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Education through the graduate's eye: The recollections and viewpoints of the graduates of a Western Australian fundamental Christian school

Thomas A. O'Donoghue, Vivian Hill
Graduate School of Education
University of Western Australia
This paper reports a study aimed at understanding 'fundamental' Christian schooling from the point of view of its graduates. It does so by considering the education related thoughts of the first cohort of graduates from a Christian High School seven years after their graduation in 1987. Three major related propositions with regard to the education related thoughts of eight of the first cohort of graduates emerged from the analysis of the data offered during interviews. First, the graduates were very clear that, when considering where to send them to high school, their parents had a variety of options. Furthermore, both negative and positive factors influenced their decisions. The graduates, generally, considered that they themselves had played no major part in the ultimate decision. Secondly, upon reflection on their experiences in a fundamental Christian high school, each respondent felt that their parents ' decision to send them to a Christian school had been a good one. In particular, they emphasised the element of 'care 'which, they argued, arose out of the theological foundation of Christian schooling. This, in turn, was seen to facilitate their academic, personal and spiritual development. Thirdly, notwithstanding their high regard for the quality of education they received, the graduates offered insights as to how schooling at their 'alma mater' could be improved.


Recently, fundamental Protestant Christians have developed a distrust and a disquiet over what they perceive to be the eroding of Christian values in government schools in Australia. They include members of such denominations as Dutch Reformed, Baptist, Brethren, Churches of Christ and Assemblies of God, which rose to prominence in the latter half of the nineteenth century. All hold to a literalistic view of Biblical interpretation.

There can be some debate regarding the most appropriate terminology to use to describe this collection of Protestant denominations. Nelsen (1988, p.42) would call them all 'evangelicals'. Evangelicals by his definition include three sub-groups. The first he terms the 'mainstream evangelicalism of Billy Graham' which traces its roots back to the Puritans and other colonial ethnic groups such as the Dutch Reformed Church. The second subgroup includes the Pentecostal or charismatic evangelicals whose emotional worship features the 'speaking in tongues'. His third sub-group are 'the moral-crusading fundamentalists' whom he describes as the most militant and the sub-set most opposed to the 'liberal theology' called 'modernism'. The present writers' definition of 'fundamental' for the purposes of this paper embraces all of the above sub-groups.

The Dutch Reformed Church was the most active of the fundamental Christian denominations in establishing schools in Australia. An extract from the promotional brochure of the Rehoboth Christian School, the oldest of the Christian schools in Western Australia, established in 1966 in the Perth suburb of Wilson, provides some insight into the historical mindset of this denomination's leaders:

In the 1950's, amid the post-war influx of migrants from Europe, there were also many Dutch Christians from the large Reformed Churches ... For 80 years... they had established Christian schools, albeit at considerable financial cost, and saw this as an important part of their duty as believing parents to bring up their children in the fear of the Lord... These parents took their command to train their children in God's ways, seriously... In formulating their constitution... there was a strong desire to establish a school that was scripturally sound, and unified in its work.
The majority of the earlier fundamental Christian schools established in Australia were of Dutch Reformed persuasion. However, in Western Australia (W.A.), Dutch Reformed schools, numerically, are in the minority.

In 1992, twenty-nine Christian schools existed in W.A., nineteen of which were in the metropolitan area of Perth. Of these nineteen, eleven were established between 1982 and 1985, and four more have been established since then. The student population of these twenty nine schools totalled almost 4400 in 1992. 1400 of these were secondary students. Just over 700 attended country schools.

The twenty-nine schools in W.A. can be categorised into three discrete groups - Christian Parent - Controlled Schools (CPCS), Christian Community Schools (CCS), other "Others". The following statistics show the number of schools and the student population in each of the three groups:

Number of Christian schools and student populations by city (CT.) and country (CO.):



The CPCS schools are governed on a 'parent-controlled' model. The school parents are generally representative of a number of churches in the district, and their membership elects their board of management who have the power to both employ and discontinue the employment of staff, to establish educational and other policies, and maintain the finances of the school. The CPCS is a nation wide movement.

The CCS schools are very similar in philosophy and practice to CPCS schools, but because they have been established by individual Baptist churches, they are governed predominantly by the Baptist church's local hierarchy. The CCS school movement is also nation-wide. The schools categorised as 'Other' are similarly linked to individual churches, and are subject to the authority and government of these churches. The above statistics showed no country schools in this category. It is possible, however, that this situation has changed since the statistics were compiled.

