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While hall passes and tardy slips are still used in schools, violations of more important principles seldom have real consequences…

Not a Day Care: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth by Everett Piper (256 pages, Regnery Publishing, 2017)

Dr. Everett Piper’s Not a Day Care: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth[1] talks about the political correctness and the snowflake revolution on the college campuses. As president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Dr. Piper sticks up for the values of true academic freedom, of the search for beauty, goodness, and truth, of not capitulating to the modern leftist political ideologies plaguing our campuses. Safe spaces with bubbles, puzzles, Play-Doh, and coloring books are given to students unwilling or unable to handle a real intellectual debate, while students often confront speakers with conservative views with protests, shouting down the speaker, and even outright violence and vandalism. The student left of the 1960s has now become the professors of today, so idealism trumps real debate, real learning, real intellectualism. This happens not only on public campuses, as he reports incidences in places like his own university and Notre Dame.

While Dr. Piper concentrates on the private and public American university systems, we must also consider, is this happening in religious primary and secondary education today? Although not considered in his book, there are things in “Christian” (really Protestant) schools which we must consider. The other big religious schooling system in the U.S., the Catholic parochial schools, might also be guilty, but my own experience is with the former.

What has happened to discipline in our Christian schools? Staying after school, or detention, is rare these days. When a student does something worthy of discipline, the teacher might not have the privilege of detaining the student after school. Staying after school was the discipline of choice in public school half a century ago. Known as detention in junior and senior high schools, it provided an effective deterrent for minor infractions in public school, with suspension a strong possibility for more serious rule breaking such as fighting or smoking in the restroom. A teacher might be assigned detention, but only one teacher had to spend extra time proctoring it.

Now, look at today. Teachers are rarely allowed to hand out detention in today’s Christian schools. Few students walk to school, so such a punishment would inconvenience the parents picking up the students after school. A teacher might have to write a slip, resulting in an appointment with the administration, perhaps without the student, in which the case is discussed. This, of course, inconveniences the teacher, who is already stressed from overwork and from the pressures of working for subsistence wages. Discipline is often replaced by a talk with the student or the student’s parent, again adding to teacher workload. Tuition-paying parents can threaten to pull their children out of school, as administrators consider the price of watching many thousands of dollars walk out the door. To put it simply, everything is stacked against the teacher, against discipline, against really doing something that works.

Could this contribute to the snowflake mentality of today’s public and even private college campuses? Could we be turning our own Christian schools into places where discipline is poorly applied, where the students and their parents run things? The typical scenario is that a student tells his parents something, the parents believe him, the parents complains to the board or to the administration, and the last person to find out about it is the teacher. By that time, who knows how many other parents have heard the gossip. One street-wise student told me that when I discipline a student, he lies to his parents. The principal of Matthew 18, that parents must talk to the teachers first, is clearly stated as the policy of most Christian schools, but it is rarely followed. The teacher is the lowest person on a totem pole in which he or she should be the second from the top, below the headmaster.

Good behavior too often is not held as objective truth, but rather as something the teacher must coax out of the children. Parent-teacher conferences are sessions in wheeling and dealing, as different parents want different things, and teachers who do not comply, at least orally, are turned into the administration. The student’s self-esteem can be put above his academic success, and the teacher is held responsible for everything while the student gets a free pass in both academics and classroom behavior. Teachers and coaches who show real discipline, not meaning corporal punishment but expectations in academic success and student deportment, face termination. In other words, that which is old-fashioned, that which today’s older teachers grew up with, have become memories to be crushed should they ever show their heads today.

Teachers are expected to be the student’s friends. This youth ministry idea of education starts to create the environment condemned by Dr. Piper. In the issue of grades, teachers are under subtle pressure to inflate grades so as not to be confronted by angry parents. Our idea of “partnering with the parents” becomes one of capitulating to pressure. Teachers of math and science, the hardest subjects taught outside of engineering (which is normally reserved for college), become lightning rods for parental discontent. This contributes to the type of coddling that turns our children into people who think that good grades are a birthright.

