A perspective on Christian education as a requirement

Elise Stiemsma — Staff Writer

Dordt’s faculty handbook lays out the requirement for full time administrative staff and faculty to send their children to Christian day-schools. It emphasizes the importance of Christian education at all levels, and how this builds into the collegiate level from elementary and secondary school.

Support staff and adjunct faculty have different expectations than full-time faculty and administrative staff: they are not part of the Christian day school or specific church requirements. “Any person appointed to a position at Dordt University shall express an active Christian commitment,” the job description of these positions reads.

Leah Zuidema, the Vice President of Academic Affairs, explained the discrepancy between these requirements by creating an allegory of the church.

“There are many members who have different responsibilities depending on their role in the church. Those called to be elders have a different set of expectations than those who simply show up and worship every week,” Zuidema said.

Funding for Christian education is included in faculty benefits. Over the past decades Dordt’s funding has changed from a flat half to sliding depending on salary, salary of spouse, general finances, etc. This requirement does financially impact faculty, as they are required to pay for this education in almost all circumstances. In this way the Christian education requirement does negatively impact many members of the faculty and staff, as they have to spend thousands of dollars on Christian education for their students.

Dordt does give some exceptions to this policy, allowing faculty and staff to choose the public school if they have a documented reason.

Employees’ children can go to a public school “if you have a documented need that you can demonstrate local Christian schools are not able to meet,” Zuidema said.

Some professors and staff choose to home school their children, which also fits within Dordt’s educational requirements, without attending the private schools in the area. This decision I believe has something to do with the pietistic view that some of the surrounding schools entertain.

Paul Fessler, a history professor at Dordt, reviewed the history of Christian education. Fessler explained how the RCA (think Northwestern College) versus CRC (Dordt University) approaches and emphasizes Christian education.

“Foundational to the identity of the CRC is Christian education,” Fessler said.

Within the CRC there are two distinct perspectives, one of a succeeder, pietistic Christian education and another of Kuyperian Christian education. The succeeders were a group of Dutch citizens, who had frustration with the meshing of culture and schools, wanting to shelter their children from the cultural issues of the time. Upon immigrating to the U.S., the CRC started schools in Holland, Michigan.

However, these newer schools were started with a Kuyperian mindset; they wanted to engage culture as Christians in their schools, instead of a strict separation. Calvin College started with this mindset, Dordt following soon after.

“With each successive level of education, the understanding of reality is both broadened and deepened,” according to Dordt’s educational task. Dordt was founded wanting to support the education happening in the surrounding community; they wanted to encourage the surrounding schools to remain faithful to Kuyperian education.

Kuyper would look to the schools and family as a means of religious education, where cultural ideas were discussed through a Christian lens. During the 1970s at Dordt, I note a shift to affirm a Kuyperian form of education; however, the local schools in the area, I see shifting more recently in the opposite direction.

Many parents view private, Christian education as a means to protect their children from the bad morals found in public schools. Instead of wanting to discuss culture issues they want a private education.

“Christian schools should be places where no stone is left unturned, and everything is looked over,” education professor Ryan Zonnefeld said. “Some send their kids to Christian schools to shepherd from the outside world, but Christian schools should be the opposite: they should be a place to look at society and culture as Christians.”

I strongly agree with this final quote from Zonnefeld where he upholds the ideals of Christian education, but if these ideals aren’t coming to fruition, then either a change must occur at these schools, or Dordt should broaden their rules to allow faculty and staff to let their students attend the public schools with scaffolding built in to emphasize the reformed tradition at home.

Contributed photo

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