All of these three Christian school groupings share a 'fundamental' label. All have resulted because their member parents feel that *ere is a need to separate their child's educative processes from what they perceive to be an increased secularisation and worldliness in both government schools and the larger 'main stream' church schools. Accordingly, they constitute an interesting set of their own for educational research. In particular what is distinctive about them is the extent to which parents are involved in the determining of their schools' direction and objectives, in management and in the day-to day operations of their schools.

High Christian High School, the school that is the subject of study in this paper, can clearly be grouped under the 'fundamental' label. The study is a presentation and critical interpretation of the education related thoughts of the first cohort of graduates of the school based on a consideration of their recollections and viewpoints elicited through the medium of taped interviews. The general issue addressed concerns the extent to which the eight students who were participants in this study perceive that their lifestyle has been influenced as a result of their fundamental Christian schooling. Specifically, this was investigated through three major questions using a case study approach. The first question sought to determine the extent to which the respondents, when they were secondary school students, were aware that they were participants in an alternative school and their recollections with regard to the significance of this awareness on their life. The second question sought to explore the participants' present perceptions as to how their present philosophy of life is different, if at all, from those who attended non-fundamental Christian schools or government schools, and to what extent they would attribute these differences to their fundamental Christian schooling. The final question centred on the insights the participants had to offer with regard to the aims, objectives, curriculum, teaching and administration of fundamental Christian schools as they reflected on their own schooling experiences.

Broadly speaking, the research can be seen as being in the life history tradition. Within this tradition it is associated closely with two main approaches, namely, that of oral history and of autobiography (Minichiello et. al., 1990, p. 147). Both approaches make extensive use of the in-depth interview. In oral history the aim is to gain information about the past. Within the present context, the attempt was to generate data with respect to the education related recollections of the first graduates from High Christian High School so that, through inductive analysis, categories could be generated and commonalities explored with respect to their perceptions as to how fundamental Christian schooling had influenced their life experience and current world view. As Goodson (1991, pp. 1 37-149)argues, from the collection of life histories we discern what is general within a range of individual studies. Because the research was exploratory in nature it did not draw on document evidence to corroborate the students' retrospective information. Accordingly, it is recognised that this is a limitation of the research and that many researchers would prefer to speak of it as life story instead of oral history or life history (Denzin, 1989, p. 185).

Justification for the use of the unstructured interview in the study to generate primary source material may also be found in the increasing recognition being given to autobiography as an educational discipline (Graham, 1989, pp.92-105). In creating their autobiography through in-depth interviewing one overcomes to some extent the problem in the traditional autobiography that what we read is what the author intended. In the case of autobiography produced by in-depth interviewing, what we read is mediated by the researcher's interaction with the person during the telling of the story and during the coding, analysis and interpretation of it.

There is nothing new about this mode of investigation. In the early 1720's, for example, count Giovanni di Porcia invited a number of Italian intellectuals to tell the story of their lives, partly for pedagogic reasons. The authors of the autobiographies, or to use the term current in Porcia's circle, 'periautografia', were asked to describe the methods by which they were taught grammar and other subjects at school and university and to suggest how these teaching methods might be improved. This project led to the writing of a minor masterpiece, The Life of Giambattista Vico Written by Himself (Verne, 1991) which was published in the first issue of a Venetian journal in 1728 and extended a few years later. An example of contemporary autobiographical research involving the use of in-depth interviewing to examine the manner in which education affected selected individuals is to be found in Abbs' (1976) Autobiography in Education. Abbs'(1976, p.145) fundamental question is: where does education take place? and he answers by stating the obvious, namely, 'it takes place inside the person'. He goes on as follows:

... just as the act of creativity presupposes a creator, so knowledge presupposes a knower. In their primary state, creation and knowledge are not objects-in-the-world, not artefacts which can be studied or measured or reproduced, but acts of individual mind wholly engaged in articulating the importance of specific experience (Abbs, 1976, p. 146).
In his argument that education cannot meaningfully take place outside of the assenting individual, he states that the individual does not exist outside of the torrent of pressures - pressures of family, the school, friends, neighbours, history which constitute his or her outer world. He rejects any notion that experience, as Locke and those in the empirical tradition would have us believe, is passive. Rather, experience is seen as being assertive, creative and intentional. We create and recreate in our experience our vision of the world in which we live.

