New Psalmist school carries on a tradition

February 04, 1992|By Patrice Martin

The African-American Church and education have been linked from the beginning.

The church became a meeting place and the center of all activity; spiritual, social and educational. Later, Bibles served as primers for learning how to read. Schooling and the church became one.

The New Psalmist Christian School is the vision of the Rev. Walter S. Thomas, who saw a need for Christ-centered quality education and spiritual experience for children.

The fully accredited school, which starts at pre-kindergarten, opened in September 1986.

The campus is on 19.6 acres of land at 4501 Old Frederick Road.

"The basis for Christian education," said the Rev. Thomas, "is the belief that there is a moral teaching and instruction that needs to be included in the lives of individuals as they grow. Only our teaching has a particular bent toward the power of God and the saving presence of Jesus Christ. And this belief has to permeate the learning experience."

Because we live in a pluralistic society, he said, society can't teach one school of thought or design one particular moral framework. It can only abstract certain common principles, such as citizenship and good conduct. It is here that the public school must stop.

But where do these "universal" principles come from, asks the Rev. Thomas, and how does one plug into a principle?

"We say you plug into a principle by way of a person, Jesus Christ. And we have the privilege of teaching this because we are a private institution, an alternative form of learning," Mr. Thomas said. "Public education says the principle things to know are the 3R's and to learn the subject matter, and has as its idea that knowledge will produce change. The aim of instruction is to be able to change behavior.

tTC "This is in contradiction with what we believe," he said, "which is that knowledge can be used to manipulate one's environment, but that it does not necessarily change a person. Knowledge does not have the motive power to change or inform a person about who they are. This is where Christian education comes in," he said.

"Our moral instruction has the power to change a person on the inside, and gives a moral value base. Public schools can not say to our children, 'Abstain from sex or any harmful activity as a moral principle,' " says Mr. Thomas. "Christian schools can."

Mr. Thomas, who hold a graduate degree in economics from the University of Maryland, a degree in divinity from Howard University and a Doctor of Ministry from St. Mary's Seminary and University, has been pastor of New Psalmist Baptist Church for 17 years.

"For 17 years," says the Rev. Thomas, "I've been trying to unite people into the vision they got a glimpse of when they came to church seeking something lost in themselves, lost in asociety that they believe can be recaptured. The job of the church is to keep the doors of the vision open. To force people to handle and manage their fear and go inside and see that the vision can happen, that it is real and only a choice away. We teach that there is no greater reality than God."

Spiritual growth is taught as a part of the New Psalmist Christian school curriculum. Math and science help students understand their relationship with God and his creation, he said.

The Rev. Leah White, school administrator of New Psalmist Christian School, refers to Proverbs 22:6.

"Christ-centered education gives the proper perspective to life. This scripture says, train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it," the Rev. White said.

"A Christian school does just that. We are doing what God has mandated. One of the main advantages is helping children, who in other situations would not thrive, do extremely well because of loving and caring instruction provided by the staff, and because of small class sizes. Christian, loving, qualified, and competent teaching works miracles."

Public schools can not provide the same framework for discipline and a desire to learn or take a strong stand as can a private school.

"Parents are not dropping their children off just in a school," said the Rev. Thomas, "but in a community where the teachers, administrators, aides and students work at building a community that is an alternative to the secular experience."

Unfortunately, many children who would benefit from the school can't afford the $2,700 -- $2,400 tuition. According to the Rev. Thomas, the African American community has to begin thinking in terms of this alternative form of education and ways of funding it.

"The black Christian church brings to bear the whole story of liberation and oppression. Every people comes to know God through their own experience," the Rev. Thomas said.

"The basis of our belief in victory is Calvary. The cross and Easter go together. Easter says that in the midst of defeat, when it looks like its over, God can break through and do something you never expected," the Rev. Thomas said.

"So regardless of what the facts say, we can always factor in Easter, God's way of showing us that when it looks like its over there is Easter. The whole history of black folks is when it looks like it's over, don't count me out.

"When we talk about black education and the liberation struggle. The bottom line is that we were not suppose to learn or know. When Master took the book and beat us, that was Calvary. But when the little white child brought the book back and taught us how to read anyway, that is Easter."

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