Cars and Christian Schools: Innovation and Imitation

(Read Part 1.)

Many Christian parents would like their children to receive both a thoroughly Christian and a rigorously academic (emphasis on both words) education, and don’t see any inherent conflict between these two objectives. This is one reason why Christian schools must distinguish themselves, and be more than simply “not the public schools.”

A case study

As a case study, there is a medium-sized city in the Midwest with three Christian schools, each of which offers grades K-12. School #1 was founded in the late 1970’s, and has less than 50 students. School #2 was founded in the early 1980’s, and has barely more than 50 students. Both of these schools historically struggle to maintain even those enrollment figures. School #3 is of comparatively more recent origin, having been founded in the early 1990’s. It is much larger than the other two schools, with over 350 students. It charges significantly higher tuition than schools #1 or #2, and it shows a pattern of recent, ongoing growth. What makes school #3 apparently prosper, while the other two schools barely stay afloat?

To attempt to partially answer that question, picture yourself as a Christian parent in this city. (I am intentionally being vague about which city, but it’s helpful to know that the city has an above-average percentage of residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher, along with a correspondingly above-average mean family income.) As a well-educated, relatively affluent Christian parent in this city, you desire to newly enroll your child in a school which supports and complements your faith, and which also will academically prepare your child for continuation in virtually any post-secondary field of study. You want to provide your child with every educational advantage possible, for whatever vocation he or she may feel called to, or be inclined to pursue.

You begin your research by typing “Christian school,” along with the name of your city, into Google. Three Christian schools are found.

School #1, while receiving mention on some third-party websites, doesn’t even appear to have its own website. This omission seems inconceivable to you.

School #2’s website is simplistic and looks outdated. It provides very limited information, either spiritual or academic in nature.

School #3’s website, on the other hand, appears very well-designed and provides a great variety of readily-accessible information. There is a complete Statement of Faith, which you carefully read through and with which you can thoroughly concur. There is a Statement of Purpose which eloquently speaks of integrating biblical truths, principles, and values with a rigorous college-preparatory curriculum. Great emphasis appears to be placed on the spiritual nurture of students. In terms of the academic program, you find detailed information regarding challenging graduation requirements; diverse and interesting course offerings (with well-written descriptions of classes); excellent ACT mean scores (superior to those of any of the city’s three public high schools, whose results are in fact all very good); and recent college matriculations of graduates, with an impressive list of colleges and universities, both Christian and secular. You read glowing testimonials from parents and students alike. A variety of sports teams, fine arts programs, student organizations, and numerous other extracurricular activities are shown to be in abundance. Almost any question you have seems to be answered.

Which of these three schools would capture your interest the most?

Seeking God’s direction, you pray for guidance. Applying additional due diligence, you call and/or visit schools #1 and #2, to fill in some of the information blanks. Still, unless you discover some compelling reason(s) to favor either school, or feel God’s unmistakable leading otherwise, school #3 will likely be your ultimate choice. The clincher is that for everything school #3 can provide for your child, the tuition does not seem unreasonable to you.

Innovation and imitation

To still be affixing its famous blue-oval emblem onto cars after more than 100 years, the Ford Motor Company has needed to be both an innovator and an imitator. Either of these traits entails certain risks, but for an automaker a much greater risk is to be neither. Complacency has banished many renowned automobile marques to the fading annals of history.

To stay competitive, an automaker must be adaptable. Styles of vehicles that sell well one year may languish on dealer’s lots the next. The OPEC oil embargo of the 1970’s provides an indelible example. With intermittent rationing in effect at gasoline pumps, and as the price per gallon soared, stunned drivers began replacing the automotive leviathans then so familiar on America’s roadways with more lilliputian (frequently meaning foreign-made) alternatives. To avoid ruin, Detroit needed to transform its products to meet the new expectations of the car-buying public.

I came across a news story recently about a Christian school’s decision to close its doors after nearly thirty years of operation. Enrollment had dropped to half of its onetime peak. The pastor of the school’s sponsoring church was quoted as saying, (I’m paraphrasing to protect his privacy) “Christian schooling just isn’t as popular as it used to be.”

Frankly, that statement bothered me. I wondered if his assessment was correct.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that the number of students in Christian school classrooms in the United States in 2010 was about 637,400. (Minnesota’s share was about 12,500.) This is down from a onetime peak of perhaps 1,000,000. In most instances, such a sharp decline would indicate a serious problem. In this instance, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Two decades ago, when Christian school classroom enrollment was near its peak, there were an estimated 300,000 homeschooled K-12 students in the United States. Today, the NCES puts that number at 1,500,000. Other sources say it may be 2,000,000 or more.

