From a Principal’s Desk…

Among the problems of a school administrator is the one pertaining to the choice of subjects to be taught. This choice is not his sale responsibility. Students, parents, alumni, school boards, higher institutions of learning, accrediting associations, and learned professors are generally ready to help him solve this problem.

This assistance, welcome and indispensable as it is, gives uniqueness to the administrator’s work. Out of a thick forest of idea he must lead to sanity and to sound decisions.

These decisions about principles and practices are made at every level of education. The elementary school principal must decide whether or not the classroom should be made into a little zoo to create effective learning situations. Dean Melby from the School of Education at New York University says that building a bridge teaches students to think as effectively as do the classical subjects.

One might naively suppose that for Christian school administrators things would be much easier. Yet among us there is a great variance in principles and practice.


Nowhere is this more evident than at the secondary level. A recent example of this is the extremely different reactions of our high schools to the Michigan driver training law. One Christian high school has taken full responsibility to carry out the requirements of this law. Another Christian high school decided to throw out its present driver training program and let the public schools take over the job. Both of these are covenantal institutions seeking to meet their covenantal responsibility to youth.

Accrediting agencies are also forcing us to evaluate critically our high school programs. They are telling us that our high schools are designed to meet the needs of all youth. They insist that no one program of studies is adequate to meet those needs. Not all students benefit from the traditional classical program of studies planned to prepare ministers, teachers, etc.

In practice the demands of accrediting agencies mean that physical education, home economics, and manual art must be taught. This does not mean vocational training. It means a general education to prepare youth to live in the twentieth century. Quite obviously centuries ago typewriters and automobiles were not a part of the culture. Today they are and the proponents of a general education hold that it is within the province of the school to train youth in the proper use of these means of communication and transportation.

Now these requirements cost money. This makes us reappraise our Christian educational program. Such reappraisal is good. But what are we going to use as a criterion for evaluation? The fact that we have no common measuring stick is apparent from the extreme positions that are taken. Dr. H. Vanden Tol, vice-president of the International Verband van Christelijke Onderwijs en Opvoeding Organizaties, a few weeks ago told a group of Christian school men that in the Netherlands they now have two Christian technical schools. He emphasized that they need to advance more along these lines. This probably represents the broadest concept of Christian education. Another extreme I find in a special report to the Society for Christian Education of Holland, Michigan. Here four Calvin College professors, Doctors H. Stab, J. Van Bruggen, L. Flokstra, and H. Zylstra, are quoted as saying, “Instruction in manual arts and home economics is extraneous (unrelated) to the purposes of Christian education. This does not mean that these may not have practical value, but they are not essential to the responsibility of providing a distinctive Christian education” (Report of June 28, 1956). With such extreme divergence among us it is no wonder that occasionally an administrator gets a little dizzy. This all points up again to the need of a definite philosophy of Christian education.

It seems to me that to say the teaching of Latin or Shakespeare is Christian education and teaching a student to make a lovely piece of furniture or a beautiful dress is not Christian education is to insist on something that the Bible does not warrant. If Christian education is concerned with developing a Christian citizen for time and eternity, then the making of a dress is pertinent. Through it a student is involved in the social, economic, aesthetic, historical, and religious development of man. It also teaches a student about God’s revelation in nature. But it is a practical art. I know of no norm in Scripture that embraces the mental disciplines as peculiarly Christian and casts aside the manual arts as not essentially Christian.

Unfortunately, this whole problem is tainted with the general de-emphasis of scholarly training in America. Physical education, home economics, and manual training are the common thing in European schools. Only on the continent different schools are established to meet different needs. In America we have different curricula within one comprehensive high school to meet the different needs. One may contest whether the parallel school system of Holland is not better than the single, vertical school system of America. But that is an organizational question. In America we have a traditional fear of separate schools because we feel they support the class system and militate against our concept of democracy.

One truth to guide us in our choice of activities is the truth that we never educate a hand or a foot or a head. We are always educating the person who uses the hand, foot, and head. A person’s faculty to believe is developed in all education; but a person’s faith in Christ is developed in Christian education. So too a complete education develops a student’s use of hands, feet, and mind, but only a complete Christian education teaches a person to develop these abilities for Christ. Dr. Jan Waterink says, “Religious education is the foundation and principle, it is the objective and the culmination of all education….Not a single form of education, not a Single act of education may be wholly divested of this religious aspect” (Basic Concepts in Christian Pedagogy, p. 120). When Paul tells us that our eating and drinking must be done to the glory of God (I Cor. 10:31) and Zechariah says, “In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD” (Ch. 14:20), it seems to me rather difficult to maintain that the practical arts are “extraneous to Christian education.”

We are told that driving cars on today’s highways involves ethical problems. Do we fulfill our responsibility of helping our youth meet this problem by quoting, “Thou shalt not kill”? The law requires thirty clock hours of classroom teaching and only six hours of behind-the-wheel training. Only one-sixth of the time is devoted to the actual skill of driving. The thirty clock hours of classroom teaching is designed to make a good citizen behind the wheel. The character of the driver is considered most important. If such is the case one can readily understand why a school concludes that such a course is within the proper sphere of Christian education.

Rather than build a false dichotomy between the physical and the intellectual, we can better serve our schools by improving the academic training and developing a higher respect for scholarly pursuits. Calvin College can help us in this by demanding academically trained students. As things now stand the principal may say to a pre-college student, “You need two years of a foreign language and four years of English for our pre-college course.” But the student receiving the counseling can correctly answer, “I can get into Calvin without your precollege requirements.”