The Role of Parents in the Christian School
A Simple Topic?
The heading above this article may very well bring the response, "Oh, I could write on this subject. It's really not too hard at all, and it need not be too long either. The role of parents in the Christian school can be aptly summarized in the word 'pray and pay'."
Of course there is something to this, as there is to comment made by one wag that it is a matter of "pray, pay and procreate.” But is that the sum total of parental involvement? Hardly! The relationship of parents to our Reformed schools cannot be encapsuled in a few caustic words or in some glib phrases. The parental role is much more far reaching than that. It fulfills a vital function. If students and teachers are absolutely necessary to the educational enterprise, parents are no less so. They too deserve attention.
Indeed, it is striking that in many ways the place of parents in education is overlooked or minimized. In the public system parents are given token attention at the local level but almost all of the basic policy planning is done by bureaucrats and major decision making has been centralized to a sophisticated degree. In our Reformed school system there is greater participation in that parents elect boards, sit on boards and committees, hire teachers, etc., but not much attention has been paid to the matter of what a school can or may expect from the parents. As a matter of fact, does it have a right to expect anything, or is it purely at the mercy of the parents? We all know what the parents expect from the school, but what can the school expect from the parents? Have we simplified the matter perhaps to: we send our kids, we pay for their education, we attend the odd meeting and read the odd school bulletin, we make the odd complaint – that's it!
Surely, Reformed education must become more of a two-way street. It is not only the school which has a duty to produce and put out, but also parents have a duty to constantly relate to the school, and that in a variety of ways.
Parents Create the School
The involvement of parents in the school is fundamental because it goes back to the very genesis of the school. A few months ago I heard someone remark that without teachers there would be no schools. That's true, but it is equally true that without parents there would be no schools. The Reformed school movement owes its beginnings to the fact that godly parents realized that educating their children at home and in the context of the family was not enough, that having them educated in a secular environment was not appropriate, that a need existed to show their children that every facet and aspect and area of life relates back to God.
There are some who say that Reformed education finds its roots in the baptismal promise that parents make. And there is truth in that, although I think that we would do well to distinguish between the direct and indirect consequences of baptism. When parents stand before the Lord and the congregation they make a direct promise to raise their child in the fear of the Lord. They promise to instruct the child themselves in the doctrine of salvation and to have the child instructed in that doctrine by those whom the church appoints. Notice that parental instruction and ecclesiastical instruction are not optional, they are commitments.
Can exactly the same be said of Reformed education? I do not believe so. What the Form for Baptism emphasizes is parental responsibility – the duty to teach at home and to be taught at church. This responsibility does not ipso facto demand a school. In the past covenant children did not always have access to Christian education because there were no schools and no teachers and there was no money. In those first years of the immigration experience Reformed schools were scarce. Did that mean that parents were unfaithful to their baptismal vow? Some insist that they were, but I refuse to accept such a verdict. Such a condemnation of our parents entails a condemnation of how believers have acted throughout the centuries. The phenomenon of a Reformed day school is a relatively recent one.
What baptism demands of parents is a faithful confessional walk of life and a transmission of this life style to their children. When parents make a conscientious effort in this regard and when they have their children instructed in the doctrine taught by the church, they are not guilty of unfaithfulness or even partial faithfulness. No, the Bible stresses that the education of the covenant youth is and always must remain, first and foremost, a parental calling.
Now, if some believing parents, after giving due consideration to the changing world where children need more skills and are confronted with more complex occupations, decide to band together and start a school where their children will be more fully prepared, that is not a matter of finally becoming faithful to their baptismal vow, but of seeing that the consequences of such a vow can not always be limited to home and church, but may have further implications. Baptism demands parental education, and it lays the foundation for Reformed schooling.
Thus when that schooling becomes a reality, it is a creation of the parents. Schools come about when parents share a common vision and recognize a common need. In that context they pray and pay, build and sacrifice, organize and implement. Reformed schools are a creation of the parents and they are fueled by the commitment of the parents.
Parents Present the School with its Basic Material
Yet the parents do more than initiate and organize, the parents also give the school its most basic component, namely, children who must be taught further. Reformed education involves an act of presentation, the presentation of one's children to the school.
What does such a presentation entail? What are the motives involved? We have touched on some of them, but there are others that come to mind, both legitimate and illegitimate. Some say that children are actually shipped off to school in order to give mother a break or an opportunity to work. Such a motive is founded on selfishness. And while it is true that more than one mother can be heard to breathe a sigh of relief when the little blessed terrors go to school again, such a motive can hardly be taken seriously and held up as widespread.
