SCHOOL WILL BE VERY DIFFERENT THIS YEAR . . . BUT NOT REALLY.
Social Distancing and Sanitizing Won’t Change the Essence of Education.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the American school system in the spring of 2020, parents and teachers scrambled to adjust to the new reality of stay-at-home education. Many labeled their new situation “homeschooling”, and in some sense, that is true, but established homeschooling families rightly pointed out that public school lessons, quickly shifted to a home environment with worksheet packets or periodic online instruction is not really homeschooling.
Now with summer in full swing, and the nation beginning to slowly re-open, schools and colleges are once again preparing for an uncertain fall landscape. Different states are proposing different options. Some are planning full reopening with increased sanitizing, others are remaining closed with continued distance learning. Many are proposing a hybrid of online and at-home instruction. Social distancing (somehow) will be in effect in many schools, and sports and other extracurricular activities are also in limbo.
The one thing almost everyone agrees is that school will look much different this year.
And parents are evaluating their options.
But the truth is that while superficially, schools will appear very different, the fundamental nature of education will not change at all. The essence of teaching and learning will not change with social distancing, face masks, or hand sanitizer.
Parents in America have essentially the same four options for educating their children. Public schools (including public charter schools), private religious schools, private non-religious schools, and homeschooling (with or without online options).
Parents who choose Christian schools and parents who homeschool can provide a complete, fully-integrated education for the whole child. Complete, because a Christian education does not need to ignore God’s truth as it appears in each academic discipline; rather, it highlights it. And this complete education is for the whole child, not just mind and body, but spirit and soul (Luke 10:27; Luke 2:52). An integrated education means teaching all of God’s truth. It means understanding that a proper view of God is the only valid starting point for all knowledge (Proverbs 9:10). It means teaching students to see the world clearly (Psalm 119:105; Romans 1:18-20) and to take every thought captive to the knowledge of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
Christian parents who choose public schools or private, non-religious schools have a much more difficult challenge each day. They have to continually clarify the mixed messages their children receive in each academic subject. They don’t have the opportunity to fully partner with their children’s educators to provide a coherent worldview that addresses life’s most pressing issues.
Right now, our children need to be a part of strong, ongoing, and deep discussions about race, about justice, about morality, about a biblical response to every issue amidst a politically charged season of our history where worldviews are colliding in every corner of our culture.
There is no avoiding these discussions. They will happen in school. They must. But who will be guiding those discussions? And to what foundation (if any) will their conclusions be anchored?
Teachers are some of the most powerful influencing voices in our children’s lives, and it is inevitable that students will become like their teachers. Jesus taught this fact.
“Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” Luke 6:39-40
The vast majority of public school teachers are dedicated professionals who want to make a difference in the lives of children. But the majority of public school teachers, like the majority of the population as a whole, are not followers of Jesus Christ with a biblical worldview. Even those public school teachers who are committed followers of Christ with a proper theological framework are still handcuffed by the rules of a secular school system.
In his book, Bringing Up Boys, Dr. James Dobson interviews former Secretary of Education, Bill Bennett. They recount a story told by President Reagan that perfectly illustrates the confusion that takes place in secular classrooms countless of times each school year.
Bill Bennett: Do you remember the great Ronald Reagan story? It was written up in Reader’s Digest. The president read about a little girl who found a purse and returned it to its owner. She told her counselor and then asked, “Did I do the right thing?” The counselor said, “Well, let’s talk about it with the rest of the children.” They all talked about it and the counselor said, “Let’s take a vote.” The children voted in the majority that the girl had done the wrong thing, that she was stupid. She should have kept the money. So, of course, the child looked up plaintively to the counselor and he threw up his hands and said, “I’m just here to see what people think, just to facilitate discussion.” There was a time when a counselor or teacher would have reinforced the rightness of what the child had done. Now the kids are asked to vote on what is correct morally.
James Dobson: When I was in first grade, I found a dime on the school playground one day. A dime was a lot of money when I was six years old. I don’t mean to imply that I was some kind of little saint, but I had been taught at home that I shouldn’t keep something that didn’t belong to me. Now children are asked to debate what is right or wrong, based not on an established standard of morality but on peer-group opinion. That is just incredible.
Bill Bennett: Think of that poor lost child who looked to the adult for guidance, but the adult couldn’t give an answer. He or she had been told not to favor one point of view over another in this kind of “values clarification”—and not to use language of right and wrong because there are no absolutes.
If teachers—even strong Christian teachers—operating within a “values neutral” educational system, aren’t free to teach that returning a lost purse is clearly, morally right, then how can we expect them to give moral clarity on much more complicated issues of race, justice, sexuality, abortion, purpose, or identity?
Christian teachers operating within public schools need our support and prayers. They are a light in a dark world where the need for truth is great. But they have a most difficult task of teaching a secularized curriculum that has been divorced of reality and truth. They have the chance to build loving relationships with their students but must often hide the true solutions to their students’ most pressing needs.
Christian parents who choose Christian schools and those who homeschool their children need our support and prayers too. The financial stress of tuition and the pressures of daily home education can wear on a family (as the pandemic has shown us all). And when there are setbacks, or when immediate fruit is not always visible, there is a natural tendency to wonder, “is it all worth it?” I assure you it is. But that doesn’t mean it is without sacrifice and struggle. Thankfully, most Christian schools provide tuition assistance in a way that makes tuition much more within reach than many assume. And many Christian school and homeschool parents have seen God provide for their financial needs in very creative ways.
But Christian parents who have no other option but public schools especially need the prayer and strong support of the body of Christ. We are all commanded to “train up children in the way they should go, and when they are old, they will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6). Christians everywhere must look for ways to support the parents in their community as they seek to shield their children from the Enemy and his destructive plan for their lives.
We are living through a strange but pivotal time in history. The next generation is watching closely. And everything is sinking in. The good, the bad . . . all of it.
The world has seen dark times before. Much darker in fact. But through it all, God’s hand has always been steady in the lives of mankind. And God has always been faithful to parents who choose to live in obedience, and to seek the best means to raise their children to follow after Him.
No virus will change that.
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Take a moment for Integrated Reflection:
Follower of Christ:
How has your own education shaped your worldview?
How can you support the parents in your community as they choose the best educational options for their children?
In what ways have recent events caused you to re-examine your lessons?
How can you shine a light on God’s solutions to our nation’s struggles?
Can a nation truly be moral without a common moral standard?
If each person is free to determine their own morality, how can anything be declared universally right or wrong?