What follows is a transcript of episode 201 of the Citizen of Heaven Podcast, which dropped February 7, 2022. Go to https://halhammons.buzzsprout.com to find out more.
This is the Citizen of Heaven podcast #201 — Schools.
I am Hal Hammons, and I am a citizen of heaven, and your embedded correspondent in Satan’s world. Thanks for checking in.
We should be going to school every day. Life is full of lessons waiting to be learned. And that’s especially the case with spiritual instruction. Believe me, you don’t want to be a dropout.
This week we will discuss a couple of schools in the Bible and how God’s people handled the influences they found there; the one school where attendance is absolutely mandatory; the school you run in your own home, whether you realize it or not; and the schools that are provided by churches and sabotaged by teachers.
We’ll start with what I’ve been preaching.
What I’ve been PREACHING
We have lived in the suburbs for most of my life, including and especially my years as a parent. And when you’re in the suburbs, you hear a lot about “great schools.” And I have come to appreciate that that phrase is considerably more nuanced than I had thought. Some people hear code words when they hear talk about “great schools” – i.e., “not too many children of color.” Some think it means their child is less likely to take a beating on the playground, or more likely to get into a good college. Some, bless their hearts, probably think it means their child is going to actually get a good education. But I think at the core, it’s more basic than that. I think people hear about “good schools” and think to themselves, “I can send my child there 180 days a year, and that will make me a good parent.” We will get to homeschooling in about 11 minutes, but right now I want to talk about the quality of our children’s school experience from a Christian perspective. And if you’re like me, you may be surprised at what the Bible has to say on the matter.
The word “school” is found exactly once in the Bible; we’ll get to that in a moment. The concept of education, though, appears numerous times – especially spiritual education. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 famously instructs parents to teach God’s commandments to their children while sitting in the house and walking down the road and in the morning and at bedtime. Much of the first nine chapters of the book of Proverbs is devoted to Solomon doing exactly that for his son, encouraging him to choose the path of faith and wisdom instead of selfishness and excess. (Solomon would have done well to listen to some of his own advice in that regard, but “hypocrisy” is another episode.) The New Testament reads much the same. Paul exhorts fathers in Ephesians 6:4 to bring children up with God’s discipline and instruction. He urges his young preaching partner in 2 Timothy 3:14-15 to remember the spiritual teaching of his mother and grandmother. You will note a theme throughout these passages: the responsibility is placed squarely on the backs of parents – not society, not systems, not government. I have no issue with farming that duty out to others who may be more qualified. But in the end, it is up to Mom and Dad to make sure the job gets done properly. And if you say at this point that the Bible passages in question have reference to spiritual instruction and not secular, I will simply point out that a considerable amount of what passes for secular education these days is specifically designed to undermine the Bible, its values, its history, and its overall credibility. To put it more bluntly, if you think your child’s secular education has nothing to do with his or her faith, you are kidding yourself.
Let me share with you a success story from the Bible – that is, it is not specifically discussed in the Bible but I believe can be very safely inferred. Once upon a time, a young man named Daniel was forcibly taken from his home by unbelievers, and he and his friends were enrolled in Nebuchadnezzar’s academy — the most ungodly boarding school in the history of education. Far worse than your local high school, I guarantee you that. They had little or no contact with their parents, no spiritual advisers, no access to traditional worship. And they did fine. How? Because God was with them – and more to the point, they were determined to be with God. If faith can move mountains, as Jesus says in Matthew 21:21, it can sustain the person of faith in an unfriendly world. That includes children. And that includes you.
I said I would get back to the one appearance of the word “school.” It is in Acts 19:9, and it refers to a school run by a man named Tyrannus. It’s an odd name. It’s from a Greek word meaning “absolute ruler.” It’s where we get our word tyrant. We just mentioned a school run by a tyrant, and that one certainly was not run with the interests of God-fearing students in mind. But Tyrannus’s school seems to have been different. Paul had gotten considerable pushback from the Jews in Ephesus after trying to explain the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob more perfectly in the Jewish synagogue. Finally, as was often the case, he abandoned the effort. He preached in the school of believers for three months with little more than frustration to show for it. He preached in the school of a Gentile for two years, and all of Asia heard the gospel as a result. The precise arrangement between the church and Tyrannus is not described. All we know is, God’s people found a door of opportunity in an exceedingly sinful environment – and it was not found by holing up with the people who already knew about God. It was found by taking God’s word into their hearts and letting it take them where God wanted them to go. You will have opportunities, too – both in your children’s and grandchildren’s development and in your own, because education never stops. Don’t trust in schools or even in the church. And certainly don’t trust in me. Trust in God. Allow His word to guide you wisely through this life and on to the next.
What I’ve been READING
I do not endorse books in this space, per se. Usually I try to point out some things I like in a book, occasionally some things I don’t. But I don’t think I have discussed a single book of men in this space of which I would say, “You absolutely should read this book. Everything in it is good, and nothing is bad. If you read it well, you will be closer to God at the end than you were at the beginning.”
