Blog: March 11, 2018

A Blog is an opinion rather than an article. While CSM teaches through its articles and books, the CSM Blogs are efforts by CSM consultants to struggle with difficult ideas in Christian education and move to some kind of clarity. Please read any CSM Blog in that light.

Why Children Don’t Matter in Schools

Yes, I know we all love children and that they are the reason for schools. And yes, I also know that we spend all and sometimes more than all our strength on behalf of the children in our schools. And this is not a rant about the iniquities of the modern or post-modern age – this problem has been with us ever since the industrial revolution demanded that we treat children as objects rather than subjects. We have to ask some hard questions about our practice, about our thinking, about our motivation, about our objectives.

Let’s start with that industrial revolution thought. The question of subject and object is central to the conversation. Why did we have public education growing in the 19th century and eventually displacing private education and home schooling? Because society / industrialists needed workers with very particular skills, and with very particular lack of skills. Before that, education (typically a liberal arts education) was intended to broaden the mind and develop character. It was designed for the leaders of society aka rich people. If you were not rich, you were home-schooled with the kinds of skills that were useful to your family of which you were a key part, necessary to the family economy and necessary to the extended family web of interdependency.

Public education took home schooling and industrialized it in the 19th century while paying little to no attention to the family. Rich people still went to private schools – as they do today – and gained a liberal arts education designed to develop the leaders of the nation. Two World Wars and a broadening definition of human as well as an increasing need for those who were not destined for monotone occupations, a tendency that has accelerated in the last decade with the rise of machine intelligence, meant that public schools wanted to be more like private schools.

However, we merely replaced one tyranny for another. In place of the industrialists, we put in place the financiers and lawyers and doctors and technicians all of whom demanded their pound of flesh and whined like crazy when they didn’t get it. You can see it in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review. University professors bemoaning the lack of “education” resulting in poorly trained students coming their way with ideas above their station. Industry leaders bemoaning the impracticality and shoddiness of the preparation students have as they enter their industries. They want another kind of product.

We compensate by pouring down tests on our children. Entry tests, competency tests, IQ tests, ERB tests, College Board and IB tests, all designed to commoditize the child and ensure a common product.

What’s amazing and wonderful is how effectively our children have fought back. They have resisted being made an object and demanded to be a subject with value in their own right. Some have passed the tests and become part of the machinery of commercialism. Many have obdurately failed the tests, not gone to school, tried a whole bunch of options that seemed more humane such as charter and magnet and democratic and homeschool and private.

What’s not wonderful at all is the sheer waste that this process has engendered. Back in the 1960s, John Holt observed the following in Why Children Fail: “Most children learn more when they are out of school than when they are in. When children who normally go to school get sick or hurt and can’t go, the schools send tutors to their homes so that they won’t fall behind in their work…..from two to three hours a week. It is enough; the children keep up with their classmates and even go ahead for now they have time to read all they want and their reading and other work is not endlessly interrupted by the time-wasting routines of school. (p.240)” I observed the same in my time in schools. Students who were absent for months for all kinds of reasons would return and fit right back in where they had left off. I would say to my colleagues – what did we do in that time? My own children attended a school for three years where the owner stated without any evident sense of hyperbole that it took 2.5 years to cover the K-12 curriculum and that the biggest problem at her school was what to do with the other 9.5 years.

Far from Tiger Moms being right and hammering away at their ‘object’ children in order for them to fit into a societal definition of success, our schools should rethink the subject/object conundrum. Why are children kindergarten geniuses in creativity and virtual dunces by the time they are adults? Why do most children read for fun at home when they are 9 but almost 75% don’t when they are 13 – a question that has been asked since 1984 and has consistently gone down for both age levels? Denise Clark Pope asked in 2003 in her book How we are Creating a Generation of Stressed-Out Materialistic and Miseducated Students: “We need to ask … if the model of competition and corruption revealed in the portraits here – the grade traps and balancing acts that oblige students to become school robots or chameleons and to give up personal desires for authenticity and engagement in the name of grades and future success – represents the kind of education we would choose for our own sons and daughters?” She had come to this conclusion by following five students for a year. Why has the amount of free time for children declined by 10 hours a week since the 70s? Why do 98% of college students today say they cheated at high school compared with 20% in the 1940s?

Children have not become more evil. They are not, contrary to current myth, fixated and inseparable from their phones. They have certainly become more narcissistic. They have also certainly become less motivated as they go through school. Is there a connection?

I believe we have to make children matter in schools. I believe we should treat children as subjects, not objects. I don’t believe it’s an either or between the Tiger Mom and the permissive liberal. They are both wrong because both have the wrong outcome in mind. Children want to be useful, they want to learn, they want to have meaningful personal relationships (far more than they want to text), they want to have purpose in life, they want to have dreams and reach at least one of them, they want to have families (though not necessarily like the one they’re in), and they want to have hope. We sell them public relations test scores, the dream of making money, the usefulness of a career (for which we will also give you a test!), relationships that end in ‘good marks’ and ‘being prepared for the next level’.

We can do better.

Blog: March 4, 2018

A Blog is an opinion rather than an article. While CSM teaches through its articles and books, the CSM Blogs are efforts by CSM consultants to struggle with difficult ideas in Christian education and move to some kind of clarity. Please read any CSM Blog in that light.

