Monthly Archives: April 2015
(To read Part 1 of this blog series, click here)
At West Dallas Community School, we are unapologetically Christ-Centered. It’s not simply our Christian identity that makes us distinct, but rather our understanding of all that entails.
First, consider the mission of West Dallas Community School which states that we “provide students with a challenging educational experience designed to help them know, love, and practice that which is true, good, and excellent and to prepare them to live purposefully and intelligently in the service of God and man.”
We challenge our students. We are committed to what is commonly known as academic rigor, and this stretches and applies pressure in significant but healthy ways to promote growth as they progress from pre-K to 8th grade. We seek to be an excellent institution and to instill an ethic of excellence in our students. Since our first graduating class in 2002, we’ve witnessed how our program prepares WDCS students to attend and thrive in some of our city’s most reputable institutions, such as Hockaday, St. Marks, and Ursuline. Challenge. Excellence. St. Paul encourages us along these lines in his letter to the Colossians, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord,” (Colossians 3:23). To be intellectually lazy or academically sloppy has no place in a Christ-centered school.
But many schools can boast “rigor” and “excellence” so what’s so unique about WDCS? As I mentioned last month, questions about the purposes and aims of education quickly lead to broader realms of philosophy, anthropology, and theology. The history of schooling in America is fairly easy to trace, and for the most part our educational system (Christian schools included) has been shaped most significantly by the Enlightenment and modernity, and less by a Biblical worldview. Modernity’s approach to education stands squarely on the shoulders of Descartes, who is famous for his philosophical statement, “I think, therefore I am.” So, for starters, we view ourselves first and foremost as thinking beings. Education therefore centers on “the life of the mind.”
Here is where we make a significant departure from the prevailing wisdom around schooling and education. Calvin College professor James K. Smith, in his book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, argues that we’ve been misguided when we conceive of education largely in terms of “the absorption of ideas and information rather than the formation of hearts and desires.” He goes on to say that, “Education is not something that traffics primarily in abstract, disembodied ideas: rather, education is a holistic endeavor that involves the whole person, including our bodies, in a process of formation that aims our desires, primes our imagination, and orients us to the world – all before we start thinking about it. That is why educational strategies that traffic only in ideas often fail to actually educate; that is, they fail to form people.”
I’m drawn back to the question posed by T.S. Eliot, – “What is a person for?” If you answer, “We were made to worship God,” you come to the assertion that we are less “thinkers” and more “lovers”. We might not always love the proper things, but we’re going to love something. And, what we love, we worship. It might be God, or it might be comfort, or beauty, or wealth, or prestige, or power, or simply ourselves. With this view in hand, you are going to approach education differently. For us, being a Christian school means that we believe that one of our most critical tasks is this: through belief and practice, we should honor the created nature of our students by orienting both their minds and their hearts toward a love for God and a love for others.
And so we pursue academic rigor and excellence, neither in the service of our own reputation, nor for the personal advancement of our graduates; rather this commitment is a part of a long process whereby students are learning to love God with all one’s mind and to intelligently serve one’s neighbor. Notice a critical line in our mission statement: “…to know, love, practice”.
We understand that knowledge doesn’t necessarily lead to love or to practice. We therefore focus on the habits of body, mind, and heart. From the songs we sing to the art we celebrate, we nourish our students on a steady diet of the good, the true, and the beautiful, with a hope that they will come to love the Author of all that is good, true and beautiful.
This is a radical paradigm shift. Think about saying to your student upon graduation, “Don’t tell me what you know, tell me what you love.” The Rabbi Abraham Heschel, one of those brave Americans who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King across the Edmund Pettus bridge 50 years ago in Selma, once remarked, “The Greeks learned in order to comprehend. The modern man learns in order to use. The Hebrews learned in order to revere.” Heschel offers a modest corrective to our Enlightenment/modernist heritage, moving away from knowledge as power to knowledge as reverence…worship… love.
Finally, the English essayist and social thinker John Ruskin wrote, “The entire object of true education is to make people not merely to do the right things, but enjoy them; not merely industrious, but to love industry; not merely learned, but to love knowledge; not merely pure, but to love purity; not merely just, but to hunger and thirst for justice.” There it is. True education moves beyond the head to our affections and our loves. Any education that doesn’t take into account our created nature with a recognition that we were made to worship, will ultimately fail. It will fail at that which is most critical: at orienting the human heart toward its creator and toward love for one’s neighbor.
So what make’s WDCS a Christian school? I realize that I would need a year’s worth of blog posts to adequately answer my initial question. My best answer is: come and see.
Head of School
To visit WDCS contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 214.634.1927 x101.