School

This morning we're going to be looking at the school in our series "Christ over all". "Education, education, education." The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, (without any trace of a leak or a lobbyist) said that they would be his government's three priorities in office. But what kind of education if Christ is over all? Is the school and education seen as merely the path to secular salvation? Certainly it is important that academic and skill standards are raised, not least in this city. And church schools with good leadership and a clear Christian ethos are often leading the way in the league tables. Certainly it is important that children learn to read, not least of course so they can read the Bible and the new literacy hour is to be commended. But what about the values in education? What about a commitment to truth and moral absolutes? Jesus Christ says, "I am the truth". Interestingly Lord Shaftesbury was opposed to the development of state education in the 19th century because he believed it would be to the detriment of specifically Christian education. Are we in danger of creating what Luther called 'clever devils'? And what will that mean for our society? As one headmaster from this congregation has written: "Schools will collapse under moral relativism and an absence of spiritual truth. Our society will also collapse without commitment to shared values and beliefs. Furthermore behind all our concern for discipline, learning and standards lies a deeper spiritual and moral issue. Schools will be unable to operate unless we restore the family as the basic building block of society and the place in which faith and values are fostered". And this morning I want to focus on the responsibilities of Christian parents to their children, to their school and to the state in terms of education. Whilst not forgetting teachers, churches and grandparents and the opportunities there are in school. Are we concerned about what our children are learning? Or are we only concerned about academic standards? Are we concerned for Christian education and for an education which doesn't undermine the values which you have taught your children? Are we involved in our children's education or do we just leave it up to the professionals? Or do you perhaps feel excluded from your children's education? And what about the responsibility of choosing a school? When Anna and I moved back up here in January one of our major concerns was Christopher's schooling. He'd started his reception year in a small C of E school in Stoke-on-Trent in a class of 18 where Jesus and the gospel were talked about every day. Newcastle LEA informed us that his local primary school was full and suggested the next nearest school. That school told us that assemblies were not a priority and apologised to us that they had to be mainly Christian. Academically there were problems too. On appeal Christopher was able to go to his local school. But it's an issue isn't it? How we need to pray for parents and their children and for teachers and schools. So first, PARENTS' RESPONSIBILITIES TOWARDS THEIR CHILDREN Look at v.4 of Ephesians ch. 6:

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Fathers then have a particular responsibility to bring up their children in the training or discipline and instruction of the Lord. Paul here, in contrast to the Roman autocratic model of fatherhood, sees Christian fathers as self-controlled, gentle and patient educators of their children. And that "human fathers are to care for their families as God the Father cares for his". (Stott, p.245) Yet how easy it is for we fathers to exasperate our children when we are around and how difficult it is to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord when we are often out or away. Perhaps we have to re-examine our priorities. Some schools are now actually wanting fathers and grandfathers to help out in the classroom because of the lack of male teachers. Mothers are also to be involved in bringing their children up in the training and instruction of the Lord. The original word for fathers does indeed mean father but can also mean fathers and mothers and in vv.1-3 Paul refers to parents. Paul says that it is the duty of parents to bring up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord not just the duty of church and school. Yes Christian parents can delegate some of their responsibility to church and school but not all of it! See Deuteronomy 6:1-9 for the vital importance of the home in nurturing faith. Yes children spend a lot of time at school but spend far more time at home. And when parents do delegate some responsibility to church and school they are still to be involved and interested in appropriate ways. By asking what they're doing in Scramblers and Climbers, by encouraging the Explorer leaders etc. etc. By examining carefully the possible school options. By finding out what your child is learning at school. By volunteering to help in the school. By asking what RE they are doing if any. Surely schooling must be a partnership between schools and parents. And if schools can get the backing of their parents then that can benefit the school in numerous ways - in terms of discipline, resources, achievement etc. This verse also implies that parents need to spend time with their children to be able to bring them up, to educate them and discuss their faith and help them with reading etc. In Martin Lloyd-Jones' exposition of these verses he states that failure to do so causes problems later. He puts it bluntly: "If parents but gave as much thought to the rearing of their children as they do to the rearing of animals and flowers, the situation would be very different". (Life in the Spirit, p.290) And how should parents bring up their children? How are they to educate them and train them? As we saw at the beginning of this section and as it says in v.4 - "in the training or discipline and instruction of the Lord". First, then, parents are to literally train their children by discipline. The original word means training with an emphasis on the correction of the young. In Hebrews 12 it is used of both fathers and God the Father who discipline their children for their good. So there is a clear need for right discipline and punishment in the home as indeed there is at school. The Old Testament is clear about this need. Proverbs 13:24 says,

He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.

