Reformed teachers are different... right?
Bobby Knight had a rather unique teaching philosophy: he’d do whatever it took to get through to his young charges, up to and including yelling at them, swearing at them and even kicking the occasional pupil or two. And for the most part, the infamous NCAA basketball coach got away with it. The tirades and physical abuse that would get other coaches and teachers fired were an accepted part of his routine. It would be going a bit far to say no one minded his bombastic approach, but he got away with it because it was expected from him. Everyone entering his program knew what was coming – his teaching philosophy was obvious to anyone who’d met him. Reformed teachers have a teaching philosophy too. It is assuredly a deeper and more civil one...but is it as transparent? Do we as a parents know the teaching philosophy and overall worldview of our children's teachers? Why care? If you’re sending your kids to a private Christian school then you already recognize the way a teacher thinks and what they believe is important. You’re spending thousands of dollars a year to send your children to a Christian school, and it’s not just because they have morning devotions and lunchtime prayers. The daily Bible class is an important element, but if that was all there was to it we could save a lot of money by just sending our kids to a Saturday morning Bible study. So why do we spend the money? Because our children spend half the time they’re awake in the care of teachers. They’re supposed to listen to these same teachers and even jot notes down to help them remember what the teachers have said. The other half of their waking day might be spent with their parents, but children certainly won’t be taking notes, and they often won’t remember what you say from one minute to the next (especially if you ask them to clean up their rooms). Obviously teachers have an enormous influence over the intellectual and spiritual development of our children. Through the twelve years they have our children under their charge they may even have more influence in these areas than parents. In a secular setting that influence is going to be used to teach students one sort of lesson. Children will be taught that when it comes to every one of their school subjects, God isn't all that relevant; He doesn't even need to be mentioned! And if God isn't relevant in Math and Chemistry and Physics and English and History and Biology, then how can a child help but wonder if God is relevant in Work and Dating and Sports and Politics....and Life? That why we have Christian schools; devotions and Bible classes are important, but teachers exert a powerful influence on our kids in every class they teach. They are an example to the kids all day long about how God is relevant to all the big and little things they do. So we spend the money because we know our Reformed teachers' beliefs impact everything they say and do. We may not know exactly how they make a Math class Christian but we know they must, because that’s why we’re paying all that money. Why pay for a Reformed Chemistry teacher if he says and does everything exactly the same as his secular counterpart? Assumptions are not enough But do we really know the worldview of our children's teachers? Or are we simply making assumptions? Because sometimes assumptions can be wrong. In Edmonton, Alberta, parents found that out when a local Christian high school considered joining the public system. Parents were paying thousands of dollars a year to send their children to the Edmonton Christian High School, but would only have to spend hundreds if it became public. That was a powerful enticement, but before they approved the merger parents wanted to know what else would change if the school went public. They were assured nothing significant would happen; the same teachers would teach the same children in the same way they always had. Except the children’s teachers would now have to join a secular union. Many of the parents thought this would be a problem, but the teachers didn’t. They overwhelmingly approved a move to join the Alberta Teacher’s Association, although they did promise everyone they would try to make the union more Christian by working from within it. That surprised a lot of parents. They had assumed the teachers shared their own opposition to secular unions. Both the teachers and parents were Christian, and in many cases they were Reformed but they still held to very different worldviews. And most parents didn’t even know that. Maybe you don’t think a teacher’s stand on unions is significant, but really, that’s not the point. The point is that these parents did think it was important, and assumed the teachers agreed with them. This aspect of the teacher’s worldview, the same worldview parents are paying extra for, wasn’t what the parents thought it was. Find out Do you know the worldview of your children's teachers? Parents shouldn’t have to make assumptions. A Reformed teacher’s philosophy is their greatest selling feature, and it should be in plain view for all to see. If it isn’t, parents will quite rightly start questioning the importance of Reformed education. Parents have to know what they’re paying extra for or they won’t be motivated to pay. What makes our schools valuable is the teachers in them. And what makes those teachers different, distinct, and superior, is their worldview, and the wisdom they've acquired. So are we giving this the attention it is due? When we realize it is the teachers and their worldview that make the school, then we're going to set the very highest standards for hiring. We can't – as happened in the Edmonton Christian High School – end up with teachers who don't share the same worldview as the parents. For us, in our churches, the divide probably won't happen over union membership, but what about creation and evolution? Do your children's teachers believe the same as you do about how we are to understand the opening chapters of the Bible? Do you think it is important they do? There's a diversity of views in our church circles on some pretty fundamental issues like these, so parents should not assume that teachers believe as they do. We need to ask. After we put the needed care and attention into hiring wise teachers, then it is just as important to showcase their wisdom. That's how we can get the next generation excited about Christian education. We can promote our schools by explaining how our Chemistry class is better because it is taught by a Reformed instructor. We'll share why it is so very important that the teacher instructing our son or daughter in English is a good and godly man or woman. When we have wise teachers, we'll be able to point to our Math class and make it plain to parents how a biblical worldview is coming out even in the midst of numbers, formulas and quadratic equations. We started our schools to help pass along our Reformed worldview to our children. If our schools are going to continue it will be not only because we've made the right hires, but because all the parents have been shown why our teachers' worldview is worth more than gold, and is, in fact, quite the bargain at only thousands a year.
