I politely questioned the emphasis at the time, but received no satisfactory reply. Since then, I have been thinking, observing, and wondering.
Whenever I bring it up with other educators, I get dismissive responses – “Yes, it’s ultimately the parent’s job, but we do have a role—we are, after all, ‘in loco parentis.’” I can agree with that, but “having a role” and making it a concrete objective are two very different things.
I’ll spare you the process, but I have pretty much concluded that Christian education is ill- served when we make spiritual formation of students anything other than an organic by-product of participating in a community of faith centered on academic endeavor. When we say we are about the spiritual training and nurture of students, we either are misrepresenting ourselves or losing sight of our true mission. I also concluded that I had probably stepped over the edge from an alternative, but reasonable position into outright heresy, since it was hard to find others clearly saying the same.
Then my Nov. issue of First Things arrived and Gilbert Meilaender has a review of Stanley Fish’s latest book. As part of the review, Meileander draws some pretty clear distinctions between what Christian education can and cannot do. I would do him a grave injustice to try and summarize, but it certainly resonated with me. Of course, he is talking about college education, but I think much of it still applies. So, if I am off into deep heresy, at least I’m not feeling quite so lonely!
On Thursday I went to a Christian school conference for the day. The last time I went (several years ago), I was very heartened by the emphasis on academic excellence, raising the bar, the value of challenging the mind. I reported back: “They are singing our song.” This time, I heard over and over ideas similar to “if it doesn’t have an immediate spiritual application and impact, it is worthless.” Even from a college professor. It was discouraging but it is the only logical end if our job is a spiritual one.
There are 1000 facets to this whole discussion and nuances too fine for my reductionistic tendencies. But I would love to see this discussion taking place in the ranks of SCL. Have we just bought into the latest “ x” for the undeniable spiritual anemia of students? I was also intrigued by Ken Myer’s comment in Peter Leithart’s article in the ISI Journal when he wondered if the classical Christian school movement would lose its bearings and be drawn into a utilitarian view of producing cultural change agents. Aren’t these important questions for us to be asking ourselves?
One of the problems with the confusion on this topic is that it subjectivizes what we do, and I think it feeds the consumeristic mentality that we often find ourselves battling with parents. Many Christian parents don’t look to their churches as the most profound spiritual influences in their lives—lots of people I know say that they didn’t learn to be Christians in church, but individuals in college or someplace taught them to be Christians. So when they think about their kids’ faith, maybe we’re the new Campus Crusade.
Would you mind if I circulate your thoughts and see what kind of responses we get?