School Rules Are Not the Answer

One of the great challenges faced by classical and Christian schools is the challenge of growth swamping that which is the cause of the growth. If there is one three-man lifeboat in the water, and a hundred people also in the water, the thing that makes the lifeboat an object of desire is the same reason it won’t be floating for very long.

Classical Christian schools have a great pedagogical method — it works. Moreover, the people who were crazy enough to see that it was going to work are those parents who were visionary enough to establish the school in the first place. They were dedicated parents, usually with godly homes, and when the school got established in its first few years, the culture of the student body was determined as much by the spiritual and cultural condition of the founding families as anything else. That, as much as the pedagogical method, is the reason the school became a really attractive place to be.

But back in the pure days, it was hard to pay the teachers. It was hard to keep the lights on. It was hard to find someone who would do the janitorial work. So when the school started to grow, the first sensation (felt by the board) was a sense of relief. Ahhhh.

However, something else, other than money to pay the bills, came to the school along with the increased enrollment. That something was knowledge among the students of who Beyoncé and Miley are, emblems of our crappy culture. And by knowledge here, I do not mean simple cognitive knowledge. I am referring to a knowledge of such worldliness which the students find dazzling and attractive. When such things have a gravitational pull, then the school and the community behind the school are under assault. This is done by means of pop culture — music, web sites, gaming, movies, books, and so on.

I am not, incidentally, objecting to Christians who know how to effectively engage with the world in all these areas. Throw a bunch of Christians into the ocean of pop schlock, and I have no objections to the Christians who know how to swim. My protest concerns the ones who are drowning, and have drowned. Think of an engaged hipster on the ocean floor, blowing little Kuyperian bubbles.

A good school is engaged in the task of building a school culture that is honoring to God. Those materials are assembled day after day, year after year. But many classical Christian schools have discovered that when they get to a certain size, the culture they are assembling during the day is being routinely disassembled evening after evening, and a great deal of demolition being accomplished over the weekend.

Now you can’t do everything, and perfectionism is a temptation to be resisted by Christian educators. But here are just a few thoughts that might be helpful for schools in this position.

1. Rules won’t fix anything. You need the rules for the sake of basic moral order, but rules are not gospel. Rules change no hearts. This is why a school in these circumstances should seek out support from churches where grace and gospel are effectively preached, and should bring in speakers from such churches for chapel or assembly. The hallmark of such talks should be the grace of full forgiveness, and the consequences of receiving such grace. It would be easy to slip off the point, and bring in speakers who will place the divine seal on the school rules. But law drives us to gospel, not the other way around. Apart from the sovereign grace of God in Jesus Christ, there is no solution to this problem. Without Jesus, a school with standards will become a place of reeking hypocrisies, starting with the students and working its way up through the teachers, administration and board.

2. That being the case, then anything else done should be thought of as having a supportive role, not a leading role. For example, a good school with solid academic standards will not leave a lot of time for massive encroachments from pop culture. There will be assignments due, tests to prepare for, paper mache volcanoes to make. One of the best things a school can do for young people today is to keep them busy. And since all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, this is where a school can fill in the remaining time with extracurricular activities like sports or drama. If you have a full program, there won’t be as much time left over for Stupid Movie VII, or twerking practice over in Suzy’s garage.

3. While rules cannot make the heart pleasant, they can make the school pleasant. The rules should be simple and obvious, and not an opportunity for teachers and administrators to be petty or petulant. If there is consistency and fairness in how the rules are applied, and if they are for the obvious good of everyone — tenth graders don’t get to run down third graders in the stairwell — then the result is that you have created a good environment for learning. One of the things that must be learned, however, taking us back to the first point, is the grace of the gospel.

A good disciplinarian can rid a school of the demon of disorder. But unless the Spirit of God fills in the vacancy, the demons of self-righteousness, seven times worse than the first one, will come back to haunt the place.

