Back in 1968, Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner published a book called Teaching as a Subversive Activity. It shook schooling to its roots; in some ways it advocated chopping off the roots. Remember its location in history. The late 1960s and early 1970s in North America were a hippie heyday: Woodstock, “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” “Let it all hang out, “Have it your way,” and burn the flag.
This book blasted traditional education: lectures killed the human spirit; storing up facts was trivial; logical thinking was deadening; students’ being inactive in seats dulled minds; teachers were teaching what one could see in the rear-view mirror and not preparing students for the future…which is where they would live! The writers compared schools to prisons and factories.
“Is your Christian school influential in the lives of your graduates?”
“How do you know?”
“I met one of our graduates the other day in a store and asked her whether she liked our Christian school. She said it really prepared her for college.”
Would that answer from one person be enough to persuade you? How does a school measure the influence of its education beyond graduation? If you were to survey graduates, when would be the best time to get the most accurate assessment? Five years out? A decade? What questions would you ask: achievement in college? Naming key points of a Christian worldview taught at your school? Generosity of time or money? Church participation? Something else?
Decades ago, while meandering through a magazine, I stopped at a letter to the editor, entitled something like “Jigsaw Puzzle Education.” The writer was troubled at the state of education, claiming that teachers were not connecting one fact or idea to another. His analogy went something like this: teachers ask students to learn that 2 + 2 = 4, but without any reference to the broader context of life.
He said that this way of teaching is similar to asking students to connect two pieces of a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle without ever seeing the picture on the box. Two facts may connect, but for the students, it has little meaning beyond that. The writer said it would be frustrating for students, seeing no sense in learning the tidbit connection without seeing how it fits in the whole picture.
“My son will not amount to anything.” Decades ago, when a student’s father said that in anger during our parent-teacher conference, I cringed. He saw it and pulled back, “I guess he will find a job someplace, but school is not for him.” Since then, I’ve wondered many times whether some kids lack the brain power to learn anything beyond the repetition of a task. Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University, says they can: “I think anyone can learn anything under the right circumstances.”
For Christian schools, this debatable issue has appeared in several places. Some Christian high schools still market themselves as college prep schools, clearly communicating that they make little accommodation for students who may not be interested college prep subjects. More and more, Christian schools have access to programs in the community that train students for trades, with these students, in effect, having dual enrollment in two schools. Many have special education programs that help students with learning differences, including students who learn only elemental parts of various subjects.
The comparison of a retailer and an educational institution may seem a bit strange. However, they have a lot in common, and there are some clear corollaries that can be instructive when considering the challenges and changes facing both sectors.
A quiz for leaders: multiple choice. Which one of these comparisons best captures your view of all children? A child is
- An empty bucket that needs to be filled with the water of knowledge.
- A cocoon wrapped in layers of blankets from which will emerge a butterfly.
- A diamond in the rough, flawed by sin and polished by grace and God’s hand to shine.
- A sheep that needs fences and shepherds to live well.
- A bulb that will become a beautiful flower if not stifled by “correction.”
“Some of the above” may be an option. However, almost all Christian schools, primarily through their leaders, develop programs (curricula) that emphasize one of these models more than others. In my experience (reading, watching, listening), most schools tend toward one of the following three notions about children.
CSI just finished its annual installment of the Principal Development Institute (PDI) in Orlando, Florida. In addition to the joy of getting away from Michigan in February, this event, perhaps more than any other CSI event, highlights for me the importance of serving together in a community of likeminded schools.
This case study is offered as a discussion starter. The incident happened. The names are changed, but the facts are straight from the principal’s mouth. How did it end? I’m holding that, for now. How should it end? What reasons would you offer for that decision? Discuss this case with colleagues in leadership.
Mr. Matters, the principal, hated to admit his growing resentment toward the Andersons. The family was getting too pushy, in his judgment. They were demanding Christian education for their child James, who had Down syndrome. It was a demand his school—which was geared toward college prep and was small and barely scraping by financially—could not provide. Mr. Matters had talked to the Andersons at least a half-dozen times over the past two years; he knew they had also been calling board members to start a program for kids like James. And now the board had asked Mr. Matters to contact other Christian schools that worked with students with special learning needs, do some research, and estimate the cost of a program.