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Human Rights, Pro-life - Abortion

Abortion supporters don't believe in equality

There are two ways society views human worth. Which leads to a better society?

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In his now famous TedTalk, author Simon Sinek unlocks the secret to how the most powerful leaders shape their messages. They start with “Why?"  "Your Why", says Simon, “is the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires you to do What you do." Simon illustrates with great clarity how powerful it is when leaders of any organization or movement start their message with an explanation of their purpose, their beliefs. I thought about this yesterday as I stood on the side of Main St. in Grimsby quietly participating in the Life Chain demonstration. I wondered how many of the people driving by really understood why we were there - our purpose, our belief. I wondered too if my fellow demonstrators really understood how people with opposite views on the issue of abortion can arrive hold the position they do. You can’t really take seriously the folks who drive by yelling at you and giving your kids the finger. But putting that aside for the moment, let’s be honest; demonstrations are not the most effective format for respectful and rigorous debate. They tend to polarize groups into opposing camps and do little to create empathy between people who hold different views. We’re content to consider each other crazy. However, at one point in yesterday’s hour-long demonstration a passing motorist rolled down her window and yelled to demonstrators “It’s my body, It’s my choice!” And I thought; There it is! Her “Why.” Her belief. And as horrifying as the consequences of that belief are, it struck me how perfectly logical it was that this woman might also support the idea that she has a right to end the life of another human being. There’s nothing wrong with her logic. She’s not crazy per se. She just doesn’t believe that the human growing inside her is...well, human. And that is precisely where we differ. Two views I believe that human life starts at conception. And that belief changes everything. I’m not crazy either. Far from it. Feminist author and pro-choice advocate Mary Elizabeth Williams (also a staff writer for Salon) would agree with me. In an article that Mary wrote titled “So what if abortion ends life?” she states the following:  "I know that throughout my own pregnancies, I never wavered for a moment in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me. I believe that’s what a fetus is: a human life.” She goes further:

"When we on the pro-choice side get cagey around the life question, it makes us illogically contradictory....When we try to act like a pregnancy doesn’t involve human life, we wind up drawing stupid semantic lines in the sand.”

I totally agree. Which makes Mary’s following statement so confusing. She says "And that doesn’t make me one iota less solidly pro-choice.” How can someone believing that the fetus inside them is human still claim the right to kill it? That does sound crazy to me. 1) All life is not equal But Mary explains...

"Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always."

And there it is: Mary's “Why." Her belief. Mary believes that some humans are more important than others. She’s forced herself to believe that or else her pro-choice position would be, to use her own words, "illogically contradictory.” Mary also thinks she should be the one to decide whose lives, in particular, are more important and whose aren’t. And this why I (and many others) stand in silent demonstration at the corner of Main St. and Christie St. each year. 2) All are equal because all are made in God's image I believe that I am not my own (Nope. Not my body. Not my choice) ie: I do not belong to myself. Rather, I believe that in both life and in death I belong to my faithful saviour Jesus Christ. I belong to and submit to the one (and only) creator-God who made me and who alone determines the purpose of my life. Therefore I personally am not the ultimate authority on what I can or cannot do with my life or the life of others. I believe that all lives including the lives of those who stand in direct opposition to what I believe are equally sacred and worthy of protection. I believe that the protection of life is everyone’s responsibility and so also my responsibility. My purpose here on earth is to love God, love my fellow human beings and to serve them by putting their life and well-being ahead of my own. I and those who believe as I do are not fighting for self-importance or survival. We're fighting to outdo one another in kindness. I realize that we can’t make you believe what we believe. But surely you can see that we’re not crazy either. Which kind of society do you want? And to those of you who don’t quite know what you believe consider this: What kind of society do you wish to experience? What kind of society do you wish to build for your children? What kind of leaders will you choose to support and follow? Will you follow those who believe that some lives are more important than others (who believe that their lives are more important than yours perhaps)? Or will you choose to follow those who believe all lives are of equal value, and who believe that leaders should put others ahead of themselves? Simon "Start-with-why" Sinek has another book out which may help you decide. It’s called Leaders Eat Last. This choice is indeed yours. I’m praying that you’ll choose wisely.

This article was first published in October 2016. Jason Bouwman is a graphic designer and author of the utterly unique book "Still Thinking" which we review right here.

