Do we need public schools?
History shows that the West became literate without governmental help
I once heard a lady say, “If it wasn’t for the government, none of us would be able to read or write.” She was referring to the fact that the vast majority of children in Canada (approximately 94%) attend public schools. In that lady’s view, if the government had not provided schools, most people would be illiterate.
This is probably a fairly common assumption. How would it be possible to have a literate society without government schools?
Long ago literacy rates were very low. At the end of the Middle Ages, for example, probably less than 10% of European men were literate, and an even smaller percentage of women. Today literacy is close to universal in all Western societies. So this change from mass illiteracy to mass literacy must have been the result of government schooling, right?
Free, compulsory, and universal schooling
People today think governmental schools are needed because that’s what they see. Compulsory attendance laws require children to attend school, and the vast majority of these schools are owned, operated, and staffed by the government. Education is largely a governmental quasi-monopoly. And they do not charge any fees to attend, which means schooling is free, compulsory, and universal.
In addition, there are a couple of common arguments given for why the government should dominate the field of education.
For one, many people are too poor to afford to pay for education. Therefore without schools provided through taxation, their children would not get any education.
It is also believed by many that making schooling compulsory is necessary because parents need to be coerced by the government to send their children to school. The government wants all children to receive an appropriate education, but some parents don’t. The assumption is that the government cares more about the educational welfare of children than parents.
Edwin G. West
The most compelling academic challenge to these arguments has been provided by Edwin G. West (1922-2001), formerly an economics professor at Carleton University in Ottawa. As James Tooley explains in his book E. G. West: Economic Liberalism and the Role of Government in Education, West did not believe there was a need for either compulsory attendance laws or public schools.
The historical evidence
Most of West’s original research dealt with nineteenth century England. What he found was that schooling was available on a large scale, even for most children from the poorest families. This is significant because the government did not have any role in education before 1833, when it began providing limited funding for a small number of private schools. Before this private schools had essentially educated the vast majority of English children.
Interestingly, as West points out, earlier in the nineteenth century (before 1833) the British government was concerned that too many children of lower class families were learning to read! It was afraid that they would read anti-government literature, and therefore took steps to prevent lower class children from becoming literate. As Tooley relates, the
"…government used both legal and fiscal actions against newspaper circulation in order to control the reading habits of the masses, including advertising duties, stamp taxes and excise taxes."
It is important to take note of this fact: the government was trying to interfere with the spread of literacy that was occurring through exclusively private sector initiative. Left on their own, parents from poor families were eagerly obtaining basic education for their children, even in the face of government opposition. Contrary to supporters of compulsory schooling laws, parents want their children to get the best education possible! They don’t need the government to force them to provide education for their children.
Widespread working class literacy
West provides all kinds of statistical data from various parts of England to demonstrate the widespread learning that was occurring without government involvement. For example, the evidence suggests that at least two-thirds of the working class was literate by 1840, with that proportion increasing to about 90 percent by the mid-1860s. Keep in mind that this is the segment of the population believed to have least access to education due to financial hardships. The upper and middle classes had even greater educational opportunities.
The figure from the mid-1860s is particularly significant because Britain did not begin creating public schools until 1870. The private education sector in England grew dramatically during the 1800s leading to almost universal literacy before a single public school was established. There were subsidies to some private schools after 1833, but most educational funding came from parents and other private sources.
The original purpose of creating public schools from 1870 onwards was to fill the small holes that some people believed existed in the private sector. However, once “free” government schooling was available, it began to displace private schooling. Increasing numbers of students opted for “free” education, and many private schools therefore shut down. This process of replacing private education with public education was encouraged by government education bureaucrats and teachers’ associations. Over time, the government schools became dominant.
First literacy, then government schools
Literacy was virtually universal in England before the government schools came along and displaced the private schools, and West has data from New York State and New South Wales that show a very similar pattern.
This historical record leads Tooley to an important conclusion about public education:
"What West’s analysis suggests is that in order to promote universal literacy and schooling more generally, the kind of state education with which we are familiar—namely, state-provided, state-funded and regulated schooling—is not required."
Some targeted funding to help children of the poorest families may be justifiable, but government provision of education is unnecessary.
The original edition of West’s most well-known book, Education and the State, was published in 1965 and led to a firestorm because it challenged widespread beliefs about government’s role in education. A third and expanded edition of the book is currently kept in print by the Liberty Fund in Indianapolis. Despite the availability of his work, many people are unaware of it. But Tooley notes that West’s evidence is unassailable:
"To scholars who are willing to go back to the original sources, rather than rely on secondhand historical summaries, there appears to be little real dispute about the ways in which private sources—the churches and philanthropists, and small-scale proprietors—largely independent of any government assistance, were able to bring about literacy and provide schooling for the vast majority, including the poor."
Contrary to what the lady at the start of this article might believe, government intervention was not a key factor in the spread of literacy in the West. The assumption made by most that the government must provide schools and compel children to attend in order for basic skills to be acquired is nonsense. Parents want their children to get the best education possible and are willing to make big sacrifices to achieve that goal. That is what the historical evidence shows, as demonstrated by E. G. West.
Parents are much more concerned about the education of their children than any politician or bureaucrat ever will be. In the absence of government schooling, the vast majority of children would still receive an education.
Christian education, News
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Christian education, Sexuality
The Sexual Revolution: a glaring gap in our kids’ education?
There is no series of historical events that have impacted every human being living in the West – and beyond – more than the Sexual Revolution. And yet, while many of us may be familiar with the term, few can explain what the Sexual Revolution really is and was. Legal abortion; digital pornography everywhere; the LGBT movement; hookup culture; gender ideology; threats to religious freedom – all are either an aspect or a direct result of the Sexual Revolution. It has also shaped virtually everything that emanates from our screens, from popular TV sitcoms (which had a hand in mainstreaming revolutionary ideas) to mainstream Hollywood films, produced and directed by the revolution’s most powerful storytellers. A sexualized West We live, in short, in a culture that has been effectively conquered by a revolution we know very little about – because unlike the American or French Revolutions, our society was overthrown from within. As the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard noted: “A passionate tumultuous age will overthrow everything, pull everything down; but a revolutionary age which is, at the same time, reflective and passionless leaves everything standing but cunningly empties it of significance." Those who brought about the Sexual Revolution did not attack government buildings – they initiated the “long march through the institutions,” eventually occupying powerful places of influence virtually everywhere. When I arrived at university and lived on campus, I left a church community for what was, at first, a fundamentally foreign culture. For the most part, my peers had not consciously rejected the tenets of Christianity. Aside from traditional mentions of God at certain solemn occasions like Remembrance Day ceremonies, they had grown up in a world that was shaped, not by Christianity, but by the Sexual Revolution. So hookup culture was not simply uncontroversial, but standard. The idea that someone could actually oppose extramarital sex, or homosexuality, or pornography was for most of them simply weird. I had grown up shaped by the Christian community I was a part of; most of them had grown up in communities in which Christianity was a part of family history, a generation or two in the past. Not treated like the pivotal event it was At the Christian school I attended, I learned the history of the Bible; church history, and the great stories of the Reformation; the bloody history of the twentieth century, and of Canada’s great explorers and leaders of the past. Despite much insistence from some quarters that students do not learn about the injustice of the residential schools, I learned about those, too, as well as the history of a local Indigenous group (the Sto:lo). But while we learned a little about the consequences of the Sexual Revolution – evils like abortion were covered in Bible class – we learned nothing about the Sexual Revolution as a historical event that had transformed and shaped the society we lived in, and that would impact nearly every aspect of our lives not only on campus, but beyond. For many people, the study of history can seem tedious or useless. But if we wish to understand the cultural moment we find pressing in all around us, an understanding of the history of the Sexual Revolution is absolutely essential. The ideologies of the Sexual Revolution now form the basis of nearly every field of study in academia, and Christian university students often have no idea that what they are learning in education, law, psychology, or anthropology is actually based on the work of ideologues such as Margaret Mead or Dr. Alfred Kinsey. They will almost certainly hear arguments made against Christianity based on revolutionary research and junk science. To know the history of the Sexual Revolution is to have an invaluable context for what is taught in secular universities, and to possess a greater confidence in the Christian worldview. Then the lightbulbs go off Each summer at the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, I teach a course on the culture wars to dozens of university students and high schoolers. Every time, as I’m speaking, I see shock and realization spread across their faces as many of the things they have been taught click into place. “That makes so much sense!” they tell me. And when the summer ends and they head back to their places of learning, I get messages throughout the year: “One of my fellow students is citing the Kinsey Reports to attack the Christian view of sexuality. Can you email me the titles of some of your sources?” “Thank you so much for your course this summer. It helped me understand everything my prof was saying in my mandatory sexuality course!” These students, armed with the historical and cultural context necessary to understand what they were being taught, were thus prepared to defend their own worldview. In academic institutions often openly hostile to Christian belief, this context provides an invaluable confidence. 3 resources to help us understand As revolutionary ideas spread even into many religious institutions, this history becomes even more essential to understand. As George Orwell once noted: “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” Unfortunately, the Sexual Revolution is as much a part of American or Canadian history as World War II or the Cold War – and its daily, real-world impact is more keenly seen and felt. I believe that for students to be forewarned and forearmed, they should be taught this history before they enter university. There are an increasing number of valuable resources available. For higher grades, Carl Trueman’s Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution is a valuable analysis of the intellectual forces that brought this revolution about; Gabriele Kuby’s The Global Sexual Revolution is an important worldwide view; I attempt to explain how our current society came about in my own 2016 book, The Culture War. The material is, of course, difficult – but considering the state of our culture, I do not think age 16 is too young to begin preparing. Increasingly, people are not rejecting Christianity because they do not believe in the historicity of the Resurrection or because they find theism intellectually challenging. They are rejecting Christianity because they believe that biblical standards are cruel and that God is loveless. To understand that, we must understand the history of the Sexual Revolution. Jonathon Van Maren blogs at TheBridgehead.ca....
