More Basic Considerations
As stated last time, the Standard Bearer editorially takes the position that the present proposals for government subsidy of private schools are not based on justice. Certainly, a study of the Joint Legislative Report of the Michigan legislature reveals that the entire approach to the question is not one of justice. It is rather the approach of utility. It is argued that the financial load on the public school system will be too great if the private schools must shut down. It is argued that therefore it would be folly not to render some aid to private schools. It is also argued that the striving to build up the educational level of the inner cities will be hampered if the private schools in those inner city areas are not helped financially. One looks in vain in this report for a good, solid argument which proceeds from righteousness and justice. In fact, here in the Michigan legislature the whole question of parochiaid has become one of money; and also the foes of parochiaid are arguing either that the public schools will be deprived of funds or that there simply is not enough money available to pay the added $40 million which parochiaid will require.
The same is true of the two organizations which support parochiaid in Michigan, the Michigan Association of Non-Public Schools and Citizens for Educational Freedom. As might be expected when we judge from the very names of these organizations, about which there is nothing Christian, one looks in vain in all the argumentation which has appeared for any hint of Christian principles of justice and righteousness with respect to government or with respect to education. These movements present strictly secular, that is, carnal arguments. They have a secular conception of freedom. They have a secular conception of education. When they speak at all of the place of religion in education, they assume either a neutral stance (and speak of non-public schools) or they assume an all-embracing stance (and speak in general of religious education).
Even in the light of the above, I cannot understand how the Christian can in good conscience accept any government subsidy obtained or granted on such a basis.
But it is my contention that the entire concept of government subsidy is also positively wrong, contrary to Christian principles of righteousness and justice. In support of this. contention I offered sundry arguments in the April 1 issue. In the present article I begin to offer more basic considerations.
The first such consideration which I offer is that the whole concept of government subsidy is contrary to the fundamental principle of parental education of covenant children. The positive implication of this principle is that it is the duty and responsibility and privilege of the parents, and of the parents only, to educate the children which the Lord has given them. The negative implication of this principle, for our present discussion, is that it is not the duty and responsibility and privilege of the government to educate our children.
This has long been recognized among Reformed people as the formal principle at the basis of Christian education. We are distinct in this regard, certainly, from the public schools. But we are also distinct, let us not forget, from those who hold to parochial education, the system of church schools. It is true that this principle has been compromised by some, so that it is .claimed, for example, that if the parents fail in this duty, then the government may step in; but this I consider a compromise and without any Scriptural foundation. It may even be questioned, in the light of this principle, in how far the government has any right before God to exercise any control whatsoever over the education of our children. By what right, before God, does the government stipulate, for example, that a high school education is compulsory? However this may be, the fact remains that everywhere Scripture places the responsibility of education upon the parents; and also our Baptism Form places the responsibility there in its third question to the parents.
Now let us remember that this is not an unimportant matter. We call this the formal principle of education in distinction from the material principle, which is concerned with the fundamental spiritual direction and the content of education. But let us not be deceived by that term formal. There are no mere formalities before God. This principle implies that God Himself, our covenant God, holds us responsible for the education of our children. That responsibility you and I can never abdicate, even though we may attempt to escape it. The Lord our God still holds us responsible. Even when parents band together to establish a covenant school, they are held responsible for the education of their own children. Even when they elect a school board, they cannot “pass off” that responsibility to that board. Even when they hire teachers, it is ultimately not the teachers but the parents who are responsible before God. Let us never forget this. We do well, in fact, to bear this in mind in the actual life and operation of our covenant schools. I am afraid that sometimes we tend to think that we can “pass the buck” and shed our responsibility when we have a school and elect a board and send our children off to school for the biggest part of the day. But this is never the case. And our schools must always remain very really and very actively parental.
But the question confronting us is: what, in the light of this basic principle of Christian education, must be our attitude toward government subsidy of our schools? Shall we campaign for such government subsidy?
Shall we tacitly consent to it by accepting such subsidy if the legislature approves of it? This could only be done by either openly or tacitly denying this principle of parental responsibility and by admitting that the government either must or may share that responsibility with us. Mind you, I am not talking now about the danger of government control on the part of a government which shares financial responsibility. I am only speaking of the principle of parental responsibility which is at stake. This is a sacred principle, one which may not be sacrificed on the altar of the dollar.
If we desire to let our Christian testimony go forth, a testimony founded on what is right before God, then let us testify to the government that it should get out of the business of education altogether. Let us testify to the government that it has only the God-given authority to rule in the sphere of things civil and to wield the sword, that it has no calling to operate schools. You say, perhaps, that such a proposal is preposterous? You object that those who occupy the seat of government would laugh hilariously at such a proposal? You point to the fact that public education is part and parcel of the American system, guaranteed by the law of the land? I remind you that we are talking about principles and about living from principle, not about the question whether our sacred principles will find favor in the eyes of the rulers of this world. And if, then, we, are going to accept the fact that public education is part of the American system and that we cannot succeed in changing that system, let us also be glad that this same system still allows us room as people of God to hold to and to practice our principle of parental education. Let us exercise that right as long as it is possible to do so. Let us not engage in self-pity about the great expense and the tremendous sacrifice involved. By all means, let us not exchange our heritage for a mess of dollars. Let us rather be glad and thankful to our God that we may still exercise this parental responsibility. Let us count it a privilege as well as a sacred responsibility!
This, to me, is living from principle.
(to be continued)