The BLOG: Voices

Should Christians and Christian schools strive for top academic achievement?

What in the world are we doing by insisting on a rigorous curriculum and high academic achievement in Christian schools? Why do we teach school and demand high standards from our students? What are we trying to accomplish? Is the insistence on academic achievement biblical? Isn’t a liberal arts education a Greco-Roman, classical idea and not a Christian one? Do we want our students to do something great with their lives or should we simply shelter them from an increasingly godless society?

Although specific Christian leaders and groups throughout the centuries — including believers in present day America — have distrusted and even despised higher learning, the overall biblical and historical evidence compels us to insist on the highest standards of education. It is important to remember that men such as Moses, Solomon, Daniel, and St. Paul were among the most learned men who received the absolute best educations available in their respective times, and that there is a persuasive Christian and biblical case supporting a rigorous education. The following three-fold argument supports the biblical and historical reasons for providing an academically demanding Christian education.

So much of what God has given and so much of what we enjoy in life is not expressly forbidden or enjoined in the Bible, but simply allowed. Travel, sports, listening to music, performing drama, appreciating art, being an accountant, and countless other activities are all allowed by God, and we enjoy these activities freely. Much as Adam and Eve had few restrictions (just one in their case) and numerous joys, pleasures, and meaningful work in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8–3:3), so we have been given great gifts and challenges to embrace with our whole hearts.

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the Glory of God”
— (I Corinthians 10:31)

Those who have been called to educate and teach should work as diligently as possible to provide students the best education possible.

Throughout the world, Christians have been called to make society better. In the last thousand years, Christians have established hospitals and schools everywhere they have gone — even when some in their midst have argued against medicine and education. Amazingly, Christians started the world’s great universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, University of Paris, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

In contrast, for centuries the Jews emphasized a religious education only, and it was not until 1948 when they established their first great university, Brandeis in Waltham, Mass. The sad fact lamented by rabbis throughout the world is that despite hundreds of years of religion-only schools, Jews have become increasingly secularized. A religious-only education is no safeguard against secularization.

In contrast, the Puritans who first came to America advocated for the most robust education possible. By 1647, the Puritans of Massachusetts had passed the Old Deluder Act so named because of their belief that ignorance and lack of quality education made Christians easy targets for Satan. The Old Deluder Act required every town to hire a schoolteacher when 50 families resided in the town and to build a schoolhouse when the population grew to 100 families. These Puritans, although small in number, had more than 40 of their leaders educated at highly prestigious English Grammar Schools and then at Oxford or Cambridge University. They founded Boston Latin, Roxbury Latin, and Harvard University all within 15 years of arriving in Boston with the expressed goal of training the next generation to lead a model society, which would transform England and the world.

The third element in the argument of our need to educate young people to the absolute highest standards possible is rooted in the importance of teaching them to think. The facility to deduce, analyze, theorize, organize, conceptualize, and articulate, in short: The capacity to think is uniquely human. After the ability to love and to worship, humankind’s ability to think is perhaps the best evidence of our being created in the image of God.

A classical Christian liberal arts education that teaches students to work hard and think creatively is the best preparation for life in the modern world. The story of King David as a shepherd boy is perhaps the clearest example in the Bible of the confidence and ability that come through training and preparation. In chapter 17 of the first book of Samuel, the armies of Israel are confronted and taunted by Goliath, the Philistine giant. When David offers to kill the giant, Saul and others think him too young, inexperienced, and small to have a chance, but David’s answer is remarkable for its confidence and insight.

“Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it, and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine”
— (I Samuel 17:34-37)

David’s supreme confidence and exceptional abilities come from the training he has received years before his encounter with Goliath. Today’s “philistines” are those who are uncultured, uneducated, and disdainful of intellectual or artistic values. If our youth are to be rescued from these forces and the moral decadence that goes with them, then they will need to receive the preparation that comes with a superb education. Those who have been called as teachers in Christian schools must choose to love and challenge students in ways that produce educated, sophisticated young men and women who have been prepared to lead in the areas to which God will call them.

Frank Guerra

Frank Guerra

Frank Guerra is the Headmaster of Boston Trinity Academy.