The fear of the Lord can guide us not only at enrollment time but also all through the school year—if we remember that His opinion counts. When surprises happen in our children’s lives, when issues pop up and we don’t know quite what to do or say, it is good to take a deep breath and imagine God taking in the whole scene, even as we consider what to do next.
What He thinks is a bigger deal than what any teacher or textbook says. We have often said to our kids, “Just because a teacher declares something or a textbook states something, doesn’t mean it is part of Truth with a capital T. It may be, but it may not. There is only one True Book in this family. The Bible is the filter for everything else in our lives.”
This does not mean that a kid has license to shoot off his mouth disrespectfully to a teacher about her words or her materials. Instead, we say, “We want you to engage your mind. We want you to think and evaluate everything you hear at school against what has been trained into your heart.” Our prayer as parents is that the truth is so deep within them that anything divergent sticks out right away.
One day when Tana was in sixth grade, he came home with a language arts packet a student teacher had given out entitled “Fairy Tales.” Kelli looked through it, as is her normal habit. All the kids know that Mom will quickly browse through their various materials, passing along to Dad anything of interest for his review as well.
Kelli came to a segment in the packet headlined “Religious Fairy Tales.” Hmmm . . . this is interesting, she said to herself. Let’s see what’s in here.
Wouldn’t you know, the very first story in the set was “Noah and the Ark.”
Kelli stiffened immediately. “Tana, did you see this?”
“Yeah, Mom—I already spotted the Noah thing,” he replied through a mouthful of after-school snack. “I’m going to talk to her about it tomorrow after class.” He was five steps ahead of his mother.
Kelli took the opportunity to help him frame his comments. Together they developed what to say, something along the lines of “You know, it was interesting to see what’s in the Religious Fairy Tales section. Actually, our family believes that the Noah event happened in real time and space. In fact, there’s now even some archaeological evidence that supports this. I thought I’d just mention that there is another point of view.”
Please note that we did not set Tana up to say, “You’re wrong! What are you, an atheist? Don’t you believe the Bible?! This stuff is trash!”
Nor did we pull him out of the class. Instead, we calmly and respectfully presented our viewpoint, couched in the framework of “Our family believes . . .” Who can argue against that? Everyone in America these days has the right to her own opinion, right? If some Internet junkie claims that telemarketers have a secret directory of cell phone numbers nationwide or that a particular brand of lipstick contains dangerous levels of lead, society nods and says that person is entitled to his personal opinion. For the Pritchards to believe in real animals inside a real ark riding out a real flood—well, that’s their prerogative!
When Tana came home from school the next day, Kelli asked, “So how did it go in English class?”
“Mom, she was so embarrassed!” he reported. “She said she didn’t even know that part was in the handout packet. She apologized all over the place for going against our family’s beliefs. And she said she would go back and review the whole unit.”
This was more than we had hoped for. We had only embraced the biblical account for our own sake, and it ended up affecting what 30 other kids in the class were taught as well.
On another day, Alyse’s American History textbook turned up with a cleverly censored version of the Mayflower Compact, the governing document that the Pilgrims worked out just before landing at Plymouth Rock. It so happened that David had taught a Sunday morning class on this topic using materials from Dr. Marshall Foster of The Mayflower Institute, which had alerted us to watch for things like this—we were prepared with the original wording.
Instead of quoting the full first line of the Compact, which is “In ye name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwriten,” and so forth, the textbook read:
In ye name of . . . , Amen. We whose names are underwriten, the loyall subjects of our dread soveraigne Lord King James . . .
“Do you see these three dots at the start of the quote?” David asked the kids. “That’s called an ellipsis. It shows that something has been left out. Would you like to know what it is?”
They were curious, of course.
He pulled out his class notes and showed the censored word: “In ye name of God, Amen.” Their eyes grew wide as they looked at the textbook page.
“Now here is the real question,” David continued. “Why do you think the textbook authors omitted that one word? What does that tell you about their views? Their biases?”
“It shows that they don’t want to talk about God,” said one of the kids.
“That’s right. They want to skip around that topic. Let’s look here in the front of your textbook and see who wrote this, where they went to school, what their background is.” From this flowed an energetic interchange about academic integrity as well as alleged “separation of church and state.”
Some people might say this story shows why Christian kids shouldn’t be in public schools. We see it the opposite way. We see it as a great place to train kids in discernment. They find out who is being intellectually honest and who is not. They go back to school the next day with a juicy mystery to share with their classmates: “Psst! Hey, you see these three dots here in the book? Wanna know what didn’t get printed that’s actually supposed to be there?”
We are not afraid of these things. We are far more afraid of failing to revere God in this situation.
This kind of exercise prepares students for bigger challenges to come. Our son Tavita, who is now at Stanford University, tells us that he commonly sits in a classroom where the professor up front actually wrote the textbook! So the book’s opinion and the teacher’s are identical. This is enough to intimidate any 19-year-old student, and it means Tavita has to be all the more prepared to filter things for himself.
Frequently, worried parents come to us saying, “You won’t believe the latest thing that just happened at my kid’s school. It’s awful!” They launch into a passionate recounting of the incident and then ask, “Should I pull my child out?”
“No,” we reply. “What a great opportunity to teach your child what is truth and what is error! The situation itself is not nearly as important as what your child takes away from that situation. The first task for you is to bolster your child’s comprehension of God’s reality. That’s far more important than running over to ‘fix’ whatever the school is doing badly.”
William Barclay, the Scottish scholar known for his easy-to-read commentaries, wrote in his book Train Up a Child:
The New Testament knows nothing about religious education and nothing about schools, for the New Testament is certain that the only training which really matters is given within the home, and that there are no teachers so effective for good or evil as parents are.1
God has given us minds to use for His purposes. We must be good stewards by processing everything through His grid and teaching our children to do the same. Someday they will be doing this kind of work with the next generation. This is how the torch of faithfulness is passed down the line.
David Pritchard is a nine-year veteran of Young Life youth ministry. He currently serves as area director in the south suburbs of Tacoma, Washington, and as camp manager of Young Life's largest summer camp. Kelli Pritchard has degrees in secondary education and in social work. The Pritchards have been influential in the lives of dozens of young people in their home and lead weekend parenting conferences. They are also cofounders of a community action group to work for improvement in the local school district. Learn more at http://www.pritchardministries.org/