To the best of my recollection, that is the number of times I have experienced a “first day of school,” either as a student, teacher, or school administrator. It’s almost like Christmas, something that comes around every year and has an impact on your life because you are never really far from someone who is involved in school. In my case, even in years when I was not directly employed by a school, I still experienced the event because my wife has been a teacher for all but a couple of years of our married life. I even heard today, on a talk radio program, that, next to Christmas, the first day of school generates more retail sales than any other holiday or calendar event.
Most of those first days of school have come in Christian education. Very early in my career, I became convinced of the value and impact of an education outside of the influence of schools under government control, and under the influence of the church. Those who are involved in a distinctively Christian school are taught in a manner that is consistent with Biblical truth, and supports what they are taught in their church, and at home. The outcome, at least in theory, is to produce graduates who are committed to the mission and purpose of the church, and who are trained to serve it as “kingdom citizens.” That doesn’t always happen, but the odds are that those who experience a Christian school education are much more likely to remain committed to the church and to ministering within it long after college, while research shows that 85% of the young people who were active in their church while in high school will leave it before college graduation if they received their education in the government school system.
Voddie Baucham, pastor of the Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas, makes the observation that the Christian church in America is divided over all kinds of issues. We split into denominations, debate which version of scripture is best, and fight over all kinds of insignificant things. But as a group, we are in almost unanimous agreement in where we send our children to school. Approximately 90% of Christian families in this country send their children into the secular humanist government education system, where they are exposed to teaching and curriculum that is not neutral, but is in fact hostile, to the Christian faith. The very educational principles and structure of the organization itself is designed around an idea that is foreign to a core teaching of Christianity, the doctrine of original sin. The public school system operates on a philosophy which emerges from the basic idea that children are a blank slate, not inherently sinful. But parents seem to be oblivious to the fact that their children are systematically taught, on a daily basis, ideas which undermine their Christian beliefs.
At the root of many decisions made by families with regard to their children’s education is a factor that Christian education itself still struggles with, and that is money. The government school system is a tax supported monopoly. That makes it difficult for most families to consider financing a private, Christian education, especially if they have more than one or two children in their family. It’s easier just to put them on the bus and keep on thinking they’ve got control of the situation, and its not as bad as some people think it is.
The Christian schools, too, are locked into a pattern that doesn’t really help families come their way. Most are completely dependent on tuition and fees, and there is little interest in following the Christian financial principles of sharing the support for a common ministry, or helping each other out. From a philosophical perspective, sometimes the understanding of what is happening in public education, and the contrast between that and the Christian school classroom, is taken for granted.
Educationally, the government schools aren’t doing a good job. The idea that their funding should be dependent on one objective test, taken toward the end of a school term has pushed many schools to compromise the quality of their academics, and replace the standard curriculum with benchmarks and “teaching to the test.” They’ve stopped teaching the students. They’ve also added so much to the curriculum that is intended to change the student’s minds regarding to their moral views and value judgements that there is not enough time to work on academic skills and tools which allow students the opportunity to discover and learn on their own. Christian schools stick with academics, have the freedom to teach students that the basis of truth is God, and in most cases, far exceed the academic levels of the public schools around them.
The one thing Christian schools now need to do is to find a way, without relying on the help of the government, to make it possible for every Christian family who wants to have their children in a Christian school to be able to do so. In most Christian schools, that is not a priority. It is simply accepted that affordability goes hand in hand with “the will of God” and trite statements like, “If God wants your kids in Christian school, he will make a way” are common. It is as difficult to get Christians involved in Christian schools to see themselves as instruments of God’s provision as it is to get them to see the same thing in their church. Many American Christians, especially those who happen to be wealthy, have adopted more of a Rush Limbaugh, “I should be able to keep most of what I earn” mentality toward Christian ministry and Christian education, than the attitude of the early church in the book of Acts, of having everything in common and providing for everyone’s needs. That’s unfortunate, because the revival in America that we keep talking about isn’t going to happen until our love affair with wealth and power is over, and we get closer to the attitude of the early church, which was completely submitted to the Holy Spirit.