Guarding the School Education: Our Common Calling
Education and Instruction: Not to be Separated
The question may rise whether there are limits to the role and function of the school. Often, in answer to this question, a distinction is made between education and instruction. The implication is that education takes place at home, while instruction is the responsibility of the school where children are instructed in specific knowledge and skills, as described in the school's curriculum.
However, such a distinction does not work too well. It is true that the term education indicates a more general concern for the growth and development of the child as a whole. Indeed, the care for a little baby — cleanliness, food, shelter, personal contact — is in itself a tremendously important educational influence. Instruction, on the other hand, suggests the acquisition of more specific things such as knowledge of history and science, and skills such as writing and calculation. Yet instruction in specific skills and knowledge always includes educational aspects.
The teacher enforces discipline and demands attention during his lessons, and in that way he trains his students in the acceptance of authority and in obedience, in listening and in cooperation. He will try to instill love and respect for one's peers as well as for the subject matter. Indeed, students should become willing to use their skills in the right way. Instruction can never be separated from education — that would be a grave injustice to the work of the school!
Education and Instruction to be Distinguished
Although education and instruction cannot exist without each other, they are not the same thing. If we consider the school to be primarily an educational institution in the full sense of the word, we may find ourselves faced with difficult questions: What are the limits of the educational task of the school? Does the task of the school include physical and health care? At what point(s) can parents question the educational authority of the school? What limits are there to the rights and responsibilities of the parents? When may (or must) the school be considered independently responsible as an educational agent? These are, indeed, topical questions. Especially on the North American continent schools as educational institutions have claimed for themselves many additional responsibilities such as health care and personal development, while the parents are invited, at best, as interested partners in the school-controlled educational enterprise.
However, by first considering the instructional task of the school as it developed historically and culturally, we are in a better position to find answers to these questions. Education and instruction are to be considered in the first place as the unalienable, the prior right of the parents. Inasmuch as parents are not able to take charge of the necessary instruction, particularly when it concerns specific knowledge and skills, other persons may be called upon to provide the necessary instruction. But parents must be able to trust that these persons will act in agreement with their convictions. The school prepares the child specifically for his future task and place in society. Therefore, the educational influence of the school flows from its instructional responsibilities.
It will be recognized that such an understanding of the relationship between home and school is not accepted by the advocates of public, state-controlled education, who claim a much greater and far-reaching control over the education of the children as citizens and members of society!
Be On Your Guard
The changes in the structure of the system of schooling itself are influenced by changes in our society and culture. Our Christian schools, also, are called to respond to such changes. Not only is it necessary to remain faithful to God's law, but there are also the demands of a secular government and an increasingly godless society and culture. It is not easy to respond responsibly, especially when confronted with brand-new developments whose consequences cannot be foreseen. The educational policy of the government runs parallel with, and is swayed by, current thoughts on the role and function of the state and society. Changes in outlook on society are now being enacted in legislation. Examples of this are the increased demand for equal opportunity, the battle against sexual discrimination, as well as the promotion of the autonomy of the individual, the availability to the students of alternative points of view, and the rejection of the validity and authority of Biblical values. Such changes in outlook are clearly noticeable in various governmental educational policy statements and curriculum documents. All of this forces our schools to rethink their own identity and function in an increasingly secular society.
Our Christian schools are governed by boards whose task is to give shape to the educational policies within their schools. Normally board members are not specially trained; they come from all walks of life. They carry the responsibility to be aware of what goes on in the field of education. This brings with it the responsibility to be informed and to spend time and energy to become informed. Critical self-examination is necessary in this regard. Do those who are called to provide leadership read and study in these matters? Is our respect for our Christian marriages and Christian families noticeable in our own study and reading habits and in our discussions, or do we allow our minds to be corrupted by the wide variety of secular magazines that promote alternate lifestyles and scorn the traditional values in family and society?
We can only guard the education at the school when we first have properly exercised our educational responsibilities within our families. If we neglect our priestly, prophetic, and royal duties in our own homes, we cannot and may not expect God's blessings over our work in the school associations as members or executives.
Maintaining the unique identity of our Christian schools demands continuous cooperation and effort from parents, board members, teachers, as well as teacher training institutions and other support services. Increasing specialization brings with it the danger that the school becomes more and more independent and remote. This could lead us to forget the fact that the school in the first place has a serving function, assisting the family in its educational responsibilities. This serving function is not merely a historic development, it is based on the principle that the family retains the primary responsibility for the education of its children. Nor is it correct to suggest that the school is a mere servant of the family, to be ordered around by anyone who comes along. That shortchanges the school's own responsibilities and authority. Although the parents retain the primary responsibility for the education of their own children, the school supports all the families and stands in loco parentis. The school belongs to the parents because the children belong to the parents, but individual parents do not own the school!
In this connection, our confession concerning the communion of saints is of importance: the school does not merely belong to a group of parents; it also belongs to the church. All brothers and sisters (must) have an interest in the education of the children of the church. The association which operates the school consists of members of the church, and those members are not necessarily parents! Not only is the Christian school a school of the parents, it is a school of the church. If we understand our confession of the communion of saints, then this statement will not be considered a contradiction. Historically, both parents and non-parents have sacrificed a great deal in effort and money to maintain the Christian schools. The history of the Christian schools in the Netherlands tells of a childless Groen van Prinsterer who was a champion for the Christian schools in the 19th century. In the support for Reformed schools by Reformed people we recognize the care of the Reformed congregation for the lambs of the flock.
Cooperation — Involvement
The care for the lambs of the flock also demands that our Christian schools are good schools; the concern of parents with and for the school should be broader than the collection of the necessary funds. There must be close contact between the board, the parents, the school's administration, and its staff to ensure quality Reformed education. Such cooperation and consultation does not need to be legislated by the government; it flows from the principles on which such a school is founded. Teachers have their own responsibility to put their expertise into practice. It is, therefore, necessary that boards listen to their teachers — as teachers must listen to their students — as wise parents listen to their children. Many are the possibilities for good contact between all those involved in the school: parent-teacher evenings, combined meetings of board and staff, individual contact between parents and teachers and between board members and teachers. In the smaller schools much of this can be informal; larger schools will need to develop more formal structures.
The increasing complexity of Reformed education threatens the direct involvement of parents; often parents perceive quite a distance between home and school. Are our schools invitational, or have they become distant, out of reach for the ordinary parent? Fortunately, many parents can become more directly involved in the school by means of a function in a committee or by offering their time as volunteers. The principles of Reformed education demand the active involvement of the parents, as well as the constant attention for the place of the school within the communion of saints. And this is possible as long as parents and teachers acknowledge and honor each other's tasks and responsibilities. Such cooperation ensures that all those involved in the education of the children of the church — and that means all of us! — are also involved in actively guarding the unique character and quality of our Christian schools.