The Blessing of Christian Education

Prior to the Second World War private education was generally associated with Catholic and Lutheran religious schools that were known as parochial schools.  There was a small group of Christian schools serving the Reformed denominations, and then an even smaller smattering of independent Christian schools. I believe the current Christian school movement received its impetus in the early 1970s spurred by the development of the curriculum publishers A Beka Books and Accelerated Christian Education. From that time Christian schools, and ministries to support Christian education, grew dramatically.

Connie and I served in and around the Christian school movement for 40 years. Initially Connie taught at all levels from kindergarten to high school and then at the college level. Then she joined me in administrating a national Christian school organization, two Christian colleges, and finally we served side-by-side in a Bible curriculum publishing ministry. In that final ministry we traveled to teacher’s convention and interacted with Christian school teachers and administrators. Ultimately we also exhibited at home-school conferences and interacted with several thousand home-school parents. In all of these years one could say that we saw the good and the not-so-good aspects of Christian Education and the Christian school movement.

Unfortunately not every school that opened during the boom years was an adequately conceived and supported educational institution. Many schools operated in less than ideal facilities, and were underfunded and understaffed. Still, we can attest to the fact that we’ve met thousands of bright, resourceful and dedicated servants of the Lord who labored in Christian education. And we know countless adults today who are products of Christian schools and home-school education who are very productive and impressive members of society.

During the presidency of Ronald Regan I served on the U.S. Department of Education’s Exemplary Private School Recognition Project committee for four years. This group of educational leaders represented all facets of the private school universe at that time. We reviewed dozens of school nominations and then voted to reward the most “exemplary” schools each year for their effort.

During that experience our entire group of participants learned some important things about effective schools. The most notable schools were not marked by financial prowess, or magnificent facilities, or faculties with distinguished intellectual accomplishments. Instead, in every case there was a head of the school who was a respected, caring, and strong leader in the institution. Faculty members were enthusiastic teachers who relished the focus and commitment of their leader, and poured themselves into their student’s lives. This was true in financially deprived urban schools or in well endowed suburban institutions. People made the difference. Leadership was essential, and caring instructors followed their leader in impacting students in the classrooms.  

Early in the 1980s I began to give a convention workshop that addressed the three greatest challenges that confronted the Christian school movement at that time. I said they were:

  • The challenge of governmental interference that was an ever-present reality facing Christian schools in the early days of the movement.
  • The challenge of demonstrating educational legitimacy and ultimately proving academic competency by student outcomes.
  • The final challenge mentioned in that workshop remains a persistent struggle for the movement today.  That challenge is the mission to produce godly young people, who are the products of the Christian school movement. 

Even though great strides have been accomplished in securing legitimacy and liberty the spiritual battle has not yet been won; the task has not been finished.  Perhaps because our battle with sin will never be completed until Christ returns.  Perhaps it is because we have not placed as much emphasis upon the spiritual dimension as we have upon the educational program.   Perhaps it is because ungodly societal influences have become more powerful and pervasive.  Nevertheless, this is still our greatest challenge in our schools, churches and homes.

In 1986, the late Alan Peshkin, a professor of comparative education from the University of Illinois, wrote a book entitled God’s Choice: The Total World of a Fundamentalist Christian School.  I participated extensively with Dr. Peshkin during his research and became a personal friend. He was a renowned ethnographer who wrote penetrating studies about varied educational experiences all over the world based on extensive fieldwork.

Alan spent many hours in Connie’s classroom, as well as those of other teachers in the school. He told me that the level of education was excellent, and he was deeply impacted by the commitment and convictions of the faculty, staff, and students. Being a secular Jew, he was troubled by the evangelistic commitment of Bible believing Christians, but he did not doubt the sincerity of everyone involved. Perhaps his most penetrating analysis was his comment that the Christian school’s “total institution is imperfectly total, perhaps inevitably so, because unlike the Amish, its adherents live mainly within the world it rejects.” That was an astute observation, but I would disagree with his use of the word “rejects.” As believers we do not reject the world – but we are called to minister in the world. The Christian school may be an imperfect world, and it is, but the ministry of impacting lives for time and eternity is a blessed privilege.

Recently, in our retirement community, Connie and I attended the memorial service for one of our residents, who had been a shut-in since we came to Maranatha Village. We knew her only from Facebook posts and some email interaction. But at the service where her life and service for the Lord was celebrated, we learned that she had been a classroom teacher in two Christian schools for 39 years. It became apparent early in the service, from the testimonies of her family members, that Linda Bond had touched hundreds of lives. Her legacy was that of a “life well lived” in pouring herself into students. That testimony has been repeated over and over in the hundreds and hundreds of classrooms in Christian schools over the years. That is the blessing of Christian Education.

After reviewing records of the Exemplary Private School Recognition Project, I discovered that Linda Bond’s school, Arlington Baptist High School, was listed as one of the recognized schools among the 1984-85 recipients. That was the first year of the project and Arlington would have been presented their recognition certificate by then Secretary of Education William Bennett. Linda taught Spanish for 25 years at Arlington Baptist.

2 thoughts on “The Blessing of Christian Education

  1. logosman

    What an interesting and insightful article! Thanks, Gerry. Our daughter has home schooled 5 children. Our experience with traditional Christian (Church) schools has been that they too often were sub standard in academics or inconsistent in practical Christian living. I acknowledge that there have indeed been some exceptional Christian schools with outstanding leaders at the helm. We truly praise God for those schools. I appreciate your sharing this chapter of your Grace Journey with us.

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  2. An excellent assessment of the history and legacy of Christian education, Dr. Carlson. The true test of any school is the graduates who leave it and what they do with their lives afterward. The Seventies were, indeed, the hey-day of the Christian school movement. As you so aptly put it, the quality and commitment of the schools during that time were neither perfect nor ideal, but many of them were staffed by people who genuinely cared about the students and the outcomes, and that makes all the difference. Thank you for the impact that you and your wife had and, through those you influenced, continue to have in the Christian school movement. I know you certainly had a positive influence on me and my own Connie!

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