A Portuguese translation of this article can be found here.
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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....
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. ...
Do what the guru says? Public schools are spiritual too.
If I've ever wondered why we spend so much effort on our Christian education, it's become clearer recently, since I've been doing some substitute teaching in several of Michigan's public schools. Hop, stop…and don’t ask any questions Some of the reasons are obvious. While the Bible can’t be read in these schools, I’ve observed a fifth-grade teacher reading to her class from a horoscope book every morning. Others are harder to spot, but important too. Recently, one of the early elementary schools here performed Cows in the Kitchen, a musical folktale about a family that is very noisy. So the parents go to the wise man on the mountain – the Guru – who tells them to bring various animals into their home. When it becomes intolerable, he tells them to remove the animals and thus they learn to appreciate having only their family’s noise within. At one point the Kindergarten kids sing: Do what the Guru says Do what the Guru says Do what the Guru says What he says to do. Hop – we hop. Stop – we stop. We will do what he says to do. All in fun? Certainly, to the 5-year-olds it was. But consider this: these children haven’t been told where true wisdom can be found, and they haven’t been told about the only One to whom such unquestioning obedience is actually due. What we have here are children deliberately starved of any spiritual direction, told to sing a little ditty about blindly following the directions of a mere man. Public school spirituality I’ve also run across numerous public school districts that have adopted Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People / Kids as their core value system for their students. While many aspects of the 7 Habits could be combined with Scripture as a list of “how to act” (plan ahead, be diligent, consider others first, work together), the poster for Habit #7 “Sharpen the Saw” features an Asian woman in the well-recognized yoga lotus position, and the text under the “Soul” section reads: The Spiritual Dimension Meditate keep a journal take in quality media These are all good ideas but this spiritual dimension doesn’t even mention a “higher being” let alone God. While the entire 7 Habits system may seem beneficial for giving non-Christians something to use to manage the kids’ behavior, it emphasizes the great abilities of the individual person, and it ends up being a value system that has “a form of godliness, but denies its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). The contrast Other Michigan schools are considering adding yoga to their elementary curriculum as well, according to a National Public Radio newscast, in an effort to help students de-stress. I saw this in one Detroit-area school. A class of 25 4thgraders was escorted to the gymnasium for their yoga lesson. When the CD player wouldn’t work the teacher repeatedly yelled loudly at the students to sit still and be quiet. (It seemed a bit ironic.) One girl sat off to the side on a chair. “My parents don’t allow me to take yoga,” she said sadly. The question that remained unanswered was whether her parents realized that she was required to sit in the gym for 30 minutes while the others participated. Contrast this with a recent Christian school’s spring concert that included the entire school – including Kindergartners – singing: Give thanks with a grateful heart, give thanks to the Holy One Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ our Lord And now, let the poor say, ‘I am rich’, let the weak say ‘I am strong’ Because of what the Lord has done for us – Give thanks The point is, that with a great teacher, a young child learns not only to respect, but to love that teacher and accept everything that she or he has to say. While the students may be able to learn their 3 R’s in the public school, they will always, always be influenced by the life philosophy of their teacher as well. We are so very blessed to have schools and teachers who will point our children to God....
