We believe in a sovereign and good God who is faithful to his people. As we look back in this series on the development of Reformed Calvinist schooling in North America using the book 22 Landmark Years, Christian Schools International, 1943 – 1965 by John VanderArk, we see how God was present and leading.
- One of the most influential and tireless servants of the Christian education movement was Mark Fakkema, general secretary of CSI’s forerunner, the National Union of Christian Schools (NUCS for short). VanderArk mentions that during the Depression and years following Fakkema was a tireless promoter of Christian education, giving 108 public lectures in one school year, half of them to audiences who were unfamiliar with Christian education.
- NUCS began in Chicago in 1920 and until 1941 was housed in Fakkema’s house. In 1948, the decision was made to move to Grand Rapids because the editorial division was already there, the greater density of schools were located there, and it would be nearer to Calvin College.
- The period following the end of World War II was a time of tremendous growth in Christian schooling with increased enrollment, new facilities, and a focus on educational quality.
- The first Christian school in Canada began in 1945 at Holland Marsh, Ontario, 35 miles northwest of Toronto. Incidentally, the town was named in 1790 after Sir Thomas Holland, not the Dutch settlers of the 1920’s! The acknowledged “founder” of Canadian Christian education, Jacob Uitvlugt, was principal/teacher of 19 students across 8 grades and they first met in a 20 by 20 church consistory room, stove included. Lacombe Christian begins the same year, with schools in Edmonton, Alberta and Vancouver, British Columbia beginning in 1949.
- VanderArk notes that Rev. Paul DeKoekkoek was a strong advocate of Christian schools in every pastorate, including Edmonton, where he began a monthly paper called the Canadian Calvinist. He goes on to state: “DeKoekkoek personified the militant leadership that held that the CRC (Christian Reformed Church) expected a positive response to article 41 of the church order: ‘The Consistories shall see to it that there are good Christian schools in which parents have their children instructed according to the demands of the covenant’.”
- Increased student enrollment caused teacher shortages on both sides of the border. From 1951 to 1960 the average rate of increase was 35% in Canadian schools and in 1962 alone seven schools were added!
- The issue of student selection criteria was a major topic in the 40’s and 50’s. Are Christian schools intended for the children of believers or anyone? VanderArk wonders that since both Christianity and Christian education are good things to share – how can both occur without one diluting the other in the process? Community, interdenominational schools came into being during that era and a few schools were set up on a child evangelism model, such as Rehoboth and Zuni, New Mexico, and Crown Point, Indiana.
- While there were only six high schools when NUCS/CSI began in 1920, there were 12 out of 94 total schools in 1943, 34 out of 277 in 1965, and 74 out of 353 by 1980.
- VanderArk lists four types of services and examples provided by CSI: 1) clearinghouse – teacher vacancies, 2) advisory – promotional, financial, operational advice, 3) administrative – pension fund, and 4) self-evaluation materials, such as standards and policies (today’s accreditation).
- The production of Christian instructional materials was one of the reasons for the founding of NUCS/CSI. Early attempts were made to collaborate with the Lutherans, Seventh Day Adventists, and Mennonites to no avail.
- In a 1942 address, Principal J.C. Lobbes listed five reasons why we must acknowledge God in a Christian classroom:
1. As Creator of the material universe,
2. Through the intelligence, order, design, and purpose in His creation,
3. In the course of human events,
4. In the moral consciousness of man,
5. And in man’s aesthetic nature, reflecting Him who is the source of all things beautiful.
- And to close – a quote from Mark Fakkema in the 1943 Christian School Annual about the significance of curriculum: “Each school has two teachers – the teacher behind the teacher’s desk and the teacher on the pupil’s desk…$500,000 is spent annually for teachers, so that our covenant youth may receive something different from the public schools. This difference falls short if our basic texts are identical.” Although we have moved into a multiple resource era, the need for Biblically infused perspective in our teaching has never been greater!