Undoubtedly the reader will be aware that a decision has to be made about kindergarten at our John Calvin School. As I understand it, the provincial government currently funds the halftime kindergarten now offered at John Calvin School, but plans in future to supply funds only if we (and it’s true of any school) will offer fulltime kindergarten. ‘Fulltime’ means, of course, five full days for the five year olds. So there’s the question: do we offer free (to us) fulltime kindergarten or do we forego all kindergarten at JCS (so that those who desire kindergarten send their little ones to other options in the community) or we continue with the present halftime kindergarten (be it at the association’s or participants’ cost)? One wonders: would the Word of the Lord help us in finding an answer?
Before I dig into the matter, perhaps a couple of clarifications are in order. The first is that British Columbia’s current legislation requires all children to be educated beginning in the year in which a child turns 6 years old. The government does not stipulate whether that education occur in the home (called ‘home-schooling’) or in a school environment (whether public or private). Practice is that most parents send their children out of the home to a formal learning environment for Grades 1 and following.
The second comment is that kindergarten is today not mandatory, and the government’s proposed kindergarten will not make it mandatory either. Parents are and remain free to keep their children at home and teach them there what they will. Kindergarten is not meant to be educationally preparatory for Grade 1, but socially preparatory. The reason for the government moving to fund only fulltime kindergarten is connected with the observation that many parents in our province are not preparing their children for Grade 1, eg, in ensuring that their youngsters know English.
The third is that the government is on record as wanting in upcoming years to supply ‘kindergarten’ also for the province’s four year and three year olds. Again, sending children to the four year old or three year old option will be voluntary, but tax dollars will be made available for such full-time ‘instruction’. The evident trend, of course, is that the government wishes to be involved, in some way, with early childhood education.
The Lord God makes it very plain in His Word that becoming a parent is a distinct privilege. Consider the following:
• The Lord God, almighty as He is, does not need parents in order to bring children into His world. He is able to repeat endlessly what He did in the beginning, namely, create a man from the dust of the earth and from his rib create a wife for him. As it is, the Lord is pleased to have new generations appear on earth not through repeated creations of new people but through the coming together of man and wife. This new generation comes into the world not as competent adults (unlike Adam) but, by God’s ordinance, as helpless infants. Through entrusting children to parents God commands those parents to care for and train these little ones to independence.
• The marvel of parenting becomes the richer when we realize that this same God is mighty to have specific children born of any two parents He wishes. He could, if He so wishes, have had my child (ie, identical character, genetic makeup, etc) born to Buddhist parents living in Outer Mongolia. He did not do so; He sovereignly, graciously, entrusted this child to my family instead. This realisation highlights the privilege of becoming a parent – let alone becoming parent of a particular child.
• The child God entrusted to my care has a unique identity. That is: God in mercy established a bond of love with this child, claimed her as His by covenant. Because of that identity He also ensured that this child of His receive believing parents – so that His covenant child might learn from us who her Father in heaven is. To be made parents of one of God’s little ones: it’s a privilege indeed!
If our becoming parents is then such a privilege, there is obviously a mandate that follows. What might this mandate look like?
In consideration of this mandate, I invite the reader to reflect with me on the command of God to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1. The Lord God determined to make the creature man “in our image, in our likeness,” with the mandate to “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1:26). In their ruling over creation, then, the human race was to reflect to all creatures what God in heaven was like. Talk about a high calling! But it’s clear that the two people God created, Adam and Eve, could not by themselves reflect what God was like to all the birds and fish, to all the goats and gophers of the world. Hence God’s command to these two people to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). That is: Adam and Eve were to bring forth many little ones who could image to the rest of creation what God was like. Yet these little ones Adam and Eve were to bring forth would not know instinctively how to image God, so that Adam and Eve need only multiply and not worry about training; rather, with the command to be fruitful and increase in number was the command for Adam and Eve to teach their little ones who God was and so what sort of conduct reflected Him well. To say it differently: God at creation ordained that children be entrusted to parents so that those parents might teach their little ones who He actually was.
Of course, after the fall into sin this task of the parents has become immeasurably more difficult. The sinfulness of the parents combined with the depravity of their little ones makes for an explosive mix that ought to make God-centred parenting totally impossible. (That’s of course why particular parents might feel that they are not up to the task of being parents of God’s little ones, and so be inclined to pass on this task to perceived professionals.)