Dr. Piper points to the public schools and to both public and Christian universities as having problems, but the Christian schools are partly to blame. Students in these schools might learn the right spiritual, ethical, and moral lessons as part of the curriculum. But do they learn that bad actions merit consequences? Their teachers are under pressure to inflate grades for students who can be pulled out if the parents are not satisfied. But worse, the bad behavior is dealt with by discussions, by teachers having to fill out paperwork and even having meetings, therefore inconveniencing themselves. The Bible, the books used, and the chapels make for a good curriculum, but in the midst of behavior that would not have been tolerated in anything other than inner city schools half a century ago. Students cannot study in the midst of the disruption that their classmates make and that goes undisciplined. How can we teach Proverbs, and expect students to believe what it teaches when today’s Christian high school students are allowed to act worse than elementary students fifty years ago? Proverbs 22:15 warns us that, “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” Corporal punishment is not the issue in most classrooms today. The rod of correction can be an hour’s detention. But Christian schools today have become so compromising today that real discipline has been replaced by ad hoc parent-teacher meetings, by trying to talk the students into good behavior, and by quoting scripture without backing it up with enforcement. These schools have really become part of the problem of immaturity in today’s youth.

Relationships have replaced obedience to rules. While hall passes and tardy slips are still used, violations of more important principles seldom have real consequences. Teachers are expected to win both students and parents before the students behave in an acceptable manner. Today’s aggression in earning good grades has put teachers on the defense, as parents often take an adversarial role towards those running the classrooms. In one case, parents backed up their children boycotting a sport in a Christian school after the principal suspended a student-athlete. Another Christian school is run by a church whose pastor does not believe in enforcing good behavior, for he believes that a student must be allowed to sin so that he can see his sin, which will bring him to Christ. What has happened in the public schools, which can be found in books such as Martin Gross’s The Conspiracy of Ignorance: The Failure of American Public Schools,[2] and articles such as “I would love to teach but…”,[3] is also part of the American Christian schools, even if not as extreme in Christian schools.

What can be done to stem the tide in our K-12 Christian schools? First, we must agree that the administration is in charge of the school, and that teachers are in charge of the classrooms. Administrators and faculty members must stop capitulating to parental demands to dumb down the curricula, inflate grades, or loosen discipline. These are often subtle demands, sometimes coupled with threats of student withdrawal. Second, schools must set reasonable behavioral standards and enforce them as strictly as the dress codes that many schools use. Third, there should be an explicit policy where the parent is not allowed to tell the teacher how to teach the courses, demands that they typically make while having their own children, not the demands of education in general, in mind. And fourth, we must realize that Christian schools are becoming like the college campuses which are being despised more and more as today’s social justice warriors get their way. While the theological, political, and philosophical beliefs of the Christian schools might not reflect those of the college campuses, the capitulation to popular demand, or more often, to individual demands, enforce the current belief in entitlement prevalent in society as a whole and too many college campuses today.

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Notes:

[1] Dr. Everett Piper. Not a Day Care: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth. Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2017.

[2] Martin Gross. The Conspiracy of Ignorance: The Failure of American Public Schools. Harper, 1999.

[3] Valeria Strauss. I would love to teach but… Washington Post, December 31, 2013.

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Published: Dec 10, 2017
Author
Howard Merken
A Bible school graduate, Dr. Howard Merken also holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in chemistry from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Texas Tech University. He and his wife Casandra authored the now out-of-print Beyond Classical: The Next Step in Christian Education. A science professor-turned-Christian school-math-and-science-teacher, Dr. Merken is dedicated to teaching people how to use their minds for the glory of God.
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1 reply to this post
  1. I am relieved there are some voices addressing this cultural issue in Christian academia. Capitulation to popular/individual demands is one of the key reasons why I am avoiding teaching positions in 90% of public schools and now half of Christian (Catholic/Protestant) institutions (classical is preferred). My high school years were split by the paradigms of expectations and self-esteem. The former was an atmosphere of transcending in the burning illumination of Christ. The latter was pubescence stagnated in shallow mores. How easy it is to go from true excellence to unaware mediocrity within less than a year of policy change. Sadly, it has only gotten worse with general parenting, a lack thereof. Blessed I am with a father and mother, whom sacrificed and cultivated in me a wonder for learning the many facets of His Creation.

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