For non-residents of Grand Rapids a word of explanation may be in order with reference to the recent consolidation issue in that city. The proposal to consolidate the Christian Schools of Grand Rapids included nine elementary and/or junior high schools and Grand Rapids Christian High. The ten existing school societies and their boards would have been dissolved, while a single society with a single board would have replaced them. The consolidated school would have been responsible for the education of some 7,500 pupils.
The consolidated board would have been comprised of 20 men during the first year, two from each of the schools entering the consolidation. Thereafter the Consolidated Board would be reduced to 15 members with 2 members being elected from the area of schools with larger enrollments, and 1 member being elected from the areas served by smaller schools.
The superintendent of the Consolidated School was invested with large powers by the By-Laws of the new corporation. He would have selected teachers, administrative and other non-teaching personnel, courses of study and textbooks. He would have been responsible to the Consolidated Board of course, but the By-Laws of the new corporation put the above indicated authority, and more, in his hands.
This consolidation plan was voted upon and defeated in nine of the ten schools. East Paris has not yet voted on the issue. In some of the school societies the plan was defeated, because the 2/3 vote required by state law could not be obtained. In others, however, the plan was positively defeated by votes of as much as 2 to 1 and 3 to 1. An 11th school, Southwest, withdrew during the discussion period, presumably because their orientation lies with schools further to the South of Grand Rapids. Whatever you may have heard concerning this issue, bear one fact in mind. The score is 9 to 0. The people have spoken. Patently, the resounding defeat of consolidation was neither accidental nor incidental.
The Issue was never discussed!
Not by the Consolidation Committee anyway. What was the issue, the only real issue? The position of Scripture of course. What else could be the issue in anything relating to Christian education? Would the proposed consolidation foster the principle of parental responsibility for the education of their children, or would consolidation impair the function of that principle? Significantly, this question was never discussed by the consolidation committee. When individual members of the Consolidation Committee were asked whether this question had been discussed, they offered a variety of reasons why this question had not been discussed, but all agreed that the issue had never been raised in the discussions of the Consolidation Committee.
One member of the Consolidation Committee replied, “That was not our mandate. Our mandate was to produce a workable plan of consolidation.” Another member of the Consolidation Committee answered, “No principle is involved. This is a purely procedural matter.” Since the plan was resoundingly defeated, it may be suggested that the society members in each of the schools must have seen issues which were not apparent to the members of the Consolidation Committee.
To the first member of the Consolidation Committee we may say, “Even though you were not instructed to research the teaching of Scripture, you should have assumed that this was a presupposition, the first order of business in anything pertaining to Christian education. Mandate or not, how would your Christian conscience permit you to proceed without first ascertaining whether you were on sound scriptural ground?” To the second member of the Consolidation Committee we may say, “procedures always develop out of principles, or they ought to. The first question an educator ought to ask is, “What are we seeking to accomplish?” The procedures he will adopt ought to be grounded in his answer to that question.
Can we take for granted that we are all agreed that the education of covenant children is the duty and responsibility of the parent? Or is even this principle, so clear in the minds of our forefathers, too much to assume in the present hour? If we are agreed upon this principle, then everything else ought to follow from it. Parents are responsible for the education of their children!
When a group of parents organize a society for the education of their children, the school they found is already one step removed from the home. The school is justified nonetheless on the ground, first, that the teacher stands in loco parentis, that is, in the place of the parents. Second, through the SOciety and the board elected by the society, the parents exercise supervision over the teacher, the children and the instructional program. Third, the teacher—who is of like faith and mind with the parents ideally—brings to the task certain pedagogical (teaching) skills which the parents has not acquired.
A vital consideration is the proximity (closeness) of the parent to the school. The school encompasses a limited area. All of the parents may come from one congregation, or in some instances from two, three, four or five congregations located within that limited area. They worship together on the Lord’s Day. They work together and do business together during the week They attend church society meetings together. They visit together in each other’s homes. Out of this togetherness comes an intimate knowledge of their fellow-members of the school society. They have intimate knowledge of the men from their own number from whom they will elect board members to administer the affairs of the school. If any question arises about the school, they may go to one or more board members -who are also their personal friends and acquaintances—and discuss the matter with them.