Assorted

John Piper on debating moral issues in the public square

“…in your public involvement, don’t conceal the roots of your convictions about what is right and wrong. Don’t try to get a better hearing through downplaying your dependence on Christ and his Word and the gospel. “This is where many Christians, it seems to me, lose their saltiness and their light. Advocating for behaviors that are Christian is not the light of the world. Advocating for restraining behaviors is not the light of the world. There is nothing gospel in it. The light of the world is Christ and all that God is for us in him, all his gospel, and all his promises. If Christians become practical atheists in public, but simply advocate for behaviors that correspond to Christian ethics, they may see a little more political acceptance and affirmation in the short run, but they will lose the larger battle for the eternal good. “Do we really want to invest in a society whose outward behaviors are moral while everybody goes to hell?”

SOURCE: John Piper, interviewed on DesiringGod.org April 26, 2016 on the question “Should Christians partner with non-Christians on social issues?” Picture is by Micah Chiang, and used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. A hat tip to ARPA Canada, Lighthouse News, and Al Siebring

Letter Writing

Activism 101: 4 tips on being heard

If you are waiting in-line at a grocery store you are guaranteed to be bombarded by flashy magazines. These magazines are often, if not always, an assault on the senses. They are visually disturbing with pictures of scantily clad women and men. Not only that, the headlines and featured articles promote gossip and obsession about sex, weight-loss, image and power (unfortunately those topics all seem to go hand in hand). It is interesting that these magazines are a temptation for women. On a first glance you would think that it would only be visually tempting for men (which they are). However I admit, and know many other females that would concur, that each time again I have to choose to refuse to look at or read the covers of these magazines. They are there for a reason. And it is not uncommon to see women spontaneously buy the latest glossy bit of smut. In fact, that is the very reason they are displayed there. To add to the problem, women who are grocery shopping are often accompanied by their small children. Enough is enough As a family living in Lethbridge (at that time) we witnessed this onslaught of images and ideas each time we shopped. It often bothered me that this was practiced by companies that received so much business from Christian families like ours, who did not want to see these magazines at all. One particular day my husband was shopping at the Lethbridge Save-On-Foods. He saw a young boy (maybe seven or eight years old) waiting in line with a parent. This child happened to be at eye-level with a Cosmopolitan magazine and out of sheer curiosity was staring at it. The cover featured a woman pulling her shirt wide open to reveal herself wearing only a white lacy bra. Now we all know the power of images and how hard they are to purge from your mind. And we all know the vulnerability of a young school-aged mind. And so when he told me about it I felt physically sick. I had had enough. The next time I was in the store I went from the checkout to the customer service counter and filled out a comment card. I briefly described what had been seen and suggested that they also would probably not care for their eight-year-old to see these images. I requested that the magazines be removed. If that was for some reason impossible I asked that they provide a family-friendly checkout that did not have the magazines. Quite a response It was very encouraging to receive a personal phone-call from the local store’s manager a few days later. He said that he agreed with me but then apologized that he could not change the store’s layout. Apparently every Save-On-Foods across Canada follows the same design and this layout is dictated from the head office. However he provided me with the email for the national customer service centre and offered to also contact them to add his support to my suggestions. Soon after, I sent an email to the head office with my concerns, suggestions and contact information. I then forwarded the email I had just sent to friends and family so that they could also send a similar email. After all, the more response that Save-On-Foods would receive the better. Right? A few weeks later a manager from the Overwaitea/Save-On-Foods head office phoned our home. He spoke with my husband and (at that time) agreed that something should be done. He offered to initially contact some of the magazine companies to see if the covers could be improved. If this wasn’t possible then he would look into cascading them or removing all or some of them from the checkouts. He let us know that it would likely be a few months before we would see any changes in the stores. It was once again a very encouraging response. We were looking forward to seeing what changes would take place. Quiet response Unfortunately, since then we have not noticed any significant change. The store in Lethbridge did provide one checkout aisle where they put a plastic cover in front of just one of the magazines (Cosmopolitan) so that only the cover was showing. However, this was the only change and on one’s first glance for a free checkout it was impossible to notice this. We waited for a few months like the manager had suggested but we did not see any other improvements. After that waiting period I sent a follow up email to see if anything was going to be done but I did not receive a response. My husband called again two months after that and was able to speak with the same manager. Unfortunately he was no longer so helpful. It was very disappointing to hear that they have no plans to standardize the idea of family friendly checkouts. According to him, the store is “not in the business of censoring.” They believe that most customers are not upset by the magazines being there and that they are serving their customers. He also reported that one of the stores in Abbotsford, B.C. does provide family friendly checkouts but he refused to provide any suggestions on how or if they could be implemented at other stores. Not the end? I suppose the reason is obvious. When it comes to consumerism, the almighty dollar writes the rules. The magazines are there because they rely on impulse buyers. The customer service team simply has not felt enough pressure to change. So the next logical step is for more customers to step forward. After all, how do you feel when you notice an innocent eight-year old staring at the cover of Cosmopolitan? If one comment card and one email could create a stir like this just think what could happen if more of us step up to the plate! Things we learned from this

