Columnists > Voices

Confessing our weaknesses

Time to admit Christian education has its problems, too

Issue: "No way out," May 13, 2006

Regular readers of this column are no longer surprised to find me blasting away at the public, state-sponsored educational establishment. I don't think that either in theory or in practice, thoughtful citizens should any longer expect much that is good from that huge and terribly secularized bureaucracy. And I've said that so very often in this space that I fear I have genuinely offended some of our faithful readers.

Here, I want to confess explicitly some of the embarrassing weaknesses of Christian education, all too apparent in both school and homeschool versions. And then, I should announce right up front, I'll say two things on the subject that will probably still prove offensive to those who support public education. But I promise to do it good-naturedly.

Especially for those of us who know the movements pretty well, finding negative things to say about Christian schools and homeschools isn't all that hard. We haven't done everything right, by any means, and there are a few things we have not done well at all.

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If you want to find a really pitiful critique of Christian schools and home schools, try ethicsdaily.org/article_detail.cfm?AID=7283. There's an ornery debate going on right now in Southern Baptist circles about the proper way for Christians to educate their children, and on that website, Rev. Don Wilkey of First Baptist Church in Onaluska, Texas, offers a litany of mostly outdated and silly accusations against Christian education. If Mr. Wilkey really wants to put down Christian schools and homeschools, he should come to us for ammunition.

Here's what I would say:

1. In our proper zeal for providing Christian education for our own children, we have too often self-centeredly forgotten the needs of others-especially the educational needs of the poor and of minorities. Sometimes we have shamefully run away from such associations and obligations.

2. In our support and development of textbooks and curriculum for our new programs, we have sometimes backed materials that were just as propagandistic on our side of issues as were the materials that so infuriated us from the secular side.

3. We have too often offered parents nothing more than a "cleaned up" version of secularism. We've removed the ugly parts, but the product we've offered hasn't always been thoughtfully Christian-even though that's what we said we were offering and what we charged tuition for.

4. Similarly, while providing orderly and decently well-behaved settings for our schools and homeschools, we have too often done that by relying on legalism. It's far easier to produce good order with rules than it is by producing change in a child's heart. We've too often taken the quick and easy route.

5. In our zeal to produce outstanding academic programs, we've forgotten important subsets of the student population. So we've done far too little in the area of vocational education. And only recently have some of our schools gotten serious about children with disabilities and other special needs. When people accuse us of skimming off the easy assignments, and leaving the rest to public schools, they have a point.

That's just for starters. Give me another page, and I'll give you another half-dozen things Christian education hasn't done too well. Our work is cut out for us.

But there are still a couple of profound differences.

One is that neither Mr. Wilkey nor any other critics of Christian schools or homeschools have ever been asked to pay one red cent for all the mistakes we've made. That stands in stark contrast to the fact that all of us involved in Christian schools and homeschools have to pay, year after year, for the mistakes and wrong-headedness of public education.

Second, any family patronizing any of the programs making the mistakes I've outlined here has the easy option, when they get tired of such mistakes, of just walking away from such a program-without penalty. Very few families patronizing public schools have such an option.

So to my friends in public schools, I say: Keep challenging us to admit our own weaknesses, even while we point out weaknesses in the public system. We need to take seriously some of your criticisms. But remember also that the ability to respond to those weaknesses is very much part of the picture.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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