A Word About Christian Education

Theology Thursday

I really need to write these posts ahead of time, when I actually feel like it . . . this isn’t really theology, but I’m kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel of inspiration here.

Nonetheless, I would just like to put in a good word for Christian Education. Just, maybe not as detailed a good word as I originally hoped. I am, as it happens, a “Director of Christian Education,” and it’s possible that a few people from Then Church still think that means I’m in charge of a school, but I’m not, and Christian Education at a church is sort of different than the school kind.

I think I might know, because not only am I a director of Christian Education at a church now, but every school I’ve ever gone to in my entire life (with the possible exception of one of my preschools–I don’t really know–and the exception of the public high school where I took Driver’s Ed and was nicknamed “Miss Christian” almost immediately) has been a Christian school.

I’m not bragging.

I’m just no longer apologising, either.

As I said on Monday, I’ve definitely been through my embarrassed phases over this state of affairs, my irritated phases, my not-this-again phases. Also, I’ve encountered the assumptions and stereotypes of people who think they know what the products of Christian schools are like. I’ve also made those assumptions myself–which, when you think about it, is pretty hypocritical, because they’re usually not 100% wrong. I mean, I just spent a whole post telling you about sober, virginal plant-naming celebrations, so really? Isn’t that just what we all expected?

But I also told you about how genuinely happy I was back then (another Wheaton College Jenn gave a similar–and briefer–testimonial in the comments), but I would also like to point out that while the stereotype of smiling innocence might not be so far from the mark in some of our cases (though certainly not all), there’s this other stereotype about Christian schools which is that they don’t actually educate.

It’s not like I haven’t encountered sloppy thinking in Christian circles. I, too, know the Scopes Monkey Trial story and how SMT have become the scarlet letter(s) around the necks of conservative Christians in America ever since. Honestly, this blogpost is probably tending in that direction right now because I’m not feeling as impassioned about this right this second as I was three days ago; also, I suppose in truth I can’t speak for the places I didn’t attend. In that case, then, I would just like to shout out to my elementary and high school, and to Wheaton College, as places that encouraged curiosity and rigorous thought and research. I don’t applaud legalism (I lived in legalism for a long time once), and you may think rigorous thought would be precluded in a place that, say, forbade dancing, but I don’t think even that admittedly silly little rule ultimately conspired against truly higher learning. Maybe in the end it made more space for it to happen at all.

It does help to have a sense of humour about your environment, though, whatever it is, in the moment you’re in it.

Once upon a time, my best friends and I were disgusted with the unrequiting behaviour of the young men we fancied, so we gussied ourselves up, went to a concert, and then pretended to party hard afterwards--with IBC root beer.

Once upon a time, my best friends and I were disgusted with the unrequiting behaviour of the young men we fancied, so we gussied ourselves up, went to a concert, and then pretended to party hard afterwards–with IBC root beer.

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14 thoughts on “A Word About Christian Education

  1. Wow, you were some crazy ladies! The Christian group at the Methodist University I attended (I have no affiliation to Methodists so don’t ask) said a prayer for me one night. That was very nice of them people, many of whom looked like the lovely ladies in the pictures above.

    • By the way–I’m not going to ask you if you have an affiliation to Methodists, since you said not to, but I am kinda curious how the scenario you describe transpired . . . 🙂

      • Ah, I am Catholic not Methodist. Long story short is I ended up at that school because the soccer coach talked me into it basically. It turned out to probably be the best thing for me as a larger school would have been too much stimulation for me as you will see.

        Anyway, on the evening I was prayed for….My roommate freshman year was a lad from East St. Louis, IL, possibly the worst city ever in the US that isn’t in New Jersey. I made the coach put me with him because I refused to live in the same room with our goal keeper who went to a rival high school as I did not much care for him. My roommate was odd and he hung with those Christian people. Are you tired of this comment yet? Lol. Anyway, I was at a party half tanked as usual with a young lady on my lap minding my own business (she would wind up being my girlfriend most of that year) when the senior soccer players busted in and kidnapped me from the party. For whatever reason, hazing was more important to those idiots than soccer. Anyhow, they took all my clothes off because they were twisted perverts and dropped me off in some corn field. As I was more of a city boy, I had no idea where I was for quite some time. When I finally found my way back, I was naked and fuming mad. I walked right past a large gathering of folks in front of one of the other dorms just cursing up a storm with my bad naked self. That crowd was the Christian something or other group and my roommate said that they convened a quick meeting and prayed for me. Yay me! I’m still friends with some of those Christian folk on FB and a couple of them even asked me out!! Lol, you crazy Christian ladies!