Abbs argues that it is in the category of experience, which is neither the objective universe nor the subjective self, that we arrive at the foundation for the discipline of autobiography. 'How better', he asks, 'to explore the infinite web of connections which draws self and world together in one evolving gestalt' (Abbs, 1976, p.148) than through the act of autobiography in which one seeks to recreate one's past and trace the growth of one's experience? The autobiography is largely an attempt to answer: Who am 1? How have I become what I am? What may I become in the future? The contention is that by concentration one can recall more and more of childhood experience one had thought irretrievably lost: 'one memory invariably opens a door to another, taking the autobiography further and further down the passage of time' (Abbs, 1976, p.151).

Adopting such an approach in pursuit of the main research question a number of guiding questions were developed, namely:

  1. To what extent as pupils were they aware of being key members of an 'alternative' school and what are their recollections with regards to the significance of this awareness upon their life?

  2. What are their present perceptions with regards to how this approach to life is different, if at all, from the approach of those who attended non-fundamental Christian schools and state schools?

  3. What insights, if any, do they have to offer with regards to the aims, curriculum, teaching and administration of the fundamental Christian school as they reflect on the experiences of schooling and on their life since leaving school?
An 'aide memoire' was developed from the guiding questions and used to provide a general direction for the interview process. The questions chosen were intended to be non-threatening. They were purposely open-ended in order to encourage more than a monosyllabic response, and were sufficiently flexible to permit the participants to provide some direction for the dialogue. A requirement of the interview schedule is that it should not dictate the structure of the conversation (Minichiello, 1990). In practice, the questions were merely the starting point for a particular line of recollection with subsequent questions stimulated by the first response along the lines of methods refined by Spradley (1979).

A list of students was obtained from the school office and the school secretary assisted by preparing a list of current addresses and phone numbers and researching the married surnames where the marital status had changed. With a number of the graduates now either overseas or interstate it was decided to limit the study to those graduates living within the Perth metropolitan area.

The time and place of the interview was of the participants' choice. All interviews occurred in the privacy of the participants' own homes, thus ensuring a high degree of comfort and relaxation with the interview process. The length of the interviews varied. The longest was of two hours duration while the shortest lasted forty five minutes. The average length was around an hour. With the permission of the interviewees, the interviews were tape recorded. The conversations were later transcribed and formed the basis for the analysis which is the subject of the following chapter. All eight interviewees appeared happy with the intent of the research and their role in data collection process.

The data generated by the participants were coded and compared. Properties and tentative 'hypotheses' were generated and developed. Further analysis focused on establishing relationships between these properties and tentative 'hypotheses'. In essence, this constitutes a cognitive process of discovering or manipulating abstract categories and the relationships among these categories.


Three major related propositions with regard to the education related thoughts of eight of the first cohort of graduates of Swan Christian School emerged from the analysis of the data offered during the interviews with these graduates. Each of these will now be considered in turn.
Proposition 1: The first cohort of graduates were very clear that, when considering where to send them to high school, their parents had a variety of options. Furthermore, they argued that both negative and positive factors played a part in the eventual decisions to send them to a fundamental 'Christian secondary school' However, the majority of the graduates felt that at that stage they themselves had played no major part in the decision.
Schooling options available to the parents of this first cohort of graduates included the local state secondary schools, the larger private schools operated by the more 'mainstream' churches, both Catholic and Protestant, and other small fundamental Christian schools. What, then, one can ask, were the factors, both positive and negative, that would have influenced parents, in the beginning, to choose to send their children to a fundamental Christian school. When offering their understanding as to why their parents had chosen not to send them to the nearby state secondary school, Sally and Matthew made reference to previous bad experiences in the state system. Sally volunteered that some of the girls her own age in the district had given her a hard time during primary school. When pressed for further detail she hinted briefly at teasing and bullying. Matthew's complaint was directed more at the standard of teaching he had received and the way he had allegedly been humiliated publicly by two different teachers when he had been slow to learn some concept. Paul indicated that his parents did not like the increasing prevalence of drugs and bullying that they perceived to exist in state schools. Deanne and Peter, on the other hand, felt their parents were looking for a decidedly Christian environment 'where what was taught at school was in agreement with what was taught at home'. When pressed for clarification, Peter indicated that his parents did not want him to be taught only evolution science and that they wished his study of English literature to avoid novels that they would consider unwholesome.