1) Follow up, follow up, follow up. Keep the contact information of every person you spoke with in the issue so that you can speak to the same person again. Be sure to let them know in your email or phone call that you plan to contact them again.

2) Set a date. Write on your calendar when you are going to contact them again. Life is busy so it’s easy to forget how much time has gone by.

3) Get more people involved. A message is always stronger if it is spoken by more people. The decision makers need to know that they are serving more people by changing the status quo.

4) Offer your assistance. Ask how you can continue to help with this so that the decision makers don’t feel it’s all placed on their shoulders. They are also busy and they may feel more disposed to help you if you are also helping them.

Below is the email sent to the Customer Service Team:

To whom it may concern,

I am a resident of Lethbridge, Alberta after moving here from Langley, B.C. and I work as a physiotherapist in the local area. I have been a long time shopper at Save-On-Foods in Langley and now here in Lethbridge and I have been very happy with most of the service.

However I have always been disturbed by the magazine displays at the checkout aisles. There are always glossy magazines with full front cover stories that include pictures of very scantily clad women. If they are not in a very tiny bathing suit that shows most of the breast, they are in a dress that reveals almost as much. Recently there was even a full cover picture of a woman pulling her shirt open and holding it open to display her breasts barely covered by a lacy bra.

Now I have no need to see these, what I would consider pornographic, pictures. I realize that as an adult I can choose to turn my head away, which I do, but it becomes even more of a concern to me when I see a small child of 7-8 years old peering at the cover of Cosmopolitan which has been put right at his eye level. Would you want your child perusing the cover of Cosmopolitan? How confusing for our kids to be taught about people's privacy at home and then to be bombarded by these images at the local grocery store.

As a leading business group in Canada I would highly encourage you to rectify this situation, to make a moral stand and refuse to have those magazine covers take over your checkout aisles. Customers know where to find them in the magazine section. There is no reason to have them at every aisle. It is a disgrace to an upstanding business such as yours. Why sponsor this industry?

If somehow the increased magazine sales trumps that decision, I also have a few suggestions: You could opt to display the magazines in a cascading order so that only the title is visible as opposed to the entire cover. Alternatively, you could offer "family friendly" checkout aisles which do not have the magazine displays.

I can not express how grateful I would be to see the change occur. Please take the time to consider these suggestions. I appreciate hearing back from you regarding this email.

Sincerely, Jaclyn Penninga

This was first published as "One comment card and one email" in the October 2008 issue of Reformed Perspective.

News

Are young people the loneliest generation?

In our ever more connected age, somehow loneliness seems to be growing. Earlier this year the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, appointed a “minister of loneliness” to address the situation. And this past month a study on loneliness among Americans found loneliness a particular problem among youth – those aged 18 to 22 felt far more isolated than those aged 72 and over. On the study’s 80-point scale, anything at a 43 and up was considered lonely. Generation Z, 18 to 22 year olds, scored an overall average score of 48.3. This compared to a 38.6 for the “Greatest Generation” of 72 and over. So why would young people feel lonelier than their grandparents and great grandparents? Might it be due to social media, with young people perhaps making more Facebook “friends” than real friends? That could be a part of it. Heavy users of social media did score higher/were a bit lonelier than those who never used social media. But the difference was only 2 points, and not enough to explain the nearly 10-point gap between youth and their grandparents. Another possibility? The study found those who lacked regular “meaningful in-person social interactions” were far lonelier. So social media is part of the explanation, but perhaps some of it is also the constant stream of trivialities occupying youth (and many of their parents too): video game marathons, clip after YouTube clip, constant texting, endless sport commitments, Netflix-binging, and keeping up with the latest love interest of this musician or that actor/royal/celebrity famous for being famous. Constant, quick, shallow engagement doesn’t leave a lot of time for the slower, deeper, more meaningful exchanges. Loneliness happens in the Church too, and often times for the same reasons. We may have the opportunity for social interaction – there are a lot of people in our churches – but that doesn’t automatically mean those interactions are going to be of the meaningful sort. Christians also put on masks – for public viewing it’s tempting to play the part of the always-perfect parent, ever-supportive spouse, or trouble-free son or daughter. We’re good at shooting the breeze, talking sports and the weather. It’s easy to have a ten-minute conversation after church that’s about nothing at all. God has a prescription of sorts for a more meaningful conversation. He wants older men and women mentoring their younger counterparts (Titus 2). And He wants parents and grandparents to talk about how God has worked in their lives. David puts it this way:

“One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts” (Ps. 145:4).