Another motive for the presentation of one's children, at least in the case of the Christian school, is said to be the desire of parents to protect and insulate their children from the amoral or immoral influence of the public school. Now this can be a factor; however, it can hardly serve as an overriding one. It represents a purely negative rationale.
No, the proper reason for presentation relates to the recognition that one's children have been given to parents by the Lord in trust. As parents we do not own our children, God owns them. They are His. He is their Creator. He is the Bestower. He is their ultimate Father. Parents, on the other hand, are the receivers, the caretakers, the stewards. That means that parents always have to reckon with the matter of accountability. God will one day ask, "What did you do with my children? How did you raise them? What opportunities did you give them? What influences did or did you not expose them to?"
It is the realization that we are stewards, stewards not just of goods, but also of persons, that drives us to seek the best and the utmost for our children. When we look at the world we live in today with all of its demands, expectations, specializations, and temptations and when we look at our own abilities, then we are often led to conclude that the two do not match or balance each other out. Some parents, a few parents, are able to meet the full educational needs of their children, but most are not. The recognition of our own limits and today's needs leads us, even drives us, to seek better solutions.
So children are presented to the school by parents, in the expectation that there they will be more fully trained, trained for service in the church, in the kingdom and in the world.
But if presentation is a parental activity, it has to be said that a certain attitude must underlie that activity. Conscientious Christian parents will not simply dispatch their children to just any school. No, they will send them there where they are confident that they will receive an education in harmony with the outlook of the home. In other words, presentation involves trust. You must have confidence in the educational institution, in its basis, in its educational philosophy, in its board, in its teachers, in its resources. Only then can your children be properly presented and you as parent-stewards be properly served.
Parents Delegate their Authority
Nevertheless, the involvement of parents is more than a matter of presentation. It also involves an act of delegation. When you surrender your children to the school you delegate some of your authority to the teacher. Notice that I say "some.” It is not true that Reformed education and the Reformed home occupy two totally different and independent spheres. It is not true, as one scholar has put it, that "parents have authority over their children within the family; they do not have authority over the school."
To hold or to promote such a view violates the biblical concept of parenthood, as well as the very nature of the school as a parental institution. According to the Scriptures there is no way that parents are allowed to completely surrender their authority with respect to their children. They remain ultimately responsible and accountable for their children as long as they are under the age of maturity and wherever they may be during that time. For God gives authority in the family to the parents. In the church He gives it to the elders. In the state he gives it to the legislators. In the workplace He gives it to the owner-employer.
Does He then not give it in the school to the teachers? Yes, but their authority is never direct. It is always derived. It comes to them from the home, from the parents. In this life there is primary and secondary authority. The same applies in the state. A policeman does not have authority dispatched to him directly. No, it is delegated authority that he handles because it is the state which tells him what laws to enforce and what charges to lay.
Still, a word of caution is in order here too. For we must realize that even in those cases where authority is primary, it is never absolute. Only God's authority is absolute. Only He is accountable to no one. Only He makes the basic laws. Ultimately we are all accountable to Him – parents and teachers alike.
Hence there are distinctions that must be kept in mind when it comes to the flow of authority, but at the same time there must also be the realization that parents and teachers are handling a common component. What this means is that there must be mutual support here. It is not proper for teachers to undermine the primary authority of the parents, nor is it proper for parents to pooh-pooh the secondary and delegated authority of the teacher.
And yet, especially the latter is being done on an almost regular basis. In meetings with educators and board members it strikes me that there are enough incidents here to express concern and to see a disturbing trend emerging. A teacher disciplines a child for misbehaviour and the child goes home and complains. What do some parents do? Side with the teacher, as your father and my father did? Hardly, they automatically side with the child. They even criticize the teacher in front of the child. They phone up the teacher and without waiting for an explanation, they fire away with both guns blazing. How utterly, utterly inappropriate! What damage this does! The child's deceit is rewarded and his conceit is amplified. Meanwhile, the teacher becomes angry, frustrated and discouraged.
This is only one horror story and there are many more out there. There are cases where parents complain when students break clearly defined school rules and as a result have their privileges suspended. There are students who break into staffrooms and help themselves, who are suspended and whose parents don't want to hear about it and can't be bothered to meet with the school administration.