Many benefits Sow from the limited nature of the situation. A society member can bring influence to bear on the education of his children without as much as attending a board meeting. though he may attend the meeting if he desires to do so. Often, however, this is unnecessary. He may ask a question or raise a point over a cup of coffee with his friend who is also a board member. If the question has weight, or even if it hasn’t, his friend may bring it before the full board at the next meeting. Thus the parent remains in intimate contact with the school situation.
The teachers and administrators also benefit from the more limited situation. In some schools, every teacher is interviewed annually by the full board. In other schools a committee of the board interviews (enters into discussion with) every teacher annually—or oftener if necessary. Thus teachers and board members stand in close relationship together. The teacher knows the board members individually as well as corporately. The board members know the teachers and the administrators. Many problems arc solved before they arise. Many questions are answered almost before they are asked. The result is not only a close relationship but a good one. Bear in mind, the child benefits from this close relationship among all who are involved in the educational process. Not the least of these benefits is that the child receives precisely the kind of education his parents want him to have.
In addition, the school closely reSects the values of the parents. Groups of parents in one area of the city may hold values which are not shared by another group of parents in another sector of the city. Whether we like it or not, the location of one’s residence is often economically determined. People of similar socia-economic level tend to settle together. And they tend to make similar value judgments. Thus school A in Grand Rapids has an extensive line arts program. The parents want it and are willing to pay for it. School B, on the other hand, has no fine arts program. The parents do not want it, nor would they be willing to pay for it. Further some parents in school B could and would pay for a fine arts program, if they believed it were worthwhile, but they have rejected it on the grounds that it would constitute a dilution of the core curriculum. With the addition of music, fine arts, physical education, home economics and similar time consuming, non-academic subjects, the academic level of the training would necessarily drop.
Who is right? As long as the schools remain separate, no one group of parents needs to answer that question for any other group of parents. Uniformity, after all, is not the summum bonum (sum of all good). What may be desirable in the minds of one group of parents may even be objectionable in the minds of another group of parents. Each must answer the question in his own soul as to what training he wants his child to receive. As long as the schools remain independent, we need not inflict our opinions on others.
Consolidation would effect serious changes. Most important, it would work injury to the concept of parental responsibility for the education of their children. In one hugh society encompassing most of the city of Grand Rapids, the atmosphere would necessarily become an impersonal one. The society would no longer be comprised chiefly of friends and neighbors. Society members would meet as virtual strangers to each other.
Board members would likewise be unknown to society members. The By-Laws for the Consolidated School called for nomination of board members by the incumbent board. Thus, even though at least one man would come from the area of each present school society, he would be selected by the Central Board. Even though the choice were quite suitable to the people of an area, this man would be the only one known to them in all probability, and he might well be unknown to many in his own area. In addition, no longer would each congregation have a member elected to the board. Thus the single representative from an area might be unknown to many parents of the area.
These men, 15 of them, would formulate policy for the entire system. We have already seen that personal contact with society members would be lost. Intimate acquaintance with the teachers would also be lost to the board. A single board could not begin to grant personal interviews to the teachers of 10 constituent schools. As a result, parents, board members and teachers would all lose the present close relationship which they have to each other. The end result? The parent is no longer in direct supervision of the education of his child.
The separation of parent from child is more extended still. A Single board cannot begin to know or deal with the problems of many schools. This must be done by a professional staff, usually made up of such people as a superintendent, assistant superintendent, pupil personnel director, teacher personnel director, curriculum planning director, plus a sizable clerical staff. The cost of a professional staff, plus a building to house them, plus operating expenses ought to be obvious. But we also object for a more fundamental reason. The staff is another intervening link between the parent and the child. The parent thus is removed another long step from the supervision of his child’s education.
