, gangs and premarital sex so prevalent today are also greater opportunities and material wealth than previous generations enjoyed. What I mean, in other words, is that the glass is half full and half empty; it’s not a matter of one or the other.

With proper guidance, children today have the potential and the opportunity to succeed beyond the wildest imaginations of their parents and grandparents. That proper guidance does not happen by accident, though, and it does not come from the government. God’s plan is that it comes from the family–a father and mother who are married to each other, love God, and teach their children His ways. Alongside the family come the church and, ideally, the school. The family, church and Christian school have the responsibility to continually send out a warning beacon to the children of today, showing them where the danger lies and helping them find a safe route through life.

It took special people to be lighthouse keepers, cut off, in many cases, from the rest of civilization and living a lonely life in a simple house beside a tall tower. The material benefits and creature comforts were few. But the importance of the mission kept them doing their job day after day. Likewise, the family, the church and the Christian school must keep facing the salt water, the wind and the storms that life may send the way of our children.

Keep the lights shining!

Biblical Integration

Biblical integration is why I believe in Christian education. Yet, the term biblical integration can sometimes mean different things to different people, and it is important to make sure that we are clear on our terms.

First, what are some things that biblical integration does not mean:

* Having a Bible verse at the top or bottom of a worksheet or sprinkled throughout a textbook
* Starting a class with prayer and/or devotions
* Finding and reading all of the Bible verses on any specific topic after learning about it

To be honest, I dislike some textbooks produced by Christian publishers because they seem to use the “sprinkling” approach to biblical integration. Either for lack of effort or lack of ability they seem incapable to drawing a real connection between the Bible and the subject being taught. They are Christian textbooks, though, so there needs to be Christian content. As a result, they sprinkle in some Bible verses or they find a Bible story that has a tangential-at-best relevance to the subject and then stretch the application of the biblical narrative. The problem is, students see right through that, and it ultimately defeats the purpose of Christian education. Why? Because when we have to twist, bend and stretch in order to make the Bible seem relevant we cause the Bible to actually seem irrelevant. It appears we are trying to make it something it is not, and as a result those efforts seem weak.

Rather, biblical integration means that every subject and every class is taught with the Scripture as the foundation and the filter through which everything else is done. Every topic taught can reveal the nature of God, of creation, or man, and/or moral order. The Bible is relevant to every subject. Sometimes that relevance and connectivity is more clearly seen that at other times, but if a publishing company and/or teacher cannot make a clear and effective connection between the Bible and whatever subject is being taught, (1) they should resist the temptation to do so on the fly, and (2) they should stop publishing and/or teaching until they have grown enough in their own understanding of the Scriptures to make a real and relevant connection.

Biblical integration means teaching and equipping students to see every subject as God sees it. This means that students learn that there is such a thing as absolute truth, and that it can be known. This also equips students to identify fallacies when they exist.

Biblical integration means that students learn to think biblically and critically about every subject, and to see the connection between the Bible and the world around them, between the Bible and their everyday lives. The Bible is not just a history book, it is not just a love letter—it is the owner’s manual for life, and in it God reveals Himself to us and equips us to live our lives for Him. Only when students see the connection and the application of Scripture to “the real world” will we have truly provided an education with biblical integration.

A biblically integrated curriculum provides students with knowledge, with wisdom and with understanding – in other words, with information, with the ability to apply the information, and with the discernment to know when and how to do so.

Christian Teacher Appreciation

Yesterday I shared about the value of teachers, shared some recollections of the best teachers I have had, and in general shared about what makes a great teacher. Everything that I said yesterday would be true of any teacher, at any level, in any setting. There are some additional opportunities and responsibilities that Christian school teachers have, though, that those in secular settings do not have.

A Christian teacher, in a Christian school, has the wonderful responsibility of presenting everything he or she teaches from a biblical perspective, integrating biblical principles into each and every lesson. The Christian school teacher has an opportunity that even Sunday school teachers, youth group leaders and pastors often struggle with, and that is the opportunity to make clear connections between what the Bible says and what the textbook says, between the Bible and every day, real world life.

