Culture At Large

The Cardus Survey's challenge for Christian education

Dave Larsen

I recall a conversation with a parent considering a suburban Chicago Protestant Christian school for his children. He jumped right to what would make the difference for him. “I get the Christian piece. It’s clear this school does that well. But tell me about the education piece. How good are you at that?” If the Cardus Education Survey, released last month, had been available at the time, I wonder if I would have shared it with him.

Cardus is a Canadian think tank “dedicated to the renewal of North American social architecture.” Through its research, events and publications, it seeks to “enrich and challenge public debate.” Their education survey is a helpful and provocative example of both enrichment and challenge.

The critical questions about Christian schooling have always centered on what is meant by “Christian” and the relative rigor of the educational process. The Cardus report argues that Christian schooling can and must strike a balance in emphasizing spiritual formation, cultural engagement and academic achievement. Most Christian schools use the language of transforming culture to define their purpose. The report finds that most Christian schools fall short on the cultural engagement piece and should be more academically demanding.

The report issues a clear call for Protestant Christian education to strengthen its curricular offerings. While the survey reveals that students in such schools are “uniquely compliant, generous, outwardly-focused individuals who stabilize their communities by their uncommon commitment to their families, their churches, and larger society,” it also shows that, compared with Catholic school graduates, they are less inclined to matriculate to more demanding colleges and universities, and less likely to end up in the influential, culture-shaping worlds of the arts, politics and public discourse. As the report states, “...academic rigor need not be sacrificed on account of either faith development or commitment to cultural engagement.” The report asks school leaders to be more daring in their goals and more visionary in promoting bold outcomes.

Christian school graduates shaped by the vision posed by Cardus would require a broadened curricular understanding of Christian discipleship. Cardus suggests this to Protestant Christian Schools: “Refine the theology; establish the pedagogy; then teach students how to understand and lead culture. This, we believe, is how Christian schools can multiply the effectiveness of their graduates in circles as small as marriages, as large as countries.”

Some may ask, "Wouldn't such a direction make Christian schools less Christian?" Perhaps the better question is, “How can Christian schools be more fully Christian?" It’s a question every Christian school administrator and board member should be asking if we really mean to make a difference in culture, if we intend to shape a curriculum that shows the deep reach of Christ’s redemption and the deep need for the restoration of God’s creation. Reading the survey and discussing its implications would be a good place to start. Thankfully, as another school year begins, the Cardus Education Survey is also hopeful.

And the parent with the question? He enrolled his children. They’re now graduates.

(Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.)

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