Throughout their discussions, the theme of separation from something that is perceived to be unsatisfactory recurred among the graduates. While the separation required is not a severe as that sought by the Amish in the United States of America where they established their own self-contained, separate little world in isolation from 'mainstream' society (Hostetler, 1974), there is nevertheless a desire to see a spiritual and values' dimension included in the school curriculum that will be congruent with, and will complement the teachings of the Home and Church. The graduates also expressed views as to how they expected High Christian High School to be better than a state secondary school. The popular theme expressed by most was that the school would have exclusively Christian teachers and predominantly Christian students. These were seen as the two most highly desirable features, which is not surprising given the strict screening procedures faced by potential staff applicants, and the membership policy adopted by SCEA which, at that stage, allowed for no more than ten percent of the student intake to come from SCEA parents classified as non-Christian.

In considering this matter, it is interesting to note that some authorities question the wisdom of selected 'good' children being withdrawn simultaneously from the state education system. They argue, according to Weeks (1988, p.55), that "if only we can put the children of the conflicting groups in society together, then we will have peace in society in the next generation". From the viewpoint of the fundamental Christian such people are antagonistic towards Christian schooling because they see the Christian school sabotaging this so-called peace process. Christian school parents see it differently. Their charter is to "train up the child in the way he should go" so that when he is old he will "not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6). The argument is that children are not old enough to take the lead in evangelism or peace diplomacy when their own belief systems are still in the formative stage. They argue that if parents from different walks of life and with their extra experience and education have been unable to negotiate the elusive 'peace deal', then how can the following generation of teenagers be expected to work the miracle that escaped them?

This, however, only suggests that state schooling was perceived to offer too many negatives. It still does not answer why the parents of the graduates in the present study did not avail themselves of the established private schooling options. Catholic schools were seen as a less-than-satisfactory alternative by these Protestant parents given the traditional theological distrust that has developed and been fostered since the Reformation. Nevertheless, Catholic schools were seen by the majority of graduates as a better alternative than state schools, because of the spiritual dimension and an emphasis on life's values that they are seen to promote.

Why, then, if committed to a non-Catholic private schooling would parents choose to look beyond a well-established institution such as the local Anglican Grammar school? Again the respondents offered their insights: All but one referred to the extra cost that the suggested private school option would have entailed. Matthew's aversion seemed predicated on the notion of some degree of social distinction and snobbishness: 'These schools are for the rich and for those who think they deserve to be in high society'. David and Peter ventured that their parents saw these private schools as being less 'Christian' than what they wanted Love to become.

Proposition 2: In reflecting on their experiences of fundamental 'Christian schooling, all of the graduates felt that their parents' decision to expose them to such a form of schooling was a good choice. In particular, they highlighted the extent to which the school climate was one of 'care '. This, they argued, arose out of the theological foundation of 'fundamental' Christian schooling. Furthermore, it created an environment that facilitated their academic, personal and spiritual development.
All eight graduates confirmed that their parents' choice of High Christian High School as their secondary school had been a good choice. Even David who had initially wanted to attend the Grammar School agreed that he had a good time at High. While none of the eight suggested that High was the best possible choice that could have been made, none volunteered the name of a perceived better alternative either. Undoubtedly they all recognised that in an imperfect world, academic 'Utopia' just does not exist.

One of the important issues that was mentioned repeatedly by the respondents during the interviews was the notion of High having engendered an environment of 'care'. This care, initiated by the parents, and sustained by the teachers, was then reflected, also, in the inter-pupil relationships, and ultimately became a motivating factor in the ex-students' post-school world view. One of the strengths that rated very highly with all respondents and was second only to the 'sound teaching of Scripture' was the caring nature of the teachers and individual attention that students said they were afforded. Most said the teachers were 'interested in them'. 'Teachers were really caring and approachable and good fun' said others. This, no doubt, created a very positive climate. In this regard, a survey conducted by The Bulletin magazine (18 July, 1989) asked teachers, parents and students to identify which characteristics of a good teacher are seen as significant. The need to be 'loving and warm', to 'empathise with students' and to 'show caring and consideration' all came close to the top of the resulting list of qualities. Lortie's (1975, p.27) findings that one of the attractions about teaching is the opportunity of 'giving service' indicates that these results should not be surprising. The other significant comment in the context of 'care' related to the standard of discipline the ex-students felt they received at High. Shane, Peter, David and Matthew all stated that they liked the fact that school discipline was strong. 'It was good to know where the boundaries were', was their comment.