We need to bear in mind, however, that the command of the beginning remains, and the Lord in His goodness has granted the renewing work of His Holy Spirit. As a result, sinful parents might yet be enabled to show sinful children who their Father in heaven is – that in turn these little ones can reflect to all the world what their God is like. So the apostle Paul can tell the believers of Ephesus that they have been renewed to “be like God” (Ephesians 4:24) and adds the command to “be imitators of God” (5:1), and so tell children to “obey your parents in the Lord” (6:1). That command for children to obey their parents presupposes, of course, the creation ordinance God gave to parents to train His little ones to know their covenant Father. This also explains why the Bible repeats over and over again what the task of parents actually is. Concerning Abraham, for example, God said: “I have chosen him, so that he will direct his [covenant] children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just” (Genesis 18:19). To the Israelites at the institution of the Passover the Lord said: “When your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them…” (Exodus 12:26f). As Israel was about to enter the Promised Land, Moses told them: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments which I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:5ff). The New Testament is no different: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
In fact, this is why the Lord God wired little children to ask that “Why?” question so persistently. With that question from their innocent little ones, the Lord God gives fathers and mothers the opportunity to instruct their little ones truthfully and accurately (though obviously not yet completely) in the way of the Lord and His service. More, the Lord fashioned the young mind in such a way that toddlers and children readily imitate their parents – and so it’s imperative that fathers and mothers model the fruits of the Spirit and impress on their little ones what the fruit of the Spirit needs to look like in their little lives. At the same time they need to make it abundantly clear that even for little children such works of the flesh as selfishness and tantrums and pouting are not acceptable forms of behaviour for one who is meant to image God.
The point of the above? The Lord God entrusted children to parents, and instructed these parents to bring up their children to know their covenant God and reflect in real life what He is like.
To no one else??
Does the fact that God entrusts His little ones to believing parents imply that He does not entrust children to the care of the state or to teachers? The Biblical answer would have to be Yes, that’s true. Not only is the Bible clear about God entrusting children to parents, but it’s equally clear that the Lord does not entrust children to the state or to teachers. I do not know of a single instance in Israel where the Lord entrusted a child to the care of the state of Israel. It’s true that Pharaoh’s daughter took Moses for herself with as result that “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22). It’s also train that Daniel and his three friends were forcibly trained by the authorities of Babylon (Daniel 1). But such examples of what happened to these youngsters is nowhere set before us as an example as to what should have happened to the youngsters of Israel or to children today. In fact, these two instances relate how unbelieving authorities acted, not godly authorities. In sum, the singular emphasis of Scripture is that God has children enter the world through parents and with that reality the parents are instructed to bring up these children to image what God is like. Training up the child is not the prerogative of the state or of professional educators, but is the privileged responsibility of parents.
This structure of things as God has ordained it does not mean that parents must do all the training themselves, to the exclusion of seeking assistance from others. The Lord told the priests and Levites, for example, to teach His precepts to the people, and that obviously included the children who accompanied their parents to the sacrifices. The simple fact of the matter is that parents in Israel –as also parents today– do not know all things. That our culture knows the concept of schooling is Biblically fine. That, however, is a different concept than parents abrogating their task to the trained educationalists of today, so that parents wash their hands of their God-given task of teaching their children to know God. That schools be parent-controlled is a very Biblical model, as is also that parents remain very involved in the school and in their children’s homework.
So the question comes back: should John Calvin School move to fulltime kindergarten? Is the fact that the government would pay for it (whereas parents and/or school association would need to finance part-time kindergarten) be a good reason to join the province’s bandwagon? The Biblical data listed above indicates the answer to this question needs to be No. The Lord has entrusted children to parents. Out of respect for this divine ordinance, parents do well to keep their little ones home and use the opportunity their children’s questions offer to teach them as much as they can about what the service of the Lord looks like. The day will come quickly enough when most parents feel out of their depth in giving their child the level of education the government requires. But as long as parents can keep their little ones home, let them do so. Let there be no temptation (or even social push) to nudge the five year olds (let alone the fours or the threes) away from the God-given educators into the hands of perceived specialists.
Not for nothing did Paul tell Titus to “teach the older woman to … train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God” (Titus 2:3-5). The reference to children and being busy at home recalls God’s ordinance of creation: man and woman are to be fruitful and multiply, and that includes that they are to raise their children.
May 7, 2010