Why start an independent Christian School? A meditation on three sources of motivation.
Like the two poles of a magnet, the dystopian and utopian forces repel and attract with equal strength. In starting an independent Christian school it is possible to be motivated by one or both of these drives. These may serve as a spark that lights the flame, but they cannot function as its fuel. The only entity that can sustain and grow a healthy Christian school is, as I will argue here, Christ Himself.
The Dystopian Drive
When considering the state of the education system today, as a Christian, it is easy to fall into a dystopian funk. Academic standards are falling, many schools are rife with bullying and violence, and an increasingly secular and godless worldview is being promulgated to the children of this nation. When you throw the flaming dog turd that is social media into the mix, it is no wonder that so many parents feel that these are end times indeed. What is the natural response to this crisis? A rescue operation. Let’s remove our children from this cesspit whilst they still have enough oxygen in their lungs to breathe. Escape!
Whilst there is some truth in this line of thinking, it isn’t entirely true. It’s also somewhat uncharitable and morose. I mean, come on. It’s not that bad. It is true that academic standards have fallen in the UK, but by the grace of God there is still a lot of learning going on in the minds of our young people. Many schools are rife with bullying and violence, but many more aren’t. For lots of children, the state school represents a safe haven. A place to be loved, cared for and valued. The worldview that is (consciously or unconsciously) disseminated in government-issued education is increasingly godless, and yet God is still there. In Christian Unions, in chapel services, in the actions and words of Christian teachers, and in the Christian values of any and every man, woman, boy and girl who displays them, regardless of their own views of Christ Himself. As Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” This is certainly true of our state education system, and we oughtn’t forget it.
Dystopian thinking may prompt us to take seriously the idea of going educationally off piste. Perhaps homeschooling, or starting an independent Christian school, or some middle ground between the two. But its essence is negative, and critical. A moving away from something, rather than a moving towards something (or someone). So let us allow the horrors of the dystopian nightmare to send shivers down our spine, and chill the marrow of our very bones. But then when its work is done, let’s depart from its deathly and dismal clutches.
The Utopian Ideal
A more positive motivational oomph can be found in the utopian ideal. This is the thought of what could be. Utopianism is a disease which afflicts people in all areas of human affairs, and the educational domain is no exception. If you have spent any time in the world of schools you will be familiar with the samsaric cycle of birth, death and rebirth that the god of educational perfection goes through. Learning styles dies and is reborn as project-based learning, which has its season in the sun, before succumbing to its own mortal destiny and then reappearing in the glittering and compact form of an iPad mini. And so on, and so forth. This god takes many forms, but is, in its essence, the same. It is cut from the same cloth as your archetypal slimy salesman. All style and no substance. An eternal over-promiser and under-deliverer.
But let’s not be too harsh here. Let’s not throw the baby, utopia, out with the bathwater, utopianism, right? Surely the utopian ideal is something to hold on to. Well, yes and no. The problem, to misquote the idiom, is in the pudding. That is, it’s all very well to believe in utopia, but it’s another thing to live it. Or to put it another way, the reason why there is no silver bullet in education is the same reason that there is no silver bullet in any domain. Schools, businesses, churches, relationships, finances. Any institution, sector, organisational structure, you name it. There will always be people around to screw it up and make mistakes. This is because the problem is essentially internal, rather than external. The problem is the Fall. The problem is sin.
The utopian ideal helps us to dream big dreams. To imagine a future in which our children thrive, grow, laugh, play, learn, all in the safe environs of a perfectly benevolent institution. Its idealism is its great strength, but also its great weakness. Because, of course, no such utopia exists. At least not now. Not in this world in which two great truths pull and strain against each other. That we are God’s beloved children, His chosen people, His image-bearers. And that we willfully disobey His perfect commands, and choose sin over salvation, death over life, hate over love. Creation is good, and yet fallen. The same can be said of us. So utopianism can help us, but it cannot ultimately fuel our endeavours.
A Christ-Centric School
I have argued that the dystopian and utopian forces can and should be harnessed for all their worth, in the project of starting an independent Christian school. But ultimately, these are not the things that should fuel its development nor shape its character. That role is one for Christ Himself.
Because Christ is the Redeemer, we know that He will redeem all things and reconcile them to Himself. So, whilst we lament the state of the education system in our nation, we needn’t despair. We can hitch a ride with the dystopians, but we needn’t stay on the bus all the way to their destination. Because the human heart is deceitful above all things, we know that any human endeavour will be infused with rebellious and hateful behaviour. Sin is crouching at the doorway. We can break bread with the utopians, but we reject their naivete concerning the possibility of perfection outside of Christ.
The cornerstone of a Christian school can only be Christ, and His glory and praise can be its only ultimate aim. It is this aim to which we aspire. Because we know His character, goodness and sacrifice, we can be cheerful servants. Because we know His forgiveness and mercy, we can be free to make mistakes. We will not create a perfect school, because we are not perfect. But we will do all that we humanly can to create a school that serves and glorifies Jesus Christ, because He is.