jasonbwatson

January 29, 2014

School Choice

January 26 to February 1 is National School Choice Week. According to the NSCW web site this annual week of celebration is a “nonpartisan, nonpolitical public awareness effort.” The purpose of NSCW is to “shine a positive spotlight on the need for effective education options for all children.” The individuals and groups who participate in National School Choice “believe that parents should be empowered to choose the educational environments for their children.”

As an administrator of a non-public school and a parent who has never enrolled my own children in public school I certainly agree that school choice is important. It is not as if NSCW is fighting for something that does not exist–school choice exists in the United States now and has for quite some time. Of course the choice to which I am referring has always come with a cost–anyone who wanted to do so and could afford to do so could send their children to any school they wanted (assuming the student was accepted at the school). One of the positions of National School Choice is that all possible options need to be available to everyone, including public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, online schooling options and state programs allowing for private school choice–programs like scholarships, tax credits or deductions or vouchers that parents can use to pay for their child’s education at a private school. The idea of vouchers is that parents have the say in how part of the tax dollars set aside for their children gets used–even if that means the funds are used at a private school.

As a school choice proponent and private school administrator I have always been interested in the voucher idea. In the state where I live–South Dakota–spending per pupil in FY 2011 was $8,805, with perhaps 40% of that coming from the state. Across the United States, total spending per pupil in FY 2011 was $10,559.70, which includes federal, state and local spending. Evidence indicates that when voucher systems are in place many parents utilize them. They do not exist in my state, and I am not aware of any significant movement toward their adoption here, but it is a plan that truly gives parents a say in how the tax revenue earmarked for their childrens’ education is used.

Still and all, with or without vouchers more and more parents are choosing to exercise their right of school choice. According to the National Center for Education Statistics 5.2 million students were expected to attend private schools in 2013. That is about one-tenth of the number of students enrolled in public schools. According to figures released last August there are 1.77 million homeschooled students in the United States–about 3.4% of the school-age population. That, by the way, was an increase of 300,000 students over the last time the survey was completed in 2007. So there are a significant number of parents deciding that the best educational option for their child(ren) is not public school.

Now, as I have indicated here before, I am a product of public school. I never took a class anywhere other than a public school from the time I started kindergarten to the time I graduated from high school. I was–and still am–satisfied with the academic instruction I received. As I have also indicated here before, however, I have since come to realize that schooling is about far more than the acquisition of knowledge. Education involves worldview–the lens through which that knowledge is presented. That is the primary reason why my children are in a Christian school and why I serve at a Christian school.

I am not going to use the fact that this is National School Choice Week to reiterate the arguments I have made here before about the importance of Christian education; you can read previous posts if you want to do so. Rather, I am going to use this opportunity to remind parents that there truly is a choice when it comes to the education of your child. Do not just send them to public school because that is where you went or because that is what everyone else does or because it is convenient or it is “free.” Take the time to evaluate what you want your children to learn, from perspective you want them to learn it and in what environment you want them to learn. If, after giving that serious consideration, you determine that the local public school is probably not the place where you want that to take place, take advantage of the freedom you have to exercise school choice. Ultimately the education of your child(ren) is your responsibility; take it seriously.

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 8, 2012

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.

February 27, 2012

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.

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