However we must be careful - certainly in our society we suffer from an absence of right and consistent discipline but this verse does not justify excessively stern and cruel discipline. Rather it calls for balanced, consistent and controlled discipline. Sion Jenkins who was convicted of the murder of his foster child Billie-Jo the other week was evidently frequently handing out harsh discipline to his children usually in fits of temper and ended up murdering one of those in his care. "Parents", writes Stott, "must be clear about their motives when disciplining. It is always dangerous for them to discipline their children when they are annoyed, when their pride has been injured, or when they have lost their temper". As Martin Lloyd-Jones puts it: "When you are disciplining a child, you should have first controlled yourselfWhat right have you to say to your child that he needs discipline when you obviously need it yourself? Self-control, the control of temper, is an essential pre-requisite in the control of others". (Ibid. p.279) Secondly the Christian upbringing of children includes instruction. This certainly runs counter to one fashion today which encourages parents and teachers for that matter to be non-directive, to leave children to find their own way. Now some parents can still go to the other extreme and be too domineering So what is the balance? What is meant by instruction? Well in the words of one commentator, "We have to distinguish between true and false education. False education is indoctrination, in which parents and teachers impose their mind and will on the child. True education, on the other hand, is stimulation, in which parents and teachers act as a catalyst, and encourage the child to make his own responses. This they cannot do if they leave the child to flounder; they have to teach and explain Christian values of truth and goodness, defend them, and recommend their acceptance, whilst not pressurising or coercing". Parents are to bring their children up in the training and instruction of the Lord - praying and reading the Bible with them, bringing them to church and modelling the Christian life. Then the prayer is that through this they will naturally come to know and obey Jesus themselves. We greatly rejoice when they do and carry on praying for those who don't. (Lam. 2:19) And how important coming to know and obey Jesus is for their education-for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, the beginning of knowledge and as Job 28:28 states: "the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom and to shun evil is understanding". How people today need to know that, parents, teachers and educationalists. Which leads on to my next heading. Secondly, PARENTS' RESPONSIBILITIES TOWARDS SCHOOL Though first of all I do also want to stress the responsibilities of and opportunities for all Christians to be appropriately involved and praying for schools, teachers, children and young people so please don't switch off if you're not a parent! After all everybody aged between 5 and 16 goes to school. We should be concerned for those young people, for those who are teaching and influencing them and about what they are learning. 90% of them do not go to church and have never ever been to a Sunday service. If we are to reach young people with the good news of Jesus Christ, with the fact that Jesus is the truth then we have to be involved in schools and education. Jesus says in Mt 5:13-16 that we are to be salt and light in society and therefore in our schools. And at the moment there are still many opportunities for parents and churches to be involved in schools in all kinds of ways. So let's look at Mt 5:13-16 to direct our thinking. In v.13 Jesus says that his disciples are the salt of the earth. Now salt in the ancient world was used as a preservative and of course it also added flavour. So what is Jesus saying? He's saying that "apart from his disciples the world turns ever more rotten and Christians therefore have the effect of delaying moral and spiritual decay. If their lives conform to the norms of verses 3-12 of Mt 5 then they cannot help but be an influence for good in society". (Carson, p.34) This surely applies to our involvement in schools. As schools face the problems of our decaying society and as they themselves in some cases are part of that decay how important it is that Christians are involved and stand in the gap. How important it is that Christian parents take an interest, go in to help and support where possible, build relationships and ask questions. For the sake of their own children and also for the sake of the others. How important it is that Christians consider teaching as a vocation, as a calling. How important it is that churches pray and support teachers and schools. How else are many unchurched young people to know the truth? And know right from wrong? Yet are we in danger of losing our saltiness in education? Much has been achieved here in the North East but we must not be complacent. Schools are changing. Special education action zones may bring in Saturday schooling etc. How long will the doors remain open? Parents and others are to be salt. Many schools today like to think of themselves as neutral places in terms of creed. There is an emphasis in some on political correctness. Some schools are hostile to the Christian faith as was the one I used to teach in. In that same school now there is no RE and no assemblies. But in reality there is no such thing as a neutral classroom in school and in general secular humanism is the creed. Moral and spiritual relativism is widespread. Christianity is seen as intolerant in some schools. In one High School where there is a Muslim group meeting they will not allow a schools worker in to run a Christian group unless the students request it. And while the place of RE and assemblies is stronger than ten years ago, especially in primary schools, it is being questioned by some and even in primary schools the Christian content is weak. OFSTED the schools inspection service reported in 1997 that only one third of schools had very good behaviour compared with two thirds of schools 5 years earlier. There are issues too concerning sex education and books used in English as well as other concerns across the whole curriculum in terms of moral and spiritual education and what some call the hidden agenda. Now obviously I don't want to knock everything that schools do. Some things are excellent. We need to support schools where possible. Some schools face very difficult situations. Teachers have to cope with many of the problems of today's godless society. And as parents or as Christian teachers or as school governors we can't simply throw up our hands in horror and say its all the school's problem. We are to be salt.We are not to lose our saltiness. So how practically can parents and others be salt in their school? As parents or as professionals (such as accountants) you can serve on the governing body of the school, a body which appoints the staff of the school and works with the senior management of the school in determining school policy. As a parent you can be a member of the PTA and both be seen to be a supporter of the school and take the opportunity to ask questions about assemblies, RE, sex education and the moral and spiritual education. And you can ask the same questions as a parent even if you're not on any committees. But get involved with your school first - don't just be seen as an awkward troublemaker. Be an effective witness and add flavour. Help in the school if you can - offer to help run a Christian group. John Stephenson and Dot Lee the SU Tyneside Schools worker can advise you on how to do so. Salty parental support of a school can also help its academic record - witness the number of church schools at the top of the league tables. Committed salty Christian teachers can also make an impact. Perhaps God is calling some of you here this morning to be teachers. The numbers going into the profession are falling again. How important it is that Christians are in there. Following on from that look at vv.14-16 of Mt. 5. Christians are also the light of the world. We are to let our light shine inside and outside the school gates as Christian mums and dads mix with the other parents. If we do then the darkness of this world, of our schools can be pushed back and others will see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven. What is this light by which we as Jesus' disciples lighten a dark world and a dark school? Jesus says here that it is the good deeds which we perform. Then some will recognise that we are followers of Christ and praise our Father in heaven. So let our light shine in our schools. Again let's be prepared to get appropriately involved. To do good deeds whether that's helping to hear people read or at a policy level. Or helping to run a CU. Then at least some children, staff and other parents will see and praise God and even come to worship him. And some schools can be a light to others. Keeping this passage in mind we move on to my third and final heading. Thirdly, PARENTS' RESPONSIBILITIES TOWARDS THE STATE As Christians whether we're parents or teachers or church leaders we are to be salt and light in terms of national school and educational policy. I've mentioned already that OFSTED say that behaviour in our schools has deteriorated quite significantly in the last 5 years. At least 1000 teachers are assaulted each week. Some children and parents now turn to suing teachers. The solutions for teachers are few when it comes to discipline. This partly results in the rising number of exclusions from our schools. Part of the problem is that schools have to adopt humanistic behaviour and discipline policies which are based on the assumption that children are essentially good. This of course runs counter to the biblical view of man which says we are fallen and sinful. Proverbs 22:15 is surely a wiser basis for policy. It says,

