A Christian School's Role In Disciplining/Shepherding Childr

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A Christian School's Role In Disciplining/Shepherding Childr

Post by darinhouston » Sat Feb 21, 2015 4:25 pm

We have a friend who is experiencing some challenges in their school's over-reaction to their child's behavior -- one which has exhibited in some rather troubling physical manifestations of emotional distress in their child. The school seems to have a not uncommon dogmatic approach to discipline.

I am interested in views, particularly from Christian educators, of the school's role in disciplining a child.

In particular, I see two main approaches, differing primarily on emphasis but with dramatically different real world implications: (1) disciplining primarily for behavior modification to maintain a learning envioronment balanced with Christian moral teaching and discipleship through helping the kids appreciate the sin component where appropriate in support of a Christian family's shepherding of a child; and (2) a more Calvinistic approach along the lines of Tripp's Shepherding a Child's Heart where the school sees behavior as secondary and seeing it not as sin itself but instead seeing it as a symptom of underlying sin where its primary role is in identifying those sin issues. Here, instead of focusing on the behavior, the focus is on the sin.

The latter seems like the role of a parent to me along a long and gentle path filled with grace while the former seems to be the appropriate role for the school. In the end, I suppose it's a matter of balance and perspective. The problem with the Calvinistic tendencies of those embracing the second seems to me to be that they tend to lack any sense of balance and recognition that behavior in children is not ALWAYS and COMPLETELY a result of an underlying sin condition (at least other than that common to all men). I know from experience (mine included) that some kids have different temperaments apart from sin and have impulse control or body movement challenges unrelated to sinfulness while other kids have no problem being outwardly completely compliant while having really dark sinful inner thoughts and resentments that aren't seen by their outward behavior.

I have heard Christian educators suggest that they can and should judge a child's heart from the fruit they exhibit in their classroom behavior and that their role is dealing primarily with the heart issue and where that can't be reached, to expel or suspend, particularly if parents can't acknowledge the sin issues even where they acknowledge the inappropriate or even sinful behaviors themselves.

Personally, I think this is related to a broader question of the role of sin-focused discipleship vs. obedience-focused discipleship generally. One criticism of Tripp's approach I've read seems to suggest focusing on sin is backwards, and that once we realize we are sinners in need of God, we should focus on pleasing him through our obedience, recognizing that as we do so and learn to walk in the Spirit our obedience will come easier and more naturally.

So, a larger question is should we seek to point out the sinful heart behind wrong behavior or remind what God says about our behavior? I suspect there's a balance here that's healthy. Too much emphasis on one...

Any thoughts or resources? All I can seem to find is secular stuff or the Tripp-based stuff.

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Re: A Christian School's Role In Disciplining/Shepherding Ch

Post by Candlepower » Sun Feb 22, 2015 9:57 pm

Thanks for your challenging post, Darin. I’m not presently a Christian school educator, but I was one for a while in the past.

I think we start with the wrong premise when we assume that the school has a legitimate role in the disciplining of children. It is a pervasive premise. In my experience, all of the parents I met presumed that discipline is one of the school’s functions.

Most of the kids I worked with were well-disciplined at home and well-behaved at school. But a significant minority of the kids were spoiled little rebels. They had been placed in the Christian school to get the discipline their parents were not providing at home. To those parents, the school was a de facto reformatory. For several years, I was part of one of those holy reformatories.

Except for minor instances of having to correct a child verbally for disobedience, I believe there is only one legitimate disciplinary technique for the church-school. That is, expulsion. Here’s the sign I would place above the school entrance: “If you don’t want to be here, don’t enter.” If a child’s misbehavior is of a minor nature, but incorrigible, he should not be allowed to continue to disrupt the classroom and distract from the education of others.

Spanking is the ultimate discipline a school can mete out. While I don’t oppose godly spanking, I do oppose spanking in the school. Children should never be spanked at school. If a child’s behavior is such that it warrants a spanking, the child should be removed from the classroom and a parent should be summoned to take the child home…to receive a spanking. The same strategy should be employed for offenses that fall far short of being worthy of a spanking.

It should be made crystal clear to prospective students and their parents that the school is not a reformatory; it is not a substitute for parental discipline. It is a place for education.

Unfortunately, every Christian school I was ever associated with was more of a business than a ministry (kind of like most churches). Teachers and utilities need to be paid, you know, and buildings need to be kept up. Therefore, a cash flow is needed. So to keep the doors open, compromises are made and juvenile delinquents are enrolled. The hope of the delinquent parents is, “Maybe the Christian school can clean up the mess we’ve made,” and the unspoken promise of the school is, “For a fee, we’ll straighten out your brat for you.” Unfortunately, by assuming the illegitimate role of disciplinarian, the school excuses and facilitates the delinquency of parents.

It’s the job of the school to educate; it’s the job of the parents to educate…and to discipline. The degree to which parents delegate to the school the role of disciplinarian is one measure of the degree to which they have abandoned their role as parents.

Neither “behavior modification” nor “shepherding” are appropriate roles for the school, at least in my experienced opinion. Those are parental roles, and delegating them to others is simply avoidance of parental responsibility.

I had been teaching in an excellent Christian school for several years when our oldest child neared “school age.” We could have sent him to the school tuition free, but my wife and I opted for homeschooling instead, a decision we never regretted. My wife, bless her heart, is primarily responsible not only twelve years of his education, but also for his five younger siblings.

There’s probably a place for well-run church schools in the Christian education scheme. But (and I may be biased) I think homeschooling solves more difficulties than it creates, and I recommend at least trying it.

One last thought concerning the Calvinist approach to dealing with a child’s sin problem. Don’t they remember it was ordained? So, where’s the problem?

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