This past week, as a fellow teacher and I were talking about the many discipline problems we have in our classes, a third teacher came along and told us her solution to all these problems was to tell the children, “There are no bad children, just bad choices.” I couldn’t help but share the thought on my Facebook page and it generated quite a bit of buzz.
As for my response to the teacher who said this, I simply smiled, nodded and bit my tongue fighting back the deep desire to bring some actual biblical truth to bear on the conversation. Knowing that whatever I said would be rejected, I went back to my classroom full of “non-bad” children, who make horrendous “decisions.” Of course, the goodness of these children just abounds. I get tingly goose bumps just thinking about it…no, wait, that is actually a recurring rash I get as a result of stress.
The reality is that the statement the teacher made and my beliefs about human depravity are on a collision course. No, that isn’t right. The more I think about it, the more I realize that the woman’s view is the only one that is allowed. My worldview has been completely removed from the school system. The powers that be have deemed a Christian worldview completely unacceptable in our educational system, especially in regards to our view on the nature of man.
What this means is that the orthodox Christian view that children are born into sin, with an original sin nature (Psalm 51:5, Romans 5:12, 18), is not permitted. This view of total, or complete, depravity, has been with us and considered as orthodox Christian doctrine since the early church. Augustine and Pelagius debated it for years.
Pelagius had the view that children are born as clean slates, good even, and it was up to us to train the children in their goodness. He denied original sin and said we had the free will to choose between right and wrong. Our morality was completely determined by us. The center of who we are was found in the heart of man (never mind that Jeremiah declares the heart wicked and deceitful above all things. Jeremiah 17:9, along with Proverbs 17:20). I realize that this a brief summary of Pelagius’ view of sin nature, but I don’t have time to dig any deeper. The point is that this is the view held by the school system, today’s culture, and sadly, much of the church.
Augustine’s view was that we are born into sin and this is why all men sin. In other words, we are not born with a good nature, but born sinful and need correction from the beginning. Not only does Romans 5:12 declare this truth to us, we see it in reality when we have children. I never taught my children to lie, yet they lie (Romans 3:4). I’ve never taught them to hit, yet they hit. I’ve never taught them to be disrespectful, but they are. Not that my children are all that bad in comparison to some of the children I deal with every day in the public school system. They are not. But they are sinners, in need of a Savior.
The general principle today is that I should put them in time out when they do transgress, and tell them that they are making “bad choices.” Yet, what screams at anyone with a bit of thought in this matter is that if you do not have any standard by which to judge bad or good, then how can you declare a choice as bad or good? How can you say that little Johnny is being bad when he decides to disobey my instructions, when there is no real standard of right and wrong in the worldview of the school? Remember, little Johnny is born good, according to the Pelagian model of understanding. But again, by what basis do we say they are born good? Where is this standard in the public school system?
This is one of my struggles I have as a teacher. I do have a standard, but I cannot use my standard, which happens to be God’s standard, to judge right and wrong. Just having the Law of God posted in the classrooms would have a restraining effect. (This is one of the three purposes of the Law, to restrain evil in society.) I know some might call this an illogical conclusion, but I will say it anyway: the children in our classrooms are not restrained because there is nothing there to restrain them. We are virtually powerless to do anything.
This is becoming more evident to all the teachers as we progress through the year. Our avenues to deal with disruptive, disobedient, and deceptive children are extremely limited. We can…move them from one chair to another, take them into the hallway and discuss our vague concepts of right and wrong, call their parents (who are powerless as well), and write them up. This last tactic means that the principal will have a discussion with them, and they might get placed in lunch detention, or spend a day in ISS (in-school suspension). In the end, so what? What punishment is that for a kid that really doesn’t want to be in the classroom in the first place? We are powerless.
I admit the the Law of God, meaning the Ten Commandments, is powerless to convert the soul. It is not powerless to bring restraint to society. Remove the Law of God, as we did so many years ago, and there will be no restraint. Reminds me of the first few verses in Psalm 2.
Why do the nations rage,
And the people plot a vain thing?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,
3 “Let us break Their bonds in pieces
And cast away Their cords from us.”
Since I cannot bring the truth to bear on the situation, I’m left with powerless platitudes such as telling the children how good they are, and to not to make “bad choices” which, as I’ve stated above, is silly in the long run. The problem is that I don’t like to lie. Telling these children that they are good when they are not, is to lie. I will let the rest of the school system tell them that. I will continue to hold my tongue and trust as Daniel did, that if the kings of world are to recognize the truth of God, it’s going to take God doing it.