At the classical Christian school where I work, we are constantly looking for new ways to increase enrollment in healthy ways. We do this by maintaining those students who currently attend, and bringing in new families. Over the past 2 or 3 years we’ve improved our retention of families, but one of the challenges we face is getting new families to see the surpassing worth of an education that is not utilitarian and that also costs money. The current market that my school struggles to reach is the public school families. There are a few classical schools in the greater western suburbs of Chicago, but our primary “competition” is not these other schools but the public schools. There are hordes of great Christian families who do not think that private education is worth the money or is better than the public schools. (Caveat: my wife teaches in the public school, I attended public school, I have friends who teach in public schools, ergo, I’m not anti-public schools!) These aren’t irrelevant things to discuss when it comes to talking about public vs. private, but the reason why so many great Christian families don’t send their kids to schools like mine is because there is a deeper philosophical shift that has happened that needs to be recognized and exposed. Don’t let words like “philosophical” stop you from reading the rest of this short post. Let me explain.
Think of the word Truth. It is a concept that encompasses all of what we accept as being right or correct about anything. We believe that Truth includes the facts about all things. Imagine a school that decided to take out Calculus, literature, physical education, or any other subject that belongs to a good education. Some students might be happy, but many parents and teachers would (or at least should) object to paring down education in this way because it removes a branch of knowledge from a child’s education. Secularization in the West has been going on for hundreds of years (the belief that religion should be avoided because of its divisive effects came about not too long after the Reformation and the wars of religion that followed), and one of the effects of this is that religion has been relegated to the private sphere not the public sphere. (I’ve used the term “private” school, and perhaps we should stop using that phrase because it seems to affirm the public and private divide. Shouldn’t all schools be “public” insofar as they exist for the common good of those in the community?) This has been disastrous for education because it has hindered not only our ability to address morality (see David Hicks, Norms and Nobility for a slightly outdated but not insignificant account of the necessity of moral formation within education) but it has also eliminated the importance of religious knowledge within the broad scope of what we can know.
In the late 1850s, John Henry Newman wrote a book called Discourses on the Scope and Nature of University Education, a book which now goes by the title The Idea of a University and includes some later material. In this marvelous book, Newman, who was asked to found a Catholic University in Ireland, set out to explain the very purpose of a university. He explains how theology is a branch of knowledge, and if you take it out then it’s similar to taking out Calculus, literature, physical education, or any other subject that belongs to a good education. Newman believes that theology, which is the study of God’s revelation to humankind, ought to be placed in the context of a university in order to balance out the other disciplines. It belongs in a university because it is here where what he calls the “rivalry of the other studies” occurs. The liberal arts are a checks and balance among the subjects so that the student learns the “scope and nature” of things that can be known. Public school education eliminates religion from its curriculum (I’m not saying it needs a class on Christianity, Buddhism, etc., but it would easy to ask a student what her religious community would say on any number of topics that come up in class discussion or literature class), and in doing so offers students a less than full course of knowledge. I think that this truncated curriculum is lamentable, and it ultimately leads to another serious problem.
What happens to even some of the best Christian students when you hinder clear moral formation and religious knowledge from their education? To put it simply, some make it through public education with their faith intact and some don’t. We’ve all seen great Christian families raise kids in the fear and knowledge of God only to have a child resist the faith. None of us know how our kids will turn out. But what if our country’s public education with its removal of morality and religious knowledge contributes to the secularization of our Christian students and families? Wouldn’t paying for an education that took Christianity and learning seriously be a risk worth taking when it comes to the well-being of your child? This sounds like a guilt trip, and I don’t mean it to be one. But education is so important, and the cost of not thinking it through could be detrimental. I bless the families that don’t continue at our school. I love some of them dearly and mourn their departure. I don’t think less of them. But I’ve seen some of these dear people leave for the public school for reasons that hurt them in the future. In the past year I’ve had two former students email me with serious concerns about their faith. I was able to talk to one student in person, but the other was out of state and email had to suffice. If only we could have struggled together for the faith.
I don’t have any stats to demonstrate that Christians who attend public school lose their faith more frequently but I do know that the pressure against being a Christian is intense, and many parents and students aren’t ready or able to withstand it. My sisters and I made it through with our faith intact. My parents and my church were crucial in this process. And I’m sure that there are students who attended classical Christian schools who have since lost their faith. I’m not putting forth classical Christian education as a panacea. But I wish that more parents realized the way that public education participates in secularization and seriously considered a school like mine where my team of teachers live out everyday that fantastic medieval mantra of faith seeking understanding.
Article republished with permission from: φιλοκαλία (filokalia): love of the beautiful