This September will be the start of my 21st year in Christian education. I have to admit that before I starting teaching in a Christian school I did not have a very positive perception of Christian education. All I knew is that when I was in high school the “Christian school kids” went on the same bus as I did. Then they had to transfer to another bus for a further 20 minute drive to school. It did not make sense to me that children would have to travel such a far distance to school, and then on top of that to a school in which their parents would have to pay extra for. Even though I was a Christian I had no understanding of the mission, vision or purpose of a Christian education.
My naïve and somewhat negative impression of Christian schools was compounded when a close friend of mine switched to a Christian high school in grade 10. Her marks and average went up 10 to 15% and I assumed that it meant that the school had poor academic standards. I never took into equation the possibility that smaller class sizes, committed and caring teachers, a positive Christian environment, a Christ-centred curriculum and time spent in prayer could have possibly contributed to her growth not only academically but I am sure spiritually as well.
I remember clearly my brother asking me when I was in teacher’s college if I wanted to teach in a Christian school or in the public system. I remember telling him very confidently that I felt my place was in the public system of education. Well, just a year later God had a different plan. When I graduated from teacher’s college ironically God provided me a job teaching grade 6 at a Christian school in Brantford, Ontario. Looking back, I accepted that teaching position without a true understanding of Christian education.
My principal at the time shared with me what changed her heart towards Christian schooling. She explained how she had spent one summer tutoring a high school girl in mathematics. Unfortunately, at the end of that summer, the girl took her own life, she had committed suicide. The principal came to the realization that she had put so much time and effort into helping this girl, simply learn her math, and had taken no time or energy building a relationship or even more importantly had taken no time to prepare her for eternity.
This was a turning point for my principal, and after this event she dedicated herself to the development of Christian education which she continues to do today in a leadership role. This story was also an eye opener for myself as well.
As an educator I want to fill my students with knowledge, but what good is that knowledge, if the students do not know that there is a Heavenly Father who created them and loves them, that He has a son who died on the cross for them, and that there is a gift of eternal life waiting for them.
Recently I have been reading the book Praying with Paul by D.A. Carson. In it he discusses the fact that a common question that parent receives is, “How are your children doing?” I am sure many of you as parents have been asked and answered that question many times over. Oh, there doing fine, thanks for asking, School is going well, close to straight A’s, or busy, busy, busy, they are involved in so many activities. If your children are older perhaps you have answered in a similar fashion to the answers the author suggests in the book, and I quote,
“ Johnny’s doing very well now. His career as a research physicist has really taken off. He is the youngest person in his company to have been appointed to the board. And Evelyn is doing very well too, she’s into computer programming and is already the head of her section.”
You see it is not often a parent answers the question, how are your children doing - in the context of their child’s spiritual journey. In the book Carson wonders if this lack of a spiritual response is a reflection of respecting privacy or as he phrases it a “warped perspective on priorities.” As parents and as a society are we most invested in our children’s academic and athletic successes and their social standing over their spiritual life or commitment to Christ? Are we most joyous over their success in work and material prosperity over their relationship with God?
As we celebrate and value these successes in our children, we need to be cautious not to do so at the risk of undervaluing the essentialness of their faith. If these are our values? We need to ask ourselves how will these values play out in our children’s lives years from now and into eternity. We need to truly think about what we are valuing and investing in today and prayerfully self-assess ourselves and our priorities. Are we truly seeking the Kingdom of God above all else?
Some may say or have the fear that Christian Schools spend too much time on Bible based activity, and not enough time on other academic subjects. But one is not at the expense of another. The goal of a Christian education is the development of a Christian perspective, or a Christian worldview, it is teaching all of our subjects but doing so from the perspective of God’s story. Then it is about inviting your students to be part of the story.
Author James K. A. Smith challenges I believe all of us with the following quote.
What if education ... is not primarily about the absorption of ideas and information, but about the formation of hearts and desires? What if we began by appreciating how education not only gets into our head but also (and more fundamentally) grabs us by the gut? What if education was primarily concerned with shaping our hopes and passions - our visions of 'the good life' - and not merely about the dissemination of data and information as inputs to our thinking? What if the primary work of education was the transforming of our imagination rather than the saturation of our intellect? ... What if education wasn't first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?”
I think that this quote is especially timely in today’s culture. We currently live in a time where information is available at our fingertips instantly through the internet, therefore there we are in a transition phase in education, and at a place where we are no longer just providing students with information but really challenging them with how to discern this information and with what to do with it, how to process it, and to think about how it impacts them and their lives and the lives of those around them.
I believe this connects back to the last line of Sonrise’s mission statement, which reads equipping students with the knowledge, skills and integrity of heart needed to make a difference in the world for the kingdom of God. Therefore, we do provide an education that focusses on the mind, but we also provide an education that focuses on the hands and most importantly the heart as well.
As a Christian educator, I love the following quote used by Teaching for Transformation schools, “Every unit is a divine opportunity to invite your students into a deeper relationship with God.”
That is what I love about Christian education. Every day really is a divine opportunity to invite students into a deeper relationship with God, and I think that is pretty amazing!.