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Teachers, Curriculum, Control: A "World" of Difference

By Dan Smithwick
April 30, 1999
This article was taken from a research project based on nearly a decade of PEERS Testing. The full report is available from Nehemiah Institute in booklet format. The report includes a table showing the differences in thinking on ten PEERS items between Christian school students and Christian students in public schools. This is data that should be read by all Christian parents and pastors to understand the degree that secular humanism and socialism is having on our youth. See ad for details.

Borrowed Ethics

The past three decades have witnessed a remarkable growth in private Christian education, both in Christian day schools and in homeschooling. The effort has not been in vain. Standardized test scores repeatedly show that students in private Christian education far outpace their counterparts in public schools. It is reported that all homeschool students applying at Harvard last year were accepted.1

On the other hand, public schools continue to deteriorate—academically, morally, and in safety. The number of shootings and killings (even by little boys) in public schools last year has shaken our nation into disbelief. We keep asking, “Why?”

This article is not an attempt to fully answer the question: “What has gone wrong in public/government schools?” Many good articles and books have already addressed that. I agree with those who say that the problem lies in the seed, not the plant. Responsibility for the education of children was misplaced over a century ago through the efforts of Mann, Dewey, et al. Christ-centered education was replaced with so-called child-centered education. When this transition began in the mid-nineteenth century, there still continued a strong Judeo-Christian ethic in the classroom. Prayer and reading of Scriptures were a normal part of the school’s activities. When state-run education began, it borrowed the spiritual capital present in schools and because of that, it “survived” for many decades.2

Speaking of early American educators, Rushdoony said, “Absorbed almost entirely in the process of education, as a rule, it never occurs to these good men that the concepts that they took for granted of a good society were purloined from the Christian heritage that they have studiously ignored or denied.”3 Without faith in God and fear of the Lord as a focus of education, spiritual capital was not being replenished. Now it appears that the spiritual capital has been spent and that the system is coming unglued. The apostle Paul gave us a clear warning: “And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). How long it can continue is uncertain, but some are saying the end of public/government education is near.

Strange Bedfellows

We assert the mixing of school and civil government is not only bad business, but also bad theology. Education of youth is simply not a civil government function, Biblically speaking. Government schools should not be reformed; rather they should be dismantled, though carefully. What is truly needed is a thoughtful plan for separating school and state.

It was precisely the mixing of school and government that was the heart and soul of Dewey’s pedagogical reasoning. In 1894 Dewey accepted the position of chairman of the Department of Philosophy, Psychology and Pedagogy at the University of Chicago. It was here that Dewey established his Laboratory School. As noted by education expert Samuel L. Blumenfeld, “Here was, indeed, a master plan, involving the entire progressive educational community, to create a new socialist curriculum for the schools of America, a plan that was indeed carried out and implemented—he put forth his collectivist concepts of an organic society, the social individual, the downgrading of academics (emphasis mine), and the need to use psychology in education.”4

In 1897 Dewey published his “My Pedagogic Creed,” in which he stated, among other beliefs:

I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living; I believe that education is the regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction... I believe that every teacher is a social servant set apart for the maintenance of proper social order and the securing of the right social growth. I believe that in this way the teacher always is the prophet of the true God and the usherer in of the true kingdom of God.5

Dewey got his wish—a messianic school system, but without the God of the Bible. What his messianic system has gotten us is a mess. As Blumenfeld stated, “More than ninety years have gone by since Dewey set American education on its progressive course. The result is an education system in shambles, a rising national tide of illiteracy and the social misery caused in its wake.”6

Supporting Our Own Demise

What I am addressing in this paper is: “Why are the vast majority of Christian families still supporting government-controlled education by enrolling their children in state-run, dumbed-down schools?” The answers are many. Reasons often given by families are lack of funds for private school tuition, no Christian schools available in the area, and inability to homeschool. I am certain these are real issues for many parents and that there is much anguish in having “no choice.”

