More than a decade ago, I met a friend who was a well-known church leader. He was famous for his sermons and theological knowledge and many believers respected him.He said that the minimum income from his annual sermons and lectures was 200,000 yuan per year plus the tuition income of running theological courses of more than 200,000 yuan. Although he just graduated from high school but only studied certificate courses in a seminary, he was satisfied with his situation. He was obviously a successful preacher.
When he met me in October, he cheerfully told me that the year's income target of 200,000 yuan had been reached and that he had bought a second hand car. He took me around town in his car.
It was this fame and status that made him choose Christian homeschooling for his child. There were several reasons. One, was that his reputation was widely known and choosing a public school was clearly incompatible with his career and reputation as a preacher. It would directly affect his identity and others' expectations of him. Second, he had always been in Christian circles, no matter who it was he knew or the information he was exposed to. Moreover, he expected his child to continue his career.
When his popularity was at its peak, which was also when the annual income averaged less than 200,000 in China, it was also around the time when traditional Christianity moved from the rural to the urban areas because of the trend of migrant jobs. As a result, the financial offerings of believers given to the church increased as their income changed. That was why he earned so much. On the other hand, because believers had left their hometown for a life in the city, the church had become their only place for emotional and community support. All the while, there was a conceptual conflict with the urban culture. This conflict caused a resistance towards urban living. Consequently, they gave all their attention to the church.
Returning home for Spring Festival each year for only a short time did not have any lasting impact on them. It was in this context that Christian homeschooling began to become more popular and receive more attention.
Of course, given this context, there were those like my preacher friend mentioned above with high income and high reputation.
The idea of home-schooling is quite similar to that of the Jews during the time of exile. They were taken away to different places and as a result, did not conform to the surrounding culture in order to maintain their own cultural and national identity. Similarly, Christian home-schooling is based on a belief in not conforming to the world.
These schools are extremely limited in terms of staff and facilities. The prospect of this humble religious schooling has replaced parents' concerns about qualifications. These schools tend to use families' homes for activities. Therefore there is no playground, no library, no actual classroom, and not enough room for activities. None of the teachers even have university degrees, not to mention not having professional teacher-training qualifications. What is more worrying is their educational content. The content that is taught in a public school, here is shortened, and the religious content is expanded to include such as topics as the Bible, the catechism, the creeds, etc.
It is difficult to say whether or not such schooling can produce students with the skills to develop socially in a healthy way. Even adapting to society can become a problem. Such education only trains to become professional church workers.
But this era of homeschooling will not last forever. It only has a short time left as the city continues to open up. The numbers in that generation of urban migrant workers who are believers is gradually decreasing. The city's migrant churches are also shrinking. With the next two or three generations, there will be an increase in number of those who no longer adhere to the values of their fathers. As the distance between the older and younger generation increases and adapting to the ways of the city narrows, the church is no longer the only institution that supports them. Their circle of life is expanding to the whole city and not confined to the church alone. Then came the decline of such schools.
I don't know what the result was for my friend to have sent his child to a church school, but I don't think it's going to be ideal. As his income and reputation declines, especially when it comes to society opening up, this sense of decline will be even more apparent. So it is not wise to have sent his child to an confined Christian school.
I'm not against homeschooling. There were many famous people in history who had not been educated in a traditional school but were taught by tutors at home and who achieved great things. Yet those tutors were often well-trained individuals, such as Kant, Rousseau, Descartes. The author of, "If I Was Given Three Days of Light" was the famous Helen Keller who at home completed her studies and became a writer. But her tutor was a bold educator.
What I object to is education that regards children as subjects of experiments, and thinking that replaces a child's future with unrealistic, yes seemingly unrealistic educational practices and notions. In addition, I object to schooling that educates a child to become a religious product.
Schooling should provide a child with broad vision and knowledge, with the tools to climb heights and explore horizons, and the ability to live a happy life rather than building walls and keeping them in their own imaginations.
- Translated by Charlie Li