Wednesday, June 13, 2012

CP 180 High Schools - Hidden Costs

CP 180  High Schools  - Hidden Costs.

The last 30 years or so have seen an astonishing surge in the number of Lutheran High Schools / Colleges in Australia. Largely funded by Federal Government grants, Lutheran High Schools have earned a reputation second to none for the quality of education they provide. There has also been a genuine dynamic in the way most of these schools have linked with local communities. The schools have received plaudits both nationally and locally for the social and communal contributions they have made. In large part the success of the schools has meant that we have not felt the need to look over our shoulder so frequently to check if the community approves of us.

In many of these high schools the proportion of ‘Lutheran’ students is quite small. In one school, with more than 1100 students, there are only a handful of children of members of the Lutheran Church. While almost all parents choose our schools for reasons of law, ie values, quality of education, discipline and structure, it means we have a ready-made, captive audience for our mission work with the gospel. And don’t we rejoice about that opportunity. Our mission and its achievements are mentioned in every article / item about our Lutheran High Schools.

I confess to having questions / concerns, even misgivings, about our ‘success’ in regard to Lutheran High Schools. Our success comes with ‘costs’ which are rarely mentioned. Let me state some of them.

  1. My children, indeed all State system children, had few if any Christian friendships at High School. We could not afford to send them to a Christian School, and most of the Christian kids were withdrawn from the State system.

  1. My children, indeed all State system children and teachers, were deprived of the influence of Christian teachers at State High Schools because they had almost all been siphoned off to the Christian Schools. A lot of yeast has been removed from very needy dough!

  1. Sending a child to High School costs money, a lot of money. I’ll stick my neck out and assert that parents who pay school fees have less to give to the local congregations. It would be an interesting study to check if there has been a correlation between the growth in Lutheran Schools and the collapse of General Church and District finances since 1980.

  1. Parental support for the School and its projects is considered essential and even compulsory. Time is required. Energy is required. The result is that the local congregations are robbed of the time and energy which might otherwise be available. All the worse because we are now (mostly) two-income families which are time-poor anyway.

  1. Are we getting fruit? This is one of my chief bugbears concerning this subject. Are we getting the one ‘kingdom-fruit’ we look for above all others? Are the Colleges producing believers in Jesus Christ the Lord who are worshipping kids? More specifically, who continue to worship when their school years have ended? I know there are always some, but having pastored in both Canberra and Sydney I have learnt not to be astonished at how many kids from Lutheran High Schools all over Australia have cited their compulsory 'Christian' involvements at School as the main reason for disinterest, non-involvement and non-attendance. The worship problem is not only about when kids leave school. I once worshipped with a Lutheran congregation which had a school ‘attached’. It boasted over 170 students. There were only three in worship on that Sunday. Sometimes I wonder if the schools might be the death of us.

  1. One final comment. In both Canberra and Sydney it has been my conclusion that it was the students who attended State schools who were best able to handle the inevitable challenges to faith which came from the secular world. They were also the free-est, most generous and most joyful contributors to whatever we did. Maybe our Colleges mollycoddle our children to their detriment?

Anyway, that’s enough from me. As always I’m happy for feedback. Any discussion is better than bland acceptance of the highly promoted and self-congratulatory status quo.

Have a ‘blessed in Christ’ week.



Anonymous Swanie said...

A very vexing question indeed Fred and probably the biggest one young parents in our circles struggles with. I agree with all your observations but the last. I think that is more a question of the house the kids grow up in than the school and your children is obviously a testimony to your parenting.

School life does influence kids path in life though, on many levels, but I question whether it is worth the cost (i.e. cash) and the pressure it puts on families and communities (as you pointed out - people batting for their wickets give less). This also adds to the class devide which is currently being widened accross the country.

But what do you do? All one wants is to give ones kids the best start and opportunities in life and if God has put one in a position to do so. But in going down that path, are you not trusting Him to take them to the destination He has for them regardless of which school they went to...? And so the internal struggle on this topic goes on...

9:09 AM  
Blogger Boomerexy said...

