Well, here is the rest of the story: last time we celebrated the positive results that were learned about Protestant schools and kids, and so in part 3 we look at some of the challenges facing Protestant schools in particular. The authors of the study are very clear: while there are many ways that Christian schools are serving a public good, they don’t find Christian schools to be living up to their “world –changing” missions in several ways. Their concern is that graduates are “showing a surprising lack of engagement in areas traditionally thought to influence culture: through the political sphere, relationships with people in positions of power and status or people earning higher university degrees, and intellectual engagement in the arts” (p. 24).
Why is this the case? The study authors wonder if the high level of compliance and respect for authority contributes to a lack of motivation to interface with culture in positive ways. Are our students questioning the status quo? How can students be impacting culture if they don’t have any interest in politics and the contemporary cultural scene? The research reports that Protestant Christian kids are less likely than their other private school peers to engage in political discussions with colleagues, family, and friends. If they are not participating at this level then it is likely that their ideas and opinions are not having much impact on the larger political and cultural dialogue (p. 27).
Schools seem to be reflecting the wishes of their parents in this regard. According to the research done via surveys of administrators, parent support of students being taught to confront culture or change society are among the very “lowest reported goals in current schools” (p. 29). This leads me to wonder, “Do parents really understand the missions of many of our schools? Do they desire to have their students be world transformers?” The overriding concern expressed in the study is this: “Christian schools are not universally preparing their graduates to navigate the traditional paths of power established in today’s culture and thus undermine their potential for robust cultural engagement and contribution through these means.” (p.29) The study authors go on to say: “In this same way, we find involvement in the arts and other intellectual endeavors to be surprisingly low for Christian school graduates. Christian school graduates participate in cultural activities less and donate less of their time and money to the arts. These results may indicate a weak involvement in higher culture that prevents Protestant Christian school graduates from full engagement in their communities and their world” (p. 29).
It is encouraging that no evidence exists in the study that Christian schools are isolationist – in fact the authors’ perception is that there is significant desire to engage the world, it just seems that schools are much more in the critiquing mode than creating mode of engaging culture. They suggest that the ways students engage culture need to be broadened: “In most schools, we find the lens of cultural engagement to be narrow, promoting what students can do, like service and vocation, rather than a larger view of navigating the spheres, processes, and networks of government, the media, and arts. Likewise, few schools are found to be systematically, through curriculum and pedagogy, integrating academic learning with engaging the world outside of school” (p.30).
I find this research to be a helpful challenge to our schools. We are starting from a good foundation and need to continue to challenge our students to lift their eyes and hearts to the broader challenges that are presented by the world. In the final installment re: The Cardus Study next month, we will look at some other possible reasons for this current state of our schools, examine some possible solutions to move us forward, and conclude with some stimulating questions for further discussion and ferment.