But one answer I hear often from Christian parents that is troubling is, “Our public school really isn’t all that bad.” Parents support this view with observations such as 1) there are many Christian teachers in our school (probably some), 2) our children are doing well (meaning they are coming home with As and B’s), 3) training at home and church is keeping our children on track spiritually, and 4) there haven’t been any shootings at our school. But do these provide sufficient evidence that the command “Train up a child in the way he should go—” is being met? The work of our Institute says, “Not so.”

Worldviews Identified

Test results gathered by Nehemiah Institute give strong evidence that in public schools “Christian Johnny” is not being educated in the way he should go. These results are from a Christian worldview assessment service (PEERS Testing) provided to many Christian educators who are assessing how Biblical or non-biblical the students’ thinking is on culture-shaping issues.

The PEERS Test identifies primary worldview philosophies in Politics, Economics, Education, Religion, and Social Issues (PEERS). Views in each category are identified as belonging to one of four worldviews: 1) Biblical Theism, 2) Moderate-Christian, 3) Secular Humanism, or 4) Socialism. Most people operate with basic principles from one or more of these worldview philosophies. Other worldviews which may have shaped our thinking include romanticism, atheism, New Age, materialism, nihilism (denying existence), and pantheism (God permeates all). Each of these perspectives embodies a view on how man should live.7

What we all are commanded to live by, and what all men are judged by, is discerned under the Christian or Biblical worldview. This is God’s command for how man is to relate to him and to one another. The goal of education is to train up the child in the various disciplines according to a scriptural understanding of the subject matter. This is Biblical worldview education.8 It is objective truth for all disciplines, for all ages, for all times. PEERS Testing aids educators in determining to what degree students (and faculty) are comprehending Biblical worldview thinking.

Based on PEER S test results of thousands of students from nearly all states over the past 11 years, and from a variety of types of schools, we can objectively and statistically claim that public school students from Christian homes are not being trained in the way they should go. Overall PEERS scores for students in Christian schools vary from a moderate-Christian worldview to Biblical Theism. But scores from Christian-home students in public schools predominantly fall in the Secular Humanism or Socialism perspectives.

While many barometers indicate that public schools are failing, PEERS testing shows they may well be succeeding—toward the wrong goal! If the goal of public education is to institute a philosophy of state-controlled democratic capitalism (a short leap to socialism), as viewed by some,9 then I would have to say that government schools are close to claiming, “Mission accomplished.”

Three Pillars of Education

Differences in PEERS scores are not due to differences in religious training at home or at church. It is our opinion that the differences shown are primarily the result of three education factors:

1) Worldview brought to the classroom by the teacher,
2) Worldview presented in the curriculum (texts and tests); and
3) Worldview developed by observation chat education in public schools is under the control of state and federal governments.

State-run schooling turned teaching from a ministry into a secular vocation. Biblically speaking, teaching is both a calling and a gifting from God.10 The teacher is to be a master in his area of expertise, have good communication skills in presenting his knowledge and understanding, and ability to motivate his students to become lifelong learners. The work of the teacher is to aid the student in preparation for his calling in life such that God will be glorified. All teaching should he theocentric in focus.

However, with government-run education, the focus was changed to a secular and evolutionary view of life. With this change in focus, methodology of teaching took on new meaning. Consider the following comment from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (N.C.A.T.E.):

Why is Teacher Preparation Important? [title] Some people still believe in the discredited view that “teachers are born, not made.”—Our needs as a nation have changed, and Our expectations and requirements for teacher preparation must change with it. The movement for higher standards for student knowledge increases the need for teachers who are well-versed in the content which they plan to teach.11

This statement is telling. The government sees educators first as trained workmen in methodology and only secondly needing to know about what they will teach. With this view, education became a professional vocation complete with degrees (B.Ed., M.Ed., Ed.D. and D.Ed.).12 Educators were then state-certified, assuring others of their ability to “train up the child.” I believe this has led to expertise of subject matter giving way to technique of presentation, to some considerable degree.

