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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.

Christian education

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 prison-break analogy isn’t that complimentary to the “prison guards” who have been teaching you these last 12 years. But let’s run with that idea for a moment. If graduation means freedom, what will you now be free to do? You’ll be free to never open a book again – you won’t have to read again if you don’t want to. But we all should want to. The freedom a graduate has is not a freedom to avoid, but a freedom to take on. It is a freedom to be able to direct your ongoing education wherever you want it to go. So, instead of a prison-break analogy, it’d be better to compare your education up to this point as being like a car ride. Early on, you were in a booster seat in the back, a little kid along for the ride, going wherever others decided to take you. God gifted you with some great guides so you’ve been taken to some fantastic destinations. But in these early years where you were going was decided mostly for you. As you got older, you started switching seats in the vehicle, moving up towards that front row. More recently, you’ve gotten to practice steering and choosing your own roads, though still with some adult supervision. Finally, when you graduate you’re going to be able to slip into the driver’s seat where you will have the freedom to go where you want to go. And along with that freedom will come the responsibility to make good decisions, make good time, and make sure you actually get where you want to go. To push the analogy, when you graduate and slip into that driver’s seat you will also be free to pull over, shut off the car, and put the whole thing up on blocks. You can make the decision to never learn again. But why would you? There’s a world out there to explore, contend with, and conquer, all to the glory of God. It is our calling and our privilege to go out and investigate sunrises, caterpillars, hummingbirds, craft beers, and whether there really is a better ice cream flavor than peanut butter chocolate. Out in the world some might think that once they’ve graduated they can sit back, relax, take a long snooze, and be done with learning forever. But not God’s people. We know this is only the beginning and we can’t wait to get out there. So what we want to look at is how to learn like an adult; we want to look at what it takes to be a life long learner. And we’ll do so by hitting three points: 1) Why we should be life-long learners 2) The qualities of a life-long learner 3) How to learn on your own WHY WE SHOULD ALL BE LIFE LONG LEARNERS When we’re setting out to do something, it’s always helpful to know the why behind the what. So why exactly should we all be life long learners? 1. Because God calls us to it As David Mathis notes, “Teaching and learning are at the very heart of our faith. To be a ‘disciple’ means to be a ‘learner.’” We serve an infinite God who invites us to know Him better (2 Peter 3:18) through His Creation and through His Word. Because He is infinite, we’re never going run out of glories to uncover, and depths to dig into. But not all of us enjoyed the classroom setting so do we have to be bookworms and academic sorts to learn more about God? Well, reading one book is an absolute must. God has revealed Himself in His Word, and if we refuse to open the Bible, then we’re showing we’re really not that interested in Him. But that doesn’t mean to be Christian you have to have been the sort who got straight A’s in all your. God promises to reveal Himself to any and all who seek Him (Deut. 4:29, Jer. 29:13, Is 55:6). In Psalm 32:8 the Lord promises: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.” God is for everyone, no matter our grades. 2. To prep ourselves for the challenges ahead In Proverbs God tells us that instruction is more valuable than silver, knowledge better than choice gold, wisdom better than jewels (8:10-11). And in contrast he tells us that those who “despise wisdom and instruction” are fools (1:7). One reason we want to be life-long learners is because we’re going to be faced with a lifetime of challenges. We can take them on all on our own, or if we’re smart, we can ask for help. God gave us His Word, and He gave us brothers and sisters – both those alive today, and others who have long since passed on, but who can be consulted via the books they wrote – who we can ask for guidance. The devil has a lot of tricks, but he always recycling old ones, so when we “talk” with folks who have gone before, we can learn from them how they took on challenges an increasingly hostile government, or what advice they gave on leading your family in devotions, or what passages of the Bible they most often turned to for encouragement. If you’re looking to learn then you can benefit from the lifetime of experience your parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents, older siblings, elders and godly neighbors have lived and are ready to offer. You can learn from them, imitating them in their godliness, and also save yourself some pain by learning from their mistakes…instead of having to make all the same ones yourself. 