Of course, there’s a bad way this can be done. When we’re older, we sometimes find ourselves amazed when a young fellow or lass is willing to listen to what we have to say…so we try to squeeze every last bit of wisdom in that we can. And we don’t let them get a word in edge-wise. But relationships aren’t built via one-way communication – to be a help to the next generation we have to care enough about them to ask them about their interests, struggles and joys. Young people, you have a role in this too. God wants you seeking wisdom from your elders (Prov. 3:1). If they aren’t coming to you, it might be because they can’t imagine the younger generation really wanting to get to know them and learn from them. So, approach them after church. Introduce yourself. Ask yourself over for coffee sometime. Ask questions. Grab hold of that wisdom with both hands. There is more to relationships than simply sharing our joys, sharing the good God has done us. As David models in Psalm 3, 6, 25, and others, it also involves letting others know about our struggles. Finding a group of people you can trust and count on and “be real” with can be a hard. But is worth pursuing. God has given us the communion of saints for a reason – He knows what we need, and He has given us each other.


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Christian education

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....

Christian education

Educating Royalty

 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....

Christian education

On public schools: evangelism is not discipleship

A few years ago, at a Ligonier Conference, Pastor Voddie Baucham was asked what he would say to parents who were weighing the option of homeschooling or Christian schooling over against using the public schools. The hope was, in using the public system, that their children’s Christian faith would be a “witness and influence” in this unbelieving culture. Baucham’s response was profound. "I think they're making a categorical error….All of a sudden we went from a discussion about education, which is discipleship, to a discussion about evangelism in spite of negative discipleship. And so, we've got two completely separate categories there…. So what we’ve got do is, we’ve got to talk about those things properly.” He went on to explain: “When somebody asks me that question that way, they're telling me that they don't want to answer the most important question. And they've created a false argument between two separate categories that are being held up in competition against one another when they are absolutely not. Because, if they ask me, ‘Should I give my child a Christ-honoring education’ or ‘Should I have my child be an influence on people who are unbelievers” - Yes! Why do we assume that the only way a child can have an impact and influence on unbelievers is if they give up on a Christ-honoring, Christ-centered education? So, I think there's a categorical error in the question.” The impact starts so young As a public school substitute teacher in the Detroit, Michigan area, I have worked in more than 30 schools. While I have been impressed with the teachers’ and staff’s dedication, I find constant reminders that the children are in no way learning about God or Jesus Christ. He has been replaced by Nature in Science class, ignored in Mathematics, barely noticed in History and Literature, and severely criticized in Psychology and Sociology. Recently I was teaching a lovable group of Kindergarteners about the symbols of the USA: the flag, the eagle, and the Statue of Liberty. I defined freedom for them, mentioning that in our country everyone can pray to God the way that we want to, get the type of job we prefer, and travel where we want to without the government telling us that we cannot. A sweet, smiling, dark-haired girl raised her little hand, eager to add info to my list. She said, “And in the United States, when you grow up, if you’re a boy, you can marry a girl or a boy, and if you’re a girl, you can marry a boy or a girl! In some places you can’t do that, but in the United States we can marry who we want to.” She was quite excited. I was stunned. Factually, she was correct, so there was nothing I could say in that setting. I changed the subject and moved on. But I shouldn’t have been shocked. The public schools, colleges, and universities follow the current cultural norm wherever it leads, and that, without question, includes teaching kids that 2 Moms or 2 Dads is entirely normal, even desirable. By the time this 5-year-old is 18, she won’t have any room left in her “open” mind to think anything else. Conclusion At the same Ligonier Conference, R.C. Sproul added his own thoughts to Voddie Baucham’s, speaking to the economic cost of Christian school tuition: “The biggest illusion is that sending your kids to the government school is free. It's the most costly thing you could ever do.” While we are still free to do so, we need to renew our dedication to Christ-centered, Christ-honoring education, whether inside a brick and mortar building or as a consortium of homeschoolers who aid one another. How might we all sacrifice more to ensure that all of our children will learn His truth? “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” – Deut. 6:6-7 Sharon L. Bratcher is the author of “Soup and Buns,” and a “Bible Overview for Young Children” curriculum. She can be reached at sharoncopy@gmail.com. https://youtu.be/5pMJJRqLA90?t=42m28s...