Although the percentage is always in dispute, surveys generally indicate that not less than 70% of homeschooled students are taught from a Christian worldview, using a Christian curriculum. Assuming that 70% is a reasonably accurate figure, there were about 210,000 students in Christian homeschooling twenty years ago, and at least 1,050,000 today.

Adding those numbers to the corresponding enrollment numbers for Christian school classrooms, there were about 1,200,000 students receiving a Christian K-12 education twenty years ago, and at least 1,700,000 today.

Altogether, Christian schooling appears to be more popular now than it has ever been. Along with that popularity, however, has come a prodigious shift in how and where Christian schooling is done.

Not too long ago, Christian schooling nearly invariably took place in a proven, classic format: with students seated in several rows of individual desks, all facing a teacher and a chalkboard. Today, those traditional classrooms have been joined by a host of other venues.

A.C.E. students will usually be found while at school in semi-private carrels, which are intended to limit distractions and to allow each student to complete assignments at a rate commensurate with his or her abilities.

ACCS upper school students might be found seated around a conference table, their teacher in their midst, with everyone engaged in a lively discussion about Christian imagery in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

Christian homeschooling students might be found, by definition, studying and taking exams at home; but they might also be found doing research at the local historical society, collecting soil samples for a science experiment, or polishing their oratorical skills by participating in the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association (NCFCA).

Additionally, nearly all students today have the option, either full- or part-time, of learning in a venue which did not exist only a generation ago: the virtual classroom. From anyplace with at least a Wi-Fi connection, students can register for classes, do assigned reading, listen to or view lectures, complete written assignments, take exams, and converse with their instructor and other students. Qualifying high school students can even sign up for online, college-level courses, which may be eligible for dual-enrollment credit. Unsurprisingly, this option is growing in popularity.

With all of the choices now available in Christian schooling, the overall market, although larger than ever, has fragmented. At the start of the Golden Age, traditional Christian schooling was essentially the only form of Christian schooling. Now it comprises perhaps only one-third of the market.

Some proponents of traditional Christian school classrooms, such as the pastor quoted whose school had recently closed, may see this decline as irreversible. Instead of such a mindset, it is time to transform a quality, yet aging, product—and restore to it the curb appeal it possessed when new.

(Coming soon: part 3)


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.

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There are 18 Comments

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

When an organism doesn't adapt, it dies. 

With new technologies, a stellar education can be obtained for a fraction of the current average cost.

Studies have shown that children master material better and deepen their pool of knowledge when they are self-motivated and independent. The Chalk and Talk for the Sit and Git places too much of the learning workload on the teacher instead of the student. A 'learning coach' approach is much more efficient and effective, and since classes can be combined and organized by ability instead of age, it is also costs less to operate.

Everyone seems to love Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie, but mention a 'one room schoolhouse' approach, and people practically faint. What's up with that?

One of the things that holds people back, other than "that's the way we do it, furthermore that's the way we've always done it", is the fear of new tech. I've met many parents who are afraid of the internet and barely know how to send an email. Our children are growing up in a digital world- even my home thermostat is digital. We are not serving our children well if we don't teach them how to use technology expertly, safely, and appropriately. 

A Christian school that won't enter the digital age is demonstrating ignorance of the world we live in. 

JNoël's picture

You can be the best wagon wheel maker in the world. But, in the end, you're still making wagon wheels.

What is worse is when an organization is using the majority of its income to pay for someone to make obsolete wagon wheels. Worse than that is when the organization goes into debt to do so.

If there really are people who want the wagon wheels, they must be expected to pay a price commensurate with the market value of its maker. This is basic economics. The organization funding the manufacture of the wagon wheels will not be able to keep funding it and will inexorably collapse into financial ruin.

For those of you who insist on buying wagon wheels, stop living in denial. Either agree to pay the price to support the cost of making them or buy a car.

 

V/r

 

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

T Howard's picture

My experience with Christian schools is mixed:

1) The first Christian school I sent my oldest daughter to was inexpensive (partly because it belonged to our church, and our church subsidized the tuition for members), but the quality of education was questionable at best. The teachers' pay was atrocious; consequently, the school couldn't keep quality, qualified teachers. Additionally, the pastor's perspective on Christian education was "as long as Johnny gets an 'A' in Jesus, he'll be okay." The school was poorly administered and used outdated resources and technology. Quite honestly, Christian schools like this should shut down or be shut down.

2) The second Christian school I considered for my children had a good reputation in the community for excellence in education. However, with four children there was no way we could afford to send them all to the school when tuition was around $5,000+ / child.

3) Therefore, we decided to homeschool our children until we were able to move to a suburb where the public education system was decent.

