One of the most terrifying experiences I can remember was going to public school for the first time as a six-year-old boy in Oklahoma City. I had no idea why I had to go and, in fact, felt totally betrayed by my parents. To make matters worse, my first-grade teacher was a big mean woman. She carried around a large, half-inch-diameter pencil whose lead tip was sharpened to a fine point. If, during our nap time when we were supposed to lay our heads on the desk tops, she heard a student whispering, she would creep up behind very quietly, poise the pencil a few inches above the head of the unsuspecting child, then drop it so that the point would land on the scalp with a searing pain. It happened to me once and tears leapt to my eyes, not only because it hurt, but because of the humiliation, knowing that some of my classmates were watching through squinted eyelids.
I think I’ve never experienced anything quite so cruel as that in my entire life which includes boyhood fist fights and Marine Corps boot camp. I was so traumatized that year, I flunked first grade and had to go to summer school in order to advance. As it worked out, I was the teacher’s pet in the second grade and did well from then on. I graduated from high school near the top of my class, lettered in three sports, won state competitions in music and speech, and was generally popular.
Most memories from my school days were not unpleasant. In the 1950’s, I had a suburban “Happy Days” kind of upbringing. Our family went to church when I was young though Jesus seemed more like a fairy tale than reality. But there was a Christian heritage that was all-pervasive in those days and most of my peers had a built-in sense of right and wrong, of honor and respect. Out of 65 customers on my paper route, I can recall only one household where divorce had occurred, and it was certainly the talk of the neighborhood.
I puzzle over what this generation will have to sort through. In public schools, they’ll be looking at sensitivity-training and sex-ed classes, drug dealing and the boy-girl mating game, not to mention same-gender coupling. Many hours will be spent in confrontation with Darwinism and instruction in humanism. In the midst of it all, there will be the ever-present pressure to be accepted and fit in with the whimsical trends of adolescence.
It’s no wonder that the proliferation of private church schools and homeschooling families has become a modern phenomenon. One year, first, second, and third places in the national spelling bee went to homeschoolers. Their ranks in the U.S. have grown from a very small number in the early 80’s to an estimated 1.7 million today. What was once a scorned practice limited to religious freaks is now considered not only respectable but “cool.” A homeschooler can easily go to college now and in many places, can participate in public school athletics. Not everyone can do this effectively but it’s a viable alternative to those who can.
We are familiar with many Christian schools that have flourished because church leaders, educators, and committed parents were willing to make the necessary sacrifices to make the break from the state-supported institutional systems. One in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is funded by three churches and, over the many years of its existence, has grown to almost 400 students with its athletic teams competing with others from the area’s public schools. A church-sponsored school in Indiana built an NBA-quality basketball court in its new fieldhouse and won its division in the Christian school state tourney. Then, quite by accident (!), the pastor/administrator was sitting at a banquet next to a former All-American and retired Los Angeles Laker and found out the man was a believer. He told the pastor he had turned down jobs with the NBA and university programs because all he really wanted to do was work with Christian young men. He volunteered to coach the school’s team. Now, people around town who once ridiculed the school, are taking a serious second look at it. When an ol’ boy cornered the pastor about the new coach’s annual salary, his wry comment was, “Well, I’m not at liberty to say, but it is under $100,000.”
Parents must take a hands-on interest in the learning process their children will be involved in, whether public or private. If Christians don’t train their children, the world will do it for them. These days, kids can be separated from godly values almost overnight. It takes extra effort but it’s worth it for the sake of the kingdom God wants to establish on earth. Our family vision needs to be large and in focus.
The proverb says to train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.