I was a professional teacher in the military and in a Fortune 100 company. I also taught in public and private schools for a short period and have been teaching in adult Sunday Schools for over 25 years. It has always been my objective to be a master at what I was teaching and to be articulate in my presentations. I believe strongly in teacher preparation and in quality of presentation. Yet it has been my experience both in teacher training institutions and in the teaching profession to find many teachers who were anything but academically proficient in their field. Nevertheless they made a career of “teaching” with good classroom management skills and good teacher-pupil relationship skills. Sometimes not even with that.

The Heart of the Matter

The main problem in government-run education, I believe, is the focus it has established as a foundation for teaching as a profession. The government requires teachers to be anthropological in focus rather than theological. I still remember the “blank-slate, born-neutral” philosophy of children presented in education courses at North Dakota State University where I received a BS degree in math/education. One professor continually emphasized the view that all disciplinary action on children only inhibits their creativity! It was the teacher’s responsibility to “guide” the disruptive child into seeing his worth. The teacher training I received was immersed in such humanism. Denying children necessary discipline only enhances their misfortune and/or destruction.

Many, if not most, teachers in Christian schools received their education degree from state universities. Consequently, while being Christian in heart, they are often humanist in mind. And with most Christian schools requiring state-certified teachers, due to their choice of being state-accredited, the humanistic worldview comes in with the teachers. PEERS Testing has substantiated this in many Christian schools. This will be increasingly problematic as more parents move their children to private schools. The increased demand for teachers may cause Christian schools to lower their guard in faculty selection.13 I believe Christian schools need to seriously reevaluate the supposed benefits of state accreditation versus the restrictions applied to the school regarding personnel selection.

With the humanist evolutionary focus in state-run education, curriculum became a canned approach to dissemination of knowledge. We find limited texts (state approved), standardized lesson plans (talk about stifling creativity!), rote-memory tests, group instruction, etc. Teachers are no longer required to be masters of their subject and students don’t have to learn how to learn. For the student, the goal of education is getting from test to test to test until one day he can say, “Done with education.” A substantial amount of work must be done by pastors, teachers, administrators, and parents to reverse this mechanistic view of learning.14

Yet control of education is the greater culprit in my opinion. The perceived provider of education becomes the master to serve. The aim of the student is to please the provider (I learn what he wants me to learn so I can have access to other benefits). The “right” to state-controlled education encourages a view toward seeking other social “rights” which only the “master” can give. The very perception that government is responsible to the student for education cannot help but cause him to believe that the government should now ensure him a job, housing, healthcare, security, etc. “You made me, now take care of me.” This is the fruit of messianic secular education.

These three components of government schools—teachers, curriculum and control—have created an environment in which the worldview of a student from a Christian home is pulled away from Christianity and toward humanism. However, Christianity doesn’t have to be rejected outright in the public-school classroom nor does humanism have to be taught explicitly (e.g., quoting from the humanist manifestos) for this change in thinking to take place. It is simply the man-centered view of life presented in the child-centered classroom in preparation for the state-centered society that gradually shapes the anti-Christian mind.

One scholar who saw it coming was Dr. A. A. Hodge of Princeton Seminary. A century ago he said;

I am as sure as I am of Christ’s reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of national education, separated from religion, as is now commonly proposed, will prove the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of anti-social nihilistic ethics, individual, social and political, which this sin-rent world has ever seen.15

Could anything have been more prophetic? I believe PEERS Testing corroborates Dr. Hodge’s concern.16

Frog in the Kettle

The move from Christianity to humanism in public schools has been a quiet and slow revolution.17 This is what traps so many Christian parents into believing that their public school is safe. The attitude, “If public school was good enough for me, it’s good enough for my children (or grandchildren),” is pervasive among Christians. But after 12-16 years of “education” in a socialist-styled environment, most students will become functional humanists for life even if they remain in the church.18

