Why do I believe so strongly in Christian education, and particularly in independent Christian schooling? There are numerous reasons, starting with my perspective on education in general, specifically, K-12 education. Beyond that, the benefits of an independent Christian education for today’s learners are eternal.
A TEACHER AT HEART
I am, at heart, a teacher. While I am the head of school for Mount Paran Christian School and much of my job now entails business leadership and organizational culture, at my core, I am a teacher and an educator. I love teaching, the impact teachers have on the hearts and minds of their students, and the potential to shape leaders for the future. That is how I got into the field of education. I still, after 30 years in schooling, teach at the graduate level so I may continue to be a part of this process. I find it invigorating (except for grading papers – I do not enjoy this part of the job at all) and love to be engaged in the growth of aspiring learners and leaders.
As a teacher at heart, my philosophical position stems from a belief that a liberal arts education is the best possible education that one can receive in a PK-12 setting. The idea of the liberal arts is rooted in an ancient perspective that suggests, to develop the whole person – one who flourishes in all aspects of life – one must be educated to understand a broad scope of ideas, perspectives, philosophies, and backgrounds. According to Richard Riesen, words typically used to describe a liberal arts education include “deepening,” “broadening,” “humanizing,” “awakening,” and “liberating.” Within a Christian liberal-arts perspective, there is also the understanding that absolute truth is a reality. I could not agree more.
A HOLISTIC EDUCATION
A holistic education prepares students to face a world full of questions, a world full of confusion, and a world full of fear. It provides the building blocks and foundations to answer difficult questions, to properly order the confusion, and to grasp that fear comes from a place of misunderstanding. A holistic education supplies the tools and the tool belt needed so students may then apply what they have learned to the world around them, solving everchanging problems in a rapidly changing world.
When answers are not easily acquired, students who receive such an education are prepared to dig deep, to follow up with their own probing questions, and to understand in what direction they must go to answer those most difficult problems. Harold McMillan, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who oversaw the building of the Suez Canal, the decolonization of Africa, and the strengthening of the “special relationship” with the United States, stated that such an education helps a student discover and understand “when a person is talking rot.” I love this. I want this for my own son. I want him to understand what is true and what is false. I want him to be able to discern what God has for him and how that is markedly different than what the world wants for him. That is what a liberal arts education, when applied within the Christian context, can do.
THE CASE FOR A CHRISTIAN LIBERAL ARTS EDUCATION
Any parent who has weighed their family’s educational options understands schools are not all created equally. I worked in public schools and know this option may be right for some. Having spent the entirety of my 30-year career in education and having worked in Christian schools, non-sectarian independent schools, and public schools, I do know Christian schooling in a school that extols a liberal arts philosophy of education is where I belong and where my own son belongs; and the point of this blog is to explain three reasons why I believe a Christian liberal arts education is what many in our world so desperately need. So, here they are:
- Christian schools with a liberal arts approach to teaching and learning are places where Truth is taught, but where students are exposed to broad knowledge.
- Christian schools are places where men and women who love Jesus, their subject matter, and children pour into students’ lives as teachers, coaches, and mentors.
- Christian schools are places where students can struggle, fail, and learn from their mistakes in the presence of teachers and administrators who have only their best interest at heart and will guide them back to the truth of the gospel in everything.
1. Where Truth is Taught and Students are Exposed to Broad Knowledge
Let me unpack each idea. First, Truth is taught in the Christian school. There is absolutely absolute truth (the redundancy there is purposeful). If we believe the words of Jesus, we understand what he means when he said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” Here, Jesus didn’t leave the door open for interpretation or for another “truth.” Instead, He said He was the truth. C.S. Lewis is known to have said therefore, Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. In fact some of his exact words were, “He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else He would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.” Strong words.