Paul Bartels: from carpenter to high school shop teacher
There are all sorts of reasons to consider teaching and in this interview, conducted with Mark Penninga (and lightly edited), Paul Bartels offers up his own. ***** My story starts in 1998. I was working as a carpenter with my own company. I replied to an ad in a bulletin to go on a Faithworks team and ended up going to the Dominican Republic. While I was there, I met a missionary and thought “I could do this job.” He was a former police officer from the Netherlands and he had made the switch. That is what I ended up doing; for four years my family and I moved down to the Dominican Republic and we ended up building Christian schools with Worldwide Christian Schools (now EduDeo). After four years we knew it was time to come back. Whose kingdom? However, I wasn’t exactly happy about being back. I enjoyed what I did in the Dominican. And for nine or ten years afterward I was really angry with God about being here. At the end of that time, my wife asked me to listen to a sermon from Pastor Hilmer Jagersma, on the petition “your kingdom come” from the Lord’s Prayer. The gist of the sermon was “what are we praying for? Are we praying for our own kingdoms or are we praying for God’s kingdom? What is more important in our lives?” I decided for a month I was going to pray, but I wasn’t going to pray for anything in my kingdom. It was all going to be about God’s kingdom. At that time, I was subbing for a landscaping company and we were building some pretty high-end backyard structures. I had one customer say to me “I don’t really care what it costs, I just want my neighbor to be impressed.” That morning I decided, That’s it, I’m out of this industry. I don’t want to be involved in that. I didn’t think that was good for anyone – I’m building structures that are just to show off. It just played against everything I ever really felt about Christianity. More important than the material I quit and over the next year did some interviews. Then a friend of mine, who was actually the board chairman at asked me if I would consider being the high school shop teacher since I was a carpenter. I said “Nah, I’m looking for a missional job.” He said “well, pray about it.” I went home and talked to my wife and we prayed. A week later I was at a breakfast meeting with one of our pastors and he was standing in line waiting for his food, talking to someone else, and he was saying that if he hadn’t become a pastor, he would be a high school teacher since it was so missional. It’s funny how God works in those situations. I immediately clued in, so I applied, got the job and that’s the reality of it. I think what I was searching for in life was something that had permanent value. I can’t think of anything more permanent than salvation and eternal life and being a catalyst to bring that into people’s life. When I went in for the interview they asked me why I wanted to this. I said “to be honest, I don’t really care about teaching woodworking to kids. That is not my goal. My goal is to teach them about God.” They said “perfect,” so that’s how I got hired. One of the issues that I feel is affecting the draw of teachers – more so for males than females – is “whose kingdom are you working for?” I think that if people would take real stock of what they are working for, they might find that material goods are high up on their list, whereas God’s kingdom is not. That’s really what I’m hearing, and what I experienced in my life. I was a Christian but never really took the time to take stock or just pray about God’s kingdom. I think that is one of the biggest pulls that can influence people to go into a career as a teacher, (or even a pastors) – asking, what are we doing for God’s kingdom, and, is it permanent? Great conversations Hands-on tech students will often have certain characteristics. Some like to be busy, can’t sit in a desk long, and they can’t focus on reading. So, it takes a different style to teach them. By adapting my way of teaching to their style, it gives me a level of creditability. They think “finally, someone who understands us.” That then opens up the possibilities for better discussions. I get to develop a personal relationship with these students. It has been an awesome opportunity. I have had students who have contacted me with some of their problems and we have taken time to pray about it and try to develop their prayer life as well. However, Covid did put a big stomp on that. We often talk about the providence of God and how He looks after us. I think a lot of times we forget about His providence when we go to work on Monday. We need to develop a holistic view of our lives. We’re not just people who go to church twice on Sunday and wear the appropriate clothes. We need to be asking, "What are we really doing with our lives for God’s kingdom?" That is what I’m preaching to people struggling with their careers, and not happy with what they are doing. Maybe there is no enjoyment because you are not doing what God wants you to be doing....
A call to teach
“Inviting applications!” the ad calls out. It goes on to list four teaching positions that need to be filled, and tries to paint an inviting picture of the location and supporting community. The problem is, it is drowned out by many others exactly like it. Look in any Reformed church magazine and you will likely find the majority of the advertising space devoted to one thing: job postings for teachers. What has been an occasional challenge for some schools has broadened to become one of the most pressing challenges for almost every Reformed school in the country, with little hope on the horizon for change. Since each school is independently run, it has been a challenge to get a clear picture of what is causing the teacher shortages and whether there is potential for collaboration by the Reformed community to address and reverse this trajectory. Thankfully, work is already being done behind-the-scenes to change this. Going beyond anecdotal stories LCRSS League Coordinator John Wynia If there is one man who has a finger on the pulse of Reformed education in Canada, it is John Wynia. Wynia’s own education began with homeschooling in his elementary years, a Reformed Christian high school, and an Education degree at Redeemer University. He then served as a teacher at Reformed schools in southern Alberta and southern Ontario, before taking on the full-time position of League Coordinator for the League of Canadian Reformed School Societies (LCRSS) in 2018 where he is still serving today. There is no other position like it in the country, dedicated entirely to coordinating and blessing Reformed school societies in Ontario. I met with Wynia to learn more about the teacher shortage and what‘s already being done. Wynia shared that when he started his role as League Coordinator in 2018, his very first “League Learning Day” with schools in Ontario was devoted to this problem because it had been a huge challenge for a few years already. “Anecdotally it is a problem. You can see it in the advertisements in the various periodicals, the Clarion or Christian Renewal or whatever it may be,” Wynia shared. And it isn’t limited to a particular denomination. “Rehoboth Christian School, the Free Reformed schools, Heritage Christian School, they all reported similar challenges.” Wynia added that even in the case of the schools that are reporting they are fully staffed, it is often because they asked a mom, or a retired teacher, to come back to teach part-time. “They are making do.” The 2018 meeting highlighted the need for better data, to go beyond anecdotal information. And it sparked an initiative called “Teach With Us Ontario” (TWUO). The TWUO team started gathering information from schools about enrollment, the number of teachers, attrition rates (the number of teachers that leave each year), reasons for teachers leaving, and more. They also developed a teacher appreciation program, found a teacher champion for each school, and made a webpage – LCRSS.ca/teachwithus – that featured videos and stories about the blessing of serving as teachers. It didn’t take long before schools from western Canada expressed the same need and TWUO morphed into TWUC – “Teach With Us Canada.” Kent Dykstra, Principal of Credo Christian High School in Langley, BC, served as the primary contact point for gathering data from Reformed schools in Western Canada. Although the data doesn’t account for all Reformed schools, it is likely representative. They found: Enrolment is increasing steadily, from 4,593 students in 2014-2015 to 5,252 this past year in the schools counted. Generally speaking, more students require more teachers. Maintaining the teacher numbers won’t be sufficient long-term if the trajectory of increasing student population continues; There was a slight decrease in the number of teaching staff from 2020 to 2021, and incomplete data prior. The total Full-Time Equivalent Teaching staff was 355.4 in 2021 and 367 in 2020. The attrition rate (percent of teachers leaving the profession in a given year), not including to other Reformed schools, increased from 9.5% to 10.3% in 2021. Wynia explained that these attrition rates are somewhat higher than other professions, and higher than for teachers in the public schools, where it is about 6-7%. Of the reasons for leaving, 4-5% of the total number of teachers leave annually for reasons other than health, retirement, maternity, or going to another Reformed school. A dearth of applications One side of the challenge is making it possible for teachers to stay in the profession long-term. A goal every bit as important is recruiting more people to join the profession, either transferring over from other professions or as their first career. The TWUC team sent out a survey in 2019 and 2021 to grade 11 and 12 students in Reformed high schools, exploring why these students would or would not consider teaching as a career. It found: 37%-42% of students considered a teaching career Far more female students (48%) than male (27%) consider teaching The most important factors cited by students to consider teaching were: “Using my God-given gifts and abilities,” “Desire to pass on a Reformed worldview” and “Desire to make a difference” As for reasons to not consider teaching, the top factors were: “Passion for another profession/career,” “Feeling called to another profession/career” and “Limited opportunities for professional advancement” Although a substantial percent of students consider teaching, these ambitions are not culminating in an abundance of qualified men and women for the job openings for teachers. The opposite is true. From the “Applications per position” chart, courtesy of TWUC, we see that the 37-42% of students with ambitions to teach doesn’t materialize into teachers. Only 4.1-6.3% are graduating from a teacher education program. (The drop off from 2020 to 2021 is likely attributed to Covid restrictions). Another helpful statistic from TWUC’s research is the number of qualified applications that schools are receiving for each position they have open. In 2021, it wasn’t even one application for each opening. Kent Dykstra clarified that a “qualified” applicant doesn’t necessarily mean they even have a Bachelor of Education degree or equivalent. In provinces that allow people to teach without this, these applicants are also deemed to be qualified. When we factor in the reality that new graduates who are looking for a position likely send their application to multiple schools, that leaves most schools high and dry. Adam Kloostra, Principal of Rehoboth Christian School in Copetown, Ontario – which has members from Free Reformed, Netherlands Reformed, and Heritage Reformed churches – shared with me that their school community has very similar challenges. “I've just begun my fourth year as principal, and I can confirm that each time we post a job opening we're only receiving 1-2 applicants on average per posting. We've been seeing this trend for a number of years now and have instituted a "teacher attraction and retention committee." The same is true for Heritage Christian School, which is one of the largest Reformed school in the country, based in the Niagara peninsula of Ontario. Their principal, Brian Kemper, shared with me that “in past years, there were often plentiful teacher applicants. Now, some years pass by and we don't even get one applicant for a teaching position.” Woke universities The huge gap between interest in the teaching profession from Grade 11 and 12 students and the number of applications being received points to some significant challenges. What is happening? As helpful as data is, to get to the heart of this issue it often helps to talk to the people on the ground. An accompanying article “Report from the Front Lines” was graciously compiled by six current high school teachers, in an effort to give their honest reflections on the blessings and challenges of serving in this vocation. The benefit of frank and anonymous data is that it is more likely to cut to the heart of the issue. At the top of the list of “cons” is: “Need to jump through a lot of hoops to get trained. Lots of unnecessary/politicized courses and topics to cover, which can get tiring and demoralizing.” I asked one of these teachers to speak to this further. He shared that when he went through university in the 90’s, although it was no small feat to go through six years of study on his own dime, at least he received a quality education from professors who wanted to teach their disciplines well. The same can’t be said anymore. We won’t even factor in the disruptions caused by the vaccine mandates and other Covid restrictions over the past two years. For the past couple of decades, Canadian universities have become bastions of political correctness. It is one thing to jump through a six-year hoop and get a decent education. It is another to withstand six years of sensitivity training and woke indoctrination. A recent study by the MacDonald Laurier Institute, published this September, bears this out. It found that a staggering 88% of professors on Canadian university campuses identify as left-leaning, compared with only 9% who are conservative. And that tiny minority who are conservative are censoring their own thoughts, out of fear of negative consequences. Reformed Christians have very few options for a quality degree in education that is accredited. One noteworthy institution, which has been making an effort to uphold its Reformed roots, is Redeemer University in Hamilton, Ontario. Reformed Perspective’s “Real Talk” podcast recently interviewed the university’s new president Dr. David Zietsma, in which he detailed, in-depth, his desire to lead the institution faithfully and with a Reformed confessional basis. However, for most Canadians, attending Redeemer would mean moving to southern Ontario and paying substantially more than secular schools (though Redeemer has cut tuition significantly in recent years). Covenant Canadian Reformed Teacher’s College (CCRTC) is another solid option for teacher training. It is also based in Hamilton and has been providing teacher’s training since 1976. They now provide a Diploma in Education and a Diploma of Teaching, and have graduated many students who have gone on to teach in Reformed schools throughout Canada. However, their lack of government recognition – formal accreditation – for their diplomas has meant that graduates have primarily served Ontario schools, one