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.

Consistent and controlled discipline. Within the state one of the roles of schools as well as of parents is to restrain evil and apply justice which implies punishment for wrong doing.We are also, as we were hearing last week from Romans 13, to be good godly citizens submitting to the God ordained state authorities unless they cause us to disobey God. At present the laws of the land regarding RE and acts of collective worship do strengthen the teaching of the Christian faith and create opportunities for Christians to be involved in schools. The law says that RE, which should reflect the fact that in this country the religious traditions are in the main Christian, should be taught to all in full time education except for those withdrawn by their parents. The law also says that acts of collective worship should be provided every day for all and that they shall be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character. And as parents we can ask whether the school is abiding by these laws and if they are not we can ask if they would they like help to do so. Among the first schools in Gosforth for example 2 people organise a rota of Christian assembly takers to serve those schools. According to OFSTED most primary schools are obeying the law but most secondary schools are not. Most secondary schools claim they are unable to fulfil the law because of lack of space and willing assembly takers. Surely there are opportunities for Christians and churches to take there in a sensible and sensitive way. In terms of RE - are we as parents aware of what is being taught to our children? Each school should be able to let you see the locally agreed syllabus and their own scheme of work which you can discuss with the teacher and headteacher if necessary. Changes may need to be made in the light of the law. A few years ago CATS did pressure some of the local LEA's here to make their syllabuses more Christian. However in 1972 the aim of the Newcastle RE syllabus was to "help the secondary school pupils towards an understanding of the Christian faith in Jesus Christ as the Way the Truth and the Life, and to provide a basis from which they may move toward the belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that believing they may have life through His Name". While today the aims of the Newcastle RE syllabus are " to help pupils acquire knowledge and develop understanding of and insight into religious beliefs, values and life experienceto encourage a reflective approach to the study of religious faith and how it might relate to pupils personal beliefs, values and life experienceand to encourage a response to fundamental questions with reference to teachings and practices of religion. It's not as clear is it? But there are still opportunities if also difficulties with regard to a multi-faith approach. Apparently even playgroups for 3 year olds are meant to cover all religious festivals. How confusing for the children! As a church or as parents are there ways in which we can support RE with good Christian resources as many RE departments suffer from under funding? As Christians get involved in schools and education there will be welcomes and open doors but as Jesus reminds us in Mt 5 there will also be opposition. There is a spiritual battle going on. There is a battle for the minds of our young people. The devil does not want children to know the truth and to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord. To go back to Eph 6. Paul writes that we are to put on the whole armour of God, that we are to pray and proclaim the gospel fearlessly. And let's pray for those in school particularly the young people and teachers, for the Christian teachers who are on the front line of youth ministry everyday and who often feel isolated in having to face society's ills head on.

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