How can parents make sure their children don’t lose their faiths? Enrolling them in religious school is not enough. As a recent story from the BioLogos Forum makes clear, education ranges far beyond schooling. Too many hasty critics, religious and secular alike, have assumed that we can control education by controlling schooling. It’s just not that simple.
In the pages of the BioLogos Forum, college sophomore Garrett Crawford shared his educational story. Crawford was raised in a conservative evangelical household. He went to a Christian school, one that presumably hoped to shield Crawford’s faith from secularism. While at that school, Crawford relates, he grew curious about the scientific evidence for evolution. After a lot of reading and study, Crawford concluded that he could no longer believe in young-earth creationism. After a lot more reading and study, Crawford concluded that Christian faith does not require a belief in a young earth. It is entirely theologically legitimate, he decided, to accept the science of evolution.
In Crawford’s case, his education took him in directions his school never intended.
Such stories shouldn’t surprise us. After all, with just a moment or two of reflection, we can all think of ways that our “education” has differed from our “schooling.” Yet in all of our tumultuous educational culture wars, pundits rush to make sweeping claims about education based on scanty evidence from schools.
We’ve seen this recently in the pages of the New York Times, when philosopher Justin McBrayer declared–based on data that was not just slim, but positively anorexic–that Our Schools Were Training Amoral Monsters.
Among conservative Christians, too, this tradition of school-bashing has a long history. In the 1970s, for example, fundamentalist school leader A.A. “Buzz” Baker decried the tendency of many conservative Christians to rush into school-founding for the wrong reasons. In his book The Successful Christian School (1979) Baker warned that too many parents and pastors rushed to open new schools because they thought
Public education has failed! It is failing to provide a good academic education while exposing our children to a godless, secular-humanistic approach to life.
Leading young-earth creationists have long assumed that the best way to protect their children’s faith is by attending creationism-friendly schools. Ken Ham, for example, argued that Christian colleges and universities can lead students astray from true faith when they abandon young-earth thinking. As he put it,
the real issue concerns Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries that break away from the authority of Scripture in Genesis—held to by the majority of scholars up through the Reformation—and teach students that God’s Word doesn’t mean what it says. That’s what makes students doubt the truthfulness of the Bible as a whole, and can be a major reason many of them walk away from the Christian (not “creationist”) faith, as we see happening in our culture today.
From the other side, many secular or liberal critics insist that fundamentalist schools are nothing but indoctrination factories. As friend of ILYBYGTH (FOILYBYGTH) Jonny Scaramanga told the BBC, his fundamentalist schooling experiences were nothing short of “horrendous.” During his sojourn in a fundamentalist school, Scaramanga remembers, he did nothing but recite back theological nostrums. The school was so socially crippling, Scaramanga relates, for the rest of his life he was “always playing catch up.”
Scaramanga’s own case, however, shows that schooling of any sort is only one part of a person’s education. Scaramanga himself has now become a leading voice in the anti-fundamentalist education scene. Like Garrett Crawford, Scaramanga’s education took him in directions that his schooling never intended.
The take-away? Of course we should all care about the way schools operate. Better schools will help produce better educations for all students. At the same time, though, we all need to remind ourselves that formal schooling makes up only one slice—sometimes a small slice—of a person’s education.
How many of us, after all, can say that we came out the way our schools intended?