Previous article in this series: March 1, 2017, p. 244.
How, then, can this be accomplished? The “it” is the goal set forth in the last eight editorials, namely, training that will equip young adults for teaching in Protestant Reformed schools. Training that will prepare them to stand in the place of Protestant Reformed parents; that will enable them to teach effectively and maintain proper (godly) discipline; that will set them on the road to giving excellent instruction with Christ at its center, and permeated with the Protestant Reformed world and life view. The desire and the need for this kind of education for teachers has been expressed in various ways in the Protestant Reformed Churches and schools in the last seventy years.
No existing colleges can do all that is desired because their professors are not Protestant Reformed. A college might be excellent academically, have a fine teacher-education program, and turn out excellent teachers. But they are not set up to prepare teachers for Protestant Reformed schools.
The need of the hour is that from the ranks of our outstanding teachers arise men and women who will teach the next generation of aspiring teachers. There are many fine educators in Protestant Reformed schools with knowledge and understanding from years of experience of what it is to teach in a Protestant Reformed school. They have devoted their lives to the task of covenant instruction. They have taken great strides in learning how to provide instruction that is not only high quality and Christ-centered, but also distinctly Protestant Reformed. They have crafted lessons and revised and revised and revised both contents and methods. Their goal has been and continues to be to give the best instruction they possibly can in order to equip their students to serve God in today’s evil world. These teachers have a wealth of wisdom, understanding, and practical experience to pass along, and to impress upon those who have not yet taught a day in a Protestant Reformed school. These teachers have a clear understanding of the truth that God has entrusted to the Protestant Reformed Churches and possess a deep love for the covenant children. And they would spend themselves for this work.
I see an analogy between those who could teach future teachers, on the one hand, and professors in the seminary, on the other. The churches select for professors of theology men who have experience in the ministry and who have also demonstrated ability in the pastorate. They have been proven in the work, and demonstrated the ability to be effective pastors and preachers. So it should be with those who will teach future teachers: capable, experienced, proven teachers.
But all that has not touched on the institution responsible for training teachers. What kind of institution could be set up to accomplish such a program? My answer to that question is the “proposal.”
First, to be clear, I am not proposing a Protestant Reformed college, as much as I would like to see that become a reality. I do not propose that because it is far too great an endeavor for a group as small as the Protestant Reformed denomination. The schools need teachers with a broad education, a quality liberal-arts education in preparation for teaching. This requires a wide range of subjects taught by many highly educated college professors. The task of financing and staffing such an institution is beyond the Protestant Reformed Churches, in my judgment.
In a nutshell, my proposal is as follows. I propose that an institution for training teachers be formed that will work with an existing Christian college. I envision that an arrangement be worked out between such a college and a Protestant Reformed teacher-training institute, where the Protestant Reformed students will enroll in the college and take the bulk of their courses in that college. At the same time, the Protestant Reformed institution will provide all the ordinary education courses, including student teaching. The students who successfully complete the requirements of the college for their majors and the courses offered in the Protestant Reformed institution will graduate from the Christian college with an education degree from that college.
I am calling this “my proposal” because I take responsibility for it and am willing to work for it. It is not mine in the sense that I came up with it on my own. This is the fruit of discussions with Protestant Reformed teachers, administrators, and college professors. And after it was framed, I realized that a similar idea had been proposed in the early 1980s by a group of Protestant Reformed men who saw the urgent need for Reformed higher education. This group called itself a “conference,” and attempted to drum up support for the concept of a Protestant Reformed institution of higher learning. They wanted to start with teacher training, and hoped to move beyond that to a college.1 More on that later.
To fill out the proposal, let us consider what is needed to make this a reality that will work for the benefit of college students and schools alike.
The first requirement is some sort of organizing body that can also become the governing body. As has been discussed in the previous editorials, the responsibility lies on the parents for providing the teachers with the education they need. Perhaps a society of parents could be formed. Perhaps the existing Federation Board, expanded, could be the group commissioned by the schools to pursue this plan.
Second, an agreement must be worked out with a Christian college. Because the largest number of prospective teachers is from the western Michigan area, the first efforts should be with a college in this area, if possible. A proposal that will offer a Christian college some 40-50 students (estimating 10-12 students per year) could be made quite attractive to the college. Obviously, the Protestant Reformed institution will have to demonstrate that it will be able to produce quality, college-level classes. The group that met in the early 1980s was working with Trinity Christian College in Illinois and made considerable progress.
