Russell and Duenes

Christian Schools could be more christian

with 4 comments

After eight years of teaching in a private Christian school, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Christian education. From my limited vantage point, much Christian education looks virtually identical to non-Christian education, with the exception of chapels and Bible classes. Much of this is as it should be, for two-plus-two, the Periodic Table of the Elements, and Jefferson’s authorship of the Declaration of Independence will be the same no matter what kind of school one is talking about. That said, my main thought regarding Christians schools is that they simply are not “Christian” enough. I got to thinking about this again last night as I was reading through Mortimer Adler’s Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto. You may know Adler from How to Read a Book fame. Having digested that seminal book, I was looking forward to Adler’s (and his colleagues in The Paideia Group) notions about education. Though Adler is no advocate for Christian, or even private, education, I found one of his formulations to be consistent with my own reflections on Christian education. He says, “Basic schooling must…be general and liberal…nonspecialized and non-vocational.” In other words, education should not primarily be instrumental to something else such as getting a job or owning a home. To Adler’s mind, a liberal education equips one to pursue a job or a home, of course, but it also equips a person to learn for the sake of becoming all he or she can be as a human being. From a Christian standpoint, this would mean that an education is meant to train people to love the Lord God with all of their heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love their neighbor as themselves. Such a calling does not make education instrumental or utilitarian, as a means to another end. Rather, Christian education is inextricably bound up with loving and worshipping God, and with knowing and living truth for the enjoyment and glory of God. Being educated and knowing truth has a value all its own, apart from any utilitarian value to society. When education is put into the service of knowing and loving Christ, then life will be lived out of that knowledge.

Yet it is all too apparent that schooling in America, both primary and higher, has become something more akin to a jobs training program. Sure, we try to give our students a broad-based education, but students themselves are constantly wondering “why we have to learn this; we’re not going to use it later in life.” The jig is up with our students. They know they are there mainly  because school is the hoop they have to jump through in order to “have a decent life” one day. Frankly, it’s not much different for many of my students at the Christian school. So my argument has been that we at the Christian school need to start telling parents who come to us: “We exist to help your students know and love Christ, know and love the wisdom he embodies and offers, and live in a manner worthy of Him. We are not really interested in whether your child goes to a U.C. or Ivy League school, nor are we particularly interested in whether he or she can one day “get a good job” and own a house in the suburbs. If they do these things, great. But our task is to honor God and his mission in this world, and to help your students love Him and equip them to be on mission for Him. Our job is to help form your children into conformity with Christ.” There’s no telling how many students the Christian school might lose if this became our objective. And I would say, “Let’s trust God and lose them.” For our goal cannot be simply to bring in as many kids as possible so they can “hear the gospel.” We are not called to that. We are called to fulfill the Great Commission, making disciples of Jesus by teaching students to obey, or as Dallas Willard would say, “Guide the development of students into the ways of Jesus.”

If we sought to do this, there are a few practical ideas that come to my mind. I’ll give two of them in particular. First, I would say that Christian schools should be making a second language compulsory from elementary school through 12th grade. Most don’t see the value in this because “it’s not a U.C. requirement,” or “it won’t help in getting a job later” (though this second point is highly debatable). The value in it is at least twofold: One, using one’s mind to acquire a second language is a useful discipline, and the training and using of one’s mind is utterly crucial for discipleship to Christ; and learning another language can help one love and appreciate the larger world that God created and loves. Two, those who still need to be reached with the gospel speak other languages besides English. So in a Pacific Rim city like mine, I would urge that we make either Spanish, Mandarin or Arabic compulsory for no less than 10 years. There is absolutely no downside to this.

Second, I would offer Koine Greek and Hebrew to students. I would probably make it an elective, but I would offer it. One might say, “They can study these in college when they already know they will need them.” True enough, but children learn languages much better than adults do, and further, why should we deprive children of the original Scriptural languages until they are eighteen years old? Orthodox Muslims are not waiting for their sons to turn eighteen before they send them to Madrassas to learn the Koran in Arabic. Koine Greek is not for every student, but surely it should be for some. God gave us the Scriptures in particular languages, and we have the resources to teach those languages. We should be teaching them.

I could give many more specifics, but you get the gist. If Christian schools are worried that they simply won’t exist should the above ideas become reality, then I would say that we have to trust Christ with that. Our mission is not to try and outpace other schools in how many AP classes we can offer. If we say we must offer them to compete for students, then I say we are not trusting God. The role of the Christian school is the same as anything else that is truly Christian: Be faithful to God and His mission in this world, and leave the results to Him.


Written by Michael Duenes

July 31, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Posted in Duenes, Education

4 Responses

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  1. I spent ten years serving in Christian schools, and now work with home school students who are enrolled in a public charter school. Your article brought two passages to mind: Deuteronomy 6:4-25 and Psalm 78:4-6. It is more important for parents to train children to fulfill the Great Commission, share what the Lord has done, give them the skills to study the Word on their own, and put them in an environment where they will be influenced by instructors who see the gifts and purpose the Lord has given each child. Values are caught, not taught, and I am so thankful for Mr. Britt, Mr. Horst, Mr. Russell, and many other instructors who had a profound impact on my sons. Thank you for your blog- I feel inspired to encourage myschool’s parents to look beyond the UC/CSU requirements.

    Lauren Bassard

    July 31, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    • Thanks, Lauren. It was a pleasure to have your two sons in class. You are absolutely correct that the primary responsibility for teaching and training in godliness resides with parents. I take that very seriously, though we in Christian education could stand to take it a whole lot more seriously, particularly myself. The schools have a secondary educational role and should supplement what the parents are doing. And you are right as well that values are caught and not taught. But surely some things are taught, and parents may not be in a position to teach them. For example, I can teach NT Greek to my children should I desire it, but most Christian parents cannot. So this is a role for teachers. There are others. But I don’t disagree with you at all. My students have to “catch” my own personal holiness and walk with Christ as much as they have to take in the information I’m giving them. Christian educators can only do so much, but all that we are doing as parents and teachers should have as its end the glorification of God and the fulfillment of His commission to us to make disciples of all the nations. Glad to be partnering with you in this great work. Thanks for training your sons in godliness.



      August 1, 2009 at 2:02 am

  2. It’s an intriguing idea. My opinion is too split to offer a good comment. I can see you have lots of passion for Christian education, though, so perhaps you could begin making goals and taking steps to do something new.

    Just don’t ever have kids move their bodies back and forth as they recite Hebrew and Greek — bad form. 😉


    August 1, 2009 at 12:32 am

  3. Good thoughts, Michael. I like your suggestion of language instruction in early childhood. My younger siblings are learning Mandarin and Latin at Vita Acadamy and becoming quite good at both. I wish I had that opportunity when I was younger. I speak Spanish now, but hardly with any fluency and it only gets harder to maintain the ability, let alone to improve.


    August 3, 2009 at 2:56 pm

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