Strong, caring discipline, where each student is considered valuable and unique, is one factor considered vital in the 'effective schools' literature. Finn (1984, p.5 19) suggests that the creation of a sense of 'community' in schools:

requires the creation of a moral order which entails respect for authority, genuine and pervasive caring about individuals, respect for their feelings and attitudes, mutual trust, and the consistent enforcement of norms which define and delimit acceptable behaviour.
Nevertheless, the attitude of educational authorities to discipline is one area likely to generate diverse comment. Weeks (1988, p.69) is strident in his criticism about non-Christian educational systems. He argues that these systems "are facing the consequence of destroying the moral basis of parental authority...They do not believe there is any absolute right and wrong... They are forced to define sin as anti-social or inappropriate behaviour". Certainly the Christian school's view of aberrant behaviour as a largely spiritual problem would be one area that may distinguish it from the average state school and, arguably, some private schools.

The notion of a caring relationship was not just restricted to the teacher/pupil relationship. The majority of the respondents made mention also of the care they felt that the other students in their year had for each other. In turn, most testified to how this climate of 'care' had assisted them in determining their life's vocation. The proposition that High's climate of 'care' arose from the school's theological foundation appears to be well-grounded. Most testified to their belief in God's 'saving love' and his provision of 'eternal life'. They all hinted at some sense of purpose and divine guidance. Sally's response articulated it this way: 'I am very happy in the knowledge that God loves me and has provided my salvation. This motivates me in service and shortly I will be leaving Australia to be a missionary's wife in Mexico'. Paul, a quiet metallurgist, responded with greater verbosity than usual: 'Exposure to Christianity develops an attitude of submission, cooperation and purpose. Thanks to good parents, a good Christian school and a good church I feel strong in my beliefs and have a strong desire to help others in need'. Alicia's reply was more succinct: 'Christianity helps you focus on serving others rather than just looking after yourself or responding to the whims of your immediate peers'. Peter felt his Christian upbringing helped 'reinforce what is right and wrong for me - it established clear behavioural boundaries'. Matthew believed 'If I had attended a state school I expect I would have just been a 'drop out'. Even though I don't attend church much, Christianity gives your life purpose and meaning.'

In considering how their present approach to life had been affected by their five years in attendance at High Christian High School the participants' comments showed a considerable amount of unanimity of thought and perspective: Sally, a missionary's wife, suggested that 'High helped develop in me a keen sense of mission - of wanting to help others'. Alicia, a state primary teacher said: 'It provided me with a vision and a desire to inspire others to do something worthwhile with their lives'. Deanne suggested that Love gave 'my life purpose and meaning'. Matthew commented that High helped him know from first-hand experience that 'there are good people out there who dedicate themselves to the good of others'. David claimed 'Love helped reinforce a strong Christian foundation built by my parents'. Peter agreed: 'Love complemented the character work being done by my parents and my Baptist church'. Shane said he thought that his time at Love helped him to be 'more thoughtful of others, not just totally selfish'. Paul claimed that his time at Love showed me what can result from the positive peer influences of good friends'.

The graduates also considered that their education at Love had contributed significantly to their academic development. In this regard, they generally spoke in terms of their secondary education being 'excellent', 'high' and 'good'. David indicated that they had been blessed with very good marks all the way through his Engineering degree. Sally indicated that she had been in the top ten percent of her class during her Bachelor of Arts study. Matthew balanced this view by stating that Love 'was no worse than anywhere else' and that 'The standard of teaching seemed to be the same as anywhere'. Alicia felt that 'the standard was good for a small school'. Paul confided that prior to secondary school he had been only an 'average' student. A study of his high school grade card revealed that, in contrast, his performance flourished at Love.

