By Katrina Custer

A general consensus exists that education is a significant linchpin in the effort to influence the next generation of leaders, whether for good or bad. Nelson Mandela famously said, Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. It feels bold to call any school a “weapon,” even more so when it comes to Christian schools, but I don’t think President Mandela is wrong in his assertion that education is a battle against ignorance and even poverty. Study after study shows a correlation between the average years of schooling and a nation’s economic success. What would be the impact, not just on economics, but on the leadership, relationships, and the souls of a nation if schools taught children not just reading and mathematics, but also how to love God, his word, and his truth?

That is a question that an ACSI-sponsored program called Paths to School Improvement (PSI) asks school leaders. The truth is that many know education is key to changing the world, but they might struggle with the how. They recognize it must be more than merely slapping a Christian name onto their buildings or throwing Bible classes into their curriculum. So, how does one create an authentically Christian school?

I believe it starts with a solid foundation: God’s Word. While culture is strong in influencing our various worldviews, answers to questions such as “What is knowledge? How should we treat students? What is the ultimate goal of our school?” must be predominantly shaped by the central authority of the Bible. An authentic Christian school will attribute true knowledge to revelation from God, usually through his creation. Students are image bearers of this Creator, and the goal of the school is, in some sense, to bring those two together – knowledge and students. There are a million ways to express it, and the PSI program encourages school leaders to dive deeply into Scripture and make the wording their own, but there is no negotiating that the Word is a Christian school’s core.

All other typical school decisions the school makes should flow from this foundational Biblical worldview. Matters such as policies and procedures, curriculum choices, teacher training and instruction, evaluation and assessment, student discipline, and even traditions and ceremonies are all shaped by a school’s view of God’s Word. If God is the creator of all reality, how should that impact our students’ study of science or a foreign language? If the vision of the school is to see students one day influence their world for Christ, what tools do teachers need now in their daily interactions with these young minds? Let’s get specific with an example from student assessment. When people hear the word “assessment” in schools, they quickly think of tests. Most schools would agree that tests are a part of assessment, though administrators hope these numerical measurements of student achievement will also be instrumental in helping teachers adjust future instruction. How could a Biblical worldview take the topic of assessment even further? Perhaps it is the extra effort a teacher takes to demonstrate a student’s worth is only ever found in Jesus, not in grades. Maybe it’s the humility required to admit to students that an assessment was poorly designed and a do-over is needed. I’ve seen it in the flexibility of a teacher allowing that one student whose dog died in the night to present his project later and using today to pray with him instead. What distinguishes authenticity is that our motivation for our many decisions and our view of our students are both based on the truth of Scripture. 

Finally, there is the matter of the heart. This is by far the hardest factor to quantify, and some might disagree with me that the motivation of a Christian teacher in her classroom is any different or “holier” than a secular teacher’s. True, nearly every teacher I have ever met genuinely entered the field of education with a desire to work for the good of society. And yet, in the long run, I believe in the difference a heart saturated in Biblical truth will have. It shows up when a teacher extends grace to a disobedient student and points her to Jesus. It is evident when a school leader models humble leadership to his staff. It makes a difference when parents are valued as partners in raising their children, not merely as sources of funding. In an authentic Christian school, everyone agrees that believers must be committed to lifelong learning since they are disciples of Christ. It is why the PSI program stresses the value of continuous school improvement; growth of the heart never ends.

Obviously no silver bullet to authenticity exists yet, or this entire conversation and all our PSI training would be for naught. Every time a new Christian school opens, I believe it honestly wants to work for the good of its society. My heart’s desire is to see these leaders well supported so that they can begin on the right foot: with a solid foundation on God’s Word, a Biblical worldview shaping their decisions, and hearts molded by a close following of Jesus. Especially that last one. Because the challenge in this ever-changing system we call “education” is to remember our hope in the God who is constant and working in us for the good of his purposes (Romans 8:28). 

Want to know more about Paths to School Improvement? Click here or email Katrina Custer at katrinacuster@gmail.com

Notes:

1 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2013/12/05/nelson-mandelas-famous-quote-on-education/

2 https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/correlation-between-mean-years-of-schooling-and-gdp-per-capita

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