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Inside look at a Christian day school

THE most intensely values-driven schools in America are those of the Christian-fundamentalists, whose ``Christian Day Schools'' are attended by one million students nationwide. The following excerpts are from ``God's Choice,'' by University of Illinois professor Alan Peshkin. Published in November by the University of Chicago, it's considered the most complete inside look at one such ``day school,'' Bethany Baptist Academy.

He writes: ``I do not see how Bethany's ideal of Christian schooling can avoid promoting intransigence, since students neither learn the habit of compromise nor grasp its necessity in a diverse [society].''

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But he adds: ``Christian schools offer an alternative to the public schools. As I eventually realized about schools I had studied in other communities, schooling at BBA was not meant to please me.

``I was relieved to find that Bethany's children, even its most `spiritual' ones, are very ordinary Americans in many respects, far from the image of the automaton that critics of Christian schools present. I was further relieved to see that the desired inculcation of doctrine and obedience seldom attained a level of perfection sufficient to preclude personal, individualistic, independent judgment. Notwithstanding its indoctrinatory practices, Bethany's total institution is imperfectly total, perhaps inevitably so, because unlike the Amish, its adherents live mainly within the world it rejects. Its doctrinal blueprint is implemented amidst the marvels of modern society. In the end, an abundance of invitations to backslide take hold, if only occasionally so that Bethany's young people respond to doctrine with the variability of people on a weight-reducing or body-building program: They advance to exalted heights and regress to old norms, in a continuing series of advances and regressions.''

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