More on Christian Education

In a previous Facebook post I had stated, “one if not the greatest failing in Christian education, namely the development of a more robust view of how to participate as a Christian in a public school. If we go with a choice or diverse model, then one cannot hold the antithesis model (Christian v world).”

This brought an important counter from Brian Polet.

Isn’t Christian education defacto a Christian vs the world model? So you would advocate for the dissolution of Christian education?

I explain.

My views of Christian education are admittedly mixed, but no way is this an advocacy for the dissolution of Christian schools. For many they deliver solid educational achievement; in a worldly way they are good schools. They’re part of an educational mix that goes by the name of “Choice” where parents make decisions about what school is most appropriate for their child. For many, the Christian school will be a default choice, and to be clear: I see nothing wrong with that.

Now some caveats:

  • First, it is pretty clear that Christian education does not per se produce better Christians (that’s a church function fwiw).
  • Second, as educational venues, Christian schools often do a very good job because of the socio-economic standing of the parents (this is a commonplace in education generally where SES correlates with educational achievement). In GR, Potters House works to breakdown this SES/achievement link, and they have enjoyed some success.
  • Third, the baptismal vow I make is not simply to the child in front of me, but to all baptized children. Thus, the possibility of Christian education extends past the day school door.

At the school where I coach (Grand Rapids City) there are teachers who are there as part of their Christian faith. So perhaps we should make a distinction between Christian approach to the educational practice (what do Christians do as teachers, how do they embody faith before a varied student body etc.), and an institutional approach. The former addresses what goes on inside the walls, the latter is the exterior or perhaps wineskin. For teachers, the real advantage of Christian education is to practice their profession in the company of other, similarly minded believers. But… most students will be outside the Christian school, they will be found in charters, or in general schools. So for those students, for the teachers who interact with them, we need a more robust understanding of Christian thinking and education.

How to build better schools

Randal Jelks pointed to an interesting article from the New York Times on New York’s elite schools, highlighting the terribly small admission of African Americans. 14. The number is shocking. As he notes, the problem is not simply there on Manhattan, but also here on the banks of the Grand. Do our magnet schools, specifically City, suffer from the same disease? Or more accurately, do they function as a distraction from the point. As he notes:

(The magnet schools have) never been about the intellectual development of Black and Brown children who now make over 69% of the school district. Now mind you need middle class parents of all stripes in the GRPS, but not at the expense of majority the population. Too much excuse making in my opinion and reinforcement of race and class segregation with white folk being the power brokers

Perhaps. This does seem to  to pit the middle class against the needs by race. This may miss the issues of class. As Jelks alludes to, numerous studies not that it is poverty, not race which correlates with achievement. Moreover, achievement for low income students rises when they have the chance to be economically integrated; middle class engagement by parents and stakeholders is critical for the overall health of the schools.

Add to these observations the conditions at hand in our city. Of the total school age population in the city, Grand Rapids Public Schools gets slightly more than half. The rest are found in charters, schools of choice transfers, and to a limited extent the parochial. Of the share of the students 72% qualify for student lunch. Note GRPS is ~ 31% white, the census school age population is roughly 35% white. So the question of uplift is less racial than economic in nature; a broader economic base gives more possibility for lifting up more students. Again, integration

And finally, there are graduation statistics released yesterday. GRPS has made decided gains in the past five years, particularly among its black and latino populations, and especially with the men. Further, the graduation rates for  Innovation Central High School and Grand Rapids University Prep are both in the 90+% range, and both have more than 80% minority enrollment. These schools succeed because of stakeholder engagement, and there is simply no question that we need more of that. In short, this is not the district of 10 years ago, or even five.

Who’s the music for?

This afternoon had the opportunity to listen to the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony concert that included a wonderful performance of Holst’s The Planets. The orchestra was full and often thrilling in its playing. But I also left with a certain sadness, it was a concert that indirectly conveyed the continuing hit the arts have taken in our schools.

As was clear in the program, these high performing student comes from a rather restricted background: a few elite public schools, Christian schools, or home schools. Music that should be the common inheritance of all is instead nurtured only in a few schools or programs. This was most evident in the Classical Symphony (their training program) where most students were out of home schooled environments. While a host of benefits belong to learning and mastering a musical instrument, such work is now the area of a committed few. And as the Youth Symphony revealed, most often not in a public (or charter) setting. Directly or not, we’ve privatized out our music.

Not surprisingly, a privatized music is sociologically narrow, even (dare we say it) mono-chromatic. That’s not the students’ fault, or the organization’s, rather it points to conditions in our society, the audible disconnect with our communities. Much as I love the kids I know at Christian school kids, or the students it work with at City, what I long for is a different ensemble. Something Sphinx-inspired, music that frankly has a little more color in it.

I’m thinking we would all be better for it.

School is a headache

Between the demands of the classes at the college, and debate/speech four days a week at City — blogging has taken a back seat.

Plenty of good things are happening, but honestly, I need to make time. So as they say,

watch this space.