The Foundation of Phonics
"Would you please ask her to read that again?" This was the almost incredulous question asked by a young pastor and former public school teacher. He had just witnessed what he had been confident, up to five minutes earlier, was impossible.
The year was 1966, and Rev. Paul Lindstrom was meeting with an out-of-town Christian educator. The reader was this man's five-year-old daughter. Today, in 1998, this does not seem so remarkable, and the reasons for our nonchalance, to a great extent, can be traced to this cozy evening spent with friends in a Chicagoland suburb.
This single event was a catalyst in the formation of ideas on education that have greatly impacted the lives of nearly a quarter of a million children. What Paul Lindstrom discovered was the power of phonics. Educated by an establishment that was fast removing all traces of "traditional" teaching methods from the curriculum, Lindstrom had assumed that teaching was best left to the "professionals," and that they knew best how to accomplish the educational task. Suddenly, here was the proof that they were wrong. From this encounter, he determined that he would have to establish an alternative to the public school system, with phonics at the core of the curriculum.
School at Home
In nearby Hoffman Estates, Illinois, young Brian Barber was not doing well at school, and his parents were dissatisfied. Conversations with their friend Paul Lindstrom confirmed that there was a possible solution to their problem; it was decided that Brian should be educated at home, and so a home schooling program was begun. Soon, a fourth grade student from Chicago began to work with Dr. Lindstrom, and the program got its present name of Christian Liberty Academy Satellite Schools, shortened by most simply to CLASS.
As Dr. Lindstrom has noted in the past, "Home school programs are not a new concept. Correspondence schools have existed in the U. S. since the early 1900s," with several providing study material for missionaries and others out of the country. But while they tended to provide a student with single courses to augment public school curriculum, perhaps also due to a failing grade or early graduation, Christian Liberty Academy Satellite Schools were to be different. "Parents were encouraged to remove their K-12 children from public schools and, with or without local approval, simply teach them at home using a program that was specifically tailored to the individual student."
The Antithesis in Education
From the beginning, Dr. Lindstrom understood that the problem with the public school system was not just the shortcomings of the textbooks, curriculum, and experimental educational theories, but that the very system itself was a corrupting influence in the homes of Christians across the nation. Children were taught that they had to define the world and their values for themselves. The Faith of their parents was being systematically ignored, and philosophies antithetical to the Christian Faith were informing the world view modeled by most of the teachers. Little wonder that young adults were abandoning their churches and the faith they grew up in when they had been fed a steady diet of Marxism, Darwinism, and cultural nihilism, not to mention liberal and Arminian theology in their churches!
Meanwhile, God opened doors for the Church of Christian Liberty so that in the fall of 1968, the newly organized Christian Liberty Academy opened its doors to K through ninth grade students. The doors were those of the basement of the church, but the 50-plus on-campus students soon began to prove what "Pastor Paul" (as he is affectionately known) instinctively knew — "Basics are Best."
It was not long before the role of the home school ministry extended to every state in the Union, inquiries coming in on almost a daily basis. Reports of the quality of education children received were coming in almost as swiftly. Word of mouth, Mom telling Mom, Dad telling colleagues and fellow church members, the news of a better way of "doing it" was swelling the ranks of CLASS. One little known fact is that most of the early home schooling families from across the nation were recruited from among those involved with the "Remember the Pueblo Committee," which was formed in 1968 by Dr. Lindstrom in response to the capturing of the U. S. Navy ship Pueblo by the North Koreans. These patriots, determined to hold the State Department accountable for their disinterest in the treatment and release of the crew, organized rallies and distributed materials until the crew was released. Thus, in a real sense, activists who refused to allow civil government unrestrained sovereignty laid the foundation of the modern home school movement. Their principles, however, were soon to be sorely tried.
The First Confrontation
Inevitably, the "sleeping behemoth" awoke; some of its choicest morsels were being whisked away before he could devour them! Home school parents would find letters in their mailboxes from local school districts asking why Johnny or Mary was absent from school. Charges of truancy, child abuse, and contributing to the delinquency of minors were leveled. A few parents were imprisoned; some children were made wards of the state and removed from home; protracted court battles became inevitable. The call went out for help and, as Dr. Lindstrom notes, he "along with many others, traveled from courtroom to courtroom throughout the 1970s," speaking as an expert witness, defending the quality of the CLASS program, and upholding the right of parents to take care of the educational needs of their own children. Working with Dr. Lindstrom, and independently at that time, were John Whitehead, Michael Farris, William Ball, David Gibbs, and other attorneys to whom the Lord gave many significant victories. It was during this time that Paul Lindstrom met Dr. R. J. Rushdoony and like so many, including this writer, was permanently shaped by his message and his life.
With each new court case came interviews in the print and broadcast media, and with each new story came more new families, weary of the struggle, and yet invigorated by what they were reading and hearing. "If these kids can get their education back on track, so can my kids," they reasoned. Soon other "entrepreneurs" entered the arena and a newly revived home schooling movement began.
The Phenomenal Growth
God has been gracious since the small beginnings of 1967; as we cast an eye back over the past 30 years, we have much for which to be thankful. In 1985 the Lord sovereignly allowed the Church of Christian Liberty to purchase the former Arlington Heights High School. Into this 210,000-sq. ft., 12-acre campus moved CLASS, the day school (CLA) then numbering 175, and the church.
The Church of Christian Liberty was founded by Dr. Lindstrom in 1965, while he was a seminary student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois. Over the years, under God's hand, he has shaped the church into a self-consciously Reformed and Reconstructionist hotbed of Christian activism! From the beginning, 50% of the income of the church was earmarked for missions work, and consequently the Church of Christian Liberty has long-standing mission commitments in countries as diverse as Japan, Russia, the Middle East, Mexico, Korea, Hungary, and South Africa, with schools opened in Moscow and Surinam.
