Welcome to this special issue of the Christian Educators Journal. Much of the content of this issue is drawn from the recently completed first phase of the Cardus Education Survey. We appreciate the willingness of the researchers at Cardus to share this important material with us, and we trust that it will be helpful to all Christian educators, as we reflect on what we do and why we do it.
Gary VanArragon, Editor
Cardus extends its thanks to the editor of the Christian Educators Journal for inviting us to guest-edit this special issue. We will spend this edition on academic adaptations and popular applications of the recently-released Cardus Education Survey Phase I report—available free online at www.carduseducationsurvey.com.
The Cardus Education Survey (CES) is North America’s largest-ever study of Christian education. It aims to lend credible facts to our instincts on Christian K–12 schooling, focusing on students’ spiritual formation, cultural engagement, and academic development. A reflection on this study’s importance for CEJ readers is in the first feature piece of this issue.
What is Cardus, and why are we studying Christian education? Cardus (formerly known as the Work Research Foundation) began its mission of “renewing North America’s social architecture” in 2000. Public square dialogue in North America at that time was focused almost exclusively on two institutions as catalysts for solving social problems: governments and markets. Other social institutions that make less measurable (but arguably more important) contributions to our prosperity and shared lives together—such as families, churches, labor unions, business associations, community groups—were understood as primarily private institutions. They belonged to and served only their members, and their public “good” was considered incidental or, more commonly, ignored altogether.
Cardus sought at its founding to establish a voice in contemporary North American dialogue that was public, credible, and Christian. Our target was not simply to stimulate and motivate those who were likely to agree with us, but rather to engage those most likely to disagree. We needed winsome arguments, backed by credible research, which would force cultural leaders—journalists, politicians, artists, business entrepreneurs, city planners, educators—to reconsider what two thousand years of Christian social thought could mean for today’s common good. At a time when faith was being pushed to the social margins, we wanted to articulate the core convictions of our faith and their public implications.
A three-fold strategy drives the work of Cardus today. Recognizing that culture change is a project wherein success is measured in decades, we produce publications. Comment magazine, our flagship journal since 1983, focuses on making the connections between faith and everyday life in a way that engages the next generation of leaders. Comment is, of necessity, more explicit in its faith articulation. We have added various publications typically written with careful, more public language (Cardus Policy in Public, an occasional public policy journal; LexView, a bimonthly legal analysis; Cardus Audio, a biannual CD and podcast; and the recently launched Convivium, a bimonthly magazine with a current-events focus). Throw in our daily blog and the complete searchable archives of all of the above available at www.cardus.ca, and we have made some progress in providing the community with resources to consider the issues of the day thoughtfully.
The Cardus Education Survey (CES) fits into the second part of our strategy: research. Recognizing that the hook into becoming part of the public conversation is having something to say about the issues, but wanting to do so in a way that changes and does not simply pile on to the conversation, we choose strategically a limited number of research areas in which we make arguments that otherwise would not be made in the public square. We study work and economics; faith communities’ contributions to urban and municipal life; charitable giving and volunteering; and the intersection of education and culture, the last of which brings Cardus to the pages of this journal.
We began our foray into Christian education in 2007. Our predisposition to “measure” prompted us to take up the challenge of a long-time funder of Christian education who wondered what sort of return was being received on the millions invested in Christian schooling. We convened a conference that included the leaders of virtually every North American Christian school association (CSI; ACSI; denominational school groups including Protestant, Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Seventh Day Adventist; homeschoolers; etc.) to explore how success in Christian education might be measured. Two surprises emerged from that conversation. First, there was no commonly available set of data that could be relied upon. Second, there was strikingly little interaction and cross-fertilization of ideas between the various segments of the Christian school community. Many groups were struggling with similar questions, but were scarcely aware of it. They had rarely heard of, let alone utilized the insights that others in the Christian education community might provide.
And so our Christian education project began in earnest. Four years and $1.1 million later—with the help of five university teams (most notably the University of Notre Dame) that surveyed on our behalf the largest-ever representative sample of Christian school graduates and principals—we have been able to put into the public domain a study that has started a new conversation within the Christian education community.
CES research was organized around a central question: Is there an alignment between the objectives and the outcomes of Christian education, especially in the areas of academic achievement, spiritual formation, and cultural engagement? We surveyed twenty-three- to thirty-nine-year-olds who had graduated from Christian schools with a view to finding out not only what they thought about, but also what they had done with their Christian education. And because we studied not only outcomes but motivations, we also conducted a representative survey of school principals in Canada and the United States, which helped us understand that link further.
We recognized there was some risk in this venture. “What if the results are not favorable?” asked one Christian school leader in the early days. Our response: “If that is the case, would you not want to be the first to know, given that your life is being dedicated to the cause of Christian education?”
For those who support Christian education, the survey results provide an overall favorable narrative. Although there are many areas where improvements must be made, for the most part there is a strong alignment between the aspirations and the outcomes of Protestant Christian schools. Graduates can be described as “salt-of-the-earth” citizens who are the backbones of communities, although their public and political impact is minimal. They are making positive contributions to society, although when considered against the potential, this contribution is more modest than we might hope for or expect.
This 2011 CES report is “Phase I” of our Christian education work, and it has set a comprehensive starting point (benchmark) for continued conversation. In a cultural context where freedom for Christian education is sometimes threatened and faith-based schools are seen by some to be socially divisive, we now have articulate arguments and a reliable data set making the case that, in fact, Christian schools are contributing to the public good. This data set also challenges us within the Christian school community to reflect on our practices, and to learn from each other, so that we can more fully realize our potential.
Having put our hand to the plough, we now look to “Phase II” of the project. Cardus is preparing to gather in 2012 a similar data set from Canadian graduates of Christian education with a view to comparing the results on either side of the 49th parallel. We will also undertake further qualitative studies, similar to the ones described in the following pages of this magazine on race, leadership, spiritual formation, and cultural engagement. Some of the homeschool findings of our study, which conflict with much existing data on homeschooling, need more in-depth examination. The entire question of the relationship between spiritual formation and academic achievement, which could be interpreted to be in tension, needs further exploration.
But in this, Cardus does not intend to proceed alone. I already mentioned the first two aspects of Cardus’s mission of renewing social architecture. The third part of our strategy involves networking. We do not pretend to have all of the answers, nor do we wish to duplicate or replace the good work already done by the many other Christian organizations with whom we intersect. Instead, we hope to serve other organizations and help make connections so that we learn from each other and, in that way, make our collective voice more effective and credible.
This issue of the Christian Educators Journal is just one expression of that networking, and we hope that you find the results in these pages to be of real help as you carry out your important callings in Christian education. Again, we thank the editors of CEJ for providing Cardus this opportunity to share not only our study of Christian education, but to introduce the CEJ readership to the range of resources spinning through Cardus that may be of assistance in carrying out Christian education. May this be the start of a long and fruitful conversation.
If you are not familiar with Cardus, we are a nonprofit headquartered physically in Hamilton, Ontario, and online at www.cardus.ca. Cardus’s material is available free online or at cost in print. Do look at the variety of email newsletters relevant to your interests, and travel with us on this next leg of the journey.