The other day, I was down at one of our local Christian schools collecting two of my grandchildren, to look after them at the end of the school day, whilst Sue, their mother, was busy running an after-school activity for parents. Actually, my grandson Brendon saw me in the school some time before the final bell when he was visiting the school office (where I was waiting to meet the principal). When Brendon first saw me, a bemused look crossed his face as he wasn’t expecting to see grandpa at school. Then, when he registered that it really was me, his eyes sparkled and he delightedly rushed over and gave me one of his typical, wonderful, heart-warming hugs. After the final bell, I was near the classroom of Anna, my grand-daughter, waiting to collect her as well. I was talking with another parent at the time, and Anna saw me before I saw her. I just heard this loud, delighted scream, “Grandad,” as I was smothered in all the hugs and kisses that an adorable kindergartner can give. Oh the joys and precious moments of grandparenthood!
Now I told you that I was on campus because I was going to look after Brendon and Anna (plus Steven, our priceless little pre-schooler), because Sue, our daughter-in-law, was organizing an after-school activity for other parents. Sue and her husband James have entered into this Christian school experience with dedication and gusto. They know that it is important to celebrate the community that is the Christian school. For them, biblical principles (e.g. Ephesians 6:4) identify that they remain responsible for the entire nurture of the children God has entrusted to them, and that this means being involved in the life of the school and partnering with teachers in deep, meaningful ways. For the Christian parent, the prevailing secular perspective that education primarily is a business transaction, or a fee-for-service activity, is not consistent with what it means to be Godly parents. The school is not a “stop-and-drop-shop” where you deliver your children to the educators at 8.00am and collect them at 3.30pm, having allowed the technical experts to exercise their skills and autonomously shape your children. This is a dangerous fallacy. True, we recognize that in Christian schools the teachers are equipped and called by God to exercise their craft, but this is in partnership with the parents, not in replacement of them.
The best Christian schools are those where teachers and administrators celebrate the parent-teacher partnership and structure their activities so as to include parents not just in cafeteria duty and traffic control (important as these are). The best Christian schools structure school life in order to include parents in the what, how, and why of the actual curriculum and instruction as well.
For their part, the best Christian parents are those who respect the gifts and talents of the teachers. They are parents who understand the communal nature of the school community, and who are willing to make the sacrifice and dedication that are necessary to support the school and assist in the development and implementation of genuine Christian teaching and learning that assists the home in helping young people to understand God’s world God’s way.
And that is the reason why I was here at the school on this occasion. Sue and James know that unlike groceries or an internet connection, education is not a commodity that you buy. They know that the Christian school is not primarily a business, but is best described as an interdependent learning community under God. A community only works when its members understand the community’s purpose, and are empowered and committed to helping it achieve that purpose. So, despite their busyness, and although they could have spent their time with both parents in salaried employment, Sue and James have chosen to immerse themselves deeply in the lives of their Christian school. For example, as well as the other things that she does, Sue also is a member of the board of her Christian school. As a busy parent, she could spend their precious time doing many other things. But she and James take seriously the calling of partnership in community that characterizes genuine Christian education.
Many of our Christian schools are directed by boards, made up of voluntary, unpaid members elected from the association that is each the school’s ultimate controlling body. Many of these associations need a boost in their number of members, and often school boards need more parents to come forward and allow themselves to be nominated as board members. In a real sense, responding to these needs is a calling already given to Christian parents by virtue of their acceptance of the role of parenthood. If you are a Christian parent with children in a Christian school but not yet a member of your school’s association, I urge you to think and pray really seriously about this matter, and to contact the school with a view to becoming an association member.
Sue is not a teacher at Brendon and Anna’s school- but as a parent she’s in partnership with the teachers. She does not do what she does in the school out of obligation. She does it as a faithful witness to Jesus in taking seriously the calling of a Christian parent. It’s time-consuming, and at times stressful. But it’s also a great joy, and very fulfilling. And besides, sometimes it gives grandparents and grandkids an extra hour or so to revel in each others’ company – and what could be better than that!
Dr Richard Edlin is the Director of Edserv International, a mission-based organization serving Christian education communities around the world. Originally from New Zealand but having lived with his family in several places around the world since 1987 outside of his homeland, Dr Edlin is a well-known international speaker on topics relating to a Christian worldview and education from a Christian perspective. Of his many writings, The Cause of Christian Education, which is now in its 4th edition and has been translated into several languages, is his most well-known work. His recently published little book for Christian parents entitled Thinking About Schooling, has been enthusiastically received in the Christian schools community. His own areas of special academic include philosophy, cultural sensitivity training, and effective teacher professional development strategies around the world. His two doctoral degrees are from the US and South Korea. At the present time he is particularly interested in the concept of reformed critical realism; the development of symbiotic teacher education partnerships, especially train-the-trainer schemes, between countries across the Asia/Oceania region; the essence of Christian schooling, imagination and the Christian school, critical friend institutional support, and the challenge of secularism.