Power, Children, and the Christian School

Malachi 3 begins with the announcement of the Messenger: “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.” You can see that I am here using the King James Version rather than the New International Version because it’s the version Handel used in the Messiah which inspired in part what I want to talk about. And the language is just so delicious! “Behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.” A promise, not a threat. But having said that, now listen to what happens next! “But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire” sung by an alto or a countertenor. It’s an interesting choice of voice by Handel. After all, this is a warning about the power of God, the God who does not change (verse 6), the God who hates iniquity. Those who defraud the workman from his wages, the adulterer, the one who turns away the stranger, the one who does not care for the widow and orphan, they will be tested in the refiner’s fire and be purged of their impurities like gold and silver. I would love to preach on this passage. And Handel’s music suggests discomfort and being shaken into knowledge. God’s power is on display and it is an awesome experience. “Who shall stand when He appeareth?”

I would like to suggest that the subject of power is a key conversation that is kept too much in the spiritual realm (God’s judgement and bowing before the throne – Rev. 7:11 and others) and too little spoken about in the context of relationships within the school. It is too often assumed to be benign or even invisible. I don’t think that anyone pretends it doesn’t exist – the evidence for it is too obvious. It is, however, not spoken about. We talk about community and how to create it. We like to think that we are all working together in the same direction and with the same purpose. Indeed, we talk quite a bit about the power of God working through us. But we don’t spend much time talking about our own exercise of power, what it is, who it is for, and how it should be used, let alone about its impact on our children for whom we are the models. While there is much to be said about the exercise of power between adults in our schools, my interest here is in the exercise of power over children.

Where to begin? From waking up at the beginning of each day to going to sleep at the end of each day, from Monday to Friday and sometimes at the weekends as well, from September to June and even with intrusions into the summer with summer reading, camps, courses, and athletics, adults impact children’s lives directly. My point is not that adults should or should not. My point is that we don’t usually think about what that means or what it should mean in a Christian school. Let’s pick some controversial potential topics:

  • Is bad behavior of children a result of bad decision-making and flawed moral thinking or is it a result of adult structures that force children to make choices where it is not possible to “win” in the adult game of school? For example, Sandra has three hours of homework to do but is also an athlete who has the 2nd basketball practice from 6.00-8.00. She finishes school at 3.00 and uses time from 3.30 to 5.30 to get two hours done. She then engages in a tough two hours of practice. She still has an hour of homework to do at 8.00 but she still has to get home and eat supper. She has now been working from 8.00, the beginning of school, to 8.00p.m., a twelve hour day including significant intellectual and physical activity. She has a choice. She is tired / exhausted and it is now 9.00p.m. She decides to text her friend and ask her for a copy of the notes that she still has to do. Question: Is she cheating?  Certainly, if the notes are worth a “grade” and the teacher discovered that she didn’t do the work, she would get a zero. So from the adult’s point of view, the many exercises of power that resulted in that situation have led to the student “cheating” and being subject to another exercise of power through sanctions.
  • Jonathan is a lover of art. He goes to school every day full of dreams about his artistic future, the paintings that he will make, the places he will visit, and the people who will see his gallery. But in school, the adult exercise of power has decreed that he only needs one art credit in order to graduate. He must take English and mathematics every year to obtain 8 of his credits even though AB Calculus is virtually useless to him since he has no interest in being able to “construct relatively simple quantitative models of change, and to deduce their consequences”. What he wants to do is two credits of visual arts every year since that will actually help him get where he wants to go. His college counselor advises him that this is not what colleges are looking for. Jonathan doesn’t know that the college counselor is wrong. So, to get the time to paint and sculpt, he goes online and pays a person to do his homework. Question: is he cheating?

I could multiply examples a million times from my own personal experience of what children do, particularly but not exclusively starting in Middle School in order to be able to get through a system that doesn’t have any interest in understanding them or, rather, only in understanding them to the extent of being compliant to what adults want. I sometimes wonder what parents in New Testament Israel thought as their children forsook the path ordained for them and chose instead a path that led them to adventure, hardship, and even death in order to follow Jesus.

To be honest, my point is not to argue whether Sandra and Jonathan are dishonest. My point is that we need to examine the exercise of power in our schools as it relates to children and answer some really important questions:

  • Who is our school for?
  • If it is for children, what is the evidence that power is used on their behalf?
  • Who exercises power and why?
  • Is power used to support each child?
  • If power is used in a benign, even loving way, why do children dislike being in school the longer they are in it?
  • If power is used to benefit children’s upbringing, why do children become less creative the longer they are in school?
  • If power is used to promote justice, why do children feel so often that they must disobey in order to survive?
  • If power is used to promote each unique child of God made in His image, why do children feel they are in a machine the older they get?
  • If power is used to ensure the well-being of each child, why do children feel they have to binge drink at weekends and only sleep 5 or 6 hours a night as they get older?

I interview hundreds of children a year and have been doing so for a decade and a half. All of the above are typical responses of the children I meet. At the same time, they tell me about the amazing adults in their schools who do their best to make it work for them and support them and help them to be successful. When we talk about power, the intent is not to slander the people in our schools. They genuinely care and work incredibly hard for their children. When we talk about power, the intent is to ask those caring adults whether they have recently examined their practices of power to see if they make sense from the child’s point of view.

Children are forced by law to go to and stay at school. They are forced to do what the school says while they are attending. It seems to me that the outcome is not necessarily benign, let alone loving and reflecting God’s image. We should ask why.

