We seem to live in a very child centered culture in North America. However, some sociologists suggest that our culture, that values strength and self-sufficiency and that rejects human weakness and vulnerability, is one that fosters indifference or contempt for children. Bunge, (in The Child in Christian Thought), suggests that our popular literature “tends to depict infants and young children as pure and innocent beings whom we adore and teenagers as hidden and dark creatures whom we must fear.” I would suggest that we, as participants in this culture, also underestimate the significance of children’s spiritual experiences. What do I mean?
Spiritual development seems to parallel language development in some ways. We know that children’s early nonsense sounds and imitations of the language they hear around them is a necessary step on the path to speaking coherently in words at first, then sentences. I believe that children’s spiritual development is similar to language development – much more is happening than we can know. If we only base our judgments of children’s spiritual development on what they verbalize back to us, then we are missing a complete picture of the child’s faith life. While we cannot have the kinds of discussions around conceptual and abstract worldview issues with younger children that we can have with teens or college age students, that fact does not mean that the development of worldview is not happening in younger children. They, like babies with speech development, simply cannot cognitize or articulate what they perceive, but worldview is being formed nonetheless. The fact remains that those, who over the course of history have studied when children are spiritually formed, recognize that by age 14 most of the work has been completed, i.e. children’s spiritual identities have been largely formed by this point in their lives.
Children often have a more limited range of foods that are acceptable to their taste buds. We might say their sense of taste is more acute – as we age we eat a wider variety of foods, possibly due to the dulling of our taste buds. I wonder if the same isn’t true with children’s and adult’s spiritual “taste buds”? Jesus suggests that we need an innocent and wholly dependent “living in this moment” faith like little children – unhindered by the skepticism that life has imposed, a complete dependence born of a lack of self sufficiency, and a complete sense of trust in the Father. Those of us who have worked with children are aware of the blessing of clarity and sense of the kind of “seeing” that young children can bring – stopping us in our tracks to wonder about God. Their spiritual sensitivity is a gift to us, part of our being “reborn” to see the beauty of Christ in all things.
A significant part of building community in a Christian school includes coming together to worship. In recent years we have increasingly realized the significance of involving students in worship planning and bringing thoughtful intentionality to that process. Christian Schools International and the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship have teamed up to publish a new resource written by Robert and Laura Keeley entitled Together We Worship. This resource is designed for use in grades 4-6 and is focused around worship as dialogue – “a time when we gather together to talk to God, where God talks to us, and where we talk to each other” – an exchange of listening and speaking. Teachers will find this helpful as a means of assisting in classroom worship and building common ground across the many worshipping communities represented by our students.
The curriculum is available in print form and CD for purchase on CSI’s online store. Member schools have already received one set of materials free of charge due to the generous support of a grant through the Worship Institute.
Girls by many measures are doing better in today’s world than boys, according to statistics related to academic achievement levels, college attendance rates, professional and career opportunities, or even crime/death rates. There is one notable exception, which Carol Liebau contends in her new book Prude: How the Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls (and America Too!). She believes that the area of sex “is a minefield more challenging, difficult, and pressure-filled than ever before” for girls. She shares some very frank and brutally honest examples of sexual misconduct in our schools and society that she backs up with voluminous research. Here are some examples from the research cited in the book:
- Between 1943 and 1999, the age of first intercourse among those sampled, dropped from nineteen to fifteen for females. During that time period, the number of sexually active young women grew from 13 to 47 percent. As of 2005, 46% of high school girls surveyed had engaged in intercourse.
- Between 1969 and 1993 the percentage of female teens and young adults having oral sex went from 42 to 71 percent. More recent figures estimate that 54% of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 have engaged in oral sex.
- 12% of females approved of premarital sex in 1943, by 1999 73% did. 61% of girls aged 15-19 agreed or strongly agreed that it was all right for unmarried 18 year olds to have sex if they had strong affection for each other.
- “Hooking up” or “friends with benefits” – reportedly half of adolescents are having sex in a casual relationship or with someone who is “just a friend.” More than one third of sexually active teens have had sexual intercourse with someone who they were not dating.
- It is estimated that the average 12 year-old girl is exposed to about 280 sexy images in the course of a day. The Parent’s Television Council estimates that in reality based shows there are 3.9 instances of sexual content per hour with some shows nearing 7 scenes with sexual content.
- 77% of prime time shows include sexual content and the sexual content in general has doubled in less than a decade.
- Teens watching TV away from their families had a rate of intercourse 3-6 times higher than those who watched with their families.
- The age of children first viewing pornography has dropped due to the Internet. 90% of kids between 8 and 16 were exposed through online access.
Liebau points out that while there is more information available than ever, the most significant deficit is that the overwhelming majority of information on the Internet and in the media is presented without any moral, ethical, or religious context. She points out that in our postmodern culture there is no value judgment made – all answers are presented as equally valid. In line with the title of her book, she is concerned that the only answer, sexual restraint and premarital virginity, is portrayed by culture as “out of vogue” and “prudish”. Youth are encouraged to do “what is right for you.”