We must teach our children to be Kingdom heirs—not just laborers in the marketplace **** “Who are you?” a university student once asked me. Odd question, I thought. I’d handled countless student questions, but this one caught me unprepared. “Uh . . . I’m a professor,” I answered weakly. “No!” he shot back. “I don’t mean what do you do, but who are you?” His question unsettled me. Like most North Americans, I’d been carefully, though not intentionally, catechized since a lad at my parents’ side that the first and most important question we ask adults at first meeting (after getting their name) is, “What do you do?” I’d learned that catechism lesson well, repeating it literally hundreds of times in all kinds of social settings over the years. But that catechism had left me quite unprepared to answer this more fundamental question about my personal identity separate from my place in the market. That grieved me because, as a Christian, I had been better versed in the catechism of secular pragmatism than in Lord’s Days 12 and 13 or the Scriptures. And I knew I wasn’t the only one. The answer that changes everything The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.... – Romans 8:16-17a As I have reflected on that encounter over the years, I’ve realized that the biblical and covenantal answer to the question, “Who are you?” is a glorious one that stands in stark contrast to the secular myth that our employment or “career” defines us. Of course, our work and callings as Christians in the marketplace are important. Providing for our families is a great privilege and responsibility. But the priority of work in both our lives and the education of our children is almost certainly misplaced and overemphasized today in Reformed circles. Our Calvinistic work ethic and sense of vocation – serving the Lord in all things – are a glorious heritage, but in our 21st century context, they have become largely indistinguishable from the middle class idolatry common among our unbelieving neighbors (i.e., having “another object in which men place their trust” ). In fact, over 30+ years of university teaching, evenly divided between secular universities and Christian colleges, I can testify that the one question all parents – Christian and non-Christian alike – ask about higher education is, “What kind of job can my kid get when he/she graduates?” Intended or not, that question reveals deep worldview priorities. And such a question is certainly not the fruit of careful, prayerful parental reflection on what it means to educate covenant children as heirs of Christ who will seek first the kingdom. By contrast, the Scriptures never identify God’s covenant children as people with jobs who happen to hold to a particular religious tradition. Instead, the Bible repeatedly calls us heirs of a kingdom, the adopted sons and daughters of the King of the universe. We are not just Christians who happen to have various jobs or work to do. We are royalty (Rom. 8:14-17, Eph. 1:3-6, I Pet. 2:9). We will reign over all creatures with Christ eternally (Heid. Cat., Q. 32). We are the adopted children of God and fellow heirs with Jesus, with all the privileges of the sons of God (Luke 2:11, Acts 10:36, I Tim. 6:15, Rev. 19:16; Heid. Cat., Q. 34). We are princes and princesses of the King of kings! We are royal heirs! And that answer to the question, “Who are you?” changes everything! Like young Prince George, the baby heir to the throne of England and the United Kingdom, a day mustn’t pass that we wonder who we are, why we are being educated, and what we are being prepared to be and to do. We are heirs to a throne and a Kingdom far greater and more glorious than the one in England. The House of Windsor pales in comparison to Jesus’s realm and our divine inheritance! How much more, then, should we, who are heirs of the King of kings and Lord of lords, prepare ourselves and our children to be thoroughly and faithfully educated in everything it means to be a son and daughter of the Creator, Redeemer, and Lord of the Universe. Thoroughly and faithfully educated in everything it means to be royalty. What does that look like? If we understand we are educating royalty, how should that impact how we teach, and what we expect? Then we will understand there is no time for the wicked nonsense about “sowing wild oats” or setting a low bar of expectations for our children. That is the rebellious spirit of prodigals who forget who they (and their children) really are. Those who are in line to take their places in Christ’s kingdom as princes and princesses must expect more of themselves and of their children. “To whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48). Because we are royalty in Christ, God has king-sized expectations and blessings in store for us and our children – if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. The entire book of Proverbs is Solomon’s instruction to his royal heirs to know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth – let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles (Prov. 1:2-6). Such an education must provide much more than an awareness of fragmented facts or specialized work skills for a place in the job market. Again, that’s not to say that facts and skills are not important. Nor is it to say that we should suddenly trade pragmatic, nose-to-the-grindstone sweat of our brows for pious sounding spiritual platitudes. The issues are where does the education of Christ’s royal heirs fit in our list of priorities and what should that education look like. Priorities: We are royalty. So start acting like it. Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the instruction of the Lord, nor be weary when corrected by him. For the Lord instructs the one he loves, and corrects every son whom he receives." It is for instruction that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. – Hebrews 12:5-7 Those who are fellow heirs in Christ know that His regal ways are not the power-grabbing, lording-it-over-others, self-seeking ways of the ungodly. Far from it. Christ ascended to His Father’s throne only after sacrificing everything for His people and His creation. He gave himself away. His royal way is the way of selfless love and sacrifice. He died that we might die to sin and death. He lives that we might live in glory forever. Sacrificial service for the sake of the kingdom is the mark of true kingship, true royalty. It characterizes our Lord Christ. And it must characterize our Lord’s true heirs in their lives and in their education. As Christ’s royal heirs, we dare not be content to prepare ourselves or our children merely to be cogs in the economic machinery of our secular consumer culture. Even the ancients understood that slaves are only trained to perform tasks. They have no rights of inheritance, no deeper identity. A slave’s identity is his work. But free citizens and royalty, who will dedicate themselves to the advance of the kingdom, must be educated deeply for the day when their royal leadership and service is expected. Similarly, we are called to a higher purpose and bear greater responsibility for how we live and prepare our children for their royal callings. Unfortunately, we have, as the author of Hebrews suggests, forgotten the divine exhortation to educate our children in the nurture and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4, Heb. 12:5ff). We have forgotten in part because we have forgotten who we are. A Royal education: Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning This memory lapse is most evident in how we educate our children today. Education, even that which purports to be Christian, is now often devoted primarily to the goal of producing good little workers for the secular labor force, efficient widgets for our economy’s production line, and little more. That falls far short of the biblical expectation that Christian children be saturated in the instruction of the Lord and grow up knowing what it means to be royal heirs of Christ the King. An education bearing the name of the King ought, at the least, to offer His royal heirs... 1. A comprehensive and integrative understanding of God’s world and of how all things cohere in the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:4-11). Such an education will give children the “big picture” of how all things, all spheres of creation, are interrelated in the glory of their Creator. The university itself was a Christian invention in the Middle Ages (the earliest established between A.D. 1100 and 1200), designed to give students an integrated Christian vision and foundation for all future learning. That was the original purpose of the classical liberal arts (meaning, the arts of a free citizen). For almost a millennium, Christian universities taught the classical liberal arts or the so-called Trivium and Quadrivium: The Trivium, or the Three Ways, stressed the good structure of language (Grammar), the way to discern truth (Logic), and how to express truth beautifully (Rhetoric)—all to encourage a student’s life-long love of goodness, truth, and beauty in words and language, as typified by the Word Himself in John 1:1-14. The Quadrivium, or the Four Ways, encouraged a life-long love of goodness, truth, and beauty in the use of numbers (Arithmetic), numbers in space (Geometry), numbers in time (Music or Harmony), and numbers in space and time (Astronomy), revealing the unity and diversity of creation and of our Triune Creator Himself (Deut. 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one,” and Matt. 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”). Together, the Trivium and Quadrivium, the original seven liberal arts, offered students essential insights into the harmony and wholeness of God’s diverse world and into the interrelated truth, goodness and beauty of its Triune Creator. They didn’t give students just the facts or skills for a job, but the tools of lifelong learning from a Christian perspective. Unfortunately, today’s arbitrarily selected smorgasbord of academic subjects and randomly structured university curricula, following the modern analytic, scientific tradition, tend to do the opposite: they offer fragmented bits of information with no principle of coherence or relationship. But in God’s economy, the whole is always more than the sum of its parts. An education that does not teach us how to see the wholeness of God’s creation, and to equip us to understand how all things cohere in Christ, inevitably misses the big picture about creation and creation’s God. It is a partial, incomplete, distorted education. Curiously, specialization at the undergraduate level was virtually unknown in North America prior to the late 19th century. University students did not “major” in a narrow academic disciplines or vocational specializations prior to 1879. They couldn’t. “Majors” simply didn’t exist before then. Instead, all undergraduates received a classical, integrated liberal arts foundation. The universities gave them essential tools for learning that applied to all their various callings as sons and daughters, spouses, parents, neighbors, citizens, providers, voters, buyers and sellers in the marketplace, and parishioners. Their work skills and the job training needed to provide for their families were developed outside the classroom in on-site training or apprenticeships done in the context where the work was actually being done. