Great schools that produce great people are really good at 5 components: academics, arts, athletics, activities, and accessibility. Of course, great Christian schools do these from a distinctively Christian perspective. This post addresses the first two of those.
ACADEMICS – A great school is a place where learning is fueled by curiosity about God and his world and how to inhabit it wisely.
If we are what we love, as I’ve argued, then the very best thing we can give our students academically is a love of learning and an inquisitive mind. This is shaped as much in the classroom as it is by the student’s personality. That kind of academic environment is driven more by stimulating hungry minds to ask great questions and become more and more inquisitive and less by test scores and the assessment of information retained.
As unique beings created in the image of God, every child is designed by God to learn, to grow, to be curious, and to wonder. We don’t have to teach little kids as infants or toddlers to be amazed by everything around them. Doubt me? Spend time with any little kid and listen to the inordinate amount and kinds of questions they ask about everything.
Neil Postman, in The End of Education (1995), provocatively argues that students come into school as question marks and leave as periods. When they start school at a young age, they wonder about everything. They are hungry and curious. But as they move through our educational model, it becomes all about getting the right answers (to pass the test) and the natural, God-given curiosity is taught right out of them.There’s no greater evidence or sadder commentary on this than the teenagers who say, “I hate school. It’s so boring.”
Sir Ken Robinson, famed British speaker and advocate on education, famously argues this very point in his TEDTalk, “Do schools kill creativity?” (The answer, he insists, is far too often, yes.) Sir Ken said, “I believe this passionately, that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it.”
Loving learning goes hand in hand with loving God. To love God fully means loving him with our mind. That’s why a great Christian education emphasizes a love of Scripture and worship everywhere in the learning experience. This means memorizing Scripture, worshipping weekly in chapel, teaching the Bible across all grades, and, most importantly, teachers modeling a passion for God and his world in everything they do.
But great Christian education, driven by a love of God’s world and what he wants us to do with it, equally insists upon gaining great wisdom and knowledge about that world and how it works. We want to be good at doing things in and with that physical world because of our biblical worldview. God made us to rule over the earth and do things with it that bring good to others and glory to him! All of the disciplines of our curriculum, from science to social studies, from mathematics to music, from technology to theater — all of this aims at on goal: learning to love and use God’s good world.
Unfortunately, today’s culture focuses on education primarily in light of pursuing a career absent any consideration of why or what we should love. Preparing students to do embark on a successful career. But that has to be put into its right order.In her essay “Why Work?” in Letters to a Diminished Church, English author and poet Dorothy Sayers wrote:
The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables…No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made Heaven and earth.
A rightly ordered life is one that connects the head, the heart, and the hands; where the love of God flows down through all else and expresses itself in loving and working well, whatever the vocation. So, are you a carpenter? Make good tables to the glory of God and love of others.A welder? Be the very best welder you can be as an act of worship and love. A doctor, a teacher, a bus driver, a custodian? Make good tables.
From the kid graduating early to go study medicine at college to the student who may struggle to finish high school – we are at our best as educators when we help each student deepen their curiosity about the world, love this kind of learning, and go out into the world being the very best they can at what they are made to love to do.
ATHLETICS – A great school is a place where learning means growing in body and spirit, building character, strength, and relationships through sport.
In our world, sports is often an idol and superstar athletes function as a sort of pantheon of demigods. It’s a double-edged sword. But God created the body and our athletic ability and love of play and competition. We can and ought to use it to his glory. Some things can be learned on the field of play that can’t be taught anywhere else.
Of course, athletics can’t exist just for its own sake. There is nothing wrong with the goal of winning championships and pushing hard together for that goal. But it’s not about the winning just for the thrill and prestige of winning. Too often, athletics is the proverbial tail wagging the dog and setting the mission, vision, and financial agenda. In other cases, schools go the other way ignoring the potential for shaping lives. In athletics, we can’t ever lose sight of the fact that we are teaching our kids what to love. Victory at any cost is the error to avoid on the one hand, mediocrity and half-hearted effort and excuses for poor performance on the other.
A great athletics program is a key part of a great and growing school. Christian schools should aspire for excellence in every area, and athletics is no exception. When we strive to do our very best both as individual coaches, students, and together as teams, and we emphasize those virtues that are required for championship-caliber teams such as sacrifice, resilience, perseverance in the face of suffering, hard work to go beyond what we felt was possible, selfless and teamwork, and on and on, we have an opportunity to shape those attributes into the lives of students as future leaders and parents in a way we never could otherwise. Striving for championships and victory can be a powerful driver to produce such a culture. In this, too, we shape what our kids love and desire as they move out into life.