3. To help and instruct others Do you feel ready to teach your children how to pray? Do you know how to share with others the hope that is in? Are you ready to be an elder and go on home visits counseling younger couples on marital difficulties? Can you advise your congregation’s younger women how they can better love their husbands? If you’re asked, “Why should I be a Christians?” or “Why do you believe the Bible” or “Why do Christians hate homosexuals?” do you have a ready answer? Do you know how often and for what you should spank an errant child? Have you figured out how much to save for retirement? There’s a lot to know so what a wonderful blessing it is when you’re younger that you have an older generation you can turn to for advice and instruction. But not too long from now, and maybe its already happening now, you’ll have people looking to you for advice. Maybe right now you can still rely on the older generation to do some heavy lifting, leading the fight, and all that. But at some point you are going to have to replace your parents. At some point you’re going to be the older generation. And wisdom doesn’t just come with grey hair. If you’re going to be a help to anyone, if you’re going to be a leader for your family, and in your church, you need to be learning how to do so now. QUALITIES OF A LIFE LONG LEARNER As we set out to become life-long learners, what sort of qualities should we be encouraging and developing in ourselves? 1. Go to the ant One quality to start with is to ant-like. In the book of Proverbs two bad guys pop up repeatedly: the fool and the sluggard. The difference between the two comes down to how active they are: the fool mocks and scoffs God’s law; if God says to do one thing, then the fool does the very opposite. Sometimes we can be troublemakers like this, but the more probable temptation for us is probably the sluggardly tendency. The sluggard doesn’t cause much trouble because he doesn’t do much of anything at all. His days are filled with Netflix binges, and long hours with his phone, whether that’s on Instagram or Snapchat, or endlessly checking the latest sports scores. In Proverbs 6 Solomon tells this sluggard sort to “go to the ant” for inspiration and see how “it has no commander, no overseer or ruler” and yet there it is working hard. Nobody is telling it what to do. It’s just going out and doing it all on its own initiative. This same advice is repeated other ways in Proverbs – in 3:3 we’re told to actively tie mercy and truth around our necks and write them on a tablet in our heart. Being ant-like means being self-directed and actively choosing to do what’s right.A life-long learner won’t drift, won’t make dents in the couch. He’ll decide what destination he’s heading for, and then plot out the steps it will take to get there from here. 2. Humble enough to seek correction A life long learner also needs to be humble. In Proverbs, Solomon makes this point repeatedly: the wise love correction, and the fool hates it. Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he hates reproof is stupid – 12:1 Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence – 15:32 Reprove a wise man and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; Teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning 9:9 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction – 1:7 Again and again, we’re told, wise/righteous sorts love correct and fools hate it. So which are you? Well, seeing as we’re still this side of heaven, all of us are a mix, maybe really good at taking feedback in one area, and in another, we just don’t want to hear what others have to say. But if you look at something you’re really good at, it’s like this is an area where you welcomed feedback. I just found out that one of my uncles who has been playing organ all his life just signed up for organ lessons again. He’s still looking for correction and instruction because he wants to get better. I make my living as a writer, and I think my English teachers must have still gets the giggles every time they get another issue of the magazine – in high school I didn’t have obvious natural talents in wordsmithery. But I’ve gotten good at what I do precisely because this is an area I have frequently sought, and most often gratefully received correction. If you want to get good at something, you need to be humble. It gets harder to take correction when we tie our own personal worth into something. I’ve coached kids at basketball, and if a kid really identified as being a basketball player, that sometimes made it harder for them to take feedback from their coach – correction was taken as an attack on their self-worth. I know how that feels. Parenting is one of the bigger challenges I face, and when one of my kids publicly misbehaves, that is humbling, because then everyone can see I’m not doing the greatest job here – I want them to believe I’m a good parent, and I feel embarrassed when I get revealed as having some troubles. But I’m not going to get better if I don’t go looking for help. I am not a perfect parent, but I can be a godly one, trying, failing, repenting, and then assured of forgiveness, trying again. A life long learner needs to be humble enough to seek and appreciate correction. 