Out of its best motives, the Christian day school movement was born from the deep conviction by parents that God’s truth be recognized in every subject and every aspect of learning. Knowing that a teacher’s worldview has a powerful and undeniable impact on students’ worldviews, public schooling was not acceptable to these parents because of concerns over what core values/worldview would be promoted. In a public school setting, where all worldviews sit on an equal platform, the highest aspirations for student outcomes often gravitate toward individual economic success and becoming a good citizen. By contrast, Christian education may also work toward these goals but holds a primary emphasis on nurturing students to love God and serve their neighbors in Christ’s name. Christian schools seek to unfold the wonder of God’s creation, teach students wisdom according to Biblical principles, and help students begin to practice for their life work of service/worship. Should the Christian school of today be more about this equipping in the same manner as a seminary or be more focused on working with a wide range of student belief as churches do? Our appropriate response may be – “It depends on the needs of the student and where they are at in their faith formation”, but I believe there is more to be considered because some schools only allow children of believers to attend, while other schools take all comers, regardless of parent beliefs.
Christian schools were originally structured to function more like seminaries than churches. This was based on the belief that Christian schools functioned as an extension of the Christian home – children of believers were also believers and were sent to a Christian school for discipleship. It is similar to when adult Christians desire to study the Bible more deeply, they may choose to attend a Christian seminary where they can study Greek, Latin, Biblical history, preaching, teaching, and discipleship. There is an assumption on the part of the Christian seminary that the student knows what they are signing up for and the seminary teaches from a certain perspective. Similarly, parents who enroll their children in Christian day schools, desire and expect that teachers will teach from the perspective of God’s sovereignty and view each child as an image-bearer of God. They expect that the teachers will challenge their child to believe in Jesus and begin to understand what that means practically in life.
However should Christian schools more closely resemble today’s churches? In a world today where churches see themselves in a much more seeker oriented vein, is it appropriate also for Christian schools to be based upon the same type of missional approach? Just as anyone can come into a church on a Sunday morning, should parents of any or no belief be allowed to enroll their children in Christian schools? In both cases, many Christian school educators would say, “Yes, as long as parents and students coming in to the school understand what kind of education they are going to receive and are not disruptive to the process.” In talking with missional Christian schools, I have seen and heard a vitality and authenticity of conversations that can be had with students, as well as a lack of assumptions by students about faith (i.e., my parents are saved and so I must be too). Christian schools that go the missional enrollment route have found that they must take great care with articulating a biblical perspective in their curriculum and instruction so that they remain true to their mission, but I would add that this should be true of all Christian schools.
I believe that more dialogue on this question would be very helpful. How we should proceed may have a significant impact on how Christian schools are viewed by churches and parents considering Christian education. I have worked as a teacher and administrator in both public and Christian school settings. I am under no illusions about the shortcomings or strengths of either. What I would like to see is more dialogue between Christians working in both settings, more prayer for each other, and more support from churches for both. We should desire that all students have the opportunity to flourish. I believe that a quality Christian school that takes its mission seriously has similarities to both a great seminary and a great church – revealing God’s truth in its teaching, making no false assumptions about individual’s faith, and connecting its purpose to the needs and challenges of the real world that Christ followers are called to serve.
Dan Beerens is an educational consultant, author, international speaker, and educational leader. Before starting Dan Beerens Consulting in May 2010, he served as Vice President of Learning Services and Director of Instructional Improvement at Christian Schools International. Prior to that, he was the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Holland Christian Schools. Dan has also worked as teacher and principal in urban and suburban public and Christian schools in Wisconsin and Illinois. He serves as a Senior Fellow at CACE (Center for the Advancement of Christian Education), represents Curriculum Trak sales and professional development and serves as co-chair of the annual Christian Deeper Learning conference. He blogs regularly for CACE and is the author of Evaluating Teachers for Professional Growth: Creating a Culture of Motivation and Learning (Corwin Press) and co-editor of the recent book MindShift: Catalyzing Change in Christian Education (ACSI).