Do you want to know what God’s says about your teenager’s subject choice at school?

Nothing is the short answer. Everything is the longer version.

Clearly the Bible says not a word about what you should study at school, or university, or indeed what job you should do. Well there are some exceptions to this last one, certain occupations are clearly ruled out while if we are called to be Christ like, we can’t go wrong with carpentry as a trade.

I’m not being flippant. If we take an overly literal approach to the Bible in an attempt to apply it to a topic like subject or career choices we are going to get a lot of fisherman and tax collectors. That said, there is a lot we can infer to get an idea of how God wants us to approach what we work on and the way we do it.

First off, what do universities say about school subject choice?

Quite honesty for the most part they don’t care. I mean that seriously, with the exception of very few subjects (mainly Math and Physical Science which are needed for certain degrees), a university will not care about what a student decides to study at school. Music matters as much as Accounting and Drama is as essential as Economics. All count the same in terms of tertiary admission and I suspect they have equal weighting in God’s eyes too.

That means let your son practice Art if he is good at it, let you daughter tackle Engineering Graphics and Design if she enjoys it. The university really won’t pay much attention to the subjects studied. What they will focus on though is achievement (marks).

What though can we infer God’s standpoint to be?

Personally I think all subjects are a way of studying God’s creation. Each offers a unique perspective on the Truth that underpins creation and holds it together. Lots of Grade 9’s make the mistake of asking ‘Where will this subject get me?’ but it’s the wrong question. School subjects are not about training or even preparing for the workplace, they are about being educated broadly. It is the arts and social science subjects that suffer most from the linear school of thought that tries to link subjects to future careers, despite the fact they have so much to offer in the way we think and approach the problems of the world today.

Many pupils and parents make the mistake of trying to figure out where there are skills shortages in the economy and base subject choice around that. This is the wrong approach.

The Bible is quite clear that we are all given different desires and gifts. In careers counselling we call this interest an aptitude, simply what you like and what you are good at. This means the key thing is for your child to take subjects that fit their strengths and passions. As Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

I don’t think God views our children as mere resources for the economy. Rather education should be a way of understanding the nature of God and the world. As your teen makes their decision impress these statements upon them.

It’s your choice.

It is important that your child makes their own choice. Don’t allow them to outsource the decision to you, a careers counsellor or a test. While consultation is valuable as part of the process, it is an important developmental  opportunity for your teenager to wrestle with the decision, gaining insight into themselves and the world around them. Remember too that four out of a minimum of seven subjects are already pretty much decided. Your teen has only three left to choose, so let them do it.

It’s not a big deal.

What I mean by this is that outside of you and your family no one really cares what subjects are chosen. Parents have a tendency to ramp up the ante and anxiety around this decision, making teenagers feel like their whole world is resting on this call. It’s not, it actually matters surprisingly little. Anyway, this is just the start of a process.

It’s not a career choice.

You can study Economics at degree level without having done Economics at school. Likewise, just because you choose Drama does not mean you’re going to become an actor. Remember at school (and university) you are being educated not trained and all subjects help with this rather than prepare you for a career. That said do your research, certain subjects are compulsory for further study in certain fields. Have a look at this guide from Stellenbosch University for more details.

Find a balance.

Different subjects are gateways into certain perspectives of looking at the world. Given that each subject has its own system of thinking and approach to knowledge, it is good for pupils to be exposed to a spectrum of disciplines. Therefore with the three choices at their disposal why not try a science, an art and then something for enjoyment?

Do what you like and do what you are good at.

These are often one and the same thing as we tend to enjoy doing what we are good at. Schools need pupils who are engaged with their learning. Your child will be the better for it, both in terms of enjoyment and achievement, and so ultimately will the world. The better your child does the more options will open up to them in terms of future study too.

I remember a line from Chariots of Fire, where Eric Liddle says (cue the Vangelis music), and “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast, and when I run I feel his pleasure”. Let your children run according to the way God has made them, bringing Him pleasure.

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