These are serious incidents and they underline that a problem exists with the parents of some students. These parents do not see that authority in the home and school must complement each other and support each other. They fail to see that teachers are on their side and attempting to apply their standards and God's standards to children who often have more in common with the first Adam than with the second.
(Having spoken about authority of parents over their children, given by God, and about authority of teachers in school Dr. J. Visscher continues his article on "The Role of Parents in the Christian School" as follows).
Parents Should Esteem their Children's Teachers
What should parents do when their children are disciplined by their teacher? They should back him or her up 100%. And if there are questions, reservations, disagreements about causes, offenses and penalties, then the parent has a duty to speak with the teacher personally, immediately, and respectfully. Hear him or her out, and you will discover that the vast majority of the time the problem is not with the educator but with the learner.
Such an approach is proper and Christian. And it also shows proper esteem and estimation for the teacher's person and task. Yes, and that too is a necessary, a very necessary, element. If one were to try to rate the very occupations and callings that people have in life, then there is little doubt that teaching ranks among the top ten. A teacher's responsibility is awesome. His or her task is stupendous. His or her aims are exalted. For what is a teacher? A teacher has to be an instructor who knows the subject matter that has to be taught fully. A teacher is a guide who has to show his students the way through the jungles of geography, the pitfalls of algebra, and the swamps of biology. A teacher has to be a model of true Christian piety in the eye and mind of his students. A teacher has to be a catalyst that can light a fire under students who otherwise show no interest or ability. A teacher has to be a classroom manager who can keep the rambunctious side of the covenant youth under control. In short, a teacher has to be so many things.
And we should respect them for it! But that raises the question whether the teaching art is still respected and whether the teacher is still esteemed. There are signs that this is slipping. It shows up for example in the jokes that people make about teaching and teachers. Now, jokes can be harmless and innocent, but they can also serve as indirect criticisms or barbs. There are also offhand comments that people make about teachers having cushy 9-to-3 jobs, about working nine months, about never getting their hands dirty or their brows sweaty. There are occasions too where people get together for birthday parties, family gatherings or other events, where the tendency to deal with people more than topics is a natural one. And who are often on the receiving end? The teachers! (The minister too?) By its very nature teaching is a rather public profession. Parents get to hear a lot about it from their children, rightly or wrongly, accurately or in tainted form. It all adds fuel to the fire. Besides, there is also the perception that teachers, like politicians and ministers, are fair game and public property. It's alright to cut them up because everyone does. It's alright to make negative comments about them; after all, we pay their wages or stipends; we own them and therefore we can zero in on them.
Yet the question must be asked whether or not such an approach really edifies. In our Reformed schools we have a real shortage of teachers, and the blame is often laid at the door of poor wages and benefits, but it could just as easily be laid at the door of public perception and criticism. Just ask yourself a few questions when it comes to teachers and teaching: Do you as parents speak about them in such a way that when your children hear it they are motivated to join their ranks? As fathers and mothers you have to deal with a few children a few hours in the morning and a few more at night; how would you like to handle 30 of them for 6-7 hours a day? How would you like to teach six hours a day and then go home to prepare assignments, mark tests and papers for another 4-6 hours?
Place yourself in the shoes of your children's teachers and you cannot help but esteem and honour them.
Parents Should Keep Educating Themselves
Still, stepping into someone else's shoes is not necessarily an easy exercise. If parents are going to do it properly they will have to educate and keep on educating themselves. Perhaps that disappoints you. You had assumed that now that you send your children to a Reformed school you can leave all the education up to it. You can wash your hands of it and leave it up to the experts.
Nevertheless, that is not the way it goes in truly Reformed education, nor in the approach of the truly Reformed parent. Education involves delegation but not abdication. As parents we have a responsibility to keep tabs on our children's education, knowing what is being taught and how it is being taught. We have an obligation to help them learn and understand. We have a duty to provide them with a stable home environment which is conducive to learning and development. Truly, there are many things that we must know and there are many things that we must assist in.
Taken together what this speaks of is involvement. If Reformed education is at bottom parental education then the parents must always be with it. They should make it a point to attend parent-teacher interviews, school society meetings, open houses. They should make an effort to read the school bulletin on a regular basis. They should purchase and read books that broaden and deepen their educational vision and understanding.
