What She Said

Little Red School

It’s hard enough to advocate for a form of educational delivery many in our conservative Reformed environs deem as unwise at best and satanic at worst–have you ever noticed how the Reformed talk about secular education the way Fundamentalists talk about beer? Harder still is it when that form of education is serving up mediocrity and its own applications of worldviewry.  Which is why it is so refreshing to stumble upon this sort of thing.

It is important for the functioning of civil society that Christians along with everyone else are part of their community. That means that Christians are not expected to be different for the sake of being different. Christians are meant to be good neighbours – to participate in community activities, join in with local customs, play their part in their local society, to the fullest extent possible. While this world is never going to be a comfortable stay for pilgrims whose home is above, Christians still have a responsibility to be good friends, neighbours, and citizens in their local contexts. Society itself is not evil, and our non-Christian neighbours are not people to be feared or distrusted or kept at arm’s length. Standing aloof and refusing to be involved in what everyone else regards as a perfectly normal part of life, especially if you’re transmitting overtones that your children are too good or otherwise too special to mix with the rabble, is hardly conducive to good relationships in your community.

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25 Responses to What She Said

  1. Zrim,

    Where there is still some sort of cultural consensus, sending your kid to a state school might be viable. It might be the only option but there are places (I live in one) where the state schools are populated by ideological hardliners who see it as their job to alienate children from whatever they’ve learned from their parents. It happens. The world is changing. Teachers don’t all just believe in teaching any more. The Dept of Ed is pushing a broader agenda of formation. The teachers colleges in the universities seem to have largely given up on education. The number of “stupid educrat” stories I see seems to be growing exponentially. I can’t keep up.

    Were public education (at any level) still local, things might be more benevolent and Christians might be able more easily to negotiate a modus vivendi but now the president if the Superintendent in Chief and his agenda shapes the entire country’s because of the influence of federal funding.

    Parents shouldn’t be naive.

  2. Paul says:

    What she said? Nah, what *he* (R. S. Clark) just said. 🙂

  3. Zrim says:

    Scott, as I hinted at, I understand the problems that come with the territory of public education; it seems to me that an advocate of any worthwhile project should be able to admit its weaknesses, not least is how it has taken the cues of the worldviewists. But call me old-fashioned, I still think there is plenty to be said for the communal value of public education warts and all, especially for believers who take seriously what it means to be in the world (but not of it). Or as W.A. Strong put it in his Children in the Early Church:

    “The early Christians lived in a society whose values were inimical to them in many respects. The pagan society around them was underpinned by a religion which they considered false, if not demonic; it was characterized by moral values they could not share; and it was entered into by an education steeped in paganism. So we might expect the early Christians to try to protect their young by providing some alternative form of education which would keep them free from the temptations and snares of the pagan world in which they lived. They had, after all, the example of the Jewish synagogue schools. But, rather surprisingly, the Christians did not take that course for several centuries. There was no fiercer critic of paganism than Tertullian (c. 160-c.225), but even he accepted the necessity for young people to share in the education on offer at pagan schools. His chosen image to describe the Christian pupil’s situation as he read the pagan authors whose work formed the ancient syllabus, was that of someone offered poison to drink, but refusing to take it (On Idolatry 10).

    “The young Origen (born c.185 AD)…is said to have received extra instruction in the Scriptures from his father, Leonides, each day before he set out for his secular schooling (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.2.7f.)…Here was a devout Christian father, later to be martyred for the gospel, who was nonetheless willing for his son to attend school, and follow the normal curriculum of the pagan classics. Origen himself became an enthusiast for secular education as a preparation for Biblical study, and in later life urged it on those who came to him for instruction (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.18.4: NE 192).

    “We hear of no Christian schooling outside the home in the early centuries. A century after Clement had written to Corinthian fathers and husbands to ‘instruct the young in the fear of God,’ the same pattern of family responsibility can be seen in Origen’s Alexandria. Christian parents were still content for their children to share a common education with their pagan neighbors, and the church was slow to copy the synagogue in providing an alternative pattern of schooling. Even when John Chrysostom (c.347-407) wrote the first Christian treatise on the education of children (On the Vainglory of the World and on the Education of Children), he addressed himself to parents, and said nothing about sending children to specifically Christian schools. The first Christian schools seem to have been those founded by the monasteries from the fourth century onwards (Marrou 1965 472-84).

