Made to Learn Is NOT About…America!

Christian Education and Nationalism

“God, Family, and Country.” If you’re an American Christian, you’ve probably heard this formulation of priorities before. The obvious meaning is that God comes before everything, family before all others, and your country before other countries.

But does this slogan reflect biblical priorities, and how does it relate to education? Since Christian education flows out of biblical priorities, let’s start there and use the two great commandments as a litmus test: Love God and love your neighbor* (Lk. 10:27).

  • God? Check.
  • Family? Definitely counts as a neighbor and fits into other passages affirming relationships with parents, spouses, and children. Check.
  • Country? Should also count as a neighbor, where lots of people with shared interests and goals live in relatively close proximity. Check.

Great. So, we seem to have a faithful rubric for how to interact with the world…if…and only if…”country” means just one among many, with no one country having primacy over the rest. If however the good of your country is a higher priority than the good of other countries, then your priorities are not biblical. Since that is exactly what people mean when they say “God, Family, and Country,” it is not an expression of Christian priorities.

Christians should reject all forms of nationalism, especially American exceptionalism. Nationalism is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a feeling that people have of being loyal to and proud of their country often with the belief that it is better and more important than other countries.” By definition, it’s exclusive and competitive in nature and therefore contrary to the Christian call for love and inclusion. While nationalism is common all over the world, Americans are particularly susceptible to arguments for the exceptionality of their exceptionalism.

American Christians should take (exceptional) heed.

Christian Education

So, what does any of that have to do with education? Lots.

American public education has had from its inception an explicitly nationalistic goal. The end of education was not the good of the child or the family, but the competitive advantage of the country. And nothing has changed. The discussion on how well (or poorly) American schools are doing is couched in comparisons with other nations. The fear of the US lagging behind other industrialized countries inspires fear about the future economy. Which leads to talk about how to standardize curriculum to meet the nationalist agenda. (“We need more scientists, especially female scientists!”) All the while, children become nothing more than cogs in the machine, means to the ends of the powerful. Though teachers desire to empower their students, the very system itself is designed to do the opposite.

Okay, but Christian schools. They are fundamentally different. They have:

  • Bible class
  • regular chapels
  • Christian vision and mission statements
  • a Christian philosophy of education

All of which are built on top of the same basic structure you find in public schools. They are merely add-ons to the same state or national standards that public schools use to dictate what is taught and when. Which means that they are primarily “schools” (as purposed and defined elsewhere) and secondarily “Christian”.** It’s no surprise then that Christian schools are just as nationalistic in practice as public schools.

There’s a lot more to say, but this post is more about opposing nationalism than it is about constructing a positive case for an alternative. But perhaps you can beat me to it by sharing your thoughts in the comments. It would help shape the posts to come. 🙂

For now, here’s a replacement slogan that’s worth spreading: “God, Family, and the World.”

Questions: What is the goal of Christian education? What would it look like if Christian schools chose not to compete in the same market as public schools.

Please check back often or subscribe via email or RSS to get the rest of this series! The next one is on originality!

*Jesus addresses the question of neighbor-ness not just by defining who your neighbors are, but also what it means to be a neighbor to others.

**I will argue in posts to come that Christian schools should be primarily Christian and therefore an environment of purpose and education as a matter of consequence.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.