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Christian education as violation of children’s “human rights”

Two topics that are commonly discussed in Reformed Perspective are Christian education and the modern notion of “human rights.” Christian education is a good thing, of course, and its supporters need to be encouraged.

On the other hand, the phrase “human rights” is too frequently used as a cover for anti-Christian positions on abortion and homosexuality.

Now what happens when Christian education and “human rights” are thrown together? An outcome that is bad for Christians, that’s what. Christian education and the modern notion of “human rights” don’t fit well together.

Diminishing parents

The clash of so-called “human rights” and Christian education is discussed by American law professor Martha Albertson Fineman in an article entitled “Taking Children’s Interests Seriously.” She is a “children’s rights” proponent. But children are too immature to exercise their rights, so “children’s rights” are commonly used to empower government officials at the expense of parental rights.

From a Christian perspective, we know parental rights should be paramount in education. But Fineman certainly doesn’t think so. She says that an emphasis on parental rights in education can be an obstacle to children’s best interests. For example, it is assumed by many that parents are in the best position to determine which school subjects and methods of preparation are most likely to prepare their children for the future. But that assumption is flawed, according to Fineman. As she sees it, that “type of expertise is almost certainly within the province of certified teachers and school boards, not parents.” In fact, having parents making decisions is seen as a problem:

“Certain parental decisions can create handicaps and inhibit a child’s entry into the secular and complex world in which she or he must live and function as an adult.”

In her view, it makes much more sense for educational decisions to be made by public education professionals. Parents don’t really know very much, after all. Why allow them to make the important decisions?

Besides, the parents are clearly up to no good, at least those who send their children to Christian schools:

“Parents in these contexts are often part of a larger religious or ideological community, a community with an independent interest in and intent to indoctrinate children. Such communities conspire with member parents to separate their children from diverse secular, and therefore competing and dangerous, alternatives.”

So, those of you reading this who send your children to a Christian school are, in her view, conspiring with church leaders against secular society.

Mandatory public education?

To fix this situation, Fineman thinks that “human rights” rather than parental rights should be the paramount consideration in educational decision-making. Her perspective reflects that of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which, in a 2006 ruling, upheld a decision by authorities in Germany to prevent a Christian couple from home schooling their children. The ECHR said that home schooling would violate the children’s right to education. Fineman warmly welcomed this decision, noting that the

“approach of the ECHR provides a competing framework for making decisions regarding the educational and social welfare of the child: that of the best interests of the child, as evaluated through the paradigm of human rights.”

In this view, educational decisions must be made in light of “the child’s interest in the diversity and independence-conferring potential of a secular and public education.” By allowing parents the option of selecting private Christian education for their children, the children’s interests are being neglected, according to Fineman: “Indeed, the long-term consequences for the child of being home schooled or sent to a private school cannot be overstated.”

Think of the specific consequences for female students, for example. Fineman cites one notable study which:

“has exposed the ways in which private Christian schools instill sexist beliefs into children and pressure young girls into traditional patriarchal roles rather than professional careers.”

That’s right. Girls in Christian schools are taught that being wives and mothers is a worthy and meaningful role in life. They are encouraged in this direction rather than being steered towards rewarding professional or business careers. But what about their “human rights”? Who’s watching out for the interests of these girls? Clearly it’s not their parents, who are allowing them to be guided towards the demeaning and worthless roles of wives and mothers.

What should be done about this? Well, the choice is obvious for Fineman. In her view, the solution “for our current educational dilemma is that public education should be mandatory and universal.” What she is demanding comes down to this:

  • secular humanism is the truth, with its various permutations of feminism and “diversity” (read: homosexuality)
  • therefore all children should go to schools where the truth is taught, namely, public schools.

In this way the children’s interests and “human rights” will be protected.

When two worldviews collide

Of course, what she calls “human rights” sounds more like “might makes right” to a Christian. A secular humanist government should (in Fineman’s view) force all children to learn secular humanism in its schools. This is not really a case of “human rights” versus oppression, but an issue of one worldview versus another. From a Christian perspective, using the power of the state to force all children to attend secular humanist public schools does not advance “human rights” one bit; quite the contrary, in fact.

