By Suzanne Bruno, Administrator, Veritas Christian Academy, Sparta NJ
Recently, I was observing the teaching of a class. I watched quietly, listening to a young teacher with an advanced degree engage with seniors who were taking a course approved for dual enrollment at their Christian high school here in New Jersey.
In dual enrollment, students earn high school credit while also earning college credit. It is a brilliant way to reduce college costs for students and broaden studies. But you need highly-qualified faculty, my exact reason for sitting in on a class and observing the teacher. I saw the teacher’s presentation slides flash on the screen for a lesson on human development in Introduction to Psychology. Technology was in place, lots of Chromebooks clicking away with note taking; images on carefully crafted slides with embedded video clips enhanced the teaching. Hands were up asking questions and the teacher seemed calmly confident while answering.
I checked off all the boxes on my teacher evaluation form about the use of technology, standards being met, classroom management well in hand. These are the things all educational leaders are hoping for from their faculty regardless of whether or not it is a public or private school. And I was happy with all I was seeing and hearing as I thought, “Good hire, Suzanne” with a mental self-pat on the back. I leaned back in my seat now, let the pen click shut, sipped a bit of my tea, and just listened. I could relax in this observation because I was seeing everything a principal would want to see happening in a high school class in America.
Just as I mentally congratulated the young teacher and myself for bringing her into our classroom that year, an image came up about the beginning of human development. I was struck by the next sentence. “At conception, the new life begins and cells are multiplying quickly…” said the teacher. She began her lesson by showing and discussing with her students the timeline of development in utero. The new life’s heartbeat, hearing, movement, and even thumb-sucking, was observed. She would start new ideas with, “ as the second trimester approaches, the baby will…” I was fascinated as were all her students. I reflected thinking just how different this discussion of human development was from the psychology class I took at Rutgers University. I was transported back to a clear memory of my professor explaining human development. He said, “In infancy up to the age of 18 months …” In that secular example of the same lesson, my well meaning professor, without directly stating it, was reinforcing a philosophy of life that believes humans did not have development worth noting or discussing before infancy.
It might seem to some like a small subtle distinction, perhaps not worth noting. Even for Christians it might seem like something that can be corrected at the dinner table by parents. But how would one even know exactly what those “nuanced” and philosophical issues are? Our Christian school teacher was teaching from a biblical perspective, one of deep of truth and scriptural accuracy: Human development begins at conception, not at birth. Every part of human development, every single cell, is in the image of God and, as Psalm 139 explains, humans are known in their mother’s womb long before the birth. In Galatians, Paul references his call to the preaching of the gospel by saying he was “set apart before I was born….”
I gave it a lot of thought then and since then. I keep going back to the idea that while this seems like such a small detail, the reality is that it is one of our core values. If human development begins at birth, then what is the baby before birth? Less than human? Of less value? Not yet a part of the world of humans with rights and futures? But when we know that human development begins at conception, we then know the value of life, and our own value. We teach our children that all life has value in every moment. We also reaffirm their own value developing confidence and connection to God.
I am visiting this idea with you knowing that this is only one example of a student’s day of courses in which there are foundational differences—every day, in every discipline. It doesn’t mean that public schools are not doing their job, that the people teaching are not doing what is asked of them. It means that a system that is legally bound to purge out biblical perspectives removes the core of truth as the starting point for learning. We all know the verse, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge….” To gain knowledge and then develop it into wisdom demands a scriptural perspective. Christian schooling links arms with parents and promotes truth in the thinking of students. It builds the foundation of a biblical worldview that, through emerging wisdom, recognizes error like those represented in early adulthood with human development. The mind filled with truth is ready to engage cultural wars and a society that is shifting away from biblical values. For that reason, and so many more, I believe Christian education is more relevant today than ever before.
As a lifelong educator I have strong opinions about supporting families and strengthening our children; their generation will undoubtedly face challenges in a world moving in the opposite direction of biblical truths. That grammar school grandchild will face ideas of life, family, and faith that we can’t even imagine. I ask that we all take a moment during a season of school enrollment to explore a Christian school near you, even attending an Open House or asking for an information packet, visiting a website, and learning what is available to your children, your family. The question of Christian school relevance can really only be answered by each of us, with open eyes and hearts, going through a process of learning the distinct benefits to our children, families and churches in an increasingly difficult time. The next decade will bring more complexity and difficulty to parents, but in the next decade our Christian schools stand ready to partner and support those children, families and churches.