By / Aug 3

The countdown to a new school year has begun. Summer has flown by, as it usually does, and families everywhere are preparing to get back to the routine that the start of classes brings. But not everyone will go to the same kind of school. Many of us in our country are blessed with choices regarding how we will educate our children. And many school choices have turned upside down after COVID-19. According to the Census Bureau, during the pandemic, nearly 93% of families with school-aged children reported some level of “distance-learning” from home. This, in conjunction with a more progressive push in public education, has led Christian parents, in particular, to weigh the best options for their family. But what measure will help us determine the best school option for our children?

A rubric for families

In education, teachers use rubrics as scoring tools to measure student performance based on established criteria. Students are expected to meet certain goals in order to achieve mastery of a particular skill or standard. A score is given based on how the student met or failed to meet the expectations of the assignment. What if there was a rubric for families to use to gauge school options for their children? What standards would they use to measure those options? To design such a rubric, there are some essential questions parents should ask in order to guide their thinking.

What is the cultural climate of our school district? No two school districts are the same. Some schools are in districts that lean more progressive, while other schools are in districts that lean more conservative. This is important to understand, because many of the decisions that are made about school policy, curriculum, and instructional practice arise from the political and cultural climate of school districts. Administrators in each individual school also have choices regarding what is emphasized each year. Families must ask, “What is the climate of our school district, and can we navigate its waters as we send our children to its schools?” 

What are our current family dynamics? Family dynamics place a large role in education choice. Some parents may have the time and resources to educate their children at home. Other families see benefits from sending their kids to the local public school. Or, a family may prefer the environment and curriculum that a private education offers. The family’s schedule, taken as a whole from its various members, should also be considered. Whether it’s marital status, budget, health, or some other factor, what is feasible and preferred varies from one family to another. 

Families require flexibility as children grow and needs change. And along with that, every family is unique with various strengths and challenges. Parents will have to decide what educational option fits them best for right now considering their current family structure, demands, and resources. 

How involved are we in our local church? There is no substitute for the local church. School, travel ball, scouts, homeschool co-ops, and other subgroups should not replace the fellowship families have with other believers in their home church. Before families seek out the best schooling option for their children, they must first seek out a local church that is gospel-centered, proclaims the Word soundly and emphasizes obedience to its commands and ideally has a strong discipleship focus that applies to various ages. Find a church. Get involved by committing to weekly attendance, service, and fellowship. There is no school option that can or should replace the local church.

A simple rubric like this can assist parents as they are trying to decide what school option is best for their kids. Essentially, families should ask, “What are non-negotiables for us? What are the non-essentials? What are our goals for our children? Will this help us disciple them in that direction?” 

3 action steps

As parents evaluate the above questions, it can still be intimidating to make a choice. Here are a few action steps to help you along the way: 

Pray for wisdom. Seek the Lord’s will as parents who desire to please him with the kids he has entrusted to you. Our children belong to Jesus first and foremost. Trust him, and let him guide you as you prayerfully consider how he is guiding you. Pray for your kids before they enter school age, while they are in school, and after graduation. We are all in formation throughout our lives and need the Lord’s grace to shape and sustain us.

Get equipped. Whatever choice you make for your children’s education, continue to be involved in their learning. If you choose to homeschool, you will have a front row seat in your children’s school as both a teacher and as a parent. Look for other homeschool families to come alongside you on the journey, and find resources to support your role as a homeschool parent. If you choose to send your child to public school, ask about opportunities to volunteer,  join the school’s parent organization, or attend your school district’s committee meetings. Invite their school friends to your home and get to know their families, as well.

Get equipped in knowing your kids in whatever school context they face. Check their homework, ask about their lessons, and look for natural opportunities to extend their learning with a biblical worldview. Lastly, read or watch the news in small measures. Get informed and seek to understand the culture in which we live and in which our kids live on campus every day. Strive to eat most of your meals together around the dinner table weekly and engage your kids in thoughtful discussions asking about their day, their interests, their friends, etc. Look for ways to have conversations about current events and issues and how God’s Word addresses them. 

Keep an open-hands mentality.  I used to homeschool my oldest two kids, but now all of my kids go to the school where I teach. Even though my methods have changed as a parent, my convictions have not. My husband and I still have the same goals and aspirations now as we did when our children were younger. For now, the Lord has led our family in a different direction, and he may lead us elsewhere in the months and years to come. Be open to how the Lord may lead your family in educating your children year by year.

The fact of the matter is there is no perfect school option. Every system is broken, and until Jesus returns, no matter what educational choice we make, we will be disappointed along the way. We can have confidence that God, in his grace, will use various people and methods to accomplish his purpose for us (Acts 17:26, CSB). In wisdom, choose the option that fits you and your family best, as the Lord leads. Turn off social media and all the voices clamoring for our attention and allegiance. There is one choice to be made, really. Choose to follow and serve Christ in whatever place you find yourself. Let Deuteronomy 6:4-7 be your family decree: 

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

Keep the conversation going and the relationship with your children strong as you continually point them to Jesus. If you are homeschoolers, private schoolers, public schoolers, or somewhere in between, the most important education we can give our children is teaching them who our God is and living a life following him as our King. In the kitchen, at the ball field, during homework, in the car, or in the yard, we will teach our children to love the LORD with all that they are. There is no better choice than this.

By / Jan 11

I remember our oldest child’s first day of public school. My husband and I had decided to go the public-school route so that we could be involved in a positive way in our local community. Our daughter had on a new outfit, and I braided her hair special. We waited for the bus to come pick her up for kindergarten. Living in a rural environment, she would end up spending two hours on the bus every day. 

In the following months, we noticed some changes in our daughter that troubled us. Discipling her became more difficult because our time with her was so limited. The school bent over backward to accommodate and encourage her. But, in the end, we decided to take her out of school for a year. Then, one year turned into two. 

When it was time to put our next child into school, we realized he had some learning disabilities and was hyperactive. He would need extra accommodations, and we saw the simplicity of just helping him at home. So, we decided to homeschool them both. At that point, it just became a part of our family culture and is what we’ve done with all six of our kids for the past 12 years.

There are a lot of logistical advantages to homeschooling. It’s hard to downplay the advantage of extra time with our kids. My husband’s job has hours that vary widely in different seasons, so it’s been a huge benefit to the kids’ relationship with their dad to work their school schedule around his work schedule. Our kids can also pursue their interests more deeply. Homeschooling makes travel, field trips, and apprenticeship opportunities easier. Furthermore, the kids have more play time because it takes only a fraction of the time for a handful of students to complete the work it might take a much larger classroom to complete.

