All parents want the best for their children. Most people think of things like safety, nutrition, exercise, and opportunities. Some people also include a quality education. All of these are important, but they are all blessings of earthly life. Is that all that school is about? What happens after this life? Can school prepare for that, too? Parents of faith may consider the blessings that last forever to be more important than the ones that will perish. That’s the point of a parochial school.
A parochial school is not always the best choice for people who cannot abide its religious principles, but families find that they appreciate the consistency of perspective in a parochial school, whether or not they agree with the faith of the school. A parochial school is a mission extension of a Christian church, so the parish defines the dominant perspective in every class and activity. Other points of view will be expressed, but the teaching of the school will address them from one particular viewpoint.
The Alternative of Public Schools
The other end of the spectrum may be seen as the public school environment, where ideally no particular faith is favored. Teachers are discouraged from expressing their own personal faith, and often required to conform their teaching to a non-religious standard. In practice, the public school environment tends to support “minority” religious viewpoints, while suppressing “majority” viewpoints. Students with a minority opinion are given a greater administrative blessing to express it and live by it. Sometimes the teachers are forced to promote them, while both teachers and students who hold the “majority” opinions are coerced not to express them. Unfortunately, this power struggle is central to the philosophy strategically promoted to our nation’s youth, and the public school system is a chief battleground.
Meanwhile this idea of teaching without any particular religious foundation proves as unreliable as building a house with no foundation. It leaves a major hole in the education of students by artificially separating matters of faith from the subjects being taught. This creates a false impression that they are secular subjects, unrelated to matters of faith. It has continued for so long that even many Christians assume that the natural way to present math facts is without any reference to the Creator who invented math. Or, that a subject like astronomy should be taught to flatly contradict the Biblical worldview, despite the truth expressed in Psalm 19 (ESV): “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.”
There is a good reason why public schools must omit religious teaching in all of their classes. Since they are supposed to serve all students in America, and they are implemented as a government institution, schools must abide by the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This amendment expresses several rights embodied in the founding principles of the United States, including the freedom of religion. The protections of this freedom are twofold. First, the government is not allowed to establish a religion by law, and secondly, it is not allowed to prohibit the free exercise of any religion. This is interpreted to mean that public schools are prohibited from including any “religious” teaching in their classes. It sounds like a reasonable compromise, and many students receive a useful education. But something of great importance is left out.
In practice “minority” religions or those considered irrelevant are taught side-by-side, and the perspective that all knowledge and reason is a gift from God is suppressed and forgotten. This happens despite having Christian teachers in public school. Their hands are tied by the system.
The Alternative of Private Schools
Another type of school is a private school. It can also be operated by a church, but in that case, it doesn’t function as part of the parish the same way a parochial school does. Its regular teachers may belong to contradictory faiths, and its focus is less on the church’s mission than on providing an educational service for its students. While the teachings of the parish may have a strong influence if the school happens to be owned by a church, a private school either teaches from a wider variety of religious viewpoints than a parochial school, or it might subscribe to the problematic public-school idea of separating religious content from subjects considered to be secular.
While a public school is ideally prohibited from espousing religious elements in its teaching, private schools are free to do so. This can help the school avoid the awkward and incorrect assumption that some kinds of knowledge are entirely separate from religious faith. However, if a private school does teach the content of religious faith, the question ought to be asked: what is the religious point of view that is used for that teaching?
This may sound like a question that seeks to divide people, but it really only recognizes the religious landscape of our nation. When people try to find a religious common denominator, they often discover that there are fundamentally different viewpoints at play.
Sometimes the religious disagreement is addressed by compromise. Teachers at a private school who have different religious beliefs may have the freedom to teach according to their own points of view, but students need to understand how each teacher’s perspective affects the things taught by that teacher. This is a good and healthy thing for students to consider. It’s probably ideal for college level. But when students don’t have the experience, maturity, discipline, and depth of understanding to do this on their own, then a parochial school may be a better choice.
The Alternative of a Private Parochial School
A parochial school is unique in that every subject is taught from the religious perspective of the church that operates it. The grammar of languages like English and Latin reflect the special gift that God provided to mankind in Creation, while also revealing the truth He reveals in Genesis chapter 11. Mathematics and science show the glory of God with hints of truths revealed fully in Holy Scripture. The religious components of every class, devotions, chapel, and even discipline are ideally unified under a single religious point of view. Every regular teacher must be a member of the church body that operates the school.
Some churches don’t bother much with the idea of right (biblical) teaching, and their schools will follow suit. Other churches consider right teaching to be of the highest importance. In that case, it’s easy for someone outside that church to learn the religious perspective of the school, and it will apply to every teacher and every class. In the case of a confessional Lutheran church like Bethany, its school’s religious position is summarized in the Small and Large Catechisms of Martin Luther, the Augsburg Confession, and the other documents collected in the Book of Concord from the year 1580. More contemporary issues of teaching are addressed in publications of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Many can be found at www.els.org.
Families who agree with the confessional Lutheran teachings of Bethany Lutheran Church will find that its school reinforces what they teach at home. Families who have disagreements with the teachings will find that the school consistently teaches a well-defined perspective on spiritual matters that they can address with their children at home. Even that is much easier than addressing a moving target and much less dangerous than building an education with no religious foundation at all.