Do Christian Schools Teach Spiritual Formation?

Do Christian Schools teach spiritual formation? Well, somewhat. Let me be more specific: "Do Christian schools teach spiritual formation sufficiently to prepare students for engaging culture effectively? In my opinion the answer to that question is "No."

Articles have been written about it, seminars have been offered on it, why entire books have dealt with the idea of spiritual formation. Spiritual formation simply put is "character formation." When I taught at the Stony Brook School the motto was, and still is, "Character before Career." The students would jest that the motto actually was "Tuition before Admission."

While at Stony Brook I was privileged to have very close contact with Dr. Frank E. Gaebelein, the "Father of American Christian Education" and author of The Pattern of God's Truth, the foundational volume on "the integration or incarnation of faith and learning." According to Dr. Gaebelein the "crux of the problem" with Christian education is at its heart; it fails to become "…the living union of its subject matter, administration, and even of its personnel, with the eternal and infinite pattern of God's truth."

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Each family must establish priorities: moral, financial, sociological, and spiritual. Integral to these priorities is the matter of the personal responsibility of each family member, and spiritual formation of the children. This not only relates to the church the family attends, but whether or not they attend a Christian school for their education.

A friend of mine who was headmaster of a Christian school said, that in his region, the question for the Christian family was, "Do we send the kids to Christian school or do we feed the horse?" Ludicrous as this sounds it manifests itself in many ways: "or do we go to Disney World," "or buy a larger house," or perhaps "enjoy life more fully."

With over 40 years of experience teaching and administrating in Christian education, at all levels kindergarten through graduate school, I have experienced these "priorities" daily. Of course the choices which are made revolve around a myriad of reasons for attending a Christian school: a safe environment, support for family values, introduction to Jesus Christ, or a better education. You may be certain that every parent expects that their child will be graduated a better person, prepared for engaging everything the world will throw at them.

Of late, the Cardus Educational Survey has created quite a stir! Christian school administrators have been talking about the Survey, downloading copies and circulating them to faculty, and Christian educational consultants have found their conversation touching on the Survey as well. To borrow an old phrase let me say, "People will hear what they want to hear." In this case "read what they want to be true." At a time when so much is made of "context" reading and gleaning from the Cardus Educational Survey must be complete and contextual! The Survey punctuates some strength, but also identifies serious concern for the Protestant Christian school.

My friend, recently retired president of Dordt College Dr. Carl Zylstra said, "I think those of us who are committed to serious Christian education have to ensure that the education we pursue is serious education as well." A school isn't Christian because the education is provided by Christian teachers, has a board made up of Christians, where prayer begins class time, or at which chapel is celebrated. A Christian education is identified as being "integrally Christian," each course conceived from an avowedly Christian point of view!

Without making this any more "stuffy" or deeply confusing I will briefly site some significant findings in the Cardus Educational Survey. While graduates of Protestant Christian school registered "raw scores" which were high regarding: preparation for a vibrant spiritual life, obligation to accept church leadership authority, frequency of church attendance, biblical authority, and strong biblical values, the school's effect on these positions achieved much lower scores. Of course how we see this play out in real life indicates that Christian school educated individuals are not becoming the "salt and light" to which scripture calls them. The Christian school should not be a "tuition-based youth group," but characterized by a deliberate curriculum which integrates the world outside, consciously pushing students to think outside the "Christian bubble." The current view is too narrow not preparing students for a "robust engagement, navigate traditional paths of power established in today's culture in networks of government, media, and the arts."

Christian schools are falling short of "making a difference" or "world-changing." There is a definite need for harmony; cultural engagement and academic achievement being influenced by spiritual formation! While the Cardus Educational Survey notes many administrators report a "shift in thinking over the last decade from a perceived purpose of protection from culture to encountering and engaging it, most schools continue in a mode of critiquing culture rather than engaging and creating culture in substantial ways," equipping citizens of character, integrity. The time for talking should be over. A time for action must begin!

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