The difference between a teacher using covenant theology and a teacher using Arminian theology can be a very complicated and mystifying thing to the ordinary Christian. I have had experience with both of these theologies, and what follows is an illustration that will be easy to understand, but also painful for an unrepentant heart to accept.
At Grace Community Schools, we have hired teachers claiming to be Reformed but whose teaching methods were decidedly Arminian. One of the best examples was a returned African missionary of 26 years' service. For a woman in her fifties, she seemed in good health, slender, with a smile so broad that one could pass a salad plate into her mouth with room to spare. She had the remarkable ability to smile and talk simultaneously, while her eyes remained constantly dilated and expressionless. Her voice was also very sweet, sort of a breathy sound like someone holding a microphone too close to one's mouth. She just radiated love for everybody and everything with about the same level of sincerity as a waitress. During the interview, the former missionary cooed and gushed constantly about how much she loved children. I explained to her that the rules and regulations in America's schools, particularly pre-schools, had changed drastically while she was away 26 years in Africa. Negative punishment such as paddling, a loud voice, or even a quiet voice telling children about their faults was now considered child abuse. Twenty years ago, a teacher could say, "You are a bad girl or a bad boy," or merely, "Shut up!" without so much as seeing a raised eyebrow from anyone, but in the present climate just calling a child "bad" would be considered destroying a child's self-esteem. To say "shut up" is considered by many to be a cuss word. Therefore, at Grace Community, our teachers use a technique called "soft talk." Basically this method is to reward good behavior and ignore the bad, instead of the usual approach to recognize bad behavior and ignore the good. With very young children, the technique works like a charm; with children above the third-grade level, however, it is less effective.
We send teachers into the classroom with trinkets, prizes, and a procedure to use the soft-talk technique. It takes time to master this approach, but a teacher can exercise control just as well using this technique as the old-fashioned, all-negative approach. Soft talk is Scriptural, because the word of God says to use "the rod and reproof." The old-fashioned teacher went overboard on the rod with very little reproof. We are just going overboard on the reproof instead of the rod. The negative aspect of discipline is actually still included, because, as we explained to our empty-eyed, smiling missionary, to withhold a reward or take back a reward already earned is an extremely powerful negative technique if done on a consistent Biblical basis.
The key ingredient of discipline is not whether you use the rod or reward, but that it is applied consistently according to rules known and understood by both the pupil and the teacher. What makes discipline Biblical is that the rules are drawn from God's law-word and that the teacher has goals designed by God's law-word.
We gave a video tape explaining this method to the missionary, and she showed up the next day claiming to have really loved the tape and that she really liked the system because it was so "loving." She was so happy to be associated with a school that used such a "loving" technique. She had with her a bag of marshmallows that she intended to use as rewards. Still smiling in vacant bliss, she went into the classroom.
Now, in all of our pre-school classrooms, the teacher is never in the classroom by himself, but always with another adult. So the following report was given to me by the teacher's aide. The smiling missionary presented her first lesson completely self-absorbed. She gushed praise and love all over the children. If emotion was rain, the children would have been drenched. The classroom remained under control (somewhat) at first, because the children, I suppose, were fascinated by the smiling spectacle before them. Soon, however, the students became restless, and the missionary stopped her lesson abruptly. She announced to the class, "You are all such beautiful, wonderful, good, little children, and you are all paying such great attention, that I just can't decide who is the best; and so to be fair and loving, I am going to give everybody in the classroom a marshmallow." So she bestowed her gifts and dismissed the class to the playground floating on a sea of artificial good feelings and emotion. The notion that she had just taught Christian socialism could not disturb the peace of a fool.
Well, needless to say, our missionary-teacher was a flop. Within two weeks, her class was a zoo unfit even for wild animals. She just couldn't understand why the children didn't respond to her love. "It must be because you take children from non-church homes," she sniffed, with a typical judgmental attitude. We knew her attitude was not likely to win souls. Her deeds cried to the Lord, "Where's the love?" and the Lord said back, "Where's the evangelism of a missionary?"
We decided to give her an office job, because after her 26 years of dead Reformed theology, we despaired of teaching her anything. After a few weeks of gushing on the parents, she announced that her church had need of her services. In spite of the fact that she loved us very much, she was going to leave, and with her wide smile still intact and her eyes as empty as ever, she floated out of our lives.
On further analysis, I have determined that such people as this missionary believe that all children are basically good; that all children, if you appeal to their better natures, will respond in love; and that if you give them all the same reward equally, you can eliminate competition and envy in the classroom, and allow self-esteem to reign supreme.
That is the theory, but the problem is that it doesn't fit the design of the Creator. Children are not all the same, except if you consider that all are born with a tendency to break the commandments in thought, word, and deed. If you reward them for breaking the commandments, they will sin with renewed enthusiasm; and if you fail to give them an incentive to stop sinning, they just won't try to change. The wonderful thing, however, is that teachers such as our empty-headed, smiling one are fired every day from schools all over the world, because children just won't pay heed to such a person. Teachers who survive in the classroom do so by molding the child toward the teacher's standard of good behavior.
I recall a ninety-pound teacher whom I had in the seventh grade. She was terribly homely, never smiled and walked with a limp, a disability that no one dared to make fun of to her face, but was a source of endless delight behind her back. Her class was quiet as a tomb. We all knew something terrible would happen if she singled us out. We were not quite sure what it was, but we feared it nonetheless.
In the afternoons, we went to the classroom next door for social studies (called history in those days) to be taught by a Navy World War II veteran. He was tall and well-formed and smiled like a football coach, but the Navy veteran had drunk deeply of modern educational ideas. He strived for fairness. Every classroom incident called for endless investigation. He loved to spout long speeches about equality and brotherhood. His grading was extremely liberal. All students passed, and no one had to worry about grades or anything terrible happening to him in his class. He lasted two grading periods, or about twelve weeks, and then went back to graduate school. The last I heard, he was a superintendent of schools of a large district in western Pennsylvania. The students fired him, you see, and now he is a supervisor of education. Isn't the government wonderful? The government promotes the fools and persecutes the righteous. Covenant theology, on the other hand, recognizes that all men are not the same. Some belong to the brotherhood of God; others to the brotherhood of Satan, and the division between the two is known by obedience to the Ten Commandments (Mt. 7:20).
Children blessed by the Lord are able to obey God's law. Obedience will help children earn higher status in this world and in the world to come. Those children who will not obey will become poor, habitual failures and progenitors of dysfunctional families. No teacher can transform a student from one brotherhood to the other; only Christ can do that, but a godly teacher can help a student to live a long life (Ex. 20: "Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee"); to be wealthier here on earth (Psalm 1: " . . . whatsoever he doeth shall prosper"); and to be wealthier in heaven (2 Tim. 4:7,8: "I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness").
Inequality is the rule in this life, and inequality will be the rule in heaven. Some will be wealthier than others, and even in hell some will be beaten with many stripes, some few. The teachers who want or have respect for the treasure of the Lord should study Rushdoony's Institutes of Biblical Law and learn to govern their teaching techniques by God's law. There are a lot of little children dependent for their well being on such a teacher. Beware! Our children will praise or accuse their parents and teachers at the judgment bar of God.