I do want to say here that by Cod’s grace and mercy, and by the work of faithful, dedicated parents and teachers, many students have achieved a good education in some public schools and are faithfully serving the Lord in their calling. This is in spite of their socialist-styled education environment. As a nation, however, we are badly missing the mark. Ironically, even the U.S. government issued a report saying so: “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war . . . we have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinkable, unilateral educational disarmament.”19

It is also worth noting that the test items listed in this study, as with nearly all PEERS test items, are issues not directly taught in any subject in school (public or private). Yet results show there appears to be a consistent pattern in thinking about self, family, and government which is developed from applying the Scriptures to academic studies, as occurs in Christian schools. This pattern becomes confused or reversed when the Scriptures are removed from education, as in public/government schools. Applied truth from the Scriptures makes the difference.

The educational environment of public schools sways students toward humanist and socialist views even though they come from homes and churches where those views are rejected. Given the lack of Biblical worldview training in most families and churches, especially in youth groups, 1 suspect it is not much of a contest.

Upon careful study of the results in the sample test items I believe you will be appalled at the thinking of public school students. If this study represents the mindset of the majority of youth from Christian homes in America, which I believe it does, it is hard to imagine the amount of spiritual darkness that will exist in our land in the next 20-40 years. What will make them think differently after high school?

No Choice

For many parents and pastors reading this article, I believe the response would be “I agree, but we have no choice—public school is our only option.” I can personally identify with this position. In response to this, a few comments are in order:

1) Even though the education of our children may be formally in the hands of government schools, we are still responsible for their education. We cannot lay the blame for poor education or anti-Christian views or immoral behavior of our children at the feet of others.
2) There are a few excellent training institutes available to Christian families to counter the humanist and socialist philosophies in public education. Listed below are three organizations providing Christian worldview training to youth:
Summit Ministries P.O. Box 207 Manitou Springs, CO 80829 (719) 685-9103
Worldview Academy 219 N. Main, Suite 408 Bryan, T X 77803 (409) 822-5045
Strategic Christian Services 2220 Northpoint Park Santa Rosa, OA 95407 (707) 578-7700
PEERS Testing in these groups demonstrate that their programs are effective in training students how to reason from the Scriptures to right understanding on a wide variety of political, economic, and social issues.
3) Self-paced independent study can be done at home by parents and students. We offer a course entitled Developing a Biblical Worldview (DBW) which works well in a home setting. I have used this with two of our children at high school level and saw firsthand how it helped them to spot humanism in their studies and become firm in Biblical reasoning.
4) I strongly recommend The Noah Plan from the Foundation for American Christian Education (F.A.C.E.). This is a comprehensive Christian education program for grades K-12. Although it is a curriculum designed for day schools and homeschooling, many of the resources used are excellent for independent home study. See endnote 8 for the address of F.A.C.E.
5) Two other excellent resource centers are American Vision, 10 Perimeter Way B-1, Atlanta, OA 30339, (770) 988-0555 and The Wall Builders, P.O. Box 397, Aledo, TX, 76008, (817) 441-6044.
6) And of course we recommend the ministry of Chalcedon. A regular diet of the writings from contributing scholars appearing in Chalcedon Report, as well as of the book and tape offerings will build a mighty fortress against the enemy.

Tears and Sorrow

Parents and pastors need to realize that their children in public schools are being trained up into another world—a world hostile to the Christian Faith. Not only will this produce a culture that will not be blessed by God, but also one that his own faithfulness may require him to destroy. “Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD shall send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you” (Dt. 28:47,48). Such was the plight of Israel over and over.

In church after church one finds horror stories of how children from good Christian families have gone astray. We are personally aware of several situations where parents had faithfully served their church, kept their children in Sunday school and made sure they were active in youth groups. And yet, upon graduating from public schools, the children would leave home and turn, against Christian teaching. Often times the children were living in a manner bringing much shame and hurt to their parents. We have prayed and cried with close friends finding themselves in this situation. The question asked is, “Where did we go wrong?” It sounds cruel, but the real answer is that we have allowed pagans to be substantially involved with the training up of our children. With 2-3 hours per week of Christian training at home and church, it is simply no match against 35 hours per week of humanism found in most courses in public school.

