Author: Milton V. Uecker, Director of the Lowrie Center
Throughout the nineties, educators have been challenged by the call for reform, standards, accountability, and "world class" education. Federal, state, and local government, the business community, and local parent groups are united in their demand for excellence. Christian schools are no longer bystanders in the debate but are increasingly being challenged by their constituencies to provide higher standards. The question that remains unanswered is, What are the standards for excellence? Christian schools exist to meet the demands of a Christian philosophy of education. Unless the focus of Christian school reform is on a return to biblical standards, God’s school system is in danger of losing its purpose. If secular and private schools become world class, will Christian schools be needed? The answer will be NO if their definition of excellence is no different than that of the educational establishment. Christian schools must respond to the need for excellence, but they must address excellence from God’s perspective.
If God were the parent of a prospective Christian school student, would His inquiries center around the senior class’s average SAT scores, the number of AP courses offered, or a list of colleges where the seniors have been accepted? What questions would God ask if He were evaluating a Christian school? Is your school addressing those questions in its quest for excellence? Is your school’s education "kingdom class?"
What Is the Purpose of the School?
Christian school education must focus on the students’ need for regeneration. Regardless of whether the school serves Christian families, its students must make a personal decision regarding salvation. Everything the school is called to accomplish is based on its students’ critical response to God’s plan of redemption. The school must be intent on knowing each child’s position regarding salvation and then responding with appropriate teaching and guidance. Without rebirth there is no possibility that the Holy Spirit’s power will give understanding of the truth, or motivation for obedience and life change.
After regeneration the focus of the Great Commission is on forming disciples. Instruction must therefore lead beyond the knowledge of biblical content to obedient living. God’s desire is to see Christ’s character formed in each student. Paul labored for completeness in Christ (Col.1:8)—completeness demonstrated through character, or spiritual formation. Christian school standards must therefore include affective outcomes, not just cognitive ones. On graduation it is God’s desire that students be meek, humble, gentle, patient, peacemakers, seekers of justice, righteous, examples of integrity, compassionate, forgiving, faithful in marriage, loving, other- directed, and fishers of men. Are our graduates prepared for a life of service, or for self-serving (Galatians 5:13)? Have they learned to be content (Phil. 4:11), or have they learned "all kinds of greed" (Luke 12:15 )? It is the affective domain that distinguishes education as kingdom class.
What Is the Meaning of Learning?
Christian schools are institutions of learning, and as such they are charged with the academic preparation necessary for living life skillfully. From God’s perspective students must be led to incline their heart to understanding (Proverbs 2:1–6). The exhortation throughout Scripture is to move beyond knowledge to a deeper understanding leading to wisdom. Too often the goal of teaching is limited to the recall of facts, but the ability to recite facts does not assure the commitment to, and application of, the content. From a biblical perspective truth must always be acted on, and the learner must become obedient to the truth. Learning must be integrated with the real world and assessed by observing an active response to the knowledge (Van Brummelen, 1994). Without higher levels of learning, the student cannot demonstrate the fullness of human rationality. It is through thinking and problem solving that students use the brain’s neocortex, or thinking cap. This level of brain functioning is part of our human uniqueness as image bearers of God, and the ability to judge or discern is a mark of maturity ( Hebrews 5:14). These higher levels of thinking are sometimes mistakenly equated with a "dumbing down" process rather than the ultimate goal. God’s view of learning includes facts and concepts as a starting point, but the student must use knowledge skillfully in order to be deemed wise.
What Is the Nature of the Curriculum?
Since the Christian worldview accepts the Bible as truth, the Christian school curriculum must be grounded in and integrated with God’s Word. "Sanctify them by your truth; your word is truth" (John 17:17). How important is Bible in the school? Should Bible teachers have special training in teaching the Bible? Schools are not allowed to place AP instructors in courses unless they have had special training. Can we expect less of those who teach the Word? Bible classes must be taught dynamically with assessment of both knowledge and spiritual formation. Once students have a strong biblical foundation, the Bible should be integrated across the disciplines, holding an authoritative position in relationship to the presuppositions or basic structure of each subject area. Where a discipline has been impacted by sin, the truth must be revealed to reclaim the content. Too often biblical integration is merely a devotional thought, a prayer at the beginning of a class, or a verse that correlates with the lesson concept.
What Is the Key to Meeting Outcomes?
The key to a Christian curriculum is the "living curriculum," dynamic teachers who model Christian thinking and behavior before their students. Jesus said that "a student is not above his teacher, but every student who is fully taught will be like his teacher" (Luke 6:40). The outcome of a Christian school education is students who are like their teachers, so it is God’s desire that the teachers reflect Jesus. Christian school teachers must not only be professional educators with training in Bible teaching and an understanding of Christian school philosophy and practice; they must also be ―transformed by the renewing of their mind‖ so that they might prove the "perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2). The Christian school must devote its full energy and resources to nurturing, developing, and retaining its most valuable asset.
