The Importance of Secondary Education
What I have said earlier is true of all of the educational process. It may be applied along the entire gamut of education, from kindergarten to graduate school.
Our concern is at present with secondary, i.e., high school, education. This covers the years from the ninth or tenth through the twelfth grade. And indeed, this is a distinct area of education. It has its own peculiar characteristics and its own peculiar problems. All educators recognize this fact. We recognize it also. While we desire ideally an entire system of education, we want to give due attention to the distinct parts of that system. For that reason we have a separate board, and look forward to having a separate plant and a separate staff also.
The question is: what, in general, is the distinct position of the secondary school?
The answer is: the secondary school trains covenant youth in those extremely crucial years of adolescence. They are the years when the pupil is no longer a child, but not yet an adult. Crucial these years are, because they are in a special sense formative years. Years they are when the pupil more and more begins to think for himself, to be concerned with the reasons for things, to be concerned with the truth behind the facts, to be concerned with principles. They are years when covenant youth very rapidly develops toward maturity in every respect—physically, psychically and spiritually. And because they are formative years in an emphatic sense, it is crucial that parents and educators take care that the seed of the covenant are properly formed, that is, instructed and trained.
From this point of view, there is something even more crucial, I dare say, about those high school years than about the grade school years. And as adherents of Protestant Reformed education, we do well to remember this.
Nor is a word of warning out of place in this connection, as long as we do not have our own high school. The warning is: don’t just let your high school children find their own way! Don’t just let them grow wild, grow like weeds! Train them; guide them; counsel them; warn them of the pitfalls; keep a watchful eye for non-Reformed influences in their education; talk with them; help them!
But all this is not enough. We ought to have something positively Protestant Reformed for our Protestant Reformed youth in those crucial years of adolescence.
Concrete Implications of this Ideal
Now what do we need in order to realize the above ideal at the secondary level?
Of course, one of the first items we think about is the physical plant. We need land; we need a building; we need equipment. And this entails money, of course.
Nor would I ever deny this need. That physical plant is necessary; and the funds to build it are necessary.
But I want to emphasize tonight that this is not the first item. It is not first because it is not the most essential. You can very well have the plant and not have either a school or a Protestant Reformed school. You don’t have to be able to count to ten to figure that one out. In fact—although from a practical point of view this is not feasible today—you can very well have a school without having the physical plant. It takes much more essential things to have a school and especially a Protestant Reformed school.
Why do I emphasize this? Because when finally the money is there and the school is erected, I want to be sure that that school building is going to contain a definitely and thoroughly Protestant Reformed high school. And I emphasize it too, because I believe that we must first have the essential things and must first be devoted to the ideal and to the essential elements of the realization of that ideal. And when there is the clear conception of the ideal and the guarantee of the actual realization of that ideal, then our Protestant Reformed parents can and should and will give freely, from the heart, of their material goods, in order that the necessary physical plant may also be erected to house a Protestant Reformed high school.
Well, what do we need in order to have a school?
First of all, we need pupils. And we have them: Protestant Reformed pupils! We surely have a sufficient number of pupils, too, to have a high school of our own. We must view those pupils as a loan, a charge, a sacred trust from our covenant God. And we must never shirk our covenant duty with respect to them.
In the second place, we need teachers. They also are said to be available in sufficient numbers. I think I can believe this, in spite of the fact that our schools still face a shortage at the grade school level. But we need more than a number of teachers. We need more even than a number of teachers who are personally Protestant Reformed. We need Protestant Reformed educators, men and women able and willing to work and to work hard, at developing educational materials at the secondary level from a thoroughly and positively Reformed—and to me, that means Protestant Reformed—point of view. And not only do we need these; but we need a staff. I mean we need a staff right now! That is a concrete suggestion I want to make. We ought to have a staff working long before a high school is opened. Call it a “shadow staff” if you will, just as they sometimes speak of a president-to-be having a “shadow cabinet” before he actually takes office. I am not concerned with what it would take to set up such a staff at present. I want to emphasize that we should have such a staff! Put them under contract or whatever is required. But put them to work!
And thirdly, we need a curriculum and subject material. I mean that we need this not just formally. You could probably from a formal point of view set up a curriculum for a high school in a couple of hours. But again, I mean a Protestant Reformed curriculum. And I mean the latter not just in the sense that we should have some very general principles and a very broad outline. But we ought to have as much as possible to articulation and spelling out of these principles in every branch of learning at the secondary level.
My viewpoint, therefore, is that we must not just go blindly ahead with building plans and drives, etc. and trust that all the rest—and that all the rest is the essentials, remember—will come in due time.
No, when the school opens, these essentials must be there. And we have to provide them. We should be devoting primary attention to these essentials. These essentials should be getting at least as much time and effort as the building and the finances. And I am confident that if we can show our people that these things are being done, then “catching the vision”, they will wholeheartedly go along with it and support it.
The above is, briefly, our obligation as Protestant Reformed parents.
By parents I mean all present and future users of such a high school, in the first place. And, in the broadest sense, I would include all parents, even those who will not actually use the school, because they are organically concerned.
As surely as we are Protestant Reformed, so surely we will see this as our obligation. And in this area, we have the ability also from a practical point of view—if only we have the will and the purpose of heart.
But, finally, I view this obligation not as a heavy and onerous task, a burden. I view it as a sacred trust from our covenant God.
And hence, I conclude by saying: Ours is the privilege!