Interesting observations Fred, and I suspect that your hypotheses might also fit many of the catholic schools, and certainly other nominally Christian but rather elite schools.
I am aware of many young Christian educated adults of the Gen Y range whose expression of faith by attendance at worship is, well, infrequent.
However the benefit of many Christian centric schools is unmistakeable and "caught"more than "taught." And it is often a long-term project for fruit to appear.
Perhaps there is a period of time after a young adult leaves their Christian cloistered school during which they give expression top other elements of their being. It is popular for young adults to belittle their childhood structures, but somewhere, at a time maybe beyond their thirties, values - including those caught and learned in a Christian school - inevitably kick in.
I give thanks to God for my parents and my Christian teachers for the values and behaviours that I caught.
It is good to ask the questions like "what does success (of Christian schools) look like?" and "How do we measure the return on the investment?"
I suspect that those young adults who, without a Christian school background, discover and commit themselves to Christian values do so with more fervour, at least initially, than their contemporaries for whom such values are taken for granted.
As for attendance at worship, be it Lutheran, Catholic or calathumpian, it is up to churches and church leaders to make their worship services relevant rather than relying on old strategies of obligation.
And thankfully, many are making it relevant - for christian educated and public school educated people, all of whom are on different stages of their life's walk with Jesus.
I suggest that we take care, as we ponder the questions about the value of Christian education, that baby is not lost in the resulting turbulence of the bathwater.
There are many who would have Christian schools abolished, unsupported or mythically held up unfair ridicule. Hey that reminds me of someone who lived among us about two thousand years ago.
Maybe we are right on track after all!
Cheers and Blessings.

9:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As ateacher in a Christian School, I did much soul searching before i left the state system where I taught for several years. However,I found greater acceptance for my my son with learning disabilities at the Christian school who simply took him for better or worse. The state system kept trying to pass the buck and pass him on, rather than work with him.
Money? Yes it cost but it did not stop us maintaining our church commitment - other things went and quite frankly we didn't miss out on too much.
Time? God's service is God's service regardless of where it's offered. Ministry through work is just as valid as that through the local parish. There's a time and place for both.
As a teacher I'm very conscious of the cost to families and it's a constant incentive to keep up the standards. These days, you may not share your faith with the kids in state schools whereas I'm free to deal with every issue within the context of this being God's world. Sadly we have not demanded more of our politicians in keeping Australia a "Christian country" and this is but one of the costs.
Christian schools or not? They're here for the time being, don't see them as opponents but as co-workers in God's plan.

4:44 PM  
Anonymous Gunnar said...

Your comments are certainly ones that need to be aired and I believe you have made very valid observations. I have long had a suspicion that, as Lutherans, we have been basking in the apparent success (at least from the average person’s point of view) of our schools at the expense of addressing key issues confronting our church.
Our schools have been held up by many as mission fields and, whilst there is much congregational effort put into sustaining our schools, particularly the smaller ones, it seems that in many cases the effort is at arm’s length. By this I mean that the effort enables others to potentially do the mission work whilst we derive satisfaction that “something” is happening. I do not seek to play down the fact that Lutheran schools contribute much to our community, but so do many other great organisations such as Rotary, etc. The big question is, “are we getting bang for our buck” when it comes to bringing people to God and our existing members closer to God?
It seems we are being distracted by what is happening in the public eye - i.e. the positive feeling of the public towards our schools - whilst not focussing on the major issues facing our congregations. I believe there is a place for our Lutheran school system but we must ask whether we have put the cart before the horse. There are denominations that have a large number of engaged, worshipping and mission oriented Christian members, some of which also have their own school. Perhaps we should lay aside any prejudices we may have and find out what they are doing right.
I am personally questioning why there is such a lack of passion for Jesus in many parts of the Lutheran church in Australia and wonder what God feels about it. I believe we should urgently address this issue first so that our children will “catch the fire” through the example of those who live an active, changed life in Christ. Perhaps then they will want to attend our Lutheran schools because they see that can continue to learn in an environment where the reality and excitement of life in Christ is promoted.

10:08 AM  

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