of the few provinces that doesn’t require teachers to have accredited degrees. In recent years, the CCRTC has been going through a rigorous process to achieve accreditation, which would go a long way to attracting students from across the country who desire a solid Reformed teacher’s education. The increasing cost of living Another “con” listed by teachers in the “Report from the Front Lines” article is: “Pay not that good for that much university training – many trades pay better, RN nurses start at around $90k, RCMP make $106,576 after three years, etc., while most teachers start at $50k and max out at $80k.” Although salary was ranked as the least important factor for Grade 11 and 12 students, it doesn’t take long until young adults realize they have massive bills to pay for tuition, living, and potentially also raising a family. These costs have escalated significantly with inflation and a housing market that has more than doubled in price. It is one thing for established teachers in rural communities to continue to get by with salaries of $50,000-$80,000. But it is another thing for those who recently finished six years of post-secondary education with student loans and face a housing market that starts in the neighborhood of $800,000 to purchase a modest family home. As much as someone may want to teach, they have to pay their bills and support their families. At the same time, wages for trades have increased substantially in recent decades. As the teachers shared “5-6 years of university – expensive, especially if you have to move out of town. Lost wages for 5-6 years, and lost years of experience, seniority, working your way up in other careers. Takes decades to catch up to peers (if ever).” Brian Kemper from Heritage Christian School concurs. “Teaching is a demanding calling and wages are not very high. Often, there are teachers who supplement their income with other work/investment opportunities. The high cost of living in the Niagara area is also a significant factor. More people are leaving for other opportunities or to move to other areas.” Reformed schools are supported by families, and in Ontario the entire budget for private schools comes from donations and tuition, as there is no government support. Increasing salaries generally means increasing tuition fees, which are being paid for by families who are also facing the pressures of rising costs and limited finances. “I think there is a desire to find ways to support teachers,” Wynia offered. “The scholarship idea is a start.” However, “the money has to come from somewhere. We are venturing into this territory for the first time. The desire would be there to provide more support. Especially in supporting their education.” “I can speak from experience of living on a teacher’s salary, paying off student loans, trying to buy a house, though prices aren’t where they are now. We have a good life. We don’t get to do all the things that others do. But that doesn’t bother us.” Wynia added that in the church, where there is a lot of affluence, we have to be careful to not lose sight of what the most important things are. Seeking His kingdom first Kent Dykstra, principal at Credo Christian High School, is curious whether increasing the pool from which schools could recruit teachers would really address the teacher shortage: “It probably would attract some teachers. But if we open up the hiring policy, would it not be consistent to open up the admissions policy? And if we open up the admissions policy you might cancel it out because you need more teachers.” At root, it is evident that teaching won’t stand out from other professions because of the ease of getting into the profession or the salary and benefits. Although all professions can be understood as “callings” when we recognize that all the earth is God’s, the calling for men and women to raise covenant children in the fear of the LORD requires the support of an entire church community and won’t happen unless it is prioritized. “We want people to understand the joy of being a teacher and the calling of it” shared Wynia. “We need to have our current teachers and parents and community pass on the beauty and joy of Reformed education and the blessing to be a part of it. We have work to do on that front.” Adam Kloostra, from Rehoboth Christian School, agrees. “They're in it because they love it and they want to be used by God to serve others - so it's far more a calling than a job. We've started to take this approach in our community and amongst our students – we want our students to consider teaching in Christian education as a calling that the Lord may be leading them towards – so we do what we can to show forth positive attitudes towards our positions here. Our behaviour in relation to our calling definitely impacts our student's perception of the calling.” Brian Kemper reminded me that when a school is up front about its identity it will be attractive to those who want to pursue a meaningful career. Heritage Christian, where he serves, is “a Reformed, parental, covenantal school that equips young people with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes for a life of service to Christ and their community. Teacher applicants know who we are, and when they apply for a position here, they get excited about the Heritage that they are joining.” As discussed further in the editorial for this issue, whether it is teaching or a different profession, the key ingredient is a heart that is seeking first God’s kingdom (Matthew 6:25-34). In the broader Christian community there is often a lack of volunteers to serve in positions of church or school leadership. This points to an underlying spiritual problem that can’t be resolved through practical strategies. There won’t be enough kingdom workers if there aren’t enough people seeking His kingdom first. Thankfully, there seems to still be plenty of people willing to serve as volunteers in Reformed schools, which suggests that the problem likely has more to do with the challenge of entering and staying in the teaching profession rather than a lack of heart for Christian schooling. A coordinated strategy Recognizing that practical steps can go a long way, some schools are looking at ways to increase their pay scales or offering scholarships to students pursuing a teaching career. As helpful as these efforts are, it was clear to the leadership of TWUC that a larger-scale and more coordinated effort was needed. Covid delayed the progress of this new national effort till the spring of 2022, when an ambitious strategic plan was developed. The plan settled on five strategies and immediately got to work in making all five a reality: Student scholarships/bursaries: Implement a program providing scholarships/bursaries to eligible students. All school boards would have an opportunity to contribute to fund the program. The hope would be that the fund is self-perpetuating once it is set up. Ads would then be put in Christian publications, to make students aware of the opportunity. Surveys could be done to better determine how important a bursary would be for pursuing teacher training. Mature students’ education: Survey Reformed school societies for individuals who are already in a vocation but may consider becoming a teacher, through a mature student education program. This also involves working with the Covenant Teacher’s College to determine the feasibility of a program for mature students. Local awareness program: Come up with local awareness initiatives, such as developing an outline of talents that a prospective teacher should or could possess, survey Grade 11 and 12 teachers for potential teacher candidates among their students, promote teaching as a second career, establish contact with recent grads from any vocations to promote teaching, and more. Teacher in-training registry: Create and maintain a registry of teachers, including students pursuing a teaching career, to ensure good communication and awareness between schools and potential teachers. Professional development: Design and implement programs to strengthen teaching abilities, including mentorship programs and opportunities for specialization. TWUC hopes to develop these five prongs concurrently and begin implementing them next spring. If anyone is interested in helping, they are encouraged to reach out directly to John Wynia at [email protected]. Other schools have also been working on a coordinated strategy. Daniel VanBrugge, a teacher at Timothy Christian School, a large school with students from local Netherlands Reformed and Heritage Reformed congregations, shared that “in our own NRC schools the vast majority of up-and-coming teachers are ladies. Very few men have made the decision to study for teacher right out of high-school.” In response “at least two communities have hosted an "Own-the-Issue" evening that brings together teachers, school leaders, church leaders, parents, and grandparents to raise awareness that the teacher supply is a community problem that will be best solved by the community coming together (as opposed to just the school board trying to brainstorm and address the issue).” And since Netherlands Reformed congregations have direct oversight over schools, their church leadership has also taken action. “Our educational committee at the NRC Synod level has done a denominational-wide study on the numbers high school students considering, or planning to study for teacher. The issue looks like it will remain. It's an important topic.” Broadening the field In Canada, the provincial government sets expectations for who may teach in schools. Most provinces require a Bachelor of Education degree, in addition to a standard undergrad degree. Ontario is an exception, allowing schools to set their own criteria. Ontario schools are increasingly making use of this freedom. Kloostra shared that “Ideally, when an applicant does come along, they have their B.Ed. - but we have found that this is no longer a pillar we can bank on each time a position opens up. So we have several staff members who don't have their B.Ed. and despite not having it, they're doing great things – right on par with teachers who have spent the 5-6 years accomplishing a B.Ed. Other provinces allow exceptions. For example, in BC a school can hire a teacher who doesn’t have an education degree if they can prove that they advertised the position and didn’t find someone more qualified to fill it. The schools have to repeat the process annually but are generally not met with resistance by the government. This allows schools to broaden the range of who can fill positions, but the lack of stability means that not many people would consider it to be a long-term career. Another option to expand the pool of teachers is to broaden the criteria of which churches or denominations a prospective applicant can come from. For example, instead of restricting applications to a particular denomination, a school could welcome teachers who are members of a NAPARC-affiliated church, or some other criteria that maintains a confessional and orthodox Reformed basis. (NAPARC stands for “North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council” which includes the CanRC, URC, OPC, PCA, and RCUS among its member denominations.) When I asked Kent Dykstra about this possibility, he observed that parents and school members are rightly concerned about the worldview of those teaching their students. “There is some flexibility, and some boards and some communities are using that flexibility that is written in their founding documents. Others are changing their documents to reflect that reality, but there is also some sensitivity.” That said, it may not even help. “I’m curious whether opening up the hiring policy would address the problem. It probably would attract some teachers. But if we open up the hiring policy, would it not be consistent to open up the admissions policy? And if we open up the admissions policy you might cancel it out because you need more teachers.” Financial solutions School societies are understandably very hesitant to increase salaries and benefits because the cost is felt directly by families who are paying tuition, many of whom struggle with paying their own bills. Yet what isn’t often publicly acknowledged is the massive increase in wealth that many Reformed families have experience in recent decades. In the past six years alone, the average Reformed family in Canada has received an extra $1,000-$2,000 in tax-free income every month from the federal government in the name of child care benefits (up to a maximum of $6,639 per child under 6 and $5,602 for ages 6-17 each year, adjusted for income). Others have seen their property values climb into the millions. Lifestyles so easily adjust accordingly. The percentage of a family budget that goes to tuition decreases, especially when compared with what our grandparents and parents contributed. As one very elderly and wise lady shared with my wife when reflecting on raising a family with limited means “after paying for church and school, there just wasn’t much money left for things like shoes.” To be clear, there are many Reformed schools that pay fair, and even generous, wages to their teachers and employees. The fact that other professions have seen massive pay increases does not need to translate into pressure to go beyond what is already fair. A different but related issue that has been raised already in this piece is the “hoop” that teachers have to jump through to become certified – five or six years at secular universities that are offering sub-par educations. There are very few solid Christian institutions, and the two that come to mind require a student to move to Ontario, or pay higher tuition. Some schools have come up with creative efforts, such as providing a slightly higher wage for the first year of teaching, or offering a scholarship to students who are becoming teachers. But as helpful as these are, it is hard to see them actually resulting in more people pursuing teaching. For example, a $5,000 scholarship sounds generous, but it can’t be depended on and doesn’t actually go that far when you consider the cost of six years of full-time studies (including tuition, living expenses, and not being able to work full-time). It would help alleviate the expense, but likely wouldn’t sway someone to proceed if the education requirements are a barrier. One idea that I haven’t heard discussed by schools or TWUC is to offer students who are pursuing teaching a loan (for example, up to $15,000 per year for five years), contingent on them studying at a solid Reformed institution like Covenant Teacher’s College or Redeemer University and maintaining a full course load and good grades. Then, when they take up a teaching position, a portion of the loan can be forgiven for each year of teaching (e.g. a $15,000 signing bonus, with $10,000 being forgiven each year for the next five years). The original pool can be contributed by investors who have the means and want to see more teachers. But the pool can be maintained by school societies who cover the loan repayment. That way, if a school really wants a teacher, they can pay to make it happen. If a school doesn’t struggle with finding teachers, they don’t have to offer to repay any loans. Your ideas welcome What ideas do you have? This article was written to start a discussion in homes and communities across the country. We invite you to share your ideas and insights by sending them to the editor....