One further area of curriculum concern expressed by one graduate, Peter, was in relation to English literature the plays, the novels and the poetry - that students encounter in the non-fundamental Christian schools. It is true that some fundamental Christian schools have carried their aversion in this regard to extremes. The Bible Baptist Academy, in the United States of America, according to Peshkin (1986, p. 125), heavily censors both the teachers and the curriculum at all times. Peshkin illustrates this point by recounting an interview with a school librarian:

I look for evolution... I look for swear words... We take those out...l just sealed the pages together and it didn't bother the reading on the other side... If I find a naked person, I draw a little bathing suit on them... One of the books sort of made light of discipline and so we, instead of having a little frowning boy... that had been punished and he didn't accept it, we put a sticker on there with a smiling face.
The present authors are not aware of any Australian fundamental Christian school which carries censorship to such an extreme. At High Christian High School, the emphasis is not so much on removing the undesirable, but in recognising it as a part of life that cannot be totally removed and which must be dealt with. The graduates expressed the view that the instruction given to them at High provided a Christian framework that equipped them to respond positively to the world's ills.
Proposition 3: Notwithstanding their high regard for the education they received, the graduates offered insights on how schooling at their 'alm mater', namely, Swan Christian High School, could be improved.
Four significant areas of improvement to High Christian High School's current practice were suggested by this first cohort of High graduates. These included comment on class sizes, associate membership levels, finance and parental involvement and a critique of the parent-control form of school government. Each of these issues will now be considered in turn. In the early days of the High Christian Education Association (SCEA), class size policy indicated that 25 would be the maximum number of students in any one class. Today, class size policy indicates a maximum of 32 students per class (SCEA Inc., 1994, p. 10). A number of ex-students were disappointed at this considerable increase as, in their opinion, the lower class sized in the early years contributed significantly to the quality of the personalised attention they received. Financial constraints are seen as the strongest factor causing this historical increase in class size.

While class size appears not to rate highly as an issue in the 'effective schools' literature, Weber (Smith & Piele, 1989, p.205) mentions that factors such as the actual amount of teaching which students receive, the number of times students are called on to participate in a lesson, the level of general encouragement and support and the number of non-verbal cues (smiles, affirmative nods and eye contact) are important instructional elements. It stands to reason that when class sizes are smaller, dilution of these incidental support mechanisms is reduced, and each child, therefore, gets greater individual attention. Many of the interviewees expressed concern, also, at the large increase that has occurred over the years in the intake of member parents who are qualified for 'associate membership' of the school body. Associate membership is bestowed on those parents who are deemed to be non-Christian, or on those Christians who do not regularly attend church, and it includes Christians whose theology is seen as cultish or extreme. Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christadelphians and Christian Science adherents would be some examples of people who would probably be granted 'associate member' status, although 'Christian testimony' not the 'ecclesiastical label' is used as the final criterion point. Associate membership bestows on the member all the rights of members with one exception - an associate member cannot vote at parent meetings. In the earliest years of the school a ten percent limit was placed on the intake of associate members. In December, 1994, the Year 8 class at High had 31% of children from associate member families; Year 9 and Year 11 had a 30% associate member, while the Year 10 figure was at 27%. These statistics lend support for the graduates' claim that the increase of associate members has appeared to dilute the fundamental Christian mission and impact of the school.

The graduates also voiced their opinion about the high level of parental involvement in the day-to-day running of the school. Sally indicated that she had a fine mother-daughter relationship and that having her mother as the school secretary had not been something that had bothered her. David's father had experienced board service but that was not something that David considered to have directly affected his education. No other parent had been an active participant in the day-to-day affairs of the school although all would have assisted in 'working bees' from time to time, or served in the school canteen. But all graduates responded favourably to the philosophical notion that parents should be involved in some of the behind-the-scenes decision-making that impacts upon the school.

Research seems to indicate that it is the schools with a higher socio-economic status that are likely to have the greatest amount of parental involvement in school affairs. Hallinger and Murphy are cited by Greenfield (1987, p.497) as suggesting that "in general, parents in wealthier communities are more involved in the school program than parents in poorer communities". The majority of parents of High Christian High School would be in the lower to middle socio-economic range, so High is obviously an exception to this suggested rule. Hallinger and Murphy continue by stating that "many school effectiveness researchers advocate strengthening ties between the home and school in school improvement efforts". The High experience would lend considerable support for their assertion.