In other words, what I am pleading for is more educational involvement, and not just building involvement or financial involvement. Is it a true measure of our priorities and interests when school society meetings that deal with large building projects or with budgets generate an excellent attendance; whereas, meetings devoted to educational philosophy or curriculum matters attract a meager few? The ingredients for a great Reformed school rest as much on the participation of the parents as on the ability of the teachers.
Parents must Supply the Financial Means
All of this is not to suggest that education and finances have little to do with each other. Such a view represents pie-in-the-sky idealism. As long as we are in this dispensation money will remain a potent force either for good or for evil. And the same applies to our schools. They will continue to exist only as long as parents are willing to make their donations and, in many cases, to sacrifice.
Indeed, there is little doubt that for many parents Christian education is equated with financial hardship and sacrifice. Especially in the Province of Ontario, where no financial support of any kind is given by the government, and where schools exist totally on donations, the going is often tough and the burden is onerous. In the West the picture brightens due to various degrees of provincial funding, yet even here the situation is such that for many families education remains a costly item.
The consequences of insufficient funding are felt in more than our families, they are also evident in our school buildings, in our level of staffing, and in our salaries for teachers. It is especially the latter that continues to raise the most concern. Parents, board members, and teachers alike are wrestling with the issue of teacher salaries, and in the process progress is being made, at least, if my sources are correct.
Yet in some cases there is plainly more that could be done. For example, there are many Boards that could do with an added dose of professionalism. By that I mean better research on what the public system and the general Christian school system pays its teachers in terms of salaries and benefits. It does not have to be a case of dollar matching dollar or of keeping up with the educational Joneses, but there must be some awareness of what is happening out there. Long range planning is another area that deserves some attention. Too many boards stumble from year end to year end, with never a look into the fiscal future. Secret sweetheart deals too should have some extra scrutiny. It has come to my attention over the years that there are School Boards out there that make special deals with teachers. In spite of what the salary grid calls for, there are extras being offered. Now in some cases that may be warranted and necessary, but it should be open and above board.
Also, Boards would do well to look at some of the regulations floating around that touch on salaries and benefits. Some time ago I came across a document that specified in minute detail all kinds of things like sick leave, maternity leave, death in the family leave. You name it and it was in there. Honestly, I question the need for that kind of approach and minute detail. Of course, some rules and guidelines are always necessary, but the zeal for organization can get the better of us. You get the most out of a teacher not by nickle and diming her or him, not by crossing every "t" and dotting every "i", but by showing trust and confidence in a teacher.
That financial sacrifice is an integral part of Christian education is a reality. Will it ever go away? That appears doubtful and, from the parental side of things, perhaps even undesirable. I am no seer but there is little doubt in my mind that if tomorrow the government of Manitoba or BC or Ontario stated its intention to give your school 100% funding, it would suffer. Oh, the affects might not be felt immediately. In the short run, they might even prove impressive in terms of new facilities, expanded libraries, additional staffing (if you can find it). But in the long run you would be faced with a different picture. The interest level in Reformed education would drop and the cause of Reformed education would suffer.
At the same time, it is extremely doubtful whether that type of largess would improve either our standard of living or our general attitude, Financially, some of us have far more than we need, some of us have what we need, but none of us live in need. It may sound trite to some of your ears but the Lord really does bless givers, and cheerful givers at that. He blesses them in various ways. In spite of what our community pays for the support of church and kingdom, it is still one of the most affluent communities in the entire world. Let us be thankful. Let us always consider our financial obligations in the light of our material blessings.
Parents must Buttress Reformed Education at Home
Having looked at their relationship to the school, to its program, its teachers and its finances, parents should also take some time to examine the relationship between what is being taught at school and what is being taught at home. Is the striving of the school with respect to the covenant youth in harmony with the striving of the home? Is there consistency here? Are there common goals, common aims and common standards?
Perhaps you find these questions unnecessary; after all, do school and home not form two corners of the same triangle of church-home-school? Indeed there is a sense in which they should be unnecessary, but are they? The school has the task of training the youth to become knowledgeable, discerning, and dedicated. The school has the task of showing them that Christ really is Lord of all of life. The school develops their world view. The school stresses what it means to live as a regenerated and holy person in every walk of life.
But does the home and do the parents stress the same thing? How do we see our role as parents and what is the atmosphere like in our homes? Thankfully there are many parents who take their parenting seriously and who are constantly trying to improve on it. But there are also parents who leave a lot to be desired. They have surrendered the educational process to the school and to the church, and largely washed their hands of it. It represents too great an effort and a bother. They major in keeping their children fed, clothed, and orderly.
