Christian education: too much of a good thing?

How safe are our children within the fortress of Christian education? Are they learning to exercise their faith, or only their minds?

Angela E. Hunt writes from Lynchburg, Virginia, where she has taught school and worked with young people in recent years.

Although I received my education in public schools, my first teaching job was in a Christian school. I certainly did not expect a spiritual Utopia when I accepted the position, but I was surprised to find that my students exhibited a sort of spiritual indifference. They were not reprobates or overtly worldly, but most showed a complete lack of fervency in spirit. Oh, they were fervent football fans, cheer leaders, and band members. But for the most part they were not fervent Christians. They were dutiful, but not sincere; religious, but not spiritual; obedient, but not respectful.

Not once did I ever walk through the halls and overhear students talking about Christ. He was taken for granted and regarded as commonplace. As a result my students were stagnant, bored, and seemed spiritually shallow.

What caused this apathy? Most of my students had been in Christian schools since kindergarten; why were they now so spiritually apathetic?

Parents usually place their children in Christian schools to insure that they will be taught a worldview that acknowledges God as the Creator of life and the reason for our existence. In such a school, children are sheltered from the anti-God humanism that is rampant in the public schools. This is good, and I can't emphasize enough that I do believe in Christian education. We do well to ensure that our children are taught truth.

The danger arises when we allow our children to become monasticized—to become so engulfed by the Christian school and church program that they are cut off entirely from the rest of the world. I do not mean to suggest that children should have intimate fellowship with unbelievers, but I do believe that to deny children the opportunity to stand for Christ among unbelievers is to deny them the opportunity to strengthen Christian character.

A few years ago I worked with a dynamic girl from a Christian family. She attended public school and brought many of her classmates to church. She had led two girls to Christ. The next year her parents decided to send her to a Christian school. Though she is still as sweet as ever, she has cooled spiritually. She now moves only in her small elite group of friends and has not led anyone to the Lord. The girl who was once a spiritual leader is now a spiritual spectator.

Academic love

I am especially concerned about one important difference Christian children experience in Christian schools as com pared with public schools. In a Christian school, children learn an academic love for Christ. They learn with the mind who God is and what God does. They are quizzed in Bible classes about facts, names, and events. Their daily devotion time becomes required Bible reading for class. Their meditation becomes memory work for the daily class quiz. Their convictions are not set through prayer or principle, they are dictated at the beginning of each school year by the school's rulebook. If and when the child acknowledges Christ as Saviour with his heart, his willingness to fall in love with the Saviour is often overwhelmed by the religious regimen required of his mind.

In public schools, on the other hand, any religious routine exercised by a student is motivated by desire, not compulsion. He or she will learn a necessary love for Christ. Surrounded by non-Christians, this young person will have to take a personal stand on many issues. Will he smoke? Will she drink? Will he cheat? Will she take drugs? Will he consort with other kids who are smoking, drinking, and cheating? This young Christian must find the strength to take a stand. Each stand a student takes for Christ makes them more resolute in the eyes of his fellow students. Those who develop a good reputation among their peers act as "the salt of the earth," for they are in among the "meat," acting to preserve it.

If your children attend public school, encourage them to take a stand for what is right in every situation. Teach them the scriptural principles that should guide their actions. Their example, testimony, and witness to students, teachers, and the entire community can be multiplied in the public school. Above all, encourage them to be active in a good church program and to pursue a daily personal relationship with the Lord. They will need all the support they can get from personal devotions and from the Christian community.

Outside exposure

Parents and educators involved with Christian schools must strive to make sure that their children have as much opportunity for outgo as for input. We must not allow spiritual stagnation. Christian school students must learn to go outside the Christian school—they should play on community Little League teams, participate in the Boy or Girl Scouts, or take swimming lessons at the YMCA. Participating in Saturday's door-to-door visitation will not make your child spiritual. Children must be as responsible for sharing the gospel in the world as adults. And we parents must allow them to be part of the secular world if they are to learn to influence it.

I once asked my Christian school students if they were acquainted with anyone their age who was not a Christian. Unbelievably, not one student in the class could think of anyone. How tragic.

But at a prayer meeting for the young people of our church, I heard a young public school student stand and request prayer for several classmates to whom she had been witnessing. Another student shared that she had been assigned to give a persuasive speech in one of her classes. She chose the topic "Why You Should Become a Christian." "I was nervous," she said, "but I gave the speech and I hope that God will use it to help me to witness to someone in my class."

Through each of those young high school girls, God was working. If only our Christian school students could have the same opportunity!

I believe that God's reason for allowing us to be tried is not so He can see how strong we are. He knows how strong we are. He allows us to be tried so that we can see how strong we are.

Our children need to find God's strength within them. Jesus prayed, "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil" (John 17:15). We can shelter our children from some evils by enrolling them in a Christian school, but we must not allow them to become out of touch with the world we 'all are commanded to serve. We must be willing to encourage our children to be involved in activities outside the church and the Christian school. They will be tempted and tried, but if the foundation and education we have struggled to give them is strong, they will overcome.

We believe in Christian education (parochial schooling) and that Adventist youth ought to be in Adventist schools. We think that our schools have contributed an important, even essential, element to the growth of our church, and we would not want to see their work discontinued. But we also believe that what Angela Hunt sa;ys about parochial education in general fits us too. And we believe that by cooperating to meet this need, Adventist parents, pastors, and educators can help our youth become more stable church members and more effective witnesses.—Editors.

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Angela E. Hunt writes from Lynchburg, Virginia, where she has taught school and worked with young people in recent years.

July 1987

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