Finally, the graduates were asked for their assessment as the effectiveness of the parent-controlled model of school administration. All felt that it had operated very well during their period of schooling. But the perceptions of some of the graduates were that, over time, things had taken a turn for the worse. While four of the eight graduates have had little intimate involvement with High over its recent history, most have had sufficient contact with the school to suggest that they perceived some of the gloss of the school's reputation to have dimmed. They did not believe that it had suffered in terms of its academic standards, and they agreed that things had improved in the facilities' area. But mild criticisms were volunteered regarding the school's increase in size which had led to it becoming 'less personal'. 'Some kids tend to get lost now' was one comment. 'The school has become more worldly' was another. 'We've heard that it's no longer 'cool' to be a Christian' was yet another. Arguably the most perceptive response was the suggestion from Deanne that 'The school has lost the excitement of faith. It now operates mainly as a business'.

Only David engaged in a deeper philosophical discussion about the notion of 'parent-controlled school government'. Doubtless his father's term of service on the SCEA Board had provided him with insights that had escaped the other respondents. It was his firm view that Christian School boards require a greater degree of representation from people with educational expertise. In the history of the school, no Board has had more than two educationists out if its nine elected representatives, and there have been times when there has been none. David argued that he could think of no other professional area where managerial representation form that profession was so limited. He was not suggesting that only educationists should serve on boards, or that educationists should be in the majority on these boards. But neither did he consider it smart to have management largely starved of the educational perspective. He suggested that either the rule prohibiting spouses of employees to serve of boards could be relaxed (often teachers are married to teachers), or perhaps an educational administrator from outside the direct community could be hired to complement the available talent from within the community. He also suggested that in order to compensate for managerial or educational deficiency, boards should undergo regular and systematic management training. At present, board members, most of whom have day jobs, are very busy people because of their commitment to Christian education. They are encouraged, from time to time, to undertake a little reading in Christian education. But an occasional spot of reading as the brain is disengaging late in the evening is no serious substitute for training in educational, financial or managerial matters. Maybe, principals, although employees, could be encouraged to participate, if not direct, the training initiatives of their superordinates. Otherwise, hired or volunteer consultants could be invited to lecture on a variety of relevant 'educational management' topics.

David was clearly of the opinion that this biggest weakness of the parent-controlled government of fundamental Christian schools, namely the lack of managerial competence, was responsible for the recent high turnover of principals in Christian schools in Western Australia (Hill, 1993). Weeks (1988, p.92) supports this observation. He suggests that "many problems which appear in Christian schools have their origin in conflicts for control and dominance". It should not surprise that an educated professional will decide to fight for the generally accepted educational perspective even if this position is challenged only because the challenger claims to be the superordinate. 'Parent-control', David concluded, only works 'when the educator accepts the authority of the parent to the same degree that the parent accepts the professional expertise of the educator', and 'when both educator and manager maintain a good, professional working relationship', with appropriate measures of 'give and take'.


Although only a small entity in the larger educational scene in Western Australia, the 'fundamental' Christian School movement has demonstrated remarkable growth in recent years. The study of the education related thoughts of the first cohort of graduates from High Christian High School, one of a number of these Christian schools to have emerged in the 1 980's, offers evidence to suggest that this genre of Christian school has legitimacy and can demonstrate its effectiveness. Only time will tell whether this form of schooling will generate a long-term impact upon today's society and whether it will continue to maintain its initial level of perceived effectiveness.


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Nelsen, F.C. (1988). What evangelical parents expect from public school administrators. Educational Leadership, 88(5),40-43.

Peshkin, A. (1986). God 's choice: The total world of a fundamental Christian school. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

SCEA Inc. (1994). Policy and Procedures Manual. Middle Swan: Swan Christian Education Association Inc.

Smith, S.C. & Piele, P.K. (ed). (1989). School leadership: Handbook for excellence. Eugene: ERIC.

Spradley, J. (1979). The ethnographic interview. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Wilson.

The Bulletin, 18 July 1989, 3-4.

Verne, D.P. (1991). The New Essay of Autobiography: An Essay on the Life of Giambattista Vico Written by Himself. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Weeks, N. (1988). The Christian school: An introduction. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust.

Please cite as: O'Donoghue, T. A. and Hill, V. (1996). Education through the graduate's eye: The recollections and viewpoints of the graduates of a Western Australian fundamental Christian school. Queensland Researcher, 12(1), 1-16. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qr12/odonoghue.html

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Created 25 July 2005. Last revision: 25 July 2005.
URL: http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qr12/odonoghue.html