Thursday, January 6, 2011

Death of the Christian School Movement

I've asked invited Historian Ed Carson to share a recent blog entry with us over here at the John Perkins Center.

Ed inspires me on a number of levels. To begin with, Ed runs as much as I did before Risako and I started growing the kingdom organically (i.e., having children), or more. More importantly, Ed is a committed teacher at an elite Christian high school in Texas, who has resisted the tempatation to rest on his laurels. He keeps pushing his students, colleagues, and himself to think critically and puruse excellence. Last, but not least, he is an active blogger.

I believe that Ed's thoughts on the Christian School Movement has implications for how we think about diversity at Christian Universities, and our own hidden transcripts. Of course,in our pluralists society,Christian universities play an important role within the ecology of higher education. However, we can never reflect too deeply on how trends outside of our Christian enviroment have shaped the way in which we have reshaped our missions and constituted our institutions. I invite you to reflect on some of Ed's conclusions based on his research, and join him over at The Professor.

Ed has written:
While doing some reading on why the Christian School Movement is now dead , I have listed the following as my conclusion:

1.) It grew out of religious fundamentalism and weak academics.

2.) After Brown v. Board in 1954, racism championed its cause. Many southern churches opened their basements and Sunday school classes to allow parents an option. Many parents from the South sought options that would protect their interest from that of the federal government. By creating a school in a church, the federal government could not invoke its voice.

3.) The movement promoted and endorsed unqualified teachers. Many were not academics, but Sunday school teachers with a single agenda.

4.) Fundamentalism has shifted to the home school movement due to the financial uncertainty of the schools that made up this movement, and the limited options of other types of Christian schools that did not compromise to an overly conservative audience. Many Christian schools seek to expand the knowledge of students by recruiting an elite faculty. Of course, such faculty members tend not to have a singular agenda. Many are highly academic. Case in point: This creates a conflict between the mission of parents who believe Bible classes should be taught like a Sunday school class, and not like an academic discipline.

5.) It lacks racial, cultural, and intellectual diversity. With small endowments and the inability to raise money, schools of this movement fail to attract a diverse population. Such schools also struggle in attracting faculty members that are both racially, politically, and intellectually diverse.

As noted in Pearl Kane and Alfonso Orsini’s work, The Colors of Excellence:

People of color, be they African-American, Native American, Asian, Middle Eastern or whatever ethnic group, have spent years discovering their roots, developing a keen pride in their heritage, and accepting who they are. So don’t expect the current crop of prospective faculty to fit into your conservative profile. Many of them will not, and, frankly, I don’t think they should even try! Is that shocking? Is that unacceptable to you and your clientele? Then, perhaps, diversity is really not for you. If a turban or a dashiki pants suit offends, then so will diversity! Diversity by definition implies that the status quo will be upset.

6.) Schools try to be and function like a church. Thus, there are too many single denominational schools with little academic focus. A school cannot be nor should it be a church.

7.) Status usurped that of faith. Some parents have learned that schools cannot be a church. Schools must be institutions that will offer the greatest opportunity for the future success of their student. Thus, it is the job of parents to teach their faith, not schools. Now, this does not mean a school should lack a spiritual component. Many of the best sectarian and nonsectarian schools in the nation offer this.

8.) Schools that were or are a part of this movement have invested poorly. They were satisfied with sub par facilities and little to no endowment. Because of race and the radicalism of the 1960s, the movement lacked a vision beyond that of dogmatism. In essence, their alums are not in a position to contribute to the present cause of the school.

9.) Pluralism is highly significant to the 21st century student. Schools of this movement tend to subscribe to a wholly protective way of thinking.

Disclaimer: I am not talking about Christian schools here; I am more concerned with the movement born out of the 1950s. Schools like Houston Christian and the Wesleyan School of Atlanta are grounded in the Christian faith; however, they seek a much wider mission than those of the Christian School movement. Keep in mind that a school can be religious and academic. But, the school’s mission must call for it.

The topic of faith and race is one of great interest to me. I want to use this post to jump-start an online discussion of Divided by Faith. The above topic fits in very well with much of Emerson’s historical analysis. If you are interested in participating in this forum, I will use the following two dates as days to address the book: February 10th (Intro. to Ch 5), and February 24th (Ch. 6 to conclusion. The work is not very long. I believe the first 5 chapters are only 93 pages long. Fire me an email or leave a comment if you think you would like to participate. I will open the discussion with my own reflections from the reading. Then, I hope to have some conversations not just about the book, but about Christian education, Christian schools, nonsectarian independent schools (many grew out of racism too), and faith. You can order it here. Below is a summary of the work:

Here is a summary:

Both religion and race have played important — and sometimes deeply interconnected — roles in American history. Religion was used to justify both slavery and abolition; likewise it was used to justify both segregation and desegregation. Today even conservative Christians support equality between the races, but that doesn’t mean that everything is settled or peaceful. In truth, evangelical Christianity continues to reinforce racial divides.

Edward Carson is currently an instructor in the Department of History and Social Sciences at Houston Christian, a nondenominational independent day school in Northwest Houston. He teaches courses in the areas of American Studies and European History. He holds multiple memberships in various historical societies, and has delivered conference papers at a number of different venues that focus on matters of race, class, gender, and instructional pedagogy. He is currently co-authoring a book on W.E.B. Du Bois.

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