It’s hard to believe that we are a few short days away from August. June and July went by so fast! For those of you with school-age children, it’s time to start preparing for a new school year.
Speaking of schooling – what will you be doing with your children this year?
When I was growing up, no one in my world asked this question. There was one and only one option for anyone who attended a conservative Dutch Reformed church (unless they were RCA). The Christian school was seen as an essential, non-negotiable third leg of the “three-legged stool” of a committed Christian community. (The other two “legs” were the home and the church.) To suggest the Christian school was not essential would be very similar to recommending the abolishment of the family.
One of the things that has always distinguished Harvest from the Dutch Reformed churches is that we have not required parents to send their children to a Christian school. We have recognized that believers have the right, in good conscience, to decide on their own what is the best school option for their family: public, private or homeschool.
I still agree with that principle – in theory. I’m just finding it harder to live with in practice. Specifically, I’m becoming more uncomfortable with the idea of God’s covenant children being sent to public schools. I recently read a provocative article entitled “Why American Children Stopped Believing in God” that helped clarify my growing concern. The author, Cameron Hilditch, points to a massive new study on the religious life of America which found that the number one cause of the increased secularization of our society is….you guessed it -the intrusion of the state in the education of our children.
Here’s the point that caught my attention. It’s not that public schools are just teaching bad things – which they increasingly are. The real dangers are the secular assumptions they make about “life” and the way those assumptions become operative in the young lives of their students.
“Children learn more at school than reading, writing, and arithmetic. They imbibe a whole set of implied assumptions about what’s important in life. By excluding religious instruction from public schools, the government-run education system tacitly teaches students that religious commitments are not a first-order priority in life. Faith in God becomes a sort of optional weekend hobby akin to playing tennis or video games. Christ and Moses are treated by teachers and administrators like weapons or drugs — confiscated upon discovery.”
The benefit of a Christian school – whether it be a private school or a homeschool, is not just better academics. (There are undoubtedly some public schools that have stronger academics than some Christian private and homeschools.) The secret sauce is the underlying assumption that all of life belongs to God and is to be lived, intentionally, before the face of God. The essential conviction of a Christian education (home or private) is that there is no sphere in life where we can say “off-limits” to our Lord and Savior.
I recognize that we are called to live in a “secular” world. We work and shop and go to universities where God is not acknowledged, and sinful thoughts and deeds are often applauded. This secular world is our mission field and the place where we carry out our vocation. I’m just not sure it’s where we should turn for the education of our children.
I know there are a variety of reasons that Christian parents still choose a public education. Some do it for financial reasons. Others see it as a missionary stance – seeking to build relationships in the community. Others are concerned about the ‘narrow’ or ‘cliquish” environment of a Christian school. I’m not trying to start an argument. But I wouldn’t mind restarting a conversation. If you are sending your children to a public school, I would invite you to consider this: is there anything the public schools would do that would make you decide it was time to leave? What would that be? Are you convinced that the public school environment, with its godless underlying assumptions, is the healthiest place for the soul of your child?
I’m not trying to make anyone wrong. And I want to wholeheartedly applaud Christian adults who are working in the public schools as salt and light. I’m just wondering if we, as the church, should reexamine our approach towards school choice for our children. The fact is that our Presbyterian spiritual forefathers (e.g. Charles Hodge, J. Gresham Machen, C. Van Til) were insistent about the necessity of a Christian education and the spiritual danger of a public one. They would struggle (to put it mildly) with our position.
When we baptize our children, the whole church takes a vow to do what we can to “assist their parents in their Christian nurture”. Maybe it’s time to talk about that in regard to schooling. Maybe it’s time to consider a “Christian education assistance fund” so that we, as a corporate body, can give financial assistance to our young families. I don’t have all the answers. I would welcome feedback. But I think it’s maybe time to start the conversation. Our little ones deserve our best thinking and efforts. After all – they belong to God.
In His Service,
Pastor Dale Van Dyke