3. The “Wow!” factor A life long learner will also foster their sense of awe. As kids, we’d see a dandelion and in delight pluck it, blow, and watch all the white parachutes float up and away. As adults we see a dandelion and we just wonder where we’ve put the weed-killer. For many adults, the only time that child-like sense of wonder kicks back in is when a baby is born: all those tiny toes and fingers wriggling gets our jaw to drop. But isn’t an adult every bit as miraculous as a baby? And yet, somehow we’ve become blind to walking in amongst all these miracles. In Notes from the Tilt-A-WhirlNate Wilson reminds us of what we’re overlooking. Our world, he writes, is the kind of place “…where water in the sky turns into beautifully symmetrical crystal flakes sculpted by artists unable to stop themselves (in both design and quantity). The kind of place with tiny, powerfully jawed mites assigned to the carpets to eat my dead skin as it flakes off. The kind with sharks, and nose leeches, and slithery parasitic things (with barbs) that will swim up you like a urinary catheter if only you oblige by peeing in a South American river. The kind with people who kill and people who love and people who do both. The kind with people who think water from the Ganges is good for them and people who think eating the heart of their enemy will ward off death, and others who think they can cure their own failing brains if only they harvest enough uncommitted cells from human young. This work is beautiful but badly broken. St. Paul said that it groans, but I love it even as its groaning….I love the world as it is because I love what it will be.” If we’re not amazed, it’s only because we’re not paying attention. So let’s start. LEARNING ON OUR OWN So a life-long learner will appreciate wonder, appreciate correction, and appreciate ants too. That’s why we should be life long learners, and what a life long learner should look like. But how do we actually go about learning on our own? Here are three suggestions. 1. Pick good teachers A life long learner has to pick good teachers. I remember reading, some years back, about a pastor’s wife who wanted to find out what the Bible said about homosexuality. She began her study by reading everything she could by “Christian” homosexuals – for two years she read only what they wrote on the topic, and it was only afterward that she started reading anything by orthodox Christians. B y then it was too late; she wasn’t willing to hear what the Bible really said. As Solomon explains in Proverbs “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (13:20) and “Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge” (14:7). Or to put it more colloquially, “You are what you eat.” After that steady diet of trash, she’d made herself incapable of appreciating solid food. When you’re at a Christian school your teachers have largely been chosen for you, but even then, with all the information coming at you from your phone, you make some choices about what sort of teachers you’ll have. So what kind of a diet are you ingesting? Do you have good godly men and women providing insight? Or are you getting a steady diet of whatever it is the world is churning out? If you want to find some good authors and bloggers and pastors to read and listen to, then the best place to start your search is by asking the good teachers you already have – your parents and relatives, your elders and pastor, Christian school teachers – who they would recommend. I’ve included my own list at the end and one key point to remember is that, even with good teachers, they all have their own shortcomings and blind spots. We celebrate the wisdom of Luther every year again on October 31, but we don’t appreciate all he said, especially about the Jews. John Piper is a great resource, but we differ with him on baptism. C.S. Lewis had a real way with words, but he also believed in purgatory. So you, as a learner, still have to assess and weigh what your teachers say – even your good and godly teachers – up against God’s Word. You have to use discernment even with them. 2. Ask good questions And that brings us to point two. To be a good life-long learner you have to ask good questions. Proverbs 18:17 says: “The one who states his case first seems right, until another comes and examines him.” To be able to discern fact from fiction, the opportunity for a good cross-examination can be key – we want to hear from both sides. The questions I ask most often are some version of these two: how can God be glorified in this area? how is the devil active in this area? In whatever we do, we want to learn how it can give glory to God. Whether that’s our recreational soccer team, or a philosophy class at university, or our part-time fast food restaurant job, the more time and energy we’re devoting to an activity, the more thought and effort we should give to learning how we can, here too, worship God with our efforts. The follow-up question is, how is the devil is active in this area too? If we’re heavily involved in our church it might not even seem like we’re in the middle of a spiritual war. But God tells us different. He says the devil is prowling “around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). So part of being a life-long learner is learning to see through the devil’s attacks. What temptation are you being confronted with here, what ideas are being pushed at you? It could be as simple as the temptation to laze off when the boss’s back is turned, but whatever it is, it’s