Do We Really Need Christian Schools?

The day of violent opposition to Christian Schools in the Christian Reformed Church is by and large a thing of the past. Among our brethren in the Reformed and Presbyterian churches this is not the case. Recent publications and pronouncements in both of these denominations reveal a violent opposition to the Christian school cause. Generally speaking. the overwhelming majority of saints in these churches do not feel that Christian schools are necessary to Christian education.


This why and wherefore of Christian schools is also being discussed among the supporters of Christian education. Here is a strange paradox: While we are witnessing a phenomenal growth in the number of Christian schools and in the size of the enrollment, there seems also to be a growing confusion and questioning as to the necessity and distinctiveness of these schools. The program of the recent convention of the National Union of Christian Schools, held in Grand Rapids, was directed not so much to those who violently oppose Christian schools as it was a response to a felt need among the proponents of Christian education. The chairman of the convention explained on the ope n i n g night that the theme, “Foundations of Christian Education” was chosen as a result of letters that came to the Union Board stating that graduates did not know why they were sent to a Christian school. Within the narrow confines of the Christian Reformed Church voices were being raised as to the foundation of Christian schools. The position of the covenant as the cornerstone of Christian education, heretofore taken for granted, was being challenged by ministers of that faith. The keynote address of the convention concerned itself with that very problem.

Now, we may say that to the extent that the products of our Christian schools are wondering about the distinctive role of these institutions, to that extend the Christian schools are liquidating the very distinctiveness that gave them birth. Then, there is probably some truth in the statement that our Christian schools are much like the U.S. public schools except for a religious coating. That this is a popular conception about Christian schools can readily be granted. Bu t this conception seems to be prevalent even among supporters of Christian schools.

Rev. Gordon Girod, a minister of the Reformed Church in America, spoke at the convention luncheon meeting on the topic, “Why I Send My Children to a Christian School.” He expressed some skepticism as to whether Christian education was always being given within our Christian schools. In its issue of February 3, 1956, a full-length article appeared in The Banner, an official organ of the Christian Reformed Church, which warned that we cannot assume that we have Christian education merely because we have Christian schools. Thus we can see that the program committee of the N.U.C.S. Convention very appropriately decided that it was time once again to examine the foundations of our Christian schools.



The timeliness of this review of the foundations of Christian education is also apparent from the fact that a number of our Christian school graduates enter the teaching profession as teachers in non-Christian schools. A person very close to the teaching profession as it is represented in the Christian Reformed Church said that it was his considered judgment that in that denomination there arc as many teachers who work in the U.S. public schools as in Christian schools. This is apparently so in spite of the fact that there are Christian school classrooms that are crying for teachers.

Under such conditions it is but natural to ask whether Christian schools are really necessary. If Christian teachers can carryon Christian education in public schools, then why should we sacrifice for Christian schools? One may well ask why teachers should continue teaching in Christian schools if there is no vital difference in the teaching between the two school systems mentioned above. In cities like Grand Rapids and Chicago, teachers sacrifice from $1000 to $2000 a year by staying in Christian schools. Parents in these same cities pay from $300 to $1000 to send children to these schools. It is understandable then that both teachers and parents sometimes wonder whether all this is really necessary.


Another fact that tends to erase the distinction between the two school systems is the ease with which teachers can teach in one school or the other. This is especially true at the level of higher education. College professors will teach in church-related colleges during the day and teach for state universities in their extension schools during off-campus hours. If college professors can give their courses under state supervision and state sponsorship the n why shouldn’t our students be confused? There may remain good protective reasons for maintaining a Christian college, but one may certainly ask whether a Christian school then is really essential to a Christian education.


This confusion us to just what is Christian education is also apparent from the discussion on textbooks. Some teachers and other supporters of Christian schools insist that the schools do not require specially edited Christian textbooks. Others equally devoted to the cause of Christian education maintain that if a Christian school is to be Christian, there must be Christian textbooks in the students’ desks.


From the above it is sufficiently evident that we as supporters of Christian schools are not clear on what we mean by a Christian education. It seems to me that if we want to justify the tremendous expense of maintaining separate schools we ought to strive for a clearer understanding of their distinctive function. We cannot accomplish this unless we are serious about wanting to formulate a philosophy of Christian education. No school can formulate its goals without a basic philosophy behind them. The Christian school is no exception in this matter.

It has been said that we shall never arrive at a philosophy of Christian education. If that is true, we shall find it difficult to justify our schools on the basis of a Christian education per se. Unless we strive toward a formulation of a philosophy of Christian education we shall always be al a loss to defend the existence of Our Christian schools beyond that of practical expediency.

In the conviction that we must exchange ideas as to the philosophy of Christian education, I hope in subsequent articles to submit what I consider some of the basic tenets that make Christian schools indispensable to the education of Christian youth.