Education: whose responsibility?

Schools are starting again all over my country, and this has focussed my thinking on my own journey of thinking about education…

  • In my earlier years I was not a supporter of Christian schools, but for the past 35 years I have been.
  • Three of my children are teachers, but only two work at Christian schools.
  • My grandchildren’s education is also divided.
  • I’m interested that in Australia both Christians and non-Christians will enrol their children at schools of both systems.
  • Lots of people get very passionate about what school system they believe and support.

Where am I now?

I wrote some weeks ago that I’m a Christian first and also a Libran – as a follower of Jesus, there are certainly things to be passionate about but I do like balance and respect for different views.

The arguments for and against both state and Christian schools are well-rehearsed in a country like Australia, which makes a flexible level of government support available to all schools that meet agreed standards.

Non-Christians who send their children to non-State schools do so for a variety of reasons: a better quality education, a more faith- , morals- and values-based ethos and curriculum, (“a bit of religion won’t hurt them”), more committed teachers, more parent involvement, less bureaucracy, avoiding society’s so-called riff-raff, cost vs benefits, etc, etc.

Committed Christians who enrol their kids in government schools usually do so because they take seriously Jesus’ words that his followers are to be like salt and leaven in society, and they think this should start from infancy: “If we isolate our children completely from our non-Christian society, how will they ever learn to relate their Christian faith, ethics and worldview to it?”  Others see it as integral to their own social involvement, bridge-bulding and showing of “the Christ-light”.

In my earlier years I was so serious in distancing myself from (and even rebelling against) my parents and heritage that I opposed Christian education as one of the key foundations of Dutch Protestantism.  But my Christian faith has always been real and valued (as have been my parents!).

Maturity came relatively slowly and late (“university (like many other things) is wasted on the young”, isn’t it?), and in time I became less angry and more reflective and grateful about my heritage.

What are some of the issues that did most to change my attitude and mind?

  • Calvin CS 6406 1My school and university education was all in secular / state schools, but that did virtually nothing to teach me to be a Christian evangelist!  Of course, my education was complicated by being a migrant and preacher’s kid, both of which as well as my temperament and other issues made my formative years unusually complex and painful.
    My conclusions from this?  When I look at how my sons flourished and my grandchildren now thrive in Christian schools, I am happy for them and realise that not many kids blossom for life if they grow up without the security that should flow from their home and school.
  • Although I recognise the validity of the separation of church and state jurisdictions and control in Western society, I also believe that the secularist movement has been throwing the baby out with the bath water.  We are witnessing the development of a society where increasing numbers of people, professions and organisations have no regard for (and often no real knowledge of) ethics and values.  Individualism, selfishness and immediate gratification rule for many: What’s in it for me, now?  The bitter fruits of this are far too many to mention here.
    My conclusion?  With this shift in values and meaning, Christian parents must be excluded from the right to assert their values and views, especially as theirs are linked with the Christian faith and ethos that have shaped so much that we have that is good, and when the fruits of the currently dominant worldview are costing us dearly in many ways.
  • The Dutch Reformed Christian heritage from which I come proposed a society structure translated as “pillarization”: every belief and values group in society (religious, ethnic, and humanist) should be free and empowered to participate in every social arena according to its own convictions (economic, social, political, education, labour and industry, sport etc).  Although time has changed this late 19th model, Dutch society still shows many traces of it.
    I have recognised from this bit of my past that although this “pillarization” model is very unlikely to ever become viable again, it does provide a solid philosophical basis for a nation’s education system in that schools are not primarily a function of “the government”, public service bureaucrats or the church, but the responsibility of parents who are empowered by the nation’s taxes and self-funding to provide education that is an extension of the home and conforms to a set of national standards.


  1. Thanks Fred for an excellent, thought provoking essay.

    In my opinion, the major historical gift to the world from the Dutch Reformed Church was the reformation, which flourished into the Enlightenment. I wonder where we be now if those free thinkers in the 16th and 17th century had not found refuge from Vatican dogma by being able to move up into Northern Europe, where they would not be burned at the stake for proposing a heliocentric solar system.

    A question I ask myself is how does a church born into such rebellion become so conservative within 500 years.

    Another person has stated the question in a slightly different way. If Christ did return today and acted as he did the first time he was among us, would he actually choose to be a Christian? Or would he once again upset all the modern day priests and Pharisees, by questioning their certainties?

    I can’t really imagine Christ agreeing with the US tele-evangelist who heaped praise on George Bush for bombing the Muslem infidels and completed his sermon with, “thank God we have praying President.”

    I think it may be time to remember that Christ was first and foremost a rebel and that the Dutch have come a long way by virtue of their open minded traditions and tolerence of the unorthodox.

    In terms of education, I think we also need to remember that if we raise our kids to think, they may well draw different conclusions from us. Perhaps this is what Christ meant by “the Kingdom being within.” Education must draw out wisdom from within at least as much it should pump the facts into a young mind.

    Finally, I think our cosmology may be suffering as much from our failure to explore the future; as much as it is suffering from any failure to observe our time proven traditions.

    I think Dawkins is right on one idea. Our symbolic mythical views of the mysterious Cosmos (the great unknowable, yet imaginable Heavens), is now hugely out of step with the scientificly known Universe.

    Our known Universe is but a small island with huge unknowable ocean. Thanks to the limitations of the speed of light, it is currently unlikely that we could ever travel to the other side of the Universe.

    So within our religious myths and imaginings, what are we to do with that great vast unknown?

    Should we cling to the a 2,000 year old cosmology rooted very much in the culture of those times. Or should we accept that the pack camel has been replaced by interstellar satellite, and update our cosmology, according to all this new information.

    Surely a modern day David can be found to rewrite the Psalms so as to include a vast cosmic ocean, that appears to be expanding, that began in the most mysterious circumstances of the Big Bang and in which we are willing to replace dogmatic certainty with childlike curiosity about what may be possible in the future.

    I hope that those within your Christian community have the ears to listen to what you are saying, as you nudge us to look forwards.

    We should never lack the courage to attempt to improve on what our forebears have handed down to us.

    I think we are so blessed to live in such exciting times.

    Take care, Brian.

  2. Thank you Fred for your honesty. It is also a witness to the grace of God. The growth and the development you have had is an example of the way we all need to grow. In the phrase “ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda” we have held to the “reformed” part but having often forgotten the need to be continually reforming. I yearn for the day when we will see people with a reformed conviction apply the Word of God to the era in which we now live and not to some nostalgic notion 50 years ago.

    PS Your picture of Calvin School brings back many memories. One is of your father telling me off for planning to go to the RTC. “We have ministers enough, we need Godly teachers.” Well I have been back in teaching for 17 years. he was right after all!

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