COVER STORY – CHRISTIAN EDUCATION
It’s just a loaded, emotive phrase, isn’t it? “Back to school.” Individual reactions vary wildly, depending on your station in life and how you are wired. Kids who love school get excited, those that don’t, not so much. Some parents tend to hear the phrase with relief, others with a sense of regret, even guilt—“Where did the summer go? We should have carved out more family time.” Teachers get that old familiar knot in their stomachs and, like pretty much every other occasion in life, retailers hear cash registers.
“Back to school” also means something else.
To go “back” means that you first had to step away. Have you ever wondered how or why our current custom of summer vacation started? The standard answer is that it was agrarian-based; school went into recess for three months in the summer because children were needed on the farm. Anyone with any association to farming knows that obviously wasn’t the reason. The busiest times on the farm are planting and harvest (spring and fall) when kids are back in school.
The answer is actually much more complicated than that. School buildings were built to heat, not cool, and both students and teachers found it difficult to function during the heat of the summer months. Educators also believed for a time that the brain functioned like a muscle which, like any other muscle, needed rest. There was also concern, as expressed in an article in the Pennsylvania School Journal, that children “were growing up puny, lank, pallid, emaciated, round-shouldered, thin-breasted all because they were kept at study too long.”
The real reason for the current Memorial Day to Labor Day vacation is probably a combination of factors, but educators are almost universally agreed that students lose ground during the long summer vacation.
Which brings us to Christian education. Nowhere in the Bible does God advocate a prolonged break from Christian education. Where a slide in secular education is a problem, spiritual slides are simply unacceptable. Nor does our God advocate “farming out” the Christian education of children to others. Others can assist, but the ultimate responsibility is on parents: primarily fathers. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4 ESV) “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” (Deuteronomy 4:9 ESV)
In the last hundred years or so our society has undergone a dramatic shift from self-sufficiency and “do-it-yourself” to dependency and hired help. Like so many other things, as a society we have come to regard education as “someone else’s job.” Even Christian education is now seen as the responsibility of those we hire or call to do it: pastors, Christian day school teachers, VBS and Sunday school instructors, and so forth. All of these serve as tremendous blessings from our God, but the primary responsibility still resides, by God’s decree, with parents. All parents need to acknowledge and accept this responsibility, but especially those parents who, for whatever reason, choose to send their children to public schools. Education that is not Christ-centered routinely exposes our children to influences (both subtle and overt) that must be addressed and countered. While homeschooling and Christian day schools do not relieve parents of their God-given parental responsibilities, they are designed to work with, rather than against, Christian parents.
If you are a parent with school-aged children and no CLC Christian day school is available to you, consider homeschooling. Help is available if you ask and look. You will never regret the decision, and your children are worth any sacrifice it might require.
Michael Roehl is pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Bismarck, North Dakota.