Does the Program Instruct the Whole Child?
Whether in kindergarten or high school, we need to view the child as a whole being. Jesus at twelve was cognitively mature beyond His years, but God saw a need for Jesus to grow in other
areas as well. Jesus submitted Himself to His parents and continued to grow "in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52). Schools have an academic purpose, but to diminish their role in the physical, social, and spiritual dimensions would be to misunderstand the nature of humankind. To be excellent, a program must address with enthusiasm and commitment the means of training and nurturing across all the strands of development. This commitment is reflected in the budget, the scheduling, the extracurricular activities, and even the awards program. Are students recognized for spiritual growth, or do awards reflect a bias toward academic and physical achievement? The published outcomes and honors should reveal that the progress and growth of the whole child are valued.
Whom Are You Serving?
A distinctive of the Christian faith is its emphasis on other-directedness. Throughout the New Testament, Christians are encouraged to love and serve others. Classroom teachers at all levels must realize that they serve the student rather than the discipline or curriculum. Christian schools are to be student-directed. When teachers focus on covering the curriculum, they lose sight of the learners’ needs. God’s perfect care centers on His intimate acquaintance with "all our ways" during each of our developmental stages (Psalm 139). Teachers must be students of the ways of childhood. God is concerned with the teachers’ knowledge of content but, even more, their knowledge of the child. Early childhood, the intermediate years, preadolescence, and adolescence—each has unique cognitive, social, physical, and emotional needs that must be addressed if children are to find success in meaningful learning.
Schools must also address the differences rooted in varied learning styles, multiple intelligences, and ADHD and LD needs. The Christian school often excuses itself from responsibility by believing that it is not equipped to handle such diversity. Yet research shows that schools that effectively reach at-risk populations are those with strong instructional leadership, authoritative environments, professional collegiality, a basic skills curriculum, and patient, loving, compassionate teachers with high expectations (Lehr and Harris, 1988). This list reflects the elements found in Christian schools. These schools are ideal for children with special needs! God’s schools should reflect God’s heart for the needy child. It is not His desire that even one little one should perish (Matthew 18:14).
God has a heart for the poor. Are the poor in the school? As they mature, our schools must begin to implement funding strategies that will enable them to model concern and compassion for the poor. God’s Word continually reflects concern for the poor. Kingdom class schools must likewise extend their programs to the economically disadvantaged.
The kingdom of God will represent every tribe and every nation. As the United States becomes increasingly diverse, the Christian school should mirror the demographics of its community. This strategy will require not only prayer and vision but also sensitivity toward cultural diversity. Preparation for learning, the value placed on learning, and the way children learn are specifically related to culture. Are the school and its staff creating a climate that honors differences? Jesus demonstrated cultural sensitivity in His teaching. Are Christian schools ready to pattern their instruction after the model of the Master?
How Does the School Fulfill the Mandate for Parental Authority?
Ask anyone about the purposes of Christian schools, and the list will probably include the idea that education must be under the parents’ authority. Christian schools are an extension of the home, but their relationship to the parents has deteriorated in recent years. Some school handbooks go so far as to tell parents the school is "off limits." Is it any wonder that so many parents have opted for home schooling or have taken an advisory role? Parents are often against what the school is doing not only because they feel disenfranchised but because they are unable to catch the school’s vision from a distance. Every parent has an idea of what a Christian school should accomplish, but many are unaware of the school’s actual vision and purpose. Just as the world has shaped and molded beliefs and values on other matters, so it has shaped the thinking of Christian school parents about their schools. There is need for mind renewal, which requires instruction from God’s Word about His ways. There will seldom be a parent body that is supportive of the biblical goals of education without a means whereby the parents themselves can receive biblical instruction. Kingdom class education is impossible without the support and involvement of the parents. Excellence demands a strategy.
It is God’s desire that His schools be kingdom class. What are you doing to address the accountability question? Do your school’s standards reflect biblical outcomes? How is your school measuring student and program outcomes? What other questions would God ask? When seeking quality, Christian schools must think Christianly and respond obediently.
Lehr, Judy Brown and Hazel Wiggins Harris. At-Risk, Low-Achieving Students in the Classroom. Washington D.C.: National Education Association, 1988.
Van Brummelen, Harro. Steppingstones to Curriculum: A Biblical Path. Seattle, Washington: Alta Vista College Press, 1994.