Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thinking about Schools

We had some conversations with friends of ours over the holidays about schools. Being educators, we seem to collect a regular stream of questions now about schools, education, the classical method, etc. It's kinda cool actually -- to finally have enough experience in a particular field to actually be slightly useful once in a while. ;-)

I think the way that I view education is kinda radical. Not like "WHOA! RADICAL!" in the global sense.  But many people find themselves falling into the world's view of an education, or even the regular Christian viewpoint.

The world views education as "something to help you get a job later."  After 150 years of public education in America, we've asked our public schools to be everything from cultural stamps (get those immigrants in line!) to morality builders ("character education") to multicultural tolerance machines. But the Industrial Revolution pushed Americans toward an unvarying ideal in our educational system: preparing children to be good workers for the US economy.

We chase math & science when those careers seem important; we value group work because modern businesses need employees who make good team members.  Parents want their kids to either be prepared to get a good blue-collar job after tech school or land one of those coveted spots in a top college (with a scholarship to match).  Students don't see the value in studying anything "that doesn't help me in life" (as if a 16 year old has any clue about what they "need" for life).   I hear so many people talk about school as a place to prepare kids to "be successful in this world."  And schools should do that.

But education isn't just about future employment.

Christians realize that the world is bigger than the paycheck, so we tack on more spiritual language. We call schools places where kids should learn morals regardless of their religious backgrounds. (Somehow Americans have a unified moral code?)   If we're discussing Christian education, then most people know that they should want God to be "the center of the curriculum"... that Bible classes are important ... that rigorous academics somehow make God happier than non-rigorous academics (whatever that means).

And I'm not saying those things are bad.

I guess I'm noticing that my thinking has shifted, and I don't even really know when it happened.  But when I start thinking about a school, my first questions have nothing to do with the academics or moral structure of the place.  I'm not thinking first about the denominational allegiance of the teachers.  Even methodology doesn't draw my allegiance (though I certainly have my preferances).

Education is a subset of discipleship.  The teacher-student relationship is one of the most precious friendships modeled by Christ Himself during His ministry.  Ultimately, education is Kingdom work

If your school doesn't care about kids as individuals -- as their glorious Created selves within God's Kingdom -- then your school doesn't "get it." We're not crafting good workers for the American economy or producing Good Christians to fill pews. The task is bigger than this.

If we teachers do not look beyond the course content and standardized tests and learning goals to see a student's heart, then we are not educating for a life that will extend far beyond this earthly existence.

.... This post merely dips a toe into the mighty ocean. I need to think some more....