Educational victory

Culture | How Christians can reclaim the culture

Issue: "School-to-Work debate," Sept. 5, 1998

School is back in session. In public schools across the nation, first-graders are learning how to make up their own spelling rules. Middle-school science students are sharing their feelings about global warming. High-schoolers are doing group activities, where the one smart kid does all the work for everyone else.

At the same time, homeschoolers are reading Shakespeare and doing Great Books tutorials over the Internet. Children who attend classical Christian schools are translating Latin and mastering symbolic logic. In inner-city parochial schools, poor black teenagers are learning to read, write, and succeed.

Christians are so used to getting bloodied in the culture war that a victory of major proportions, on perhaps the most important cultural front, is getting overlooked. Christians are winning the education war.

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When the Christian school movement first started, parents sent their children for the religious training. Increasingly today, parents are sending their children to Christian schools for the academics.

Christian approaches to learning-whether employed in Christian schools or, sometimes even more dramatically, in homeschools-are simply outperforming the public schools, And nearly everyone is admitting it.

In order to deal with the educational meltdown in the public schools, some policymakers are considering ways to, in effect, subcontract the job of educating the nation's children to Christian schools. Voucher proposals and school-choice plans are favored by the vast majority of Americans. For purely secular reasons-the pragmatic imperative of educating children-the public is acknowledging the superiority of Christian education.

Christians are winning the education war because the Christian worldview provides a basis for education, whereas relativism does not. If there can be no objective standards, there can be no difference between excellence and mediocrity. If moral obligations are nothing more than subjective values, personal preferences, and unjust impositions of power, how can teachers even keep the kids in their seats?

The biblical worldview, on the other hand, teaches that objective truth exists. There is mathematical order in the universe, and it is a basis for discipline, curiosity, and academic excellence. Man is made in the image of God and is therefore worth studying.

Christians are winning this particular war, but complacency is dangerous. School choice plans may be promising, but tax money can be dangerously addictive. Some departments of public instruction can readily start drafting regulations that exempt choice students from religious instruction or that mandate methods used by public schools.

Christian schools must beware of co-optation by the educational establishment, which, though being beaten on the battlefield, retains its strongholds in university teacher-training departments, educational bureaucracies, and textbook publishers.

Besides, it is not that hard to outdo public schools, given their current state. The fact is, Christian schools as a whole are not nearly as academically strong as they should be. Ironically, some Christian schools adopt the same educational theories that have failed in the public schools, with a little Christianity tacked on. Others are going to the other extreme, concentrating on theology and morality but neglecting the other realms of knowledge, which are also under God's sovereignty.

Another problem is that Christian colleges are nowhere as far along as classical Christian schools and many homeschoolers in forging academically superior alternatives to the educational establishment. Homeschooled students often complain that their colleges-whether secular or Christian-are not able to stimulate them. They already know this stuff, and much more.

Nevertheless, what would happen if Christians become more and more serious about education, even as the public square gets more and more ignorant?

Christians who take the lead in education may be hated in many circles, but will be indispensable. Education is an absolute necessity for an advanced society. Those who can read, write, think, invent, and create become the leaders and the culture makers.

What if Christians become the only ones who still read, while the rest of the population stays glued to the TV set? What if Christians, interested in God's creation, study science, while everyone else turns to eco-paganism? What if Christians end up being the ones who draw up business plans, think well enough to solve problems, and care enough to participate in politics while others emphasize amusement? Then Christianity will once again lead the culture.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith


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