 

Would I prefer my children go to a Christian school?  Possibly. Could we homeschool them again if we wanted? Probably. Is the education they're getting better than school #1 above? Absolutely. Is it better than school #2? Probably.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Part of the problem raised in the initial post was the attempt by some (too many) so-called Christian schools to bifurcate academics and discipleship in the education process. They were wrong, but I don't think it is any better to try to bifurcate these two "commodities" (for lack of a better term) from the other direction. Anyone who thinks they can use the public education system for "good academics" without the moral component is naive. There is no such thing as neutral education; all education promotes a values system. And all public education is antagonistic to a biblical worldview. 1 Corinthians 15:33

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Jim's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
Anyone who thinks they can use the public education system for "good academics" without the moral component is naive. There is no such thing as neutral education; all education promotes a values system.

 

So I want take a class in PHP PROGRAMMING FOR THE WEB

  • What is the moral component?
  • What value system would be promoted?
  • Would this possibly be an example of "neutral education"?

 

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Jim wrote:

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
Anyone who thinks they can use the public education system for "good academics" without the moral component is naive. There is no such thing as neutral education; all education promotes a values system.

 

So I want take a class in PHP PROGRAMMING FOR THE WEB

  • What is the moral component?
  • What value system would be promoted?
  • Would this possibly be an example of "neutral education"?

 

I somehow missed the turn in the conversation when we went from talking about a child receiving an education and an adult taking a class. I don't know very much about the class you are looking at Jim, but I do recognize it is not "an education" but only one very small piece of an education. I would say that if you signed for all all the classes necessary to complete a degree and receive a complete education in this field that it would promote a worldview and present a system of values - even at an adult level which is far different from the children's level we have been discussing in this thread.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Jim's picture

OK ... we are coming together then.

Can we agree on these points:

  • At some juncture, secular education is appropriate
  • Some secular education is morally neutral (say my example of PHP) and does not promote a value system
Jim's picture

Portion of philosophy statement of a local (Minneapolis area) Independent Baptist Fundamentalist Christian Day School

During the first year after leaving home our children are probably more vulnerable to the attacks of Satan than at any other time in their lives.  Those who enter directly into the job market, enroll in vocational school, or enlist in the military will be under tremendous peer pressure to give in to sin.  There will be few strong Christians from which to draw strength  to do right.  Those who enroll in a secular university or college will face the additional danger of the humanistic professors’ influence.  Young students become enamored with and intimidated by the professors’ knowledge with the result that they eventually reject the Bible standards they have grown up with.

 

Non-fundamental religiously affiliated colleges are even more dangerous than secular schools.  The teaching at such institutions is not only steeped in humanistic thought, but also in false doctrine.

My comments:

  • First ... I regard this school as a "Pinto" style school. I've seen their facility and know something about the church and also know (well) someone who taught there.
  • So in the view of this church & school, after graduation:

    • Wrong to directly enter the job market
    • Wrong to go to a vocation school
    • Wrong to serve in the military
    • Wrong to go to a secular school
    • And "Non-fundamental religiously affiliated colleges are even more dangerous than secular school"
    • There's a one-sized fits all view of things ... which is go to Fundy "U"

Question: What is the worldview of this church & school? Is it Biblical?

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

No. You are not talking about an education. An education is a unit, a complete thing. There is no such thing as a morally neutral education. Furthermore, I cannot conceive of even a single class being presented without an underlying worldview coming through, both in the curriculum and from the teacher. Trying to teach something, anything, outside of its contextual relationship to God is still a moral position, and it's not neutral. Either verses like 1 Corinthians 10:31 and Ecclesiastes 12:13 mean something or they don't. Life is a whole and cannot be biblically compartmentalized. 

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I think in this discussion we are talking about dropping our kids off at 8am and picking them up at 3pm. I've used both saved and unsaved teachers for things like cooking, auto mechanics, foreign language, and music. But they were still under my direction, and I have the power to hire and fire. 

I agree that education, as we are using it in this thread, is not neutral. We all bring our experiences, biases, and sensibilities to how we teach our kids, and how we teach others' kids. Education is not the sterile transmission of facts in a vacuum. There will be a moral and ethical component in our explanations, not to mention our curriculum choices. 

Some teachers are very careful to be unbaised, but again- you can't pick your child's teacher in either a public or private school. 

The more I think about it, the more traditional schooling sounds like too much work. It's easier to homeschool. That'll be my schtick now- "I homeschool because I'm lazy".

 

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

[quote=Jim]

Portion of philosophy statement of a local (Minneapolis area) Independent Baptist Fundamentalist Christian Day School

During the first year after leaving home our children are probably more vulnerable to the attacks of Satan than at any other time in their lives.  Those who enter directly into the job market, enroll in vocational school, or enlist in the military will be under tremendous peer pressure to give in to sin.  There will be few strong Christians from which to draw strength  to do right.  Those who enroll in a secular university or college will face the additional danger of the humanistic professors’ influence.  Young students become enamored with and intimidated by the professors’ knowledge with the result that they eventually reject the Bible standards they have grown up with.