Yet we are not without hope. God has always been in the business of making something out of nothing. The Lord is a master at redemption and restoration. If we will cooperate and pick up our responsibility as parents, and as the Church of Jesus Christ, education will be redeemed. But we are going to have to make some hard decisions and walk away from some bad situations.

If your family is actively involved in a Christian church and your children are in public schools, I encourage you to utilize PEERS Testing to begin the process of evaluating where your children rank in worldview understanding (see endnote for ordering information20). Testing should then be followed with home or church-based training using some of the materials listed above.

Pastors—Call to Action

Our family has moved several times in our 31 years of marriage. This has resulted in being members of several churches and having close relationships with many pastors. One common denominator I’ve found with all pastors we have had—none of them were looking for more work! I recently read a report that said the average pastor works six nine-hour days per week. So it is difficult for me to say to pastors that more work must be done. But I have to. Maybe not more work, but at minimum redirecting priorities of time and financial resources.

Martin Luther once said, “If we are correct and right in our Christian life at every point, but refuse to stand for the truth at a particular point where the battle rages—then we are traitors to Christ.” I believe PEERS testing is uncovering a “particular point” for our age. Our youth are being taken captive, especially at the junior high and senior high grade levels in government schools, and the church is being robbed of her future. Pastor, this is a battle in which you must enter!

I am well aware that speaking against public schools from the pulpit is difficult, if not “political suicide.” But it can and must be done. One of our dearest pastor friends is senior pastor of a large Southern Baptist Church in Kentucky. There are many public school teachers in his church and his wife teaches in a public school. Yet I’ve heard him speak often about the battle that is raging in schools. A few years ago this church opened their doors to a large Christian school and now the transition from public to private education is under way. Pastors need to educate their flock about humanism and socialism, and about the church’s responsibility to confront error wherever it is found.

Parents and grandparents must be told that “their school” (the public school that didn’t hurt them?) doesn’t exist any longer. They must also be told that it was “their school” which produced the seed that now has blossomed into a humanist fruit-bearing tree. The history of what happened to education in America must be taught and now the war must be fought.

Conclusion

Government-run education is bankrupt. It has exhausted whatever spiritual/moral capital it once had. Government-run education is living (and dying!) proof of Jesus’ claim—But he answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God’“ (Mt. 4:4). No word, no life.

Teachers, curriculum and control of education make all the difference in the world—they make a worldview. Every student is going to come out of school with some worldview. It appears that a primary goal of the government school (perhaps even from the beginning) has been to make sure that it wasn’t a Biblical worldview.

I will add here that results of PEERS testing over the past decade shows that a wide difference in Biblical worldview understanding exists even among Christian schools.21 For a host of reasons, the humanist worldview has found its way into Christian education. We can’t just move our students to a different school setting, add prayer and a chapel service, and expect the problem of humanism to disappear. The issues of teacher training and curriculum development are still major problem areas for most Christian schools. Even the issue of control is a problem in Christian schools. Frequently parents simply switched the control of the education of their children from one school board to another and left the responsibility for education of their children to others.

Furthermore, test results from a few Christian schools have even fallen below the average of public school students. Much work remains to be done in Christian education but overall results show the effort is well worth the cost in time and money. Nevertheless, time is of the essence. Each new kindergarten class that enters into the government, humanist system of education is being trained to go against the Christian Faith. If they stay through high school, most of them will live their lives as trained humanists. They will side with relativism and shun absolutes. The Bible will be gone.

If at all possible, Christian families and Christian pastors must make the decision to walk away from government-run schools and place their children in an environment of instruction in the word of God by the people of God.