Advice for new homeschooling families

Every new homeschooling family is full of nerves. I have seen a lot of my friends pull their kids from public school, each having their reasons for keeping their kids at home. It’s often an exciting and terrifying endeavor. The weight of educating your children creates in us a longing to do everything perfectly. We really don’t want to mess it up, so the pressure we put on ourselves is usually severe. As new homeschooling parents describe this to me, I always stop them when the discussion turns to talking about homeschooling as if it’s an insurance policy.

Our family chose homeschooling because it made the most sense for where we lived and with the kids we have. It fit our situation. However, the biggest temptation — and possibly the greatest way to infuse stress into your homeschooling life — is to treat what you are doing as a sure-fire way to ensure that your kids grow up to be Christians. Once our oldest was able to drive, she wanted to go to a local private school, and that ended up being a great option for her, though it was a sacrifice for our family in multiple ways. Ultimately, we felt free to let her do that because our hope isn’t in homeschooling.

Homeschooling makes a poor god. I’ve now seen many kids in my circles graduate from homeschooling — and some walk away from the faith, not wanting anything to do with God. I’ve seen the heartbreak of mothers who made many sacrifices. They thought they did everything right to the best of their ability, and now it feels like it was all for nothing. For these mothers, it’s devastating.

The truth is that homeschooling is no savior at all. If we look to it as if it will do the work that only God can do, we’ve made it into an idol. And like all idols, it looks good — even religious — and it will fail you. The law, whether we’re talking about God’s good law or our own made-up formulas for success, is insufficient to save. God’s law is good and wise when used rightly. Our children need to know it, and they need rules. But none of it will save them. Eventually every child will have to face the sin that they can’t seem to will or discipline away. They need the one and only Savior. And homeschooling families don’t need Christ any less than our public or private-schooling friends.

Loving our kids as whole people 

If your home has people with a sin nature (which it does), you will not escape struggle in the midst of homeschooling. While it has been a great tool in God’s hands for our family, we could stop homeschooling tomorrow, and God would still hold us. None of that depends on the type of schooling we choose or on doing everything “right.” His promises are not so shaky or fragile that we must teach our kids to live a perfect life so that they may obtain them.

As we teach our children, we must remember, as Susan Schaeffer Macaulay points out in For the Children’s Sake, her book on education at L’Abri, that they are whole persons. They struggle with a real sinful nature, they are made in the image of God, and they have real needs. And as real persons, they need a real Savior. 

Therefore, love your kids as whole people, not projects. Give them a big view of God. Pray for them when their hearts are hard. Don’t be scared when they wrestle with God (sometimes wrestling with God is where we find his embrace). Our day involves a lot of forgiveness. I’ve learned to apologize a lot and to teach my children to apologize. And we talk a lot about the power of the gospel.

These homeschool years have been a gift, and I am thankful. But I am reminded often: I am a servant of the Lord, but I’m not God. I can’t make them into my image. I can’t change their hearts. I teach my kids about God and his Word, but their little souls are in his hands, not mine. The older they get, the more I’m thankful for that. When we realize that it is not our homeschooling that is saving our kids, we can unload that burden onto the sufficient shoulders of Christ, and educate our children from a place of rest.

For more perspectives on schooling, visit this article about public school and this article about private school. 

By / Oct 20

Choosing a school for your children can be one of the most difficult decisions that a parent makes. Our family’s choice was complicated by our kids’ particular needs. My wife Megan and I are deliberate people, and after taking some time to consider our options, we sent our oldest daughter, Rachael, to a two-day-per-week kindergarten at a classical school, one that we knew would emphasize reading old books, choral music, and learning ancient languages like Latin and Greek. The school was a great fit for her; she seemed to thrive.

But that same year, our second-born, Lucy, began her academic journey at a half-day Head Start program. Lucy had been diagnosed with what would now be classified as level 3 Autism. Her language, social, and self-care skills were already behind her 3-year-old peers, and she needed the behavioral, speech, and occupational support that our local public school system could provide. 

Choosing two different schools seemed like a wise decision at first. The two schools felt like just the right fit for our two daughters. But living in two different educational worlds at once was more difficult than we anticipated. Not only were our girls’ weekly schedules radically different, but the school calendars — the holidays, as well as the start and end dates for the two school systems — just didn’t mesh. Lucy also had daily therapy sessions after school in our home. Even if one child was on a break, another still had something going on. We felt like we were always on the go. In many ways, that was our first rodeo as parents, and Megan and I were exhausted trying to manage it. 

So, as the summer drew near, we pulled both girls out of their schools, went to Disney World with my in-laws (we found that restful!), and began a process of making certain that both girls would have the same school schedule the following fall. Our Lucy needed the public school system’s support for children with disabilities. So in order to unite our family around a shared routine (and actually enjoy family vacations!), we put both girls in public education.

A battle for minds and affections

Choosing public school is not a decision that any Christian parent should come to blindly. Megan and I sat down with a friend and advisor who walked us through a process of identifying our values, ranking them, and then finally making the decision. 

One thing that made the decision so hard is the reality that public education isn’t designed to reinforce Christian values. As James K. A. Smith has chronicled in his book Desiring the Kingdom, the rhythms of the public school and university campus are aimed instead at forming the next generation to value and worship competition, radical self-expression, and economic success.

And it’s not only that the secular worldview heralded in the public school curriculum seeks to regularly undercut a Christian worldview. Whether your kids attend a Christian school or a public one, the passion and regular rhythms of middle and high school extracurriculars —whether it’s athletics, academics, or the arts — will compete for your kids’ affections. 

Smith quotes Duke Divinity school professor Stanley Hauerwas’s striking observation that “Friday night high school football is the most significant liturgical event in Texas.” Now don’t get me wrong. I stand up and cheer for each touchdown pass as loudly as the next man (okay, maybe louder). Football, along with other sports, is a gracious gift from God, but that doesn’t mean Smith and Hauerwas are wrong when they see games and competitions as acts of worship that can compete with the faith. 

What makes this even harder in the public school context is that most public schools no longer take church activities into account. Gone are the days when sports and activities take a midweek pause so that students can be involved at their church on Wednesday evening. And when the band competition ends late on Saturday night, it’s hard to get up for church on Sunday morning. 

Why let Caesar educate your kids?

We know that young people are susceptible to the influence of their peers and cultural environment. So, if the public school environment is so hostile to Christian belief, why would any parent choose it? Why let Caesar educate your kids?

The truth is that without some vision for what it will take to navigate public school culture as a Christian, it’s unwise to make that choice. Ultimately, I believe that a Christian’s school choice is a Romans 14 matter — an issue of Christian freedom that will be worked out as each mom and dad weighs the options in light of their individual consciences. There are great reasons to choose a Christian school environment instead, but I believe there are also some opportunities that public education uniquely offers to Christian families. Here are three:

1. In public school, students typically experience greater diversity. After the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, many conservative white churches became bastions for segregationist opposition. Especially in the South, a number of private schools were founded by people who were committed to segregation and opposed to any possibility of interracial romance. As Michael Aitcheson observed on The Gospel Coalition’s As In Heaven podcast, “My grandmother in Orlando, Florida, remembers integration happening and our first private school was founded ‘six hours later.’”