They insist that their children do as they are told, not as they themselves do. In other words, they have a rather authoritarian view of parenting and make little attempt to be models for their children.
Should they later on wonder why their child rearing has proven a disaster, they might well look at themselves. Children are astute observers and they soon see whether or not mother and father practise what they preach, whether they cultivate the fruits of the Spirit in their own lives, whether they take the message of the Gospel seriously. A hypocrite may live long in the church without being found out, but it's an entirely different story in the home, where the scrutiny is intense and the quarters are close.
As parents, however, we must not only take a close look at ourselves and whether we personally supplement our children's education at home, we must also examine the quality of our home life. What is the environment like? What sets the tone? What determines the pace? I ask these questions because it comes so often to my attention as I go about my own congregation that what we strive to achieve at school is so often undone after school. There are really two educational enterprises going on every day, and the two could not be more at odds with each other. What am I referring to? The television.
Now understand me well, I am not telling you to trash it. I am not saying that it is un-Reformed to have one. I am only questioning whether we realize the great power and the almost totally negative influence this invention has. This year my wife and I spent a few days in Seattle on a Spring Break, and seeing that we do not have a TV at home, we decided to give it a go. For three nights we scanned the air waves of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. What a terrible disappointment. The language, the mindless violence, the role models, the values presented, the commercials, they were almost all directly opposed to what the Gospel stands for.
Yes, and there are children who come home from the Christian school enter the house, plunk themselves down and turn on the tube, and watch it hour after hour, night after night, program after program. They have no time to play outside or to eat decently, because their favourite show is on. They have no time to converse because it interrupts their program. They feud about who is allowed to watch what. They race to the washroom during commercials. They go to bed at night having spoiled the time.
As a medium, television tends to dull the mind. It turns the watcher into a consumer. It so easily stifles creativity and interferes with play. As an influence it brings us the philosophies, the trends, the standards of the world. It undermines the demarcation line between good and evil. If you watch program after program featuring adultery, living together and all the rest, it cannot but break down your moral barriers.
And then there is an extension to all this called the video. In and of itself, the video camera and screen is a marvellous invention which has many positive applications in connection with education and with the home. But let us not be so naive as to overlook the dark side, namely, the violent, blasphemous, and pornographic video movies that can be rented almost everywhere. It is not at all unusual for father and mother to go out for the evening and for some younger member of the family to sneak out to the local corner store and rent videos that violate all Christian standards of decency and morality. It is also not unusual for young people to hold a party and to use some very questionable videos as their chief source of entertainment.
In short, there is a form of media education that acts as an antithesis to Christian schooling. Whatever you seek to build up with the one, is broken down by the other. How self-defeating! How wasteful! If we truly want to buttress the education of our children, then we will have to address the matter of these two educations. If you feel that you must have that evil eye, along with its henchman, the video, in the corner of your living room, make sure that you keep a proper rein on it. Supervise its use and evaluate its output. Place the garbage off-limits and select proper programs and videos. Teach your children to discern and discriminate between what is holy and what is profane.
And do not neglect to provide some wholesome substitutes for your family in the form of games, recreational activities, family outings and books. By the way, how many trips to the library do you make in a year and how much do you spend during the same time on good books? They are out there, you know. They are there for young and old alike – books that expand your horizons, strengthen your vision and sharpen your perceptions.
What is required is consistency between home and school. Let us strive for it and see to it.
Parents may Educate them with Hope
Thankfully, our last word can be an upbeat one. Why, if we look at ourselves long enough and at our homes close enough, there is always reason for concern and disillusionment. We are such imperfect specimens and our homes are so far from ideal. Even our schools can stand so many improvements. Nevertheless, we have a duty to remind ourselves that the enterprise in which we are involved is not a solely human one. Christian education is not done alone – without God, blindly – without the Word, weakly – without the Spirit. No, it can be done in hope and with confidence, because God is there. Even if we are faithless, He remains faithful. Mercifully, He turns our failures around and makes something of them. He invigorates our imperfect Reformed schools. He blesses our parental bumblings. He fights to protect our homes. Through His Son He redeems the humanly unredeemable. Through His Spirit He makes the unholy holy.
We have so much to be thankful for, and let us be that – always. Indeed let us go on in thankful obedience and in quiet resolve, leaning on our precious covenant God and looking to Him to make the rougher places plain.