Giving Voice to Truth, Beauty, and Excellence
by Elaine Rottman, Strategic Communications Director
I’ve been writing about Christian education for almost five decades, beginning as a teen with a letter to the editor of Christian Home and School magazine (published by the National Union of Christian Schools). The topic was why graduates of Christian schools might have trouble articulating their basic beliefs. Even though I took a critical stance, as any worldly-wise 17-year-old should, I stated my gratitude for my Christian elementary school education while calling on the sheltered Christian high schools to get it together to “enable the young adult to face the world and proudly say: ‘This I believe. . .” AND “This is why. . .'” (Kudos to my mom for saving a copy of the magazine so I could quote verbatim from my letter published in the May / June 1977 issue).
Valuing my Christian elementary school education
I valued my Christian elementary school education because I knew my parents sacrificed to send their five children to Christian school, working daily overtime, running side businesses, and providing childcare for other families. (To earn extra cash our entire family cleaned the school every Friday night—something I did not enjoy. What sixth-grade girl wants to clean the boys’ bathroom? Gross!)
I also valued my Christian school education because I knew it was inherently different from public school education. Never mind our academic work was above grade level. Our curriculum was special because it fully integrated God’s creation and Christ’s redemption in every subject—including math. I treasured that distinct difference while I was in elementary school and continued to appreciate it during my public school junior high and senior high days.
Christian education creates a fully integrated life
Forty-six years later, I still believe distinctly Christian education is the best approach for understanding our world, our Creator, and our place in the created world. It is the only way to have a fully integrated life, without an artificial division between what we know to be objective Truth and what the rest of the world would like us to believe is true. Christian education does not compromise. Nor is it rigid or black and white. True Christian education allows room for asking deep and hard questions and pursuing answers as individuals. But it does so within boundaries that provide confidence one can aggressively ask questions and pursue answers without going off the rails.
Christian education is not a shelter
Christian schools are not shelters for protecting children from a big, bad world, as my teenage self thought. A safe bubble never has and never will exist. These schools are the institutions providing an intellectual and spiritual framework integrating all learning with Christian faith. They foster the character traits—such as honesty and integrity and pursuit of the good and beautiful—that help us navigate the challenges we all are bound to face.
Promoting independent Christian education by default
Preserving and protecting independent Christian education became my life’s work and it is the impetus for creating this Reason and Rhetoric blog. But promoting Christian and independent schools is not what I originally set out to do and I have not always embraced my work as a significant calling.
Growing up, I wanted to be a doctor, but was discouraged by my parents, who back in the 1970s advised me a woman could not have a family and be devoted to a demanding career like medicine. When my college boyfriend (and eventual husband) and I began to consider a future together, he was not keen on taking on medical school debt. When I switched my major from pre-med to English, I felt relief but also felt I had let myself down.
My next career goal was journalism. I worked on all the Calvin College publications and, after graduating, was hired as copy editor for a Christian arts and culture magazine, Radix, published in Berkeley, California. The work was very satisfying but the pay–when the non-profit ministry could manage it—was very low. To help ends meet, I took communications jobs at the Christian and independent schools where my husband taught and developed a small freelance technical editing and desktop publishing business.
As I took on more responsibilities, directing school marketing and communications became my career, almost by default. I was able to use my writing and editing skills while belonging to a like-minded school community. Serving on the faculty at the same school and sending our two children there was a pleasant way for my husband and I to raise our family and we all developed many close, lifelong friendships. My career still felt like a cop out, though, paling in comparison to the influence a classroom teacher has. I constantly wondered if I should be doing something greater, more significant, more impactful, and, let’s be honest, more prestigious.
Preserving and protecting Christian education is a privilege
Only in recent years, while working through school mergers and rebranding, have I come to understand that what we have in our independent Christian schools is so important for our children and our culture and the future of our nation and world that playing even a small role in creating, guiding, shaping, and protecting such institutions has been a privilege and high calling. I have no regrets and I am grateful for the opportunities I have enjoyed to preserve a way of teaching and learning that can have lasting impact for future generations.
Our charge is to help our children engage with a world that is increasingly hostile to Christian traditions and values, while holding up God’s Truth, creating beauty in every sphere of life, and accomplishing all we do with excellence. We have the privilege of showing children that they have both dignity and destiny. We get to help them develop respect for Christian virtues over the so-called “values” our society embraces.
Over the decades, evolving communications technology has helped and challenged all of us. As a teen I wrote a letter to a magazine on my mom’s manual typewriter (with that satisfying “ding” of the carriage return bell, made even more satisfying when the user is riled up about something). Today, I would send that same letter by email or as a social media post. Technologies have made communication work more efficient—and more isolated. Tools such as social media and AI probe brave frontiers of collaboration and community—and pose incredible moral challenges. (Topics worthy of exploring in future blogs.)
I am thankful that today’s technology allows us to communicate broadly in accessible ways. This is the message I believe: We’ve never needed Christian education more than we need it today, and it’s never been more important to articulate its foundational distinctive to the world.
I can’t wait to see where God leads Providence School and I wish rich blessings on the next Recess and Rhetoric editor.
Elaine Rottman has edited the Recess and Rhetoric blog since its inception. She is retiring from her position as Providence School strategic communications director but will continue to be involved with promoting Christian education in Santa Barbara and beyond.