Fineman opposes the Christian worldview and wants to ensure that children from Christian homes are taught her worldview instead. This is what’s really involved in her proposal. She would not see it this way because for her, secular humanism is the one true religion and she wants everyone to believe it. I don’t say that to demean her — everyone has a religious perspective they consider to be true. But she doesn’t seem to be self-conscious of this or the implications.

Conclusion

Originally, human rights involved protecting people from the state.

In recent decades a new perspective of “human rights” has arisen that involves using the power of the state for social engineering. This is Fineman’s conception of human rights. So when the issues of Christian education and “human rights” are mixed together, the outcome is bad for Christians. For those with a social-engineering view of “human rights,” Christianity is oppressive and Christian children need the “independence-conferring potential of a secular and public education” as Fineman puts it. If academics like Fineman continue to promote this agenda, it may be that Christians will need to defend their schools from accusations of “human rights” violations.

This first appeared in the November 2012 issue under the title “For the sake of the children?”

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Christian education

Do what the guru says? Public schools are spiritual too.

If I've ever wondered why we spend so much effort on our Christian education, it's become clearer recently, since I've been doing some substitute teaching in several of Michigan's public schools. Hop, stop…and don’t ask any questions Some of the reasons are obvious. While the Bible can’t be read in these schools, I’ve observed a fifth-grade teacher reading to her class from a horoscope book every morning. Others are harder to spot, but important too. Recently, one of the early elementary schools here performed Cows in the Kitchen, a musical folktale about a family that is very noisy. So the parents go to the wise man on the mountain – the Guru – who tells them to bring various animals into their home. When it becomes intolerable, he tells them to remove the animals and thus they learn to appreciate having only their family’s noise within. At one point the Kindergarten kids sing: Do what the Guru says Do what the Guru says Do what the Guru says What he says to do. Hop – we hop. Stop – we stop. We will do what he says to do. All in fun? Certainly, to the 5-year-olds it was. But consider this: these children haven’t been told where true wisdom can be found, and they haven’t been told about the only One to whom such unquestioning obedience is actually due. What we have here are children deliberately starved of any spiritual direction, told to sing a little ditty about blindly following the directions of a mere man. Public school spirituality I’ve also run across numerous public school districts that have adopted Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People / Kids as their core value system for their students. While many aspects of the 7 Habits could be combined with Scripture as a list of “how to act” (plan ahead, be diligent, consider others first, work together), the poster for Habit #7 “Sharpen the Saw” features an Asian woman in the well-recognized yoga lotus position, and the text under the “Soul” section reads: The Spiritual Dimension Meditate keep a journal take in quality media These are all good ideas but this spiritual dimension doesn’t even mention a “higher being” let alone God. While the entire 7 Habits system may seem beneficial for giving non-Christians something to use to manage the kids’ behavior, it emphasizes the great abilities of the individual person, and it ends up being a value system that has “a form of godliness, but denies its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). The contrast Other Michigan schools are considering adding yoga to their elementary curriculum as well, according to a National Public Radio newscast, in an effort to help students de-stress. I saw this in one Detroit-area school. A class of 25 4thgraders was escorted to the gymnasium for their yoga lesson. When the CD player wouldn’t work the teacher repeatedly yelled loudly at the students to sit still and be quiet. (It seemed a bit ironic.) One girl sat off to the side on a chair. “My parents don’t allow me to take yoga,” she said sadly. The question that remained unanswered was whether her parents realized that she was required to sit in the gym for 30 minutes while the others participated. Contrast this with a recent Christian school’s spring concert that included the entire school – including Kindergartners – singing: Give thanks with a grateful heart, give thanks to the Holy One Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ our Lord And now, let the poor say, ‘I am rich’, let the weak say ‘I am strong’ Because of what the Lord has done for us – Give thanks The point is, that with a great teacher, a young child learns not only to respect, but to love that teacher and accept everything that she or he has to say. While the students may be able to learn their 3 R’s in the public school, they will always, always be influenced by the life philosophy of their teacher as well. We are so very blessed to have schools and teachers who will point our children to God....