SA Voters’ Guide Critique #3: Education

We continue our critique of the Christian Action document Biblical principles for Using Your Vote on The author’s third point concerns the parties’ position on parent / state control of education.

The author’s heading of this section reads, ‘Education: Parent Controlled and for Religious Freedom’. His thinking here is rather mystifying. There seems to be something of a false dichotomy at work. It is not at all clear that parent-controlled education has anything to do with religious freedom, and nor is it a given that state-run education is opposed to religious freedom. But let’s have a look at what guidance is given us.

Is this principle Biblical?
It is difficult to assess whether this principle is Biblical, because so many factors are involved. I would support the idea that religious freedom in a plural society is Biblical, because 1Corinthians 5:11-12 indicates that Christians are not to stand in judgment of those outside the church, and the church is tasked with being salt and light in society, that is, we are to be people who carry the gospel in their speech and life. There is no indication that we ought to prevent others from pursuing their beliefs, as wrong as those might be. Freedom of religion is, in fact, the guarantee that we are able to pursue our own beliefs, even allowing us to oppose the beliefs of others (as evangelism must).

Furthermore, Hammond cites scriptures such as Ephesians 6:4 that urge fathers to bring up their children in the instruction of the Lord. Scripture regularly gives parents the responsibility to pass on the gospel to their children. In fact, three of his four citations (including Deuteronomy 6:1-7 and Psalm 78:4-7) carry this point. If we’re to be pedantic, they all say that fathers must do it, so if we’re supposed to understand these verses as restricting who may educate our children, then who are we to say that mothers are allowed to educate? Who are we to ever allow the state to educate? Clearly, this is not the intention of these verses. Anyone may educate our children, as long as we’re also training them in the gospel.

The other verse that the author quotes is Colossians 2:8. This verse urges us not to be taken captive through hollow philosophy, which Hammond presumably means us to take as a warning not to allow secular education. The context does not support this, however. This verse has in mind false teaching in the church, which in Colossians is the vain promise of ‘deeper Christian spirituality’ through spiritual experience. It still has nothing to do with whether or not the state should have the major say in education. In fact, if anything, it reminds us that Christians might equally be the source of deception for our children. Christian education also holds pitfalls for our children, and does not guarantee that parents are fulfilling the responsibility outlined by the other three verses quoted.

Civil education is correctly directed at preparing children for life in the state. In South Africa, it does not (yet) prevent religious people from also educating their children how they ought to live in service of God. It also still takes submission from parents who believe that civil education infringes their right to religious freedom.

Is it essential?
So, must Christians oppose state-run education in their voting? Again, the answer is, ‘No, it’s up to you.’

Hammond’s article on the subject seems to suggest that a government-prescribed curriculum in service of the constitution is opposed to religious freedom. If that was the case, we would need to oppose it. On the contrary, many of the changes in the curriculum are clearly aimed at removing the prejudicial preference of one religion over the others (such as religious education being exclusively Christian), and to educate children about other religions so that there can be less prejudice on these grounds.

We would certainly want to argue for a level of freedom in curriculum for schools that are, say, homogenously Christian. But would we celebrate a government as ‘godly’ that allowed Nazi schools and racist schools and Satanist schools to teach their children lies about people of other races and religions? We’ve come from a society in which different education systems and standards perpetuated injustice, and so government can be excused for seeing the solution as lying in a homogenous education curriculum. In governing a plural society, our leaders need to aim at developing a curriculum that recognises pluralism and teaches citizens to operate wisely and with tolerance. The Constitution aims at this, and education is self-consciously working towards this end.

I think that it is generally a positive move that the state is trying to use education to open our children’s eyes to the diversity around them. It is an important means of removing the blinkered prejudices that tend to result from being told that there is only one way of doing things. Certainly a combination of state curriculum with parent input seems to me to be wise. Either way, scripture does not force us to choose one or other direction on this matter.

Has the author been fair?
No. In a concerted effort to always have Christian parties agreeing with one another against everyone else, the author has scored the Christian CDA as representing parent control, despite the clear fact that they only ask for parents to have an advisory role within state education. He has also scored the IFP as representing joint state/parent control, despite the fact that they overwhelmingly give parents and communities the right to determine education, though with state input, but are at least far more on the side of parent control than the CDA.

More importantly, we also need to seriously ask ourselves whether a state that is trying to make room for all our nation’s religions (while still allowing you to teach your own religion to your child) is fairly designated as being opposed to religious freedom. Likewise, we need to ask whether parent-controlled education that won’t allow children to be ‘confused’ by hearing about other religions is therefore more free?


9 thoughts on “SA Voters’ Guide Critique #3: Education

  1. Taryn says:

    I’ve been enjoying your critique, Jordan. Your points are interesting and most valid. Can’t wait to see what you do with “right to defend oneself” point on the “savoters” guide! Nothing quite like punting an agenda without substantial grounding (or bible verses for that matter)

    Although, I do think that when a party fails to uphold the right to life, then any other right they defend is a little superfluous…. What do you think?

  2. Brendon Schafer says:

    Hi Jordan
    I enjoyed your comments, don’t agree with many of them, but this is one where I strongly disagree.
    Education is a vital area and who does the education is paramount. One of he father’s primary roles in the home is to educate his children, but there is nothing wrong with him delegating that responsibility to another (like to his wife or a state run school), but he is ultimately accountable for that education. Unfortunately, most of the time, the father just does not think and instead of delegating the responsibility, he shirks the responsibility and says the state (or Sunday School teacher??) must teach his children.
    Now delegating that role to a state run institution, who’s worldview is atheistic secular humanism and who’s foundation is evolution is fundamentally wrong and contradictory to what the Bible teaches about creation …
    May I also point out that Marx said that the ‘first battleground is the rewriting of history’. So they don’t fundamentally have a desire to teach truth either – just their version of it.
    I don’t disagree that you may send a child to a state run school, but then you need to be actively involved in selection of textbooks and selected literature books and need to actively oppose stuff that is not teaching a Biblical Worldview.
    You may even have to counter-teach your child stuff that he is taught in school and maybe even contradict the teachers. I don’t think that is a good place to be or a good position to place your child. After all, he gets good marks for obeying his teacher, but gets persecuted when he makes a stand for truth that you’ve taught him.
    The question in the voters guide is who controls the education. If our secular institutions will not train our children in the biblical worldview then the responsibility still rests with the father and he should have the freedom to choose between a state run school, private school or to be home schooled.

