jasonbwatson

June 20, 2014

“The fragrance of spiritual devoutness”

George Müller died in 1898. Arthur Pierson died in 1911. Pierson wrote a biography of Müller, entitled George Müller of Bristol, an excellent book. In the book he shared a concern about the education of children of Christian parents. More than one hundred years later that concern has proven to be incredibly prescient. Here is what Pierson wrote…

Many Christian parents have made the fatal mistake of entrusting their children’s education to those whose gifts were wholly intellectual and not spiritual, and who have misled the young pupils entrusted in their care into an irreligious or infidel life, or, at best, a career of mere intellectualism and worldly ambition. In not a few instances, all the influences of a pious home have been counteracted by the atmosphere of a school which, if not godless, has been without the fragrance of spiritual devoutness and consecration which is indispensable to the true training of impressionable children during the plastic years when character is forming for eternity.

Solomon write, in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “there is nothing new under the sun.” That is certainly true in this instance. Pierson could easily have written that rebuke yesterday and it would have been just as accurate, if not more so, as when he wrote it.

It is not my intention here to attack Christian parents who send their children to public schools, but it is my intention to offer a word of caution. It is my hope that perhaps those parents will take time to reflect on the decisions they have made regarding the education of their children and perhaps prompt them to reconsider.

I know that there are some very good public schools in the United States, schools that are safe, staffed by competent and even caring individuals and that provide students with a top-notch academic education. There are certainly public schools with fantastic facilities. Despite those perks, there are real problems with even the very best public schools. It simply is not possible for an educational setting to be morally neutral or for any teacher to teach in a morally neutral fashion. Every person (and therefore every teacher) has a worldview. Every public school has rules which prevent the inclusion of some things and require the inclusion of others. Often those things which are excluded are the very things Christian parents should desire for their children while those things which are included are the very things Christian parents would likely desire that their students not be exposed to or influenced by.

Quite simply, there is not–and in the current climate of the United States cannot be–a public school that contains “the fragrance of spiritual devoutness and consecration which is indispensable to the true training of impressionable children during the plastic years when character is forming for eternity.” Parents need to carefully and prayerfully consider the atmosphere and environment in which they are placing their children. Between kindergarten and high school graduation a student will spend some fifteen thousand hours in school. That’s nearly two full years of life if the child were in school 24/7.

The character of children is being formed for eternity and in many instances that character is firmly established by the time the child leaves home. What influences are shaping the character of your child?

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.

October 24, 2013

Religious Liberty

As promised, I also want to address the third letter submitted to the WORLD Magazine Mailbag. In this letter an individual from Delaware wrote, “Our grassroots policy organization is promoting religious liberty in public schools at an upcoming conference,” and mentioned that the information in the magazine would be helpful to the organization as they “invite public school parents, teachers, and administrators to move ‘from fear to freedom’ regarding Christian expression at school.”

I do not know what organization this individual is a part of, so I cannot address specifically the efforts of the organization or even speak specifically to what they are trying to accomplish, but this letter highlights, in my mind, both positives and negatives. Perhaps a better way of putting that would be to say both reasons to get excited and reasons to proceed with caution. Allow me to elaborate….

First, the reason to be excited. Religious liberty, and the expression of religious liberty, is a constitutionally-protected right of American citizens. There have certainly been efforts to curtail liberties, if not outright deny them, and that violates the very principles on which this country was founded. In that regard, any efforts to protect and defend religious liberty and encourage those in arenas where it may be restricted to stand up for their rights is a good thing.

Here is the reason for caution, though. The individual who wrote to WORLD stated that the organization would be encouraging Christian expression at school. Super; I have no problem with that. However, I think it is very important that we carefully think through the full ramifications of what we are asking for when we take such action. The Constitution does not protect only Christian religious liberty. Many people, myself included, have bemoaned the consequences of our nation’s straying from the morals that seemed far more prevalent in every area of society not all that long ago. Many have pointed out the negative cultural changes that seem to have coincided with the removal of prayer and Bible reading from public schools. Many, therefore, have advocated the return of prayer and Bible reading to the public schools.

Here is where we must think through exactly what that would mean. If all religious liberty is protected, there is no way to pursue the return of only Christian prayer and Bible reading to the schools. If all religious liberty is protected, the expression of religious liberty in public schools cannot be restricted to what I may believe or I may want–or what any one individual, group or denomination may want. Religious liberty for all means just that. The Pledge of Allegiance ends with the phrase “with liberty and justice for all.” That means Christians, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Atheists and Agnostics among many others.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty includes this statement on its web site: “Dedicated to protecting the free expression of all faiths. Our clients have included Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians.” The Becket Fund includes a cross in its logo, but, whatever else you may think of it, it recognizes that true religious freedom for Christians must also include religious freedom for other religions, as well.

Am I saying that there is no place for prayer or Bible reading in public schools? Not necessarily. But I am saying that those who desire to see those things returned to public schools need to remember that true religious liberty would then also mean that other religious sacred texts must be able to be read and/or taught in the public schools, as well. If you really want the Bible back in public schools make sure you want the Talmud and the Quran, too.

The Alliance Defending Freedom states on its web site, “Throughout our history, America has been a land defined by religious faith and freedom. Religious freedom is our first and most fundamental, God-given right deemed so precious that our Founding Fathers enshrined it in the U.S. Constitution.” I agree with that statement. Their web site goes on, however, to state this: “For decades, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other radical anti-Christian groups have been on a mission to eliminate public expression of our nation’s faith and heritage.” I only partly agree with this. Whether we want to admit it or not, we must recognize that our nation does not have a faith. There is no national faith or national religion in the United States. Fleeing state-sponsored churches was no small part of the impetus for many of America’s earliest settlers. Where many people get hung up is on the idea that their way is the right way. When it comes to biblical Christianity, of course, it is the right way. It is the right way (the only way) to heaven, it is the only understanding of the one true God, it is the only way to receive forgiveness of sins. However, it is not the only religion. And if we stop and think about it carefully, I do not think any of us really want a national religion.

So what is my point in all of this? What does this have to do with my ongoing discussion of education in America? Basically it is this: anyone who wants their children to be educated in an environment that embraces a biblical worldview and allows, encourages or even requires Bible reading and prayer needs to homeschool their children or enroll them in a solid Christian school. There is simply no other way to make that happen.

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….

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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