important to remember that all of life is filled with opportunities for worship. And we need to remember, too, that the devil is trying to distract and intimidate us from doing so. 3. Read, read, read the Bible! Finally, the most important part of being a life-long learner is diving deeply and regularly into God’s Word. In preparing for this talk I was struck by how much the Bible had to say on the topic and I was only scratching at the surface. The Bible tells us about God, about the purpose behind His creation, and about our own purpose too. If we were to return to our driving analogy one last time, we could compare the Bible to our GPS system. This is our map, and if we’re going to be setting out on our journey as life-long learners, then the smartest thing we can do is look to it for guidance. QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION 1. What are some other tips and strategies to help us learn on our own? 2. What other qualities should life-long learners foster in themselves? 3. In Ecclesiastes 12:12b we read the warning: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” and in 2 Tim 3:7 we’re told that it is possible to be “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Is there a case to be made then, that we should not be life long learners? Why not? Recommended resources In keeping with the theme of threes, three of each…. Podcasts Albert Mohler’s The Briefing The World And Everything In It CrossPolitic                                         Websites ReformedPerspective.ca/resources World.wnd.org Creation.com Authors RC Sproul Edward T. Welch Nancy Pearcey Specific books (for more recommendations see ReallyGoodReads.com) Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl by N.D. Wilson Can I smoke pot? by Tom Breeden and Mark L. Ward Jr. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom This article appeared in the January/February 2020 issue under the title "Moving into the Driver's Seat."...

Christian education, Parenting

Martin Luther on the vital, foundational, educational calling of parents

Martin Luther loved God’s Church so much he risked his freedom and life for it. He boldly took on princes, bishops, emperors, and popes, all in an effort to bring reformation to the Church he so loved. But did you know there was something he thought even more foundational to society than the Church? Luther recognized that society has three basic structures – the family, the Church, and the State – and of these three, he argued that it is the family that is the foundation for the other two. Why? Because of the great responsibility parents have to educate their children. It is in this role that the family unit will, for good or ill, greatly impact both the Church and State. In his “Letter to the Councils of German Cities” Luther expresses how educating children: “is the command of God. Its importance is seen in how He so frequently, through Moses, urges and enjoins parents to instruct their children such that it is said in Psalm 78:5-6, ‘how strictly he commanded our fathers that they should give knowledge to their children and instruct their children’s children.’” In his exposition on the fifth commandment, Luther stresses the need for children’s obedience towards their parents. Where that is absent, “…there can be neither good morals nor good government. For where obedience is lacking in the family, no city or principality or kingdom can be well governed. Family government is the basis of all other government; and where the root is bad, the trunk and fruit can not be good… where the father and mother rule badly, and let the children have their own way, there neither city, town, village, district, principality, kingdom, nor empire, can be well governed.” Luther on the basics But Luther doesn’t just tell parents that they had better do a good job because a lot is riding on their success. He also provides guidance for instruction. He prepared The Small Catechism in which he provided “the simple way a father should present to his household.” Luther believed everyone in the home needs to be instructed in the fundamentals of the faith, daily. In his short preface to his The Larger Catechism he lays out his expectation that fathers would examine their children (and servants) “at least once a week to ascertain what they know of it, or are learning and, if they do not know it, to keep them faithfully at it.” Parents have a high calling that aligns with their high position. The Lord commands all of us to love one another, but: “the parental estate God has especially honored above all estates that are beneath Him, so that He not only commands us to love our parents, but also to honor them… for to honor is far higher than to love, inasmuch as it comprehends not only love, but also modesty, humility, and deference as though to a majesty there hidden… that both in heart and with body we so act so to show that we esteem them very highly, and that, next to God, we regard them the very highest” Parents must be teachers This view of the relationship between parents and their children has many implications. First of all, when parents send their children to Christian day-schools (Luther wouldn’t imagine sending children to secular schools but would call them “nests of Satan”) or even to catechism classes in the church, they are sharing the