This does not happen by accident, and it does not even necessarily happen in every Christian school. Sadly, some Christian schools look much the same as their secular counterparts, with the only difference being the word “Christian” in the school’s name and perhaps a prayer or two scattered throughout the day.

I was involved once in trying to start a Christian school. The name selected for the school did not include the word “Christian” and as I was talking about the school around the community several people asked me why it did not. I told them that a large part of the reason was that “Christian” means different things to different people, and there are a lot of people who claim to be Christian yet provide no evidence of that claim in their daily lives. Our goal was that the school and its faculty/staff would speak for itself and that the “Christian-ness” of the school would be evident even if not “advertised.” Actually, the absence of the word “Christian” in the school at which I currently serve is a plus, in my opinion. Instead of Christian School or Christian Academy, this school is Sunshine Bible Academy. I like that a lot, because being true to the Bible and its truth is far more important and more distinctive than what some people mean when they say Christian.

In his book A Christian Paideia, D. Bruce Lockerbie addresses the importance of teachers this way: “A school isn’t ‘Christian’ because it says so on the cornerstone or signboard. There is no such thing as a biblical brick or a charismatic chem lab or a sanctified schoolroom. Only people can be a Christian. A school is Christian–or not!–because of the living members of that school’s population.” I could not say it any better than that. The teachers are what makes any school great or not great–not the facilities, not the textbooks, not the technology. Those things are wonderful, and they are valuable tools, but if you have the grandest facilities, the newest textbooks and the latest technology, but you do not have teachers–specifically, excellent teachers–those things will not amount to much. Likewise, if a Christian school does not have Christian teachers, who are walking with the Lord, growing in their relationship with Him, seeking His guidance and discernment for their daily responsibilities, modeling His love and grace through their interactions with students, and integrating biblical truth into their lessons, the school will be Christian in name only.

I did not attend Christian schools. I was in public schools my entire life, and I had some very good teachers in those schools. And even though I recall very few of my teachers ever being antagonistic toward a biblical worldview–and I am confident that some of them had such a worldview themselves–I was never in a classroom where I was taught how math can demonstrate characteristics of God, how God’s hand is evident throughout human history, how so many elements of the study of science testify to the evidence of a Creator….

Lockerbie goes on to say of Christian educators, “Our role is to teach girls and boys how to read, how to count, how to write, how to listen, how to discern, how to interpret, how to think, how to analyze, how to synthesize, how to critique, how to know. And in that act of knowing, how to acknowledge who God is and what His claims on one’s life may be.” Amen. If you are a Christian educator, thank you. If you are a parent who makes sure that your child gets an education from Christian educators, thank you. And if you received or are receiving an education from Christian educators, thank God for that blessing.

Courageous

Wow…a week has elapsed since I last posted. Not for lack of anything to say, I assure you. Rather, I have had one of those stretches we all find ourselves in from time to time, when every time I turn around it seems there is something else I need to do and those things which I intended to do kept getting pushed off. And, in the grand scheme of things, blogging is not that important, so the blog often ended up at the bottom of the pile. Today I finally found the bottom!

The title of this entry also happens to be the title of a movie which has received an incredible amount of attention in Christian circles over the past year, but this blog actually has nothing to do with that film. Instead, it has to do with a senior class, and four seniors in particular, whom I found to be courageous last Wednesday evening.

Courageous is one of those words that falls into the category of words that the dictionary defines by using its root word. Quite irritating, if you ask me. After all, if one does not know what “courageous” means, looking it up and finding that it means, “possessing or characterized by courage” is not likely to help much. So, turning to “courage,” the dictionary provides this definition: “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.” If you look it up on dictionary.com you will also see referenced the idiom, “have the courage of one’s convictions,” which it defines as, “to act in accordance with one’s beliefs, especially in spite of criticism.”

