Monthly Archives: May 2015
May is the month of commencements – students all over the metroplex are graduating. Within a few weeks, West Dallas Community School will launch our 8th graders out into various high schools around the city. And after all the mortar boards are tossed in the air, after the struts across stage, the handshakes, the photos, and the celebrations, one has to wonder – to what end? What is all this education for?
These are questions I’ve wrestled with a bit, both explicitly and implicitly, at some level in my last two posts. I’ve argued that true education has to go beyond the development of the mind to the shaping of the heart. It’s important also that our graduates know that their education has to be about something bigger than personal advancement and individual fulfillment. I like to say that at WDCS, we are educating for the common good. It’s an old idea expressed by an early church father, John Chrysostom, who wrote in the 3rd century, “This is the rule of the most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, that seeking of the common good…For nothing can so make a person an imitation of Christ as caring for their neighbors.”
Fidelity to our Christ-centered identity compels us to nurture in our students a vision for love of neighbor. While we long for them to beat the odds that plague urban students and graduate from high school and college, and though we pray they will realize their God-given potential and maximize all the gifts they’ve been given, our greatest hope is that their unfolding love for God will express itself in love for others. Love for neighbor can be demonstrated through acts of mercy and justice, but it can also be revealed through their vocational skills. This is an important theological concept found in the scripture and compellingly argued by Martin Luther. Thus, education can be seen as a means of preparation for loving our neighbors with excellence.
Some accuse Christian schools of promoting a narrow-mindedness and mean-spiritedness that ultimately erode civic values and divide our nation. Sadly, it is this type of uninformed and misguided sentiment that is driving religious convictions from the public square – to our nation’s peril. For, we are not educating our students for an isolated Christian existence. Rather, in the spirit of the prophet Jeremiah, we are preparing our students to contribute for the “welfare of the city.” (Jeremiah 29:7) I can’t articulate this vision of Christian schooling for the common good any better than the late educator N.H. Beversluis:
“They (students) will learn that such a shared life means being burdened, religiously as Christians, with the common burdens – with political corruption, with sexual permissiveness, inner-city unemployment, with societal violence – and also with common opportunities – with writing novels, with cures for cancer, with good architecture, and all the rest. Such citizenship means they will be engaged in these concerns as part of their worship of and obedience to God…”
And this is more than simply a hopeful pronouncement of our lofty aims; research is bearing witness that Christian school graduates make good neighbors.
The Cardus think-tank recently published the results of their 2011 Education Survey, the largest-ever sample of Christian school graduates and administrators in North America, focusing on students’ spiritual formation, cultural engagement, and academic development. The group controlled for 30 variables known to impact development, and in doing so, the study was better able to isolate the effect of school type on the spiritual, socio-cultural, and educational outcomes of students six to 21 years after graduating high school.
While there is plenty more I could unpack in this survey, and perhaps I will in another future post, here’s what I want you to hear. Despite popular stereotypes to the contrary, the Cardus survey found that Christian school graduates are best characterized as “generous, outwardly-focused individuals who stabilize their communities by their uncommon and distinctive commitment to their families, churches, and their communities, and by their hope and optimism about their lives and the future.”
One distinctive of Christian school graduates is their tendency to see their careers as a religious calling and choose work based on service rather than compensation. They also give more of their time and finances to churches and communities than their public school and non-religious private school peers. The authors conclude that, “research finds Christian schools to be serving a public good in many ways.”
We are educating for the common good. Our oldest graduates are finishing college, finding their way in the world, and living into the dream held by our founders – “living purposefully and intelligently in the service of God and man.” Among them is a police officer, a teacher, a mother who has enrolled her young son at WDCS (our first legacy student!) and several training to be doctors. A West Dallas Community School education strengthens the social fabric of our nation by preparing our students to unleash their energies, passions, and gifts in their jobs, families and neighborhoods. What is a WDCS education for? What is its purpose? I like to say, it is for the good of the city and glory of God.
Head of School