Though they began as “segregation academies,” many of these schools have turned from their segregationist practices, and there are even efforts within Christian education to prioritize greater diversity. But on the whole, public education remains much more diverse than private education, and this presents lots of little opportunities for Christian kids to learn how to respect cultural differences and engage peers who differ with friendly curiosity rather than suspicion.

Public school exposes our children to ethnic and racial diversity, socioeconomic diversity, religious diversity, and ability diversity. It’s good to hear in a sermon about how we should honor the dignity of every human person made in God’s image. But the student in public school also gets the opportunity to practice showing honor when splitting a pizza with her Hindu friends. 

2. In public school, kids encounter pressing issues before they leave home. Christian kids who attend a public high school today are going to hear a Christian account of creation questioned in science class. And that Christian student probably knows at least one person in their classes who identifies as lesbian, gay, or transgender. Theologian Michael Krueger observes that too often Christian parents think their kids are best served by being sheltered and protected from any discussion or exposure to such non-Christian thinking. But it shouldn’t be that way!

It’s good to help your child wrestle with how, for example, to square what the Bible teaches about gender with the empathy she feels for a friend who experiences gender dysphoria. We need to give young people the basic biblical categories and tools they need to deal with non-Chrisitan belief while they’re still living under our roof. 

And just as it’s good for us to repent and ask for our children’s forgiveness when we lose our temper with them, it’s also good for parents to admit to their kids when they don’t know how to answer challenges to the Christian faith. When we’re honest about what we don’t know, kids will learn what it looks like to suspend judgement, do some research (pick up a book; ask a pastor), and think through how to give a reasonable defense for the faith. 

3. In public school, Christian students have the opportunity to be a witness. Some Christians ask, “Why put your children on a school bus to Babylon? Here’s the reality: No matter how much you’ve sheltered your child, they’re still living in Babylon. The question is whether they’re merely assimilating or living as bold exiles. 

On the one hand, it’s essential for students to have a Christian community beyond their nuclear families. Every Christian needs to know that he’s not alone. That’s one reason I’m so grateful for our church youth group that includes kids who are in public, private, and home school. 

But if a young person is only around people who share his beliefs and, as a result, his faith is never tested during his growing up years, that youth may trade cultural conformity in a Christian environment for a more dangerous cultural conformity in his college dorm. 

The public school environment certainly tests a young person’s faith. But when that faith is tested, there’s also an opportunity to see its true mettle. The student who chooses to dress modestly, not to participate in an event on Sunday, or share how her views of social justice involve convictions about hell and final judgment will be seen as socially awkward — perhaps even weird. She’s also a witness. 

The biggest reason we chose public school in the first place was for the specialized care it provided for our daughter Lucy. Staying in public education has meant greater intentionality about teaching and modeling a biblical worldview to our daughters at home. 

At the end of the day, a family’s educational choice for their kids is just one factor in a child’s formative years. In his book Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp warns against the danger of evaluating your parenting by your child’s educational success. He wrote, “Unfortunately, scores of disillusioned and broken people are thoroughly educated. It is possible to be well-educated and still not understand life.” For the Christian parents who help their students learn to celebrate other image-bearers, work through doubt, and stand for Christ even when it seems strange, public school can be a pathway toward gaining a heart of wisdom.

By / Sep 29

“You Matter,” “I Matter,” “We Matter,” 40 fifth graders chanted in unison on our first day of elementary school where I teach in a high poverty area in Indiana. The first days of school are momentum building. Teachers pour on the positive praise, rewards, and reinforcement. In many elementary schools, this is also the honeymoon period. There are new clothes, new hair styles, new school supplies, and pep talks from parents that haven’t fallen on deaf ears quite yet. 

My school is no different in many ways, but with the highest rates of child poverty in the city, there are unique barriers we face at the beginning of the school year. We are a “promise school,” meaning the district is committed to investing resources into our building. But the barriers are profound because of our poverty rates. Strong, experienced teachers request to work in our building, but the district moves them to more established schools. And while there is funding for technology, project-based learning initiatives, and school police officers, my classroom, for example, does not have doors, our desks are old and scratched, I have a small window, and the school battles a mice and cockroach infestation. If there was an emergency, there is no additional exit in my room that my students could actually get through with efficiency.

In light of the obstacles we face, Jesus reminds me that those who belong to him are promised his faithfulness, care, and compassion. He sees us, he knows our needs, and he loves us. I am reminded of this when a stranger writes me a $300 check for classroom snacks. Or, when partnering churches bring lunch and send in large donations of food and school supplies. I experience it when people pray and spend the evening putting up posters in my classroom. Or, when teachers give up their planning periods to assist in other classrooms. And I see it when neighborhood adults meet children at bus stops with breakfast and snacks. 

As teachers go through the school year, with all of its challenges and joys, we need the promises of Jesus to carry us through. And we see glimpses of those promises through many of our everyday experiences. 

We are promised his comfort and shelter. On the second day of school, children, teachers, and parents stand in a thunderstorm at the end of the day, scrambling to get kids home, many walking more than a mile. Many families do not get bussing due to district cuts years ago, and several bus stops are several blocks away. A pregnant mother of eight comes running and reaches for her children. I hand her an umbrella for the walk home. Teachers and students huddle together beneath the awning as they wait on parents. One of my fifth graders comforts his scared and sobbing 6-year-old brother because the storm is too loud. 

We are promised his friendship. Former students contact me, and children give huge hugs in the hallways. “Jack” has such a profound speech disability that he is unable to say any consonants. We celebrate that he is in my class with his best friend “Blake.” Jack and Blake are so close that Blake translates for Jack when someone can’t understand him. Jack will call him over when I am struggling, and Blake listens closely and lovingly interprets what he is saying. They’ve pulled each other away from fights this week and never leave the other’s side. I’ve never seen two kids have such a truly sweet and mutual relationship. They choose to be with each other because they love and enjoy one another. 

We are promised nurture. The siblings of a child who lived with us in the past are currently living with our dear pastor friend and his wife. I have prayed since these children were tiny that they would experience safety and security. The kids squeal in delight when we arrive at the bus stop. The 4-year-old runs up to my preschool daughter and says, “You coming with me.” After the big kids get on the bus, the small ones will go back to our friends’ house until pre-k starts. Goodbye hugs are given. I know our children are both seen and heard. They will be loved at school and in the home of the pastor’s family. 

We are promised he will bear our burdens. A teacher resigns after four days of instruction. The needs and behaviors are “too much to bear.” It is not only the behaviors or the needs that are too much to bear. The grief alone is too much to bear. None of us are strong enough to handle it ourselves. 