    “It is worth asking why Christians did not take the opportunity to create their own schools. If we take the comparison with the Jewish community, one reason must have been that there was no need for Christian children to learn a sacred language; their Jewish contemporaries had to learn Hebrew. Those who spoke Greek could read the New Testament in its original language, and the Old testament in Greek translation. And the New Testament Scriptures were rapidly translated into the various languages of the Mediterranean. Further, Christians did not see themselves as culturally distinct from their neighbours. An anonymous writer of the late second century expressed eloquently how Christians were in the world, but not of it:

    For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind by country, or by speech, or by dress. For they do not dwell in cities of their own, or use a different language, or practise a peculiar speech…But while they dwell in Greek or barbarian cities according as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the land in clothing and food, and other matters of daily life, yet the condition of citizenship which they exhibit is wonderful, and admittedly strange…Every foreign land is to them a fatherland, and every fatherland a foreign land. (Epistle to Diognetus 6.1-5: NE 55).

    “To set up their own separate educational provision would have been to withdraw from the common life they shared with their pagan neighbours. And, while they recognized the dangers and allure of paganism, the early Christians saw no need to do that. They let their children ‘share in the instruction which is in Christ’ (1 Clement), and they allowed them access to education for the wider pagan society. They were not trying to create a Christian ghetto, but to be salt and light in their world. Their attitude to their children’s education was an expression of this open yet critical attitude.”

    So compared to the sorts of things the early church willingly encountered in public schools, our complaining about “over-reach and agendas” can seem not a little whiny.

  4. Zrim says:

    Paul, what I just said to Scott.

  5. Zrim says:

    Scott, in a recent re-post you say this about instruments in worship:

    When I say, “If they’re only circumstances, let’s get rid of them” I get a reaction that suggests that they aren’t really adiaphora (indifferent) or circumstances at all. “You can’t smash that organ. Why Mr So and So donated money for that organ back in 1870.” Or “We can’t stop singing that hymn, after all, that’s my favorite hymn.” Or even more to the point, as one student said years ago, “When I hear the organ, I feel the presence of God.”

    I think I’d get something similar when it comes to schooling. Where you hear that instruments are adiaphora, I sometimes hear that schooling is liberty. But if I were to put that claim to the test and suggest something similar about the CRC CO Article 71 (“The council shall diligently encourage the members of the congregation to establish and maintain good Christian schools in which the biblical, Reformed vision of Christ’s lordship over all creation is clearly taught. The council shall also urge parents to have their children educated in harmony with this vision according to the demands of the covenant”) or its image and likeness in URC CO Article 14 (“They [elders] are to maintain the purity of the Word and Sacraments, assist in catechizing the youth, promote God-centered schooling…”), which is to say “Let’s get rid of any language that suggests schooling isn’t liberty,” I bet I’d hear similar push back: “My father toiled and sacrificed to put me through Christian schools, I’m so grateful for the education I received from faithful people.” Well, great. I’m not suggesting anybody begrudge anything. I’m just wondering where the Bible calls the church to “promote, diligently encourage, or maintain” any form of academic delivery (and contrariwise discourage other forms). I know that it does so for sacred instruction, but where for secular knowledge?

  6. RubeRad says:

    The teachers colleges in the universities seem to have largely given up on education.