Report from the front lines: pros and cons of teaching in a Reformed high school
It is one thing to hear from school administrators, boards, and parents about what is contributing to a teacher shortage. But how do the teachers themselves feel about serving in the career right now? What follows are the thoughts of six high school teachers with 104 years of teaching experience between them. It’s worth noting that teachers in different schools or provinces may well come up with different answers. What’s on offer here could provide direction for schools trying to figure out how best to retain current teachers. My hope is that it will also be a great encouragement to those considering the profession. Pros of teaching as a career: Can be very satisfying helping covenant kids grow in the Lord and helping parents fulfil their baptism promises – it’s very meaningful work (Eccl. 5) Often excellent communal support – all pulling together for a good cause – many allies Good support structures in place in daily school work – administration, parent committees, learning assistance department etc. Great colleagues who share the faith and worldview make for a pleasant work environment Job stability, including when the economy is suffering and jobs are harder to get Lots of holidays – off when your kids are off, and in good seasons (like summer months) Easier on the body – manual labourers can get worn out elbows, backs, knees, etc. More noticeable by middle age (assuming teachers take care of themselves) Decent wages – similar to a lot of government jobs – fairly close to public school teachers (about 90%) Benefits can be quite good – comparable to similar careers Indoor, climate controlled, clean, comfortable work environment especially nice in winter months – great resources and access to good supplies Good hours – never have to work odd hours, weekends, awkward shifts, unless you choose to (but there is a lot of work outside of school hours that needs to be done) Can make extra money, do bigger projects, go on long trips in summer holidays Some flexibility in when you want to work (go home sooner and work at home in the evening, e.g.) Good variety – can teach different age groups, courses, etc., and room to change things up over the years Potential for lots of fun – many of the activities or topics are quite enjoyable Kids can be easier and more fun to work with than adults – enjoyable to be around, lively and enthusiastic, great sense of humour – keeps you young (but can be exasperating, too) Freedom to come or go – sign contract yearly or choose to go elsewhere if you want, rarely any long-term commitment. Cons: Need to jump through a lot of hoops to get trained – lots of unnecessary/politicized courses and topics to cover, which can get tiring and demoralizing 5-6 years of university – expensive, especially if you have to move out of town – and lost wages for those 5-6 years, and lost years of experience, seniority, working your way up in other careers, requiring decades to catch up to peers (if ever) Pay not that good for that much university training – many trades pay better, RN nurses start at around $90k, RCMP make $106,576 after three years, etc., while most teachers start at $50k and max out at $80k Exhausting to be working with 20+ students all day – overstimulating and draining making decisions non-stop and trying to attend to them all, and especially hard if you’re an introvert (as quite a few teachers seem to be) Many students are getting harder to teach – less respect, less attentiveness, less willingness to work, more distractions outside of school Multiple students with learning issues mean more adaptations and modifications to ensure they are all included – this can take a lot of time and work Often lots of longer hours – marking, report cards, etc. – especially if there are large classes or if the course or grade level is new Can be pressure to teach new grades, courses, etc., which means you often cannot get familiar with one grade level or one set of courses (esp. in smaller schools or when there is lots of staff turnover) Government curricula changes regularly, forcing rewrites of course outlines, and the various bureaucratic hoops can get tiring and cause disillusionment Can be emotionally draining when you have troubled or struggling students A very public job – everybody in the community knows you and could have opinions about you (either good or bad). ...
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Why biblical poetry matters
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Truth & Lies in American Education
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Christian education, News
US homeschooling grows by a million
In 1973, there were as few as 13,000 children being homeschooled across the United States. From those small beginnings, the movement has grown over the last 50 years, until there were an estimated 2.6 million homeschoolers as of March of 2020. This stay-at-home educational option got even more popular after public schools closed due to COVID lockdowns. But that growing popularity wasn't just due to public school closures. Otherwise, there would have been only a temporary boost in homeschooling, for only as long as the lockdowns lasted. But now, with public schools largely back in session, the number of homeschooling students has risen by a million, to 3.7 million (with some estimates putting it as high as 5 million). Saw how their children were being catechized This homeschooling surge may have been motivated by what parents saw when they were able to watch their children's online Zoom classes. Parents could see for themselves how their children were being catechized about race, sexuality, environmentalism, equality, privilege, and, most recently, gender fluidity. Public school attacks on God have, in the past, been somewhat subtle, in that they opposed God largely by ignoring Him. The public school curriculum taught by omission that the Lord of All wasn't important at all to anything and everything students were learning. The system's ungodliness has been more overt in recent years, with maybe the most noticeable being how confused boys are now embraced as girls, allowed on girls' sports teams, given access to female washrooms, and addressed with feminine pronouns. And vice versa for confused girls. While God made us male and female (Gen. 1:27), that's not what little Timmy is being taught by his government-approved curriculum. And long-distance, in-home Zoom learning allowed parents to see this curriculum close up. Parents taking charge While COVID hasn't had many silver linings, parents taking back their God-given educational role (Deut. 6:6-7, Prov. 1:8-9, 22:6, Eph 6:1-4) from the State is a big one. There are also at least 5.7 million children being educated in private schools. So, in round figures, that is almost 10 million students out of the public system, compared with approximately 50 million being educated in public schools. There's more progress to be made, as not all these homeschooled students are being educated to know and love the Lord – even atheists are jumping on the homeschooling bandwagon. But with minimal State support for homeschooling, it means that for these students at least, our tax dollars aren't being used to catechize them against God's Truth. A ready alternative to the public system Those of us who support Christian schooling of various sorts, haven't always felt very invested in debates about the public system. We're aware of the dangers, but we haven't known what to do about them. Should we call for the shutdown of the public system? But if so, what alternative can we offer? Our own Christian schools are confessional, allowing in only families that hold to the same creeds and confessions we do. Thus they aren't an option we can present to the general public. So if we're going to oppose a godless public system using our tax dollars to teach the children of our friends and neighbors that God is irrelevant, what can we offer as an alternative? We could push for a voucher system, where the government's educational dollars is directed by parents, rather than given to schools. Parents could then send their "voucher" to the school of their choice, and by that means, create more responsive, and, in some instances, more godly, schools. Of course, so long as the government controls the purse strings, they might also try to dictate the curriculum. Another problem is that this is a long-term goal – we aren't going to get a voucher system overnight. This highlights a strength of the homeschooling movement: it is an educational alternative that parents can turn to right now... as many more hundreds of thousands did just this last year. Celebrating what we once opposed Historically, our Reformed churches haven't celebrated homeschooling. The perception has been that any church families that chose to homeschool were diverting their support away from the local Christian school, which was usually in need of every dime it could get. Thus homeschooling was seen as competition that undercut the financial security of our Christian schools. But where two legitimate educational options exist – both fulfilling parents' baptismal vows to raise our children in the doctrine of the Lord – how can we say which is undercutting the other? It would make as much sense to say that Christian schools undercut homeschool cooperatives, which might otherwise be larger and more effective but for the energy and money devoted to our Christian schools. Of course, no one is making that argument, because we all know there is no Scriptural command requiring us to homeschool. Thus no fault can be found with those who choose not to (even if their involvement in homeschooling might have been a great help to other parents doing so). The same is true the other way around: no fault should be leveled at those who choose not to use our Christian schools but instead fulfill their baptismal vows by homeschooling instead. Instead of antipathy towards homeschooling, we should thank God for the possibility it presents to our neighbors that our own Christian schools cannot. By growing more than 40% in a single year, homeschooling has shown itself to be an at-the-ready, instantly-expandable alternative to the increasingly ungodly public system....
Reformed teachers are different... right?
