In our previous editorial on this subject we found that the answer to the question whether government subsidy involves government control is affirmative. This, in the first place, is the history of all government subsidy in general: whatever the government pays for it also controls to some degree. In the second place, we found that already there are severe restrictions attached to federal funds granted to private schools under the 1963 Higher Educational Facilities Act. And, finally, documentary proof was adduced to show that state subsidy of private schools in Michigan would involve real government control, under every proposal thus far made. Incidentally, news reports of current proposals in the state of Michigan also report various controls which will be involved in any parochiaid passed by the current session of the legislature.
There might conceivably be the possibility, however, that such government control would not necessarily be bad. Hence, we must also face the next question. Is Government Control Good or Bad, Right or Wrong?
In speaking of the right or wrong of government control of our schools, I wish to make it clear, in the first place, that my viewpoint is not that of the political right or wrong. There may indeed by room for criticism in this area. For it is a fact that, there is a growing trend toward socialism and toward the welfare state. And as government reaches its long fingers into almost every phase of life, it is not difficult to understand how, eventually, the kingdom of Antichrist will exercise complete control of people’s lives and will try to exercise such controls also over the lives of the people of God. But it is not my intention to discuss this broader question.
In the second place, let me emphasize once more that we are concerned about the question whether so-called parochiaid is principally right or wrong. Is it right or wrong before the face of God, and therefore, in the light of His Word? This is the question,—really the only question. And let us clearly see the implications of this question. It means that if government subsidy is principally right, then no amount of practical arguments can make it wrong. And if, on the other hand, it is principally wrong, then no amount of practical considerations may move us to consider it right and to favor it and accept it. We must be men and women of principle, not of utility. Hence, the question which we are now facing is this: is it principally right or wrong to allow the civil government to control our schools?
And then my answer is that there is indeed a principle involved here, and that this principle makes it impossible for us as Reformed people to favor and to accept government subsidy because of the government control which is involved.
What is that principle?
It is the principle of parental control, or, better stated, the principle of parental authority and parental responsibility for the education of covenant children.
This is sometimes called the formal principle of our system of schools, in distinction from the material principle, that of the Word of God as the foundation of all education. We do not believe that it is the calling of the government to educate our children. Nor do we believe that it is the calling of the church institute to educate our children (parochial schools). But we believe that it is the calling of the parents to educate the children given them by God, to train them in the fear of the Lord according to the demands of the covenant and in harmony with the Word of God. Hence, our schools are established by societies of like-minded parents who band together in order to accomplish unitedly what they are unable to accomplish individually. The society elects a board to administer the affairs of the school, a board which is beholden to the society for its authority and responsible to the society for its actions. And this board, in turn, appoints a staff of teachers to teach in harmony with the principles which that society of parents wish to have expressed in the instruction. Again, that staff is not an independent body, nor in any sense the controlling body of the school. The faculty are the servants of the society, to do its bidding as expressed and implemented by the board in harmony with the constitution and in harmony with the will of the society. This, briefly, is the idea of parental schools.
It may very well be that we lose sight of this in various ways. It probably is true that parents only too often abdicate their responsibility, imagining that when they enroll their children in a certain school, they simply give their children over entirely to the board and faculty of that school. The fact that parents frequently do not participate only to the point of attending the annual meeting of the school society is, I think, a lamentable symptom of such a frame of mind in parents. It is probably also true that school boards upon occasion transgress this principle and begin to think of themselves as the supreme authority of the school, able to act independently of the society after the annual election, and able to determine policy and principle without consulting the wishes of the society. If that is their frame of mind, they err seriously. Not the board is supreme, but the society. And personally, I think it a lamentable circumstance that our society meetings have largely degenerated into meetings where board members are elected and an annual operating or capital expenditures budget is adopted. The same is true of teachers and staff. The moment a staff begins to think that it is “in the driver’s seat” in any school, they are on the wrong track altogether. The moment a staff begins to think of itself as a group of “professional educators” who independently set policies and determine the content of the education in the school, while “this people (board and society) that knoweth not the law is accursed,” at that moment you have a staff which is in fundamental rebellion against the school society and against the whole principle of parental education. Covenant parents ought to feel very strongly about this; and our parents and boards ought to work very diligently to keep our schools parental schools in a very real sense of the word.
