Tuesday, January 25, 2022

An old idea in the new world. . .

We have lived for too long in a new world in which school is online and the student and the teacher's aide (the parent) sit together at the kitchen or dining room table.  The screen is there, to be sure, but so is the parent -- not only aiding in the lesson but listening to what is taught.  Some public schools have found this disconcerting and view the parent as an outsider in the education process and even a "domestic terrorist" when the things being taught are questioned or challenged.  As schools return to normal, the normal has an asterisk.  Now the parents are more aware of what is in the curriculum and what is not.  The students and parents are aware that many view the online perspective pretty much the same as the in person kind.  And the teachers and education professionals who promoted online classes know that this is not quite the substitute for in person learning that we thought.  That, coupled with the quickness of private and parochial schools to return to in person classes, have caused many to rethink the whole business of public education.

In America it has a more recent vintage.  Perhaps about the time the Missouri Synod was being formed the idea of public schools began to have traction.  These were not the individual classrooms that we think of but more of a one room school, a multi-graded classroom, with a teacher who had little more formal education than the students in the room.  Schools were always places of indoctrination.  Early on they were tools to inculcate the ideals of a young America, the shared values of a Protestant culture, and the duties of a free society.  It did not take long for Roman Catholics to figure this out and begin their own indoctrination centers called religious schools.  The Lutherans followed, learning quickly that the key to religious instruction was to connect the faith to a worldview and a sense of life that was formed from the Scriptures and the Catechism.  Funny, the rest of America was not so sure that religious schools were legitimate and it took a court decision in 1925 before theses schools had a sure constitutional foundation.

The times have caught up with us.  The rise of homeschooling and the variety of private schools competing with public is nothing less than astounding.  With this birth of choices has come the inevitable cry for tax money to be returned to the parents to finance the choices and, with some success, the voucher has been an invaluable benefit to those who did not have the funds to pay for it.  Even more choices are beginning.  Homeschoolers are banding together to form coops in which the home is but one classroom in the larger endeavor.  Microschools are bringing back the one room school and giving us another version of the future to consider.  Lutherans might well pay attention to these.  Parishes that once had or who never had a parochial school could be of assistance to these micro versions of a religious school.  They do not require either the capital or the overhead that brick and mortar schools that attempt to duplicate everything in the public school.  And there is the classical alternative.  Lutheran classical schools can also offer a choice to the parish as well as to the family -- it is a powerful choice that could alter the very kind of education people have come to expect and our children need.

All of these are particularly attractive to those who see the schools as places indoctrinating students into values and truths that are in conflict with their faith.  The growing distance between local control and the long reach of the federal government with its mandates and money feeds into the narrative that the public school is taking your children away from you.  The election in Virginia recently proved that parents do not like being told to put up and shut up when it comes to public education.  This is because America no longer enjoys a consensus on what our values are or ought to be and what truths are true for all and for all time.  The more this conflict grows and the division becomes entrenched, the more opportunity there is for religious schools to enjoy a resurgence.  If we are ready and willing to jump on this possibility, we might find ourselves a real choice to offer our people and a real chance to change what our children learn, value, and believe about the world around them.

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