Culture At Large

No Christian Student Left Behind

Josh Larsen

Kids are back at school, but for many Christian families, it’s not the same school they were a part of last year.

With under- and unemployment still widespread, some families of faith are no longer able to shoulder the cost of Christian education. I’ve seen it as a board member of Southwest Chicago Christian Schools, where significant time and effort has been spent the past few years working with parents who are struggling to keep up with tuition bills. Sometimes those bills become insurmountable and the schools and families must part ways.

The financial crisis has hit the schools as well, partly because of this loss of students. It would be wonderful if these institutions could keep struggling families on at a discounted rate or even for free, but that’s not a possibility if the schools themselves are to stay afloat.

Even in good times, the topic of Christian education can be divisive. The recession has only heightened this. Some might consider Christian schooling an unnecessary luxury these days, especially for families who already actively nurture their faith at church and home. On the other side, proponents of Christian schools might challenge a family’s financial priorities, wondering why, if things are so tight, parents wouldn’t sell a costly SUV instead of pulling a child out of a Christian school.

I hope we can move past those debates and instead address a more immediate concern: How can we assist those families who have had to give up Christian education and whose faith life may consequently face a gaping hole?

Fortunately, there are all sorts of folks who should be able to provide an answer. It would be great to hear from some of them here.

For instance, I wonder what educators – those working at both Christian and public schools – would suggest to parents who want to incorporate Biblical principles into their kids’ secular studies? How can going to school – a public one – be seen as an integral part of a child’s spiritual life, rather than an activity that runs parallel to it?

It would also be helpful to hear from Christian parents whose children have always attended public schools. How have they been able to incorporate their child’s faith into their school life while still respecting the separation of church and state? What challenges should Christian parents new to public education be prepared for? What unforeseen benefits might they be able to expect?

An interesting perspective might also come from parents and educators outside of the United States. What does “Christian education” mean for those living in other countries and how has it been affected by the global economic downturn?

At a time when public education in the United States is undergoing a major shift, as a recent Time magazine cover story detailed, Christian education is also at a crossroads. The loss of students due to the recession has become a crisis for many religious institutions. But that doesn’t mean it has to result in a faith crisis for those kids who have had to leave their Christian school.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Faith, Home & Family, Family