In the final analysis the profesSional staff will make the decisions for the Consolidated System. Just as in the public Board of Education of Grand Rapids, the staff will come with recommendations to the board. Almost never does a board member object. Why not? Because the professional staff is supposed to know the problems first hand, while the board member admits that he does not. Further, as a professional who is supposed to know the answers, the educator speaks to laymen who presumably do not know the answers. They are awed by his professionalism. Each of the board members has his own profession, business or work. He thinks of himself as being competent in his own field, but too busy to become conversant with the problems of the schools. By the same token, he views the professional educator as competent in the pedagogical field and tends to take his opinions without thorough evaluation.
Still another practical problem may well arise with the formation of a Consolidated Board. Already, and for some years past, membership on the Christian High Board has been viewed as a prestige position by many. The latest list of nominees to the Christian High Board tends to confirm the idea that one must be a professional man, a Calvin professor or a business executive to qualify for nomination. One problem arises from the fact that these men do not think like the production workers and tradesmen in our ranks, nor do such people have the financial problems of the majority of parents in the Christian Day School movement. The “elite” never need to ask the price, nor to weigh relative values in terms of price. They know what they want and are well able to pay for it.
As long as the schools remain independent, at least some “working” people will be elected to the individual boards, if not to the Christian High Board. We contend that we need just such people on Christian School Boards. We need production workers, plumbers, mechanics and other laboring people. We need them for two different but related reasons. We need them, first of all, because they have had life long experience in weighing values against cost. An auxiliary program may be fine in a school, but not if it means that numerous families may be compelled to withdraw their children by reason of cost. Already one school in Grand Rapids has empty class rooms and, while differences of opinion have been expressed concerning the reason, at least some maintain that this particular school has priced itself out of the range of a number of families in the area. To boast about an extensive program in the fine arts has a hollow ring, when less affluent families have been compelled to withdraw their children from the school because of the cost of such a program.
We also need “ordinary” people on the Boards, because these people are often the most deeply spiritual. Few are they who can remain unchanged in the midst of prosperity. With money and position come illusions of grandeur. The “elite” know better than the other people what is good for them. The others must take it, whether they want it, whether they can afford it, or even, whether it is good for them and their children. After reading the admonition of our Savior concerning the rich, we should pause long and hard before assuming that economic or social superiority is a qualification for Board membership.
In sum, the average parent will no longer exercise supervision over the education of his children. After electing members to a Consolidated Board—many of whom, if not all, are unknown to him—he will have one remaining function, that is, to pay the bills.
It is more than time to discuss the only real issue: Will consolidation impair the exercise of parental responsibility? One local principal, who favors consolidation, agreed that the decreased function of the parent in the education of his child is a “liability” of consolidation. How then did he justify his stand in favor of consolidation? He said, “As an educator I feel that the educational benefits of consolidation outweigh this liability.” Do they? Really? Some of us question whether consolidation would bring any real benefits. Suppose, however, that consolidation has some benefits. If that were true, could any benefit to be gained outweigh the impairment of the biblical principle of parental responsibility? Can practical benefits (whether real or assumed) ever outweigh or justify flying in the face of biblical principle? Our forefathers in the Faith would have known how to answer that question. They would have taken their stand on biblical principle at any cost. May their children and grandchildren do as well.
Consolidation with its centralization of authority is the trend which in large measures characterizes American life during the past fifty years. It is championed in the interests of efficiency. Hence in the life of the state, of business, and not the least of the school its influence has been growing.
In recent years there have been attempts at consolidation, with larger or smaller degree of success, in the Christian school system. Recently such a plan for consolidation was presented to the Grand Rapids constituency. Although it failed to win support, this matter will be brought up again. Since the issues are crucial for the future of these schools, we believe that the articles beginning with this one by the Rev. Gordon Girod, pastor of the Seventh Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI, deserves the attention of our readers.