“Should Christians be Studying Literature and History from Secular Textbooks?”
After homeschooling my children for 5 years we were led to put them into our church’s Christian school. My question for you has to do with our school’s adoption of a few textbooks that are not from the Christian worldview and how we are supposed to train our children with these books.
My 5th grade daughter’s textbook is politically correct, multicultural and full of pictures, graphs and charts. The content that is there is slim and boring; in other words, “dumbed down.” The school adopted it for reasons that it is popular and they want the kids to do well on the SAT’s.
The 6th to 8th grade literature textbooks changed from Bob Jones (traditional Christian) to McDougal Littell (secular). The stories in the new textbooks are awful. Most of the authors I have never heard of and from their biographies in the textbook, they do not embrace a Christian worldview. Their stories are negative, immoral, and depressing. Again I believe that our school adopted these books because they are popular, may cause the kids to do better on the standardized tests and they offer a diverse view of the world.
On that last point is where I am having the most problem. The school says that they will combat the negative and immoral stories with Biblical principles to help the children defend their faith. There is no written teacher or student materials, however. Further, when I ask my daughter about the teacher’s rebuttal from a Christian worldview she could not explain to me what the teacher had said in class. I can’t say I blame her in that she is only 11 years old.
One story in her 6th grade textbook is called “Scout’s Honor” by Avi. This so-called comedy is about three arrogant Boy Scouts that earn a badge by lying, cheating and stealing. This story not only depicts the Boy Scouts in a bad light — have you heard about their pro-traditional family stand which they took recently — but it promotes the path of the ends justifying the means.
Should Christians be studying literature and history from secular textbooks? Are the school’s arguments valid in that the immoral readings can be used as a apologetics-type course? What is the best way to train our children to respond to immoral behavior? Do we start apologetics in the 6th grade, 7th grade, or 8th grade in this manner? Is there another way? Are we sheltering the kids too much by not letting them read the works of the world and them tempering them in Biblical truth?
You have touched on one of the most important questions for Christian educators. Part of an answer to your question includes the importance of age appropriateness. I believe that the younger children are, the more vital it is that we give them an uncompromised Christian perspective. As they grow older and can understand more complex or abstract issues it becomes important to introduce them to other worldviews. This is dangerous for children who have yet to understand that there is a spiritual and intellectual battle going on in our society and in the world. However, if we never introduce them to other perspectives while still under Christian instruction they are open to discouragement and confusion when exposed to opposing ideas in college or later in life. The point is that when students are mature enough they should encounter difficult ideas under the direction of capable Christian instructors. This often acts as an inoculation against discouragement later.
The use of secular textbooks also depends on the subject matter at hand. A good math text from any source can be integrated into a Christian classroom by an alert instructor without much concern. History and literature texts provide a much more difficult challenge. I would want to know that considerable time had been spent on worldview instruction beforehand. Students must be able to comprehend the different faith presuppositions being made by the different worldviews in order to evaluate works of literature sufficiently. I am not against a multicultural component in history and literature as long as it is genuinely attempting to inform students about other cultures belief systems and traditions. Attempts to make all belief systems or worldviews morally equivalent has to be rejected and shown to be invalid to the students, as does religious pluralism. Offering a multicultural curriculum simply to comply with state or testing standards is not a sufficient cause. The material should be as inclusive as truth demands and must be interpreted through a Christian worldview.
I do not doubt that some middle school students are capable of understanding the worldview issues at hand and that they can benefit from reading and discussing works that challenge the Christian perspective. However, the instructor should be very careful to introduce this material only after properly preparing the students and to maintain a healthy balance between works that reinforce the students faith and those that present a challenge to it. Those schools who offer a classical approach (the trivium) to Christian schooling usually note that the middle school years are ideal for introducing the instruction of logic and debating skills (dialectic phase). Materials that help accomplish this instruction often must include opposing viewpoints.
Merely offering students a diverse view of the world does not appear to me to be a legitimate goal of Christian education. Introducing students to various perspectives in order to evaluate them in light of revealed truth and to become a more effective ambassador for Gods Kingdom might be more appropriate.
Make sure that when you voice your concerns to your childs teacher that you are ready to listen carefully to his or her response. If you have to take up the matter with the schools administration, do so in a manner that will benefit the school in the long run.
I hope this is of some help.