Surely, the exercise of power in a Christian school should have objectives that make sense to children and support their own development of thinking about power and its objectives. Nietzsche said that power was about the strong dominating the weak. He was all about compelling, even violently compelling. School often seems like a Nietzschean enterprise. Andy Crouch suggests that power that is legitimate is what we might call authority. He calls it blind to say that Christians don’t exercise power because they are all servant leaders. From a child’s point of view, willfully blind. He continues to say that power should be stewarded in order to produce “flourishing”. I think this is helpful. Power makes sense from a child’s point of view when the child knows that s/he is flourishing. In positive psychology, Martin Seligman describes flourishing as Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. Pretty good. How should Christian educators think about power leading to flourishing be described as? Maybe something as simple as power is legitimate when it leads to the following child outcomes:

  1. I am loving and know I am loved (1 Corinthians 13:1)
  2. I have purpose and am moving towards it (Exodus 9:16)
  3. I give back what God has given to me (Matthew 25:36)

There are undoubtedly cleverer ways of thinking about it. Think about it we must. As Christian leaders, how power is exercised must be a top priority. Knowing what its outcomes should be is a responsibility. The Christian school exercises power in many different ways both formal and informal. Let’s take that responsibility deadly seriously. Our children need us to.

Blog: February 25, 2018

A Blog is an opinion rather than an article. While CSM teaches through its articles and books, the CSM Blogs are efforts by CSM consultants to struggle with difficult ideas in Christian education and move to some kind of clarity. Please read any CSM Blog in that light.

Odysseus, Pain, and the Christian School

I was recently listening to an interview with a university professor who teaches single books as seminar courses. One of those books, books he found iconic, was The Odyssey. I found myself pretty interested partly because I have taught The Odyssey myself to high school students (9th graders) and partly because he had some fascinating insights that would have benefited me in my own teaching. For example, he described the book by Homer as the first science fiction novel with the protagonist leaving his home and visiting a variety of fantastical worlds; he talked about the book as one about family – Odysseus doesn’t even appear in the first four parts as his son Telemachus considers how to deal with his mother’s suitors; he talked about Odysseus as a person interested in others, always going off to examine the new cultures in which he finds himself and then impacting that culture in unforeseen ways.

And this is where he talked about pain – that Odysseus suffers enormous pain but also inflicts it wittingly and unwittingly on others. Indeed, his name can be translated as the man of pain – inflicted and inflicting. His name can also be connected to ὀδύσσομαι meaning to rage or to hate. His ten year journey is a series of encounters that constantly test his fidelity to his wife Penelope just as the suitors are testing her virtue in a similar vein. The outcomes of these encounters always seem to come to the possibility of a “happy ending” while actually resulting in grief, the death of many of Odysseus’ comrades, and his own personal pain.

We seem to be in a time in Christian schools where we are on a 10 year journey of inflicting and inflicted pain. We are surrounded by a culture that reflects as many kinds of perspectives as Odysseus faced. We too are faced with issues of fidelity but with less clarity. While Odysseus is crystal clear about his priority to return to his wife, son, and elderly father, we are less clear about our priorities in the midst of cultural concerns around human sexuality, gun violence and gun control, social media opportunities and threats, common core / biblically integrated tensions, political position-taking and following Jesus, care for the immigrant and national security, #MeToo and #MeNext. It is easy for us to experience pain as our brothers and sisters in the Lord take positions with which we may profoundly disagree. It is equally easy to give pain as we explain our positions in ways that can wound and demean our neighbor.

I am not speaking here in generalities. The recent Florida shootings have alerted us to the fact that our children, the students in our Christian schools, also have deep feelings and opinions about possibly all of these issues. Some have been involved in school violence, even if only as a bystander. Some are immigrants themselves. Some have minority status and read the signs of the times very differently from those of us from the dominant culture. Some are using their smart phones to radically improve their chances of success. These (and many more) are very concrete issues and they are ones our children are discussing amongst themselves with and without our consent. As one student noted, this is the generation that is growing up as the 1999 Columbine Massacre and 9/11 terrorist attack generation. They are also the generation that has the most fearful parents.

In 1941, Roosevelt gave the famous address where he spoke of the four freedoms including the right to freedom from fear. We seem a long way from freedom from fear. We are in a time where it is politically lauded to stoke up fear. We are afraid maybe because the threat seems so personal. The media lives and dies by fear, or so it seems. The result from a child’s point of view is that relationships have become seemingly more fragile and the experience of pain more common. Jean Twenge released a study recently showing the steady increase in child, adolescent, and young adult depression since the 50s.

Is the Christian School response to fear and to pain the locked door and armed guard? Unfortunately, the children bring that fear and pain with them into the school. Surely there is a danger in all of this that the idea of a loving God who tenderly cares for his own is being lost? C.S. Lewis identified this issue in The Problem of Pain: “If God were good, He would make His creatures perfectly happy, and if He were almighty He would be able to do what he wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.” How can we help our children not lose faith as they experience a time of unprecedented prosperity (a whole other issue for our Christian schools) while simultaneously experiencing a time of maybe unprecedented psychic stress?

One solution is to quote a lot of Scripture. But we have to be cautious here. For example, Romans 8 says: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” But this references the sufferings of the saints as they witness to the resurrection of the risen Lord and suffer for their faith. It has little to do with what we are talking about here. Another example might be St. John telling us: “perfect love drives out fear.” But this references the fear on the day of judgment where the love of Jesus washes us whiter than snow and thus we have no fear of punishment. That doesn’t seem to be helpful either. Quoting Scripture is a hazardous business. Yet our answer must lie in the word of God somewhere.