    I can attest to that; the majority of professors I have encountered in undergraduate, graduate, and postdoc studies have considered teaching to be an unwelcome burden that interferes with their research. I’m the opposite, I considered publish or perish a necessary evil to be able to do what I really wanted, which was to teach — but that’s no way to get a job. In God’s providence, I ended up getting a “real” job instead of teaching college, and it’s worked out great. Plus this way, I get to own a house in SoCal, etc…

    One of my favorite jokes: what’s the difference between an art history (or philosophy, or english, or…) degree and a large pizza? One of them can feed a family…

  7. RubeRad says:

    The pagan society around them was underpinned by a religion which they considered false, if not demonic; it was characterized by moral values they could not share; and it was entered into by an education steeped in paganism…

    Consider also the case of Daniel.&co., who were “taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans.” (I would need to double-check, but I think the Amplified Version says “worldview” there.) How tolerant do you think the Chaldean teachers were of Judaism? And yet the Bible presents this in a positive light, a great opportunity for advancement for these prisoners of war; certainly essential for the exilic directives of Jer 29.

  8. Zrim says:

    Rube, bingo. Dare to be a Daniel.

  9. Paul says:

    Zrim, what you said to Scott was too long, so I didn’t read it.

    Rube, how are you? We can’t make an argument from parity between “Daniel &co.” and today unless we know the cases are parallel. That minimally includes knowing the content taught, the approach and attitude of the educators, and the subjects who were taught. The relevant parity can’t just be “both had educators that did not believe Judaism/Christianity.” Indeed, it can’t even be, “both had teachers intolerant of Judaism/Christianity.” You’d need an extra premise about their actively engaging in a purposeful campaign to debunk. Perhaps they had pedagogues like Richard Rorty, who said:

    “[The imperative I], like most Americans who teach humanities or social science in colleges and universities, invoke when we try to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own.” And who, when speaking to the parents of these college kinds, told them: “we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable.”

    Perhaps there’s some study on what the education content would have looked like. I don’t know of one, but if there were we could settle that question. And perhaps there’s a study on Chaldean agitators like Rorty. I don’t know of one. And we also need to inquire about subjects and their situation, was it relevantly like ours? Undertaking a certain study helped advancement, but were they graded down, even failed, for not regurgitating what they took to be fundamentally false? For not putting in a *front* that they were “hip” and “savvy,” so as to avoid educational persecution? I don’t know, we’d have to find out. So I don’t see how the cases are parallel, at least, I’ve been given no reason to think they are.

  10. RubeRad says:

    Hi Paul! I’m swell! (Moved to Poway recently, commuting to work by bike full time now, about 11mi r/t daily)

    Well the bible tells us that they pushed back on food, met some resistance, but were vindicated in the end. Which seems to make it likely that if they were activists against some other component of the education we would have heard about that too.

    As for engaging in a purposeful campaign to debunk, fair point. Perhaps the Chaldeans were good 2K folk who were content to let Jews be Jews as long as they were quick learners in the field of Babylonian statecraft.

  11. Paul says:

    Rube, nice! Back in Poway? You’ve come full circle.

    I just saw this piece by Sowell, thought it was relevant


  12. Paul says:

    I came across another quote that expresses an attitude that was once progressive and new fangled but has now more or less won the day:

    Rorty, lauding Dewey’s vision that the socialization of American children in school should consist:

    “in acquiring an image of themselves as heirs to a tradition of increasing liberty and rising hope. Updating Dewey a but, we can think of him as wanting the children to come to think of themselves as proud and loyal citizens of a country that, slowly and painfully, threw off a foreign yoke, freed its slaves, enfranchised its women, restrained its robber barons and licensed its trade unions, liberalized its religious practices, broadened its religious and moral tolerance, and built colleges in which 50 per cent of its population could enroll . . . Dewey wanted the inculcation of this narrative of freedom and hope to be the core of the socializing process.”

  13. RubeRad says:

    Rube, nice! Back in Poway? You’ve come full circle

    Well, FULL circle would be back in Grand Rapids…

  14. Zrim says:

    Paul, in other words Dewey wanted to inculcate a worldview. That’s one of my own criticisms of modern public education. I know you think some of us are categorically opposed to worldview, but I for one would rather say that worldview has a place but that place is the home (not the school). Do you offer this up as a criticism of Rorty and Dewey? If so, why?