Last Wednesday a group of students from the senior class at Sunshine Bible Academy led the student chapel in its entirety. They planned it, from the songs that would be sung, to the students who would be involved in leading the singing, to which students would pray, which would speak, and which would lead the small group discussions afterwards. Now, seniors at SBA have to present a “senior chapel” as one of their graduation requirements, so this does not seem unusual at first. However, this particular chapel was in addition to the required chapel. Most of the students involved have already presented their senior chapel. There was no requirement that they do this, and no asked them to do so. Rather, feeling led by the Spirit after their senior trip, Mega Teen retreat, Spiritual Life Emphasis Week, and the realization that graduation is rapidly approaching, these seniors realized that there was something they wanted to say to their fellow students.

So, after the time of singing, two boys and two girls–Cameron, Katie, Beth and Christian–spoke to the middle and high school students from their heart, sharing the lessons that they have learned in their years at SBA and in their walk with the Lord. The lessons shared were not trite or cliche, either. Yes, Cameron talked about the need to spend more time reading the Bible and praying, but he was speaking out if his own experience, and sharing how he had come to this realization in his own life, and the difference that it had made for him personally. Katie bravely encouraged students to be selective about the extracurricular activities in which they are involved and even (gasp!) to curtail their involvement in order to focus on what they really want to do, to do it well, and to avoid becoming overwhelmed by trying to do everything. Beth spoke about not dating in high school. That’s right, NOT dating. We live in a culture that encourages students to date early and often, and at ever-younger ages, and yet Beth explained why dating in high school may not be such a good idea after all. And Christian addressed the importance of attitude, and how attitude really does make as huge difference…and is ultimately a matter of choice.

The things that Cameron, Katie, Beth and Christian spoke about are not necessarily popular, even in a Christian school. Yet they chose to be courageous, to take a stand and to speak out, encouraging their fellow students. They chose to follow the advice that Paul gave to Timothy when he wrote, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (NASB).

Not a Repair Shop

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.

The Impact of Worldview on Education

The word “worldview” is one that gets used a lot these days. It has become a buzz word of sorts over the past five to ten years, and to be honest I am not sure that everyone who uses the word has exactly the same definition in mind. When I talk about worldview I am talking about the lens through which a person sees the world and interprets events. A biblical worldview, then, means seeing the world through the lens of Scripture–interpreting events, past and present, with an understanding of what God has revealed in His Word.

The truth is, everyone has a worldview. I have blogged about what worldview means in an earlier entry, so I will not go into a lot of detail on it now other than to restate that there is no such thing as a completely neutral worldview. It simply is not possible to be completely neutral. The world will suggest that it is possible, and will even try to enforce neutrality on society, particularly public schools. The reality, though, is that in its effort to be neutral the world takes a position. Think about it, particularly in terms of public education. To say that prayer cannot occur in schools, that teachers cannot teach creation, etc., is not a neutral position but an anti-Christian, anti-God position. To be completely neutral on the topic of evolution versus creation a school would have to teach Darwin’s position, the Bible’s position, and several other positions in between, and do it in such a way that simply presented each position without trying to persuade students which idea was correct. That doesn’t happen, though. And in public schools where teachers have tried to teach both sides of the argument it has provoked a fierce and quick response.

I should insert here that I attended public schools for my entire life. I also attended a non-Christian college. Even after I began my teaching career in a Christian school I was not of the conviction that Christian parents should send their children to Christian schools. After all, I reasoned, I went to public schools, and I ended up okay. In the years since, however, I have become more and more convinced that public schools are a dangerous place for students to go. And I don’t mean physically dangerous, although sometimes that too is true. Rather, I mean psychologically, spiritually and intellectually dangerous.

I have good friends who disagree with me on this subject. They will suggest that the realities of the world are going to confront their children eventually, and they would prefer that their children be exposed to it while they are still at home and they can help to train their children to identify the errors of worldly ideas and defend biblical truth. Others will suggest that their children need to be ambassadors for the Lord, to be lights in the public school environment. I think that sincere people can disagree on these issues, and I am not going to say that it is a sin for Christian parents to send their children to public schools. I believe that each family has the God-given responsibility to provide for their children’s instruction, and that they are accountable to God for the decision that they make, not to me. If a family truly believes that God is leading them to send their children to public school, I need to respect that decision. Of course, in some instances, a family may not be able to afford a Christian school, or may not be geographically close enough to one to enroll their children there, and homeschooling may not be an option, either. Whatever the reasons, I think that Christian parents can send their children to public school and not necessarily be outside the will of God.