It seems to me that there are four aspects that we might profitably explore and I circle back to the story of Odysseus to illustrate:

  1. Our children are on a journey and, like it or not, we are in a foreign land. Psalm 137 asks rhetorically how can we sing songs when we are in a foreign land – for them the land of Babylon. We must be with our children on that journey accompanying them on the way and teaching them the skills they will need for the journey that Bunyan called Pilgrim’s Progress – St. Paul’s Ephesians belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, feet fitted with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit.
  2. Our children are not alone on that journey. Surely we, their teachers and mentors, are going with them as are their parents and relatives and siblings and church families. But they must know that God goes with them too. Richard Wurmbrandt tells that when he was in solitary confinement in communist Rumania, angels came and sang to him when all else had failed. Our children must know that (following on from the Ephesians passage above) they can be in constant communication with their Father in heaven through “pray(ing) in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests”. Far better than a smartphone, their persistence will bring a response from God full of his sacrificial love (Luke 18).
  3. When we are dealing with pain and fear, it is not so simple as with an action that is morally right or wrong. St. Paul put it well when he wrote in Romans 7: “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” Let’s face it, if Jesus could be betrayed by Judas dramatically, Peter sorrowfully, and deserted by everyone else except the women, it is clear that our children are going to struggle in situations where answers are not simple and certainly not just one word. Yes, Christ Jesus has “saved me” but that still has to be worked out on a day by day, minute by minute, confusing basis.
  4. Our children must know that, through a glass darkly, they have assurance of hope and new life. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13). They are on a journey; they are not alone; it is complex and difficult; the future and the present is “faith, hope, and love”. As Christian school leaders and teachers, we must not be in despair ourselves but full of faith, hope, and love. Of course, the greatest of these is love.

Maybe it is wise for me to leave the last words to C.S. Lewis. He notes that “For you will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.” It is important for our children to know that they cannot be immobilized by pain or fear but be proactive believing that they can make a difference. The decision to act is a key one and the direction that takes determines whether their journey is going to be successful in each stage. Lewis puts it differently and more eloquently: “We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against what I have called the “intolerable compliment.” Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life—the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child—he will take endless trouble—and would doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and re-commenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumb-nail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.”

Blog: February 18, 2018

A Blog is an opinion rather than an article. While CSM teaches through its articles and books, the CSM Blogs are efforts by CSM consultants to struggle with difficult ideas in Christian education and move to some kind of clarity. Please read any CSM Blog in that light.

The AR15 and the Christian School

“The Colt AR-15 is a lightweight, 5.56×45mm, magazine-fed, gas-operated semi-automatic rifle. It was designed to be manufactured with the extensive use of aluminum alloys and synthetic materials. It is a semi-automatic version of the United States military M16 rifle” (Wikipedia).

It killed 17 students on February 14th 2017.

This is not a blog about the 2nd Amendment.

This is an elegy for Sandy Hook, for Columbine, for Marshall County, for Salvador Castro, for Marjory Stoneman Douglas, for every place where children and parents are mourning the loss of school friends, sons, daughters.

AN ELEGY

“We’re lessening the threshold of how crazy someone needs to be to commit a mass shooting,” Austin Eubanks (child at Columbine)

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy Hebrews 12:14

“We need to pay attention to the fact that this isn’t just a mental health issue,” said Emma Gonzalez, teenager. “He wouldn’t have harmed that many students with a knife.”

Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed  and establishes a town by injustice! Habakkuk 12:2

“I recorded those videos because I didn’t know if I was going to survive,” Hogg, a student journalist, told the New York Times. “But I knew that if those videos survived, they would echo on and tell the story. And that story would be one that would change things, I hoped. And that would be my legacy.”

If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Matthew 18:6

“It could’ve been us.” and “Your silence is killing us.” said student placards at South Broward High School.

You have wearied the Lord with your words. “How have we wearied him?” you ask. By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?” Malachi 2:17

“We don’t deserve this,” she said. “We need to be safe. There’s nowhere to be safe. … We can’t even go to school,” said Ianna Seemungal, 17.

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers. Psalm 1:1

“I was hiding in a closet for 2 hours,” Carly Novell, 17, said. “It was about guns. You weren’t there, you don’t know how it felt. Guns give these disgusting people the ability to kill other human beings. This IS about guns and this is about all the people who had their life abruptly ended because of guns.”

1 Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.
2 Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
3 My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?

4 Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.
5 Among the dead no one proclaims your name. Who praises you from the grave? Psalm : 1-5

“How are we allowed to buy guns at the age of 18 or 19? That’s something we shouldn’t be able to do,” Lyliah Skinner who survived the latest shooting.

See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. Matthew 18:10

“We’re children,” David Hogg, a 17-year-old survivor, said. “You guys are the adults. You need to take some action and play a role. Work together. Come over your politics and get something done.”

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Mark 8:33

Blog: February 11, 2018

A Blog is an opinion rather than an article. While CSM teaches through its articles and books, the CSM Blogs are efforts by CSM consultants to struggle with difficult ideas in Christian education and move to some kind of clarity. Please read any CSM Blog in that light.

“Culture Wars” and the Christian School

First, I believe that we are in a culture war and that the stakes couldn’t be higher. The reality is that, as the Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23). The stakes of this war are indeed stark – death or life. Or as Moses put it in Deuteronomy 30: “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him”. That culture war is ongoing, has been from alpha and will be to omega.

