Wednesday, June 19, 2002

A Personal Tale

This post has been bouncing around inside my head for some time. It is intensely personal, which is why, every time I thought about actually sitting down and writing it, I would keep switching subjects at the last minute.

In fact this post is so personal that, although I will try to be rational, it is impossible to be objective.You are forewarned to judge everything accordingly.

The central character in this report, although mostly in the background, is our first son Luke, now 14. Luke is autistic. He is in many ways high functional. He can communicate, although if you talked to him his conversation would be “weird”. He would ask you a lot of unrelated questions. Mostly he is quiet. In school, he is mainstreamed but with the services of a (mostly fulltime) assistant.

The kids and teachers at school absolutely love him. He is a gifted musician, which gives him “face”. He is very quiet, compliant, and vulnerable which makes the teachers and (especially) the girls love him to death (from a sort of mothering perspective).

That is Luke of today—an absolute delight of a child. Bounce back ten years and it’s a different story. When Luke was between 3 and about 7 he was very difficult to handle. He liked only one thing: driving in a car. If he was not driving, he was prone to start screaming at any moment.

Luke was absolutely a gift from God. Regular readers know that I have strong Calvinistic leanings, so I should say that Luke was God’s instrument to reach us (especially me). However, it feels more as if he personally rescued us from our two-income fueled path of materialistic destruction.

In my testimony I always say any parent in that situation is forced to make a choice: to look at a child like Luke as a blessing or a curse. For us he was (and is) a blessing, as he made perfectly clear both our need for God and also the amazingly good things that God has done through him and the people we have met because of his condition (autism) and his gift (music). At age 7, Luke changed almost overnight from an incredibly labor intensive child that kept us effectively homebound to a sweet "low maintenance" joy.

Government Schools

Anyway, that is just background. What really finally motivated me to write this was the regular poll over at christdot (great site, by the way) which, as of last night (the site is currently down) had to do with how kids should be schooled—public, Christian, home, etc.

Back to the mid 90’s. Our church is having a series of Sunday school classes on Christian Liberty. One of the topics was Christian education. Most of the parents sent their kids to Christian schools or they home schooled. The question on the table: do Christians even have the liberty to send their kids to public schools? I am working from memory here so I can’t give a precise estimate, but this much is certain: A significant (20% maybe) of those expressing an opinion held that sending kids to public schools was outside the bounds of Christian liberty.

The is an important data point: A sizable fraction of the members of the church (no doubt a self selected group that (a) attended Sunday school and (b) felt passionately enough to speak up) thought that parents sending their kids to public schools were in sin.

A digression on terminology

Of course, virtually everyone, except for a microscopic contingent of public school proponents (one family, as I recall) referred to public schools as government schools. Here is what I think about that term: It was very cute the first few times I heard it, because it is just as accurate and yet conveys something different and important. However, after hearing it a hundred times I felt like screaming: “Okay I grasp the concept.” At some point I became desensitized and preferred the normal usage. I have the same feeling today for the term “homicide bomber” as a replacement for “suicide bomber”.

End of digression and back to the story. About a year or so after the liberty discussion, a group of members (including elders) put together a bold plan to launch a Christian school. The school was to follow a “classics” model. Within the framework of orthodox Reformed theology, and in addition to a “standard” curriculum, the kids would study Latin, Rhetoric, Logic, Philosophy, etc. I remember hearing a criticism that statistics showed that a lower percentage of graduates from the other Christian schools in the area went to top rated colleges, compared with the graduates of the secular private schools. “We have enough pastors” I vividly recall hearing—alluding to kids “defaulting” into that occupation by attending middle-of-the-road Christian colleges.

We had a big meeting to discuss the plans for the school. Elders and potential administrators and school board members spoke. There was much bashing of government schools. Everyone was very excited.

After the meeting I went to one of the drivers of the new school, who had talked at length of the evils of government schools. I asked him about Luke—would this school be able to take a kid like Luke.

“No”, he said, “we will not have the resources for kids with special needs. He is better served in the public schools.” He then, I’ll never forget this, actually walked away!

To be sure, I was kind of a "nobody" in this particular church and easy to ignore. But the fact that he (cowardly, in my opinion) reverted to the term public schools left me sick to my stomach.

I talked to two other men who were pushing hard for the school. I got the same party line: “No resources for that. Better off in the (switch terms) public schools."

Recall that many people at this church would not even allow that I had the liberty to send my kids to public schools.

As it turns out, parents of kids who were normal but not academically strong were also warned that their kids might be better off being home schooled or in a traditional (i.e., lower standards) Christian school. Not enough resources, you see, to give this classical education to some kids while at the same time doing remedial work with kids falling behind.

It might be just my bitterness; you have to judge for yourself. But I think if you are trying to do something that is good, which by definition means it is to glorify God, not kids or parents, insufficient resources should not be used as an excuse. If what you intend to do is really for God’s glory, then you should trust Him to provide the resources.

George Muller these men were not.

I loved the pastor of this church (and the associate pastor). I have good friends who are members of this church. But I never again felt like a member of the body, and eventually we drifted away.


Here is what I think I think, although as I warned everything I say must be considered highly biased.

A Christian school, designed to get as many kids as possible ready for elite universities, to the point where some kids in the low (but normal) end of the intellectual spectrum cannot cut it (and have to leave), has a non-negligible component of its existence tied not to serving God’s Glory but to serving the vanity of the parents.

How much of my sentiment is sour grapes, I don’t really know.

By the way, both of our sons attend public school.

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