The “Christian” Classroom

Why might someone who’s not religious want to send their kids to a faith-based school?

“Teachers are one of the few groups of people in society who can tell other people what to do in their discretionary time and – by and large – they obey.” 

Education is among our core activities as a society – so it’s unsurprising that it can be a battleground for all sorts of ideas. 

David I. Smith is Professor of Education at Calvin University, and he has spent decades thinking about how education really forms people. He says that there’s no such thing as a “vanilla” or “neutral” education – and that even a maths or a French textbook will imply a whole way of seeing the world and other people. 

“We spent a lot of time learning how to say in French and German, ‘This is my name. This is my favourite food. I like this music. I don’t like biology. This is what I did last weekend. I would like two train tickets to Hamburg. I would like the steak and fries. I would like a hotel room for two nights.’

So the implicit message of the textbooks was that the reason why we learn other people’s languages is so that we can obtain the goods and services that we deserve and so that we can tell people about ourselves … It’s not really imagining us as people who listen to other people’s stories or as people who care about the members of the culture we’re visiting who don’t work in hotels, or as people who might want to talk about the meaning of life and not just the price of a hamburger.”

Given that about a third of Australian schools are religious, and that faith-based education is the subject of nervousness on both the left and right of politics these days, it’s worth asking: why do parents who aren’t religious want to send their kids to Christian schools? What’s the content of a “Christian” education? And what happens when religious schools get it wrong?