    • Jordan Pickering says:

      Hi Brendan. Thanks for all the comments. I think we agree here more than you think. My major point (which may not have come across) is that fathers do have the responsibility to educate their children in the gospel, regardless of what the government demands that they learn at school. We are never free to delegate that responsibility totally to anyone.

      Regarding what they learn at school, I don’t think that we should be too paranoid. If my child is taught something at school with which Christians disagree, there is the opportunity to teach your child to think, to tolerate, to engage with a grey world, and to grow in wisdom. It will involve counter-teaching, but what’s wrong with that? It will force your child to learn to make a case for his opinions in the face of disagreement if he wants to pass, but what’s wrong with that?

      Of course, there is room to overbalance on either extreme. On the one hand, the state may decide, say, that sex education should involve watching pornography, and should begin at kindergarten. That would do damage that counter-teaching wouldn’t fix. So, learning wisdom needs to be age appropriate. But on the other extreme, pretending for our children that there is only one way of seeing the world is also a recipe for myopic, bigoted children. There are other religions and other opinions for nearly everything. What good does it do to teach a child that mum and dad are always right? I think we over-value being right and under-value being wise.

      So, I think that we should support the state in its effort to frame a curriculum that teaches children how to live among a plurality of ideas, but we should also insist that the state allows room for parents to have a role in the process. Co-operation between parent and state seems to be the position of most parties.

  3. Taryn says:

    Reading Brendan’s response to this post made me realise how much knowing the writer (in my case, knowing Jordan) of any piece has a profound influence on how the piece is read. I agree with everything that Brendan wrote and everything that Jordan wrote and see no contradiction between the two.

    Personally, I don’t trust the state to teach my kids how to live among a plurality of ideas, because I know (having been taught and having taught kids myself) that teachers’ biases come across heavily. That is part of the reason we homeschool. I’d rather be the one to teach my kids about other worldviews; what plurality means and how that relates to what we believe than gamble with whatever teacher (and wide range of peers) my kids are exposed to. So, my concern is that co-operation between parent and state includes the freedom for parents to homeschool their kids in a realistic fashion and not how current government (and therefore at least one current political party) has proposed – effectively limiting homeschooling to a tiny segment of educationally elite society.

  4. inks75 says:

    I agree with you Jordan. As protective as the home environment should be, I would want my kids to be exposed to a plurality of intellectual and religious ideas. From my experience, it raises so many questions in a kid’s mind and his first inclination is to go and ask the parents – when the parents are readily available and involved in their children lives. There are no better teaching opportunities than when children are faced with ideas that would not naturally enter a Christian home.
    At the school where I teach, as an option the children can choose to go to moral studies, bible studies or jewish studies. It gives the child – and the parent a choice in the matter and yet show the kids of the different ideas out there. I had many interesting conversation on this topic with some of my kids. Plus on the sneaky side, so many inconsistencies of some belief system come out, it would be almost too easy to point them out…

  5. Taryn says:

    At the end of the day, we want our government to protect our freedom of religion and education and the freedom of others. We want our schools to expose kids to the various religious groups and ideas. These are all good things. And I agree that our kids should be allowed to engage with teachers and each other about the various belief systems represented here in South Africa.

    I do think that excellent teaching opportunities are myriad and that ideas foreign to a Christian home don’t have the monopoly on excellent teachiing opportunities. I think the same sort of plurality explosure you’re talking about, Inks, can be excellently dealt within a homeschooling environment. The key, you touched on it, is having involved, balanced parents… whether homeschooling or not.

    But, I digress – my actual point that I wanted to reiterate, in relation to Jordan’s piece, is that I am concerned that the party we vote for allows true freedom of education – and that includes the method of schooling. Sadly, the current government has shown many signs of wanting to curb schooling to fit into a strictly secular humanist worldview – and, if their plans for Gauteng filter through to the Western Cape, only 4-year degreed and SACE accredited teachers may be able to homeschool – which effectively limits homeschooling to a very, very small segment of parents. That means I am all for voting for the party that encompasses a much broader definition of freedom of education than I suspect many parties actually hold by. I don’t want other (more than qualified in terms of ability) families to miss out on homeschooling opportunities just because they don’t have the piece of paper that says they did a bit of teacher-training and are signed up with SACE.


    • Jordan Pickering says:

      Hi Taryn. Thanks for writing. You can read what I wrote to Brendan. I think that the loss of freedom that you describe is unfortunate, but I think understandable given the mess that the dept of ed has inherited. I would think that it is too heavy-handed an approach from government if home-schooling is eradicated along with this policy (that presumably aims to standardise quality of education). So I would definitely be in favour of co-operation between state and parents.

  6. Brendon Schafer says:

    I hope I don’t come across as being narrow-minded in my argument.
    Whereas I don’t have children, I am exposed to the homeschooling world through a number of friends that have been homeschooled or are homeschooling their children.
    From what I can see as an outsider, the homeschooling curricula themselves are not narrow in their teaching and are quite happy to teach world views other than Christian (evolution for eg). But then the purpose is to engage the mind and to see the flaws in all the arguments.

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