responsibility for teaching their children with the school and Church. They are not permitted to abdicate it. Parents cannot hire out the task of teaching their children, but they can share it with others they know and trust to be godly in their teaching. Luther’s views would also have an impact on family worship and devotions as parents, especially fathers, intentionally teach their children, explaining to them the glorious deeds of the Lord. If we are convicted as Luther was, of parents’ important educational role, then perhaps recitation of the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, and the Lord’s prayer every day would become a new norm. Opening the Heidelberg Catechism to teach our own children the fundamental doctrines of God’s Word could become a part of family devotions. Perhaps we could sit beside our children while they do their assignments from school, not only when they need help, but also to demonstrate interest in their work, and in showing a unity of purpose with the school to the children. The Lord has given children to parents and in so doing, has given parents the major responsibility and privilege of training up their children in the fear of the Lord for the benefit of family, Church, and State. May the Lord grant His blessing on all parents who seek to fulfill the high calling given to them by God. Chris deBoer is the Executive Director of the Reformed Perspective Foundation and the host of the Focal Point podcast....

Christian education

Church, Home, and School – A Two-Legged Stool?

A popular metaphor for education in the Reformed community is the image of a triangle, a tripod, or a three-legged stool. The legs of the stool are named church, home, and school. If one of them is missing, the entire chair comes crashing down. By keeping this model in mind, we can keep three key institutions functioning properly in the community. The tripod model of education has a long history in our Reformed circles. Its proponents have used it to defend a number of principles related to Reformed education. According to the model, the institution of the Christian school is a responsibility of all members of the church, and therefore should be financed by all. Also, the model assumes that children belong in the school rather than in the home. Families that homeschool their children are not only depriving them of the school’s influence, they are also not supporting their brothers and sisters by sharing the burden of operating the Christian school. The view of education as a three-legged stool has its strengths. Communal support of Reformed education is certainly a positive thing. Also, the model does a good job describing the influences on a child’s education – children are indeed influenced by church, home, and school. (I shall leave it to other writers to debate the impact of the world in this equation.) Tripod limitations However, in my view, the triangle or tripod model of education also has its limitations. If we attempt to use the model to describe the responsibilities of various parties in a child’s education, the model breaks down. It ascribes too much importance to one leg – the school. When schools give themselves too much importance, they can be seen as institutions that have a life of their own. Educational experts, called teachers, gather the children of the congregation together. They assume responsibility for the educational wellbeing of the children in their charge. Parental involvement in education is limited to providing physical nourishment, while the school provides mental nourishment. At best, spiritual nourishment is shared between home and school; at worst, the responsibility for spiritual wellbeing shifts more and more to the school. The school board provides financial resources and takes care of the school building without getting too involved in educational matters. Attempts to involve parents in educational decision-making are easily dismissed. After all, what do parents know about education, anyway? This picture of education is far from what Scripture teaches. The famous passage in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which has been used to open many school society meetings, is directed squarely at the parents: “Impress them on your children....” In Psalm 78, we again see the picture of fathers telling their children the great deeds of the Lord. While we find ample mention in Scripture of the role of the church and of the home, we do not find a mention of the institution of the school. Scripture teaches that education is a parental responsibility. And with responsibility, God also gives the means to fulfill that responsibility. In Hebrews 13:21, God promises to equip us with everything that we need to do his will, which certainly includes the education of our children. This means that every parent is, in some way, an educational expert. To be sure, not all parents are equipped to the same degree for specific educational tasks. Part of being responsible is to recognize one’s own weaknesses. Because of this, parents can, and often should, use schools to help in fulfilling their task. But this does not take away from the fact that the responsibility for this education lies at the feet of each parent, not at the feet of the school – and certainly not at the feet of government. Parents come first In