Yesterday a blogger commented that Fitch got him to recall, in his chps 4-5, that IH Marshall had written an article back in 1985 that argued that the NT evidence does not suggest the Christians got together for “worship” (as we tend to define it) but to learn and to exhort and to fellowship. This is what Fitch’s book will do in every chapter: get you to wonder about your local church and its practices. The last chp of the book does the same — this time with the theory of education in the local church. What is education about? What about public schooling, home-schooling, and parochial schooling? Are any of these adequate models for us?
We come to the last chp of David Fitch’s stimulating book, The Great Giveaway. This chp concerns “moral education,” and the subtitle is once again a poke in the eye: “Evangelicals and the Training of our children to be good Americans: the example of charter education in the public schools.” His contention is that American evangelical parents see Christian education as though it were just another element of the education of the child. Fitch contends that Christians need to restore the sense of catechesis. He thinks that many think that moral and Christian education are the job of the family and that the family can make up for what takes place in the local church. But, can it and should it?
Postmodernity shows that education is more about “formation” than “information,” and if this is the case, then our children are more “formed” by what they experience the most: and that is public education. Is the current arrangement, he asks, adequate?
Public education (esp in the Western world) trains students how to function as citizens of a liberal democracy. In local churches, we have age-specific classes, turning the church into a set of modules of age-specific groups. Catechesis, he contends, is “the initiating of the child into the language and ways of Christian life and practice” (203). Christians are mostly concerned about morals in public education (rather than character formation): the school itself is the character-forming community and it forms students into citizens of a liberal democracy. Home-schooling and Christian schools are not simple alternatives, for both of them are divorced from church formation. Evangelicals, therefore, “give away” the moral formation of their children.
William Bennett’s model is a virtue-shaped-for-liberal-democracy program rather than a genuinely Christian formation. Bennett’s “common heritage” is a bottom line, modernist, liberal, individualistic, capitalistic democracy. Virtues are shaped by the cultural context that teaches them. Fitch contends there are not “universal virtues.” When public schools take over “virtues,” the public school becomes the cultural context shaping the virtue’s meaning. In other words, what many take to be Christian virtues are diluted by pluralism so radically that they are no longer genuinely Christian.
The challenge is to form a robust culture that can shape virtues in the local church. He then surveys three options: activistic participation in public schools, home-schooling, and parochial schooling. Activism at best produces “little victories” that do not stem the tide of the culture (e.g., intelligent design activism). The home is not big enough to counter public culture. He picks on parochial schools for being too patriotic. What is most needed is a catechetical tradition in a community of faith. [Frankly, at this point I think he’s unfair to both the home-schooling and the parochial schools, and I’m not so sure he sees the impact a family can have alongside public schooling — for not all public schools are alike. For my take, the most successful parochial schools are Lutheran schools, and they are so tied to local churches they are as effective as one might expect.]
What is his idea of catechesis? Evangelicals tend to be nervous about catechesis, about any idea that one can be “initiated” into the faith. The current model is disjointed: each group doing its own thing and little sense of development into the larger, adult body. Catechesis envisions the community of faith embodying the faith and leading its youth into that faith. The church is the “social space” for proper formation. The church engages the schools by being a countercommunity (221).
1. Do deliberate catechesis: all the elements are mentioned.
2. Children’s programs need to be tied to the rest of the church
3. Integrate communal worship and children’s ministries
4. Integrate service in the church and teenage youth groups: adult mentoring
5. Subordinate public schools