At the same time, however, I believe that if it is at all possible for a family to homeschool their children or to send them to Christian school that that is by far the better choice. Children are impressionable, and what they learn during their school-age years will necessarily shape their ideas about many subjects. I cannot think of any other endeavor in which a family would knowingly send their children to a place of instruction that they know is contrary to what they want their child to learn and believe. For example, if a family wants their child to learn to play the piano, they would not send the child to a teacher that they knew did not teach piano effectively and then re-teach the child at home. A parent who is experienced and knowledgeable about basketball or ballet will not send their child to a teacher with whom they disagree about technique and skill and then teach their child what they believe is the right way when they get back home. No; such a parent would either teach the child at home from the get-go or would ensure that their child went to a teacher who they were confident would teach their child correctly.

And Christian parents seem to recognize this in the area of spiritual development; I don’t know any Christian family who sends their children to a Muslim mosque or to a Kingdom Hall or to a Mormon temple for religious instruction and then teaches them what they believe after they get home. In fact, I am confident that if this idea was suggested to them most Christian parents would say that it is a ridiculous idea. Yet, many of those same parents see no harm in allowing their children to spend seven or eight hours a day, five days a week, thirty-six weeks a year in a school that undermines and distorts the very biblical truth that they want their children to learn and believe and embrace as their own.

Christians absolutely have a responsibility to be light and salt in a sinful world. But it is important that Christians are properly trained and equipped to handle that responsibility before being sent to do it. I once heard Cal Thomas say that no country has eight year old ambassadors, so why should we think that an eight year old Christian is adequately prepared to represent Christ in a hostile world? Matthew 5:13 says, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” Until a believer is strong enough to know how to identify and defend against the world’s influences it is likely that their salt will lose its taste. Perhaps intentionally–the individual may knowingly reject the truth–perhaps unintentionally–the individual may simply be persuaded that false teaching is true because they are not knowledgeable enough about the truth to know otherwise.

Bottom line, God has given parents the responsibility to teach and train their children–not the state. The school and the church should be a part of that training, but can never replace the parent. Ideally, the parent, school and church are all in one accord and can support and reinforce each other–three legs of the same stool, or three strands of the same cord. And the reality is, this simply cannot occur in a public school. Public schools do not support and reinforce biblical truth. I know many of us long for the days when many public schools did do this, but we aren’t going to return to those days. So parents must prayerfully consider how to fulfill their God-given responsibility to train up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

It’s Not Okay

Last time I ended with this statement: “The question is simply what kind of education to provide, where and how to provide it.”  The discussion of “unschooling” led me to point out that there really is not anyone–at least not anyone who is mentally competent, I guess–who really believes that a child should be allowed to do whatever he or she wants.  After all, this could easily lead to very dangerous behavior.  I may want to allow my child to learn about electricity when he decides he is interested, but I also, as his parent, have the responsibility to protect him from what he does not know.  I would not allow him to stick a fork into an electrical outlet in order to learn about electricity.  Instead, because I know something that he does not know, and the information that I possess and he does not could seriously affect his health, I will protect him from his ignorance and educate him about the dangers of inserting a fork into an outlet.  So, in this instance, the answer to the question would be to provide the education in a very direct, firm and proactive manner, probably at home, and probably as soon as my son is old enough and inquisitive enough to consider sticking a fork–or any other object–into an electrical outlet.

Most parents who are supportive of the idea of unschooling would, of course, agree with the points I made about not allowing children to literally do whatever they want.  I stretched the point to its logical conclusion in order to emphasize that words and ideas have consequences, and it is dangerous to use words like “whatever” casually.  At the same time, many of those parents likely do feel that their child(ren) should be able to explore academic subjects according to their own interest, at their own pace, and for the duration of their own choosing.