view of this, perhaps a bipod model would be more appropriate. The school should not be viewed as a separate entity with its own responsibilities to the children of the congregation, but as an extension of the home. In one sense, we are all homeschoolers. However, the demands of education in modern society are beyond the capabilities, energy, or time of many (if not most) parents. As a result, we bond together as a group of like-minded parents and form a society. We build a building. We hire professional teachers and administrators. We pool our financial resources. We ask for assistance from other members of the congregation who do not have school-age children. We form a school, a Christian school. This view of schooling is in direct opposition to the secular view of schools, which sees schools as agents of socialization. In public schools, children are caught in the tension of the question – to whom do the children belong: the parents or the state? Our schools recognize the fact that the answer to this question is clear – the parents! For example, the parent handbook at William of Orange School states: According to Deuteronomy 6 and Psalm 78, parents have the task of raising their children in the fear of the Lord … The same values that are treasured by the parents need a resounding echo in ... class (From the Garden to the City, p 26 and 27). The idea that the school is an extension of the home has implications for our schools, a few of which I want to highlight here. 1. Parental involvement is a must First, it means that parental involvement is not only desired, it is a necessity! We cannot leave the education of our children to “the experts” behind their closed classroom doors. We need to be involved in making ourselves aware of what our children are learning, both by asking our children, but also in perhaps paying a visit to their classroom. Being involved also means giving input on what curricular direction the school must take, and helping to keep the school running smoothly by sharing our talents and time. This parental involvement also takes the form of volunteer work in the trenches – in the classrooms! A strong volunteer culture in a school is a huge blessing to the students. Teachers need to welcome and embrace such a culture. Not only can volunteers make their work easier and more effective, but they are living proof that the parents of the school take their roles seriously. In addition, volunteers have a positive effect on the students, as they see that their education is important enough for their parents to spend time at school. 2. Parent-teacher communication is a must Second, this view of the school highlights the importance of good communication between the school and the home. This communication needs to happen in both directions. Schools have an obligation to keep parents informed of what is happening in the classrooms and around the school. Parents also need to keep the communication channels open. They need to provide information about their children that will help the school make the best educational decisions for them. They need to be proactive in dealing with problems and challenges at school. They need to make their views on curricular direction known so that what is taught in the school can be a reflection of what is taught in the home. Parental schools ≠ parent-run schools However, this model does not imply that each parent has the authority to make educational decisions for the school. Our schools are parental schools, to be sure: but they are not parent-run schools. Instead, they are board-run schools. The difference is a fine one, but it means that parents delegate some of their authority to the board that they elect. As a board (not individual parents), they make decisions for the school that they believe are in the best interests of the community. Although we may not agree with every decision, there comes a time where we submit to the best judgment of our elected board. In addition, this model does not imply that homeschooling is necessarily better than community schools. Our schools allow us to pool our resources and our strengths. Especially at a high school level, few parents can match the breadth of knowledge or experience that is represented by a staff. Our schools provide opportunities for our students that they would not receive at home, such as instrumental music groups, sports teams, and volunteer opportunities. Our schools are a good way for parents to fulfill their responsibility to educate their children. A stool with two legs does not stand very easily. And it is true that if we stood on our own, as parents and church, all of our efforts would come crashing down in short order. But fortunately we do not stand on our own. It is the Lord who holds up our efforts to educate our children in his ways in an atmosphere in which they can be surrounded by his covenant people. Kent Dykstra is principal at Credo Christian High School in Langley, BC. His article, originally titled "Church, Home, and School – A Three-Legged Stool?" first appeared in Clarion (Vol 59, No 21) and then in the January, 2014 issue of Reformed Perspective. It is reprinted here with permission. A Portuguese version is available here. ...

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

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.)...