Christian Education – Then & Now

Christian Education – Then & Now

2015 | Week of August 31 – #1113

I entered the education field in the mid-70s, during the heyday of the Christian school movement. Christian schools were starting up in record numbers as many Christian parents counted the cost of putting their children in public schools and decided they wanted something better for them. Many schools had waiting lists; class sizes demanded bigger buildings and teachers’ assistants.

Parents were willing to sacrifice their time and money to send their children to these schools. Sometimes moms went to work, or dads took on an extra job. Sometimes families even took out loans. Administrators, faculty members and staff all sacrificed as well in order to teach in Christian schools.

But those sacrifices didn’t deter us. There was an excitement, a joy, a “we’re-all-in-this-together” spirit.  Pastors encouraged their people to choose Christian schools, primarily because of the perspective, the environment, the worldview and the bolstering of their Christian faith the students and the family would receive. Christian colleges designed undergraduate programs and eventually graduate programs to better prepare teachers and administrators. Christian publishers entered the textbook industry so that schools could have history, English, science and more from a Christian perspective.

I will readily admit there is no perfect Christian school, and we all have made some mistakes. And I know we have a number of casualties from those days, people who once they were out of Christian school threw off the rules and pretty much went their own way, claiming we were all a bunch of hypocrites and uptight, narrow-minded Christians.  But that wasn’t the majority.

These last couple of weeks as I’ve watched our church’s Christian school get the school year started and listened to others ministering in Christian schools in our state, I’ve been remembering those early days.  And comparing them to now.

Today, Christian schools are closing faster than they are being opened. Probably our Christian school is pretty typical. Thirty years ago, we had over 200 students, from K4 through eighth grade. This year, our school year began with 92.  Instead of a teacher for every grade like we used to have, we now have teachers handling double grades. I look around and wonder what’s going on.

First, Christians aren’t immune to the smaller-families syndrome. Our young people, like those of the world, are getting married later, which means in many cases they have fewer children. It seems to me the number of Christian young people who have decided they aren’t going to have children is increasing. All this means we just don’t have as many school-aged children as we used to.

Back in the day, Christian education was a conviction. Today it seems to be, at best, a convenience for many. For some it may even be a nuisance. In talking with parents of school-aged children today, money seems to be, if not the main issue, certainly a top reason for making the decision to send their kids to public schools over Christian schools.  I just don’t sense the commitment I did in those early years. It appears to be a “well, if the money is there, then maybe we’ll consider it” approach.

I also sense that many parents just don’t believe the public school is all that bad. If those schools were filled with humanism and socialism in the 70s and 80s, what pray tell makes anyone think they’ve gotten better? Frankly, I think public schools should be viewed as mission fields—and those being trained to work in them should be taught from and with that perspective.  I agree we need Christian teachers, administrators, counselors, and staff members in our public schools. But in the strongest of terms, I don’t believe these schools are the best, or maybe even suitable, for our children, who are not missionaries. Our children are babies, youngsters, at best teenagers who cannot possibly be and should not be expected to be battle-ready or battle-tested for what they will face in those schools.

And then there are those who think the sports programs or the computer labs or the music programs are better in public schools. I don’t even know what to say to those arguments.

As we stand on the brink of a new school year, I confess I am burdened by where so many Christian schools are today. Even more so, I am burdened for the young people from Christian homes who, among many others things, will this year in their schools hear God’s and Jesus Christ’s names used far more in slang and blasphemy far more than in reverence, respect and awe. Parents—it’s not too late to reconsider.

This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

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