Mr. Hanko is a teacher at Hope Protestant Reformed School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
These are interesting times in the field of education. Once again there are reports that the American system of education is not doing its job. SAT test scores that measure students’ readiness for college are declining. Employers are complaining that graduates of high schools are not able to perform basic reading and computation that are required for them to hold jobs. Once again horror stories are being circulated about students who graduate from high school and are unable to read or write.
Since this kind of thing has happened several times in recent years, we can predict the results of all this publicity. First, there will be vigorous denials from many that the tests are valid. The kind of students tested is different from the kinds that were tested previously: there are more of them and they come from different social and economic levels and so on. Then there will be some who will say that the tests are accurate, but we don’t care. The tests don’t measure the things that we consider important. It’s more important that our children be able to think and make decisions than that they be able to perform these mechanical functions such as reading and mathematical computation. Therefore, we can ignore the test results.
After this initial phase, most people will agree that there is indeed a crisis in our schools. It is important that people agree on this point because that will lend urgency to the obvious solution which will then be promoted with great fanfare: spend more money. Somehow it seems that money is the solution to all educational problems.
That seems to make sense, also. Money will make possible new research in the ways that children learn. This research will presumably result in new educational methods that will solve learning problems and make teaching more efficient and effective. Universities throughout the country will conduct new experiments and studies that will produce solutions to our problems. That’s how programs involving “cooperative learning” and “critical thinking” became part of the educational process.
The results. of the research, of course, will require new textbooks and other teaching and learning materials. Textbook companies then will hasten to produce a multitude of new learning materials, outdating all previous textbooks, workbooks, and other educational devices. Schools throughout the country will spend vast amounts of money to purchase the new materials and to train teachers in the use of new materials and methods.
Now the politicians will be happy because they have money to spend, and money means votes. Educational publishers will be happy because they will sell all these new materials. Schools will be happy because they will have new buildings and materials. Even the tax payers might be happy because they will feel that they have contributed to the welfare of the children.
Now everything will be fine for several years until someone notices that the SAT scores have not, in fact, improved. Then we will begin again the familiar cycle of denial, recrimination, vast expenditure, smug satisfaction, and neglect.
My purpose, though, in this article is not to find satisfaction in the failures of public education, but rather to observe some of the reasons for those failures so that we might, perhaps, avoid having our Christian schools follow the same path.
Why do all the new facilities, the new methods, the marvelous materials and equipment fail to improve the SAT scores? The fact is that none of these address the real problems. Why don’t they deal with the real problems? Attacking the real problems would involve making some changes in our society and in the American way of life that most are unwilling and possibly unable to make.
The first and most important reason for the decline of the schools is that the homes are declining. Single parent homes, breaking or broken homes, working mothers, parents that are too busy to attend to their children, and all of the other problems in the homes is probably the single greatest cause for the weakness in American education.
As a teacher in a Protestant Reformed Christian School I thank God every day for the support that I have from stable, godly homes. I can feel their support in the obedience of the children, in their readiness to learn, and in their response to discipline. As long as we work together, we are successful. Our schools have outstanding attendance at parent-teacher conferences. Many parents become actively involved in their children’s education by helping their children with their school work, and by showing interest in their children’s performance and encouraging them, showing that they consider education important. A sound Christian home is the foundation of a sound and effective school. To the extent that the stability of our homes is threatened, our schools are immediately weakened.
Another problem that afflicts public education is the lack of clearly defined and agreed upon goals. What do they want the schools to do? Must they produce socially adapted people? Are they interested primarily in training students to get and hold jobs and perhaps even make lots of money? Do they want to offer students the opportunity to develop every ability or interest they might have? At this time learning facts is frowned upon, but critical thinking skills are considered very important.
Generally, we have agreed about the goals of our Protestant Reformed schools. We want to train our covenant children so that they will function as Christians in their jobs, their families, and their churches. We want our children to learn facts – as we find them in the Word of God and as we find them in the world and interpret them by the Word of God. We want our children to learn skills. That will help them function in the particular calling God has given to each one. We want our children to be able to make judgments and decisions as citizens of the kingdom of heaven first.
We are, however, influenced by our society, and are sometimes attracted by its goals. I’m afraid sometimes that we are too much attracted by the development of athletic skill as a goal in itself or for the fame that it brings. There seems to be increasing support for getting the schools more involved in developing social skills. In moments of discouragement I wonder whether student happiness is not a sufficient goal for some. Perhaps the means for amassing great wealth is enough of a goal, at least for some of our students. I have detected at times among our children and young people a contempt for the idea that their education should prepare them for a life of Christian service.
One of the strongest features of our schools in the past has been that we were agreed upon what we wanted our schools to do and how we wanted them to do it. I think that is still true, but I see increasing signs of disagreement about priorities in our educational goals. We need a common purpose if our schools are to continue to survive and prosper.
Until now our schools have prospered under the blessing of God. Considering the threats to education today, our schools have continued so far to provide sound Christian instruction. In our country today it’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain sound Christian schools, but at the same time it is becoming more and more vital that we do so. May God give us both the will and the means to do so in this year.