Community School?

Deeply shared beliefs, values, and goals provide the nuclei around which communities form. Secular common schools, because they intentionally avoid addressing these beliefs and values, are intrinsically hampered in their efforts to build community. However, why do our Christian schools merely model their community expectations from the secular? Should not Christian schools provide a model for the world?

One of our local Christian schools just experienced a painful situation. After summer break, a much liked teacher did not return for the new school year. He wasn’t asked to not return, that wasn’t the cause of the pain. He had financial needs school pay couldn’t meet and took a position at a local public school. The cause of the pain was the unexpected ending of relationships. Perhaps this is a situation so common that some think that describing it as a “painful situation” is a sentimental exaggeration. Perhaps, but perhaps not.

These actions and responses illuminate a concern. Our culture is so individualized and secularized that we pay little attention to relationships. The teacher here may have had to leave for good reasons, and those reasons may have surfaced during the summer, but apparently, he thought he and his work were so relationally insignificant that he made no attempt to say goodbyes or give explanations to the children and families that he taught. Neither did his administration make an attempt to bring him back for closure.

What are we teaching our children? Is school merely academic? Do we not want to teach our children the nuances of commitment and friendship? Do school obligations merely end when contracts and financial exchanges end? No! Christian schools are extensions of the home and vital units within the Church and body of Christ. Within them we must teach, model, and express “love–one for another.” Secular schools are increasingly operated on an assembly line model where individuality seems to be viewed more as a flaw than an asset. In these efficient schools, equally accredited teachers and administrators are viewed as interchangeable parts. One is hired and moved from one class or school to another to replace open positions with little regard to their role in student or teacher relationships.

In the efficient mechanized school, the cold transfer of information is key. Though there is often anger at the “system” and its bureaucracy, only young elementary students (who haven’t yet learned to guard their emotional attachments) grow to trust their teachers and look to them for personal guidance. In the mechanized school, individual values, beliefs, and commitments mean little compared to “competency.” School size is determined with little thought as to its impact on community and parental concerns are merely viewed as “problems to be dealt with.” Whereas secular schooling is efficient, Christian school community is messy . . . and the deeper the community, the messier it gets. With increasing community comes vulnerability, obligations, hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and many blessings! The natural struggles of community are the “classrooms” for learning to love. We learn to communicate, give and take, work through conflict, forgive, support, work together, become faithful, define commitment, and build trust.

If children do not deeply experience Christian community at school, where else can they learn its lessons and grow from its nurture? Home and church are the obvious answers; homes must not merely “outsource” their community building opportunities to clubs, teams, and programs, and churches over a few hundred must make greater intentional efforts to build real community. However, the values and beliefs of home and church communities are vitally relevant to the broad educational concerns of schooling. Both must include the education day as a part of their close community. This does not imply that children need three separate communities, but that all three bodies should view themselves and act as one community with specialized, but united and overlapping, roles. Why don’t schools call on pastors to help with issues of conflict or philosophy? Why do so few pastors view Christian schools as local ministries? Why are so many parents uninvolved in their children’s schools?

In 2000, sociologist Robert Putnam wrote the arresting book,
Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. In it he documents the deterioration of trust building community life, which he vitally links to the survival of society. He notes that the strongest sources of community that remain are our churches, yet society needs more “social capital” than churches currently provide. Putnam does not yet find the “Revival of American Community” as a current reality; people are still “bowling alone” rather than in clubs. Current social deterioration provides evidence that we must expand and find new sources of community. I believe that to strengthen the body of Christ and society, the family, church, and school must be linked in committed community. If this becomes a reality, perhaps teachers won’t have to leave their Christian schools for higher pay, but if they do, their first thoughts will be how to meaningfully say “good bye” to the children, parents, and co-workers they have shared their hearts and lives with.

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