Even this, though, is contrary to biblical instruction, I believe.  Perhaps the most well-known instruction in Scripture for parents is Proverbs 22:6, which reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (ESV).  I have heard, as you probably have, several different interpretations of what this verse means.  Probably the most common is the suggestion that the instruction to “train up” means, in the original language, “to create a taste for.”  It is the idea of placing a small amount of something on the palate of a baby’s mouth to cause the child to want it.  By instilling the taste for what is right and true the parent will train up the child.  Dr. Bill Rice III has suggested that the verse refers to the same principle as aiming and shooting an arrow–parents have the responsibility to aim the arrow at the right target, to pull the bow string back with the appropriate amount of force, etc., in order to ensure that the arrow hits the target.  Either way, what these interpretations have in common is the conviction that there is, in fact, a difference between right and wrong, wholesome and unwholesome, righteous and worldly, and it is the God-given responsibility of the parent to set the child on the right path. 

Another oft-cited passage that directs parents in their responsibility to educate their children is found in Deuteronomy 6:6-7, which reads, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (ESV).  This passage doesn’t leave room for varying interpretations; it is clearly God commanding parents to teach His statutes and laws to their children.  This passage also makes it abundantly clear that this is not a one-and-done kind of responsibility; parents cannot just teach these to their children once.  Neither can they just ensure that their children get to church every week and trust that this will meet the requirement.  No, God instructs parents to teach their children diligently (meaning with intent and persistence), and to do it all the time–at home and while out, while walking, while resting, and while working.

Neither the verse in Proverbs or the passage in Deuteronomy leave room for parents to let children do their own thing.  In fact, Scripture also makes it clear, in many passages, that each and every human being has a sin nature, and it is not mankind’s natural desire to love, please or honor God.  Accordingly, letting children do their own thing is a clear and less-offensive way of suggesting that it’s okay for parents to let their children explore their own sinful tendencies.

I have (I think) sufficiently explained why it is not okay for parents to abandon their children’s education to the wish and whim of the children.  But that still leaves plenty of room for discussion about exactly what kind of education children should receive.  Specifically, it raises the question of worldview.  And that will be addressed next time.

Unschooling

I was introduced to a new concept last month by way of an article in WORLD Magazine. The article, in the January 14 issue, is titled, “Setting Their Own Limits,” and the concept is “unschooling.” Despite being involved in Christian education, having a master’s degree in educational leadership, and (I think) staying pretty current on trends in education, I had never heard this term or of the idea the term represents.

The first two sentences of the article, written by Grace Howard, should provide you with a good introduction of what unschooling is all about: “For Bethany Drury, an Iowa State University senior, school was whatever she wanted it to be. She was ‘unschooled’–a homeschooled child with complete control over her education.”

Howard describes Drury’s unschooling education as being focused on horses, the outdoors and veterinary skills, with Drury spending time watching National Geographic specials on television and reading books from the library on her favorite subjects. All of that was probably quite fun for Drury, I imagine, but the challenge came when she reached college. By her own admission, there were subjects that she had not been interested in or wanted to spend time studying as she grew up, so she was not ready for the challenges of math and chemistry in college.

While the concept of unschooling is difficult for me to fathom, what completely blows me away is that Howard quotes the National Center for Education Statistics as estimating that one-third of the homeschooled children in the U.S. are actually unschooled. That translates to somewhere between 500,000 and 700,000 children who are calling the shots on their education (or lack thereof) and spending all of their time doing whatever their little hearts desire.

Howard defines unschooling as giving “children complete control over their subjects, schedule and interests. If children do not want to learn science, they do not have to. If they enjoy art, literature, or computer programming, they can spend all their time pursuing that subject.” The article goes on to quote one unschooling mother who has written this on her blog: “The goals of unschooling are different than all the other methods. … The goal of unschooling is not education. It is to help a child be who she is and blossom into who she will become. … Learning happens as a side effect.” Howard goes on to explain that the most “radical forms” of unschooling carry this principle ever further, allowing children to exercise this same freedom in every aspect of their lives, including mealtimes, bedtimes, and chores. The unschooling mother quoted above, Joyce Fetteroll, has explained that parents should let children make their own decisions and thus “sculpt their own lives,” with parents “giv[ing] them what they want.” She continues, if “they are happy and free and are making these choices because it brings them joy, then we should trust that it really is what they want or need right now. … We need to trust that when it is enough for them, then they will stop. Their ‘enough’ may be different from where ours is.”

