Over the years I have discerned many motivations that parents have for sending their children to Regents Academy. One of the most common, it seems, is insuring that children are in a safe place, a place of protection from things in the world that parents perceive as harmful influences. Now, some folks may accuse these parents of attempting to “shelter” their children. When I hear that criticism, I like to repeat something I heard a conference speaker say once: “You’re accusing me of sheltering my children? What are you going to accuse me of next – feeding and clothing them?!”
It is the duty of parents to protect their children, to the extent that they are able, from harm and from evil influences. And it is a comforting thought for parents to know that they are leaving their children in a safe, nurturing, structured environment at Regents Academy where teachers actively seek to shepherd and care for their children.
However, the three primary enemies of the Christian are, unfortunately, present and active at our school – the world, the flesh, and the devil show up anywhere sinful people gather. And it would be presumptuous of parents to believe otherwise. We, as Christian parents, should be ever-watchful. Enrolling our children in a Christian school is not a guarantee that the Bible will automatically be the dominant influence in our children’s lives or that the draw of the culture won’t overwhelm their hearts. Likewise, Christian school administrators and teachers must not assume that since we have the word “Christian” in our school’s mission statement, Christian teachers in our classrooms, and Bibles in our students’ lockers, our influence is a given. The watchwords are diligence, trust, and vigilance.
So, with these things in mind, I share some more words of caution from an article by classical educator Brian Douglas, who wrote in First Things about five temptations for classical Christian schools. Here are two final temptations that call for vigilance and wisdom.
The fourth temptation is to neglect the Word of God. Although it may sound counter-intuitive, classical Christian schools need to integrate the Bible into our entire curriculum. Some in these education circles criticize other Christian schools for having what amounts to a secular curriculum with a Bible class on the side. The complaint is that this approach functionally teaches a secular-sacred divide that undermines real Christian faith and practice.
While this complaint has merit in many cases, we need to take care lest our schools fall into the same pit. Unless we carefully integrate biblical education throughout the entire curriculum, across every subject and grade, it would be very easy for our graduates to know more about Achilles and Dante than Abraham and David. The Word of God is our source for God’s wisdom; without it we only have the wisdom of man.
The final temptation is to assume that a classical Christian school will automatically influence a student more than the broader culture. We should pay careful attention to our students’ long-term goals, for they most clearly reveal the depth of the culture’s influence. Students tend toward materialistic goals because that is what they learn from the culture around them. Overcoming the intrusion of materialism into our schools is probably the biggest obstacle a Christian educator faces.
Students are humans, and humans are perpetual factories of idols. Every student brings some variety of idolatry into the classroom. The most common and most subversive idols are divine gifts that become valued above God himself: intelligence, finances, skills, moral goodness, even a good Christian education.
Although this kind of culture conflict is a problem for Christian education of every variety, it might be a more striking problem in classical schools because of the expectation that our graduates will be uniquely equipped to stand against the world and change the culture. That said, classical Christian education is perhaps also uniquely capable of addressing the conflict because it defines education in terms of the health of a student’s soul rather than the strength of a student’s skills.
The primary job of every Christian educator, regardless of grade level or subject matter, is to shape the heart. We should begin by warning students about the subtleties of pride in both its forms, arrogance and despair. We must teach them to think less of their own abilities and more of God’s. It will be difficult, but it is even more central to the goals of classical Christian teaching than the Trivium or the Great Books. The only way we can accomplish our task as educators is to demonstrate with our own lives that a truly successful life is one in which God is glorified for His faithfulness and love regardless of our personal performance.