Christian Students and the “Real” World
By Dr. Curt Brannan
I am disappointed to hear some high-profile Christian leaders urging parents to reconsider the virtue of Christian education for their children. They raise questions concerning the validity of life experience in a Christian setting, whether such a venue can actually develop strong Christian men and women, and whether it is even biblical to educate them this way. On the surface these arguments may seem reasoned and even important. But are they? Are they either biblically or educationally valid? I don’t think so. In fact, I would argue they actually undermine what they claim to desire most – Christian young people who can hold their own and make a difference in their world and culture. These arguments focus on two principal concerns, the Christian school environment and the biblical mandate to evangelize the world. I would like to look at each of these.
First, it is argued that Christian schools educate children in “hothouse” environments that protect them from “real life” Eventually they must live in the “real world”, but are not prepared for what they must face. Better, so the argument goes, they should deal with these things while parents, churches and youth groups can offer encouragement and help. Some go on to argue that only in this way is it possible to develop strong Christian youth who are ready and able to stand firm in their faith before the prevailing views of our culture. But I question both the presupposition and conclusion involved.
Is it true, for instance, that those children who attend Christian schools are “so protected” they are consequently unprepared for future encounters with the “real” world? To the contrary, several things need to be said. First, it can be easily argued that what is being called “real life” is more a caricature and distortion passed off in our time as the way things “really are”. One of the great struggles today is finding some benchmark for reality that makes it possible to discern between truth and opinion. We have all seen interviews in which someone sets aside the most fundamental law of logic, the law of non-contradiction, declaring “Well, that’s true for you, but not for me.” I would suggest that a person who is not aware of life as the Creator intended it has no benchmark and is thus not better prepared for life, but unable to discern between the counterfeit and the genuine.
Second, to say that students in Christian schools are somehow “too” protected must also be questioned. Why is it that a child needs to have first hand exposure to the “real world”? We wouldn’t think of sending them out to drive the freeways so they can learn about “real” traffic until we have first provided instruction in a safe place where it is still possible to recover from mistakes without endangering themselves and others, Why then send them out, inexperienced and untaught, to learn what the world considers appropriate regarding sex, values, language and life purpose? Throwing them into “traffic” before they are emotionally, spiritually and mentally prepared to discern the false from the true is simply to get them “run over” before they have a chance, Of course, they will assume they are mature enough to handle the world, but parents are responsible before God to not allow them to play with life’s most powerful experiences before they are prepared. Deuteronomy 6:8 calls parents to secure an environment where God is honored and families may grow and be protected. A place marked off and identified as His. Certainly the home is in view here. But the school can only be viewed as an extension of the parental admonition to “Train (or start) a child in the way he should go… (Proverbs 22:6)
One more thing needs to be said. The assumption that children in Christian schools somehow are unaware of the culture around them is something only the most naïve or uninformed could possibly believe. Students are bombarded daily by “real life” distortions of our culture. Knowledge of the world comes not only through the media (though this is certainly powerful), but through the organizations and groups they belong to, the teams they play on, and the friends they hang out with in the neighborhood, school and church. Christian schools, far from being able to protect them (I wish we could!), simply provide a place where it is not necessary to use the world’s language, do drugs or be sexually active to be “in”. They provide at least a modicum of protection from being pressed to embrace today’s distortions and the consequences associated with them. And most importantly they provide a God-centered perspective from which to view and understand the world.
Salt and Light?
A second argument makes a strong appeal to biblical authority. We are, it is argued, called to live as “salt and light” in the world. We must not pull back into Christian ghettos, but should engage the world with our presence and witness. To put our children in Christian schools leaves millions with no witness and schools in the hands of those who reject Christ. Again statements like these are both naïve and biblically uninformed.
Consider what is being asked of a child in such a setting. First, they are asked to understand the subtleties and nuances of a world system that discounts all they have been told is important to understanding life. The secular school setting, acting as a surrogate parent in this time of formation, presents a totally different, even antagonistic, viewpoint. The student in that formative time is not yet ready to even recognize the subtle implications of things being taught or deal with being “immersed” in the language of the world. It would be wonderful if the child could come home each evening and say something like, “I was able to challenge the ideas of the teacher today when he said… but I found one point where I was stumped and need your help.” But is that what happens? Seldom, if ever, I suspect. And if it does happen, or if the parent could be in every class with the student, many parents have told me they feel inadequate to respond to the views being taught.
Beyond these subtleties, the world, lacking strength of argument, often attempts to intimidate and coerce. I have known High School students ridiculed for their faith in front of their class by the teacher. I know this doesn’t happen all the time but it does happen! And coercive peer pressure is real for Christian students too.
Does the Bible call us to use our children as tools for engaging an antagonistic culture? I don’t think so. For parents it is different. We are expected to engage the world. If we are honest, however, most of us find it challenging, even somewhat daunting, to live as “salt and light” in the business and social settings where we find ourselves each day. Still God expects us, as adults, to stand firm and make a difference! But can a student, in a system where he is expected to be a learner rather than a challenger-of-teachers, reclaim a school for God? This isn’t the intent of the call in scripture to be “salt and light”. I don’t believe God sees children as tools in our box to be used to fulfill our obligation to the world. Better we should focus on preparing and engaging the culture ourselves, while at the same time protecting and growing them for their day in the battle for truth.
Worldview is Critical
A great deal more should be said, but I add only one final thought. A child in a secular system is not learning in a “faith neutral” setting. The faith presuppositions of teachers and the system itself are generally not declared openly, but they are present just the same. Even where a teacher may hold Christian views the system controls the learning environment. Worldview is not just another catch phrase; it involves the essential questions around which life itself revolves. Why is there anything? Who are we? What is right and wrong? Who says so? The answers to these questions are critical. Even if the Church and youth groups were doing a perfect job and parents were perfectly prepared and modeling their faith, children would spend the majority of their time under the authority, influence and environment provided by their school. Add to this the influence of peers, many of whom hold very different views of life, and the danger is evident, even frightening.
I am committed to Christian education. Not just any Christian education, but one that teaches the content of the faith and sees the world and all academic disciplines from the viewpoint of the Creator. I am committed to Christian education that provides an environment that, to the best of its ability, reflects life as the Creator intended and confronts distortions of truth with good answers. In a fallen world there is no perfect education, but putting children into an environment where God is taken seriously is very different from sending them out on their own to play and learn in a world that doesn’t acknowledge Him.