Bobby Knight had a rather unique teaching philosophy: he’d do whatever it took to get through to his young charges, up to and including yelling at them, swearing at them and even kicking the occasional pupil or two. And for the most part, the infamous NCAA basketball coach got away with it. The tirades and physical abuse that would get other coaches and teachers fired were an accepted part of his routine. It would be going a bit far to say no one minded his bombastic approach, but he got away with it because it was expected from him. Everyone entering his program knew what was coming – his teaching philosophy was obvious to anyone who’d met him. Reformed teachers have a teaching philosophy too. It is assuredly a deeper and more civil one...but is it as transparent? Do we as a parents know the teaching philosophy and overall worldview of our children's teachers? Why care? If you’re sending your kids to a private Christian school then you already recognize the way a teacher thinks and what they believe is important. You’re spending thousands of dollars a year to send your children to a Christian school, and it’s not just because they have morning devotions and lunchtime prayers. The daily Bible class is an important element, but if that was all there was to it we could save a lot of money by just sending our kids to a Saturday morning Bible study. So why do we spend the money? Because our children spend half the time they’re awake in the care of teachers. They’re supposed to listen to these same teachers and even jot notes down to help them remember what the teachers have said. The other half of their waking day might be spent with their parents, but children certainly won’t be taking notes, and they often won’t remember what you say from one minute to the next (especially if you ask them to clean up their rooms). Obviously teachers have an enormous influence over the intellectual and spiritual development of our children. Through the twelve years they have our children under their charge they may even have more influence in these areas than parents. In a secular setting that influence is going to be used to teach students one sort of lesson. Children will be taught that when it comes to every one of their school subjects, God isn't all that relevant; He doesn't even need to be mentioned! And if God isn't relevant in Math and Chemistry and Physics and English and History and Biology, then how can a child help but wonder if God is relevant in Work and Dating and Sports and Politics....and Life? That why we have Christian schools; devotions and Bible classes are important, but teachers exert a powerful influence on our kids in every class they teach. They are an example to the kids all day long about how God is relevant to all the big and little things they do. So we spend the money because we know our Reformed teachers' beliefs impact everything they say and do. We may not know exactly how they make a Math class Christian but we know they must, because that’s why we’re paying all that money. Why pay for a Reformed Chemistry teacher if he says and does everything exactly the same as his secular counterpart? Assumptions are not enough But do we really know the worldview of our children's teachers? Or are we simply making assumptions? Because sometimes assumptions can be wrong. In Edmonton, Alberta, parents found that out when a local Christian high school considered joining the public system. Parents were paying thousands of dollars a year to send their children to the Edmonton Christian High School, but would only have to spend hundreds if it became public. That was a powerful enticement, but before they approved the merger parents wanted to know what else would change if the school went public. They were assured nothing significant would happen; the same teachers would teach the same children in the same way they always had. Except the children’s teachers would now have to join a secular union. Many of the parents thought this would be a problem, but the teachers didn’t. They overwhelmingly approved a move to join the Alberta Teacher’s Association, although they did promise everyone they would try to make the union more Christian by working from within it. That surprised a lot of parents. They had assumed the teachers shared their own opposition to secular unions. Both the teachers and parents were Christian, and in many cases they were Reformed but they still held to very different worldviews. And most parents didn’t even know that. Maybe you don’t think a teacher’s stand on unions is significant, but really, that’s not the point. The point is that these parents did think it was important, and assumed the teachers agreed with them. This aspect of the teacher’s worldview, the same worldview parents are paying extra for, wasn’t what the parents thought it was. Find out Do you know the worldview of your children's teachers? Parents shouldn’t have to make assumptions. A Reformed teacher’s philosophy is their greatest selling feature, and it should be in plain view for all to see. If it isn’t, parents will quite rightly start questioning the importance of Reformed education. Parents have to know what they’re paying extra for or they won’t be motivated to pay. What makes our schools valuable is the teachers in them. And what makes those teachers different, distinct, and superior, is their worldview, and the wisdom they've acquired. So are we giving this the attention it is due? When we realize it is the teachers and their worldview that make the school, then we're going to set the very highest standards for hiring. We can't – as happened in the Edmonton Christian High School – end up with teachers who don't share the same worldview as the parents. For us, in our churches, the divide probably won't happen over union membership, but what about creation and evolution? Do your children's teachers believe the same as you do about how we are to understand the opening chapters of the Bible? Do you think it is important they do? There's a diversity of views in our church circles on some pretty fundamental issues like these, so parents should not assume that teachers believe as they do. We need to ask. After we put the needed care and attention into hiring wise teachers, then it is just as important to showcase their wisdom. That's how we can get the next generation excited about Christian education. We can promote our schools by explaining how our Chemistry class is better because it is taught by a Reformed instructor. We'll share why it is so very important that the teacher instructing our son or daughter in English is a good and godly man or woman. When we have wise teachers, we'll be able to point to our Math class and make it plain to parents how a biblical worldview is coming out even in the midst of numbers, formulas and quadratic equations. We started our schools to help pass along our Reformed worldview to our children. If our schools are going to continue it will be not only because we've made the right hires, but because all the parents have been shown why our teachers' worldview is worth more than gold, and is, in fact, quite the bargain at only thousands a year. A Portuguese translation of this article can be found here....
Why study History?
Things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. – Psalm 78:3-4 ***** History is important for day-to-day life in ways that most of us don’t know. A shared history unifies communities, and knowing history can inspire individuals to be better people because they can learn from previous generations what to do and what to watch out for. Recently history professor John Fea of Messiah College in Pennsylvania wrote a book about the importance of history called Why Study History? Reflecting on the Importance of the Past. While an aim of the book was to encourage college students to major in history, what he shares would be beneficial to all Christians. Shared history binds us together Fea points out that historical accounts are important to the identity of communities: “We need the stories of our past to sustain us as a people. History is the glue that holds communities and nations together.” The history of our community (whether as a church, ethnic group, or political unit) creates a perception of shared experience with other members of our community. This helps to bind us to one another. The kind of experience we share with other community members will be influenced by how its history is presented. In a national context, competing groups may emphasize different aspects of the past and thus offer different versions of history. In the United States, disputes of this nature have arisen in public schools. Fea writes, “The battle over what American schoolchildren learn about the nation’s past has been a significant part of the ongoing culture wars in this country.” “Past” versus “history” Fea makes an distinction between what he calls “the past” and “history.” The past consists of all the events that have occurred before the present time. This includes the dates and facts about what happened. History, on the other hand, involves the creation of a narrative using information about the past. History is always written by a person, and each historian has to determine which information from the past is important and how it fits together. In this sense, history always involves an interpretive framework provided by the historian – all history is written from a particular perspective or worldview. The right worldview is key That being the case, it is very important to determine whether or not a particular historian works within a good worldview. For example, when a Marxist writes a history of the sixteenth century, he sees economic forces as the primary factors leading to the origin and success of the Reformation. He will discount the specifically “religious” aspects of the Reformation as window dressing for the real action which he believes is in the economic sphere. The Marxist does not even believe in God, so how could he attribute any facet of the Reformation to spiritual activity? It’s completely outside the realm of possibility in his worldview. Thus a Marxist interpretation of the sixteenth century will inevitably miss the most important aspect of the Reformation, namely, the work of God in restoring His truth to the church. A Reformed historian will look at exactly the same information as the Marxist and see an entirely different picture. The Reformed historian will focus on the religious and spiritual nature of the Reformation. Economic forces do matter at various points throughout history but they cannot account for genuine spiritual occurrences and the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of people. While there are many learned and thoughtful historians of various persuasions who have written important books, if they didn’t approach history from a Biblical Christian perspective it is possible that they missed important features of their subject. Like a Reformed historian, a Roman Catholic historian may also see the Reformation within a spiritual context. However, his analysis would likely be the opposite of the Reformed view. To him or her, the Reformation involved a schism from the true church. Clearly, the perspective held by any historian will provide the interpretive framework through which he or she evaluates the past. All historians operate within a particular worldview that determines what they will consider to be worthy of including in their account. Leftwing history Leftwing historians, often known as “progressive historians,” understand the importance of history in the life of a community. They also understand the power of historical interpretation as a method of promoting political change. Particular historical accounts can be used as the justification for political action. As a result, they interpret history through an especially leftwing framework as a means to advocate for socialist solutions. Fea explains: As these historians began to speak out against the injustices that they saw in society, they began to articulate a method of approaching the past that was concerned less with objectivity and more with activism. They looked to the past for antecedents to contemporary social problems that might help point the world in the right direction. Their accounts of American history, therefore, focus on the negative aspects and largely ignore the positive aspects. Fea notes, “They wrote books calling attention to the nation’s long history of injustice. Such works were largely one-sided, but that was the point.” If the United States is historically based on racist oppression and capitalist exploitation of the poor, then the way to improve it is through socialism. Government planners can enforce “social justice” through state coercion. This is the leftwing ideal, and it appears more plausible when backed by historical arguments about pervasive evil in the nation’s past. If individual freedom has led to oppression and exploitation, then it must be sacrificed to government control in order to achieve justice. History motivating politics In other words, a particular historical perspective becomes the underlying basis for an associated political agenda. History conducted in this way provides the driving force for a program of political change. The example of the “progressive historians” demonstrates the use of history in a powerful and negative way. But history can also be used to undergird a positive agenda. Fea points out that some American Christians have written history books to boost the case for Christian political activism. For example, if Christianity held a privileged position in earlier periods of American political life (and it did), then Christianity should not be expelled from American political life today. However, Fea also notes that some of these efforts by Christians have been so lopsided as to turn history into political propaganda, much like the progressive historians have done. This is certainly an error to avoid, but it does not discount the possibility of the proper use of history to buttress Christian activism in the culture wars. Sanctification Besides the political role of history mentioned above, history can also motivate us to improve ourselves as individuals. As Fea explains it, The past has the power to stimulate us, fill us with emotion, and arouse our deepest convictions about what is good and right. When we study inspirational figures of the past, we often connect with them through time and leave the encounter wanting to be better people or perhaps even continue their legacy of reform, justice, patriotism, or heroism. Used in this way, history can actually be an aid in sanctification. Conclusion History is important for the role it plays in binding communities together and in motivating political action. It can also help to encourage individuals to improve themselves or inspire them to become involved in a cause. The value of particular historical accounts will be heavily influenced by the perspective of the writer of the account. Only a Christian historian can truly appreciate the role of God in history. It’s hard to love something you know little about. Learning the history of your country can help you to love your country. Learning the history of your church may help you to appreciate your church more too. Whatever the case, it is certain that studying history is a valuable activity. This article first appeared in the November 2015 edition....
Should a student’s peer group be so important?