Well, I tell you what…I can pretty much guarantee you that their enough will be different. It would be for any child! I understand that there can be some compelling arguments made for letting children pursue things that interest or fascinate them, to follow their natural bent. But there can also be some compelling arguments made that children need to be introduced to things that are not naturally appealing to them, that parents need to train and teach their children certain expectations and requirements of life. Not only do I have two children of my own, but I have worked with children for my entire adult life, and I can only imagine the things that most children would do, and how they would spend their time, if they were left completely on their own to decide. I think it is safe to suggest that their eating habits would favor junk food at the expense of vegetables, their recreational activities would tend toward video games and indoor activities at the expense of legitimate exercise, and their sleeping habits would tend toward staying up quite late and waking up even later.

Since the very idea being discussed here is an alternative form of education, perhaps it would be helpful to define exactly what education is. Wikipedia provides this deifnition: “Education in its broadest, general sense is the means through which the aims and habits of a group of people lives on from one generation to the next. Generally, it occurs through any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts. In its narrow, technical sense, education is the formal process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills, customs and values from one generation to another, e.g., instruction in schools.”

Whether or not instruction takes place in schools–and I have no problem with the notion of homeschooling, by the way–I find it difficult to believe that aims and habits can be passed on by letting children do whatever they want, whenever they want. I certainly struggle to see how knowledge, skills, customs and values can be passed on. After all, unschooling mother Elissa Wahl has says she lets her children do “whatever they want. … If they want to learn about rockets for 5 years, or 5 minutes, that’s okay with me.” So, perhaps a child who wants to learn about rockets for 5 years–or 15 years, for that matter–would become a brilliant scientist or engineer, but at what cost? Would that child truly have received an education? Only in the very narrowest sense, I would suggest. Furthermore, I would go on to suggest that the child that is left to pursue his own interests to his heart’s content has been deprived of an education by not being exposed to other fields of study, taught how to interact with others, and trained in how to develop and use his intellectual gifts.

This notion of letting children pursue their own interests is another of those proverbial slippery slopes. After all, suppose a child decides he wants to pursue something that is not acceptable for whatever reason? Then what does the parent do? Because when someone suggests that a child should be permitted to do whatever he or she wants it is extremely important to think about just how big a word whatever really is. And, in case you missed it, the very nature of my question–about a child choosing to do something that is unacceptable–is built on the presupposition of there being a right and a wrong and that one or more persons will pass on to each generation some understanding of what right and wrong is.

One of the classic ways for political scientists to explain the concept of personal rights and how eventually the rights of the individual may conflict with the rights of another individual or of society is to say it like this: your right to swing your fist ends where my nose starts. But again: says who? Doesn’t that also presuppose a right and a wrong? Doesn’t that presuppose that parents and/or society will pass on to each generation the understanding that there is a limit to individual rights? But if we do that–if we limit anyone’s activity in any way–we are necessarily saying that it is not okay to do whatever you want.

In order to tell anyone that it is not okay to do something though we have to tell the person that there is a limit to what they can do. That is not a terribly profound statement because it is a restatement of itself, but it is important to recognize the consequences of our ideas. And since I suspect none of the parents who are “unschooling” their children would sit by quietly and let their child continue to choose to cause his fist to make contact with the nose of his sibling, neighbor or parent, there is no parent who really thinks his or her children should be allowed to do whatever they want to do. And…brace yourself…since no one really thinks that, there is no parent who does not believe that it is necessary and important to educate their children. In other words, unschooling doesn’t really exist. The question is simply what kind of education to provide, where and how to provide it. More on that next time….