Even though consolidation might be shown to have advantages, some of us could never accept it. Why not? We arc convinced it violates the most basic principle of Christian education, that is, that the parents are responsible for the education of their children. How does it violate this principle? By taking the parent another step—a giant step—away from direct supervision of the education of his children.
Suppose, however, that we were to disregard this violation of principle for a moment. Does consolidation hold advantages over the independent operation of our schools? The answer one makes may depend upon his philosophy of education. It depends upon what one expects from the school. If one holds to the so-called “traditional” view of education, he will find little of value in consolidation. Since he believes that the function of the school should be limited to teaching in the academic area, he would not find the cost of educating his child becoming exorbitant. He knows that the non-academic functions, so important to public school educators, cost far more than the academic training of children. But he is not concerned with these many non-academic functions. He realizes that this is precisely why the public schools often do a very poor job of educating their pupils.
The traditionalist begins with the very real fact that there are only a limited number of hours in the day. The school day is limited of necessity. Since this is true, value judgments must be made as to how the time spent in school shall be used. The school might undertake to teach many things if it had unlimited time to spend with the child. But it does not! Therefore decisions must be made. How can the school best spend the limited time it has with the child? The obvious answer is that the school should do what it does best and what no other agency is doing.
No other agency has invaded the traditional domain of the school. No other agency seeks to teach the child the three R’s. Reading, writing, arithmetic, spelling, history, geography—these and other commonly accepted academic subjects arc not taught by any other agency. In these areas the public schools once did an acceptable job, at least from the secular point of view. Young people were taught to read and write. They were taught mathematics, history, geography, etc.
What happened? Professional educators insisted that the school should and could do much more. It must enter into at least three additional areas. First, physical “education,” so called. Only a few years ago two periods a week were considered sufficient. Today federal pressure is being exerted for daily gym periods (already an accomplished fact in some areas) for each class. Swimming pools are also beginning to appear in the public schools. Ignore the fact that gyms and pools cost several times as much per square foot as do classrooms. Academic training must be foregone, if it interferes with physical education. Disregard the fact that pushing a lawn mower or shoveling snow would probably accomplish the same result plus providing a lesson in useful labor at the same time. The school must provide exercise for the child.
The new Union High School in Grand Rapids serves as an excellent example. It has two gymnasiums, five shops, a swimming pool, a driver training court, several tennis courts and two athletic fields. Although it has not opened, already the public Board of Education has announced that this school does not have sufficient classrooms to accommodate the known anticipated enrollment. Every provision was made except for the academic. Another example would be the God win School, standing on the edge of Grand Rapids. Godwin enjoys the tax dollars of General Motors. On one side of the street stands a rather dingy classroom building. On the other stands the most magnificent athletic plant in the Grand Rapids area. General Motors paid for it, and having this largesse at their command, an extravagant athletic plant was erected.
Second, culture. Music, crafts, and the fine arts. These “subjects” receive the same credit and are substituted for academic subjects by students in the public schools. In spite of the fact that many students have no musical talent or artistic bent and the few with talent could receive more concentrated instruction elsewhere, all students are compelled to take these “courses” and are graded as though every child is endowed with such specialized capacities at birth.
Three, vocational training. Compulsory education laws were in large measure influenced by the trade union movement. Their purpose seems to have been to keep young people off the labor market for several years and thus not necessarily to benefit the young. (This is a fact of educational history.) But what shall the school do with the boy who cannot or will not be educated academically? Shops for the boys, and home economics for the girls. Ignore the fact that such training has serious handicaps in the school, and the fact that others—the home or the shop—can do a better job. A former supervisor of vocational training in Seattle, Washington (an elder in the Christian Reformed Church and a Christian School board member) urges that such training is virtually valueless. He asserts, “A young man must learn more in four weeks of industrial training than he would learn in four years of high school shop, or he would be fired.” Public educators however will not accept the fact that they are ill-equipped. to provide vocational training.
Home economics. Our daughters arc not expected, apparently, to learn from their mothers, experienced homemakers and mothers in Israel. No, they must learn from a teacher who, frequently, has not reared a family or conducted a home.
