Our approach to the problem has to be covenantal. Now, I don’t intend to discuss with you this evening the idea of the covenant. You hear this idea explained to you from your respective pulpits and there is much written on it in our circles. And for those who desire to become more familiar with the idea of covenant education I recommend for your reading Rev. D. Engelsma’s little book, “Reformed Education.”
In this connection I just want to mention a few fundamental things. We believe that God gathers His church in continued generations. For the promise is unto us and to our children. This is foundational! This we must preserve at all costs for it alone gives direction and purpose to the instruction of our children, whether it be in the home or at school. It is this beautiful idea of the covenant that is the basis ofparental education as we practice it. The Bible makes the correctness of this very clear in passages such asDeuteronomy 6.
But I want to move on from this brief statement of principles to the various implications that are inherent in the principle of covenant instruction. Let us begin in the home. First, parents have to recognize that there is diversity among their children. God gives unto each of our children a distinct personality. I believe He does this at the moment of conception. Each child has his own characteristic traits, faults, idiosyncrasies, etc. I think that this is, at least in part, the emphasis of the preacher in Proverbs when he tells us to train a child in the way he should go. This no doubt means that each child must be trained in accordance with his needs and particular character. And most emphatically this applies to the talents with which God has endowed our children. Some of them are “book worms,” others are “mechanically inclined.” Some of them are “bright” and some are “slow-learners.” None of our children are duplicates of others. But let me be quick to point out that we, in distinction from the world, give thanks to God for each and every one of them! It makes no difference whether they are handicapped in one way or another, normal or slow achievers. We do not question the wise purpose of God in each of our children. The apostle Paul makes clear to us, when he speaks of the unity of the body of Christ, that there is diversity in the body of the church with regard to gifts and abilities. Our children are part of this diversity of the Body! And it does and must make no difference to us as parents that the needs of our children vary. We know that some of our children get by with regular shoes, while others need orthopedic. Some have hardly any cavities, while others are always making trips to the dentist. We treat them according to their needs. In this connection I want to caution parents in the family situation. We live in a day and age when a person’s worth is determined by his achievements in the socio-economic ladder—or, to touch a little closer to home, one’s position in the church. Let us remember that Paul did not in any way disparage even the lowest member in the body of Christ. Not every child has the ability to become a teacher or preacher. We must not confuse achievement with the calling of God for us! God simply requires that we live to the glory of His Name according to the talents and abilities He gives to us.
Now that which holds true in the home extends directly to the school. The school may not in any way be inferior to the instruction of the home; else we are not fulfilling our baptism vow, “. . . to the utmost of (y)our power.” Each child must have an educational experience that is truly covenantal. The instructional treatment in the home must be paralleled in the school to as great a degree as possible. Therefore, even as parents instruct each child in accord with his specific needs, so educators must establish reasonable goals and progress for each youngster. Not all of our children fit into a common educational mold. Not all our children are college bound, or will become preachers, teachers, or white-collar workers. Teachers may require the best of each child, but this must never be confused with high academic attainment. If this is done, then some children go home night after night banging their heads against the wall, because they are never able to achieve such an academic goal. And a host of problems results: child-teacher problems; parent-teacher problems; etc. The children are the real losers. At home and in school we have to work toward reasonable goals for all of our children. We must do this with patience, being satisfied with reasonable progress according to God-given ability, our ideal being to prepare each child for his particular place in the kingdom. Or let me put this in other words. We must keep things straight. There is no inherent worth or value in the “three R’s,” no more than there is grace in things! These have their value only in relationship to the child who is able to use them as tools to function in his particular calling to the glory of God. This means that some are going to be using their math skills to calibrate the stress at various points on an expansion bridge, while others use it to figure out how many lo-foot sections of sewer pipe are needed to complete a 500-foot stretch of street. Some of our children will use their reading skills to delve into Abraham Kuyper’s work on the Holy Spirit, while others will use them to read Standard Bearer meditations with delight. We must prepare each child at his speed for his place in the diverse Body of Christ.
Let us turn to some possible solutions to the problem of the “slow-learner.” The problem is largely one of implementation. I believe we practice what is called “mainstreaming.” This is an educational method that became popular toward the end of the last decade. Mainstreaming means essentially that all students are placed in the same class according to chronological age. By this means all children are given the same opportunity for social and academic interaction. By itself the program is a failure and cannot live up to its expectations. Of course, there is no problem with the exceptionally bright child, nor with the norm of the students. But there is a problem with the “slow-learner.” There is simply not the time nor the man power in the regular classroom situation to work sufficiently with this kind of child. Further: more, the “slow-learner” cannot achieve to the norm even with extra help because the goal is too high and the pace too fast. Mainstreaming, therefore, is self-defeating in that the social isolation and stigma that it seeks to overcome is retained. The problem is deeper. We have to deal with the God-given inability to achieve the norm. We cannot place talents where God has not given them. Nor can we develop children beyond their potential. The character of the “slow learner” demands a wholly different approach. It is not even to an advantage to use the same educational material at a slower rate. The approach in educating the “slow-learner” must be goal orientated. The system has to be a way to achieve a certain end. I mean by this, that there has to be a practical approach to teaching the “slow-learner.” For example, various skills should be taught in conjunction with social and practical needs according to the goal envisioned for each child. To illustrate, science could be taught these children from the approach of weather, seasons, plants, machinery, etc.
I know you are going to ask me, how is this feasible? Then we deal with cold hard facts. Then we are speaking of dollars and cents, teacher/pupil ratios, and other factors. And I recognize that especially Hope already has problems in this regard. Nevertheless, I like to make a few positive suggestions. I am particularly struck by the fact that the one-room schoolhouse solves so many problems in this regard. Without socially ostracizing, the teacher is able to educate each child toward his goal at his pace. These teachers are essentially teaching toward many goals at different rates within the one classroom. I think our solution lies in this direction. I could visualize two systems running parallel in one school. Then we would have the regular grades and alongside them have the school house situation with two or three teachers addressing the problem of the “slow-learners.” At the same time, these two systems could be integrated as much as possible. This could be done by giving the teachers and students some particular places and responsibilities in the regular curriculum. All the children would ride the same bus, eat lunch together, have physical education together, etc. These teachers could be responsible for some of their combined groups. Then they could not be labeled “those teachers for the M.R.’s.” In this way the social rejection and stigma would be reduced for the “slow learner.”
We must remember that all of these children are our children. All of these children are covenant children. We treat them in accord with their specific personal needs in the home. We must also do this in the school. In this way all of our children will achieve to their proper stature in the body of Christ. I thank you.