Most of our college and university students are already back on campus. District by district and school by school, elementary, middle school, and high school students will be back in class by the end of next week or the beginning of the following week. Back to school in September (or so) is as deeply ingrained in our American way as just about anything. We go to school and summers off, we return in the fall. We can argue all we want about the merits of public, charter, private or home schools. We can debate Common Core and teaching to the test. We probably won’t agree on the best funding mechanisms for schools, but everyone agrees that school is a given, an essential and a mandate not be questioned.
It hasn’t always been that the essential place of schools in just society was a given. It still isn’t everywhere. There was a time and there are still places in the world where gender, race, and economic class determined who went to school and who didn’t.
One of the great contributions of the Reformation, and the Reformed Tradition in particular, was an insistence on making education – and the establishment of schools – as widespread as possible. As early as 1560, John Knox, the Scottish Reformer and the father of Presbyterianism, recommended the establishment of schools in every town and village of Scotland for “the vertue and godlie upbringing of the youth of this Realm.”
The Reformers believed that all education was to be to the glory of God. To be sure, that meant being able to read the Bible and know the Catechism. But it also meant knowing the arts and sciences for the common good and the upbuilding of the realm.
Public schools no longer teach the Catechism, but reading still opens the door to the Scriptures and the Truth of the gospel. Math and science still point to a wondrous Creator. Justice and compassion still reflect the nature of God. Christian parents and faithful congregations have an educational task of their own. But good teaching in any setting, and that is for the common good, is also to the glory of God.
So, welcome back to the classroom, all students and all teachers. May the new school year be a year to the glory of God.
Every teacher, every parent, knows, though, that there are some students who are especially taken by the task of learning, especially drawn to the nurture of their minds as a gift from God. This story was posted earlier this week by a Muslim physician working among the Christian refugees on the plains of Nineveh in Northern Iraq. Dr. Sarah Ahmed is a peacemaker. She writes of the little boy whose picture is at the top of this post:
All he wanted was going back to school. When all kids were asking for games, toys, and clothes. This little angel came and touched my hand and asked about school. He wanted me to tell him of what will they do about school. School in Iraq will start soon and apparently he was really worried about it that he cries all the time because he’s not sure if he’ll be able to go back to it.
He wanted me, unlike all the other kids, to get him books and everything related to it. All his family ran from ISIS with nothing but the clothes on them. He was the only one of them that got all his books packed in a bag with him.
I went and I got him all kind of books, coloring books, stationary and all related. And praying that someone will do something about all these kids and school starting soon.
He’s an amazing little kid, his name I think is, “Fahad”.
Why school? Because God has given us minds that allow us to know him and the world he has created. All good education in all places is to the glory of God and for the common good.
Thank God for all students and all teachers. And may you teach and may you learn to the glory of God and for the common good.
And special prayers this “back to school” time for Fahad and all like him.