You see, while we sometimes speak of this (properly, in a way) as being a “formal” principle, it is much more than a coldly formal thing.
Mind you, this is not our educational policy because we Dutchmen are rugged individualists, who value our freedom and do not want to have it infringed upon by state or by church.
No, it is a Biblical principle.
Always the Word of God lays the calling and responsibility for the instruction of the covenant seed squarely upon the parent, not upon the government or upon the church institute. This is the plain teaching of a passage like Deuteronomy 6:6-9: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.” These words, frequently quoted in connection with covenant education, are significant not only with a view to the question what our children must be taught (namely, the precepts of the Lord), but also with a view to the question who is responsible for the instruction. And the plain implication is that the authority to teach and the responsibility for the instruction is parental. Instruction must proceed from the home! And no matter how that home attempts to carry out that injunction to instruct its children, the inescapable responsibility for that instruction continues to rest upon the home. Abdication, before the face of God, is really impossible; and when parents nevertheless attempt to abdicate and to shift the responsibility, it is sin. Whether that instruction is given directly in the home, or whether that instruction is given through the agency of a hired teacher or group of teachers, it remains the parents who are answerable to God for that instruction; and the responsibility can never be shifted.
Now to the extent that, under the various provisions of parochiaid legislation, the parents of parental schools would surrender the control of their schools to the state, to that extent they themselves lose the control. And to the extent that they lose control and surrender authority, to that extent they are attempting to abandon and abdicate the position of authority in which they have been placed by God Himself. And to the extent that they attempt to abdicate their position of God-given authority, to that extent they sin.
This is the wrong of accepting parochiaid from the point of view of the “formal” principle of covenantal education. To put ourselves in the position of continuing to be responsible for the education of our children before the face of God while we ourselves have willfully surrendered the control (or even part of the control) of that education is to put ourselves in an intolerable position. For remember: no matter how much control you give up, you can never escape the responsibility!
With all this, we have said nothing yet about the dire practical results involved. For government subsidy and control and the concomitant abandonment of parental control and responsibility work like a cancer. Or perhaps it would be better to say that they work like dope addiction. Gradually but inevitably, more and more government subsidy is craved. With such increased subsidy goes increased government control. With increased abandonment of control by parents goes a decreasing sense of responsibility. And with a decreasing sense of responsibility goes a decreasing interest and concern. And with decreasing interest and concern goes decreased financial support, which, in turn, leads to increased dependence upon subsidy. The final result is a large degree of dependence upon government money and an equally large lack of both control of and interest in what takes place in the school. Into the vacuum thus created steps a coalition of government bureaucrats and so-called educational experts; and when a school association, or some members thereof, wake up to the fact that there is something wrong with the school, there is neither the power nor the spiritual interest and impetus to stop the trend and turn back the clock. It is too late! The school has been wrecked! Something like this, according to reports coming from the Netherlands, has happened in a school like the Free University of Amsterdam, which is now 90% subsidized. True, that is not a grade school or a high school. But it is a school established and operated by an association. And the principle is the same. And therefore, don’t say, “It can’t happen here.” It can! And it will happen if ever our schools choose to accept parochiaid.
But there is still another aspect to government control. It involves the material principle of our system of covenantal education. For every proposal for parochiaid thus far has spoken of a distinction between secular education and religious education. This is a distinction which our system of education does not recognize. But it is also a distinction which strikes at the very heart of our educational system. And therefore I hope to devote separate and special attention to this aspect of government control in a future editorial.