The following article, “Understanding, appreciating, protecting & using our Educational Freedom” was originally published in the Reformed Perspective magazine. It has been included here as a reference item for our readers. You can download a PDF of the updated version, linked at the bottom of the text if you wish to print a copy.
Understanding, appreciating, protecting & using our EDUCATIONAL FREEDOM
By André Schutten
In most of the Western world we are free to educate our children as we wish. We can raise them up to know the ways of the Lord. Do we understand how blessed we are because of this reality?
Let’s consider, then, this blessing and examine how our Reformed schools, teachers, and parents are crucial in defending this freedom. Recent legal challenges on the education front should serve as reminders that we need to stay vigilant and jealously guard the freedom we have to raise up our children to know and serve the Lord.
The meaning of
In speaking of freedom, libertarians and other classical liberals often make the mistake of celebrating freedom for freedom’s sake. That is, they see freedom as the ultimate end in itself.
Christians should know better. When we talk about freedom, it is not only freedom from; we are also concerned about freedom for. We don’t only want freedom from excessive regulation, or from interference by the State, we want the freedom so that we can do good for our neighbor, worship freely, raise our children soundly, etc.
This is the paradox of liberty: excessive freedom outside the constraints of holy living makes one a slave to passion (greed, hatred, lust, envy, ambition, etc.). Without the Gospel, liberty becomes anarchy. That’s why the Bible in Exodus 20 (“I have set you free from bondage…”) includes a guide to living freely: “You shall not…” So we thank God for our freedom, but we understand there are limits. Freedom without limits is anarchy, and is not a blessing but a curse.
Freedom, in the education context, is freedom for parents to send their children to Reformed Christian schools, and freedom for institutions like the Covenant Canadian Reformed Teachers College to be able to educate men and women to be teachers who are well-grounded in the identity of Reformed education.
The blessing of
Do we understand how incredibly valuable freedom is to Reformed education? We don’t have to look far to find examples of countries with less freedom than Canada. Extreme examples abound: North Korea raises an entire nation to worship its leader, indoctrinating every citizen from the moment of birth in a cultish worship of the State. Radical Islamic states like Iran crack down on Christians, arresting pastors and educators who dare to teach about Christ our Sovereign Lord.
But even so-called “progressive” countries have little tolerance for the teaching of a Christian worldview. For example, in both Sweden and Germany it is illegal to homeschool or privately school your children. If parents do not send their children to the government-run schools, the parents are criminally liable and their children can be seized by child welfare services. (I am not making this up!)
The need for
So you can see the value of freedom in matters of education! With the growth of excessive regulation, bureaucratic interference and centralized oversight, it becomes harder and harder for parents, and Reformed teachers as their proxies, to “raise up a child in the way he should go.” A lack of freedom in a country can rob a covenant child of thorough, Biblical, worldview training during their most formative years.
Thomas D’Arcy McGee, one of Canada’s founding fathers, once said, “We have…liberty to our hearts’ content. There is not on the face of the earth a freer people than the inhabitants of [Canada].”
Do we still have that kind of freedom that Mr. McGee was talking about 150 years ago? Freedom, as the old adage goes, is a gift that, unless vigilantly guarded, is soon lost. Are we, as a Christian community, being vigilant? Are we guarding and valuing this treasure we call Reformed education?
If you had asked me five years ago what my thoughts were on independent Christian education, I would probably have told you I thought it was a mistake – we’ve taken all the good Christian kids out of the public school system so no wonder it’s gone to pot! The fundamental error in my wrong-headed thinking was the assumption that it is the role of the State to educate our children, and that when the State does so, it is able to be neutral in teaching a worldview to our kids, or if not neutral, then at least not capable of leaving a lasting impression on our children’s minds. How wrong I was.
Is it the role of the State to teach your kids, and can it do so neutrally, leaving the formation of worldview to parents?
Think about this for a moment – think about how radical it is that 92% of Ontario children spend more of their time with a state bureaucrat than with their own parents. John Taylor Gatto writes,
Is there an idea more radical in the human race than turning your children over to total strangers whom you know nothing about, and having those strangers work on your child’s mind, out of your sight for a period of 12 years? – it’s a mad idea.