Christian education

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....

Christian education

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? ...

Christian education

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 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....

Christian education

Peter and PICS: Inclusive Education

Why, and how, Edmonton’s Parkland Immanuel Christian School (PICS) won a national award for inclusive education Last year our local Canadian Reformed school received an award – the National Inclusive Education Award – for the way they fully included our son Peter in school life. My husband and I wanted to share some of the highlights of what Parkland Immanuel Christian School (PICS) did through the years, as a way of encouraging our Reformed schools across Canada to continue to aspire to include students with special needs in all facets of the school experience. A little about Peter To begin it is probably helpful to know a bit about our son, Peter, and the nature of his disabilities. Peter was born prematurely, at 25 weeks gestation, and weighed just over 2 pounds. Thirty-six hours after being born he experienced a severe brain hemorrhage, which resulted in mild to moderate cerebral palsy (spastic triplegia). He began walking at age 4, and today he walks community distances using ankle-foot orthotics on both legs, wears a hand splint on his left hand, and has full use of his right hand. He also has a ventricular-peritoneal shunt which drains his cerebral spinal fluid from a ventricle in his brain into his abdominal area. He is legally blind and therefore uses a white cane, and requires assistive technology and large print for reading. He has a developmental disability and throughout his school career has been blessed with exceptional educational assistants that have helped to modify the curriculum so that he can readily understand and engage with it, and have supported him in the classroom so that he is a fully contributing member of the class. Peter is also an avid conversationalist, full of questions and personality! He is currently taking Profession of Faith class at Providence Canadian Reformed Church here in Edmonton, he loves attending church, and he is serious about his personal devotions. He has many interests including camping and travelling as a family with his younger brother and 2 younger sisters, golfing, sit-skiing, watching sports, attending social events at church and school with family and friends, and is an avid Oilers fan. Starting school Pete’s inclusive journey at PICS began in kindergarten, in September of 2001. Prior to this the kindergarten teacher met us in our home, and learned all she could about Pete. This was such an important first step, and we appreciated it so much! On the kindergarten orientation day we were so blessed by the number of staff and students that went out of their way to say hello to Pete and make him feel at home. Pete had a wonderful first year at school, where he enjoyed participating in all of the classroom activities as well as the many fieldtrips. In 2002 Pete entered grade 1 as a full-time student. Pete was a “pioneer” at PICS, in that he was the first PICS student to have severe special needs. His grade 1 teacher and educational assistant (EA) took on this new role with incredible enthusiasm. After school hours and in the evenings (without pay) they attended workshops by the Edmonton Regional Coalition for Inclusive Education, to learn all they could about quality inclusion. This teacher-EA team went on to be Pete’s teacher and EA in grade 2 and grade 3 as well, providing a wonderful level of consistency. Pete’s IPP (Individual Program Plan) goals were always carefully tracked and recorded, and our meetings were positive and productive. As parents we always felt that our ideas were supported, and that we and the school were on this new journey together. Pete’s elementary teachers in grade 4, 5, and 6 continued the trend of quality inclusion, dedication and care. Pete’s EA spent countless hours of her own time taking Braille courses, so that she could use these skills with Pete, as he learned Braille in the school setting. His EAs helped him be an integral part of School Spirit Days and Sports Days by becoming completely involved in the events themselves and encouraging Pete to do the same. On to Junior High When it came time for Pete to transition to Junior High, the learning assistance coordinator and a member of the school board attended (along with us, as parents) a 5-evening workshop series offered by a public association in Edmonton for students with special needs transitioning from grade 6 to grade 7. This unity between the school and the home made our experience a truly positive one, in which we felt inclusion was always the focus. In Grade 7 the teachers continued to strive to include Pete in all class activities. Despite Pete’s cerebral palsy and visual impairment, his teacher ensured that he went skiing for the day with his class, using modified techniques. He went on the annual Grade 7 three-night camping trip, near Hinton, Alberta, and went orienteering and canoeing, with the help of staff, parents and peers. These amazing memories will stay with him forever! With Junior High came Pete’s introduction to extra-curricular school activities. When all the boys in his class joined the volleyball and basketball teams, Pete was encouraged to join as well. He became an assistant coach, attending all the games, tracking stats and cheering on his classmates. He consistently coached every season, both volleyball and basketball, for 6 years (grade 7-12). With the support of staff, fellow coaches, parents and peers, he also went with the team on overnight trips to various tournaments, including 6 three-day trips to the Provincial Championships in various schools across Alberta. Pete loved being part of the team photos, player parades, banquets, and hotel stays. At his grade 12 Graduation this June he was awarded a scholarship for his commitment to coaching, from the Alberta Schools Athletic Association. A special moment indeed! Senior High and more In Grade 10, 11 and 12, Pete continued to be involved in the same courses and activities as his peers. Many of the students in Senior High joined the school Drama Club, and Pete did the same. He enjoyed helping out with ticket sales and behind-the-scenes support with lighting and props, and the staff even created scenes with Pete in mind, so that Pete could have an acting role tailored to his comfort level and ability. He loved the rehearsals and the adrenaline rush that