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Henry Ford is widely associated with numerous familiar sayings, some of which he actually said. One that is contested, although Ford himself recounts it on page 72 of his 1922 autobiography, My Life and Work, is “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.” (Black paint was reportedly less expensive than other colors, and reputedly dried faster.) In retrospect, Ford’s directive was not strictly implemented. The Model T was available in several other colors for much of its production run.
Neglecting customer’s legitimate needs, wants, or expectations does not abet a sustainable business plan. When competition exists, businesses must continually strive to attract and retain customers. Competition expands choices; choices empower customers.
A third element of a Christian school that influences enrollment is its academic reputation. When given a viable choice, what conscientious parent would send his or her child to a Christian school not known for providing a quality education? The answer may be obvious, but the question is flawed. The problem is that few observers of Christian education can agree on what “quality” means.
Some would be satisfied with the most basic, conventional curriculum as long as a daily Bible class or chapel service is included. Others would presuppose an array of courses befitting the most storied New England prep schools. Impressive lists of required classes and extensive selections of electives are no guarantee of quality, however. Depth of instruction is as vital as breadth of instruction. Without sufficient academic depth and the critical-thinking skills it engenders, Christian schools may produce graduates more adept at rote memorization and recitation than at inquiry and discernment. This can have serious consequences.
In the 1950’s, one of television’s highest-rated programs was the quiz show Twenty One. Contestants vied for large cash prizes by tackling a series of increasingly tough questions. In a misguided attempt to make the program even more popular, the show’s producers secretly began furnishing answers to select contestants. A huge scandal ensued.
In a sense, some Christian schools are like those producers. They dispense answers without asking students to ever truly face the questions. If students never personally engage and contemplate some of life’s ultimate questions—even in the controlled, protective setting of a Christian school—those answers, however true, may not honestly become theirs. Why should it surprise anyone if students later falter in their faith when someone else presents them with a different set of answers?
Such susceptibility points to what must be an indispensable component of all Christian education: fearlessly teaching students how to think. Not just what to think, but how to think. Christian schools must equip students to capably wield the various implements of reason. Moreover, Christian schools must purposefully teach students to recognize specious arguments and logical fallacies. Yet this latter expectation presents a paradox. To inculcate and refine essential discernment skills in students may involve exposing them to ideas and philosophies that Christian schools exist in part to avoid.
Evolution in the curriculum
Consider evolution. In its most prevalent form, Naturalism, it rejects the necessity of a Creator. From America’s public schools to public television, from science museums to the daily news, this theory is upheld as virtually unassailable. Is it? Although evolution (especially Naturalism) is a notorious snare to faith, many Christian schools treat this question as if the best defense is no defense. Students are duly taught Creationism, but even a rudimentary survey of evolution may be prohibited. Why not allow students to critique evolution on its merits, or lack thereof? Permit them to examine evolution’s assertions; its limitations; its conundrums. Since they will encounter countless uncritical presentations of evolution in their daily lives, ignorance is a perilous alternative.
Ironically, scores of Christian colleges routinely do teach the mechanics of evolution, utilizing the approach prescribed above. Bob Jones University (SC), founded in 1927 in the wake of, and partly as a result of, the 1925 Scopes Trial, offers Biology 300: Evolution & Origins. According to the school’s website, this course “will engage students in critical thinking and problem solving and prepare them to answer challenges to a biblical worldview regarding evolution and origins.” To help facilitate these objectives, “extensive use will be made of a current evolutionary textbook.” Pensacola Christian College (FL) offers Science 102: Biological Science Survey, which “begins with the study of creation and evolution.” Maranatha Baptist Bible College (WI), Clearwater Christian College (FL), and Faith Baptist Bible College (IA) are among the many Christian colleges offering courses with similar content.
Besides aiding to instill discernment in students, academic rigor at a Christian school serves another biblical imperative: faithfully stewarding one’s God-given abilities. As Luke 12:48 (ESV) establishes, “to whom much was given, of him much will be required.” This admonition directly applies to education, for Christians know that the human mind is more than just a vastly complex aggregation of neurons and synapses. It is a unique gift from an omniscient Creator. Each recipient bears the responsibility of fully developing the mind he or she has been given. Consequently, the finest Christian schools view their role in the education of students as being participants in a sacred trust.
These schools do not desire to usurp parent’s God-given responsibility for the education of their children, yet neither are they content to merely adequately fulfill their delegate role. Adequate is not good enough. In their view, a quality education is more than just a statutory minimum threshold to be maintained so that putatively more significant spiritual matters may be attended to. Instead, the finest Christian schools view education as a significant spiritual matter in itself, to be accomplished for the glory of God. Hence it must be exceptional.
God’s design for the mind
As the Creator of the human mind, God has exercised His prerogative to utilize exceptional scholarship in accomplishing His divine will throughout human history. Moses was “instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22), a factor that was intrinsic to God’s plan that he would lead the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity. The prophet Daniel and his three friends were chosen for three years of advanced instruction, as preparation to serve in King Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian court, partly because of their intellectual promise. They were found to be “skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to [learn] the literature and language of the Chaldeans.” (Dan. 1:4) The apostle Paul studied under the renowned scholar Gamaliel, becoming sufficiently well versed in the Judaic law that he “was advancing in Judaism beyond many of [his] own age.” (Gal. 1:14) Later he redirected his erudition to become one of Christianity’s foremost evangelists, theologians, and teachers. These are just a few of multitudes of examples, of both men and women, from historical eras to the present day.
From the details given in Scripture, one can reasonably conclude that these individuals received the most rigorous, comprehensive training contextually available. Today’s Christian schools must be equally motivated to cultivate outstanding Christian thinkers and leaders, whatever their future paths.
(Coming soon: conclusion)
Larry Nelson is a graduate of “an exemplary Christian school,” holds a BA in history from the University of Minnesota and has been employed in banking for over twenty-two years. He is a member of a Baptist church in the Minneapolis St. Paul area.