A bit early?
Yes, as this is being written it is the middle of July. The mercury hovers around the 90-degree mark. And almost no one,—at least of all the children,— thinks of school yet, with the exception, perhaps, of some board members and teachers who will be charged with opening the school doors at the proper time.
Yet, when this appears in our Standard Bearer, it will be August. And August is generally the month for enrollment with a view to the opening of the schools themselves in September. And because when you enroll your children you take a step which is practically difficult to undo, we would like to have you read this before enrollment time.
Hence, this writing is none too early.
And we would ask you to face with us a few pertinent questions. Questions they are, which are pertinent with regard to the training of your child, first of all. But also questions with regard to the institutions for the training of your child.
Where is your child going?
The above question may be asked from a formal point of view, first of all, and that too with regard to children of various ages and various circumstances.
To High School or Not?
For a certain group, namely, those who graduated recently from the eighth or ninth grade, the question may be asked: Is your child going to high school or not? Perhaps to some that question may seem a bit strange. In certain states, more especially in our larger cities, a high school education is compulsory; and it is only under very special circumstances that one may be permitted to end his education before he finishes high school. However, that situation is by no means universal. Especially here in the midwest,—and I speak from experience now,—in our rural communities the matter of a high school education is one of the individual’s choice. And therefore, for many the above question is pertinent.
Now, this arrangement would not be so bad, provided the proper choice were made in every case. But the choice is often, I am convinced, wrong. The mere fact that such a large percentage of grade school graduates never go on to high school convinces me of this. It undoubtedly is true that there are certain children who under the most ideal circumstances have difficulty in completing grade school work, and who should certainly not be forced to take up high school work, at least not in the normal sense of the word. But this percentage is certainly also very small, while the percentage who actually end their education with grade school is disproportionately large. This added fact prompts the urgency of the question: Is your child going to high school or not?
We may take cognizance of the fact that acquiring a Christian high school education is not an easy matter in some areas, due to the lack of such institutions. We may also recognize the fact that even Christian institutions for a higher education are not all that could be desired by us Protestant Reformed parents. We may acknowledge the perhaps not unfounded fear of some parents that their children will suffer spiritual damage in the way of going to high school.
But we may nevertheless face the question, and face some questions behind the question. And let us do so honestly. Let us ask ourselves:
1. Is it proper, if your child has the mental equipment and the ability to study in any normal degree, to end his education at the 8th grade? Or to put it this way: If God has given your child a normal mind, is it not your obligation as parents to see to it that his mental equipment is properly and thoroughly developed also? And consider this question in the light of two undeniable facts. In the first place, there is a growing tendency to limit the field in grade school education, to make the work easier, so that the grade school pupil of today does not graduate with as much education, as thorough an education, or as large a mass of knowledge as the pupil of yesteryear. I can remember the time when my own parents, comparing my grade school training with theirs, would shake their heads in despair at the shortcomings in my education. And by now I can make a comparison over a span of some fifteen years, and observe more changes. Partly this may be due to the fact that the grade school training of today looks forward to high school, and partly due to the general decadence of education under the progressive philosophy. But the fact remains that a grade school education is not complete.
But there is another undeniable fact that looms large upon the scene. And that is the fact that a grade school education is not geared to prepare one completely for the life of today in the world of today. Many elements enter into this picture, but perhaps the largest is the simple fact that the world in which we must live is an educated world more than ever before. You reply, perhaps, that we don’t have to imitate the world? Very correct, that is, from a spiritual viewpoint. But the truth is that we must live in the world, while not being of the world. And that implies, that instead of living in anabaptistic separation, local separation, formal separation, we must rather live this world’s life in every sphere, but from the principle of faith. And I submit that more and more this implies that the education of our children may not, from the viewpoint of the fear of the Lord, end at grade school.
