Freedom to educate is a much discussed subject in our day.
Especially two factors have contributed to the increase of discussion. One is undoubtedly the stand of the United States Supreme Court on religious exercises in public schools. Personally, I do not see how Reformed parents, who are committed to the principle of covenantal education, can join in the hue and cry about “casting God out of the public schools.” Apart from various other issues that may or may not be involved in that matter, I do not believe that the Supreme Court decision had the effect of casting God out of the public schools for the simple reason that I do not believe God was in the public schools to begin with; and it is patently impossible to cast out one who is not present. From that point of view, my reaction to that whole matter of the world’s schools is: “Let the dead bury their dead.” However, the afore-mentioned court decision probably has served to underscore the fact that in the world’s schools Christian parents are not free to educate their children in the fear of the Lord, but only to deliver them to the gates of hell. And any Christian parents who dreamed that public schools were “neutral” or could even in some cases be “Christian” or “Christianized” by the addition of some Bible reading and prayer,—again, apart from any other issues which may be involved,—ought by this time to be disenchanted.
The other factor,—and this one is probably one of greater interest to us as supporters of covenant schools,—is the increased discussion of and striving for governmental financial support of private schools (including our Christian schools), either through subsidy of the schools or of the students attending those schools. Reference is frequently made in this connection to the fact that our parents unfairly,—so it is claimed,—must support both the public schools (with their taxes) and their own schools (with their tuition and gifts). And indeed, in this day of rising costs of education, one can understand, though he may not necessarily agree with, the desire to lay hands on what seems to be our “fair share” of those tax monies for our schools. My friend and colleague, the Rev. H. Hanko, has from time to time kept us posted on various developments in this area in “All Around Us.” In fact, in this very issue you will find an item about “CEF” in his department. It is not my intention to go into that matter; for he has furnished pertinent remarks whenever he broached this subject in his rubric. One fear that he has repeatedly expressed in this connection is the fear that with government support will come government control, and, thus, the loss of freedom to educate our children in the way of the covenant. And I agree with the editor of “All Around Us” wholeheartedly on this. This is not my point now, however. I merely refer to it in order to point out that this issue of freedom to educate is a very pertinent one, and that the supporters of our Christian schools should be on the alert, lest they lose, or rather blindlysacrifice, what freedom they now have for the sake of a few paltry dollars.
In this connection I would even sound the warning: it may be later than you think it is!
The latter idea came to mind in connection with an item that appeared in the daily newspaper here in Michigan about an Amish community which has been hailed into court because their school does not measure up to state requirements. The church-operated school of those Amish parents does not hire an approved (that is, certified) teacher. Because of this they will be compelled, unless they hire an approved teacher or unless the state makes some special dispensation, either to close their school or move out of the state to some location where they can operate their school as they see fit. And I quote an Associated Press dispatch from the Grand Rapids Press, January 7, 1965.
“Krasicky (an assistant attorney general) said if the Amish refuse to hire an approved teacher and refuse to close their school, the state’s compulsory education law comes into effect. He added that they would have the right to appeal to the Circuit Court or the Michigan Supreme Court.
“But it appeared more likely that what remains of the dwindling Amish community would climb into the horse-drawn buggies they still use for transportation and head out of the state.”
There have been further developments since the time of the above-quoted dispatch; and some popular attempts are being made to make special provision whereby the Amish can maintain their own school. These details are not pertinent here, however.
I cite the above incident because here is a very clear-cut case involving the freedom to educate over against government restriction and denial of that freedom. It is clear-cut because:
1. It involves a group of parents who very flagrantly violate the requirement of the State of Michigan that all schools have certified teachers. The formal education of the teacher of this Amish school ended at the eighth grade.
2. The case against the Amish cannot be prejudiced by any claim that this illegal school is bad for society and is producing poor citizens. It is well-known and generally recognized that the Amish are a peaceful, gentle, prosperous folk, that they bother no one, and that they take care of their own, even to the point that they will not accept government support for the poor and aged.
3. These Amish folk are apparently well-satisfied with their own school, have some of their own qualifications for a proper teacher for their children, and even claim that their education is superior to that offered by the public schools,—something I have no doubt would be true in not a few cases. The Associated Press reports the following in this connection:
“‘We do not feel guilty of the complaint as filed,’ said Levi Graber, spokesman for the eight fathers whose children attend the school. . . .