The author points out four key developments in our culture that have created a problematic culture of sex for girls:
- The elevation of self-expression over self-restraint: feeling justified in indulging impulses without restraint.
- The privatization of religion and sexual morality: “…the marginalization of religious faith in public debate and the identification of chastity as nothing but a religious issue have one result: The pro-sex messages directed at young girls go largely unchallenged…rebuttal is limited to adverse health or economic consequences of giving too much too soon. And such arguments are woefully incomplete.”
- The rise of moral relativism and the death of shame: “…there’s no objective criterion…different ways and different truths…are entitled to equal respect…the primary evil becomes exercising judgment about the behavior of others.”
- The advent of the “cool mom”: Moms who want to be “buddies” give their children minimal or no supervision and treat them as little adults. Girls are left to decide by themselves what morals they will base their decisions upon because the mom has abdicated her role.
I appreciate that Liebau closes her book on a positive tone, noting that there are kids and parents who are doing the right things and pointing to a number of concrete programs that are making a difference. This book is a strong call to action and one that is helpful in framing the problem and encouraging good solutions and dialogue.
In our over-sexualized society, this issue needs to be a major focus in terms of our curriculum choices in our schools and our discussion topics with youth (and parents) in our churches. Our girls (and guys) deserve our strong stance and support so that they can be strengthened and encouraged to do the right things, letting the Bible and not the culture guide their actions.
What is the purpose of curriculum in the Christian school? Is it “a body of knowledge to be transmitted (as ‘information’) by the teacher to the student” or as “the formation of character, or the getting of wisdom?” This key question is raised by Doug Blomberg in his newly released book, Wisdom and Curriculum: Christian Schooling After Postmodernity (available from Dordt Press.) He argues effectively that “academic excellence is only one of the excellences to be pursued, the academic disciplines only one kind of contributor to full-orbed discipleship.” I wholeheartedly agree with his assessment, yet the nagging question that came to my mind as I read this was: “How in an age of increased accountability, standards, and government oversight can we as Christian schools break out of the boxes we find ourselves in and focus more on wisdom through Blomberg’s model of play, problem posing, and purposeful response?”
There is no question that, to the degree that Christian schools are primarily focused on knowing as primary vs. wisdom as primary, we are both losing kids’ interest, but more importantly, not meeting the missions of our schools. In today’s technological age, knowledge has never been more readily available at our fingertips, but wisdom and living the truth of Jesus Christ is more elusive, yet is what kids really need. Blomberg wonders: “How would schools be organized differently if they were for the getting of wisdom in its various modes?” This is a terrific question that needs to be pondered by all Christian school faculties.
Too often we let our current structures dictate our course of action:
- We really would like to have a more personal relationship with students at high school, but don’t want to put the work into restructuring our factory model into smaller schools within schools where teachers connect with smaller numbers of kids over a longer period of time. What are we valuing?
- We really would like to have more time to talk about student spiritual development at parent teacher conferences, but instead settle for a three-minute one-way monologue with parents because we have to “cover the curriculum” and can’t spare the instructional time. What are we valuing?
- We really would like to encourage faith formation, but feel more comfortable grading neatness and work habits than thinking of creative ways to recognize demonstrated fruits of the Spirits in kids and encouraging them on their spiritual journey. What are we valuing?
- We really would like to work more closely with parents and churches with faith formation of kids, yet won’t set aside the time to figure out how we could communicate or work together. What are we valuing?
Blomberg does a great job of getting us to consider whether at the core of our schools we are valuing disciplines or disciples. He notes that while disciplines “concern subject matter, the latter requires being subject to the Master. A strength of the Christian school is that it is not neutral with respect to values, that it has a stake in the formation of character, in the forming of its students more and more daily in the image of their Redeemer, who is Wisdom incarnate. It proclaims the values of the gospel, that the goal is a life of service rather than success. The Christian school should seek to embody a different model of excellence from that which is dominant in schooling. ‘Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control’ (Galatians 5:22) – are there any excellences greater than these?”
Let’s face it – it is not easy being a mother! If you would like a good hearty laugh please take five minutes to watch this video about what a mother really does in the parenting process – hilarious!
This past summer at our leadership convention we spent time working on a set of beliefs that school and church could embrace about the faith nurture of our students. (see my blog post of September 10, 2007.) We also discussed next steps about how churches and schools might engage together and focus on the nurture of faith in youth.
There are a couple of schools that I am aware of that have take some significant next steps. Rehoboth Christian School in Gallup, NM has given this issue increased focus by including it as a part of their strategic plan.
Calvin Christian, Grandville Christian, and West Side Christian in Grand Rapids, MI gathered together pastors and administrators to discuss next steps around the Manifesto in October (see below)
They also put together a team of parents, pastors, and administrators to implement the ideas. One of the steps taken at Calvin Christian was to establish a faith nurture implementation committee for the school board. This committee will include pastors/youth pastors, school staff members, parents/board members, and high school students. One of the ideas they are considering implementing is to put on a parent conference on faith nurture.
If others of you are making advances with church and school partnerships around youth faith nurture, I would love to hear about them! Please post a comment to this blog or if you are not as comfortable with it being public drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.