By Terrill I. Elniff
Excerpted from God's World Today ("Teacher's Helper")
The secular mind, confronting the Christian school, tends to evaluate what it sees in terms that it can understand. Thus the prevailing view of Christian education is that Christian parents put their children in Christian schools because they are fed up with the problems of the public schools: sex, drugs, immorality, lowered standards, incompetent teachers, secularism, disorder, and violence. But to reason in this way is to overlook a very important aspect of the Christian school movement.
When I began teaching in a Christian school, I remember our headmaster emphasizing from time to time that the Christian education movement is not an "anti-public-school movement." I have grown to understand and appreciate his insight.
Private education is not necessarily Christian education. Religious education is not necessarily Christian education either. These categories are all wrong. The real alternatives are man-centered education over against God-centered education.
If education is humanistic in its perspective, all the trappings of religion won't make it Christian. Baptized humanism is still humanism. Education may be moral, religious, conservative, and competent, and still be humanistic. Schools may have values, standards, rules, and even prayers, and still teach a man-centered curriculum. The one distinguishing mark of a Christian school relates to that one unique reason for Christian education: to gain a knowledge of the world from God's point of view (rather than man's) through the application of biblical presuppositions in every area of the curriculum and school activity.
That is the kernel of Christian education. Everything else is peripheral. Everything else can be duplicated or imitated. Christian education will not cease to be needed just because the public schools clean up their act, as some commentators seem to believe. A past executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals has said, "What the Christian schools movement is saying . . . is that public schools have two or three years to do a better job. If public school teachers are moral . . . and don't hide behind one or another legal curtain in dealing with values, then most Christian parents will be happy and they'll go back to teaching Christianity elsewhere, as they have done in the past."
Now, I don't know how to measure "most" Christian parents, but I'm pretty sure there are a lot of parents in the Christian schools movement who are simply refugees from the public schools. They are the ones who can be expected to return to the public schools once the public schools come to grips with their problems. Such Christian parents will go back to public schools because their commitment to Christian education is not positive, but negative, an escape from the modern, secular world.
But there is also an immense number of Christian parents in the movement who don't intend to go back to the public schools even if they become squeaky-clean. They are the ones with a positive commitment to the purposes of Christian education. Their children are in Christian schools because they believe that life must be related to God, and learning must be related to truth. For them, secular and humanistic education is not an option.
The future of Christian education, then, does not depend on the reforms made in the public school systems. It depends, rather, on the relative number of Christian parents who understand the purpose of Christian education. The determination to apply biblical presuppositions to every area of life and learning is what most people don't understand about Christian education. The failure of the secular mind to comprehend this determination indicates that it also does not understand the revolutionary nature of the Christian school movement and the impact it will have on the future of education in this country.