“‘This is a church-operated school without any aid from the state,’ Graber said. ‘In our opinion, Miss Graber (his niece) is qualified to teach. It is difficult for us to find a teacher who would meet the standards which we have set.'”
One qualification which the Amish have listed in a teacher is fluency in German, since their Bible and some other studies are in that language. The original Amish immigrants to this country were fleeing religious persecution in Germany.
“Speaking to newsmen after the hearing, Graber said:
“‘We feel our children get a good education. We believe they need no more than an eighth grade education.
“‘We teach them to cope with our way of life. They learn to cook, to sew, to-be carpenters, to be welders and to be self-sufficient.
“‘If they want to test our schools, they will find our education is superior to that offered by the public schools.'”
The issue, therefore, is clear-cut. Have these parents the right and the freedom to educate their children according to the dictates of their conscience, or can the state deprive them of their free, private school?
Apparently, under Michigan law, the state has this power, and that too, not on the basis of the quality or lack of quality of the school and its education, but solely on the basis of lack of teacher certification. This Miss Graber may be a wonderful teacher and well-qualified; and this school may be entirely satisfactory to the parents. Moreover , the pupils who emerge from this school may even be an asset to the community. There is one thing lacking: the teacher does not have an A.B. in education, and is therefore not a certified teacher. Therefore that school must be shut down!
Do you see the danger? Do you sense the lack of freedom?
This is not a plea for the Amish religion, or even for the Amish system of education, although one has to admire these people for their determined insistence on their right to educate their children as they see fit.
Nor is this a plea that our schools employ noncertified teachers. I believe that our teachers should be well-educated and thoroughly trained. From this point of view, I have no objection to the requirement of teacher certification whatsoever.
However, I can very well see that a requirement of this kind could eventually be used as a weapon by the Antichristian world-power to close our covenant schools. Let the requirements for certification be made more stringent. Let the state begin to require a doctor’s degree for the certification of a first-grade teacher,—and there are educators who are inflated enough with their pompous ideas of education to commit such folly! Or let the state go a step farther, and require that teachers obtain their certification only in a state-operated university. Or let the state insist that schools use only certain state-approved, antichristian textbooks. Let the state impose such regulations under penalty of the shut-down of our schools in case of non-observance. And what will we do?
You see, the principle of state education and state control of education is itself wrong!
It is the business of the state to wield the sword, not to educate.
And it is the responsibility of parents, not the state, to educate.
These are Scriptural principles.
Whenever in Scripture you find an injunction toeducate, it is addressed to parents.
And whenever in Scripture you find mention of thesword-power, it is assigned to the state.
On this I agree fully with the Rev. Francis E. Mahaffy, Orthodox Presbyterian missionary in Eritrea, who, writing in Torch and Trumpet, January, 1965, pp. 13 and 14, argues on this basis against government subsidy of our schools as being immoral.
But what then must be the position of the Christian citizen on this score?
1. The disestablishment of state education and control of education would seem to be outside the realm of practical possibility. It would seem, therefore, that we must be realistic, and face the fact that the present situation, already long established, is here to stay.
2. Our private, parental, Christian schools exist by toleration; and as long as that toleration continues, Christian parents must by all means take advantage of it and educate their own children in the fear of the Lord and according to His Word. This also means that as long as any state regulations affecting our schools either formally or materially do not either conflict with the explicit Scriptural requirements of covenant education or constitute an intolerable practical obstacle to the operation of our schools, we shall comply with such regulations to the best of our ability. Thus, for example, we can well comply with the requirement for certified teachers, not because we believe it is the business of the state to require such certification, but because we also believe our teachers should meet certain minimum educational standards.
3. The moment the state would impose anti-scriptural requirements on our schools or would employ any formal educational regulations as a weapon calculated deliberately to make the maintenance of our schools impossible, it would become our duty to say, “We must obey God rather than man.” And in that case we must still remain subject to the “higher powers,” and be prepared to seek refuge elsewhere or to take the consequences of our refusal to obey.
4. We should ourselves be well aware of our position and be prepared spiritually to maintain it; and we should be ready, wherever and whenever the occasion demands it, to testify of that position.
This is not merely a matter of man-made freedom; it is a question of our God-given right, duty, calling, and privilege!
That a conflict in this respect will come is as certain as the truth that the Antichrist will arise and that there are already many antichrists in the world.
And: it may be later than you think it is!
Be ye therefore sober and watch!