The people of the Reformed Churches of both New Zealand and Australia had a wonderful vision of Christian education for their covenant children. Despite its small size, opposition from various sources and limited resources, these zealous people established good, low-fee Christian day schools. This is Godly work indeed. We, too, have participated in this endeavour, helping to establish a Christian school in our home town of Adelaide. Our eldest son was one of 6 pupils, the first enrolment of a Christian school which now boasts a student body of over 250, catering for primary and secondary tuition. The latest report we heard was that a kindergarten had also been established as part of the campus.
As Reformed Christians we support Christian education in all its forms. It is lopsided to deny the validity of some modes of training up covenant children because they may be different to what is socially acceptable or what we have become accustomed to over the last one hundred years. Even more dangerous is the trend lately apparent, to devise theological-sounding objections to methods such as home education in order to bolster support for Christian schools. It would be far more beneficial, nay, more in keeping with the duty of burden bearing, to support and help one another in a spirit of co-operation rather than descend to hostilities. In these dangerous times when the state poses an ever-growing threat to the integrity of both the family and the independent schools, wisdom dictates that we should face the common enemy with arms linked! Satan would be well served to put into practice the tried and true method of "divide and conquer".
This, then, seeks to address some misconceptions about home schooling, rebut some commonly held objections and remind us that the responsibility to train up children lies primarily with the family. This is clearly and indisputably taught in scripture (Deut 6:7-9; Prov 4:6-20; Eph 6:4). This understanding undergirds the whole concept of the "parent-controlled" school. The Christian day school as a human institution is not exempt from excess or error. Thus, as responsible Christians, we must be ever vigilant and exercise our duty also as prophets in this area.
Already a departure of the original vision of the Christian school is the change from being "parent-controlled" to being association/board controlled. There may be some very pragmatic reasons for this change, but they are just that, pragmatic. This has effectively weakened the Biblical paradigm whereby the school only has legitimacy as the fourth wall of the family home. As the servant of the household, the school is accountable to the head of the household who must give account to God for what the children are taught. The implications of that truth are profound.
It is then a cause of consternation when teachers develop a rival attitude to the parents. This can be demonstrated in various ways, such as the quest for professional status (which really alters the families' status to that of clients), and limiting the parents' involvement in curriculum or methodology (e.g. witness the endless tussle between parents and teachers concerning phonics vs. "look, say").
The family can become enslaved to the school when the school is ambitious to expand beyond the needs of the covenant community. Symptoms of this are the introduction of school uniform (in order to create an identifiable image for the school, the implications of which are either socialistic or elitist), opening up enrolments to either non-confessional church families or even non-Christian children and the employment of teachers from those same backgrounds. Some have advanced the idea that the school should be open to non-Christian families as an opportunity to evangelise them but this argument is reminiscent of the one used to justify keeping covenant children in State schools. It is clearly a confusion of tasks and, in any case, children are not called to do a task that many adults are ill-equipped to do (Eph 4:11).
I mention these things not to undermine the Christian school, but to remind ourselves of the model and vision with which most of us as parents started. The Christian school which we supported nearly twenty years ago is now unrecognisable to us. It looks almost like an exact copy of a state or parochial school. Yes, it has some redeeming features: the staff are Christians, and some time in the timetable is given to devotions and Bible classes. But is that enough to demand our participation, support and (blind) loyalty? When discipline problems manifest themselves, standards drop, state interference is tolerated and even justified, compromises made, and the end result no different than most other schools, then it is time that parents act because they are responsible! As a response to some great concerns, several families opted to home school because the children could not be suffered to stumble in order to shore up a human institution. The result of this was beneficial to the school concerned since the board then embarked on a series of "reforms".
One objection levelled at home schoolers is that of "covenant breaking"; that the school and other covenant families are disadvantaged by fewer enrolments and less financial support, placing a greater burden on the families who want to delegate the task. We wonder which covenant is being broken? The covenant which is sealed at baptism is surely between God and the child, the parents vowing to obey the scriptural command to train the child in the way of the Lord. There is no covenant requirement to delegate that responsibility if the parents wish to be primarily responsible.