  2. I have to start this comment out by saying how much I love those pictures. They are adorable!!

    OK … now for the more serious part of my commentary. LOL

    I enjoyed this post, even though you weren’t feeling impassioned about it at the time you wrote it. It really hits home for me because my hubby and I are trying to decide what to do regarding our daughter’s middle school years, which are approaching much faster than I would like. >.O She is in a public elementary school now, and she just loves her school. But the public middle school for which we are districted is not my favorite choice. My daughter is in the “gifted & talented / AAP” program, which means she would be kept a bit separate from most of the kids in the school. Even so, I’ve heard some pretty frightening things about gang activity in the school … and it’s located in a bad place, too: across from a busy shopping and dining area and on a super busy street, too. Our other choice is Catholic school. Our church has one that has a good ranking, but it doesn’t have a GT-type program. Ugh. It’s a really hard decision, and, even though we still have a couple of years to figure it out, I’m not sure I’ll ever feel like I’m making the “right” choice.

    Anyhow … it’s really great to read about positive experiences in a Christian education setting.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this. Not having children of my own, I’ve never Ben in a position to make this kind of decision, but I suspect at times it’s excruciating.

    I think one major downside to Christian education is that it’s usually prohibitively expensive. I don’t know if that’s another factor you’re facing. I do know, however, that if it’s enough of a priority to you–and also if you pray about it and can sense it’s what God wants for your child–the ability to make it happen will come from somewhere. I don’t know how my parents did it; we lived on practically nothing and they had to drive TheBro and me 18 miles to get to our school, but they did it and I’m grateful.

    Another thing I’ve encountered is the scorn and social stigma that comes from having a “sheltered childhood.” To that I would say a couple things. 1. Obsessively controlling, “helicopter parenting” is heinous, but it’s also not creating a truly sheltering childhood and shouldn’t be what we’re talking about. It’s impossible to shelter a child from everything, and no parent should try to do that. 2. On the other hand, the creation of a safe and trusting home/family environment, and providing opportunities for a child to grow in other safe and generally trustworthy places is just responsible parenting.

    My Paul had pretty much the polar opposite kind of childhood to me, and maybe he’s more socially competent and culturally savvy and thicker skinned than I am. Maybe I even need someone like him to balance me. But when he tells me stories about his childhood, I feel like crying, and I’m all the more grateful for where I’ve come from.

    (I’m pretty sure that was the blog post I meant to write…)

  4. Though I would like to send my kids to a Christian school (once I have kids), I still have very mixed feelings about them. We moved a lot when my brother and I were kids, so we spent about half of our school years in a Lutheran school (even though we’re Methodist, I’ve grown up believing that the differences in denominations are primarily social, especially since my dad grew up Catholic and my mom grew up Methodist) and the other half in fantastic upper middle class public schools.

    Although I had mostly really great teachers growing up, including some teachers who really instilled in me a Christ-like desire to serve, I encountered more bigotry and bias at that Lutheran school than at any other time in my childhood. The staff openly discriminated against non-Lutherans and gave special privileges to Lutherans who were members of the church the school was associated with; even worse, the one Jewish kid in our class (where we lived, everyone who could afford it went to private school, even of a different religion) was seriously discriminated against by some of our teachers. I remember as a 7th grader being horrified by the way our teacher was verbally abusing our Jewish classmate, but as a 12-year-old, I didn’t really know what to do about it. And in 4th grade, in front of the entire class, my teacher called me a baby killer and made me cry for voting for the “wrong” candidate in our mock presidential election (on a separate occasion, she humiliated me in front of the class for going to church only twice over Christmas break instead of 5 times; she was a vile human being). This was at a time when I didn’t understand politics yet, but my teacher’s treatment of me after that mock election instilled in me the deep-seated belief that neo-conservatives like her were anti-Christian. Even now, some 20 years later, I still get angry when people use Christ as a cover reason to spread hate, and I have to remind myself that Jesus wants me to forgive people like her who make Christians look like hateful human beings. Like the Pharisees in the Bible, they don’t immediately understand why what they’re doing is wrong.

