Reformed Thinkers on Education: Lockerbie (part 4), on Schools

Dear Reader,

This is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed philosophy theology of education. You can find all the posts here. Currently we are in the midst of a series within a series in which I look at various reformed thinkers and what they have had to say about education (see the introductory post to this series with a series here).

This is my fourth and final post discussing D. Bruce Lockerbie’s A Christian Paideia: The Habitual Vision of Greatness (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Design, 2005). Find the earlier parts here, here, and here.

This final section of the book, chapters 13 through 20, consists of a collection of brief speeches given by Lockerbie, all on the practical and administrative side of Christian schooling. For the most part, the admonitions given here seem like they would be quite valuable to school administrators, but they are not really on the topic we are concerned wtih which is to develop a philosophy of education.

There is one little idea Lockerbie touches on, however, which does concern us. I fear I am beating a dead horse on this issue, but, as he brings it up, I want to briefly revisit the homeschool versus Christian school debate (for previous discussions of this issue see this post and this one).

Though I am an enthusiastic homeschooler, I am not entirely opposed to institutionalized schooling. There are times and situations which can make homeschooling impossible, or at least very difficult, for a given family. But I do think we need to always keep in mind a key point which Lockerbie’s mentor, Frank Gaebelein, made quite clear: God gives the responsibility for educating children to their parents. This is not an argument that parents need to do everything themselves, but it is a the-buck-stops-here kind of situation. The ultimate responsiblity for educating children belongs to their parents and they will have to answer to God for it.

As Lockerbie was himself a teacher in a Christian school and worked with an organization that helps Christian schools, it is not surprising that he is pro-school. He relates what is for him a typical conversation with a pastor:

“One church-sponsored school placed me on the golf course with its senior pastor, who told me that he didn’t find the Christian school in the Acts of the Apostles. I replied, ‘Pastor, I don’t find indoor plumbing anywhere in the New Testament.'” (pp. 210-11)

While I take Lockerbie’s point, I think he is a little off-base in a couple of ways. First of all, indoor plumbing which is essentially a tool is not really an apt comparison for schooling. His argument would be better if he compared schooling to another institution involving people, say a hospital. But I also think he is too dismissive of the pastor’s argument. It is perhaps a little naively stated but the fact is schools are not mentioned in the New Testament. On the other hand, there are other insitutions — the church and family — which are charged with the education of children. Again I am not ruling out schools wholesale, but they do need to answer for how they fit with and relate to the institutions God has ordanined. Simply put, schools serve a function which God has specifically delegated to another, God-ordained institution, the family. Parents can and should get help educating their children and this will no doubt at some time and to some degree include delegating at least part of that education to some other party. But they are obligated to be discerning in how they do so because they are the ones who will answer to God for it. The school and the family should have clear guidelines for how they are working together and where the responsbilitites of the one end and the other begin.

Lockerbie touches on this issue as well. He acknowledges that there is a kind of covenant here and that the school must answer to the parents:

“Because those parents have entered into a contractual agreement with your school, they are entitled to the fulfilling of that agreement — which means that their children will be taught. But they have also entered into a covenantal relationship with the school, which means that their children will be nurtured in ways that complement the nurture being given at home and in church. Your task is to serve the children and their parents; in doing so, you serve God.” (pp. 198-99)

There are a couple of things I like here: I like that he acknowledges that school, family, and church work together and that the school serves the family. It is important that the school not go beyond its bounds and take on a larger role than it needs to. There is still a place for the church and there is still a place for the family. Lockerbie says as much when he argues that the school be primarily concerend with academics (p. 208). This is in contast to some other thinkers we have seen who depict so large and expansive a role for the school and its teachers that one wonders what is left for the parents to do (see this post on Cornelius Jaarsma).

There is a practical dimension we must take into account as well. A Christian school cannot accomodate the many different preferences and opinions of every family that uses it. In my state, the courts have ruled that when a parent sends their child to the public schools, that he gives up any control over what the child is taught. One hopes that Christian schools will be somewhat responsive to the parents of their pupils, but there is a level at which these parents too give up control when they choose to send their kids to school. The fact is schools are institutions and, despite heart-warming brochures to the contrary, they are not and should not be families. All institutions, because they deal with large numbers of people (and even a smaller class of say five studnets still sees this effect) must make compromises. The only truly individualized education is an indidivual education. Lockerbie says:

“Only homeschooling, which by design is deliberately non-institutional, is an accurate model of school-as-family. Once children depart from the sanctuary of their own homes and the presence of their own parents, they enter into a new sphere of learning, one that is controlled by facts other than what their parents might have determined . . . When I enroll my children in our chool, I waive some of my family’s idiosyncracies, some of my personal preferences, some of my know-it-all opinons, in order to obtain from the larger social unit called school that which the privacy and isolation of my family cannot provide.” (pp. 191-92)

While the wording here is biased — the family is “isolated,” the parents are “know-it-alls” — the basic point is a good one that any parent sending the rchild to school should take into account. There is always a trade-off. There may be good reasons to choose your local Christian school, but you give up something in doing so.

While Lockerbie does not come off as a fan of homeschooling, his treatment of this issue is fair and I appreciate that he acknowledges some of the pluses and minuses of institutional schooling.



6 responses to this post.

  1. […] « Reformed Thinkers on Education: Lockerbie (part 4), on Schools […]


  2. […] earlier posts — two on Gaebelein here and here and four on Lockerbie, here, here, here, and here — so again I will not spend long on it now. There was one idea, however, I gleaned from […]


  3. […] The question he doesn’t answer is why this institution is necessary. As we saw when we looked at D. Bruce Lockerbie there are always compromises. When one utilizes a school, one gives up some degree of control over […]


  4. […] this post). Wilson allows for homeschooling but expresses a clear preference for Christian schools. As has been the case with other writers we have looked at, I find his thinking on this point a bit disjointed. He clearly states that parents have the […]


  5. […] The school is not a God-given institution. (Church, State . . . and School?; Lockerbie on Schools) […]


  6. […] See: Implementing a Christian Education; Church, State . . . and School?;  Lockerbie on Schools; also: History of Education: Biblical Times; History of Reformed Education; History of Education: […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s