To put aside a divine ordinance to support a human one, no matter how persuasive the reasoning is rebellion against God's order. This has been the basis of a great deal of oppression in past history and can be used to compel support for numerous human institutions, worthy though they may be. Imagine if the same coercion was employed to boost support for a Christian political party or a Christian day care centre. Socialism's strength has always been to appeal to the sense of community we all have (especially the Christian, since it can be confused with covenant life), demanding individual sacrifice for the common good. Noble it may sound, but it is unbiblical.
Keeping the school small and suited to the needs of the users would also help keep the costs down. Why have a big school with lots of facilities and a large staff when there is not the large enrolment to warrant it? Even the State recognises that fact and will scale down where there is no demand. Making it obligatory to send our children to the Christian school in order to provide ongoing support is venturing into a perilous area.
In the same vein as this criticism is the assertion that home schooling is too "individualistic", though I can find no Biblical prohibition to individualism in the family home. In fact, scripture teaches that people are created to be individuals and their uniqueness is preserved and protected in the environment deemed by God to be the best place to nurture that aspect of our human nature; the home. In this age where a great amount of subtle oppression is brought to bear on our daily lives, it is important to instil an understanding of Christian liberty and individual responsibility in our children if we wish to avoid Christians developing a slave mentality. Petty tyranny can arise in the Church community, especially if we create numerous organisations and institutions and then compel participation in them, usually to keep the organisation going and growing.
It has also been suggested that if a mother is busy at home teaching her own children, then she will have no time for works of mercy. Paul, writing to instruct Titus, points out that the older women are to teach the younger women to "be busy at home" (Titus 2:3). Again it is a case of putting aside a primary responsibility to pick up a secondary one. Perhaps infants, who surely demand far too much of their mothers' time and attention, should be placed in Christian nurseries in order to free up the mothers to perform works of charity. Of course it would be Christian mothers who would be best qualified to help in the nurseries!
Finally, parents are often dissuaded from participating in the education of their children by being intimidated by suggestions that they are not qualified or equipped for the task. How many young women would take up the task of motherhood if they first had to be "qualified"? How many young men would become husbands if they had to fully comprehend what it meant to be "as Christ" to their wives before marrying? The Lord would not call us to a task if He were not also going to equip us to do it. However, like our walk in faith, we need to obey first. We grow in our abilities as we progress in our tasks (2 Tim 3:16-17).
Further to that erosion of the parents' confidence is the suggestion that for them to take up primary responsibility to teach their children is too limiting for the child. This suggests that children cannot be reared successfully in an isolated situation. Yet history shows us that the children of pilgrims and pioneers were very often great innovators, thinkers and leaders. Certainly wisdom is found in a multitude of counsellors, but is the school an example of that since a multitude of parents are replaced by one teacher? In the home God has provided a structure that provides all that the child needs; caring parents, brothers and sisters, extended family. What a wonderful environment for interaction at a level not appropriate anywhere else - true socialisation. As the old saying goes, "There's no place like home" (Prov 1:1-7, Ps 119:97-104).
We would love to see a model of schooling where the school comes
to the home rather than children living in two almost unrelated
environments. Instead of building "home science" or
woodwork centres at school, can mothers and fathers or grandparents
teach these skills? What an opportunity to utilise the collective
wisdom of the covenant family and the wider covenant community.
I'm sure many older folk would relish the chance to spend more
time with the younger folk! There are many ways which may seem
intimidating or strange at first for establishing a Christian
school model that does not rival the family, become a financial
burden, acts as a haven from state interference and does not ape
the state model of schooling. The question does not have to be
home schooling or attendance at a Christian day school. Home
schoolers are not exempt from error either. Many families would
welcome help and advice. If we work together, the children and
the whole covenant community would benefit.
Rev. Hans and Mrs Lisa Vaatstra (Dunedin)
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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / firstname.lastname@example.org / revised August 97 / Copyright 1997