Even from the viewpoint of the fact that your children are the future church this question is important. It is undeniably true that, all other things being equal, one who is formally equipped better educationally will be a better church member, will make a more able officebearer, will have a better understanding of the truth. This fact underlies our maintenance of a trained clergy, for example. This does not condemn all who have only a grade school education as nincompoops. And such need not reply that they “got along on an 8th grade education”. Take merely the matter of education in the English language, in grammar, in spelling, in vocabulary, etc. What a difference a little training can make in understanding the preaching, the catechetical instruction, the confessions, the writings in the church papers. Certainly, you can overcome the lack of education to an extent by personal effort and exertion; and that is a good thing too. But the fact remains that an eighth grade graduate is not educationally prepared for his future in the church of the 20th century.
2. Is it not true that too often parents take their children from school after the 8th grade to “get something out of them”? Mother wants her daughter to help at home, and father wants his son to help on the farm. Those children are getting bigger; they’re capable of working a little now; why should they waste their time at school? Now, that may be all right in case of dire necessity. And it may be all right if son or daughter was rather dull mentally and was perhaps passed on by the teachers from grade to grade merely to get rid of him or her. But those are exceptions. And in the vast majority of cases it is to be feared that parents act from the principle of utility, instead of from the desire to “train up a child in the way he should go”.
3. Is it not true that too often the whole matter of education is approached from a utility standpoint, that is, from the point of view of the question what practical good will it do our children ? Perhaps we already do that in regard to grade school. But when a high school education is non-compulsory, we very coldly figure up the dollars and cents, and begin to ask: what good does it do my child to know world history or United States History, or English language and composition, or Geometry and Algebra, or Latin and German? Will it help him to get a job? Will it help him make more money? Will it help him run the store, or plow a field, or will it help her as a housewife? Without answering the questions as such—and perhaps the answers would be surprising in some cases—we may point out that such an attitude is motivated by pure utility, a philosophy that is as carnal as it is common in our age, and therefore to be condemned. All this does not mean that a child must not be trained for his life’s calling. But do not forget that neither you nor the child knows what his calling is yet at the end of the eighth grade.
And in the latter connection we may mention two practical possibilities, which we mention because they stand out in our circles. Could it be possible that your son is destined for the Protestant Reformed ministry, and that you are in duty bound to give him an education? You don’t know yet whether he is or not? No, but you do know that he cannot attend our theological school without a high school education. And shall you then prevent him? Could it be possible that your son or daughter is destined for the field of Christian education? You don’t know yet. But you do know that no one can teach without a high school education. And what is more, you do know that the movement for Protestant Reformed Christian education is expanding, and that if we are to have schools we must have teachers, and that if we are to have. Protestant Reformed schools we must have teachers out of our own midst. And shall you then prevent your son or daughter from going on to school? These, remember, are concrete possibilities. And you parents must face them in the fear of the Lord.
Finally, it may not be out of place to emphasize that the parents have this responsibility, not the children. Your children are children, and not in the deciding position. Their like or dislike of school is not the controlling factor, though their aptitude may be. Nine times out of ten your child will want to quit school or else go to school to have a good time. The question is: how must you educate your children? And you must answer that question as a Christian parent.
To College or Not?
This question must also be faced by some, and largely for the same reasons. The difference is, that by the time this question must be answered the student, a high school graduate, may know what his life’s calling is; and what his calling is may determine the answer somewhat. Besides, at this stage the pupil himself must share in determining the answer.
And therefore, I would add an appeal to our young people, just out of high school,—even though our boys face a good deal of uncertainty due to the draft,—to seriously consider this question as Protestant Reformed Young People, with a peculiar calling in the midst of church and world. Don’t hasten past the question in your over-eagerness to get a job, make some money, be independent, get “on your own”. You might regret it, as some have. And you certainly must face the question where God wants you in this world, and what training you must have for that position. And you must face it soberly, prayerfully, in the midst of a vain and frivolous generation.
More pertinent questions we have. But these must wait for another issue.