Today I will make an exception – and not because it is the first of these books written by a friend and podcast guest. “The School of Christ” by Jacob Hudgins is excellent. If my buddy Kenny Embry has his way, it will soon be a podcast. We’ll see about that. In any case, “The School of Christ” is Jacob’s effort to draw us closer to God by setting us firmly at the feet of our Lord and Savior. He Himself said in Matthew 10:28-30, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Yes, there will be a yoke of servitude. Yes, there will be a burden of responsibility. But our Teacher tells us it will be better for us with that yoke and that burden than it would be without. And He would know, because He bore both. He knows what it is to be a servant, because He was one – to the point of giving His life as a ransom for many, according to Matthew 20:28. The “suffering Servant” of Isaiah 53 is one of the most beautiful Messianic texts in all of the Old Testament. Read it again if you need a refresher course in bearing yokes. It was His responsibility and His alone to go to the cross to atone for our sins. He calls it a “cup” in John 18:11 and says it was given to Him by His Father – not His enemies – and He was determined to drink it to the dregs.
But to profit from our study in the School of Christ, we must make some radical changes in our approach to righteousness. We must start, according to Hudgins, by truly surrendering to the King of kings. We acknowledge that we are nothing so long as we are teaching ourselves. We commit, at least in principle, to surrendering everything to Him. Yes, the tuition is high in the School of Christ; we may as well acknowledge that. Nothing short of our whole heart will do in this commitment; less will surely doom us to failure. Having committed to the task, then, we are given three bits of business that likely characterized our lives before: fear, comparisons, and the control impulse. We cannot learn from Jesus while worrying about what we must leave behind, or whether someone else is doing better or worse or is giving more or less. We trust Him to give us guidance – not by letting Him by our “co-pilot,” like the bumper stickers say. It’s much more of a Carrie Underwood thing. Jesus has to take the wheel, completely and consistently.
Jesus replaces these old forms with new ones – forms that may seem objectionable at first, but that are essential if we are to adopt the character of Christ. Jesus trains us in topics such as faith, prayer, childlikeness, and one of my favorites – what Hudgins calls “radical honesty.” Through all of these examples, Hudgins points out the personal example of Jesus. These are not merely concept shouted from the mountain – although He did shout many of them from the mountain. We see them fleshed out in His daily walk, his dealings with His enemies and friends, and especially in the communion that He shared constantly with His Father. This is definitely a target that is difficult to hit – but definitely it is one we can see. And seeing it, we can make our best effort. And of course, Jesus is there beside us all the way, helping us improve, helping us grow.
There are advanced topics, too – things like better demonstrations of love, forgiveness and praise. Again, our education never really ends – or at least it shouldn’t. And Jesus can be a harsh taskmaster. But like that teacher back in the day who drove you crazy with what you thought were unreasonable expectations, Jesus will be the Teacher you truly love and appreciate in the end. “The School of Christ” by Jacob Hudgins. If you want my advice, get the book. But whether you do or don’t, absolutely enroll in the school.
What I’ve been HEARING
There is an increasing body of thought that our American public schools are becoming more a part of the problem than a part of the solution. Standards are dropping with regard to both academic performance and teacher accountability. The curricula seem to be more platforms for special interests than guidelines for effective and relevant instruction. And of course, there’s always the chance your child could be place in literal danger with little more than good intentions to defend them. Personally, I think all of these matters are grossly overstated – results of the preponderance of smart phones, the power of social media, and the bluster of people with political agendas. That being said, it would be silly and dangerous to say the critics of our schools don’t have a point. Standards have been lowered. Schools have been politicized – and by all parties. And yes, there have been tragedies. We are all interested in pursuing solutions. And more and more of our parents are opting for the oldest, the simplest, the cheapest, and arguably the best solution of all: to educate their children at home.
I’m going to say something here that may make you mad. But hear me out. If you’re not educating your child at home, you’re a bad parent. OK, I warned you. Now stick with me and hear what I am NOT saying, first of all. I’m NOT saying it is always irresponsible, or even EVER irresponsible, to put your children in public schools or any other sort of schools. I’m saying the responsibility for your child’s education begins and ends with you. You are responsible. And whatever your child’s school is or isn’t doing, it is your duty to make sure the job gets done and done right. It’s a big part of what Proverbs 22:6 is telling us – “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” You may be saying, “I don’t think Solomon was talking about reading, writing and arithmetic when he wrote that.” And I don’t think so either, although that may be part of it. I think he’s talking about the much more important lessons we learn in school – or at least should learn. Self-sufficiency. Communication. Reasoning. A sense of responsibility. And most basic of all to the education experience, an ability and desire to learn. And if you think they are going to pick all that up at the feet of strangers, 7 hours a day, 180 days a year, for 12-14 years, you are delusional. You are lazy. You are a bad parent.