Now, should children be exposed to other ideas? Should they learn other worldviews? Should they be introduced to other religions? Again, my belief is that the answer to all these questions is, yes. What better place to be exposed to philosophies and perspectives that are outside of the realm of Christian belief than in a school and from a teacher who knows and believes the Truth? What better place to struggle with the world’s questions and answers than in the presence of men and women who daily pray they may have an eternal impact through their teaching on the hearts and minds of our children and wish nothing more than for our children to know and love Jesus? We shouldn’t fear these ideas if we believe all truth is our Lord’s. We should embrace the opportunity for our students to recognize the gospel’s ultimate truth.
At MPCS, my son and his classmates are experiencing Truth in every area of the curriculum. They are seeing biology, the building blocks of life, through a biblical lens. They are learning math, the language of God, if you will, through a biblical lens. They are reading secular literature and dissecting the true and false narratives through a biblical lens. This biblical lens is developed in and throughout all of the curricular areas of our liberal arts education, which includes the humanities, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, world language, and biblical studies.
2. Where Those who Love Jesus Pour into Students’ Lives
Second, our children are being taught by men and women who love the Lord, love their subject area, and love our kids! What could be better than that? They are being guided in their decision-making by men and women who love the Lord. They are being affirmed (and occasionally admonished) as they are engaged in learning these perspectives and ideologies by men and women who love the Lord. They are being trained to understand how to find truth in a world confronting them with many lies by men and women who love the Lord.
At a recent celebration for our beloved State championship cheer coach, Paige Johnson, I repeatedly heard MPCS alumni, current students, and parents talking about the determination and pursuit of excellence Coach Johnson instills into each team she has coached through the years. The first thought on everyone’s mind is how Coach Johnson loved them and poured Jesus into them daily. Next, they spoke of her drive for excellence. While Coach Johnson would love perfection, she understands it is the pursuit of excellence that is every athlete’s calling. She presses her athletes to pursue perfection, knowing the pursuit thereof would lead them to excellence in every area of life. Coach Johnson understands the Father calls us to be like His Son, who was, indeed, perfect. At the conclusion of the cheer celebration, what stood out to those present was that each girls’ relationship with Jesus was more important than any State title. Coach Johnson has, however, seen her squad win 10 consecutive State titles and has built the reputation that MPC cheer is the best program in the state – for any school of any size. That’s good stuff.
Likewise, MPC student-athletes have won baseball, football, golf, softball, swimming, track and field, and volleyball championships, led by coaches who employ a biblical lens to winning and losing. You see, the faculty and staff of MPCS are men and women who desperately want our children to understand that all truth is God’s truth. That is why we study secular literature, examine perspectives outside our own, and teach apologetics – so our students may know how to explain their own faith and discover Jesus in every aspect of life. I reiterate what St. Augustine stated more than 1,500 years ago: “Where truth may be found, it is our Lord’s.”
3. Where Students Learn and Fail, Guided Back to the Truth
Finally, are we perfect? No. Do we make mistakes? Yes. No school or person can ever expect to be perfect. Never. Understanding that the pursuit of perfection and sanctification is a lifelong endeavor, we know none within our community will ever attain it, this side of heaven. We know our students, faculty, staff, and parents aren’t perfect. That is why we have been given the free gift of grace, and that is exactly why this is such a good place for kids to learn and for parents to entrust the learning of their children. Not perfect, but striving.
At Mount Paran Christian School, our perspective on excellence is encapsulated in the statement, “Better tomorrow than we are today.” We talk about this all the time. We seek to pursue excellence in every endeavor of the school. We want our AP scores to be high. We seek to win State championships in every sport. We desire our musicals and concerts to be performed at the highest artistic level possible. We want our artists to go on from this place and create in ways that bring glory to God. The expectation is excellence, but not for excellence’s sake. We pursue excellence because what we do, how we perform, how we take criticism, how we brush off our wounds are all reflections of our Savior. Therefore, we will continue to strive for excellence in all we do. This is the calling of a Christian school, and it is certainly the calling of Mount Paran Christian School.
A biblical approach to a liberal arts education taught by men and women who love Jesus, their subject matter, their students in a place that provides for success and failure is the heart of what we do at MPCS. It should be the heart of every Christian school. This should be why we choose a Christian education for our children and what keeps us coming back for more. It’s what keeps me coming back year after year.
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