We are promised grace. A friend brings dinner on Friday. My husband and I are draped in fatigue and irritability. My mantra is “just get to bedtime.” I run upstairs to change clothes before taking my kids to play. I am half-clothed when my 3-year-old screams, alerting me that her little brother let the dog out. The neighbor meets me on my porch, and the dog follows her back, only to get away from us again two more times. She watches my kids while I grab my keys and put shoes on. The 2-year-old is crying. My neighbor says, “Sometimes motherhood is hard.” 

We are promised that he sees. An adoptive mother of seven loses her new home and puppy to a house fire. She and the children are left with the clothes on their back. I met these sweet children several years ago when they were living with little food, shelter, transportation, and proper hygiene. The mother and father struggled with addiction, to the point of losing their children. The aunt, who is now their adoptive mother, moved across the country to keep the siblings together and care for her elderly mother. When I met them, it felt so meager to deliver a package of diapers, yet the Lord knew their needs. Currently, the family is living out of a hotel room. My friend cares for the three youngest, and several churches work together to gather supplies for them. 

The promises continue.

Our teenage daughter, whose life is a testament to the miraculous promises of God, is invited to be a peer mentor for students who have experienced trauma, are on the spectrum, or have behavioral disabilities. “What an honor,” I say.

With an eye roll, and flat tone, she responds, “I just treat them like humans.” 

I am reminded that it is Jesus who says we matter, and it is his people who affirm it. We are called to treat one another like humans made in God’s image — beautiful, created, seen, valued, and loved. 

Jesus invites everyone to grab hold of his promises, and the Spirit fulfills these every day. He does not forget the orphan, widow, addicted, homeless, suffering, or wandering. He promises to meet us at the bus stops, in the food pantry, in pre-school, and in the suffering hearts of young people. He has not forgotten, and he will restore. I am forever thankful to rest on these promises. 

By / Aug 16

Last week, in the case of Starkey v. Roncalli High School and Archdiocese of Indianapolis, a federal court in Indiana ruled in favor of the Indianapolis Archdiocese, upholding its right to “provide students and families with an authentic Catholic education.” Along with other recent positive rulings, this latest decision is yet another win reaffirming the rights of individuals and institutions seeking to exercise fidelity to their religious beliefs without government infringing on their constitutional rights. This decision is good news for religious schools, the faculty, and families who send their children to those schools.

What was the case about?

In August 2018, Lynn Starkey, a former co-director of guidance at Roncalli High School, informed school leadership that “she was in, and intended to remain in, a same-sex marriage in violation of her contract and of Catholic teaching.” Upon learning of Starkey’s same-sex marriage, Roncalli administration “declined to renew her employment contract on the grounds that her marriage violated Catholic teachings.” Alleging discrimination, along with a list of other infractions, Starkey then sued Roncalli and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

What led to the favorable ruling?

Ultimately, the court made its decision based on an important legal doctrine –– one favorable to the Archidiocese. Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, stated that it’s a matter of “common sense: religious groups have a right to hire people who agree with their religious beliefs and practices.” The long-standing consensus of the Supreme Court (and lower courts) has been and, with this ruling, clearly remains that “the Constitution forbids secular courts from interfering in important personnel decisions of churches and religious schools.

As outlined in a case detail produced by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, “As Co-Director of Guidance at Roncalli High School, Lynn Starkey was responsible for communicating the Catholic faith to students and families, and advising students both practically and spiritually as they discerned their vocational path at and after Roncalli,” a fact that necessarily invoked the principle of the ministerial exception.

The ministerial exception was one of the most significant factors at play in this case for several reasons: Roncalli High School is a private religious school; Starkey had a consequential role in advising students according to Catholic orthodoxy; and “Every administrator, teacher, and guidance counselor at Roncalli High School signs an agreement to uphold the teaching of the Catholic Church in both their professional and private lives.”

What is the ministerial exception?

The ministerial exception is a constitutional protection that bars the government from applying employment discrimination laws to religious organizations. To allow the government to control the hiring practices of religious organizations would infringe on the Free Exercise rights of religious organizations to operate independent of government involvement. Though the ministerial exception is not explicitly stated in the Constitution, it is grounded in both religious clauses of the First Amendment.

In its June 2020 decision in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morissey Beru (in which the ERLC filed an amicus brief cited in the court’s ruling), the Supreme Court held that there is no rigid formula to determine if the ministerial exception applies. Rather, the court looks at a variety of factors surrounding the individual’s employment including, but not limited to: official title, religious training, religious credentials, a source of religious instruction, and whether the duties played a role in teaching the religious organization’s message and conveying its mission.

In contrast to the recent ruling in DeWeese-Boyd v. Gordon College, in which it was decided that the ministerial exception did not apply, the U.S. District Court Southern District of Indiana concluded, “Starkey qualified as a minister, and that the ministerial exception bars all of Starkey’s claims.”

What’s next?

The ministerial exception has been central to a slate of recent court decisions, a precedent, at this point, that shows no signs of abating. In fact, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty currently has pending a second, similar case defending Roncalli High School, the same Catholic high school involved in the lawsuit described above. 

The ERLC applauds the Indiana court’s decision to reaffirm the Archdiocese of Indianapolis’ constitutional rights and its prerogative to operate according to its deeply held religious beliefs, and the bearing that has on all other religious persons and institutions. Based on the number of recent favorable decisions, we are encouraged by the overwhelming number of rulings that continue to side with the cause of religious liberty.

As always, the ERLC remains committed to promoting and defending the religious liberty and conscience rights of all people and religious organizations.

By / Aug 9

I did not always fit in at the Christian schools I attended growing up. I was one of only a handful of students who did not have both parents at home, which meant I was the only one in my class with a different last name than the rest of my family because my divorced mom had remarried. This required complicated explanations to my classmates and sometimes even teachers; most of them lived in a world where most moms and dads were married, so their children shared their last names. It meant I had to ask permission from the front office to wait with my little brother after school, long after everyone else had gone home, until our single mom could get off work to pick us up. And it meant that I did not have my father there to walk with me in homecoming court senior year. Often, neither of my parents were present during special school ceremonies because my father lived in another town, and my mother could not always leave work.

As a shy child, I didn’t like feeling different from my classmates. I secretly resented them for their seemingly perfect family lives and wondered what it would be like to see both my parents’ smiling faces in the audience during a school play or to be able to share a last name with my mom and half-siblings. But I knew enough to be grateful for the sacrifices my mother was making to keep me in private school — even if I didn’t always feel like I belonged there. 

When I grew up, got married, and had kids of my own, I knew I wanted a Christian education for my own kids. I eventually convinced my reluctant husband that our two-income family could afford the private school tuition if we budgeted carefully. To make it work, we’ve had to sacrifice things like a bigger house in a fancy neighborhood and newer cars, but we have never once regretted these sacrifices.