Obviously, I am not here using the limited definition of culture with regard to the arts, or ethnic customs, or sociological dilemmas. I am influenced by Andy Crouch in his book Culture Making where he defines culture as ‘what we make of the world’ (p. 23).  It seems clear that we are in a continual struggle to understand, live in, and change the world from the moment that we are born to the moment that we die. As we go through that process, it also seems clear that we are faced with opposition on a continual basis. This opposition can be for good reasons -my mother did not think it culturally wise for me to speak German in my very English and very patriotic elementary school in the early 60s. It can also be for bad reasons – I resisted strenuously the requirement in those same schools for me to sit still and not collaborate with my neighbors.

The other kind of culture wars as evidenced in Christian journals and Christian talk radio speaks much more narrowly about culture wars. These commentators are particularly concerned, even obsessively concerned, with sex, persecution, Christian athletes, and Presidents and Supreme Court Justices. Recent sets of headlines from one journal I subscribe to include the following: Transgender Teen Stats Increase; Court in Sudan fines Christian Leaders; Philadelphia’s Faith-Filled Football Champions. The thread is pretty clear most of the time – we are under persecution and are fearful of what is going to happen in the future. This leads to…..

Second, I don’t think that there’s anything new about the culture wars in this latter sense. There have always been Christians who have taken the idea of good and evil, life and death, and created an Hobbesian struggle out of it where we are unlikely to see much good happen in this world and so we’d better make sure we are pure and ready for heaven, not through our own works lest we boast but through the blood of the Lamb. The Anabaptists who want to be very separate from the culture in which they live to the evangelicals who want to take over the Republican Party and make it Christianity in action are two obvious actors in this view of culture. But if we acknowledge that, to quote Andy Crouch again, we are better directed to ‘make’ culture than we are to go to war with it, we can change the nature of the conversation. This is not to deny that the Gospel and the World and its Culture are at loggerheads. It is to say that Constantinian Christianity – the adoption of the World and its Culture by the Gospel – has not served us well. The compromises we have made in elevating the language of power over the language of the Servant have not helped the witness of the Resurrection Christ and, in recent years in the west, have led to the overt rejection of Christianity’s hypocrisy and desire for power.

Third, I believe that the “culture wars” are a distraction to what the Christian school should be doing. I feel about the wars rather like the prophet Isaiah thought about the futilities of his own time:  “As a pregnant woman about to give birth
writhes and cries out in her pain,
so were we in your presence, Lord.
18 We were with child, we writhed in labor,
but we gave birth to wind.
We have not brought salvation to the earth,
and the people of the world have not come to life”. (Isaiah 26)

We do not want to inculcate our children into the fear and despair that the culture wars can bring along with its associated hatreds and suspicions of “the other”. We do want to inculcate in our children the joy and creativity associated with “making culture” with its associated generative witnessing and blessing. James Davison Hunter describes this in his book To Change the World as “a theology of faithful presence” (p. 195). We are, I think, actually blessed by entering an era that is less Constantinian, where Christianity is not the dominant secular power in the world. The threat of “secularism” is, in the Christian school, no threat at all. To adults, I sometimes feel the threat of secularism is actually a regret that we no longer own the halls of power, that we can no longer dictate to people how they should live, that we can no longer censor their reading and their thoughts. In that fear and despair we actually seemed to have created our own Christian 1984 and now mourn its loss. For children, the stakes are entirely different. Children reflect from conception the joy of the Father’s creativity, they rejoice in the discovery and novelty of His world, and they explore with exuberance the potential implicit in their own giftedness and in the world’s mysteries. Their parents are at war with culture; they care more about making and influencing culture.

Finally, I want to go back to Hunter’s “faithful presence”. Children know they live in the ‘stable’. Their experience from the moment of coming unwillingly into a cold world at birth tells them that nothing is as it seems. The fact of Jesus being born in a stable is both a real and a mythical statement of nothing is as it seems. Herod’s attack on Bethlehem was clearly a culture war from the human side. But Jesus’ response to the stable was neither to accept it nor to accept the challenge and war against it. His response is the one we must surround the child with in our Christian school. It is to witness to it, be faithfully present to it, and to serve it with authority.

We do well when we teach our children in our schools to be a witness in the world, to put on the armor of God. I quote the passage in full to emphasize that the armor of God is not aggressive but to enable the Christian to “stand”, “stand your ground”, “extinguish”. It is not armor in the sense of go to war, but armor in the sense of keep your strength and witness. “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6).

We do well when we teach our children to be faithfully present in the world with the action it implies. We are given by God the strength to be His followers. We are also given the task by God of embodying Jesus’ love in the world. The example I am increasingly drawn to is in service hours that, even in public schools, has moved from community service (doing something good to others) to service learning (doing something good, learning from the experience, and growing). The Christian school should take that yet another step to help our children point past themselves to the origin of Goodness, the Father Himself exemplified in the service hours of the Son.

We do well when we teach our children to serve with authority. When children are present with people rather than doing to people, when children find most joy through service rather than through the gain and exercise of power, as Christian school leaders we can feel great satisfaction. Being with, and service, are not humble tasks. They are filled with the authority of Jesus who by being one with the Father therefore spoke with authority, acted with authority. Jesus did not typically use his relationship with the Father to muscle his way into conversations. Rather, he exuded the authority natural to one who was in unity with his Father. When our children enact the Gospel, they don’t have to claim authority; they will exude authority.

