The 'unfortunate separation' between public and Christian schools
An advocate for education examines the relationship between public and Christian schools and what it will take for both to thrive.
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Bailey McBride Brandon Tatum | For The Christian Chronicle
Sadly, many of us view Christian and public schools as competitors, adversaries.

In reality, we both truly desire the best for our children.

Brandon Tatum | ViewsI have spent the past decade working in Christian education. I have developed close friendships with dedicated educators across the country. Many serve in public and charter schools. I have a deep respect for these men and women, and I know the love they have for their children is the same love that we Christian educators have for our students. In fact, my mother has spent 20 years serving public schools and has dedicated her life to bring out greatness in children and teachers.

Following her example, I love and respect public education just as I love — and advocate for — Christian education. I’m thankful that our nation ensures us the freedom to offer faith-based learning to our children. I am grateful for the men and women who have fought and died to protect these freedoms.
'I believe that the differences between public and Christian education today can be summed up by one word: freedom.'
As I look back through the history of education in our country, I see similarities between Christian education today and the formative years of public education. Schools from elementary to university once were tied closely to churches and, in many cases, were overseen by church leaders.
Children line up for a photo during recess at Oklahoma Christian Academy, a K-12 school associated with Churches of Christ. (PHOTO BY JANA HILL)
Over time, the religious freedom that served as the foundation of our public education system was stripped away, and now an unfortunate separation exists between public and Christian schools.

I believe that the differences between public and Christian education today can be summed up by one word: freedom. Both desire excellence. Both seek to utilize best practices and good sense in their classrooms. But Christian schools have the freedom to educate children without the restrictions and mandates often imposed on public schools by legislators, politicians, and lobbyist groups. In Christian schools, we’re allowed to teach students free from many of these constraints.
'To thrive, we must be a diverse community that values freedom and honors God.'
Our teachers have the freedom to talk about their faith in the classroom without fear of retaliation, lawsuits or termination. I believe that a school environment centered on honoring God can do incredible things for our families, our cities and our nation.

Our Christian beliefs do not limit us in what we teach. Rather, our faith requires us to strive for excellence in everything we do. It demands a high standard for our school community — in our actions and in academics. We strive to align our teaching with biblical truth, but we don’t shut our ears to teachings and concepts that challenge our beliefs. To thrive, we must be a diverse community that values freedom and honors God. In this regard, I know we can do better.

A Christian education is not a perfect education, but it is a beautiful one.

American education is under-performing in far too many areas — and struggling against far too many standards. Something must change.

Some argue that reform can be found with the addition of more technology and innovation. At Oklahoma Christian Academy, where I serve as president, we’re blessed to have classrooms equipped with interactive whiteboards and innovative programs. Our most recent class of 22 grads had $1.5 million in scholarship offers, and our ACT averages continue to be significantly higher than state and national averages.

Although technology has helped our students prepare for university and beyond, I believe that the real reason for their success — and the answer to school reform — is the freedom that we enjoy.

We must give this freedom back to our educators. We must realign our schools more closely to the purpose of education — the formation of engaged, literate, proactive, service-minded citizens. We must return to these foundational principles and reclaim them for the 21st century.

Christian school educators must bring their voices together as one and help our friends and family in public schools.

BRANDON TATUM is president of Oklahoma Christian Academy, a K-12 school in Edmond, Okla., associated with Churches of Christ. He is a board member and secretary for the National Christian School Association. He and his family worship with the Memorial Road Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.
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