An investment in my future 

Christian education began influencing my life from about the age of two, when my newly divorced mother enrolled me in one of the area’s most popular Christian preschool programs. It was an expensive choice for a single mother, and one she continuously had to defend to family members who questioned why she would pay private school tuition when she could barely make ends meet.  

Because we moved around a lot, I ended up attending five different Christian schools over the years, ranging from a tiny Pentecostal-run academy to the large Southern Baptist school from which I eventually graduated. Nonetheless, Christian schooling became one of the few constants in my life when the shape of my family never stayed the same. Even after another divorce, various job changes, and relationship challenges, my mom always found a way to keep me (and for a time, my younger siblings) in Christian school. 

It turned out to be one of the best investments she would make in my future. For me, Christian schooling served as a lifeline out of a world plagued by father hunger, family disfunction, and economic instability. Not only did I receive a private school education, but I also gained the direction and support I needed to stay on a path toward the stable family life I enjoy today. 

A report about private education 

My experience with Christian education is backed up by a report from the Institute for Family Studies and the American Enterprise Institute. The Protestant Family Ethic, written by Albert Cheng, Patrick Wolf, Wendy Wang, and W. Bradford Wilcox, is the first of its kind to analyze the effects of private versus public schooling on three family outcomes for adults. The report found that students educated in private schools, especially Protestant schools, are more likely to be in intact marriages and to avoid out-of-wedlock births as adults. 

One of the report’s most striking findings involves the powerful effects of religious schooling on students from lower-income backgrounds. As the authors explain, “religious schools, both Catholic and Protestant, have comparatively more positive influences on family stability for students who grew up in financially difficult circumstances.” 

According to the report:

“About 40% of public-school attendees who grew up in financially unstable households eventually marry and never divorce. The rate is higher for Catholic-school attendees who grew up in the same unstable financial situation (53%). Meanwhile, Protestant-school attendees who grew up in financial hardship are the most likely to marry and never divorce; 72% are still in their first marriage.”

In addition to the differences between religious and public school students, the figure above also reveals that students from financially unstable backgrounds reap more positive family outcomes from religious schooling than students from financially stable backgrounds. Among Protestant school students in particular, those who grew up in financially difficult circumstances are significantly less likely to have a nonmarital birth and to have divorced than those from financially stable backgrounds.

3 ways religious schooling shaped me

As someone who was raised in a financially turbulent, single-parent household, I have a few theories about why this might be the case. Religious schooling shaped my future family life for the better by providing me with three things I needed the most: 

1. Examples of healthy marriages and decent fathers and husbands. 

Growing up in a broken home where men were either absent, unreliable, or dangerous, the messages I absorbed about fathers, marriage, and family life were overwhelmingly negative. But in Christian school, I found peace and hope in the midst of family turmoil. It was there that I was introduced to the concept of God as my Father who looked upon me as his child, which mattered a great deal to a little girl who desperately missed her biological father. And it was there I experienced Christ’s unconditional and unfailing love through the lives of my teachers and the pastors who led the school. 

At the same time, I was exposed to healthy married families with faithful dads and husbands — men who did not harm or abandon their families but who loved God, their wives, and their children. None of these men were perfect, but they were clearly striving to be the fathers and husbands their families deserved. Many of these examples came from married teachers whose spouses also worked at the school — like my favorite bus driver/ janitor, Mr. Robb, a gentle giant whose wife taught kindergarten, or my high school Algebra teacher and senior adviser, Mr. Ammons. Something I noticed about their families is the role faith played in their lives. The parents prayed together and took their children to church often, and they were committed to something, or Someone, bigger than just each other (and research confirms that couples who pray together and attend church regularly enjoy more stable marriages). 

2. A biblical worldview that pointed me to a path for a successful future. 

In the IFS/AEI report, the authors reflect on why Protestant schools appear to have a stronger influence on the future family lives of students compared to the other schools, noting that: 

“Protestant schools are more likely to stress the importance of marriage as a good in and of itself—and of having and raising children in marriage. The different messages they send may play some role in providing a normative context for their graduates’ future family lives.” 

This was certainly true in the schools I attended. The contrast between my unstable family life at home — where divorce and father absence seemed to spread like a disease — and what I experienced in the Christian school classroom gave me a taste of the healthy family life I desired but did not know how to obtain. I was taught a biblical worldview that said every life has value and purpose, that marriage was designed by God for the good of children and society, that divorce was to be avoided if at all possible, and sex and parenthood should be reserved for marriage. 

Importantly, I saw these ethics lived out in the lives of my teachers and in most of the families of my peers. I learned that boundaries matter, not to fence me in but to protect me from harm. Instead of lessons on condoms, I was encouraged to delay sex until I was married because of God’s good design, to work hard in school so I could go to college, and to eventually get married and start a family — a sequence of steps that research shows is linked to lower chances of poverty and a greater chance of achieving family stability and economic success. These values, and the support I received to sustain them, helped me to avoid some of the common risk factors for kids from broken families.

3. Supportive and like-minded peers.

As I said earlier, I was an outsider at my Christian school because of my family life at home. Most of the students lived with their married parents in stable, middle- or upper-class neighborhoods, while only a handful, like me, came from broken homes, often relying on scholarships or financial aid to be there. But the friends and classmates I found there helped keep me away from choices that would have most certainly derailed my future. Most of the students attended church regularly and avoided alcohol, drugs, and early sex. While there were definitely some kids who were having sex and partying on the weekends, most of the students were striving to avoid these behaviors. 

Again, my experience echoes the findings in the IFS/AEI report, which identified “stark differences in the peer environment of various school communities.” Compared to students who attended secular private and public schools, Millennials who attended religious schools were significantly more likely to report that “almost all” their peers attended church regularly, did not use drugs, had never had sex, and planned to go to college. 

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that religious private schools are far from perfect education models. Many of these schools lack the economic and racial diversity that could benefit their student body and the surrounding community. And emerging from the Christian school “bubble” into the real world can leave some students with a bit of culture shock. Even so, I would not trade the Christian education I received, flaws and all, for any other form of schooling — and I believe that without it, I would not be where I am today.As theProtestant Family Ethic concludes, “private schools serve the public good more by fostering stronger and more stable marriages among American men and women compared to public schools.” Religious schools have a vital and unique role to play in promoting this common good, especially among lower-income kids from unstable families who are hungry for the faith, values, and role models these schools offer. Just as it did for me, Christian schooling can provide at-risk students with a lifeline out of the cycle of family instability and point them toward a path for a brighter family future. 

