Principles or pragmatism? Is there a right answer? How do we decide? Is there a decision-making grid for Christians around dilemmas, one that we could teach to our students?
Let me give an example from a recent movie, Flash of Genius. An engineer, who is a part-time inventor at nights, comes up with the very first intermittent windshield wiper mechanism. This feat has not been accomplished before by any of the auto companies and when the inventor shows the lead engineer at Ford Motor Company, the engineer is naturally keenly interested. Over the course of several months while waiting to hear from Ford about them purchasing his invention, the inventor comes to believe that his creation has been stolen and reproduced. He spends the next many years of his life attempting to right this injustice and prove that he is the original creator of this invention. In the process of his preoccupation and concerted effort around his legal efforts, he is divorced by his wife and loses contact with his young and large family. In typical Hollywood fashion he regains some of his family relationships back as his children assist him in his legal efforts and in the end he wins his case. Justice has been served – but at what human cost? Did our character gain the world, but lose his life in the process? What was the opportunity cost to his family of his decision? Does family need/nurture trump justice? What was the right decision for the main character in this movie?
Here is a rubber hits the road example as applied to Christian schools. In western Michigan, some Christian schools have entered into shared time relationships with public schools. On the face it seems like a win-win – the Christian school gets teachers paid for by the public school and thereby gaining budget relief, while the public school gets to count the Christian school students as their own for state funding purposes. However, teachers in the Christian school, who are now public school employees, have to give up teaching in a distinctively Christian manner since they are now public school employees. Is this a retreat from mission and principles (distinctively Christian instruction in all subject areas – “every square inch”) or a pragmatic solution so that tuition does not need to be raised, thereby forcing more families to leave Christian education? Do we agree with the state definition of subjects such as art, music, P.E., technology, world languages as being “non-core”? (“Core” subjects are not eligible for shared time designation.) Of course if we went back to the days of teachers teaching their own art, P.E, and music we could save the same amount of money. But would we be sacrificing quality instruction in the process? Is not offering these subjects at all a better choice than having them taught by public school teachers?
What is your opinion and why?
Whether you come down on the side of principles or pragmatism, I would encourage schools in these circumstances to have school society dialogues about these kinds of decisions because they speak to the core of our missions and our reasons for existence. Our kids are watching not only what decisions we make, but how we make them.