Rev. Aaron Slack
Grace Community School’s educational ministry, the ministry you will learn to operate as a Grace Community School Apprentice, has a focus: preschool. Why preschool, and not elementary, middle, high school, or college, you might ask? It is a good question.
Preschools are not taken very seriously by the Christian education community. They are pretty much lumped together with Sunday School and VBS – something nice for the church to do with the youngsters. A decent outreach program, but not too important. Predictably, the selection of homeschool curricula for preK is minimal. The preschool grades, if they are done at all by a Christian school, are an afterthought. The weighty upper grades are the crown of the school.
Many excellent books have been published on the topic of what is wrong with the public schools. Hardly anything has been written on what is wrong with typical preschools from a Christian perspective; this is because preschools have been ignored by the Christian community. Some small preschools are started by local churches, of course, but these are little more than mother’s day out programs, or just a stepping stone to starting a “real” school. They are not set up with the goal of advancing God’s kingdom the way elementary and higher Christian schools are. Christians do not want to start preschools!
A school that does not have upper grades is not considered by most people to be a “real school”. Grace Community School does have upper grades, but that is not our primary mission. We maintain that the pre-K grades are actually the most important. This is where the good fight is being fought, or would be but for the fact that most Christians have utterly abandoned the battlefield! Or rather, they never reported for duty in the first place.
Preschools are not prestigious. They will not earn you any academic respectability. Your students will not be renowned for their scholarship or athletic achievement. In fact, many people (especially Christians) will refuse to believe that the work you do is of much importance at all. If you are like us, your critics will deny that it is even possible to teach kids to read and have them understand the Ten Commandments. No, preschools will not get you the praise of man. No matter how much you teach the children, people will always disparage it as nothing more than glorified babysitting. Some “Christians” will even call you wicked and accuse you of luring mothers out of the home for profit.
Why do we do it? There are many reasons. As Dr. McIntyre explains in his book, there is an under served market in the preschool area. This is where the customers are. With the free schooling available for kindergarten and higher grades in the public school, competition for those ages is fierce, and those looking for private schools are often more interested in obtaining a status symbol than in getting a good education for their children. Grace Community School does not seek to be considered a status symbol.
The government makes the private school’s job very difficult by offering schooling free (or, at least seen as free). It’s hard to compete with free. Even if the free product is terrible, it’s still free! But daycare, that is different. People still have to pay for daycare; the government does not quite have a monopoly here. Parents footing the bill for childcare will at least make some pretense at shopping around and comparing educational programs. This is an area in which you can excel with much fewer resources than you could with older grades. This is because the higher the grade level, the more resources are required to “adequately” teach to fulfill parent’s expectations. One benefit of dealing with younger children is that, despite the best efforts of early childhood educrats, educational degree requirements for teachers are much more relaxed (read: less government interference). Unfortunately, elementary and higher grades become focused on the trappings of school – sports, after school clubs and the like. It’s not that there is something necessarily inherently wrong with those things, but parents and teachers tend to see them as the main point of school, to the detriment of actual education.
A small school attempting to satisfy those kinds of demands while charging modest tuition will run into problems, and to what end? The children you teach will have already, to a large degree, had their basic attitudes, prejudices, and religion formed by others. Parents will place more and more demands upon you and your faculty. You will also have to deal with a growing body of complaints from parents and discipline problems from kids – God forbid you harm the self-esteem of one of those perfect angels! Parental demands for preschool are much simpler, enabling the small preschool operator to compete on a more even level. What this means is that the Christian entrepreneur can excel, make money, and at the same time make much more of a spiritual impact than a regular Christian school could ever hope to.
All of the preceding is true, and important, but it is not the primary reason.
Children are most impressionable while they are young – very young. Piaget, Rousseau, and their humanist disciples have understood this very well. “For the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” (Luke 16:8) This is a great opportunity wasted by Christians. Young children are largely left out of real education, whether that be religious training or academics. Just as childcare experts claim that children are too young to learn to read, many in the church believe children are too young for “serious” theology. They probably would not say that out loud, but you do not have to look further than the concept of “Children’s Church” to see in what low regard children are held. On this topic the church and humanistic early childhood gurus agree. I and my fellow Grace Community School missionaries have been told many times that the Ten Commandments are too complicated and abstract for four-year olds to understand, and so should not be taught. Grace Community School knows different.
If you want to truly reach children and really change them, the preschool years must be the focus. We are given a brief window to make a lasting impression on children, a few years in which they accept what they are told with far less skepticism than older children do. We are occasionally asked by thinking children, “Are the stories in the Bible real?” It does sound a bit hard to believe – a talking donkey, a man who survived three days in the belly of a fish, dead people who came back to life, an omnipotent and omnipresent Creator – but it is all true. And children will accept the truth. Try telling the average adult that! Furthermore, the children are at an age in which they will accept the morality of the Ten Commandments. Not that they follow them perfectly, nor does anyone, but they accept the truth of them. They will believe in a world of right and wrong governed by God and His law.
In almost every case, those wanting to establish Christian schools have as the primary emphasis elementary or higher grades. They forbid the little children to come. Reality is that the thick of the battle is being waged in the early years of our children’s lives. Do not be surprised that the government has poured billions upon billions of dollars into programs like Head Start. The enemies of Christianity know how important the early years are. You may have heard of the “Birth to Five” movement. Those in early childhood education want ever greater government involvement in young children’s lives. Large numbers of supposedly private advocacy groups and think tanks are lobbying for more funds to this end. Those who have read Brave New World can guess where this is heading.
Hitler famously said, “When an opponent declares, ‘I will not come over to your side,’ I calmly say, ‘Your child belongs to us already… What are you? You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing else but this new community.'” Hitler understood what God’s people do not seem to. Humanist preschools begin indoctrination in the cradle; Christians need to do the same. It is very hard to convince Christians that preschool is where the battle is being waged, even when they should know better. If changed lives are your goal, the earlier you teach children the better. How many Christians unknowingly give up the reward that could have been theirs for a bit of academic prestige?
Do you want to make a real, lasting difference in the lives of children and in society, and at the same time earn a great reward? Start a Christian preschool. The Grace Community School Apprenticeship program will show you how.
Rev. Aaron M. Slack is the manager of a family-run Christian school in Fort Myers, Florida, along with his wife, Amy, and five children. He is the son of a pastor, and has lived in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. He moved to Florida in 1994 and has worked for Grace Community School since 2001. He has a Masters degree in Christian Education from Patriot Bible University. He enjoys computers, science fiction, reading, and coffee. Find out more about the Grace Community School Apprenticeship Program at www.gcsapprenticeship.com