By / Jun 2

Jeb Bush, the son of and brother of two American presidents, has his sights set on addressing the issue of education reform head-on through his Education Foundation, ExcelinEd, which he formed to improve education standards. His journey in the education field started with his experience in politics. “When I started running for office, I would tour the state and hear that the number one problem that people had was education training,” Bush said. This issue drove him to want to know more about the education system in the state of Florida, which hovers consistently at the bottom of the state education ratings. Bush also credits touring 250 Florida schools as a gateway to his understanding the enormity of the problem. 

Stepping into the education arena became a spiritual calling, as well. “God has given every child the ability to learn. Yes, they learn in different ways. But what we ought to say is that because this is a gift from God, we should organize ourselves around that to reach kids.” He granted a rare interview to the ERLC about his latest work. 

Why have you decided to address the issue of education? 

When I started running for political office, I would always ask questions about what the top priorities were. In the state of Florida, in 1987-88, every county, every economic development group that I spoke with would say education and training were the number one issues. So my first passion was really how we take a pretty poor education system at the time in Florida and make sure that we have a phenomenal business climate where people can rise up, businesses can invest, and people can flourish. I was convinced at the time that school choice had to be an element of that.

I created Floridians for School Choice, the group that advocated for vouchers. We brought Polly Williams, an African American, very liberal state senator from Wisconsin to promote the idea of what she did in Milwaukee. The first voucher program was in Milwaukee. As a candidate in ‘94, and certainly in ‘98, when I went to visit 250 schools, I learned so much. My views didn’t change, but I learned how to advocate these pretty provocative ideas in a way that wasn’t threatening. I put a human context around it. Then I got to be governor, and I got to implement the things that I said I wanted to do. It was a joy of a lifetime.

After I left politics, it was through the Foundation for Excellence in Education that I continued to be involved with an incredible team of 55 to 60 people. We work in 40 states, and we advocate meaningful reform, empowering parents to make choices for their kids rather than systems and bureaucracies; high expectations; real accountability; ending social promotion in third grade; early childhood literacy; and trying to change high schools so that kids graduate college and/or career ready. 

Is this a spiritual calling for you?

It’s at the heart of my spiritual beliefs. You start with the premise that God has given every child the ability to learn. They learn in different ways. Not every kid learns at the same speed or can reach the same levels of aptitude, but this is a God-given gift that every child gets. So, rather than excuse why kids can’t learn, we ought to say this is the gift from God. We also need to organize ourselves around these kids in a different way to ensure that they reach their God-given abilities. That doesn’t sound too crazy to me. Basically what else is there to be doing in life?

It’s been a great passion of mine, but it’s also been a great frustration because we haven’t moved the needle as fast as we should. The world’s moving at a faster pace than it was in 2000. It’s moving at warp speed right now. And all this disruption, culturally, economically, socially, and politically, requires young people to have a foundation from which they can thrive. And right now, too many kids don’t have that.

When you were governor of Florida, how did you see change take place? 

When I became governor, we increased our graduation rate every year. I think it’s at 85% right now. Now, I think we need to raise the bar. I think we need to constantly be pushing the system to assure more and more kids are college and/or career ready. But, we’ve had big progress because we’ve had higher expectations for our children, and we’ve empowered parents in Florida . . . . My attitude is: let’s focus on children and students. We need to empower parents to give them the information they need to make informed decisions and have high expectations for every school. They are respected whether they’re a traditional public school, a charter school, a private school, or a parochial school. With high expectations for every kid, you’re going to get a better result. 

How has COVID-19 disrupted the education system, and what advice would you give to leaders? 

In March, we were all sent home. If you’re living in poverty and couldn’t afford the $40-per-month for broadband or one of the service providers for high-speed broadband, you’re out of luck. If you didn’t have a device to be able to learn on, you’re out of luck. And so we’ve been advising governors to direct some of this discretionary money toward dealing with this digital divide issue. It is ridiculous that we have a digital divide in this country. We are the most advanced country in the world technologically. I read somewhere that 400,000 teachers didn’t have access to high-speed broadband. How could they teach if they’re at home? So, that’s one thing. 

The second thing I’d say is, as is the case with every policy in my mind, at least we should have a bias toward action — not a bias toward sitting in the fetal position saying, “This is overwhelming, and we can’t do anything about it.” A bias toward action means we should do everything possible to to open our schools and to keep them open in a safe way. So, I’m proud of the fact that Florida led the way in getting schools back open. Because we have big school districts, our governor, education commissioner, and most of the superintendents had a bias toward action. They were the first of the big school districts to act. They were the first to open, and they’ve not closed. And the fact is that we haven’t had a huge outbreak of COVID in our schools.

The learning gaps that started in the spring semester of last year . . . [are] going to hit low-income kids the hardest, and those gaps will grow. There should be a bias toward action, particularly for low-income communities, to make sure that they have access to the same quality education that more affluent families have right now in our country. 

You have an influential last name. What if somebody’s last name is not Bush? What advice would you give them about getting involved? 

We’re a bottom-up country. The best ideas come from the bottom-up, and the best advocacy comes from the bottom-up. And the best means by which you can make a difference is from the bottom-up. So first and foremost, if you’re a parent, get involved in your school. If you have school choice programs that are in your state that are under attack, protect them, defend them, and advocate for them. 

I’m a huge advocate of local involvement — community involvement — to be able to make a difference in changing policy. If you notice, politicians do listen to people when they come and say, “Don’t take this away from me.” So, my advice is to be involved in your child’s education. If you don’t have children, be involved in the school. Be a mentor in religious institutions that have been fortified because they’re receiving this kind of support.

What advice would you give to President Biden? 

I do what I’ve done with every president which is pray for their judgment, their discernment, and their health, because when presidents succeed, we all succeed. And I think that’s the first thing we ought to do — to encourage our president. Pray for him, and pray for public leaders, whether we agree with their policies or not. That’s a noble tradition in our country. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness. 

The second thing I’d say is I’d bet that the top-down approach doesn’t work . . . . There are lots of things that could happen, but if the mindset is we’re smarter than you and we don’t trust you, we’re going to get ugly results. And so my hope is that the president will trust the decisions made at the local level more than what typically happens from D.C., and try to envision what the world will look like in 2030, not what the world looked like in 1980.

Do you miss politics? 

That’s a great question. I don’t want to sound like a politician cause I’m not, but the answer is yes and no. I miss the challenges, particularly in emergencies. I miss being able to serve when people really need the help of the government. I don’t miss the politics of politics, which is dangerously poisonous right now. 

I’m totally blessed in life. I have five grandchildren, all close to perfection, as you can imagine. My wife and I are about ready to celebrate our 47th year of marriage. Wow. My reform education foundation is flourishing. My business is flourishing. My health is great. I don’t miss politics. I worry about our country a lot. And I hope our politics do change for the better — where we’re more loving, more conciliatory, and don’t think people who disagree with us are our enemies. 

