Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Value of Christian Education.

In 1996, my husband and I had our first child. That week, I called 3 schools to put her name on the "waiting lists" that I had heard about. We knew if we lived in our current home by the time she was school age, we did not want her to go to the school we were zoned for- that was the deciding factor for her future...not "we want this for her" but more, "we don't want this for her." I was the product of the localpublic k12 education- it was a positive experience, he was the product of college-prep local private k12 education- a positive experience as well. Neither of us felt strongly for or against either choice- it was to us, just that, a choice. I called the elementary school (Bright School) that he attended and also his upper school (Baylor School) and requested that J., daughter of alumni Kent  be put on their waiting list. They gladly responded with a resounding "yes" and talked to me about the value of heritage our brand new baby daughter had with the school already. While holding that precious little baby girl, I then hung up the phone and promptly called "Chattanooga Christian School" (CCS) to ask that she also be put on that waiting list. With less fanfare, because I didn't know ANYONE at that school, nor did they know me, they said, "sure thing."

I remember when she was age 2 1/2 getting a phone call from Bright School and being told, "it's time to enroll J. for the fall." "WHAT? She'll be 3 years old." I was told, "Yes, but we can't guarantee she will have a spot in Kindergarten if she isn't in our preschool program now." Like any good post-accountant non-working momma the bottom line was "how much is it?" Truthfully, it was a no-brainer for us at that point in our lives- we did not feel like we would be good stewards of our money if we chose that option. I remember thinking to myself when she was 2 1/2, it's looking like it's going to be CCS- once again, it wasn't because I wanted something in particular, it was more that I didn't want something else - to be flat broke.

Fast forward to age 4, we finally did our first visitation day at CCS. We met the president of the school for our parent interview (I was sweating bullets), we walked through the elementary school and for lack of a better explanation, WE JUST KNEW. It was an odd feeling for me, I only knew some acquaintances that had children going there, and I knew no one on staff but I felt the overwhelming easiness that this was where GOD wanted J. to be.

I became a Christian in life at age 16 with very sporadic church attendance in my life up until that point. After that, my entire family became members of a local baptist church that we attended on a regular basis and more importantly, we started a relationship with our risen savior. My husband on the other hand was on the cradle roll of that same baptist church and was there every time the doors were open pretty much his whole life. The idea of our children being taught in a Christian worldview was very appealing to both of us. Neither of us had that opportunity but both of us were open to what that might mean.

J. spent 13 years of her life being taught at Chattanooga Christian School. Some years she loved her school, more often in her last years, she didn't. There were times she screamed how much she hated it, other times she was thankful for the caring hearts of those that educated her and prayed for her...but the truth of the matter is, it was all she had ever known. She went to a Christian preschool and then a Christian K-12 school. She had no idea what non-Christian based education might look like UNTIL COLLEGE.

When J. graduated from CCS, her one comment when we were looking at schools for her was "I DO NOT want to go to a Christian college." We thought, "fair enough, she is old enough to start being in charge of the path of her learning more." So she chose to go to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga- a school I happen to have two degrees from and that is right here in her home town. The truth is, she didn't really even consider anywhere else. This was her choice. Her first semester she chose to live at home, she was a more confident college student than she had ever been in high school. About 4 weeks into her first semester she looked at me and said, "Mom, I never thought I would say this but thank you for sending me to CCS. I feel prepared for college much more than most people seem to be." [Insert vindicated mom happy dance here.] She finished her first semester making the dean's list. Those were not the typical grades she was making in high school on a regular basis. She felt good about herself academically and it was exciting to see (as a mom educator).

And then second semester began- she enrolled in a class called "The New Testament of the Bible as Literature" (or something like that). She thought "easy A, I know my bible, I've been forced to study it in school for the last 13 years." Her first test grade was a 35. She was flabbergasted. You see, she was looking at the class through the lens of a Christian, which was not at all what the professor seemed to be wanting from her. She struggled with seeing the bible from this professor's worldview. It was hard for her to think any other way. She said, "I know one thing, I will never ever take another bible class at UTC." She said she basically had to stop thinking like a Christian to make a good grade in that class. The other day, she was sitting at our house (she's moved out now) and was typing a paper for another class (English). Her father happens to be friends with that professor. She looked up at her dad and said, "if I quote a bible verse in this paper will he give me a bad grade?" All of a sudden, who she is and how she views things is being questioned by herself. To start with, I was just plain ticked off. Shouldn't all professors be openminded enough to allow believers to share how their faith effects how they think? Shouldn't all students in any school feel confident that they won't be judged for their beliefs? But it's not a perfect world. Every day teachers are biased about something regarding their students even though we try hard not to be. J. is learning this in what feels like the hard way. J.'s learning that not everyone thinks like she does, acts like she does, or looks like she does. J.'s navigating the giant world at age 18 through a Christian lens in a decidedly unchristian world.

I've thought a lot on this for the last few weeks. Some would say that we have sheltered our child and made it harder for her to enter this "real world." I say, without a shadow of a doubt, by educating J. through a christian worldview, she was taught in a place that shared our consistent values, she has a solid foundational belief system that many people in the world are missing; she believes, in faith, in an omnipotent God, and she believes the word of God is her ultimate guidebook. To say that our family entered christian education haphazardly wouldn't be true because I believe God has his hand providentially in everything. I will say that I did not see the value of christian education the way I see it today. I now see the importance for the church, school, and family working together to "raise" christian children- not to shield a child from sin, because sin happens regardless, but to build them up through the explanation of who God is- his requirements, grace, and mercy. In an educational philosophy that doesn't exhort Christ as king and ruler of all, children can get a misguided, lopsided approach to life.

Two verses repeat in my head regarding christian education. Psalm 24:1 says "the earth is the Lord's and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it." When we, as Christian parents, segregate learning from the christian worldview, we are telling our children that some things are under God's sovereignty and some things are not. The one verse that is on constant repeat as I teach at Chattanooga Christian School everyday is Ecclesiastes 4:1, "though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not easily broken." By instilling a biblical educational worldview, not just in a bible class but for me in teaching digital citizenship from a Christian perspective, I am helping equip my students and my own children in a stronger cord of 3 for God's glory:
 1. family
 2. church 
 3. school 

So I know writing this is like opening a can of worms. There are many Christian families that will adamantly disagree with me. There are non-christians that will roll their eyes at me and judge me for my judgmental character. But here is what I've learned from J.: I am who I am and this is something on my heart, I shouldn't fear sharing it. I wasn't educated in a Christian worldview but I sure am glad God has shown me the value of it and allowed me to teach it as well.