Third, experienced teachers are needed to fill positions in the institution. They must have a degree that is at least one level above what they are teaching. Many of the teachers in Protestant Reformed schools already have a Master’s degree in education. Perhaps one or more could be persuaded to seek a Ph.D. in education. I do not put great stock in degrees simply for the sake of having a degree. Nonetheless, obtaining a higher degree gives a teacher opportunity to concentrate on a particular area for profitable study. In addition, one or more on the staff with a Ph.D. would indicate to the college, and to prospective teachers, that this institution is serious about quality higher education for teachers.
Fourth, scholarships for students is requisite. Generous scholarships. These scholarships are needed to make it possible for the students to attend the Christian college. Even larger scholarships will be needed for students from outside the state of Michigan. The reality is that many prospective teachers opt for a secular university due to the high cost of tuition in a Christian college. In a way, I cannot blame them—teachers’ salaries have risen much in the last 60 years, but they are not at the level needed for teachers to pay off sizable student loans. The fact that more and more students are opting to obtain an education degree at a public university only increases the urgency for getting a Protestant Reformed institution. At a Christian college, the education courses would give some assistance for teaching in a Christian school. A public university will not—may not—give any education to prepare someone for teaching in a Christian school, much less a Protestant Reformed school.
Fifth, obviously, financial support is requisite. A far-sighted plan is needed that will obtain money for the scholarships as well as for the running of the institution—preferably with endowments that will enable the institution to be on an excellent foundation, and give assurance for future financial security. And, a building will be required.
In all this, I hope that the PR teacher-training institution can make use of the professors in the PR Theological Seminary. At least some consideration should be given to incorporating courses from the seminary—perhaps in place of the religion classes of the college. One of the significant requirements for all Protestant Reformed teachers is that they understand and be fully committed to the doctrine and practices of the Protestant Reformed Churches. Six semesters of Reformed Dogmatics at the seminary would certainly give the doctrinal foundation that a teacher ought to have. But consider also how the seminary church history classes would equip someone for teaching church history at the high school level. All grade school teachers would be significantly helped by taking Old Testament History and New Testament History. These are the obvious choices. I believe there are more seminary courses that would be very valuable for teachers. I urge the teacher-training institution to examine the seminary curriculum with an eye to having the seminary assist in this endeavor of teacher training. And until such an institution is realized, I urge prospective and current teachers to seek opportunity to audit classes at the seminary. Your attendance would be beneficial also for the seminary, in my judgment.
Teachers, school boards, and parents, do prayerfully consider this need. The first Protestant Reformed school opened some eighty-three years ago. About fifteen years later, three more opened. At that time, it was obvious to all that if the fledgling schools were to survive as legitimate options, they had to be schools that gave distinctly Protestant Reformed instruction. For that, training was needed—distinctly Protestant Reformed training. Efforts to produce that ensued, and continued to the present day. God has blessed the Protestant Reformed schools. But the situation has changed.
On the one hand, the schools are much larger. In 1982 when the committee was seeking to organize an institution for Protestant Reformed higher education, there were about 700 students in fourteen schools with a total of about 50 teachers. The denomination numbered 4,700. Today there are fourteen grade schools and four high schools, with well over 2,100 students and 150 teachers. And the Protestant Reformed Churches have almost 8,500 members.
On the other hand, training is even more necessary for the teachers today. The days are evil. Just as the divergence between the Protestant Reformed Churches and the Christian Reformed Church has grown significantly since 1950, so too have the Christian colleges developed away from the teaching and lifestyle of the Protestant Reformed Churches. Colleges driven by common grace have adopted liberal theology and obliterated the antithesis. Our teachers need a proper, distinctively Protestant Reformed training. Most of what these colleges and public institutions teach is at variance with, or directly militates against, what we believe. My only fear is that we have become complacent, resting on the continued numerical growth of the schools, and that the attitude now is—the schools are good enough.
There is, I believe, a proper analogy that can be made between the school and the church as concerns development. A church is never standing still. It is either becoming more faithful to the Bible, or it is deforming. It takes vigilance and diligence to strive to be ever more faithful to the truth. Likewise, no school is standing still. Either it is giving better and better instruction, or it is losing its edge, be it ever so slowly. The point is, the Protestant Reformed schools are currently a tremendous blessing for the covenant families. But can they be improved?
Let us set our sights on schools that rise to higher levels of excellence as the result of experienced Protestant Reformed teachers training a new generation of teachers. These new teachers will start out with the proper instruction, guidance, direction, and wisdom to develop their own courses that are distinctively Protestant Reformed. The schools and the covenant children will be the beneficiaries. And God will be glorified.
1 See “An Open Letter Concerning Reformed Higher Education,” Standard Bearer, Vol. 59, No. 21, (Sept. 15, 1983), 496-8.