accompanied his performances, and thoroughly enjoyed the social inclusion that the teachers and peers in the club provided. Besides being on honorary assistant coach on the Senior Volleyball and Basketball teams in Senior High, Pete also became involved in Intramurals. PICS has a Senior Ball Hockey League at noon hour for grades 9 – 12, and teachers play as well! Due to his vision and mobility challenges, to have Pete play on this high-speed, intensive court safely is quite a feat, but with the principal as a teammate, padded protective gear, a helmet to protect his head and shunt and a bright jersey to help the other players look out for him, this venture was a solid success. In Senior High, PICS continued to provide a high level of inclusion within the Senior High level courses. Due to Peter’s developmental disability, the regular curriculum was modified where necessary, and a full-time EA was always present and supportive, but every effort was made to use the materials the whole class was using. Pete’s EAs always ensured that Pete has access to large print materials, and with the invention of the iPad, Pete’s textbooks, assignments and powerpoints were all downloaded and ready at Pete’s fingertips. The learning coordinators at PICS were always professional and ready to help. Every year a variety of consultant visits were scheduled (vision consultant, occupational therapist, adapted education consultant, assistive technology consultant) and meetings were carried out consistently and efficiently. He also took part in Physical Education class. Although full court team sports are challenging, he still learned the same drills and techniques during skill development time, as well as participated as a referee and scorekeeper, with peer support. Extracurriculars Peter was also provided with many unique course opportunities in Senior High. His course load included core subjects such as Math, English, Social Studies, Religious Studies and CALM, as well as a number of options. He was completely included in Band class, and performed consistently well on percussion, including the bass drum, as a one-handed drummer. He performed in all of the Band concerts and assemblies, and attended a Mass Band Concert with 4 other Canadian Reformed schools, via a 6-day road trip, in Winnipeg, in April. The band teacher was so helpful by communicating with us about Pete’s needs on this big trip well ahead of time. He took Construction class for 3 years, and the teacher did a super job of involving Pete in the process of using saws and machines to create tables, a clock and other projects. This can be challenging, especially due to Pete’s vision, but the staff found ways to accommodate this and keep Pete safe! His EA also took a construction course, after hours, in order to support him in this class. He also enjoyed a grade 12 level Wildlife course, and was part of a 2 night hike in Jasper, Alberta in June with his classmates, over difficult terrain, using a trail-rider (best described as a back country aide for wheelchair users that is a cross between a wheelbarrow and a rickshaw!) and “sherpas” (to power the trail-rider; this included his dad, grandpa and two of his uncles) to help him with this challenging feat. What a blessing that this was possible. The staff at PICS this past 13 years – its teachers, its educational assistants, its principals, its secretaries, its learning assistance coordinators, its drama directors, its athletic directors and coaches – have truly proven that they welcome students with special needs, and strive to include them in the most meaningful ways possible. The school community as a whole has also been such a blessing, through individuals and parents who look out for Pete at sports events and fieldtrips, and who stop to chat at church and school events. The School Board has fully supported the creation of a Learning Assistance and Special Needs policy, and has helped to develop the job description of the learning assistance coordinator position, which is crucial to quality inclusion. The Board has supported the hiring of EAs that have training in the area of inclusion, so that this goal can be attained. Peter’s peers Not only were the staff, board and parents very supportive, but Pete’s peers have been a tremendous blessing in our lives as well. His peers knew him well and loved to see him do well. They hung out by their lockers together, and helped him find his role during group projects. They visited him when he was in the hospital for shunt surgery, and they texted and facebooked about their latest basketball game. They attended birthday parties together, went to sports tournaments together, learned and laughed together. Today they golf together, watch hockey together and go to Boston Pizza together. We are so thankful for the bond which continues to exist between them. Pete has graduated from PICS, and he is starting a whole new chapter of his life. This past Spring he applied to Grant MacEwan University here in Edmonton, and in May we heard the exciting news that he was accepted into the Travel Diploma Program with support from a facilitator from the inclusive program there. Out of 20 applicants only 2 were selected, so we are so thankful that God has granted Pete this opportunity. We truly feel that the inclusive education that Pete received at PICS contributed greatly to the inclusive life that Pete continues to lead, and we thank the Lord for this. Conclusion It is our hope and prayer that inclusive education continues to grow and flourish in our schools, our churches and our communities. We have told this story of Pete’s journey, in order to demonstrate how a church and school community can work together to support persons with disabilities. Our journey has had its challenges and there have been times when not all went as smoothly as hoped. But even during challenging times, lessons were learned, new commitments were made, and by God’s grace and through Christian love for one another, the bar for measuring inclusive education was raised. PICS continues to live out a vision of inclusion that knows no bounds. We pray that many others will embrace this vision and make it their own, and under God’s blessing, help all students with disabilities to be vital, visible and living members of God’s Kingdom. Today Peter is busy attending Grant MacEwan University, while also holding down a part-time job as a print assistant at NexGenGraphix. He also volunteers one morning at PICS, helping out students in the library and in Band class, and can often be found chatting with his former teachers in the staff room...