The culture wars have no place in our Christian schools. Rather, would do better by teaching our children to harness their God-given gifts, creativity, desire to make things happen in order to “make culture”, serve with authority, and be faithfully present.  The outcome will be a non-aligned Christian witness that has enormous power to move a society. By abandoning the culture wars and taking on the making of culture, our schools actually have the ability to ‘make a nation’. The alternative of war, as Stephen Prothero points out in Why Liberals Always Win the Culture Wars, is to constantly be on the losing side of a confrontation. Christian children should always be on the winning side of grace over works and love over fear.

Note: I do not claim that the authors I have cited agree with me or any of my conclusions.

Blog: February 4, 2018

A Blog is an opinion rather than an article. While CSM teaches through its articles and books, the CSM Blogs are efforts by CSM consultants to struggle with difficult ideas in Christian education and move to some kind of clarity. Please read any CSM Blog in that light.

Holy Language and the Christian School

I googled Christian schools to see what came up. The first school on the page that came up had this mission statement:

“The mission of XYZ Christian School is to develop students with a heart for God, who grow as Jesus did in wisdom, stature and in favor with God and men”

Now I happen to like mission statements and think they can have great power. My intention here is not to criticize or even critique this mission statement but to use it as a starting point for the issue of holy language and Christian schools. I think of and experience holy language in our schools as being the use of catch words, phrases, favorite Bible verses, theology, doctrinal statements that gets in the way of running an excellent educational institution that is financially viable, organizationally sound, and actually dedicated to children. When I am in schools, I interrogate whether the holy language I hear is borne out in the lives of children and sometimes get into trouble. I’ve found that people can get quite hot under the collar if you seem to be impugning their faith and/or their education.

Here’s the problem. Holy language is not helping us compete in our neighborhoods with other schools. The National Center for Education Statistics tells us that we have suffered a 12% drop in students attending our schools and that, at the same time as the number of children is rising, it estimates that we will suffer a further 6% over the next 8 years.

Blog: January 28, 2018

A Blog is an opinion rather than an article. While CSM teaches through its articles and books, the CSM Blogs are efforts by CSM consultants to struggle with difficult ideas in Christian education and move to some kind of clarity. Please read any CSM Blog in that light.

Babylon, Politics, and the Christian School

This is not a political blog, at least not in the sense that it is for or against any particular political position. It is, of course, a political blog because I am a Christian and therefore deeply concerned about the way in which the world works, my part that I am called to play, and the impact that redemption has as we seek to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13-16 and most of the rest of Scripture). We are not bystanders on this earth but are directed to pray for God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6: 10).

So having tried to cover myself as much as possible, here goes.

I believe that Christian schools should be deeply political in an entirely apolitical way. Our children should not be taught to be rightwing or leftwing. In fact, I believe that Christian schools that take a rightwing or leftwing stance i.e. associate with either Liberal or Republican parties, let alone the Libertarian or Green Party or Independents or American Solidarity Party or Socialist Party USA or any of the other 21 parties who were on the ballots in 2016, Christian schools that take such a stance are operating in a way antithetical to both Biblical teaching and to the best interests of their students.

Let’s go back to Babylon. Back to the Book of Ezra. There on the shores of the river, they lay down and wept (Ps. 137:1). But it was interesting why they wept. Not because they necessarily had a hard time of it in Babylon – they had good lives, some were prosperous, they were not persecuted. They wept because they were not in Jerusalem. They wept because they were not where they should have been. Prosperity was not the issue for them – they were prosperous enough. The issue was that the Temple where God dwelt (Ps. 46:4 and 1 Corinthians 3:16) had been destroyed, that they were apart from their homeland, and that no prosperity could make up for that deep sorrow.

How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill. (Psalm 137: 4-5).

And it was Cyrus, a pagan king probably influenced by Daniel who sends them back to Jerusalem. The means of our salvation is of course Jesus. But he works also through us whom he has called. In fact, he works through many that would not automatically come to mind.

So I believe Christian schools are part of those through whom God works. Our leadership is key to nurture and mentor and counsel our children not to have this or that political leaning (they will soon enough decide that for themselves as adults), but to follow God’s call on their lives and yearn for Jerusalem. Sometimes that will mean serving Nebuchadnezzar; sometimes King David; sometimes Agrippa; sometimes the Samaritan; sometimes the Gentile. That means that the name of the political party is not relevant. Only our service to the Lord. We can have no true allegiance as Christians (even as we might as secular adults) to a political party for “here we have no enduring city but we are looking for the city to come” (Hebrews 13:14). Our leadership role is to help children be Jesus to all people without name-calling, deceit, licentious behavior, but rather through the rule of love:  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7). We have the opportunity to bring them up for 13 or more years without name-calling but helping them see all people as made in the image of God. The violence, the lies, the vituperation, the deceit of the last decade and more in our politics is nothing to inculcate our children into. It has merely split our nation into more and more pieces. Whatever we do as adults, let us inculcate the hope that Jesus is (I AM) into our children so they will serve all people with sacrificial love and joy. Their inheritance, as is ours, is to reverse the curse of Eden. As we are able to enable our children to love, so creation itself can be healed in the last days: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently (Romans 8: 22-24).

What of politics?

