In Part One, Dr. Brock discussed a basic philosophy of Christian education and surveyed the interaction of churches with education before the Christian School Movement took hold. Today he will continue by surveying the Christian School and Home School movements and offer some recommendations for parents and churches going forward.
The Rise of the Christian School Movement
There were many casualties as well. As the hostility of the public school environment became more blatant, and as the rise of external permissive behavior and the emergence of the drug and sex revolution of the late 1960s captured the public schools, it became clear that one of the sayings of Dr. Bob Jones Sr. (“Don’t polish the brass rails on a sinking ship”) clearly applied. Bible believers no longer could support the morally bankrupt and spiritually antagonistic public schools.
In the early 1970s the Christian school movement boomed, and for twenty years it was a dynamic, growing movement. Even unsaved parents could see the permissive and liberal-dominated public schools were doing a poor job. In the South mandated racial integration was tolerated until forced bussing was adopted. “White flight” to Christian schools was a factor in their explosive growth (although not as much a factor as the secularist believes). As a principal, I remember when we had waiting lists in March for the following year in every class through eighth grade. Each year we were able to build new classrooms with the surplus generated by full classrooms.
During this time two large Christian school organizations emerged: the American Association of Christian Schools (AACS) under the leadership of Dr. Al Janney and the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) under the leadership of Dr. Paul Kienel. The AACS was dominated by Fundamentalists, and the ACSI was dominated by softer “Evangelicals.” The AACS used an ecclesiastical model, whereby the organization was headed by pastors. Educators were less trusted and became second-tier leaders in a supporting role. The AACS was organized into a loose confederation of state associations. The state association held the purse strings and power, and AACS survives today as a relatively weak and underfunded organization. ACSI, on the other hand, organized according to a corporate model with strong centralized leadership focusing on educational issues and coveted services to member schools. Dues were hefty, but services were significant (credit union, school start-up manuals, professional consultants, in-service programs, and many educational resources) and all highly valued. The ACSI remains today as a theologically weak but organizationally powerful organization with 5,500 schools.
Since the 1990s a consolidation or shakeout has occurred within the CSM. AACS schools have declined in both number and size (to less than 1,000). Strong AACS schools tend to be connected to larger churches that can significantly subsidize programs. Most AACS schools charge modest or low tuition and are struggling to maintain enrollment, teacher quality, and adequate employee benefits. ACSI schools have been less adversely affected by economics. They tend to be much more expensive (charging $4,000–$8,000 a year to attend), are less connected with the local churches, are more financially secure, and tend to have stronger educational programs, especially at the high school level.
The Rise of the Home School Movement
In the 1980s a new alternative of Christian education emerged—the home school movement (HSM). This dynamic factor promoted the concept that parents are the best educators of their children, that home schooling is more effective and efficient, and that it is a preferred alternative to mothers leaving home to work in order to send their children to traditional Christian schools. Gurus like Bill Gothard used considerable resources to promote and develop home school materials. Christian colleges like Pensacola Christian College and Bob Jones University began to produce materials and programs to accommodate the home school, including such devices as specialized video or satellite-delivery programs. All of these professionally produced materials gave encouragement and legitimacy to this Christian education alternative. At first, the AACS and ACSI tried to criticize or at least caution people about this alternative, but soon an uneasy truce set in whereby Christian home school families were tolerated and many churches had actually replaced the Christian school with a localized home school network. As the home school movement strengthened, many Christian schools weakened or ceased to exist.
The sheen is now off all of these movements. As we survey the field from a historical perspective, many good and some troubling realities emerge:
- The church youth group no longer prepares its best young people to engage and thrive in the public school. To do so would imply support for public schools. I don’t know whether it is good or bad, but church youth groups today are fundamentally different in purpose and direction. Frankly, many are deeply fragmented between public, home school, and Christian school segments. Many youth groups lack purpose and vitality.
- Many Christian schools are so weak financially that they can no longer afford to support a head of the household teacher with a wage sufficient to support a family. Christian school faculty members are often undereducated compared to their public school counterparts. Many faculty members are secondincome women. Math, science, and foreign languages are often marginal or weak at the high school level. Fortunately, there are many exceptions in the larger Christian schools, and if you have one in your community, you are truly blessed.