Christian education

Teaching English from a Christian perspective, as brought to you by the Letter C

As Christians, we are rightly thankful for what has been brought to us by the letters A, B, and C, and the letters D through Z, through which we may read the word of God. Our culture, too, so highly values the ability to read and write that it supports the public school teaching of those skills, as well as the related skills of listening, speaking, viewing (the "reading" of visual images), and representing (communicating through visual images). But Christians have even stronger reasons for valuing language and communication, since we know a personal God, who communicates his love and glory to us. So how does a Reformed teacher live out his faith, and enable his students to live out their faith, in the Language Arts classroom? Well, unsurprisingly, given the title, there are (at least) six different things that make the Reformed language arts classroom distinct, all beginning with the letter C. Christ-Centered First of all, Reformed language arts teaching must be truly Christian, or to put it even more strongly, Christ-centered. Obviously this is true of all Reformed education, but what does it actually mean in the Language Arts classroom? For one thing it means Christ's birth, death, resurrection, ascension, and rule should be at the center of our discussions of literature and life. In Schindler's List, for example, Oskar Schindler is frequently spoken of as a kind of savior, since his factories kept many Jews out of the concentration camps. A Christian discussion of the film (or of the novel upon which it is based) will ask how Schindler fails as a "savior," and deal with whether Schindler himself recognized, directly or indirectly, his own need for the Savior. Other kinds of literature either exclude the possibility of salvation, or the need for it (since man is "naturally" good), or show it less directly as being accomplished by some character's heroic acts (or his or her "decision" for Christ). A Reformed teacher will discuss with his students how to react to the false gospels of our culture, and will demonstrate how even these false gospels show the need for the true Savior. Finally, Reformed Language Arts teachers will show and kindle passionate love for literature that fully acknowledges our need for salvation through God's grace alone, and demonstrates that Christ is both Savior and Lord. Covenantal Reformed Language Arts instruction is also covenantal. How? I am not referring simply to the fact a Reformed teacher teaches covenant children (although this is true). My point is that our communication must be a response of thankfulness (our obligation) to His love (according to His promise). This doesn't mean that we can't write for personal reflection or entertainment. It does mean, however, that our more personal writing will reflect on more than just whether we are meeting our own "personal goals" – something that government curricula take for granted as a primary focus of personal reflection. Rather, students should learn to make explicit their understanding of their relationships with God – to "meditate on your precepts and consider your ways" (Psalm 119:15) – and with others through Him. As far as our communication with others is concerned, our basic goal should be "speaking the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15) and communicating "what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen" (Ephesians 4:29). For instance, the novels Peace Shall Destroy Many and The Chosen both deal with isolated religious communities' attempt to deal with the increasing secularism of the society in which they exist. Their response is to withdraw from that culture – an idea that is clearly less than fully faithful. A Reformed language arts teacher will encourage class discussion, journal writing, presentations, and essays about how and whether we fall prey to the temptation to withdraw, and what we might do about that situation of failing to be light and salt in the world. Cultural Education in a Reformed language arts classroom is also cultural. I have already mentioned that as Jesus commands in Matthew 5: 13 - 16, we are to be involved in the world around us. To do that, we need to know the culture in which we live – its idols, and how we may well be rather impressed by those idols ourselves. To gain that knowledge, we study literature - both contemporary literature for a glimpse of our own culture, and the "classics" for a glimpse of the roots of current ideas and attitudes. One other reason to study the classics has been given by C. S. Lewis, who recommended that we read at least two old books for every current one we read. Why? Because like a fish in an aquarium, we are living in