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.