Teenager near formulas on a chalkboard

Traditions Of Teaching & Learning!

As would be expected of anyone in the throws of finalizing their doctoral dissertation, I have been reading A LOT lately about teaching and learning. Through this study, I have read again the Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayer.  She asks some very probing questions.   I thought I would hopefully burden you with the same deep contemplation on the answers to the questions.  Are you ready to go there?

“Have you ever, in listening to a debate among adult and presumably responsible people, been fretted by the extraordinary inability of the average debater to speak to the question, or to meet and refute the arguments of speakers on the other side? Or have you ever pondered upon the extremely high incidence of irrelevant matter which crops up at committee-meetings, and upon the very great rarity of persons capable of acting as chairmen of committees? And when you think of this, and think that most of our public affairs are settled by debates and committees, have you ever felt a certain sinking of the heart?

Have you ever followed a discussion in the newspapers or elsewhere and noticed how frequently writers fail to define the terms they use? Or how often, if one man does define his terms, another will assume in his reply that he was using the terms in precisely the opposite sense to that in which he has already defined them?

Have you ever been faintly troubled by the amount of slipshod syntax going about? And if so, are you troubled because it is inelegant or because it may lead to dangerous misunderstanding?

Do you ever find that young people, when they have left school, not only forget most of what they have learnt (that is only to be expected) but forget also, or betray that they have never really known, how to tackle a new subject for themselves? Are you often bothered by coming across grown-up men and women who seem unable to distinguish between a book that is sound, scholarly and properly documented, and one that is to any trained eye, very conspicuously none of these things? Or who cannot handle a library catalogue? Or who, when faced with a book of reference, betray a curious inability to extract from it the passages relevant to the particular question which interests them?

Do you often come across people for whom, all their lives, a “subject” remains a “subject,” divided by water-tight bulkheads from all other “subjects,” so that they experience very great difficulty in making an immediate mental connection between, let us say, algebra and detective fiction, sewage disposal and the price of salmon, cellulose and the distribution of rainfall-or, more generally, between such spheres of knowledge as philosophy and economics, or chemistry and art?

Are you occasionally perturbed by the things written by adult men and women for adult men and women to read?” (Dorothy Sayer, Lost Tools of Learning, 1945).

She asks these questions in 1945.  Are we still asking the same nagging questions?  Hopefully, Salem Christian School is continuing in its tradition of constant improvement.  And, through this endeavor we ensure that our students are not the topic of these questions.  Rather, we work feverishly to ensure that the generation that we influence are a different breed.  We hope that they shed the secular thought and transform to the Christ-like worldview.  Through that worldview they see the imperative to work hard, think hard, and communicate excellently.  After all, the Gospel is at stake.

Head of School Blog


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Whom does the Christian school serve?

loyalty valueI would contend that the highest priority within the mission of the Christian school is service to God. We are created in his image and for his pleasure.  He desires our obedience, worship, and more. Actually, every aspect of life is worship.  In Christian education we should first seek to bring honor and glory to his name.

This honor and glory is demonstrated each time the education professional interacts with students and parents.  Thus, there is another layer to the question.  God has entrusted the care of his children to parents and they to the school.  God’s instructions to parents are found in His Word. Among the many notable passages are these:

  • “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
  • “He commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children” (Psalm 78:5-6).
  • “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children” (Deuteronomy 6: 6-7).

In our schools, we have applied the commands in scripture with descriptors.  We have used the metaphor of a triangle.  The three sides of nurture are the home, church, and school working in harmony and unison to train the child in the way he or she should go.  Training a child is a combined effort.

Some claim that this model is outdated.  It originated when families were more intact.  It was created when churches were more supportive of Christian schools.  It was created when schools were more closely tied to a particular denomination.  Some point to these changes and conclude that the model is no longer applicable. Perhaps that is true.  Perhaps it is not true, and instead it is a call to biblical renewal.

Other changes in the culture of the Christian school is the 21st century parent.  In a recent presentation, Gene Frost, head of school at Wheaton Academy, says that parents before the 1980’s could be described as loyalty customers.  He contrasts those parents with the post 1980’s parent, which he called the value customer.

Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services, CSI clarifies the two categories in his blog.  He says:

To oversimplify, the loyalty customer’s highest priority is for the Christian school to be scripturally rooted.  The loyalty customer is satisfied with the Christian education product as long as the school is clearly Christian first.  The positive aspect of loyalty customers is their non-negotiable commitment to the Christian school.  They tend to be loyal to the school through good times and bad.  Their tuition is not a fee, but a contribution to the cause in which they believe.  The negative aspect of loyalty customers is that they demand little from the school in terms of excellence.  They are satisfied, and their satisfaction can lead the school to conclude that an okay education is good enough.

Value customers’ highest priority is that the Christian school be excellent in academics, program options, and opportunities for their children. The value customer is not satisfied with mediocre educators or education.  The value customer’s commitment to the Christian school is more tentative, because there is a qualifier attached—Christian and excellent. They are Christian school parents, so there is a degree of loyalty, but the loyalty is always being tested over against demonstrated value.  Tuition is a fee, which value customers willingly pay as long as they are convinced of the value.  The positive aspect of value customers is that their demand for the best pushes school beyond complacency to continuous school improvement.  The negative aspect of value customers is that their commitment is not a given, but tenuous.

Schools that do not understand the new reality seem to flounder in frustration and fizzle out. The value customer seeks inspired leaders driving programs toward excellence, a school that identifies what it is best at and does it, a school with systems in place toward continuous improvement, and a school that preserves its mission while stimulating progress.  I would extend beyond this consumer transaction that there is a “special” ingredient that adds value that cannot be found in another circumstance.  The Christian school value customer must see Jesus Christ and a biblical worldview integrated into everything.

As a Christian school administrator I need to recognize that Christian schools have both loyalty and value members. I need to celebrate both and understand the needs of both.  I don’t really see them as mutually exclusive.  Of course a parent should expect high quality.  Of course, they should be loyal to the purpose of Christian school.  Doesn’t the ideal of full biblical integration call for excellence and a value superior to what can be found elsewhere?  It is sinful to give less than we can.

Where I divert from Dr. Frost and Dr. Blamer is that it is a consumer relationship.  Yes, money exchanges in order to compensate individuals for some part of their service.  However, a true Christian school recognizes that staff, faculty, parents, and students participate in raising the value of the school.  Without each of us doing our part in excellence, the Christian school cannot be all it is intended to be, a place that brings glory and honor to our Heavenly Father.

Head of School Blog


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