A few days after she was born, our daughter was transported by medical helicopter to the children’s hospital in Little Rock. Two weeks later in the NICU, she was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder caused by missing segments of her 15th chromosome. She is, medically speaking, “missing a piece.”
The combination of advancements in prenatal genetic screening and the ubiquity of abortion has led nations to celebrate the disappearance (read: eradication) of certain congenital conditions. As long as the tragedy of legalized and normalized eugenics continues, it is possible that children with genetic disorders will become more common among Christians—who view all children as made in the image of God and gifts from Him—than in the general population. Since the Roman Empire, it has been the practice of faithful Christians to rescue the “weak” and “frail” children discarded by the pagan world (Craven 2010).
Congenital conditions are not the only reason for special education. But if the prevalence of children with disabilities among Christians rises relative to the general population, special education will increasingly become the exclusive concern of the Christian community.
What kind of education do I hope my daughter can receive? And why is my hope rooted in my faith?
Bearing the Image of God
Christians should deeply care about special education because all people bear the image of God. As Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck once wrote, “But among all creatures, only man is the image of God, the highest and richest revelation of God, and therefore head and crown of the entire creation” (qtd. in Hoekema 1986, 12; cf. Genesis 1:26-31). God continues to be intimately involved in the creation of each person who is formed, knitted together, and fearfully and wonderfully made by God, as Psalm 139:13-14 makes clear.
My wife and I take comfort in the knowledge that our daughter’s condition is not the product of a random transcription error, but that she is known by God, precisely and purposefully created “that the works of God might be displayed” in her (John 9:3). We believe that her condition can only be explained as coming from God’s hand, and since it comes from His hand, it can only be for our good (Psalm 119:71; Jeremiah 29:11) and for his glory (Psalm 118:23).
Christians who affirm the Imago Dei cannot but be deeply concerned for special education, for what reason could we justify the training up of some image bearers but not others? We learn from Genesis 1 that each image bearer is endowed with authority over all creation, created in fellowship with God and each other, and commanded to be responsible for filling the earth with God’s glory. What do our special education practices teach our children and profess to an unbelieving world about our reliance on the sovereignty of God and the belief in the dignity of all people?
Children of the Covenant
We read in Acts 2 that Peter’s sermon at Pentecost “cut to the heart” of those who were listening and left them wondering, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:38-39). The inclusion of children in the blessings of the covenantal promise is an important reason for the practice of infant baptism in the Reformed tradition, of which my wife and I are a part (Westminster Confession of Faith, 28.4).
Regardless of their specific tradition, parents who choose a Christian education for their children often reference their desire to provide an education rooted in the faith. Christian educators emphasize the importance of schooling with a biblical worldview. We need to consider carefully what our special education practices teach our children—as well as profess to an unbelieving world—about the preeminence of our faith and confidence in the blessings of God’s promises.
The Missing Piece
I had the opportunity to speak with an inclusion specialist at a Christian school who shared an incredible story with me:
- I remember when the mother with a daughter with Down syndrome came in with a binder full of notes from all the schools she had been to. When she sat down with me, she said with tears in her eyes, “I really only have one question for you. If my child comes here, would you like my child?” I remember saying to her, “Would I like your child? I would love your child. Truly love your child. I believe that we are not whole without her here. Honestly, our school is missing something by not having her here. She is the missing piece.”
For this educator, these were not mere high-minded, virtue-signaling moral platitudes geared toward persuading another tuition-paying parent to enroll her child in her school. Speaking of her special education students, she said, “These precious children help our students in greater ways than we support them and their families. They help our students look outside themselves. They start looking at the gifts that all students bring. They start to see the needs in others.”
What a paradigm shift—to see students with disabilities, not as challenges to be overcome, but as image bearers and heirs of the covenant promise (Hebrews 6:17), and as such, the missing pieces we should earnestly desire for our schools.
God has already taught our family much. Our daughter’s rare condition does not make her enigmatic, but precious (Genesis 41:38; Proverbs 31:10). Her missing segments don’t make her incomplete, but our family would be incomplete without her. She is and ever will be, as her middle name Dorothy suggests, a gift from God.
What about you and your school community? Could special education be the missing piece?
Craven, Michael. 2010. “The Christian Conquest of Pagan Rome.” Crosswalk (blog), November 8, 2010. https://www.crosswalk.com/blogs/michael-craven/the-christian-conquest-of-pagan-rome-11640691.html.
Hoekema, Anthony A. 1986. Created in God’s Image. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
The Westminster Assembly. 1992. The Westminster Confession of Faith: With Proof Texts. Horsham, PA: Great Commission Publications.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post provides an excerpt from a new resource from ACSI Research called “Leading Insights: Special Education and Inclusion.” The full resource is available now from Purposeful Design Publications.
About the Author
Matthew H. Lee is the Director of Research at ACSI. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @hmatthewlee.