    At the same time, I have believed in Jesus since before I could even articulate it, and I want my kids to experience all the great things about being involved with a church school. I want my kids to have the experience of studying scripture, learning Christian traditions, singing in Chapel, putting on Bible story plays, and being taught to serve others in a Christ-like way. I want my kids to learn that everyone has flaws, and a couple people’s flaws are not a reason to doubt their faith. God loves us anyway.

    P.S. I love the pictures you shared!

    • Wow. Yes, I can see your concern. I had two appalling teachers myself (one in Kindergarten in Honduras, the other in third grade here in New England), and our school in New England was a denominational school, too, but as a Baptist, although I sometimes felt outnumbered by Christian Reformed kids, I didn’t really feel marginalised, I don’t think. (I agree with you about denominations, by the way.) I actually can’t imagine any of my teachers (except maybe the Kindergarten one, who was hired in a pinch and I don’t think was even a professing Christian) abusing someone of another faith–particularly Judaism. On the other hand, I know it’s out there, and I guess that is something one would have to weigh when deciding where to send kids. Your point is well-taken about forgiving that sort of person–it is REALLY hard to do.

      I think your final paragraph is also key, though–especially that bit about learning that everyone has flaws. “A couple people’s flaws are not a reason to doubt their faith.” Not that WE shouldn’t strive to be the best Christians we can be, but that the truth doesn’t stand or fall based on other people’s missteps.

      Anyway. Thanks for the good discussion. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

  5. It’s interesting to see how you describe your time in Christian college. Please note, as always, that I’ll try and speak my mind while also honoring your experiences and beliefs, but I have most often seen you struggling (or more peacefully going back and forth like a grandfather’s clock) with both legalism and down right conservatism on the one hand, and a counter reaction to that on the other hand. The educational system being really different, it didn’t matter that I went to a Christian elementary and high school. I was pretty much the only outspoken Christian in both. There are, however, real Christian schools, but they only show the faults of the idea. Under the law of ‘freedom of religion’, the conservative Dutch wing claims the right to choose schools and subsidized transportation, sometimes using huge monthly subsidies to get their kids to a school half the country away.

    I went to a Christian college myself, but I experienced nothing but a counter reaction. There were no dorms, so no house rules, but I was surrounded by only Christians for the first time. Some people knew each other from a privately founded Christian college preparation year, and they all seemed brainwashed more or less. Their openness to questions about faith was nothing more than an excuse to fling around the pet answers they had learned in ‘science’ class (or, rather, disproving evolution theory class, with a fantastic example here: http://thoughtcatalog.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/onion19.png?w=584). At the entire college 87% of students admitted to refuse to live next to non-whites in a conducted survey, and Nicky Gumbel’s Alpha Course was part of the curriculum for all studies. The three people in my class (including me, by that time) who didn’t affiliate as Christians got a failing grade.

    To me, Christian education is almost synonymous for a closed system in which people either refuse to ask questions and defend that right beyond any reason, or use questions to make adapt the world to their own beliefs. I know the American system is set up in a whole different way, so I have nothing to add really than my own frustrations, but it pains me that sometimes Christians are afraid of knowing the world. With everything I learn, I see only the greatness of God in practice. Every other theory I encounter is missing the love of a sacrifice and all other wisdom cannot sustain in the real world. But sometimes Christian education seems to only fuel the fear of knowledge that cripples Christians. At the same time, I know that those environments can be a very good place where intelligent people are thriving. Many students I met at my (first) college went there because they felt they would drown in a non-Christian college. Maybe it’s just not for me.

    • Well, maybe not–probably not, even (I think there are different “right places” for everybody), but frankly I think experiencing what you described wouldn’t be “for me” either. I agree that many religious institutions (churches AND schools) can have a crippling or blinding effect, and I really like what you say about “the love of a sacrifice”–that’s really profound, and very true.

      But I also feel like what you describe is the general stereotype of Christian schools, and what I’m trying to say is that they’re not ALL like that–they will unavoidably have their own “culture” that isn’t always actually *Christian,* but not all of them are bigoted, hedged-off, uninquiring enclaves against the rest of the world. Maybe some people at Wheaton felt it was. That wasn’t my experience, though.

      As for my personal grandfather-clockishness :-), you’re right. I’m pretty theologically conservative–possibly in a lot of ways more than I was before I started working for this liberalish church (because I’m a contrarian? I don’t know), but I do find myself constantly struggling for integrity, trying to discern the difference between a truly orthodox faith and the trappings that my culture (or western culture in general) has laid on it. It’s not always easy to pick them apart, you know?

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