…or can skipping or failing a grade be a very good thing? **** Let me tell you the tale of four students. Danny The first, Danny, had decided to better himself and become more flexible in the job market, given the prevalent economic uncertainty. So he went to the website of the Open University and looked for a course package that would appeal to him. After due consideration, he decided on a subject, whereupon he proceeded with his enrolment. The course involved a number of challenging assignments, all accompanied by due dates, and length and formatting requirements. Danny was not fazed. Full of enthusiasm, he started on the course work. He industriously complied with all the required readings, studied the assignment requirements, and set to work. Long before the deadline he finished the first homework assignment and sent it away. It was less than a week later that he received word back: he had failed his first assignment. Failed miserably. However, the kind lecturer gave many tips as to how to improve the work for resubmission. Disappointed, but not down, Danny set to work again. He carefully followed the lecturer’s suggestions and, with hope in his heart, resubmitted. The result, though slightly better, was still disappointment – Danny hadn’t passed, even on his second attempt. Danny was thoroughly disheartened. After honest and deep contemplation, he decided that he had overreached and that he needed to bite the bullet and quit. Perhaps he should have another look at the courses and take on something more realistic and in keeping with his current abilities… Shaun and Emily The family of little Shaun and Emily moved to a new district. The 7 and 9-year-old embarked on theadventure of a new school. They were kindly received, then tested on their abilities, and placed in a classroom with their peers. It was not long before both children became unhappy and unruly. Shaun could not care less whether he did his homework or not. Emily did not have any homework, because she finished everything in school time. She saidschool was boring. Meetings between the teachers and parents followed. It was agreed that Shaun struggled and required some remedial help. Emily needed no help at all; perhaps she could be given some extra work, expanding her challenges in that manner. The teachers would do their best, but with the large number of students in their care, it would be difficult. At the end of the year, Shaun was promoted to the next grade, even though his progress reports showed failure after failure. Emily was promoted as well, with straight A’s all over her list. Both children looked forward to the summer holidays and nagged their parents for a different school come the new year. The new school year commenced, and the children joined their peers. Shaun was looking at another year of discouragement and remedial treatment. Emily’s motivation was also at a low and she decided to do just what was necessary to get by… When peers aren’t the main concern, then ability can be Peers were not a concern for Danny so when he noticed his course was above his ability; he could simply quit it. He could adjust and find something more suitable. Shaun and Emily were locked in a system from which there was no escape. Shaun was forced to endure the ignominy of failure after failure; Emily was exposed to what she called “kindergarten material” which she considered humiliatingly unchallenging. However, as the Principal pointed out, it was important to keep the children in their peer groups. It would not do to place them with those older or younger than they, as this would stunt their emotional development. Caleb Now meet Caleb (not his real name). He was brought to this little Christian school. Dad and Mum said that Caleb was a problem student in his current school and did not perform well at all. In fact, the larger part of the day he was forced to reside outside the classroom. On his report card the teacher had written about his reading skills that Caleb needed to guess more! Caleb did not want to guess, he wanted to read! This nine-year-old was by now on the level of a six-year-old student, even though there was nothing wrong with his cerebral capabilities. He did not like school anymore. “And then to think how he started so full of enthusiasm,” Mum remarked. The long and short of it was that the Principal and the parents agreed that Caleb would start according to ability with the little ones, moving between different groups fluidly to tap into his present abilities. Being more mature, he would succeed at a faster pace and consequently move through the ranks ever more closely to his peers, all the while tasting academic success. Caleb finished high school within a year of his peers and went on to do a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science at university. As an adult he wrote on Facebook how that little Christian school and its teaching approach had been the saving of him in terms of developing his abilities. Caleb was not forced to sit in class with his peers and be confronted with repeat failure. He was not singled out for remedial (often sensed as humiliating) lessons. He was successful in class and was able to join his peers outside class when playing games (during PE lessons he did join his peers, by the way, and outshone most of them). Why have we made this the priority? In Matthew 23:4 the Lord Jesus accuses the Pharisees of putting heavy and grievous burdens on the people with rules and regulations that they themselves wouldn’t bear. This text had me wondering if, educationalists – with the best of intentions – have placed burdens upon children that they would not place upon themselves! (We can think also of the Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12.) An adult who enters on a course of study will do so within his capabilities. Should there be an error of judgment, the course will be discontinued and, perhaps, a more suitable one entertained. School children, as a rule, are not given that choice in the traditional system. We’ve deemed it as the first priority that they mingle with peers, even when they are to concentrate on cerebral pursuits. And we’ve done so, knowing that intellectually mismatched children who are being set the same challenges can be a hindrance to each other in class time! The discouraged girls might skulk away, or a frustrated boy resort to bravado, while the capable students are irritated by unwanted distractions. The net result is a teacher with a classroom harboring behavioral challenges. When considering the eagerness of the little five-year-olds upon entering “the big school,” it is a shame upon the education system to erode this eagerness by providing systemic failure on the one hand and systemic boredom on the other. Success is achieved by enabling children to punch according to their weight, not above their weight, or below their weight. A good school will strive to place just the right expectation (burden) upon each child’s shoulders, in keeping with capability and maturity, regardless of age. I would submit that many schools, including several Christian schools, unwittingly create educationally disenchanted children with the misguided concept of peer group education, and procuring motivation-eroded people. “One may miss the mark by aiming too high as too low.” -Thomas Fuller (English clergyman, 1608-1661) Dr. Herm Zandman has been both a schoolteacher and truck driver, writing on both, including his book “Blood, Sweat, and Gears.” A version of this article first appeared in the July 25, 2020 issue of Una Sancta. Questions for discussion Dr. Zandman raises the issue of age-based grades and how among adults we based schooling on ability, rather than age. It’s a topic seldom discussed, so to foster that discussion here are a few questions intended for a group setting. Peers, and fitting in, are the reason most kids don’t want to skip or be held back a grade. But this grouping-by-year exists only in school and disappears soon afterward. So are there ways that we can diminish the importance of this artificial grouping? Would skipping a grade be less of a big deal if we did it more often? How could we foster a school environment in which a student, held back a grade, isn’t worried about what his friends will say? In our churches, homeschooling is often viewed as an abandonment of the local covenantal school (which needs as many supporters as it can get). But homeschooling seems to better be able to accommodate children based on their abilities, rather than age. So for the sake of the students who don’t fit into age-based grades, do we need to re-evaluate our attitude towards homeschooling? After all, do our schools exist for the children, or are we now having to send our children for the school’s sake? Parents are ultimately in charge of their child’s education so what are ways that parents can add to the weight their child bears, should that be needed? Is it a matter of extra-curriculars like music lessons and art classes, or a part-time job, or even starting their own “side hustle”? What other options are possible? What are the historic roots of the grade-by-grade schooling that we do? In times past children in one-room schoolhouses might be taught via their “readers.” They would move on to the next level – the next reader – when they were done the previous one. But now age-based grades are the near-universal approach, also in our Christian schools. Seeing as this approach can’t be found in the Bible, might it be worth a reassessment? Are there other possibilities? Is what happened with Caleb, as Dr. Zandman described it, an option that exists in our schools? ...
A Christian perspective on 2+2
What does math have to do with God? Many people see no connection. Aren't logic, numbers and geometry the same for Christians and atheists? Math is th...
Learning like an adult
When school is done your education isn't ***** Students sometimes talk of graduation as being set free. We might be able to empathize, even as this ...
Christian education, Parenting
Martin Luther on the vital, foundational, educational calling of parents
Do what the guru says? Public schools are spiritual too.
If I've ever wondered why we spend so much effort on our Christian education, it's become clearer recently, since I've been doing some substitute teaching in several of Michigan's public schools. Hop, stop…and don’t ask any questions Some of the reasons are obvious. While the Bible can’t be read in these schools, I’ve observed a fifth-grade teacher reading to her class from a horoscope book every morning. Others are harder to spot, but important too. Recently, one of the early elementary schools here performed Cows in the Kitchen, a musical folktale about a family that is very noisy. So the parents go to the wise man on the mountain – the Guru – who tells them to bring various animals into their home. When it becomes intolerable, he tells them to remove the animals and thus they learn to appreciate having only their family’s noise within. At one point the Kindergarten kids sing: Do what the Guru says Do what the Guru says Do what the Guru says What he says to do. Hop – we hop. Stop – we stop. We will do what he says to do. All in fun? Certainly, to the 5-year-olds it was. But consider this: these children haven’t been told where true wisdom can be found, and they haven’t been told about the only One to whom such unquestioning obedience is actually due. What we have here are children deliberately starved of any spiritual direction, told to sing a little ditty about blindly following the directions of a mere man. Public school spirituality I’ve also run across numerous public school districts that have adopted Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People / Kids as their core value system for their students. While many aspects of the 7 Habits could be combined with Scripture as a list of “how to act” (plan ahead, be diligent, consider others first, work together), the poster for Habit #7 “Sharpen the Saw” features an Asian woman in the well-recognized yoga lotus position, and the text under the “Soul” section reads: The Spiritual Dimension Meditate keep a journal take in quality media These are all good ideas but this spiritual dimension doesn’t even mention a “higher being” let alone God. While the entire 7 Habits system may seem beneficial for giving non-Christians something to use to manage the kids’ behavior, it emphasizes the great abilities of the individual person, and it ends up being a value system that has “a form of godliness, but denies its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). The contrast Other Michigan schools are considering adding yoga to their elementary curriculum as well, according to a National Public Radio newscast, in an effort to help students de-stress. I saw this in one Detroit-area school. A class of 25 4thgraders was escorted to the gymnasium for their yoga lesson. When the CD player wouldn’t work the teacher repeatedly yelled loudly at the students to sit still and be quiet. (It seemed a bit ironic.) One girl sat off to the side on a chair. “My parents don’t allow me to take yoga,” she said sadly. The question that remained unanswered was whether her parents realized that she was required to sit in the gym for 30 minutes while the others participated. Contrast this with a recent Christian school’s spring concert that included the entire school – including Kindergartners – singing: Give thanks with a grateful heart, give thanks to the Holy One Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ our Lord And now, let the poor say, ‘I am rich’, let the weak say ‘I am strong’ Because of what the Lord has done for us – Give thanks The point is, that with a great teacher, a young child learns not only to respect, but to love that teacher and accept everything that she or he has to say. While the students may be able to learn their 3 R’s in the public school, they will always, always be influenced by the life philosophy of their teacher as well. We are so very blessed to have schools and teachers who will point our children to God....
