Christians and State Education

This is an interesting development in the Presbyterian Church in America. It follows a similar move last year at the Southern Baptist Convention. I suppose that when

The public schools are by law humanistic and secular in their instruction, and as a result the attending children receive an education without positive reference to the Triune God

eventually Christians will wake up to their God-given responsibilities and care about the influences on their children.

Our situation in the UK is different. State schools are still required to perform a daily act of Christian worship, though I understand this is very loosely interpreted. But it would be no surprise to me that in time this will disappear.

There are two issues for Christians, I think. Firstly, Christians must not be complacent about our children’s upbringing, but I think often we are. Too many of us believe the most important influences on their children are the youth group or Sunday school. At the same time we don’t take seriously our obligation before God to be the primary source if instruction in the faith. Education begins in the home with family prayer and worship, godly conversation, joy in the Lord.

Secondly, just what place do state schools have in the Christian education of our children? There are those who believe that the reason so many drift away from the faith is that the schools are not sufficiently ‘Christian’. I am not one of those. I believe if there is a fault it is more likely to be at home. I have previously looked on state education as a means of educating children in aspiritual disciplines. They gain basic information and skills. In this view the state system is independent of the Christian faith, in the same way that going to the doctor or buying a pair of shoes is. There is no more need for acts of worship in school than there is to have them down at the Asda checkout. So I have not been able to advocate the Baker-ite acts of worship.

However, in recent months I have been more aware that

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 1:7)

This is a chainsaw to the root of the view that knowledge can be aspiritual and independent. Solomon tells us that the fear of the LORD is foundational to all knowledge. Therefore can any subject be studied without reference to Him?

This raises other big questions. What is a genuinely Christian education? Can it be just a ‘daily act of worship’? Or must it affect the subjects themselves and how they are taught? What does that mean for our one-size-fits-all National Curriculum? Can this be sustained without allowing a necessarily secularist, aspiritual worldview erode the spiritual nurture of our children?

I’m open for suggestions.

Christians and State Education

5 thoughts on “Christians and State Education

  1. rev-ed says:

    Interesting questions, Stephen. The objections that I hear about the public school system here in America is not a lack of Christian “acts of worship” but a hostile attitude toward all things Christian. In other words, it isn’t necessarily a matter of the school system providing an education with no spiritual or religious content but it’s a fight against the public schools giving only an anti-Christian education. That attitude isn’t universal throughout the country, but it is among the goals of many of the teacher’s organizations.

    My antidote has been by knowing exactly what is going on in my children’s school and by knowing the teachers. I am blessed that I have few teachers I need to keep a close eye on.

    The real antidote for Christians with kids at most schools is by teaching a Christian worldview at home. There is a needed filter, through which we must understand things. Some people have learned the hard way that everything in newspapers, textbooks, magazines, radio and television is not always accurate and is often distorted in some way. Christians and their children should know that from Day One.

  2. Stephen says:

    Hi Rev-ed,
    Thanks for the comments. They bring some balance to my view of what is going on in the US.

    I think in this country education is presented as worldview-neutral in order to keep all other religious groups on side. However, it is only a small step to being anti-Christian, if it isn’t already by definition.

  3. David says:

    I’m with rev-ed on this one. I don’t think you can have a neutral world view. “If you are not for me…”

    However schools are not the only place where a non-Christian world view is promoted. That is why I think the American churches “solution” is no solution at all. Where does it end? Schools are anti-Christian – take them out of schools. TV is anti-Christian – get rid of the TV. The media is anti-Christian – don’t let them read. The work-place is anti-Christian – er… only let them work for other Christians? Do we retreat further and further into Christian corners and try to stop all risk of contamination? Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t do it and I’m fairly sure that we are not called to do retreat from the world anyway.

    A couple of other random thoughts before I go. Your quote from Proverbs is interesting, but I don’t know enough about translating to be sure it can be applied to schooling. What does the word “knowledge” in this context mean? The NIV explains in a footnote that the contrasting “fool” later in the verse has a moral dimension. Our minister has just finished a series on Ecclesiastes and one of the nights he drew out that “wisdom” was not the same as education. Is that the same in this verse? Can we make a straight link from “knowledge” to schooling? Can it be applied to school education as we know it? Part of the problem is that universal school education is a fairly new concept and it is further complicated because its roots (certainly in the UK) are firmly tied to the church. For example, did you know Scotland boasts that it was the first country to aim to give a school education to every child? Do you know what its first curriculum was? It was Latin and the Catechism! We’ve come a long way since then and school education is about something different now.

    Final thought. I think it is interesting that your two posts on American churches calling on Christians to take their children out of school sandwiches your review of the book about covenant theology. It is partly because of covenant theology that I trust God to look after my children while they are in school. We promised when our children were baptised that we would bring them up in the Christian faith by “prayer, precept and example”. There is a need to teach the “Christian world view at home” and to trust in God’s covenant with us to protect and guard them in the world. {I’ve struggled to come up with a finish that doesn’t sound like I’m aiming for piety points… and failed… so Ill just stop now. :-)}

  4. Stephen says:

    Hi David,
    I thought this post might get you going! Some of my thoughts, following the points you made…

    I have got the impression that in the UK the secularist teachers really do believe that their view is fully objective and therefore free of such a subjective thing as a ‘worldview’. However, I suspect that such people really have not thought very much about this and therefore do not realise that that view is itself a worldview. So I am in agreement with you and Rev-ed on this.

    I think children are to be treated differently from adults because we are given specific biblical instruction about them. They are set in a different set of relationships from married adults and this determines how they are to be treated. Of course there are many sources of anti-Christian sentiment, but we do not willy-nilly send our children into it, do we? Have you not tried to control what your children see on TV? Do we not do so with education? I am beginning to believe that if the state system is anti-Christian, as some Christians in the US evidently believe, then there is a case for withdrawal. Parents are to control how they are exposed to the world, not the state. Withdrawal is a solution which may have its own problems, but it may be the more faithful thing to do. When it is right to do it is, of course, a judgment call.

    The full NIV rendering of Prov 1:7 is “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” The second clause sheds light on the first. The knowledge in view is wider and deeper than simply assimilation of facts and know-how. It is about life, about how one views the world and how to conduct affairs in it. Since it is so comprehensive, it is difficult to see how a Christian can detach ‘schooling’ can be detached from knowledge of God. Secular attempts to do so is actually a shift of worldview.

    You mention the boasts of Scotland (Hooray!) in education. I think this highlights the differences between the British systems and the US system. In the UK education is historically linked to the idea of a national church. It is perhaps even stronger in England where the Anglicans have a much deeper establishment. In this view historically there has been a tendency to see all citizens as Christian and therefore it is easy to see state education as meeting a Christian need. The same view is probably present in Scotland, though perhaps less so. Nonetheless the concept of state provision comes easily to Christians. Now, though we have state churches, and though we have state education, the worldviews have diverged, I would suggest. It is certainly true for the evangelical Christians within these establishments. Therefore what does this mean for our children?

    I agree with your view of covenant. The question is what action on our part is implied by trust in God’s covenant promises. After all, faith without works is dead.

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