In 1995, soon after the Gulf War, CLASS families and others responded magnificently to the call for medical aid for children in Iraq who were suffering under the inhuman embargo placed on that country by the U. N. In seeking to put Saddam Hussain under political pressure, the U. S. in effect declared total war on the children of that nation. Although the U. S. Department of Treasury threatened to imprison Dr. Lindstrom and levy a $1.2 million fine for breaking its rules by preaching the Word of God and visiting homes to pray for the sick while on an earlier trip to Iraq, they eventually capitulated to the thousands of letters and phone calls from CLASS families, and gave permission for the 24,000 pounds of supplies to be shipped for distribution by the thriving indigenous Christian church.
"Operation Good Samaritan," as it was dubbed, illustrates the commitment that CLASS families have continually demonstrated to Christian activism. This, we believe, is no surprise. The CLASS curriculum developed for each child from his California Achievement Test scores emphasizes the Reformed world and life view, the only theological position that consistently leads Christians into meaningful and victorious interaction with the culture. As a result of using our curriculum materials, which includes many texts written and developed "in house," we have received testimonies of Mormons being saved, children's lives being turned from despair to hope in Christ, and students and parents turning from Arminian to Reformed theology.
The highlight of every year on the Arlington Heights campus is graduation week. We now have so many graduates from both the on-campus Academy and CLASS that we hold graduations on separate days. From all across the country, and foreign countries too, eager graduating students and proud parents make their way to their alma mater. Not only are CLASS students provided with a full-service curriculum and grading service, they can also travel to the Academy to receive their diplomas which are recognized by all colleges and universities. What a privilege it is to see so many home school graduates (806 in the graduating class of 1997)! What an honor to have a part in preparing them to take their place in their home, in their church, and in society!
So what of the future? We cannot rest, we cannot slow down, we cannot tarry on the road. As Cornelius Van Til anticipated, men are becoming increasingly epistemologically self-conscious. The shape of the arguments has changed, but the root of the problem remains — sin. Our educational establishment is embracing an ever more radical, anthropocentric self-consciousness. The truth of Romans 1 is being militantly manifested in the schools and institutions of higher learning on a daily basis. The question for Christians is no longer whether Johnny or Jane can read, or say a prayer in school, but whether parents will continue to allow their children to fall prey to the modern Moloch who devours their children one neuron at a time, and corrupts their thinking and their bodies. (Witness the boy-boy and girl-girl "marriages" conducted by a kindergarten teacher recently, or the Illinois teacher who systematically abused a thirteen year-old student, with the willing connivance of a school nurse who gave the girl contraceptive shots, knowing she was under age.)
The history of the church tells us that reformation will be built generationally through godly education, among other things. Christian parents cannot evade the responsibility of abandoning the public education system and either sending their children to good Christian schools, or to home school. There is no other option that can be justified.
Across the nation, and to a lesser extent, the world, home school materials are becoming increasingly available. However, with this comes an increasingly great danger. As home schooling has gone "mainstream," publishers of every stripe are flooding the market with curricula that ranges from the outstanding to "out to lunch." Every theological viewpoint is represented, or misrepresented, and this presents a unique challenge for the home school parent. Too often parents "experiment" with unproved texts, not knowing until too late that their child is floundering, or is imbibing neo-orthodox theology. CLASS addresses this very problem by providing "out of the box" a personally designed curriculum for each child, using tried and proven texts that inculate into a student Biblical principles from the Reformed perspective.
The challenge is before us. The Reformed community must press on in publishing quality texts that tell the truth about every subject. As Dr. Rushdoony has pointed out, however, we must not uncritically embrace "Classical Education." This basic form of education gave us many of the problems we have today, in terms of inculcating young minds with Greek and other pagan philosophies. A new way of educating our children must be developed that abandons, once and for all, the public school model without aping the pagan classicists, and truly educates the next generation of covenant children in the ways of the Lord.
Christian Liberty is committed to such a development. We believe, in God's grace, that the future belongs to those who are educated for it. Consequently, we now serve about 35,000 students in CLASS, and a minimum of 15,000 others through Christian Liberty Press, the publishing arm organized in the 1980s; and we have 800 students in the on-campus Academy. Additionally, we have enrolled about 100 students in Whitefield College, our four-year home school undergraduate program, organized in conjunction with Whitefield Theological Seminary, Lakeland, Florida. Our continuing mission is to provide inexpensive, quality education to those who desire to prepare themselves and their children for their part in taking godly dominion in every aspect of life and thought.
Dr. Lindstrom reclaimed the motto of the Jesuits for Church of Christian Liberty and its ministries: Ad Majorem, Dei Gloriam. May we all seek to educate the next generation, and ourselves, to ensure we do all things "to the greater glory of God."
For an information packet on the CLASS program, please call 1-800-read-121, or visit our web site at http://www.homeschools.org.
- Quentin Johnston
Rev. Quentin Johnston is married to Pam and the father of Lewis, was born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was involved in the pastoral oversight of a church in Edinburgh for fifteen years before coming to the U. S. at the invitation of R. J. Rushdoony to complete his M.Div. at Whitefield Theological Seminary, Lakeland, Florida. He is now Co-Pastor of the Church of Christian Liberty, Arlington Heights, IL. He serves on the board of Christian Liberty Academy Satellite Schools and Whitefield College and is National Director of SOS CLASSACTION.