We must teach our children to be Kingdom heirs—not just laborers in the marketplace **** “Who are you?” a university student once asked me. Odd question, I thought. I’d handled countless student questions, but this one caught me unprepared. “Uh . . . I’m a professor,” I answered weakly. “No!” he shot back. “I don’t mean what do you do, but who are you?” His question unsettled me. Like most North Americans, I’d been carefully, though not intentionally, catechized since a lad at my parents’ side that the first and most important question we ask adults at first meeting (after getting their name) is, “What do you do?” I’d learned that catechism lesson well, repeating it literally hundreds of times in all kinds of social settings over the years. But that catechism had left me quite unprepared to answer this more fundamental question about my personal identity separate from my place in the market. That grieved me because, as a Christian, I had been better versed in the catechism of secular pragmatism than in Lord’s Days 12 and 13 or the Scriptures. And I knew I wasn’t the only one. The answer that changes everything The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.... – Romans 8:16-17a As I have reflected on that encounter over the years, I’ve realized that the biblical and covenantal answer to the question, “Who are you?” is a glorious one that stands in stark contrast to the secular myth that our employment or “career” defines us. Of course, our work and callings as Christians in the marketplace are important. Providing for our families is a great privilege and responsibility. But the priority of work in both our lives and the education of our children is almost certainly misplaced and overemphasized today in Reformed circles. Our Calvinistic work ethic and sense of vocation – serving the Lord in all things – are a glorious heritage, but in our 21st century context, they have become largely indistinguishable from the middle class idolatry common among our unbelieving neighbors (i.e., having “another object in which men place their trust” ). In fact, over 30+ years of university teaching, evenly divided between secular universities and Christian colleges, I can testify that the one question all parents – Christian and non-Christian alike – ask about higher education is, “What kind of job can my kid get when he/she graduates?” Intended or not, that question reveals deep worldview priorities. And such a question is certainly not the fruit of careful, prayerful parental reflection on what it means to educate covenant children as heirs of Christ who will seek first the kingdom. By contrast, the Scriptures never identify God’s covenant children as people with jobs who happen to hold to a particular religious tradition. Instead, the Bible repeatedly calls us heirs of a kingdom, the adopted sons and daughters of the King of the universe. We are not just Christians who happen to have various jobs or work to do. We are royalty (Rom. 8:14-17, Eph. 1:3-6, I Pet. 2:9). We will reign over all creatures with Christ eternally (Heid. Cat., Q. 32). We are the adopted children of God and fellow heirs with Jesus, with all the privileges of the sons of God (Luke 2:11, Acts 10:36, I Tim. 6:15, Rev. 19:16; Heid. Cat., Q. 34). We are princes and princesses of the King of kings! We are royal heirs! And that answer to the question, “Who are you?” changes everything! Like young Prince George, the baby heir to the throne of England and the United Kingdom, a day mustn’t pass that we wonder who we are, why we are being educated, and what we are being prepared to be and to do. We are heirs to a throne and a Kingdom far greater and more glorious than the one in England. The House of Windsor pales in comparison to Jesus’s realm and our divine inheritance! How much more, then, should we, who are heirs of the King of kings and Lord of lords, prepare ourselves and our children to be thoroughly and faithfully educated in everything it means to be a son and daughter of the Creator, Redeemer, and Lord of the Universe. Thoroughly and faithfully educated in everything it means to be royalty. What does that look like? If we understand we are educating royalty, how should that impact how we teach, and what we expect? Then we will understand there is no time for the wicked nonsense about “sowing wild oats” or setting a low bar of expectations for our children. That is the rebellious spirit of prodigals who forget who they (and their children) really are. Those who are in line to take their places in Christ’s kingdom as princes and princesses must expect more of themselves and of their children. “To whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48). Because we are royalty in Christ, God has king-sized expectations and blessings in store for us and our children – if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. The entire book of Proverbs is Solomon’s instruction to his royal heirs to know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth – let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles (Prov. 1:2-6). Such an education must provide much more than an awareness of fragmented facts or specialized work skills for a place in the job market. Again, that’s not to say that facts and skills are not important. Nor is it to say that we should suddenly trade pragmatic, nose-to-the-grindstone sweat of our brows for pious sounding spiritual platitudes. The issues are where does the education of Christ’s royal heirs fit in our list of priorities and what should that education look like. Priorities: We are royalty. So start acting like it. Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the instruction of the Lord, nor be weary when corrected by him. For the Lord instructs the one he loves, and corrects every son whom he receives." It is for instruction that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. – Hebrews 12:5-7 Those who are fellow heirs in Christ know that His regal ways are not the power-grabbing, lording-it-over-others, self-seeking ways of the ungodly. Far from it. Christ ascended to His Father’s throne only after sacrificing everything for His people and His creation. He gave himself away. His royal way is the way of selfless love and sacrifice. He died that we might die to sin and death. He lives that we might live in glory forever. Sacrificial service for the sake of the kingdom is the mark of true kingship, true royalty. It characterizes our Lord Christ. And it must characterize our Lord’s true heirs in their lives and in their education. As Christ’s royal heirs, we dare not be content to prepare ourselves or our children merely to be cogs in the economic machinery of our secular consumer culture. Even the ancients understood that slaves are only trained to perform tasks. They have no rights of inheritance, no deeper identity. A slave’s identity is his work. But free citizens and royalty, who will dedicate themselves to the advance of the kingdom, must be educated deeply for the day when their royal leadership and service is expected. Similarly, we are called to a higher purpose and bear greater responsibility for how we live and prepare our children for their royal callings. Unfortunately, we have, as the author of Hebrews suggests, forgotten the divine exhortation to educate our children in the nurture and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4, Heb. 12:5ff). We have forgotten in part because we have forgotten who we are. A Royal education: Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning This memory lapse is most evident in how we educate our children today. Education, even that which purports to be Christian, is now often devoted primarily to the goal of producing good little workers for the secular labor force, efficient widgets for our economy’s production line, and little more. That falls far short of the biblical expectation that Christian children be saturated in the instruction of the Lord and grow up knowing what it means to be royal heirs of Christ the King. An education bearing the name of the King ought, at the least, to offer His royal heirs... 1. A comprehensive and integrative understanding of God’s world and of how all things cohere in the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:4-11). Such an education will give children the “big picture” of how all things, all spheres of creation, are interrelated in the glory of their Creator. The university itself was a Christian invention in the Middle Ages (the earliest established between A.D. 1100 and 1200), designed to give students an integrated Christian vision and foundation for all future learning. That was the original purpose of the classical liberal arts (meaning, the arts of a free citizen). For almost a millennium, Christian universities taught the classical liberal arts or the so-called Trivium and Quadrivium: The Trivium, or the Three Ways, stressed the good structure of language (Grammar), the way to discern truth (Logic), and how to express truth beautifully (Rhetoric)—all to encourage a student’s life-long love of goodness, truth, and beauty in words and language, as typified by the Word Himself in John 1:1-14. The Quadrivium, or the Four Ways, encouraged a life-long love of goodness, truth, and beauty in the use of numbers (Arithmetic), numbers in space (Geometry), numbers in time (Music or Harmony), and numbers in space and time (Astronomy), revealing the unity and diversity of creation and of our Triune Creator Himself (Deut. 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one,” and Matt. 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”). Together, the Trivium and Quadrivium, the original seven liberal arts, offered students essential insights into the harmony and wholeness of God’s diverse world and into the interrelated truth, goodness and beauty of its Triune Creator. They didn’t give students just the facts or skills for a job, but the tools of lifelong learning from a Christian perspective. Unfortunately, today’s arbitrarily selected smorgasbord of academic subjects and randomly structured university curricula, following the modern analytic, scientific tradition, tend to do the opposite: they offer fragmented bits of information with no principle of coherence or relationship. But in God’s economy, the whole is always more than the sum of its parts. An education that does not teach us how to see the wholeness of God’s creation, and to equip us to understand how all things cohere in Christ, inevitably misses the big picture about creation and creation’s God. It is a partial, incomplete, distorted education. Curiously, specialization at the undergraduate level was virtually unknown in North America prior to the late 19th century. University students did not “major” in a narrow academic disciplines or vocational specializations prior to 1879. They couldn’t. “Majors” simply didn’t exist before then. Instead, all undergraduates received a classical, integrated liberal arts foundation. The universities gave them essential tools for learning that applied to all their various callings as sons and daughters, spouses, parents, neighbors, citizens, providers, voters, buyers and sellers in the marketplace, and parishioners. Their work skills and the job training needed to provide for their families were developed outside the classroom in on-site training or apprenticeships done in the context where the work was actually being done. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Kuyper, C.S. Lewis – all the greatest leaders in our Christian tradition – were so classically educated in the traditional, integrative liberal arts of the Trivium and Quadrivium and practically trained. But pragmatists of the late 19th and early 20th century sold their Christian academic birthright for a mess of modernist career pottage. They turned schools into egalitarian job training camps for the workers of the world and abandoned the Christian pursuit of wisdom and knowledge in the Lord. The schools dumbed down and the church has grown steadily weaker ever since. Reversing that trend will require that the King’s royal heirs expect... 2. Truly godly and wise teacher-mentors (Luke 6:40). According to Jesus, the teacher – not the curriculum, not the lesson plan, not the technology, not the facilities, not the accreditation, not the tuition rate – is the single most important factor in a child’s education. “A student, when mature, will be like his teacher,” Jesus said. All the other bells and whistles may be nice (though they can often be more of a distraction than a help), but the teacher is key. Yet, in my experience, Christian parents often know more about a school’s university admission rates, or a college’s career placement rates, or tuition rates, or financial aid plans, or sports programs than they do about the character and spiritual health of the men and women who will actually be shaping the minds and lives of their children in and out of the classroom. Sadly, many Christian school administrators and boards aren’t much better, giving higher priority to paper credentials and standardized test scores and bricks and mortar than to the character and spiritual integrity of their teachers. Of course, academic expertise and standardized testing have their place. But parents, administrators and school promotional literature often stress most what actually counts least from a Kingdom perspective. And such misguided emphases have the potential to catechize generations of parents and children in what is least in the Kingdom. The teacher is so crucial, as Jesus says, because all education is fundamentally personal. That’s because truth itself is personal. Truth is a person. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Truth is not some collection of brute facts or scientifically verifiable propositions. It is a living person. Teachers either faithfully represent or embody that Truth before their students or they don’t. Parents or educators who misunderstand this crucial biblical principle put their children and students at grave risk of misunderstanding the Truth and being catechized in lies and ungodliness. No matter how much parents think their child can be a “good witness” in a secular education environment, that child is not the teacher, but the one being taught. And no matter how mature we imagine our children to be (often overestimating), their “cement is still wet.” They are still students seeking to be taught and led into maturity, readily influenced by others older and more experienced. The question is, who will teach them and lead them into what kind of maturity? Moreover, those who think that new distance learning technologies will provide a quality education without putting their children at risk under ungodly teachers make a similar mistake. Learning godly knowledge and wisdom is not a data download. A student will be shaped by his or her teacher, no matter who that teacher is, no matter how the instruction is delivered. Finally, the education of the King’s royal heirs ought also to include... 3. The shaping of our desires for the things of the Kingdom Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? ... For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matthew 6:25, 32-33 Jesus did not say, “Seek first vocational-technical training, and all that kingdom of God and righteousness stuff will be added later.” Yet to hear parents of university-bound students talk today about their educational goals for their children, you’d think he had. The dominant secular vocational paradigm for higher education has influenced us more on these issues than our Christian schools, our catechism classes, and even our churches. For that, we must repent. Our heavenly Father knows everything we need to live and to thrive, and He will provide them for us by His perfect means according to His perfect timing. He tells us explicitly not to stress over the little stuff. Grasping at college majors and career preparation will not add one penny to our bank accounts, put one more meal on the table, or add one more second to our lives that He has not already ordained. So stop majoring in the minors. Instead, major in God’s priorities: Christ’s kingdom and His righteousness. What our schools and universities must encourage in our covenant children is a deeply held heart-desire for the things of God and of His Kingdom. Conclusion As Calvinists who take the sovereignty of God – the crown rights of Christ – seriously, we cannot, must not, train our children merely to be good little widgets in the secular marketplace who also happen to go to church each Lord’s Day. We vowed to raise them for much greater things at their baptisms. So, “Who are you?” You are the royal heirs of the King of kings; start acting like it. Your children are royalty; start treating them like it. Your children are inheriting a Kingdom; so start educating them for it. A Chinese translation of this article can be found here....
