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Righting the wrong in Christian education: Recognizing the problem (part 1)

library, books, education
Unsplash/Annie Spratt

It appears to me that at least once a week, no once a day doesn’t pass without someone “talking” about their disappointment with education.  In particular there appears to be lack of freedom of speech or an environment of indoctrination at all levels from primary education through graduate school.  Digging a bit deeper you can find a departure from original beliefs and what could be called “mission drift.”  Furthermore “talking” about it is understatement, individuals are angry about it and others feel helpless!  These individuals offer examples in profusion yet appear not to know what to do or with whom to speak.  Which way should they turn?  Where can they take their concerns?

Having worked in the education field for several decades I can empathize with this frustration.  Since my experience has been at Christian institutions I apparently have baggage which doesn’t fit well outside the Christian environment.  I say this because I have attempted several times, aggressively and unsuccessfully because of my Christianity, to make the transition from Christian to non-Christian educational institutions.  This, however, isn’t the essence of my concern with the disappointment and frustration to which I refer above.  My concern is with Christian education in America.  Working in, communicating with, simply understanding the current climate of Christian education is like trying to function on a voyage with a “ship of fools.”

In all fairness I have to admit that this isn’t the case everywhere, but it is far too frequently encountered.  Inside the institution and also outside gives a whiff of ideological concern which leads me back to the idea of freedom and honesty.  What can be done when virtue appears to be gone and Christian institutions begin to drift from Christian orthodoxy?

My concern rises from my personal experience covering the breadth of institutional life. The history of my professional life in education led from the classroom to the administration offices.  This wasn’t something I worked for or established as an objective, it just happened.  This journey from classroom to administration repeated itself a number of times because I chose to return to my educational roots.  It was only after several disappointing situations of this nature that I accepted the fact that I would probably have to find satisfaction in an administrative position.

This is where greater dissatisfaction began for me.  Administration provided a glimpse of things not easily recognized as a teacher/professor.  I began to notice schools and colleges leaving the road of serious inquiry and venturing down an ideological pathway veering off from the mission and objectives of their spiritual founders.  The administrators and ultimately faculty embarked on a reflexive response to cultural mores forgetting that they are to be in the world, but not of the world.

Each as I rise morning I quote Romans 12:1 & 2 as a reminder of my commitment.  “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (ESV)  Forgetting this can dampen thought and understanding and lead to a listen to me and repeat after me mentality.

Confronting a situation like this never seems to satisfy.  It is at best “disappointing or shocking”, exasperating probably describes this better.  What has aggravated me most was the general lack of integrity of the people with whom we had to interact!  That which I have encountered more often than not is lots of tap-dancing, double-shuffling, and a non-responsiveness which would dampen the hopes of any normal individual.  To be sure that resulting from such indifference appears not to be of concern!  This attitude doesn’t contribute to confronting the “culture war” in which we are involved, but instead place us in a position of losing!

Oddly enough this indifference is often rewarded by those who control influence and authority either not recognizing the problem, lacking a willingness to become involved, or perhaps not caring at all.  All three of these and three is not exhaustive but tragic and will result in disaster!  The number three also identifies the number of groups capable of righting the wrong and ridding the “Ship of the Fools” of those running things.

The people in charge of eleemosynary institutions appear to have stopped caring about the people to whom they are supposed to be responsible for institutional stability, success, and development.  These people have taken interest in institutions and contributed large amounts of capital because they believe in their specific mission and vision.  When analyzed these donors represents three groups: institutional alumni, major donors often interested relatives of present and past participants at an institution, and board members.

Robert F. Davis has 40 years of experience providing counsel for educational and not-for-profit institutions. He previously served as vice president for Advancement at Bryan College in Tennessee and consulting vice president for Advancement and Alumni Affairs at Liberty University in Virginia.

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