- Home schools have an equally checkered track record. While many tout positive anecdotes, citing those who have gone on to prestigious colleges, these are relatively rare. Many homeschooled young people go on to Christian college and become productive Christian citizens and church workers. On the other hand, some home school families develop a type of isolationist pride, no longer wishing their children to be “corrupted” by the youth group. This “denim jumper/bag dress” culture can become critical of those who do not share their ethos. Sometimes these families go full circle, dropping out of the local church to have their own “home church.” Some disdain Christian college, and they choose a trade or internship in a secular vocation, often believing it is better to live at home and go to a secular college than to go to a Christian college or university where dress and norms are different from those distinctives practiced in their homes.
- Positively, many Christian school and home school families choose to send their children to Fundamental Christian colleges. At Maranatha, over 70 percent of our students come from Christian schools. When the college was founded in 1968, the vast majority of incoming students had graduated from public schools. We love the home school and Christian school kids; they and their public school counterparts (the relatively few who survived) thrive in our Fundamental colleges.
Contemporary Challenges and Recommendations
Today, a youth pastor has some students in a traditional Christian school. Many of his youth activities are either affected or dominated by the Christian school calendar. Public school kids are radically different—their dress, temptations, and exposures have little in common with those of the Christian school kids. The public school kids tend to be from newly saved or weaker Christian homes. Almost all of the “faithful kids” are in the Christian or home school. Homeschooled and public school children are from different planets, and many home school parents refuse to allow their children to attend youth activities if they know a significant public school contingent will be there.
The youth group at a church with a Christian school is challenged with the Christian school kids believing the youth group is one more “chapel,” and they are often poor testimonies to the public school kids. Truly, the contemporary youth group where there are Christian school, home school, and public school contingents is an incredible challenge and beyond the scope of the article. If someone knows of a successful model in bridging these groups, please share it with us.
- Pastors and parents need to recommit to the Biblical basis for Christian education. This ought to be the goal for every Christian. Parents and pastors need to teach the Biblical mandate.
- Churches need to cooperate in supporting quality Christian schools. There is far too much silence on this subject. Not every church has the resources to start a Christian school, but they can support those that are able. They need to encourage parents to send their students to Christian schools operated by another church.
- Christian school and home school parents need to allow their children to be tested and tried by (a) actively supporting the child’s youth group and (b) allowing their children to engage with unsaved young people, whether it is at a youth group, Christian camp, Christian school, or in an athletic league. Trials and testing are part of any growth and maturity process. The isolation of Christian young people from unsaved kids (through a controlled environment) is creating a generation of timid, calloused young people who have little heart for youth evangelism.
- Christian schools and parents must develop realistic expectations regarding Christian education. Academic instruction from a Christian worldview in a Christian context is a commendable and admirable goal, and it is worthy of pursuit. Discipleship and Christian growth are best accomplished in the voluntary context of local churches and their programs rather than through the coercive context of academic schooling.
- Quality generates revenue. It is impossible to offer quality education “on the cheap.” Loving parents will sacrifice much for excellent Christian education, but who wants to pay $3,000 for mediocrity? To many parents $5,000–$8,000 for authentic educational excellence is a bargain. Many schools charging this amount have long waiting lists. Usually, schools charging $3000 or less have many empty seats. “Yugo” Christian schools cannot compete and should go out of business just like the car company in the U.S. market.
- Pastors and youth directors need to win the confidence of parents with a program to unify the youth program. They need to teach home school parents the importance of engagement with the unsaved and weak Christians. Youth programs need to somehow bring the kids together to reach common goals all parents can support.
- Maintain or strengthen academic and behavioral expectations. Schools with high standards of behavior and academic achievement are very attractive even to unchurched parents.
As we survey the Christian schooling landscape, we are more convinced than ever that the underlying Scriptural basis and rationale are sound and that good Christian schools are needed more than ever. Churches need, however, some fresh thinking on how to organize, fund, and cooperate in this endeavor to build and promote excellence in our Christian schools. A corollary task is to understand the radically different dynamics of the church youth group. Fundamental Baptist churches now have a multicultural challenge that is unrelated to race. Only a few churches have successfully addressed this issue without abandoning their Christian school. May God give us wisdom to discover His will in these important aspects of the 21st century local church.
John Brock is now on the Emeritus faculty at Maranatha Baptist University in Watertown, Wisconsin.
(Originally published in FrontLine • September/October 2005. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)