Monday, 25 January 2021

Can the Christian School Serve as its Own Apologetic?

Have you ever met a person of faith and been so impressed by them that you say quietly to yourself, "I could never be as good as him or her"? And when you met them, or spent time with them over a longer period, did you quietly distance yourself from them, or did you find yourself being drawn to the person, wanting something of what they seemed to have in their life? I won't share my personal testimony of coming to faith here, but I will say that it wasn't till I was 31 years of age that I came to faith. In large part God used the lives of a number of people who I knew, to challenge me to consider what was central to my life. For a long time, I looked at Christians critically and thought, I can't be like him or her. In time, some people did have an impact on me. And they did this because, in a sense, they were their own "apologetic for Christ". In time, instead of ridiculing and running from them, I found myself being attracted to them and their lives.

In Chapter 2 of my book 'Pedagogy and Education for Life: A Christian Reframing of Teaching, Learning, And Formation', I talk about education being the "whole of life of a community". As Christians and believers in God we are in a sense our own apologetic. The school community likewise can serve this apologetic function. The very lives of Christian students and teachers can be a witness to the things they believe. The foundation of their faith of course, is God and the Savior in whom we trust. So too our faith-based schools and communities can serve as their own apologetic. The Apostle Peter challenged the early church to:

"Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." 1 Peter 2:12 

He didn't do this because the observation of people of faith is the way God saves us. Nor was he talking about social action. No! Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, our observations of people who live with God at the centre, are part of the way God awakens in us the reality that this life is not all there is. He expects us to place him at the centre of our lives.

This is a serious challenge for faith-based schools, because as I've already written in previous posts, it's easy for our Christian schools to lose sight of the fact that the standing of our students before God is far more important than their standing in academic rankings.

In just two days most Australian children will go back to school. Their families have the choice to send them to government run 'public' free government run education, or private largely faith-based schools if they can afford them. You can be certain that there will be different priorities for all of them. Could I suggest you ask yourself a few key questions as you visit and consider the school website, prospectus and comments made by the principal and staff? What does the school you are considering say are their priorities and unique characteristics?

If you're a pedant like I can be, you might even count the number of times the following things are mentioned:

  • Academic achievements
  • Sporting achievements
  • Cultural activities
  • Teacher quality
  • Discipline
  • Post school achievements of the alumni
  • Quality of the staff
  • Non-academic achievements of the students

Once you've finished considering the above, consider how often the following are mentioned:

  • The faith-based foundations of the school
  • The importance of Christian character development
  • The priority given to growth in faith
  • The support and discipling of students of faith
  • Worship at school
  • Christian activities in the school 

Why have I stressed the above? Because if the school is serving as its own apologetic, it will show! What do I mean by this? Is the school promoting the truth of Christianity, God's sovereign control of his world and our place and purpose within it as his children? The things that are talked about in any school reflect the things that are important to the teachers and students. Try to be less impressed by the quality of the buildings, the sporting facilities and the well-groomed playgrounds. Look instead to the quality and faith of the teachers and the executive and the character of the students you are able to observe who graduated from the school. Is the education offered in the Christian school set within the "whole of life in the school, and is this in turn situated within the child’s life that transcends varied and multiple communities of practice, both real and virtual"? If you visit the school, ask students "what's so good about this school"? The answers they give might offer a different perspective compared to the prospectus or website.

I quote Bernard Meland in my book, who suggests that the ultimate goal of education is not technical information, useful practices, or specific moral values, but a search for a “higher goodness.” Our schools are to provide space for developing our students in other ways that are also reflective, imaginative, and spiritual. The education we offer that truly matters - i.e. growth in character shaped by God - is situated within the child’s complete life which transcends varied and multiple communities of practice, both real and virtual. As you consider the best school for your child think about these things.