  15. Paul says:

    Zrim, it would be means-end foolish to argue against worldview inculcation in modern public education, movies, the nightly news, etc. It’s here to stay. A problem with your privatized worldviewism, as I see it, is that it takes a worthy voice out of the public debate. Indeed, it says such voices *should not* be heard in the public square. It has no place in the public debate. It’s properly private. Other beliefs that are relativized to the private realm and told to stay out of the public realm, are things like views on art, poetry, and love. Religion thus becomes marginalized along with those things, like it or not, agree with it or not. This is similar to Rawls, Rorty, and Dewey argued. I don’t have that view of the public square. So the criticism isn’t of the offering of a worldview (though I assume we mean vastly different things by that word, your meaning no doubt guarantees it’s a silly and absurd and unsavory thing, so I will agree with you, though that’s trivial); it’s of the silencing of others.

  16. Zrim says:

    Paul, I’m not sure how my view implies the sort of retreatism you suggest. I’m simply saying that the home is the institution ordained to make human beings and their views. And as critical as I may be of the modern educational establishment (religious or secular) to flirt with overstepping that, I do find that many within public schools (you know, where it counts, on the ground and not 30K feet in theory) naturally understand that. I also find that most classroom teachers, again where it counts, are doing their level best to get Johnny and Suzie to read, write and do arithmetic and have little to no use for anybody’s hifalutin social theories and agendas one way or another.

  17. Paul says:

    Zrim, I guess I was reading you in the context of previously affirming that you agreed with this Hart quote:

    “[2K] also teaches that the nature of genuine religion is precisely private, personal, and not something for public display or consumption. . . .Which invites the question: If it is possible to keep such essential aspects of faith as prayer and almsgiving private, even within the privacy of one’s devotional life, why wouldn’t it be possible for a serious believer to keep that faith bracketed once entering the public square or the voting booth? The very essence of faith, at least the Christian variety, might be that it is private, personal, and something to keep distinct from expression in the public arena of politics.” –A Secular Faith, pp. 176-177.

    Now if words mean anything, this is retreatism in the sense that comports with everything I wrote; and if you (still) agree with Hart, then if you saw in my view a form a “retreatism,” then your view does imply that.

    Regarding your experience, I don’t mean to deny it. Of course, I think that for every experience you’ve had of those who “naturally understand” that the classroom is no place for hifalutin social theories and agendas, I could cite ten more who have had the opposite experience. And let’s not forget that those 30K ft in theory are training the overwhelming majority of public school teachers; it trickles down. One bit of evidence for this is that virtually all of those public school officials who have been recorded proselytizing sound exactly the same. What do you think the probability is that they all just happened to come up with the same ideology and rhetoric independently.

  18. Zrim says:

    Paul, I do agree with the quote. But it also comes with another distinction Hart makes between Christian secularism and legal secularism (in the introduction, I believe, to be specific). In a word, the former still makes room for religious expression in the public square, the latter erects an impermeable wall. Often I think critics mistake Christian secularism for legal secularism, simply because it wants to see more restraint on the explicit religious expression of believers in the public square–this seems to irritate more neo-Calvinist and evangelical inclinations which seem to want no distinctions or restraints made, and out pops something about retreatism, etc.

    Fair point on experiences. But mine is mine–as a public school student, raised by public school teachers, trained to teach and having taught in public schools, having kids in public schools, and in making a living in the public education sector, and all in various contexts, I simply have never run across the sorts of things its religious accusers who tend to have very little public school experience suggest. Does it have problems? Yep. Is it tantamount to soul killing and child sacrifice? Shouldn’t you be out on a ledge somewhere?

  19. John says:

    I’d second Zrim’s experience as one who also has first-hand experience (and not terribly long ago) as well as second-hand by way of marriage to a public school teacher. Teachers, even those with agendas, are generally ethical people and don’t seek to brainwash children. I did hear a lot of opinions, mostly leftish and progressive (though not all) from my high school teachers, but I never felt I was being proselytized. Kids need exposure and engagement with ideas. I don’t think I have the same kind of opposition Zrim does to allowing public schools to shape children (in limited ways) and communicate worldviews in a responsible way. It’s going to look different at different ages. I don’t have much of a problem with college professors and even high school teachers presenting strong opinions that will be deeply offensive to Christians. Those are the opinions of people in the world we live in.