Rating books for the school library
Having just reviewed Escape From the Killing Fields (by Nancy Moyer) for the senior section of our Christian School Library, I thought it would be a good book to use to illustrate how a volume, which has its definite downside, can still remain on the shelves and, hopefully, teach young readers in the process. The story Ly Lorn, brought up in Cambodia, was a teenager when the Kmer Rouge took over. Dispossessed of her city home she was forced to flee, together with her large family, into the Cambodian countryside. Living in a one-room hut, and compelled to work brutally long hours at hard labor, she watched all her siblings and parents die, with the exception of an older sister. Lorn had the advantage of having worked for World Vision at which place workers had introduced her to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Brought to a baby faith in Christ, she, from time to time throughout the book, confesses trust in Him. It is rather confusing, however, to read Lorn's separate accountings of her family member's deaths. They are Buddhist but she does not seem unduly concerned about their afterlife. On the contrary, death is depicted as peaceful and as a place away from the atrocities of the present. The historic pages of Cambodia's holocaust are graphically and realistically portrayed as man's inhumanity to man. Lorn's story, and the story of her fellow Cambodians, is one of much weeping but also one of hope. In the end, she and her sister safely arrive in the US and are helped by a host of loving people. Given shelter they now have the option to worship freely the God Who has delivered them from bondage. There is no clear, happily ever after in the Lord, however. Lorn submits to and desires a traditional marriage. She lets others (an uncle and an aunt) choose her spouse. Nothing is mentioned about whether or not the man is a Christian and his attributes are mainly that he is a hard worker and, later, a good father. Lorn also, again in the last chapter, inflates the work ethic, the importance of education and the possibility of her children attaining well-paying jobs. She even goes so far as to say that it is too much for her to attend church regularly - a depressing statement in view of the turn her life has been given. The paste-up With regard to these rather negative overtones creeping throughout the pages, a short write-up has been pasted into the book. This write-up will be pointed out to the older children checking it out of the library. It is a wise parent who monitors his or her child(ren)'s books. This particular book, for example, can lead to fruitful discussions and much introspection as to whether or not we appreciate our religious freedom enough. Who knows what tomorrow will bring to Canada? The write-up pasted into Escape from the Killing Fields reads as follows: There are a number of things to keep in mind as you read this book. Learn that the history of Cambodia's last few decades is very sad and horrifying. Note that Lorn's story illustrates God's grace. She is shown that salvation is only in Jesus and her life is spared. Remember that Lorn is a very young Christian who (as yet) has very little knowledge of what God teaches in His Word. You see this in the way she speaks of her family's death. You also see it in the way she marries (not using Biblical guidelines for choosing a Christian husband.) You continue to see it in the way she seems to count (in the last chapter), possessions, education and job security as very important. Church attendance, on the other hand, as well as Bible study, appear to be secondary. Do speak with your Mom and Dad about what you've read....
School: who should rule?
A few years back I was privileged to join my colleague André Schutten in making presentations to Reformed churches and schools across Canada. We were talking about the political and legal challenges we are seeing against parental authority in education, and in preparing for these presentations I did some research into what Reformed Christians believe about who is primarily responsible for the education of children. I had assumed that there was a common perspective about parental authority, in light of covenant theology. I was wrong. Who calls the shots - the Church or parents? The church orders of the Reformed denominations in Canada can be traced back to the Synod of Dort Church Order drafted in 1618-1619. Article 21 of this document stated that: The consistories everywhere shall see to it that there are good schoolteachers, not only to teach the children reading, writing, languages, and the liberal arts, but also to instruct them in godliness and in the catechism. Article 44 adds, The classis shall authorize a number of its ministers… to visit all the churches once a year, in cities as well as in rural districts, and to take heed whether the ministers, consistories, and school teachers faithfully perform the duties of their offices, adhere to sound doctrine… What this means is that churches are assumed to have authority over schools, at least when it comes to deciding who teaches and what is taught. CHURCH In my research I discovered that the Netherlands Reformed Congregations (NRC) in Canada uphold this 1619 Church Order, and as such, have officially church-run schools. But they are a rarity. PARENTS So what do the church orders of the other Reformed denominations say? The Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC) have Article 58, which states: The consistory shall ensure that the parents, to the best of their ability, have their children attend a school where the instruction given is in harmony with the Word of God as the church has summarized it in her confessions. Parents are entrusted with the authority to have their children attend a faithful school, though churches are to encourage them in this. The United Reformed Church’s (URC) version of the Church Order, in Article 14, notes that elders “are to maintain the purity of the Word and Sacraments, assist in catechizing the youth, promote God-centered schooling…” As such, it is similar to the CanRC Church Order but it does not insist that schooling is in accordance with the Reformed confessions. The 2012 Proposed Joint Church Order of the CanRC and URC churches does a great job combining these by calling on the consistory to “promote schooling at all levels that is in harmony with the Word of God as summarized the Three Forms of Unity.” This creates space for home schooling and also requires conformity to the Reformed confessions. The Free Reformed Churches have a common theological heritage as the NRCs, but their Church Order has changed on this matter. Article 54 states: The Consistories shall see to it that the parents, in harmony with the promises made at the baptism of their children, have them taught at schools where the instruction is in accordance with the Word of God and the Three Forms of Unity. Like the CanRC Church Order, there is explicit mention made that the schooling must be in accordance with the Reformed Confessions. Are the church orders true to life? These various church orders do seem to reflect the type of education that we commonly see occurring among families in these denominations. NRC congregations have set up their own church-directed schools. Apart from the Roman Catholic schools, this model is very rare in Canada today. Members of CanRC churches have started schools where the majority of the students are also CanRC. However, more recently the direction has shifted to working with parents of other orthodox Reformed churches in starting and maintaining schools. URC churches recently came out of the CRC and as a result many of the children still attend non-denominational Christian schools, though a more recent move is towards explicitly Reformed schools like Heritage Christian School in Jordan, Ontario. FRC parents don’t have as many options as they have fewer churches. But they work together with NRC, Heritage Reformed, and parents of other church backgrounds to maintain confessional Reformed schools. All of these Reformed denominations recognize a responsibility for churches when it comes to promoting solid education, but most have moved far away from the 1619 model in which the churches had direct authority and responsibility over schools. Schooling according to the Bible One big reason for the difference of perspective on the role of the church in education is because the Bible has very little to say about schooling. There is no mention of schools in Scriptures. The same is true of education in an institutional sense for children in general. Does this mean that the Bible has nothing to say about education? No. But it does mean that our modern understanding of education is foreign to Bible times. Through the lens of the Bible, life itself is education. In other words, education is not limited to a specific setting or a time in our life. It starts when we are born and never ends. This is important because institutional education has become an industry in the Western world. We associate it with certificates, diplomas, and degrees. But as valuable as these may be, if we think they are necessary for education then the Bible says we are missing the mark. Making the tough choices At the baptismal font, parents promise to raise their children in the fear of the Lord as soon as these children are able to understand. The schooling they choose for their child should be consistent with this promise and with the preaching they get from the pulpit. This raises the question of how far a church can go when there is disagreement between elders and parents of what constitutes “godly schooling.” It is not uncommon for parents in a church to send their children to different schools. And when the consistory addresses the parent’s choice, it can quickly become a sensitive and difficult conversation. In our postmodern world, we don’t like being told that the choice we make is right or wrong. In fact, even being questioned about our choices in education can get our hackles up. This is a sensitive issue. For example, after one of the ARPA presentations about legal challenges in education I was quite surprised when one homeschooling mom told me that this was the very first time she heard some of our points – about the centrality of parental authority in education and the dangers of teaching within the state-directed education system – being made within the walls of the particular church we were presenting in and which she was a member of. She explained that they had tried to raise related issues for years but most people would refuse to consider it. Although homeschooling seems to have strong biblical support, apparently discussing it at her Reformed church was not welcomed. All of the church orders mentioned previously are consistent in ascribing elders with the responsibility of holding parents to account about their decision for how they educate their children. The reality is that in this part of life, as everywhere else, there can be many temptations to pursue what we want rather than what is best. The desire to attend a school that has better facilities, teachers, academic standards, sports programs, shop classes, etc. can lead us to compromise how these things are taught. On the flip side, we are wrong if we think our only educational option is a school that has the name “Reformed” on it or that, in its constitution, says it is based on the Reformed confessions. There is much more to education than a name or a constitution. And from another angle, just because education is being done in the home does not make it godly or quality. The Bible does not insist that schooling has to be institutional (ie within the walls of a school). But it does make it clear that all education has to be in harmony with God’s Word, and our Church Orders make it clear that the consistory has a responsibility in this regard. Questions for the readers In an effort to spark some public discussion about this, I would like to submit the following questions with the hope that some of Reformed Perspective’s readers will respond via letters to the editor or article submissions: While homeschooling isn't specifically mentioned in most Reformed church orders, should we assume it to be implicitly included (as just another type of school)? Or should it be included explicitly? Why or why not? How should consistories go about ensuring that education being done in a homeschool is godly and in line with the Reformed confessions Some Reformed families send their children to public schools (also in places where Reformed and Christian schools do exist). From the context of what is outlined in the church orders, can this be defended? Some Reformed families send their children to non-denominational Christian schools, also in places where an orthodox Reformed school is present. Should the church speak to this through preaching, prayers, and visits? If so, how? Some Reformed families send their children to Reformed schools and believe this completes their parental educational responsibilities. What more is required of them? How can the consistory and Church best go about explaining that to them? Some schools are structured as parental schools but go by the name of a church federation (ex. the Hope Canadian Reformed School). What happens when the direction of the parents/board of the school conflicts with the direction of the church that these parents have implicitly or explicitly tied themselves to (ex. in choice of Bible translations)? What are the blessings and dangers of a parental school going by the name of a church federation? ...