Of course, our children must be political, engaged in the struggles of our time. The Bible is clear: take care of the immigrant as we are all immigrants on earth (mentioned over a hundred times in Scripture), the widow (cf Luke 18 for Jesus’ own sympathy), the unborn child (remember John’s joy at meeting Jesus for the first time!), respect the authorities (Matthew 22:21 comes to mind), be just to poor people (Exodus 23:6 – justice is mentioned over 100 times in Scripture as well), and plenty more. There are plenty of ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ causes here to support! I note how the alliance of Christianity with the scientific – logical movements after the Enlightenment gave sanction to a greater rape of the earth in the last 200 years than we have ever seen before. When we become aligned and identified with any earthly human movement, the seamless robe of Christ is rent again. Yes, our children must be deeply sensitive to the issues of our time. But, like the Babylonian Jews, we must teach them to do this as Christians, not as liberals or conservatives or alt-rights or neo-cons or socialists.

For our older students for whom politics is a complex affair, the Christian School must enable each student to recognize that there are many ways for politicians to have compassion for the poor, to seek justice. The key for them is to ensure that, as Christians, they do have compassion for the poor and seek justice. When Cory Booker and Roy Blunt can both say that they worship in a Baptist church, Pat Roberts and Elizabeth Warren both claim Methodist roots, Joni Ernst and Jeff Merkely are Lutheran, it becomes obvious that politicizing our schools sets our children against each other in violent, dehumanizing, and intransigent ways. When we are truly Christian Schools, our children become one as Jesus prayed they should be.

Blog: January 20, 2018

A Blog is an opinion rather than an article. While CSM teaches through its articles and books, the CSM Blogs are efforts by CSM consultants to struggle with difficult ideas in Christian education and move to some kind of clarity. Please read any CSM Blog in that light.

Younger Brothers and Christian Schools

In The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller tells the story of his new church in New York that he began in the late 1980s (p. 76 ff.). He says that he expected to find secular people in it who had never been connected to that faith life before and he did. He says that he expected to find believers who were looking for a church home and he did. What he did not expect to find were what he calls the “younger brothers” – those who were from a faith-filled background but were escaping from their “older brothers” in the church, those who were continuously and righteously indignant. Keller says that these younger brothers had been driven from Christ by an equation of the gospel with religion.

This could, of course, lead me in many directions. But my primary interest now is in Christian schools. And I am interested in how the “younger brothers” may find it hard to go to church, but may experience the gospel through the witness of their Christian school, often mediated through the experiences of their children.

Many Christian school leaders are now asking me questions such as:

  • How should I respond if a gay couple shows up wanting to put their child into the school?
  • How should I respond if a student ‘comes out’ while they are in our school?

The older brother has very clear answers to these types of situations – our beliefs and our understanding of Scripture are opposed to these lifestyles and we cannot tolerate them. The older brother always has very clear answers because he is RIGHT and the other is WRONG. He has led a chaste lifestyle while the younger brother has consorted with prostitutes; he has worked hard in the field while the younger brother has wasted his inheritance.

We might think of the younger brother now as the Millennial. Barna Trends 2017 states (p.224 ff.)  that millennials say that they don’t need church. Of the 20% who say that going to church is important, most say that they go to church to be closer to God (54%), some say it is to learn more about God (31%), even fewer say that they go to be part of a community (14%), and a tiny number go because they see the church doing good in the world (8%).

Now I am very much in the older brother camp in the sense that I never squandered my inheritance, go to church every week and on Festival Days, have a hard time with 21st century morality, am opposed to abortion, and am generally seen by my children as pretty old fashioned. But I have a lot of sympathy for the younger brother because of the hypocrisy I have personally experienced. I was in a church that refused to pray for the Pope when he was shot, a church that was opposed to homosexuality but turned a blind eye to adultery and pornography, a church that opposed abortion but never raised a finger to aid single mothers, a church that helped many in far-off lands and burnt out its own workers at home.

What does this have to do with the Christian school? I believe that the Christian school now has to take on Gospel leadership in our world. I don’t see the church institutionally as capable of it – its leadership has shown itself to be frail; its pews are greying and emptying; our Christian schools that used to be supported and funded by their local congregations now have to go it alone; more and more church schools are finding that the church is often apathetic if not hostile to them as Christian schools; priests and pastors refuse to endorse the Christian school either from the pulpit or at the church door. 73% of Americans identify as Christian and only 31% practice in any formal sense.

The Christian School is now the cutting edge of Jesus’ prayer: Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. For us, the moralizing of the older brother gets in the way of welcoming the child (let the children come to me for of such is the kingdom of God). For us, the wastrel younger brother is the father and mother of the child who walks through our door (children should not save up for their parents but parents for their children). For us, both older and younger brother can be brought into the community of Jesus through the embrace and welcome of the Father who leaves his house to run to the younger brother on the road and leaves his house to go the older brother coming in from the field. The Christian School must be the Father’s hands to a lost generation and the voice of love, hope, gratitude, gentleness, perseverance to all children from whatever brother they proceed.

The institutional church has become politicized, vulgarized, moralized, despondent. As Christian School leaders we cannot afford to go down the same path. We must be the light to the next generation to encourage them with the words of Jesus: Come, all who are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Apparently, the most underlined or 2nd most underlined passage of the Bible today (identified through electronic readers) is Philippians: do not be anxious about anything but in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Yes, we live in a generation where anxiety runs rampant amid luxurious living and a safe environment for most of us. The institutional church has failed to answer the deepest needs of this generation and the Christian School must take the leadership role.