Note that training in these areas is far more expensive than training in the usual academic subjects. Auditoriums, laboratories, and machine shops are required. This is why the cost of education has skyrocketed. Not, first of all, because teachers’ salaries have been raised. (And we favor adequate salaries for teachers.) Not, first of all, because buildings cost more today. But because the schools have entered into areas where the cost is very great, the end result achieved is minimal, and others do a better job than the school.
With this in mind we would like to comment on the final report this past spring of the Consolidation Committee of the Grand Rapids Christian Schools. It bears no date, but must have been of relatively recent origin, that is, immediately prior to the society meetings. Society members were not given this report. From the report one learns that consolidation should prove helpful in obtaining public and private financing. We are not here debating the advisability or seeking or accepting tax money for the Christian schools, though this is certainly a debatable question. We are here concerned with another vital question: what has created the need for more money than parents can be expected to supply? The answer lies in expensive, non-academic programs. The schools must speak with a single voice, according to the Final Report of the Consolidation Committee, in order to obtain outside financing.
Envision a hypothetic situation. Suppose that money were as freely available to the Christian schools as it is to the public schools. Suppose, then, that the Christian schools were enabled to provide all the nonacademic programs that are found in the public schools. Would not the academic level of the Christian schools drop to the low ebb of the public schools? Again and again the graduates of Christian High have been acknowledged as superior students by the colleges and universities they have attended. The graduates of Christian High have also repeatedly found that they are preferred by industry. Why should Christian school graduates be preferred to public school graduates? Because they have received superior academic training, especially in the fundamentals.
Why are public school graduates often judged by many employers to be inferior? To some extent because of some ill-advised methods: sight reading, the new math, etc. Yes, but the reason also lies deeper. There arc only a limited number of hours in the school day. With the introduction of an increasing number of non-academic subjects, the academic program of the public schools had to be diluted. After all, you can’t learn to put diapers on a doll, as junior high boys in the public schools of Grand Rapids do, and learn spelling at the same time. If we follow the lending of the public schools in these areas, we can expect similar results.
If there are parents who want this kind of training for their children, they ought not force it upon the rest of us. If you want your child to be acquainted with music, the fine arts, physic.’ll education, home economics, and vocational training, it can be done only at the expense of diluting real academic training. If this is what you want this is your privilege; but we have a different point of view.
Notice that we have not said that non-academic training is bad or evil. We would fully agree that every child who has musical talent should be given the opportunity to develop it as circumstances permit, and this is also the responsibility of the parents. We are agreed that any child with artistic talent should be given the opportunity to develop it, if such seems valuable to the parents, but this is the responsibility of the parents. Every boy who can profit from vocational training should have it. Why, then, do we maintain that these non-academic subjects have no place in the curriculum of the Christian schools or, for that matter, in any school? Because the school does not have the time nor is it equipped to teach in these areas. The “learning by living” theory, popular among public school officials a generation ago, has fallen of its own weight. The school creates an artificial situation by design, one in which children can learn faster than in any other way. It is a hothouse, if you will. The growth of the plants is “forced.” Why? Again, time is limited. The school must use its hours with the child in the most productive way. The school can teach, and it must teach, what no other agency has undertaken to teach—the familiar academic subjects.
No child need be short-changed, so to speak, because the school would concentrate on the academic. If the parents want their child to have musical training, they will provide it. If they want their child to have training in any particular branch of the fine arts, they will provide it. And please, no talk of expense. Any parent who cannot afford to give his child such training outside the school surely cannot afford the cost of such programs in the school.
Further, our mothers are still best equipped to teach their daughters to cook and sew. Such programs are notoriously non-productive in the public schools. If a mother wants her daughter to be trained in these areas, she will do it. If, on the other hand, a particular mother does not think such training is important apart from the school, then surely she would regard it as unimportant, if such training were given in the school. As to vocational training, industry itself is far better equipped to do the job. Most have developed training programs, and the programs of industry produce results that far exceed those obtained in the schools.
You see, underneath the consolidation question lies another issue. It lies within the area usually denominated as “philosophy of education.” The philosophy of education begins with the question, “What should the school do for the child? What should the school seek to accomplish? What are the aims, the objectives of education?” If we were all agreed that the schools should be a purely academic training ground, much of the present motivation for consolidation would disappear.