My mother would have been an outstanding homeschool mom. I know that because that’s essentially what she was for the first five years of my life. I could read by the time I was 3. I knew my numbers, shapes and colors. I had a general sense of national and world geography. (I distinctly remember in my early days of kindergarten thinking a red piece of the puzzle of Asia was probably “Red China.” I was wrong, but at least I knew what China was and more or less where it was. I see grown adults on YouTube all the time who can’t do that.) And it’s not that I was especially smart; it’s because my mother wanted me to learn, and she was able to instill in me a desire to learn – a desire that characterizes me to this day. She wasn’t nearly as hands-on as I moved on in my education because she didn’t need to be. I already wanted to do well, and I had learned the skills I needed to be successful. Now, I didn’t always succeed. I messed up plenty, and my grades sometimes reflected that. But then, that’s another lesson I needed to learn. And Mom was there to help me learn it, and then do better the next time.
Whether you “homeschool” your children or not makes absolutely no difference to me. I gave up parenting other people’s children a long time ago. One size does not fit all. But whatever approach you take, be personally active. Take responsibility for the lives you brought or will bring into the world. I see parents all the time who are determined to let their children go in their own path. Christian parents should know better; after all, Proverbs 22:15 reads, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” And Solomon’s point was not that it is OK to beat your child when he acts up. His point was, your child will act up! It’s not his fault. He’s doing what children do. It’s your job to teach him to do better. That’s what parents do. And yet I see one Christian parent after another determined to prove Solomon wrong.
You never know. Maybe my children will turn out to be bottom-feeding, dysfunctional, disrespectful blights and leeches on society. I have more than a hunch they won’t based on their adult life so far, but I could be wrong. But if I’m wrong, if they turn out bad, it won’t be because Tracie and I didn’t teach them better. We schooled our children. And Taylor and Kylie, if you’re out there listening, I have some bad news. We’re not done yet.
What I’ve been PLAYING
I’ve saved my favorite school for last – the Bible school. For my entire life, churches have set aside an hour or so on Sundays and another during the week separate from worship assemblies so that we can study the Bible in smaller groups. This is especially effective for children, I think, because the curriculum can be tailored to their specific ages and experiences. And it’s good to get people other than the preacher and the elders involved in the teaching program. Everyone says you learn more from teaching than you learn from sitting in someone else’s class, and I think you will find that to be true – assuming you the teacher take the responsibility to teach seriously. I think it can also be true if you the student take a rotten attitude and a lack of preparation into the other teacher’s class. But again, disrespect is a topic for another day.
It must be admitted, turning little children over to teachers who often have no formal training is problematical. I will also say for the record that some of the most ineffective Bible class teachers I have known over the years were themselves professional school teachers. I’m not sure the skills set translates as seamlessly as some might believe. But be that as it may, it is hardly uncommon to hear of teachers who have trouble motivating or engaging their classes for 45 minutes at a time. I am sympathetic. And games can help. Some teachers seem to think that they are disrespecting the Bible if somehow the students in their charge actually enjoy Bible study. And I am not exaggerating here. “This is not play time! This is Bible time!” Well, I appreciate the seriousness. But I am here to tell you, you can have both. I happen to live in the same house as two Bible class teachers who are outstanding in this area, and there are many others who are equally gifted. Feel free to reach out if you would like some guidance.
But actually I want to deal with the other extreme here today. Sometimes games are exactly what the critics say they are – meaningless wastes of time, efforts by lazy and ineffective teachers to keep the children from setting the room on fire during the last 10 minutes of class. And the classic example is Bible Hangman. You all know Hangman from grade school, I’m sure. Or do the kids still play Hangman? Anyway, the point is to pick a word and give the players as many opportunities to guess letters as there are body parts on the man being hanged. Kind of a gruesome game when you think about it. Anyway, Bible Hangman is the same, except with a Bible-related answer – usually the name of a Bible character. The Hammons family has a strict “No Hangman in Bible class” policy, and I urge you to adopt one as well. In a best-case scenario, the teacher vaguely confirms that the students have not completely forgotten the most fundamental aspects of the Bible story. In a worst-case scenario, you train children to think their Bible studies are what they have to do so they can do what they actually like doing. I know most children are going to tend to have that attitude anyway. That doesn’t mean we have to encourage it.
Bible class time is not worship time; worship rules such as those in 1 Corinthians 14 do not apply. A certain level of boisterousness is permissible, and perhaps even profitable when it’s managed well. But it is not playtime either. The students are there to learn. And there are far more important lessons than how to spell Abraham.
There are actual games on the market that have been incorporated into Bible studies – most of them of the “Trivial Pursuit” variety. Personally, I’m leery about games like that; you never know who is coming up with the answers. But there’s a much better approach. Train your teachers to do their jobs better. Identify teachers with good ideas and ask them to share. Better yet, have new or struggling teachers sit in with experienced and effective ones to see how it’s done. A “game” need not have elaborate pieces and rules; in fact, they are usually better off without them. Tracie is always saying most of her games need nothing fancier than a Sharpie and a pack of index cards.
I am not prepared to accept that the Bible is a drudgery to anyone, regardless of age. It can be presented in a way that is interesting, engaging and memorable. If you are struggling to find that way, don’t settle for Hangman. By all means, don’t blame the children for acting like children. And most of all, to borrow from Galatians 6:9, don’t grow weary in doing well. Just take a deep breath, say a little prayer, and find a way to do it better.