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Justin Taylor
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Justin Taylor

Doug: Thank you for this thoughtful and helpful post. One point I would add: the schools need to find some way to educate the parents as well as the children by casting vision and demonstrating a compelling counter-cultural approach to all of life, under the Lordship of Christ.
Thanks again.

Michael Duryea
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Dear Pastor Wilson, I hope all is well with you. Thank you as always for your insight. It is so good to be reminded again that all our attempts are futile apart from the grace of Jesus. Nothing could be more true. You consistently remind everyone surrounding you of this fact. Thank you! I am just wondering about something you said here. You said that a good school will not leave time for massive encroachments of pop culture, that a school should fill its student’s lives with extra-curricular activities outside of school time. But what about fishing trips with dad?… Read more »

John Capps
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John Capps

I’m so glad we home-school.

Roy
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Roy

I regret that we did not.

Carole
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Carole

This seems like such a serious problem, one that I am gratefully not dealing with.  But, at the beginning of the blog you mentioned that when the school was “pure” the parents were running the school, teaching, cleaning etc.  Do the parents no longer have to be involved? If not should Christian and classical schools be assisting the negligence of biblical parenting?  As an ex teacher in the public welfare schools, I saw parents completely relinquishing their duties and blessings of child rearing to the state.  What rules are in place to correct those who wish to do that at… Read more »

Jan Mickelson
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Jan Mickelson

Even though I’m way old, i thought I’d give this home school thing a try.   I’m trying to teach myself history and theology.   So far its the “demon of disorder”  3,    Myself,  zero.    But that’s just the first inning.  I’m braced for a come from behind…

Robert
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Robert

How do you deal with the kids that you know are into the questionable music? I remember when I was a kid, the most effective way to avoid parental disapproval was to play next door. The neighbor boy isn’t going away

Roy
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Roy

No doubt that neither are guaranteed. One thing for sure; when I realize the extent to which I abdicated those educational responsibilities, it makes God’s grace even clearer when I see my children “get it”. No temptation on my part to take any credit. Just offer sincere thanks.

Tim Nichols
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Tim Nichols

#2 is a disaster all the way around, for all the reasons Mr. Duryea already expressed.  I am bothering with a “me too” comment here only because I can speak to it as a former student under that approach.  With academic excellence and “keeping the urchins away from the TV” in mind, the Christian school I attended three decades back had a regulation that every student was required to have substantial homework in every subject, every night.  It was marvelously destructive of family life.  Schools have neither the duty nor the right to usurp the parents’ job as primary protectors… Read more »

Andrew Roggow
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Andrew Roggow

Roy / John Capps, I was raised homeschooled and am now beginning to homeschool my kids with the help of a Classical Conversations co-op.  Believe me – homeschooling is not a magic shelter that avoids the problems here addressed.  It just changes the way they play out.  In the homeschooling community, my parent’s generation was pioneering a controversial education method back in the ’80s.  Some of them had to face truancy officers and jail-time.  Many had to write their own curriculum.  All that scholastic devotion came from spiritual devotion.  Now the settlers have moved in.  Kind of like that life… Read more »

Roy
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Roy

Andrew, thanks for sharing your experience. To clarify, I do not see homeschooling as a sure fire antidote to sin. But I do believe, that in the context of the heart I have today, I could have provided an immediate example worth imitating. I’m not gonna piss and moan about it, but I did fail my family in this regard. Fortunately, I’ve heard a fella say repeatedly that God takes us from where we are, not from where we were supposed to be. And for that I am truly thankful.

Zach
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Zach

The Lord was gracious and enabled me to experience both home-schooling and Christian-schooling, and I’m grateful for both but wary of their respective weaknesses. Regardless of how you educate your kids, the most important tether is the gospel in their hearts via the local church. Kids have to know early on how to navigate our culture and make an impact for Christ, while letting God’s Word and God’s people impact their hearts.   Easier said than done, I know, but our goal with our (very) young kids is not to mold them in our image, per se, but in the… Read more »