A Separation of Church and School

Schoolhouse photo by www.studiodavinci.net

A couple of weeks ago, I saw an article from a high school senior that really stuck with me, as she describes 50 things I wish I’d been taught in high school. The vast majority of them were ones that I thought, “These are what the church is for! This is what the church can do!” If you’re looking for ideas for youth group or mentoring topics, this is the article for you. A few examples:

  • How to show your parents you love them, even as a moody teenager.
  • How to reach out to a friend you’re worried about.
  • What kind of person makes a good friend.
  • How to respectfully challenge authority.

It made me think that we in the church may model too much of our Christian Formation program on the information delivery model of school. And believe me, I know school does a lot more than deliver information! At the same time, it really isn’t the school’s job to teach the kind of things that this teen is talking about.

When we teach things in confirmation classes the way we teach things in school, I think we’re setting ourselves up for failure. There’s absolutely a place for learning about the facts of our faith history. Absolutely, I think that’s something we should look at as part of a process of discerning whether we want to stand up and affirm our faith. But if we expect all of those facts to stick, never expose people to that information again, and somehow believe this will be transformative…we are fooling ourselves.

Before I went to seminary, I was a sign language interpreter, working mostly in school settings. For several years, I worked mostly with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, and I learned a lot! Especially when it came to history, I was amazed at what I learned, and was able to amaze my friends in turn with all of my knowledge. When they asked where I learned all of this, I told them, “Seventh grade history.” It just wasn’t when I was in seventh grade.

I think we all hope confirmation will be a transformative experience for youth. Here are some things that are transformative: relationships, trust, encouragement, building new skills, being allowed to lead, having your voice heard, discovering new things about yourself. When it comes to transformation, learning facts and gaining information is way, way down on the list. The information is only useful if it leads to these other things. And if we think the information is important, we need to share it with both youth and adults.

Confirmation especially gets caught up in the idea that “we need to make sure they know all this stuff.” Well, maybe they do, maybe they don’t. Maybe that’s not the most important thing we can offer.  Maybe we need to consider a separation of church and school. Youth are already in full information gathering mode; what else can we offer them? And adults may be ready to take in the information that slipped past them when they were seventh graders; what do we want them to know?