Rethinking Christian Education Part I

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I am a product of Christian education. Having attended Alabama Christian Academy as part of my upper school schooling, Harding University for both my undergraduate and graduate school years, and have taught at two Protestant day schools, I feel qualified to offer an opinion on why many faith-based schools should reevaluate what Christian education looks like. I am coming from a few days of deep reflection, rejuvenation, and intellectual growth after attending the St. James Conference on the campus of the St. James School in Hagerstown, Maryland – an Episcopal boarding school. While attending this wonderful conference, I heard papers from a group of the most brilliant and passionate Christian scholars. I believe all of them define themselves as being Episcopalians. The papers they read articulated a passion for Christian education and a true dedication to being scholarly; both are clear goals needed in defining Christian education; however, I contend that being a scholar as well as a positive role model and good teacher carries more weight than being a Christian teacher. I say this because Christian students will encounter both during their schooling. And particularly, when they move on to higher education. Even schools like Baylor (I believe) Notre Dame, and Boston College encourage such diversity of thought. The great thing I must add about Christian education is that they do offer a venue for students to discuss and delve into topics of faith and religion. The great strength of some schools is that they do have great Christian leaders who can help students navigate through various topics or degrees of faith. But, they are and should behave like a school and not a church.I have felt victimized by an anti-intellctual culture that exist at these types of schools. My criticism of public high schools is that they fail to offer such a religious venue. Part of growth and education is understanding the beliefs of so many people around the world. And in the process, discovering what one believes. Let me explain. During my 22 years of experience in Christian schools, I have observed a great emphasis of instruction being placed on moral integrity, righteousness, honor, and hard work.

However, these virtues are also inculcated in non-sectarian schools. This list would be incomplete if I did not note that Christian schools look to develop one’s sense of faith. Unfortunately, a popular misnomer conveyed to Christian school students is that they need a Christian school with Christian teachers to develop their moral grounding. The misnomer often applied is that the world is wholly secular and dangerous. If students leave their Christian school without a proper base of faith and self-development, they will be lost in the world. Bright young students will encounter a number of experiences that will challenge their faith. Part of intellectual and spiritual maturity is learning from each experience. Assuming that students have reached that point by the time they have finished high school is false. Fearing that students will deviate from the Christian faith after high school is normal; and for some, if not many, this is a great reality. With age comes more experiences; it also offers greater contact with ideas that promotes or reinforces one’s thinking. Yet, in developing students’ sense of faith in terms of a personal journey, it would seem that exposure to greater diversity of faith is required. Here are a few outlined points to consider.

1. Christian schools that recruit and hire only faculty members of their particular denomination (i.e., Baptist schools employing only Baptist teachers; or, Church of Christ schools employing only Church of Christ teachers) are not fully embracing religious growth. They are operating under the guise that their “denominational” sect is the only real faith. I cannot speak much for the Baptist, Methodist, or Presbyterians, but unfortunately I do know a vast many of the Churches of Christ who believe their “denominational” way to Heaven is the only way. They will tell you that they are members of Christ’s church, which voids the notion that they are a denomination. Schools that behave this way tend to construct courses and organize chapels in a fashion to reinforce a very narrow way of thinking.

2. Christian schools should recruit and hire non-Christian teachers. I recently told a colleague that if a school’s mission is to uphold the belief and teachings of Jesus Christ, faculty and staff members should be expected to honor that mission, and to do so without presenting malice. If schools focus their efforts on hiring mature academics with students’ interest, one might find that this works. There are Christian schools in which faculty members are not expected to sign a statement of faith; however, they are expected to sign a mission or honor code noting they will uphold the school’s mission. Currently at a number of faith-based schools, students move from class to class and from day-to-day knowing they will be challenged in their faith; however, over a period of time, that message can dull a student’s mind. It is like saying the Pledge of Allegiance everyday of your schooling career – it becomes dull with very little reflection. It is just another thing you do. But, if a  student were to leave his religion course in which he or she was informed of one point regarding faith, that student might learn why others in the world believes something else. Christian students at all schools are already receiving this type of information. I teach this in my class. But imagine the power of thought and faith if students were to get this information from a Muslim or agnostic teacher; it would promote a far more enriching discussion.

When students leave their Christian school campus for college, they will be exposed to a diverse range of ideas. Why not introduce students to those ideas while they are in high school? Keep in mind, public colleges and universities teach courses on religion. They offer religious ceremonies. I am not sure why state legislatures do not allow public high schools to do the same. Religious studies are important in one’s social development.

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8 thoughts on “Rethinking Christian Education Part I

  1. I completely agree that religion should be taught in public schools. That being said, I believe the problem is there would be too much abuse of this platform. It would be incredibly hard to make sure that these courses were taught in a secular way and that some of the teachers were not using this course to proselytize for their brand of religion. It is unfortunate, because students should be exposed to world views that differ from their own.

  2. Until we get beyond the kind of thinking that Eddie highlights in this piece (i.e., people who believe that their way is the ONLY way), then we’re never going to be able to teach religion in public schools; too many people are too threatened by it. In fact, I had students pulled from my English class because we were reading The Golden Compass, a young adult novel written by a self-proclaimed atheist. We weren’t approaching the novel on religious terms, but that didn’t matter; the very idea that there was the possibility of an anti-religious message in the novel was enough for those parents to demand that their kids be yanked from my class (and, consequently, be denied the opportunity for some really interesting critical thought).

    My experience, in general, has been that most “people of faith” do not LIKE to have that faith questioned or tested in any way (and certainly not by the likes of me). Parents don’t WANT their kids to think outside the limits and boundaries of their faith; they don’t want to have those kinds of challenges at the dinner table because that’s not what their faith is about. In general, religion does not seek to expand the minds of followers; you’ll know what we tell you and no more, and you’ll be happy with it.

    What I find simultaneously interesting and infernally frustrating is that the same people who are demanding that we allow “God” in the schools are the same people who are terrified to the point of paralysis that “God” might mean something other than what THEY say it means. The same people who are making it their life’s work to see to it that laws are passed against Sharia in the US are the very same people who want to institute a Christian Sharia, and they truly do not see the irony. I’m just as horrified by Christian rule as I am by Muslim rule (or any other religious order, for that matter). I don’t care what you call it; it’s all about control that I’m not willing to cede.

    • Mrs. Chili:

      Man I agree. I think in order to advance us forward and our thinking about religion in schools, we must be willing to do so in a non-Church fashion. Schools are not churches, nor should they be.

      I really hope a lot of groups will start thinking about what I am proposing here. I do not think that will happen.

  3. I think you have a good idea and as an academic who does not cater to those who believe in one fashionable thought, I do not worry about the intersection of faith and academic work.

  4. Pingback: Rethinking Christian Education II | The Professor

  5. Eddie, you stated: “If students leave their Christian school without a proper base of faith and self-development, they will be lost in the world.” What do you mean by a proper base of faith?

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