Further, we should recognize the vital difference between the public schools and our own. The public schools are founded on the thesis that education is the responsibility of the state. The parent is not expected to train his child or to provide for his child’s training. If the parent allows the child to lie on the sofa watching television when he ought to be mowing the lawn, the state does not charge the parent with irresponsibility. Rather, the state provides physical exercise for the child, precisely because the states does not hold the parents responsible in any way for the training of their children. Even when parents of public school children do not provide musical training or arts and crafts for a child when he might profit from it the state finds no fault with the parents, because the state does not charge the parents with responsibility for developing the capacities of their children. Instead, the state provides such training for all children on the theory that some may benefit. The state assumes that the parent cannot and ought not to be charged with even such minor responsibilities as these.
But none of this is true in covenant keeping homes, Dr it ought not to be. We begin with the assumption, biblically grounded, that the parent is responsible for the training of his child, totally responsible. Some areas of training (until recently solely academic) are provided for in the classroom as an extension of the home. But other areas of training are provided for by the parents apart from the school. Some areas the parents reserve to themselves. Some they provide for in other ways apart from the school, if specialized training is indicated for a particular child. But all this lies within the province of the parent. He is responsible, and the school never assumes that the parent is irresponsible.
True, one parent may provide musical training for a child with some degree of talent in this area, while another parent does not in the case of a similarly talented child. But this reflects the values of the home. One parent counts such training important, important enough to pay for it. The other does not place a similar value upon it. And this is as it ought to be. Each parent is responsible for the education of his child in terms of his own values. One parent provides a corrective for his child’s teeth in terms of orthodontia. Another parent does not provide orthodontic care for a child in a similar condition. This, too, reflects the value judgments of individual parents. In each case the parent is responsible, responsible for dealing with his own child in terms of his own value judgments. Bear in mind that the one parent may totally disagree at a point such as this with another parent. This is his right and his privilege.
If we are determined to keep the heritage our forefathers gave us, we must stand upon the principle of parental responsibility. In some areas parents act corporately through the schools they found as extensions of the home. All are agreed that a child must be given the tools of knowledge; reading, writing, mathematics, a certain knowledge of history, the sciences, etc. In other areas, however, every parent must exercise his responsibility individually. If, therefore, one parent does not provide specialized training for his child in a particular area, we do not presume to make this judgment for him. We do not assume that he is in error when he does not desire a particular kind of training for his child, while we may for our children. He has a right to make that judgment. He is responsible for the education of his own child.
It may also be noted that the parents in a particular area, and in a particular school society, will tend to make similar value judgments. With exceptions, of course, they will nonetheless tend to want similar things for their children. In one area the boys may pedal bicycles. In another the boy without a motor bike may be treated as a social outcast. Similarly, the parents in one school society may all (or largely) want the school to perform a variety of non-academic functions. While some of us regard this as poor educational practice, we would most certainly concede that these parents, if they are agreed in the majority, have the right to introduce such non-academic functions into their school. At the same time, another group of parents in another school society may not want these non-academic functions introduced into their school. Others may accuse them of having a “utilitarian” view of education, but they must concede the right of any school society to limit the functions of their particular school to the academic area.
This principle appears to have been largely ignored by the Consolidation Committee. Great stress is laid upon uniformity and common practice. If the consolidation had been effected, the values of a few would have been thrust upon all. This, in effect, is a denial of the principle of individual parental responsibility, and a denial of the principle that similarly minded parents may have different values from another group of similarly minded parents. The efforts at consolidation seem to have been based upon the notion that what is good for one is good for all. This is by no means necessarily true. The public schools may think so, but we are covenantal parents. Parents have the duty, the responsibility, and the right to train their children in terms of their own value judgments.
In time past when many of our people had very little formal educational training, board members were often elected from among the professionals in the covenant community, those who had had more advanced formal training. The assumption was made that these men were best qualified to conduct the affairs of the school. This mayor may not be true. Certainly these people will hold values that production workers may not. And there will always be production workers! Our point is that both have a responsibility and a right to decide what is best for their own children in their own circumstances.
This is the age of “Big Brother knows best.” We are not prepared to accept that point of view. Big Brother may know what is best for himself, but he does not necessarily know what is best for the rest of us.