  20. Paul says:

    John, I have had different experiences, and know people who have had different experiences, from you guys. Counting fingers won’t get us anywhere. I also don’t have a problem with the presentation of strong opinions. You’d note that in my comments I did not argue against the expression of leftist or atheist opinion, I merely asked why I couldn’t strongly express my own in the public square.

    Zrim, I don’t know how we got from polite to suggesting that I think promoting leftist and atheist worldviews is tantamount to child sacrifice or me needing to be out on a ledge. In any event, I do not see the wiggle room you see in Hart’s claims. Hart did’t argue for “restraint.” Indeed, he claimed the *essence* of the Christian faith is that it’s private, and should be kept *distinct* from *any* expression in the public square. It should be *bracketed* out. In math and logic, when you “bracket out” some term, you procede with the argument as if it didn’t exist in the context of that argument. Moreover, what I said that caused you to ask about “retreatism” was *substantively identical* to Hart’s quote. If you saw retreatism in my comment, then Hart’s comment screamed “retreat!” Finding and then balking at the putative retreatism in my comment whilst admitting full agreement with Hart’s comment, is one of those Freudian slips.

  21. Zrim says:

    Paul, sorry, I wasn’t referring to you but to others. (I wondered if you’d mis-read that, but then figured you’re a good reader and could zig with me.)

    Re the public square point, this isn’t math or logic. I’d rather say the analogy is more linguistic than mathematical. I think he’s making a nuanced point, which is to say when he says “bracket” he means something more akin to a parenthesis, which isn’t completely deleting a thought but saying it’s more or less beside the point or otherwise indirectly relevant. So, when it comes to the public square religious belief isn’t deleted but parenthetical.

  22. John says:

    OK Paul, I guess I’m used to people meaning something akin to presenting strong opinions when they say indoctrinate kids. I have no problem with you expressing your opinions, though of course there’s the question of relevance to the subject at hand, which I think is what Zrim’s saying. You’re right, the world’s messy and there are bad/unethical/evil teachers out there. I guess I’d be OK knowing kids are getting some indoctrination at school, since their parents get them every morning, evening, and 185 full days of the year.

  23. What Scott said. Ditto.

    I am not quite yet anti-public schooling, but the more stories I read or hear about our public schools spending half of their time on social engineering (basically, like Scott said, working directly against what we are teaching our children at home and in church) instead of simply educating them, the less inclined I am to entrust them with the minds of our children.

    That, and in a lot of cases the actual quality of education in public schools just isn’t as good. (It must be hard to have the time to teach well, when so much time is wasted on indoctrination.)

  24. Zrim says:

    John, when I’m indoctrinating our church’s kids in grade 6 catechism, they tell me all sorts of stories about what their Christian school teachers tell them. True, they’re sixth graders and are given to embellishment, etc., but I’m sure much of it is based in some fact, and I do bristle at some of the oddities (e.g. Mr VanVanderVan says I’m going to hell if I watch the Superbowl today and working mothers are why this country is next).

    My point is that it cuts both ways, and I do wonder if many Reformed consider that a broadly evangelical school is likely to indoctrinate against our religious convictions, i..e credo-baptism, dipensationalism, anti-RPW. We hear much of how public schools undermine faith, but not very much about how Christian schools might. Sometimes I wonder if this curious reality is a function of having a somewhat generalized notion of faith rather than particularized.

  25. Paul says:

    Zrim, I know you’re trying, but your interpretation still doesn’t make sense to me. One problem with the ‘parenthesis hypothesis’ is that it contradicts the explicit “essentially private” point. Moreover, your reading that public square faith expression is “more or less beside the point or otherwise indirectly relevant,” does not adequately capture Hart’s claim that faith expression is “not something for public display or consumption.” Parenthesis, besides the point or not, are displayed. And I still find it odd that you found “retreatism” in my comment when my comment was positively G-rated compared to Hart’s, which you don’t find retreatish.

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