our culture, so we may not even see its errors clearly. Lewis said that reading the books of the past is like putting on a new pair of glasses, because while old writers also made errors, they were different errors – ones that we have often learned to see through. At the same time, the old writers saw things about purity, love, and godliness that our own culture may have blinded us to. Counter-Cultural Although Reformed language arts education is cultural, it is also counter-cultural. For example, I use Frank Peretti's Prophet in my Grade Eleven media studies unit on journalism and news coverage. The novel rewards study in two ways. First, it sheds an interesting light on the way the news can be packaged to promote various agendas. Secondly, the novel has its own weaknesses, coming from a somewhat Pentecostal, and arguably Arminian, point of view, which can promote discussions about exactly how the Spirit does do His work among His people, and how God exercises His sovereignty in man's salvation. After we analyze both of these issues from a Biblical perspective, I challenge students to respond concretely to the errors of our culture by writing a letter to the editor and/or a critical or persuasive essay. Creativity The challenge of responding concretely, to both Christ and culture, brings us to the fifth element of Reformed language arts education: creativity. Though we must test (and challenge) the spirits of our age, we cannot stop with a purely negative and critical approach. We must also be positive, using our talents in communication to glorify God and build up the neighbor. This is why the students in each grade of my English classes must submit a piece of work to be published, or at least considered for publication, by someone outside the school. There are plenty of places to seek publication: the annual Remembrance Day Contest and various poetry contests, magazines like Reader's Digest and Reformed Perspective, and books like Chicken Soup for the Soul. Whether or not a student gets published, he or she must write a process paper dealing with the issues faced in crafting his or her work. Cooperation The aspect of Reformed language arts education that I find hardest to carry out is its communal/cooperative nature. When a baby is baptized, God’s covenant promises to him or her are witnessed by the whole congregation, the body of Christ. Two chapters in the Bible deal extensively with how the members of the body are necessary for each other's welfare: Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Covenant youth should be trained to seek the good of the whole congregation, to work together, to build each other up. Unfortunately, the students' all-too-human nature often makes this difficult, since group projects – setting up an assembly together, putting on a drama skit, or presenting a dramatic reading of a poem – often mean that some try to ride on the coat-tails of others. This can be avoided by giving each group member a distinct role and responsibility (as in the body of Christ), by cementing the cohesion of the groups with various team-building activities, by assigning groups smaller tasks with more supervision at first, and by assigning "group" work outside the school walls. For example, students can be assigned to write up the memories of older members of the congregation, for an anthology of anecdotes about various moments in history, thus requiring them to work with people they might rarely, if ever, talk to otherwise. The most challenging part of bringing out the communal aspect of communication, however, lies in encouraging more gifted students to support their fellow learners without short-circuiting their learning. The best way to meet this challenge is to ensure that the tasks a teacher gives his or her students are meaningful and thoughtful enough to require everyone's participation. However, equally important is the kind of examples students have seen of Christian cooperation within their school, churches, and families. How well do we, as adults, model a patient attitude toward those weaker than ourselves - neither ignoring them, as our competitive and individualistic society tempts us to do, nor taking their independence from them? Conclusion As you can see, Reformed language arts education is a colossal challenge, requiring caring, commitment, compassion, and consistency. A Reformed teacher must not only teach effectively, but also model the values he or she teaches. This can only be done, with many shortcomings (with which I am all too familiar), through the work of the Spirit, by the Word and prayer, and within the communion of the saints. I would love to hear from any of my fellow saints out there whether these thoughts have struck a chord. (There, I ended with a c-word.)...