Non-fundamental religiously affiliated colleges are even more dangerous than secular schools.  The teaching at such institutions is not only steeped in humanistic thought, but also in false doctrine.

My comments:

  • First … I regard this school as a “Pinto” style school. I’ve seen their facility and know something about the church and also know (well) someone who taught there.
  • So in the view of this church & school, after graduation:
    • Wrong to directly enter the job market
    • Wrong to go to a vocation school
    • Wrong to serve in the military
    • Wrong to go to a secular school
    • And “Non-fundamental religiously affiliated colleges are even more dangerous than secular school”
    • There’s a one-sized fits all view of things … which is go to Fundy ”U”

Question: What is the worldview of this church & school? Is it Biblical? [/quote]

Are these poor kids EVER going to leave the jail nest?

Our family philosophy is that we need to give our kids some rope to allow them to be tested. They need to find out what is in their own hearts, and we often don’t know what we’ll do when faced with temptation until we are, in fact, faced with temptation. 

Obviously I’m not talking about putting a 5th of JD under their nose, but they need to learn how to make good decisions by making decisions- and they learn as much from poor decisions as they do from good ones. They need to feel some consequences every once in awhile. They need to fall down and have parents there to pick them up when they are young and can recover, and not wait to fall down when they are out there on their own and too embarrassed to get help.

 

Jim's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
I cannot conceive of even a single class being presented without an underlying worldview coming through, both in the curriculum and from the teacher.

Would this then be a true statement?

  • If a young person (let's say 16 years of age) wanted to learn PHP and SQL and Web hosting
  • If the only institution offering this is a local technical college
  • And that the instructor is not a fundamentalist (let's say he is an unsaved non-practicing Catholic)
  • That it would be sinful to take that class?

 

Jim's picture

Minnesota has what is called a PSEO - Post-Secondary Enrollment Options

My daughter (more than 10 years ago) took advantage of this program. Basically it works like this:

  • It’s for HS Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors
  • There is an academic threshold to enroll (link above details)
  • Children may enroll in a MN State college *  and those years of college count towards HS graduation
  • My daughter only did this for her Sr. year. So her 1st year of college was paid for by the state AND counted as her Senior year of HS
  • The financial savings obviously are significant

I know of at least 2 Christian schools in the Twin Cities that participate in this program. Both schools are hosted (owned and operated) by fundamentalist Baptist churches.

Is this safe to presume, that you Chris, would view this as sinful? 

Thanks

 

* Minnesota (like many states) has a three tiered system of Community Colleges, State Colleges and The U

(This scenario has: children, secular education, and unsaved teachers)

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Jim,

I don't remember anywhere laying out the "s" word (sin). Here's what I did say on the first thread.

Frankly, I would discourage Christian parents from exercising the public school option except in some extreme cases. I would not call it a universally sinful option, though I do believe it is a sinful option (between them and God) for some people who are making excuses for misguided priorities.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Jim's picture

Thanks ... sounds like we are in agreement (?)

It's a preference issue then. 

The ESV study Bible has a helpful (or at least it helped me) article entitled "Biblical Doctrine - An Overview". Section below is cited from this article.

---------------

The ability to discern the relative importance of theological beliefs is vital for effective Christian life and ministry. Both the purity and unity of the church are at stake in this matter. The relative importance of theological issues can fall within four categories:

  • Absolutes define the core beliefs of the Christian faith
  • Convictions, while not core beliefs, may have significant impact on the health and effectiveness of the church
  • Opinions are less-clear issues that generally are not worth dividing over
  • Questions are currently unsettled issues.

---------------------
The image below is a colorized version of their chart associated with the article.

Would you agree with me that it is a requirement for a child to either attend a CDS or be homeschooled would be in the "Opinion" category?

dgszweda's picture

The quote where the pastor said that "Christian Schooling is not as popular as it once was", is partially true depending on your perspective.  There were too many Christian schools to begin with that were supported by a Church because the church felt they needed to provide something for their congregates.  In addition, they didn't want to charge much because their congregates couldn't afford it.  So they essentially socialized their education by making the church pay for the school.  With that said, it is true that a 50 student school which doesn't pay it's teachers is not that popular.  Now there is a shift for a lot of these parents to homeschool their kids.  I will be interested to see where this article goes.  I am a firm believer that each family has to make their own decision for their family and that the greatest determining factor for the success of your kid is your involvement, not the type of schooling they receive, whether that is a classical private education, homeschooling or public school.

Barry L.'s picture

"There’s a one-sized fits all view of things … which is go to Fundy “U”"

 

Well, parents of young children today need to train their children as if there will be no accredited Fundy U around when they graduate, which is a strong possibility in the near future.

 

 

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