I wrote yesterday about a recent Oklahoma legislative measure that would provide for secondary reviews of some 8,000 "unsatisfactory" scores from Oklahoma third graders. The test was for reading proficiency, and Oklahoma Law mandates that students be retained if they fail the test.
This reminded me of the role of reading education in the history of the Church. The modern "Sunday school" program has its roots in mid 19th century England, where poor and low-income children whose families couldn't afford tuition to private school received free lessons and tutoring in churches. Sunday school really was all about academics in the beginning. Today's children's Christian education programs aren't even a shade of their ancestry.
Here's a basic outline of what that was like.
Since then, and really beginning with the evangelical movement in American in the 1950's, churches have been focused on discipleship, bible memorization and teaching atonement theology for children. But what if that changed. What if churches, instead of pouring thousands of dollars into the evangelism of children (often used as a ploy to get their parents in the door and hopefully get them to tithe), churches instead returned to a more academic approach to Christian education? What if Sunday mornings or Wednesday afternoons or Tuesday evenings became about helping children learn math and science, or the humanities, or reading proficiency? What if churches took their zeal for raising up generations of disciples and included well educated and fluent children? Our churches are full of educators. Would they be willing to volunteer an hour or 2 a month on a recurring schedule to help under-served and those with limited access to important resources?
Would churches view a program like that as a "hand-out" or easy charity, thus not giving it the time, attention or space it needs? Or would churches see it as an integral piece to the mission of love and justice that the church has espoused for centuries?
Many churches have kid's music programs. Mine does. But do these music programs teach kids to read music, or do they just teach kids how to sing along with a cute-sy audio track with basic choreography, as if making it on American Idol or The Voice were the all encompassing goals of today's young people.
My church houses art classes through the week. What would it be like to incorporate artistic education (ie. more than foam & stencil crafts of the baby Jesus in the manger) and expression into our academic approach to serving our community?
I'm just thinking, what would a throwback to the origins of Sunday school look like in today's churches?