Schooling is a form of adoption. You give your kid away at his or her most formative years… You accept a promise that the State, through its agents, knows better how to raise your children and educate them than you do.
The threat to
This idea that State education is morally neutral is prevalent in Canada and it is up to us to counter it – starting with the pupils sitting in the desks in our own schools or homes.
Many politicians in Ontario think that it is immoral to teach that homosexual activity is sin, or they argue that teaching against abortion is misogyny (two ministers of the Crown last year were quoted as saying just that!) That’s the imposition of a not-so-neutral worldview.
In Québec, Loyola school, a private Jesuit school, which describes itself as a confessional Christian institution, will be forced to teach an 11-year course on world religions from a secular perspective unless an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada reverses that decision. That is, the government thinks it is totally reasonable to require private Christian schools to set aside their Christian worldview for an hour a day (as if that’s possible) in order to teach about other religions from a “neutral” or secular perspective. If this curriculum and policy is upheld as constitutional in Quebec, it means it could potentially be applied in any province. So, let’s bring this issue closer to home.
In a recent article by Matt VanPopta and Allard Gunnink (Compass, Vol. 5, Is. 1) they ask us to:
Imagine being ordered to teach your science curriculum without showing your students God’s glory in creation. Imagine presenting evolution as a fact instead of a theory. Imagine being told that you could go ahead and teach the Bible so long as you balance the Religious curriculum by also teaching that the Islamic, Buddhist or Wiccan worldviews are just as valid. Imagine being forced to teach a piece of literature without being able to compare its themes to the ultimate piece of literature. Imagine being forced to discuss any social issue from a religiously “neutral” point of view.
While these may seem fantastical ideas today, there are forces at work in this country that seek to impose exactly that.
I don’t raise these points to terrify you into action. I do raise them as warning signs. Canada is not as free as in the days of Darcy McGee. The road ahead will not be an easy one – I suspect that things will become more difficult, not less. Yet, we guard our freedom vigilantly and always with hope, confidence, and trust as well! Reformed educators play a vital role in this: as long as we have the freedom to provide Christian education, Reformed Christian teachers can assist parents in the church so that the children can be taught properly, schooled in a worldview that is consistent with what is taught around the dinner table at home and what is preached off the pulpit in church.
The fruits of
You are familiar with the phrase, “By their actions you will know them.” Here is the irony of a State that seeks to limit the freedom of the Christian school in the name of tolerance: when you teach children to live as Christians, then the Christian academy is consistently pumping out better citizens.
Christians are more civically engaged, harder working and less criminally inclined. We have stronger families, we volunteer more hours, donate more dollars, and cost the government less in welfare, healthcare and justice.
I do not note this so we can congratulate ourselves, not at all! This is not our own doing, but by the grace of God. It is by the work of His Holy Spirit that we are all the more willing and able to live for Him. In fact, by virtue of us being harder workers, we are able to give to those who have less. By virtue of us being less likely to be incarcerated, we are better able to minister to those who are incarcerated. By virtue of us having more stable homes, we are able to minister to those who have no family or crumbling homes.
This reality needs to be taught to our youth as well – not out of pride (and we must be very watchful of that), but to counter the dominant social narrative that says religion is a toxin in society. The gospel is a public good! As the Cardus Education Survey reveals, “The education that takes place in religious schools and homeschools is public education and is producing results that are in the public interest.” We ought not to be ashamed of the good news and good direction available to all Canadians in the Bible.
As Reformed believers, we don’t sit around bellyaching about the condition of our province or country in fear and trembling of what might happen. We confidently move forward knowing what God has called us to do, living out that calling, knowing that He is faithful. The world is fallen. We know that; so get to work!
So we can celebrate what God has graciously provided in and through parents and teachers. The work we do, the worldview we teach, the community we serve, the freedom we defend, the God we adore – this is worthy of celebration. When Reformed parents and teachers endeavor to inculcate in our children a Reformed worldview on all of life, in every single subject, including civic life, we are positively contributing to our society. These students, – when living as brilliant, vibrant, engaged citizens in this world now – will demonstrate to the culture around us that the Christian worldview is a public good, that it has a positive contribution to make to society. And then we will, by God’s grace, point them to the one true light, the light of Life. The more people who come to know Him, the more freedom, true and lasting freedom, we all will have.
And that is worth celebrating!