By / Jan 14

Graduate students are like Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. That was the claim made by one of my literature professors. What does a graduate student in engineering or a person studying law or medicine have in common with a fictional, deformed creature known for his skulking behavior? They both are staring down. Gandalf describes Smeagol (Gollum’s previous name) to Frodo in this way,

“The most inquisitive and curious-minded of that family was called Smeagol. He was interested in roots and beginnings; he dived into deep pools; he burrowed under trees and growing plants; he tunneled into green mounds; and he ceased to look up at the hill-tops, or the leaves on the trees, or the flowers opening in the air: his head and his eyes were downward.”

Inquisitive. Curious-minded. Interested in beginnings and the “roots” of things. These are the characteristics of a good graduate student one would hope. But hidden inside of that positive description is a warning as well: “his head and his eyes were downward.” And it was not just looking down at the roots, but also looking down on all those who did not share his obsession. Gollum’s obsession with knowledge and the promise that it would bring power is what caused him to look with antipathy toward all others. Thus, when we meet Gollum he is alone in a subterranean cavern playing riddle games with himself, seeing other people only as a meal. 

The problem of anti-anti-intellectualism

While graduate students may not live alone in caves obsessing over elven rings capable of making you invisible—although pouring over tomes in a library or staring at measurements in a science lab may be just as appealing to the rest of the world as an underground cave filled with goblins—they share a temptation: To allow knowledge, or formal education, to cause them to look down on their peers. 

Speaking for myself as a graduate student, I’m certain that my family and friends would prefer to have a game of riddles in the dark than listen to me engage in a description of my interest in the history of evangelicals and labor activism at the turn of the 20th century. Why? Because, so often, my eyes and head are turned downward just like Gollum when I engage in those conversations. 

And this is not unique to graduate students. Harvard professor Michael Sandel notes that this kind of bias against those without a college degree or formal education is more prevalent than other forms of contempt, and that unlike other forms of bigotry such as racism or sexism, educational elites are often “unapologetic” about their views of the less educated. In a culture where education is a marker of upward (economic) mobility, and success often the result of educational attainment, then it is unsurprising that we would value individuals and their contributions more because of the institution on their diploma. However, Christians should be the first to reject such a demeaning view of individuals, recognizing that just as worth is not defined by race or sex, neither is it defined by the number of letters after your name, whether J.D., M.D., or Ph.D. 

Education to encourage love of God

Now, I am not advocating for a lack of education. It would be disingenuous since I have completed one graduate degree and am currently pursuing another in history. Further, I think that Christians have a unique responsibility to pursue education because we are convinced that truth exists and can be known. Part of the creation mandate to take dominion over creation includes cultivating and stewarding the world, which can only be done with proper knowledge. And colleges and universities are often a mission field in need of cultivation by Christians who can speak truth and the gospel message to people asking questions about identity, the future, and purpose. 

The purpose of education is to cause you to look up, metaphorically speaking, rather than down. The scientist who probes the workings of the cosmos should exult with the psalmist that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psa. 19:1-4). The jurist studying the law should be confronted with the justice and perfection of the lawgiver (Psa. 19:7-8). And the student of history should look back and see the providence of God at work in the most minute details and events (Psa. 136). Contemplation of God’s created order should be the beginning of worship, not its end. And those who have studied the inner depths of particular aspects of creation should be those most loudly proclaiming the glories of God.

Education to encourage love of neighbor

Just as important is the way that education should be a method for loving our neighbor, or looking to our right and left rather than down. On a practical level, we can see how this plays out. It is scientists and medical professionals (all, we hope, with years of training and experience) who have developed a vaccine for the pandemic, a service to their neighbor for sure. In a similar way, the lawyer may provide their services pro bono in a legal clinic for the poor, and teachers use their training to educate the next generation as a form of public service.

 Contemplation of God’s created order should be the beginning of worship, not its end. And those who have studied the inner depths of particular aspects of creation should be those most loudly proclaiming the glories of God. 

We know what it means to use our skills to serve our neighbor. But just as education leads the Christian to worship more fully, it should also be a means for enriching the worship of others. And this is the beauty of the church—others benefit from your effort and exertion. Thus, the pastor who has learned Greek and Hebrew need not teach a course on Sunday mornings for his congregation to benefit from his study (though if congregants wanted to learn the original languages, that would not be a bad thing). In fact, it should be the opposite. Those around you should benefit from the work that you have produced and enjoy the fruits of your intellectual labor. For example:

The pastor who studies Greek or Hebrew can convey to the congregation the meaning of the text without subjecting them to a grammar lesson. Paul’s pleading can come through in the way that you explain the text rather than in your diagramming of articles, verbs, and participles. 

The Christian historian spends hours in the archives to tell the story of former slave and Baptist missionary George Liele, illustrating to the church the role that he played in the spread of the gospel after gaining his freedom. 

The theologian studies the work of the fathers and mothers of the church during the early church period to bring renewed interest in ancient methods of devotion and catechesis all to encourage spiritual piety. 

The ethcist asks the deep questions about technology, sex, or politics in an effort to help their church think not only about this immediate social issue but about the one coming down the road for the next generation of the church. 

And the Christian sociologist studies patterns of behavior and statistical analysis of transmission of values to teach parents how to better disciple their children. 

None of these examples require that the recipient be an expert in ethics, sociology, history, or ancient languages. The Christian scholar, who has been gifted the responsibility to study and serve, brings to the church the fruits of their labor and says “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psa. 34:8)

In Acts 2, the early church met the needs of the community by those who had much providing for those who had less. Each brought as they were able, each received what they needed, and neither looked with contempt on the other; they all “broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts (Acts 2:44-46). In the same way, the act of service of the scholar is not to puff up themselves with knowledge, but to recognize that they have been blessed with the opportunity for formal education and to bring the result of their studies to others, who for any number of reasons have not been able to devote themselves to formal training in the same way (1 Cor. 8:1; 1 Tim. 6:3-6; 2 Tim. 3:6-7). But neither is more dignified or performs more godly work. Rather, each encourages and supports the other in their specific calling, spurring one another on to greater worship of God and love of neighbor. 

Conclusion

When we first meet Gollum in The Hobbit, he is alone, muttering to himself and his precious ring. He is twisted and deformed by his quest to know the ring and use it for his own power, always at the expense of others. In contrast, the church is the picture of a community where those with college degrees and those without are gathered together to worship God and serve one another. The Christian scholar is called to use that knowledge to serve their church and proclaim the gospel message to the world, not their own prestige and importance. It is the recognition that scholastic activity should have relevance for the church, sanctification, and love of God. The Christian scholar should be humbled by the ability to list the order of salvation in Latin or Greek and remember that, Latin or not, all of us are called to the foot of the cross in repentance, and all of us will one day cast our crowns and all accolades at the feet of the only one worthy of praise (Rev. 4:10).  That is a calling better than any riddle game in the dark. 

