Last month we raised the question of why our parents and students have not placed a higher value on cultural and intellectual engagement in our society. The authors of the Cardus Survey also indicate that the data shows a reluctance of students to aspire to more elite institutions for continued study. What might be the reasons for these choices?
For starters, perhaps we should trace back our DNA a bit as schools in Reformed tradition. Many of the schools in the Christian Schools International family were begun by Dutch immigrants of the mid to late 1800’s and in Canada the early to mid 1900’s and this may contribute to what results have been achieved by students from our schools. These immigrants were a group who were leaving the Netherlands in part due to religious dissent and the desire to maintain spiritual purity and preservation of their religious beliefs. They were not from the intellectual elites or the professional class, but mostly lower class working poor. Many went into farming and other types of manual labor as is typical for first generation groups. Yet they placed a high value on education and not just any education, but an education that was Christian and supportive of what was being taught at home and church. Their faith and practice of living virtuously enabled them to become successful in the North American culture, but may not have changed their identity as much. As is true with immigrants, they may have suffered from an “inferiority complex” of being strangers/outsiders who couldn’t speak the language fluently or navigate social structures easily. They naturally tended to want to conserve their culture and traditions. However these tendencies did not encourage their descendents to typically move much outside of the comfortable cultural confines of church and local community. Might this a reason for the limited aspiration and cultural engagement of graduates from their schools?
While graduates did well over the years as immigrants turned into second, third, and fourth generation citizens, these outstanding individuals seemed to be the exceptions rather than the product of a strategic vision of the school where they were educated. As we now understand more of what makes an exceptional worker, professional, or cultural contributor and the soft skills needed, which include high moral grounding and work habits, we understand that our graduates are much more likely to succeed wherever they end up because of the type of beliefs and values they have been exposed to in a strong Christian education.
It seems then that our issue is one of vision, expectations, and pedagogical practices for our students, rather than a wholesale change in the intangibles they are currently receiving from our schools. We must recognize that as educators we are by profession and nature “conservers” and not the risk taker big picture visionaries that are needed to bring a global picture to our students. We may need to enlist others as student mentors and coaches to help effectively challenge and prepare our students and to teach them how to navigate as a Christian in different cultural settings. A Christian businessperson, cultural leader, professional, entrepreneur may be more able to do this in a mentor relationship. To more effectively raise up students who are going to be cultural leaders, we must expose them to the kinds of experiences that allow them to understand “how the world works” and develop an even deeper framework of belief and understanding that helps them to understand the spectrum of belief and thought represented by cultural leaders. We must also take advantage of technology that allows our students to connect and collaborate with others around the world and that moves them out of local cultural isolation. However, it is critical that we continue to embed strong theological and prophetic ideals, Christian disciplines and practices, and personal moral and ethical development into their educational experiences.
To engage more effectively in this discussion, I recommend these five excellent questions drawn from the discussion guide that follows the Cardus Education Survey:
- What if Christian school leaders were more audacious in their goal, expecting students to be unwaveringly committed both to their families and to being part of culture through politics, the arts, and the world of ideas?
- If Christian schools want to promote those bold outcomes, will they be willing to make the structural changes necessary to do so?
- What structures and pedagogy must be in place for schools to more thoroughly develop culture engagement in their graduates?
- Are there more effective means of cultivating critical thought as a way for students to effect culture more meaningfully? Would this require new methods of training teachers and preparing and selecting school leaders?
- Are Protestant schools focusing on pietistic behaviors rather than a systematic theology and therefore unable to produce graduates who are truly engaged in culture?