"If there have been specific incidents that make a person reasonably fear for his or her safety at Immanuel, then the head of school should identify them. Otherwise, the argument is that Immanuel’s Christian environment is just too terrible to endure." - N. Review
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Many outstanding Christian leaders received the most rigorous, comprehensive training available to them. Today’s Christian schools must be equally motivated to cultivate outstanding Christian thinkers and leaders, whatever their future paths.
To ensure the requisite academic depth, an assessment tool such as Bloom’s Taxonomy is useful. Developed as part of a landmark research study led by educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom, this tool ranks six learning objectives according to their relative sophistication. In ascending order, they are (2001 revision): Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating. Pondering this spectrum, one can readily categorize individual academic courses, schools, and even particular styles of Christian schooling.
From the outset, it should be evident that styles of Christian schooling markedly differ in their abilities to span this spectrum. The dividing line is often the type of curriculum used. Less effective are those which seek predetermined, pat answers. More effective are those which encourage independent thinking and originality. This does not mean ceasing to teach absolute Truth. It does mean allowing students to examine ideas pro and con, to ask difficult questions, to challenge tenuous conclusions, and even to sometimes respectfully disagree. This would be a departure from the instructional paradigm found at some Christian schools.
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Henry Ford is widely associated with numerous familiar sayings, some of which he actually said. One that is contested, although Ford himself recounts it on page 72 of his 1922 autobiography, My Life and Work, is “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.” (Black paint was reportedly less expensive than other colors, and reputedly dried faster.) In retrospect, Ford’s directive was not strictly implemented. The Model T was available in several other colors for much of its production run.
Neglecting customer’s legitimate needs, wants, or expectations does not abet a sustainable business plan. When competition exists, businesses must continually strive to attract and retain customers. Competition expands choices; choices empower customers.
A third element of a Christian school that influences enrollment is its academic reputation. When given a viable choice, what conscientious parent would send his or her child to a Christian school not known for providing a quality education? The answer may be obvious, but the question is flawed. The problem is that few observers of Christian education can agree on what “quality” means.
Some would be satisfied with the most basic, conventional curriculum as long as a daily Bible class or chapel service is included. Others would presuppose an array of courses befitting the most storied New England prep schools. Impressive lists of required classes and extensive selections of electives are no guarantee of quality, however. Depth of instruction is as vital as breadth of instruction. Without sufficient academic depth and the critical-thinking skills it engenders, Christian schools may produce graduates more adept at rote memorization and recitation than at inquiry and discernment. This can have serious consequences.
Christian primary and secondary education (sometimes called “Christian Day School”) became popular among fundamentalists during the 1970s. While some have alleged that the Christian school movement was a response to racial integration,1 it was more likely a reaction against the increasingly vicious secularism of public education. For a generation, many Christian parents sent their children to Christian schools, even when the cost of tuition meant significant financial sacrifice.
Over the past decade, however, most Christian schools have begun to decline. Administrators speculate about the reasons, but at least a few seem pretty obvious. These are generalizations that will not hold in every instance. Certain tendencies, however, can be observed more often than not.
First, Christian schools have not typically produced a better academic product than public education. True, the average test scores from Christian school students are higher than those of public school students. That is partly because public schools are required to accept students (including special education students) whom Christian schools uniformly reject. Take the top ten percent of graduates from the typical Christian school, and compare them to the top ten percent of graduates from the typical public school, and you will likely find that the public school graduates are better prepared.
A second reason that Christian schools are in decline is because they do not generally produce a better quality of Christian. Granted, the environment of a Christian school does shield its students from the most brutal influences of the secular school environment, such as rampant drug use and open promiscuity. It also grants Christianity a normative status, so that a student’s faith is not overtly and constantly under attack. Nevertheless, graduates of Christian schools do not seem to be noticeably more spiritually minded than Christian graduates of public schools. The real test is in what happens to Christian school students after they graduate. How many of them are walking with the Lord five years later? The proportions do not seem markedly higher for Christian school alumni than for other Christians of the same age.