By / Oct 6

The last few weeks have seen the reopening of school districts across the country. Teachers are adapting to the current pandemic in a number of ways with some teaching in person, others online, and some doing both. This has, understandably, created a new source of anxiety for both students and teachers. Students have to contend with Zoom fatigue in addition to struggling through long division. Online teachers are in the unenviable position of attempting to replicate the community of a classroom from the confines of a screen with tiny little Zoom boxes and weak internet connections. In this current moment, Christian parents should consider how they can serve their teachers as they adapt to the new situations of online learning. Here are three practical ways: 

Remain flexible 

If the last several months have revealed anything, it is the truth that there are many things beyond our control. Every day brings some new catastrophe or unexpected challenge. And online education is no different. Not long after schools resumed near me, teachers started their day to discover that Zoom was down worldwide because of server problems. Immediately, an entire day’s scheduled meetings and plans had to be reworked. 

In some ways, the pandemic has just affirmed the truth of Scripture: we are not in control. In response, we can cling more tightly to our plans and our belief that we are the masters of our fate, or we can accept that there is much outside our control and trust the one who sets planets in motion and hung the stars. In the midst of a season that seems intent on inducing worry and anxiety, the same voice that calmed the waves offers us the promise of peace (Mark 4:39). 

Show your support 

With many teachers teaching online or in new hybrid options, it is very likely that parents may not ever get to meet their teacher in person as they normally would. And with so much of instruction occurring in asynchronous formats, it can be easier than ever to forget the effort that many teachers have put in to redesigning their classroom, curriculum, and even teaching style. This is especially true when every day brings a new cause for anxiety: Should we wear a mask when we leave the house for groceries or have them delivered? Will my wife lose her job because she was deemed unessential? Who is in charge of childcare this week while we work from home? In this moment of continual anxiety and fear, it would be easy, and understandable, that we would forget about what we cannot see in front of us, or about the person on the other side of the screen.

Christians should make a special effort to remember and praise the work of their children’s teachers during these times. Teachers are often facing the same existential crises in their own families, all while seeking to love and serve a Zoom screen filled with kids who are facing a new challenge of their own. So look for ways to serve and care for the teachers in your life. A well-timed email, a note sent in the mail, or brief video chat just to let them know that you see and appreciate all that they are doing can be a welcome reprieve for a teacher. We know that our words have the power to build up and encourage (Prov. 18:21), so we should seek ways to offer a word of hope, encouragement, and life to those who have devoted their lives to teaching the next generation.

Extend grace

It is inevitable that no matter how much planning occurs on the part of administrators, teachers, parents, or students, there will be confusion and problems. An assignment will be given the wrong due date. An online password will be mistyped. A Zoom link won’t work. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that problems will arise. 

This time of learning from home offers a unique opportunity for parents to help their children learn not just how to read, write, or solve equations, but how to grow in love, joy, patience, and kindness (Gal. 5:22-23). 

However, Christians should be the first to extend grace to teachers in this season. When so much is beyond our control, Christians have the opportunity to meet these problems with the grace and forgiveness that we have received (Luke 7:47). It is precisely because Christians recognize that we are interacting with humans created in God’s image on the other side of our screens or emails that we extend that grace. So as you type that email to correct your teacher or prepare that post for Facebook about the school administrator, remember that they are also struggling with the new reality and often doing the best that they can with circumstances beyond their control. Just as you would want grace for yourself, extend it to teachers. 

And it is not just for the sake of the teacher, but for those little eyes and ears that are watching you. The students who see a parent lose it over a Zoom meeting or a problem with online learning are receiving an education in how Christians respond to problems, but not in how to extend grace to those around them. This time of learning from home offers a unique opportunity for parents to help their children learn not just how to read, write, or solve equations, but how to grow in love, joy, patience, and kindness (Gal. 5:22-23). 

When the school year ends, students and teachers will likely breathe a sigh of relief that they endure this challenging season. However, Christians should make special effort to serve their teachers during this time. In a time when it would be easy to retreat into survival mode and think only of what is best for ourselves, we ought to consider how we can encourage and pray for teachers. As the pandemic and school year ends, may this be a season when we have all learned how to recognize new ways to serve others. 

By / Sep 28

I am online for my courses this semester. Baylor has done a remarkable job getting as many courses taught in person as possible, but there was actually an increasing demand for online courses over the summer, too, due to health concerns or location (I have a student taking one of my courses from China, for example). As of February 2020, I would have assumed that online teaching was by definition an inferior mode of delivery. But now I am not so sure. Done well, I believe it can equal or even surpass some aspects of in-person teaching.

1. Student participation: The biggest surprise to me has been how easy it is to foster student participation. On Zoom, the handy names feature means that, as long as students don’t log in as a Marvel character (“Black Widow”), I can easily call on them at any time from day one of the semester. I have tried to establish the expectation that I will be calling on students as much as looking for volunteers for answers, and that has gone better than in most of my in-person classes. When I go back to in-person, I need to do a better job of getting name tags/plates for all the students in order to replicate what happens automatically for instructors on Zoom.

2. Student conversations: A related surprise is how easy it is to foster individual conversations with students after class. Most of the time I end class by saying, “If you have an individual question, just stay on the call.” Sure enough, at least one or two students do. I normally stay after class for 10-15 minutes just to talk with students. This typically wouldn’t happen as much in person because I or the students are usually dashing off somewhere else, or the students might find it a little more daunting to approach me after class in person.

3. Student engagement and retention: In my introductory American history class, I have recorded lectures which students watch on their own, and they take quizzes over the lectures and readings for each day. For in-person classes, I obviously did my lectures live, which is better, not least because it allows for questions and more give-and-take. But I really like them taking short quizzes over the material for each day. I suspect I am already getting more consistent engagement and retention of the course material.

The full-blown bad and ugly may still be on the horizon. But the primary challenge I have found is that students have a host of potential problems (or claimed problems) with technology that are entirely out of my control. It’s on them to have a good internet connection, so some students go in and out during class, and surely do not get as much out of the meeting. Others have webcams malfunction so I can’t see if they’re really there. And I believe that it is easier for the students to go AWOL on attendance or assignments when everything’s online, in spite of my (usual) efforts to contact them when they show signs of struggle or absence.

4. Personal learning: One of my chief takeaways from online teaching, though, is that I am just glad to know how to do it. I feel like I have learned more as a teacher this year than maybe since my first year of teaching. I always want to be the sort of person who is willing to try new things, professionally and technologically. This year forced many of us to do that in some really stretching ways, and I for one will be a better teacher for it.

A form of this article originally appeared in Kidd’s newsletter