Revere was also a gentleman, not in the British sense of the word, but in the American sense. He was considered a man of honor and integrity, and that earned him the title. He mingled with the high-born, the Harvard-educated elite of his day, and with the other "mechanics" in the city. And because he was respected by both high and low, and because he had practical intelligence that was crucial to making things work, he played a central role in the American Revolution.
Paul Revere understood the two meanings of the word calling: the calling as a Christian to know and love Christ with heart, soul, mind, and strength, and the calling to an occupation for which God equipped him. The purpose of a Christian school is to lead students to embrace both callings, to know God and to love His creation. It's to show them His hand in history. To teach them to appreciate the wonders of language and see human creativity as a reflection of God's creative work. To help students discover their individual callings, their own gifts, so they can go out into the world and take dominion over one small part of it.
Over the past 16 years, as my husband Marvin and I have thought about Christian schools and the right schools for our particular children, we have looked for schools that understood both meanings of the word calling. We've tried to find schools that emphasized both a Christian worldview and a Christian lifeview-seeing all creation as ruled by God's hand and for His glory, and seeing the uniqueness of each student created in God's multifaceted image.
Over the past 16 years our four sons have attended four different types of Christian schools. We've had children in a Lutheran school, a small school rooted in the Christian Reformed tradition, a large Southern Baptist school, and a classical Christian school. While some parents think there is one ideal type of Christian school, we've come to believe that no school has the corner on educational wisdom. Children differ and the types of schools that suit them will differ. But all good schools will share three important attributes: vision, leadership, and love.
The Missouri Synod Lutheran school down the street from our house saw itself as an evangelistic outreach of the church. Over the years many people who first placed their children in the school's pre-school program later joined the church. During those years many of the kids being evangelized exposed Christian kids to much they otherwise wouldn't have seen, some good and a lot bad.
The school's mission statement talked about glorifying God and bringing students to a saving knowledge of Christ, but the school counted on individual teachers to determine what that meant when studying science or history or math. Because the school relied on public-school texts for many subjects and followed state-mandated curriculum guidelines, assignments in this Christian school didn't look much different than those in the public school down the street. Nonetheless, the presence of Christian teachers, chapel, prayer, Christ-centered celebrations of Christmas and Easter, and handbell choirs that performed during Sunday worship set the school apart from its secular cousin.
Many people might criticize the school as little more than baptized secularism, and in a purely academic sense that might be right. But Christianity is more than a list of propositions, and there was much that the school did well. For instance, the church did its best to make the school affordable to all families by keeping tuition low. It reached out to blacks and Hispanics. It used sports, starting in the fourth grade, to build character and school pride. Its principal listened to parental concerns and addressed them quickly, realizing that his job was to help parents educate their children.
When we moved away from Austin for two years, our oldest son entered a parent-governed Christian school grounded in the Christian Reformed tradition (and we homeschooled our next two). Christian education was so important to Dutch immigrants in the United States and Canada that they often built their school buildings before their churches, and built a reputation for academic excellence based on a Christian perspective in every subject area.
This school differed from the Lutheran school in both governance and curriculum. A board made up of parents who ascribed to the school's statement of faith governed the school, which drew children from many churches. The school's charter made clear that it was Reformed in doctrine and existed to teach Christian children how to understand the world from a Christian perspective.
Veteran teachers passed on their comprehensive world and life view to their students, making use of texts from Christian Schools International and other sources. We met many wonderful Christian teachers and families at this warm Christian school, but one drawback made the school less than ideal for our 13-year-old son: The small school had no organized sports program, and didn't seem to consider sports important.
Many Christian parents might cheer a school that doesn't care about competitive sports, but I disagree. When boys (we have no girl-parenting experience) are dealing with a rush of testosterone, a sports program is worth a multitude of excellent lesson plans.
When we returned to Austin we discovered a barren educational landscape for high school. We briefly considered a public magnet school before settling on a large Baptist high school. It had sports aplenty, but it could not make up its mind what it wanted to be in every other area: a thoroughly Christian school, a small-town 1950s-style public school, or an elite private school catering to the same affluent families that might choose the Episcopal day school.
Over the years administrators changed, but there were always some challenging Christian teachers, a group of committed students, and a core of Christian parents committed to Christian education. We saw the importance of leadership: Good principals hire good teachers, and together they can turn around a school, but bad principals, or principals without authority, chase off good teachers, offend committed parents, and don't take responsibility for mistakes.
So now our family is connected to an academically challenging classical Christian school. Our fourth-grader has learned that he loves history-especially the battles. He has also learned that he likes to write stories. He has come home with the knees worn out of his double-kneed uniform pants, so we know he's encouraged to play hard at recess. He likes it that boys can be boys-within limits. His teacher didn't like it much when he made a battle scene on the top of his desk with bits of eraser.
Parents at the classical Christian school are united around a common vision, which they agree to before being admitted. As the school has added grades, it has also added a sports program and is now fighting to keep the sports program an appendage of the school rather than the other way around. Downsides: The school costs a lot and therefore is not at all ethnically or socioeconomically diverse. It's so academically oriented that some kids with practical intelligence like Paul Revere won't make it past the screening exams.
We've seen four very different types of schools, but all of them-and Christian educators generally-face tough questions. How should they maintain academic excellence while realizing that not all children will be scholars? How can tuition be kept low enough to avoid economic segregation, and perhaps racial and ethnic segregation as well? How can we help children to love God in a society where they are propagandized to love just about everything else?
Alongside these is the question of occupational calling. How do we train kids not only for liberal arts callings but for work like Paul Revere's-maybe not using silver to make beautiful objects but using silicon to run beautiful programs? God-honoring work comes in all shapes and sizes, and we have to fight educational snobbery today as Paul Revere had to fight social snobbery in the 1770s.