When a child comes into our school, let us not ask where the child came from. Let us rejoice at the opportunity to witness about a God who comes to us and says, do not fear. Let us rejoice at the opportunity to tell the story of a baby at Bethlehem who grew up and challenged the society of his time to a new way of living, one of love and forgiveness, even from the cross. Let us rejoice that this child is a unique child of God from his mother’s womb, and even before, whom God is calling and whom we have the privilege of standing next to for 8 or 13 years, nurturing that child’s mind, spirit, and heart.

Let’s stop asking dumb questions and ask really good ones. The best one is: How old are you? You are welcome in our school! We will surround you with the love of God and your mind will be renewed to witness to a fallen world of the generosity of a God who calls us to be His heirs and the recipients of His promise.

Blog: January 13, 2018

A Blog is an opinion rather than an article. While CSM teaches through its articles and books, the CSM Blogs are efforts by CSM consultants to struggle with difficult ideas in Christian education and move to some kind of clarity. Please read any CSM Blog in that light.

Epiphany and Christian Schools

January 6th was the Feast of the Epiphany. Yesterday on Jeopardy, none of the three contestants knew that. Interesting how what we just assumed everyone knew as little as thirty years ago is now just a mirage. Why might it matter?

I can’t opine on whether the Church Universal should or not, but I do have on opinion about Christian schools.

For children, story is everything. For the youngest children to wizened teenagers, sitting down and listening to a story being spoken is a magical opportunity, eagerly grasped, and often asked for. Telling stories is a critically important communication that we as adults have to grasp and be good at. For Christians, stories help entertain and lift us out of ourselves to look outwards; stories inspire us to goodness and greatness; stories communicate norms of right and wrong, love and hate, good and evil; stories are encapsulations of who we are as a covenant people; stories teach us about the nature of God – often in very subtle and sophisticated ways; stories help us to understand mystery and “through a glass darkly”.

It is in this context that I believe that Christian schools should at least consider incorporating the Church Year into their own calendars. What happens if, like the contestants on Jeopardy, our children skipped over the Feast of the Epiphany? Well, in one sense, nothing. I’m sure that in your schools you still taught about crucifixion and resurrection and inspired your children to follow Jesus. But, in another sense, it was a lost opportunity to galvanize children’s imagination around an amazing story that is critically important to us AND it ceded the conversation to the secular society around us. Many schools with a liturgical tradition do have elements of the church year as part of their celebrations. But what if that was emphasized even more? What difference would that make?

So let me pause here for a bit. How do we operate as Christian Schools in the world but not of the world? We must provide an experience that is so different from that of our secular colleagues and friends that our secular colleagues and friends are compelled to ask: who is Jesus and why do you do these interesting things? I’m talking here about living differently in our schools than they do in secular schools. Let’s take Epiphany as an example.

In the secular world, the first day of the year is January 1st. This goes back to the worship of Janus, the god of gateways and beginnings. On New Year’s Eve, we have big countdowns and parties. On New Year’s Day, we have New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t have anything against any of this. But it’s not a good story and it lacks drama and excitement. The Christian New Year, on the other hand, has incredible drama and excitement.

Because the Christian New Year using the Church Year is based on the life of Jesus and the timeline is entirely different. In this Christian calendar, the first Sunday in Advent is the first day of the new year as we prepare for the coming of Jesus, the Savior of the World. What would it look like if we had a New Year’s celebration on the following Monday with worship, cake, balloons, an inspirational speech, a countdown till Jesus’ birth? And each day after that, a piece of the Christmas story was told/enacted/celebrated? The conversation between Gabriel and Mary; the visit between Mary and Elizabeth; Joseph’s own revelation; the conversation between Mary and Joseph; the trip to Bethlehem; the drama at the inn looking for a bed; the shepherds looking after their sheep; the vision of the angels. It’s what I used to do with Advent calendars growing up – each day opened up a new verse and new part of the story along with a piece of chocolate! Little wonder, I loved Advent! Chocolate and stories – what better combination can there be? Now Advent calendars are full of stupid pictures that are secular and pointless. Our schools can be an Advent calendar daily!

And Epiphany, when the children come back from their celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas, the story of salvation, Epiphany is another amazing story of non-Jews being offered an opportunity to be at Jesus’ birth. What more important story for non-Jews can there be? The story is for us as well! And then the story of the wise men and Herod; the fleeing into Egypt (and all the resonance of Exodus); the attack on Bethlehem; the horrid death of Herod – surely a ‘delight’ for 5th grade boys; the return to Nazareth; the visit to Jerusalem; the encounter with Simeon; the encounter with Anna. Not to mention the birth of John, Jesus’ cousin. It’s another daily narrative that takes the birth of Jesus through two whole months, a narrative that explains who we are as a covenant people, the incredible excitement of the story that is so lost in most Christmas Eve services, the amazing drama that captivates children of all ages.

It is the task, at least in part, of Christian schools to ensure that every child knows the “story”, understands that there is a beginning and an end, knows there is a reason and a calling for every child, is amazed at the excitement of being a Christian, realizes that being a Christian is way more fun than being secular.

Story is not just a nice thing to have. Story, well-told, has a potentially transformational impact and we should grab hold of our Bibles and integrate our schools into that story in a way that goes back to the beginning of the Christian church. The first recorded celebration of Christmas on December 25th is 354A.D. The Church Year goes back to the beginning of Christian worship. Let’s embrace it as the best story in the world and build it into our own school calendars.