What Freddie de Boer’s “The Cult of Smart” Misses About Education

"Though framed and marketed as a study in education policy, The Cult of Smart wants to be much more than that; de Boer wants his readers to rethink the foundations of not merely meritocracy, but the notion of personal responsibility as such." - John Ehrett

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The Excellent Christian: Philippians 1:9-11


A. In 1982 a book appeared in the United States that revolutionized thinking about the way American corporations are run and the way business should be done in our country.  That one book sold more than 6,000,000 copies and spawned a new effort to make business more effective and productive.

B. The book was In Search of Excellence by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr.

  1. The book studied many companies and identified ones that the authors judged to be most successful.
  2. They identified eight principles that characterized those companies.
  3. Peters said he had a passion to prove just how crucial people are to the success of a business enterprise.

C. Scripture has much to say about excellence in every part of life.

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The Pursuit of Excellence: It’s for Ministry, Not Just for Business

“Excellence” might not be the business leadership buzzword it once was, but it’s far from dead. A quick search at Amazon shows plenty of recent business titles with “excellence” in them, and even if the term isn’t the biz word of the day anymore, the concept has never waned.

This is because the business world understands that making what they do, and how they do it, better is essential for their survival in a competitive marketplace. Maybe that marketplace mentality is partly why ministry leaders sometimes view excellence as a “a business thing.”

But they shouldn’t.

A Christian view of life and ministry has the pursuit of excellence at its very core. The flipside is also true: to the degree we accept shoddiness and haphazardness in our churches and ministries, we’re embracing a deeply unchristian way of thinking and acting.

A Culture of Excellence

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Kaizen and the Biblical Model for Continuous Improvement

Kaizen means improvement, or literally, good change. Identified by author Masaaki Imai as “the key to Japanese competitive success,”1 kaizen is the philosophy undergirding continuous improvement at every level of the organization, and involving all personnel. As a philosophy, kaizen is the post-World War II driving force behind the success of a host of Japanese companies, led most notably by Toyota.

Kaizen, as an organizational philosophy, was introduced to Japan through several American post-World War II initiatives designed to help war torn Japan recover and flourish. W. Edwards Deming received an award from the Emperor of Japan for his involvement in developing and implementing kaizen. The W. Edwards Deming Institute remains a significant influence in continuous improvement, including in the promotion of the basic kaizen cycle (PDSA cycle) of plan, do, study, act:

3029 reads

From the Archives: Why Do Excellent Work?

I once heard a story—I don’t recall where—of a builder who was commissioned by his employer to build a house. The builder’s employer gave specific instructions regarding the quality of the house. He wanted it to be excellent, but the builder tried to save money and effort for himself by cutting corners. The builder knew that he could hide his below-par craftsmanship so that it wouldn’t be discovered until years later.

In the end, the house looked good, but the low quality of the building left much to be desired. When the house was completed, the employer who owned the house handed the keys to the builder, and explained that he wanted to give the house to the builder as a show of gratitude for many years of service. Of course, the builder instantly regretted his laziness and poor workmanship.

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Seeking Excellence? Don't Start With "Why," Start with "Who"

In seeking to identify the seeds of excellence, there is a popular device (the Golden Circle) that traces the beginnings of excellence back to the question Why?

Using this model, we could critique the more common alternative of beginning with the outcome (the What) and arriving at the Why, rather than beginning with the Why. The idea is that before arriving at the process (How) and the outcome (What), it is of primary importance that we solidify the Why.

In a way the concept corresponds to reality, but there is a key piece missing. This model lacks the worldview follow-through to really work.

1986 reads