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Kuyper, C.S. Lewis – all the greatest leaders in our Christian tradition – were so classically educated in the traditional, integrative liberal arts of the Trivium and Quadrivium and practically trained. But pragmatists of the late 19th and early 20th century sold their Christian academic birthright for a mess of modernist career pottage. They turned schools into egalitarian job training camps for the workers of the world and abandoned the Christian pursuit of wisdom and knowledge in the Lord. The schools dumbed down and the church has grown steadily weaker ever since. Reversing that trend will require that the King’s royal heirs expect... 2. Truly godly and wise teacher-mentors (Luke 6:40). According to Jesus, the teacher – not the curriculum, not the lesson plan, not the technology, not the facilities, not the accreditation, not the tuition rate – is the single most important factor in a child’s education. “A student, when mature, will be like his teacher,” Jesus said. All the other bells and whistles may be nice (though they can often be more of a distraction than a help), but the teacher is key. Yet, in my experience, Christian parents often know more about a school’s university admission rates, or a college’s career placement rates, or tuition rates, or financial aid plans, or sports programs than they do about the character and spiritual health of the men and women who will actually be shaping the minds and lives of their children in and out of the classroom. Sadly, many Christian school administrators and boards aren’t much better, giving higher priority to paper credentials and standardized test scores and bricks and mortar than to the character and spiritual integrity of their teachers. Of course, academic expertise and standardized testing have their place. But parents, administrators and school promotional literature often stress most what actually counts least from a Kingdom perspective. And such misguided emphases have the potential to catechize generations of parents and children in what is least in the Kingdom. The teacher is so crucial, as Jesus says, because all education is fundamentally personal. That’s because truth itself is personal. Truth is a person. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Truth is not some collection of brute facts or scientifically verifiable propositions. It is a living person. Teachers either faithfully represent or embody that Truth before their students or they don’t. Parents or educators who misunderstand this crucial biblical principle put their children and students at grave risk of misunderstanding the Truth and being catechized in lies and ungodliness. No matter how much parents think their child can be a “good witness” in a secular education environment, that child is not the teacher, but the one being taught. And no matter how mature we imagine our children to be (often overestimating), their “cement is still wet.” They are still students seeking to be taught and led into maturity, readily influenced by others older and more experienced. The question is, who will teach them and lead them into what kind of maturity? Moreover, those who think that new distance learning technologies will provide a quality education without putting their children at risk under ungodly teachers make a similar mistake. Learning godly knowledge and wisdom is not a data download. A student will be shaped by his or her teacher, no matter who that teacher is, no matter how the instruction is delivered. Finally, the education of the King’s royal heirs ought also to include... 3. The shaping of our desires for the things of the Kingdom Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? ... For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matthew 6:25, 32-33 Jesus did not say, “Seek first vocational-technical training, and all that kingdom of God and righteousness stuff will be added later.” Yet to hear parents of university-bound students talk today about their educational goals for their children, you’d think he had. The dominant secular vocational paradigm for higher education has influenced us more on these issues than our Christian schools, our catechism classes, and even our churches. For that, we must repent. Our heavenly Father knows everything we need to live and to thrive, and He will provide them for us by His perfect means according to His perfect timing. He tells us explicitly not to stress over the little stuff. Grasping at college majors and career preparation will not add one penny to our bank accounts, put one more meal on the table, or add one more second to our lives that He has not already ordained. So stop majoring in the minors. Instead, major in God’s priorities: Christ’s kingdom and His righteousness. What our schools and universities must encourage in our covenant children is a deeply held heart-desire for the things of God and of His Kingdom. Conclusion As Calvinists who take the sovereignty of God – the crown rights of Christ – seriously, we cannot, must not, train our children merely to be good little widgets in the secular marketplace who also happen to go to church each Lord’s Day. We vowed to raise them for much greater things at their baptisms. So, “Who are you?” You are the royal heirs of the King of kings; start acting like it. Your children are royalty; start treating them like it. Your children are inheriting a Kingdom; so start educating them for it. A Chinese translation of this article can be found here....
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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.)...