Why do you send your children to a Christian school ? - T.M.P. Vanderven
with permission from Clarion
Vol. 46, No. 4 (1997)
One of our readers asks for a discussion about how to deal with the struggle to teach our children the skills and attitudes required to remain "strangers'' in this world. The letter writer adds the following explanation:
Unlike my own children, I have never gone to a Christian school. My education was "different" from theirs in a way that is not always reckoned with today. I was tempted to use the word "better" instead of "different," but that would not be true.
I remember incidents of ridicule for saying "Christian" things as a young child in a secular environment. This ridicule came not only from my classmates, but from the teacher also. My parents would often remind me of what I was while in school: I was to be a "stranger" there; I was to be an example. I should not hide my light under a bushel ....
How short I fell of my parents' admonitions is easy to guess; of course, that struggle is never over. Yet I remain thankful that it was already impressed on me at an early age that Christianity was not going to be easy in the world we live in. The antithesis between the church and the world is easily distinguishable.
Maybe the best way of describing what I would love to see you tackle in an article can be summed up in this question (I made this up, but am a little ashamed of asking!): Do you send your children to a secular school and teach them how to be Christians in the world, or do you send them to a Christian school so they can learn how to become worldly Christians? (I'm sure that you can see why I am ashamed of this little play on words!).
Well, here it is; there is no reason at all to be ashamed for asking this question. No, it is not a new question, but it certainly is an important one. It will take more than a short article to discuss it. And more than that, we all would do well to consider this question. Therefore, I invite our readers to react as well. In this instalment let me focus on the aspect of being a Christian in the world.
It seems to me that every generation must struggle with questions such as the reader poses: why do we do what we do as Christians? Parents are concerned that their children will leave the well-trodden paths of protection, "do it our way, and all things will be well," is the implied advice. Children naturally challenge their parents as they search for their own identity and their own place, questioning the propriety of the parental ways of doing things why do we have to do this or that? And these young challengers will all too often win out because of the many inconsistencies of their parents - which parent can claim perfection as an educator? Do as we say and not as we do! And so there are tensions between the older and the younger generations the generation gap, we call that.
It may take us, human beings, up to twenty years or more before we can act and live independently. The deep desire of parents - and by extension of educators - to provide children during their years of growing up with a protective, nurturing environment, is much more than an instinct; it is the way for parents and their children designed by God in His wonderful wisdom. The Christian school functions within this protective network aimed at leading children to maturity. Teachers stand in loco parentis, required to take care of their charges as a responsible parent would. As an extension of the home, the Christian school seeks to promote the total well-being of its students, providing an environment in which they feel comfortable and safe, in which they can trust the instruction and the instructor, and by which they are supported on their path towards independence. The teacher stands in a vital trust relationship with her students, a relationship that is essential to the proper functioning of the educational process.
Thus, a first part response is: In order for a family or a school to function well, it needs to provide a nurturing environment where parents and educators and children can live and work together in a relationship of trust and harmony. Within this setting, the children are to learn from the adults how to deal with the questions of life.
Do not build a wall, separating family life and school life from life within society. The Bible does not teach us this; our creeds do not profess this. When the Heidelberg Catechism speaks of our only comfort in life and death (Lord's Day 1), we ought not theorize about what type of life that might be: it is our life as we live it every day in whatever circumstances. That's what we ought to show our children: our trust in our lord Jesus counts for everything in every moment of our lives, whether we relax or are busily at work, whether we study inside the classroom, or play on the school ground: we are busy with life; we are alive as God's people.
Our children may learn this slowly, over time. It's a good thing we do not have to use the throw-in-the-pool-and-swim approach when educating our children. I am sure, many a person has learned to swim that way, and perhaps even came to like swimming as well. However, there are better ways of helping children grow up: a safe environment within which children learn by precept and example of the adults what it means to live as a Christian; what it means to speak and use the Word of our Lord; what it means to confess your sins and shortcomings and ask for forgiveness; what it means to help each other; what it means to make choices for the Lord and against the world, our flesh, and even Satan.
Will this God-directed mindset always stand out, loud and clear? No, not at all. There will be times when the name of the Lord will not even be mentioned as we are struggling to complete that thousand-piece puzzle. There will be times when the Bible remains untouched as students work hard to solve their mathematical problems or are trying to get the lawnmower started as part of their weekly summer chores. Yet regularly, even on a daily basis will they get together around the supper table - with their teacher at the end of a school day - and together confess that their only help is in the name of the Lord Who has made heaven and earth. They will thank Him for allowing them to move around that marvellous creation with all its wonders and questions; they will thank Him for the fun of play, for the challenge of the math problem, for the friendship, for the food ... they will thank Him for everything there is, and for everything that they were allowed to do. They will thank Him for being alive in Christ (Col. 3:15-17).
As we send our children to a Christian school, we do not want them to learn how to become Christians, let alone how to become worldly Christians. We want them to go there as children of our Father, learning from their brother or sister teacher about their Father's world with all the good things that He created, and also about ail the evil things that are in that world - Satan is powerful, and the antithesis is a reality: there is a war going on, and our children better know about that. But don't try to train them in the middle of battle. As yet, the Lord gives us our Christian families and Christian schools as safe havens for our children. Let us make the most of every opportunity (Eph. 5:15,16)!
Let's pray that our families and schools are, indeed, model places for Christian life where our children are prepared for battle with the armoury of Scripture.