Cover Story

Dif'rent strokes: by Susan Olasky

If all you know about Paul Revere comes from Longfellow's poem, you don't know much. Revere was a Calvinist: His father was a Huguenot immigrant from France. He became a silversmith, like his father before him, and considered it a calling-a place where he could exercise his gifts to the glory of God.

Issue: "Ideal schools," April 28, 2001

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.

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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.


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