Out of its best motives, the Christian day school movement was born from the deep conviction by parents that God’s truth be recognized in every subject and every aspect of learning. Knowing that a teacher’s worldview has a powerful and undeniable impact on students’ worldviews, public schooling was not acceptable to these parents because of concerns over what core values/worldview would be promoted. In a public school setting, where all worldviews sit on an equal platform, the highest aspirations for student outcomes often gravitate toward individual economic success and becoming a good citizen. By contrast, Christian education may also work toward these goals but holds a primary emphasis on nurturing students to love God and serve their neighbors in Christ’s name. Christian schools seek to unfold the wonder of God’s creation, teach students wisdom according to Biblical principles, and help students begin to practice for their life work of service/worship. Should the Christian school of today be more about this equipping in the same manner as a seminary or be more focused on working with a wide range of student belief as churches do? Our appropriate response may be – “It depends on the needs of the student and where they are at in their faith formation”, but I believe there is more to be considered because some schools only allow children of believers to attend, while other schools take all comers, regardless of parent beliefs.
Christian schools were originally structured to function more like seminaries than churches. This was based on the belief that Christian schools functioned as an extension of the Christian home – children of believers were also believers and were sent to a Christian school for discipleship. It is similar to when adult Christians desire to study the Bible more deeply, they may choose to attend a Christian seminary where they can study Greek, Latin, Biblical history, preaching, teaching, and discipleship. There is an assumption on the part of the Christian seminary that the student knows what they are signing up for and the seminary teaches from a certain perspective. Similarly, parents who enroll their children in Christian day schools, desire and expect that teachers will teach from the perspective of God’s sovereignty and view each child as an image-bearer of God. They expect that the teachers will challenge their child to believe in Jesus and begin to understand what that means practically in life.
However should Christian schools more closely resemble today’s churches? In a world today where churches see themselves in a much more seeker oriented vein, is it appropriate also for Christian schools to be based upon the same type of missional approach? Just as anyone can come into a church on a Sunday morning, should parents of any or no belief be allowed to enroll their children in Christian schools? In both cases, many Christian school educators would say, “Yes, as long as parents and students coming in to the school understand what kind of education they are going to receive and are not disruptive to the process.” In talking with missional Christian schools, I have seen and heard a vitality and authenticity of conversations that can be had with students, as well as a lack of assumptions by students about faith (i.e., my parents are saved and so I must be too). Christian schools that go the missional enrollment route have found that they must take great care with articulating a biblical perspective in their curriculum and instruction so that they remain true to their mission, but I would add that this should be true of all Christian schools.
I believe that more dialogue on this question would be very helpful. How we should proceed may have a significant impact on how Christian schools are viewed by churches and parents considering Christian education. I have worked as a teacher and administrator in both public and Christian school settings. I am under no illusions about the shortcomings or strengths of either. What I would like to see is more dialogue between Christians working in both settings, more prayer for each other, and more support from churches for both. We should desire that all students have the opportunity to flourish. I believe that a quality Christian school that takes its mission seriously has similarities to both a great seminary and a great church – revealing God’s truth in its teaching, making no false assumptions about individual’s faith, and connecting its purpose to the needs and challenges of the real world that Christ followers are called to serve.
Recently CSI asked me to create a paper explaining the differences between the traditional enrollment policy of Christian schools, which I will call covenantal or believer-based, and missional or open enrollment policies. What is the origin and thinking, the theology and philosophy behind each of these approaches? What might be the best approach for your school?
For starters, the practice of many of the schools served by CSI is that they are operating under a covenantal approach – their enrollment policies state that at least one parent must be a believer and assent to the vision, mission and beliefs of the school in order for their child to be able to attend. This may be further verified by requiring a pastor’s letter to indicate that the parent is practicing their faith through church attendance. In the paper I trace the history and thinking undergirding this model.
There are CSI member schools that operate using a missional or open enrollment policy. There is no belief requirement from parents who want to have their child attend the school, they simply must assent to the fact that their child will be instructed according to the stated mission, vision, and beliefs of the school.
Some schools use a blend of the approaches, usually specifying the percentage of families that will be allowed to fall into the missional enrollment category.
The paper seeks to shed some light on each approach and concludes with several discussion questions. This short and provocative paper can be used with faculty, parents, or boards to examine the history and issues around each approach. The paper can be accessed here. Please use the comment section for further discussion – thank you.
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!