Christian Education ≠ Academic Rigor + Disciplined Behavior

From Brian Douglas at First Things, a timely caution relevant to all Christian educators, administrators, families [not just those involved in “Classical” education] as we embark on this new academic year:

“The second temptation is to believe that academic rigor plus disciplined behavior equals a good education. It is easy for a classical Christian school to become known more for its uniforms, homework expectations, strictness, and the like, than for its gracious, loving environment. Yet we ought not treat education like a simple input-output situation, in which the right learning environment can program our students to be Christians. While students do need high expectations for their work and conduct, focusing on order becomes hazardous when it overtakes the joy of experiencing God’s grace. When this happens, students may learn to jump through the hoops, obey the rules, do the right things, but they do not learn to love God and others. That is moralism, the worst enemy of true Christianity.

Creating a truly gracious classroom is much harder than creating an orderly classroom. It is a challenge that requires spiritual preparation far beyond classroom management techniques. But the only Christian education is a thoroughly gracious education. It sounds so basic, but it remains true: Without God’s grace, we can only produce narcissists who are more focused on their own successes and failures than on the eternal reality of God’s love for his people.”

The part of Douglas’ warning that rings truest for me is observing many Catholic Christian schools tout academic success (on tests, high school or college admissions, etc.) without comparable marketing attention given to the school as a disciple-making environment, etc.

A second highly relevant point is his caution against mere moralism. Growing up in a predominantly Catholic part of the United States, Catholic schools seemed to be synonymous with training kids/teens to have sound moral behavior (without a specific mention of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit necessary to even undertake a more holy, more moral life as a disciple of Jesus Christ!).

What are the marks of a Christian school that is truly a ministry of Christian education, and not simply just another school choice in your area? Have you seen well-established Christian Catholic schools evolve to become more focused on disciple-making? Or, is it the “start ups” (aka the newer Christian institutions) who are able to project this vision more clearly?

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