Genuinely Christian Education: Accessible

 A Christian School should provide access to the challenged not just challenge the privileged.

Many schools answer the call to excellence by screening out low performers through admissions standards. In one school’s annual report, parents were assured SAT test scores would improve since the school would be instituting tougher admissions standards. This same school bragged that once again their students tested in the top 10% of the nation’s population. The logical conclusion here is that 90% of the student population is not good enough for this school and is therefore excluded. The adoption of tougher standards suggests that this school believed that still more should be excluded.

Certainly, we want to challenge academically gifted students to stretch and develop their gifts. Ordinary students, with the support of excellent teachers and persistent parents, can perform well under the right conditions. But must those students be shamed for their inferiority in comparison to the gifted? Often these students are skilled athletes, artists or altruists. Must we persist in holding non-academic quests hostage to a child’s ability to achieve a certain test score? Even worse, must the child with learning disabilities be banned from life outside the academic arena because she is expected to spend every waking hour trying to “catch up”?

Because we tend to have the mindset that every child must prepare for college, we pile an extraordinary amount of stress on those whom God has gifted in other areas. The reality of the current labor market is that most children will need to go on to college. The good news is that most can. A Christian School should strive to open doors of higher education for those so inclined.

However, some children may thrive in a non-traditional setting. Computer programmers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, chefs, artisans and animal trainers are examples of promising careers that don’t necessarily require college degrees. These careers do, however, require specialized training; training that is unavailable in the one-size fits all college prep environment that dominates both private and public schools. When a child encounters multiple opportunities, the odds increase for a child to add value to the world. The child begins to comprehend his God-ordained purpose, which is the first step to building an interdependent community.

As a child develops her gifts, she sees how these gifts can strengthen the weak, meet a physical need or solve a societal ill. An individual who is valued is motivated. For this reason, classroom teachers often rely on competition to motivate. The winner feels valued and is therefore motivated to win again. While it’s true that the workplace is fiercely competitive, highly prized is the employee who elevates others through his contribution rather than elevating himself by obliterating the competition. More importantly, our model is Christ, who gave himself freely and generously, for all.

Unfortunately, many Christian schools are producing children who are gifted but handicapped. These children often reach academic heights well beyond their peers. Because many come from privileged homes (due to the constraints of high tuition), they have opportunities to dabble in the arts and enrichment programs. But they live in isolation from the less privileged; those who cannot meet the academic or financial requirements of the school. As a result, they are unskilled in interacting with the less fortunate or the intellectually challenged.

A misconception exists that these children are the future church and community leaders; that their superior academic preparation will equip them to solve the world’s great problems. Yet, these future leaders have no idea how to engage the culture. Their elitist values have led to cultural isolation. Those who should be the cultural architects are relegating themselves to the sidelines. Intellectual superiority alone will not meet the needs of humanity, for one must understand the source of the pain in order to render a proper diagnosis. The academically gifted must learn to condescend to the “least of these,” just as Christ did for us. To do so does not stunt a child’s development as some fear; it hones her ability to impact the world. She discovers a reason for scholarly pursuit. Surely God’s plan for the brilliant eclipses even the most lucrative rewards of a promising career.

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