The High Stakes of Higher Ed

Over the last several months we’ve made the argument that education is anything but neutral. The myth that education can be reduced to a process that strictly seeks to prepare students for a future career wherein they can make money and then own nice things is a disorienting one. Education, instead, is an inherently formative process that shapes who we are and what we become and to treat it as anything less is, at best, ignorant and, at worst, disingenuous. To pretend as if education targets the mind only and has no influence on the heart does not do justice to our most basic impulse to grow in our understanding of the natural world and then marvel at what we behold. Christian education has a natural advantage here, as it is a model that not only accounts for the What? of creation but also the Who? and the Why? These kinds of teleological questions serve as an important reminder that the ultimate purpose of education is not simply to know more about creation, but to worship the Creator as we engage the wonders of His world. It has become something of a rallying cry for us at CCHS over the years to remind each other that our students are more than just “brains on stick” and that we must, therefore, develop educational processes that account for this. A classroom is more than the sum of its parts and students, likewise, are complex beings who are best understood as image bearers of the Divine. When the learning process accounts for this, it is placed in its proper place as a means to a greater end. Specifically, when education becomes about worship and not mere materialism we rightly prioritize it and therefore get the most out of it.

At the risk of overstating it, high school and college are some of the most formative years of one’s life and if your hope for those years isn’t rightly aligned then the results can be catastrophic. As Christians, our faith is rooted in the deepest hope of all and for that reason I believe the aim of Christian education runs much deeper than academic achievement. This is not to excuse an academic program that is in any way lacking, but rather it calls for one that it is rightly prioritized. When we talk about academic excellence at CCHS we are referring to providing our students with all of the opportunities that come with an exemplary education and equipping them to pursue a vision of the good life that aligns with God’s eternal purposes. When approached correctly, we believe these are complimentary (not competing) endeavors. C.S. Lewis rightly captured this in an essay called First and Second Things published in 1942. In it, Lewis argues that in order to get the most out of anything we must rightly prioritize it. While he specifically cites literature and the arts in his example, the principle extends to all disciplines:

Until modern times, nobody ever suggested that literature and the arts were an end in themselves…[Once] we began to ‘take [them] seriously’ the result seems to have been a dislocation [where] we value too highly a real, but subordinate good [and] we have come near to losing that good itself…You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.

Good Christian education understands this because it begins with the confession thatthe earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (Psalm 24:1-2). Our worldview is not only the best explanation for reality, but it also rightly places that reality where it belongs– under God. And so the next time you are tempted to believe that your child’s education is something that must simply be endured until graduation, I encourage you to consider what’s at stake. When used as an instrument in the hands of our God, education means thriving not simply surviving.