Over the past decades, we see that in our Western society more and more the traditional family is being dismantled and the divine institution of marriage denied. Lately even many try to undo God’s work of creation in which He created man male and female. It is ironic that in this society the COVID restrictions brought back the focus to the family. He who sits in the heavens laughs and holds them in derision. Especially during the lockdowns, it was the family unit that was important.
Children stayed home, parents who could work from home did so, meetings were canceled, and a lot of time was spent as a family together. Many Christians experienced this as a good time for family life. There was time to talk, time to do things together, time to study the Bible. It was a good reminder for many of us of the importance of the family.
During the lockdowns, many children could not go to school and their families got involved in online schooling. In Western Australia it was only for a few weeks last year that the children received online education, but in the eastern states and in countries in North America and Europe it was for a much longer time, sometimes for months on end, that children had to be kept home from school.
In Reformed Perspective, Levi Minderhoud wrote about the ‘Great Reset’ and mentioned the need for ‘The Great Moral Reset’. He wrote:
Many provinces have closed schools or moved classes online in their monolithic education system in their response to COVID-19. Promoting educational diversity, including supporting independent schools, homeschooling, and distributed learning in a decentralized education system where parents are ultimately responsible for the education of their children, should be the new priority of provincial governments.
Let us hope that governments indeed do see the important place that families have and should receive in our society and act accordingly. However, even if governments do not do that, then still it is for us as Christians important that we use this opportunity to reconsider our ways and the importance of (spiritually) healthy Christian families.
Responsibility of the parents
Parents must take responsibility for the instruction of their children. At home, there is where it all starts. I can notice in catechism classes what the children are being told and taught (or not taught) at home. If there is no solid basis for the instruction in the Christian doctrine at home, then the schools and the catechism teaching cannot make up for that. The parents are the ones who make the promise at the baptism of their child to first instruct their child in the doctrine of salvation as soon as he/she is able to understand, and then also to have them instructed in this doctrine by others. It is not the consistory or minister or schools that make the promise to instruct this child, not the congregation either, but the parents. They have to take that responsibility. The elders take responsibility for the children of the congregation, but they do that by encouraging and if needed admonishing the parents regarding the instruction of their children.
During the lockdowns, parents got more involved in the work of the schools, which was good. The teachers did a tremendous job during those couple of weeks of online education and the parents could notice that. However, now that children are all back to school, it is still important for parents to remain involved. Our schools are parental schools, which means that we believe that the education of our children is a parental responsibility. This has always been emphasised in our churches, even in the Church Order Article 53. In 1996, two years after Synod Byford changed the Church Order and the current article 53 was inserted, Rev. Bouwman wrote a series of three articles to explain the purpose of this article. He explained how since the 19th century the Reformed Churches have maintained “that the Lord had made the parents responsible in first instance for the training of the youth. Hence formal education at school came to be seen as primarily the responsibility of the parents.”(Three articles, about Christian Education and the Church Order, Baptismal Promise and Education, Christian Education and the Task of the Office Bearer) And Mr. Kent Dykstra, principal at Credo Highschool in Langley, Canada, wrote in 2019: “The school should not be viewed as a separate entity with its own responsibilities to the children of the congregation, but as an extension of the home”.
Because the school is the first responsibility of the parents, it is important that the parents are involved as much as possible, and in a positive and upbuilding way.
That means in the first place that parents shall never criticise teachers in front of their children. Even if they do disagree with the teachers or if the teacher is struggling to do his job. Parents have delegated part of their own authority to the teachers, through the school board, and undermining the authority of a teacher is ultimately destructive to their own authority as well.
In the second place, the parents must be actively involved in what is going on in school. The parents are the ones who have to be active in board, school councils, committees, class visits, and any other activity where their involvement is possible. Again, Mr. Dykstra says valuable things about this:
We cannot leave the education of our children to “the experts” behind their closed classroom doors. We need to be involved in making ourselves aware of what our children are learning, both by asking our children, but also in perhaps paying a visit to their classroom. Being involved also means giving input on what curricular direction the school must take, and helping to keep the school running smoothly by sharing our talents and time. This parental involvement also takes the form of volunteer work in the trenches – in the classrooms! A strong volunteer culture in a school is a huge blessing to the students.
It is my strong hope that both the parents and the schools value this contact between parents and schools and teachers more and more. We should get a strong sense of ‘we are in it together’. It is not good to drop off the kids at school and then think that it is no longer your responsibility but the school’s. The school is not (or should not be) a big business that provides us the service of educating our kids, but it is a concerted effort of the parents to make sure that their children get the best education they can.
We see a tendency recently for the governments to want to have more influence in our schools, not only in what is being taught but also how it is being taught and by whom. We can expect that our governments will succumb to the constant push to have stricter anti-discrimination legislation and ministerial regulations also for independent schools, and in other ways, the governments will want to increase their influence on the schools. It is important for parents to know what is going on, and it may come to the point that we have to begin homeschooling again because the government does no longer allow us to have our own independent schools with our own Christian education. We hear stories about that from dictatorial countries like China and Muslim countries, but it can come quickly in our own western world as well. If that is the case and parents decide to turn to homeschool, then a school association would be of tremendous help for the parents in that, if it can provide means and instruction which the parents can use in their task to homeschool.
In North America, there are several organisations, many of them Christian, which support parents who are homeschooling. Seeing the political developments in our country the time may come soon that this is the preferred way to go for Christians. Let us be prepared to explore those possibilities so that we are flexible and can act quickly when the time comes.
Let us be thankful for the excellent work our schools and teachers are doing. There is an abundance of reasons for thankfulness that we can do this together as parents. At the same time, we must realise that the possibility of parental schools is relatively new (from the 19th century) and rather an exception than the rule. Satan and the world know very well the importance of having control over the schools and they will not cease to attack our schools. We must pray and trust in the LORD that He will provide and protect us in this battle. That does not mean, however, that we do not have to prepare for it. “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16).