  1. Statement made by representative of Elijah Company at a 1998 homeschool convention in South Dakota.
  2. Perhaps among the best writing as to this, and some other issues related to American state-run education is: The Messianic Character of American Education by Rousas J. Rushdoony (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1963).
  3. ibid., xii.
  4. Samuel L. Blumenfeld, “Revolution via Education,” The Journal of Christian Reconstruction (Vallecito, CA, 1991), 158.
  5. John Dewey, “My Pedagogic Creed,” in The Early Works of John Dewey (Southern Illinois University Press, 1972), Vol. 5, 84-85 (as recorded in same article referenced in note 4).
  6. ibid., 159.
  7. For a fuller treatment of these worldview philosophies, see my chapter in The Media-Wise Family by Dr. Ted Baehr, available in most Christian bookstores. If you really want to know what the entertainment industry is doing to the American family. Dr. Baehr’s insights, as an “insider” in the movie industry, are must reading. I also recommend that you visit their web site: www.movieguide.org.
  8. Two educational programs providing superior Biblical worldview education, according to PEERS Test results, are Principle Approach and Classical Christian. For further information on Principle Approach, contact FACE, P.O. Box 9588, Chesapeake, VA 23321 (www.face.net); for Classical Christian contact ACCS, P.O. Box 9741, Moscow, ID 83843.
  9. Andrew Sandlin, Explicitly Christian Politics, (Pittsburgh, PA: The Christian Statesman Press, 1997), 54.
  10. God has revealed teaching to be a particular ministry of the church by equipping some people with special teaching ability (Rom.l2:7; I Cor. 12:28,29; Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:2.24; and Jas. 3:1).
  11. See homepage for the N.C.A.T.E. www.ncate.org/about/whyprep.html.
  12. This is surely not to imply that all individuals with education degrees have gone on the wrong path but rather to point out that apart from Biblical truth, professional methodology will only hasten the path to destruction.
  13. A significant value in PEERS Testing for Christian schools is to use it as a “screening tool” for recruitment of teachers. It is unique in identifying the worldview which the teacher will be bringing into the classroom. The Institute also offers a self-paced worldview training course entitled Developing a Biblical Worldview, which can serve for in-service training of new faculty.
  14. Two excellent readings on learning are The Education of fames Madison by Mary-Elaine Swanson (The Hoffman Center, Montgomery, AL, 1992) [(205)272-1530], and Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning by Douglas Wilson (Crossway Books, 1991).
  15. A. A. Hodge, Popular Lectures on Theological Themes (Philadelphia, 1887), 283.
  16. Nehemiah Institute offers a set of Position Papers giving scriptural support for the scoring of statements used in PEERS testing. Papers are available on items most frequently missed by students.
  17. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (Bantam Books, 1992), 19.
  18. Relevant here is the current debate (fight?) in the United Methodist denomination over the issue of homosexuality in the church.
  19. ANation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, A Report to the Nation and the Secretary of Education, United States Department of Education by The National Commission on Excellence in Education (Washington, D.C., 1983), 5.
  20. PEERS Tests are available in two versions: Junior high (BAD), S9.00 and Senior high/adult (AA12), S12.00. S/H free if ordered from this article by including memo “PEERS Study-98” on check. Send to: Nehemiah Institute, 3735 Harrodsburg Rd, #150, Lexington, KY 40513.
  21. A very excellent report on differences among Christian schools, from PEERS testing results, appeared in the Fall 1994 issue of Principle Approach Education (Vol. 1, No. 2), written by historian and author Charles Hull Wolfe, Ph.D. A copy of the article may be obtained by contacting the Foundation for American Christian Education, P. O. Box 9444, Chesapeake, VA 23321-9444, or calling (804)488-6601.

Topics: Education, Culture , Biblical Law

Dan Smithwick

Dan Smithwick is President of Nehemiah Institute. The institute is a research and educational private foundation providing worldview testing and training materials to Christian educators. He has been guest speaker on several Christian radio shows. He is married and has five childen. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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