By James B. Jordan (Some 30-40 years go)
We tend to take it for granted that the best alternative to the secular elementary school system is to erect a Christian school, after the same pattern as the secular school. By this I mean the pattern of having 12 grades, one per year, and dividing up the children into groups arranged by grades. We hope that our school will become big, so that each third-grader will have 20 to 30 comrades in his or her class, and that each eleventh-grader will have at least 8 or 10.
Let us stop and ask a few questions about this system, however. One of the questions Christians must ask about education is whose responsibility it is. Obviously it is not the business of the state. Is it the business of the church? No, it is the business of the family to educate the children. When the children are older, and want to pursue education to a particular calling, it is their responsibility to contract with some teacher or teachers for their advanced education. This is best accomplished by a system of apprenticeship, but in the modern world it is usually accomplished by a student’s paying the faculty of a university to teach him. Here again, however, the arrangement ought to be a simple free market transaction; it is not the responsibility of either church or state.
(Of course, in an age like ours, when Christians are a cultural minority, and the secular state is moving against Christian schools, it may be wise for the time being to put schools and colleges under the sponsorship of the church, so as to claim the protection of the U.S. Constitution: freedom of religion.)
If elementary education is the business of the family, why delegate it to the Christian school? The only justification for doing so is that the Christian school teachers are more efficient and are specialists. What do we lose in the process, however?
First, the child loses a sense of the wisdom of his parents. Soon it is the teacher who is knowledgeable and wise, and any conflict between her opinion and the parents’ opinion will be difficult for the child to resolve. Parents will not want to undermine the authority of the teacher, and so may just let the matter ride. Christian schools, of course, try to avoid this as much as possible; but it is a subtle and continuing problem.
Second, the child loses contact with other children of other ages. In the family, the older child may help in the instruction of the younger, and the younger children learn to relate to the older. Additionally, if the child is kept in the home environment, he will learn to benefit from contact with other adults. Bill Gothard makes the point, in his valuable “Institute for Basic Youth Conflicts,” that every child needs grandparents as well as parents. If grandparents are not at hand, living in the same town, parents should “adopt” some elderly couple to be as grandparents for their children.
Similarly, parents should “adopt” Christian adults to be “uncles and aunts” to their children. “Uncle” Bob may be a good mechanic, and “uncle” Bill a good musician; “aunt” Jane a good seamstress. If our children “hang around” these “uncles, aunts, and grandparents,” they will learn more than in the classroom. It is hardly a socially healthy thing, from the Biblical-familistic standpoint, for children to relate only to people of their own age group. One bad effect of this is the Junior High adolescent fixation on the peer group. Children of this age are terrified of being “different.” This simply would not be a problem if schools were not structured by these rigid grade divisions.
Third, locking a child up in school all day, five days per week, locks him out of many educational experiences in the world. At the very least, parents should readily keep their children out of class for any valuable educational experience that comes to town.
Fourth, the child will mature faster in the presence of older children than he will if isolated with kids of his own age. Moreover, he will learn much faster, since what is being taught to the older children will rub off on the younger ones.
You can think of other arguments, doubtless. Of course, the small, family-sized school, with flexible hours, will not be able to provide, the “most important” parts of education: big science labs, full sports program, cheerleaders, etc. It is up to you to decide what you prize the most.
As a matter of fact, of course, some parents are not the best educators, though most could teach their children with little difficulty. Some children, for one reason or another, do not learn as readily from parents as from a third party. A family-sized school might in many circumstances be the best solution. By this I mean a one-room schoolhouse, with children of all grades (or stages of learning) in the same room. If there are too many children for that, then break it down into large groups, say “grades” 1-4, 5- 8. Or divide the one-room school into two, in order to preserve the family size. It might prove ideal to have neighbourhood schools, with 30-40 children in each school, and one teacher over them all. (High school, entailing much more specialized kinds of education, will require more specialists to teach, and the one-room schoolhouse method might not be quite as practical there. It is surely worth trying, however.)
The Cono Christian School of Walker, Iowa, has used the “one-room” model for years, and is persuaded that it is best. The older children help teach the younger, and education takes place at a phenomenal rate. The best resource material in this whole area is available from Growing Without Schooling, 308 Boylston St., Boston, MA 02116. They sell a variety of books, and publish a newsletter giving addresses of people who are teaching their children at home, as well as legal news. Their perspective is that of radical, ecologistic humanism; but many of the ideas found in their material are valuable for Christians to adopt. A Christian family that has been doing this for several years, and who would like to be in touch with you if you are interested, are Mr. and Mrs. David A. Dombeck, 1956 Susquehanna, Abington, PA 19001
I mentioned legal news. The problem with teaching your kids at home is that many states don’t like it. More and more court cases are being won in this area, however, and the Growing Without Schooling newsletter will tell you how to keep your family out of the legal spotlight.
At the very least, this essay has been designed to encourage Christians who have no Christian school: you don’t need one; you can do it yourself at home. If there is just a teeny-weeny Christian school at your church, and it is not growing by leaps and bounds, rejoice! Your children are probably receiving a better and more well-rounded education in that one-room schoolhouse than they would get at some big Christian school.
(Of course, the big Christian school is still infinitely preferable to the secular school. This essay has not been an attack on big Christian schools so much as it has been a question-raising enterprise. We need to think this matter through. If you don’t agree, write an essay defending the other viewpoint, and send it in.)