By Steve Tuit and Abby Zwart
A Psalter Hymnal on the piano bench. Delft plates or tiles on the wall. Lace valances over the windows. Wilhelmina peppermints during church services. Roast beef and mashed potatoes for Sunday dinner. Banket (or butter letter, depending on where you live) as a Christmastime treat.
For some of us, those images make deep connections. They evoke cozy family memories of growing up or of trips to Grandma’s house. If you’ve welcomed a person from a different background into your family, you may have caught yourself explaining some of those traditions to them: “Oh, we do that because . . .” And, you know, sometimes we can’t even give a reason.
For others of us, those images might just be quaint examples of someone else’s heritage—a culture that, to be honest, can sometimes feel just a little exclusive or overly sure of itself. Perhaps you see the value in those things or can make connections to similar traditions in your own history, but the specifics don’t have the same meaning for you. Even if you share the same underlying values of family and community, maybe you eat stollen at Christmas instead. Or baklava. Or bibingka. Or chin chin.
This issue of CEJ is about navigating the changing culture and values in our Christian school communities. Many of our readers are part of Christian schools that began in a specific ethno-religious subculture (one that was originally white, Reformed, and European), but in the last several decades, those school communities have transformed into multicultural, multinational, and even multireligious fusions of families from many different backgrounds. This shift has caused growing pains in many communities. Some members may feel the school has lost its unique vision (its saltiness, as Matthew 5:13 calls it), while others may feel the school has become too insular and out of touch with the secular world.
So what is a school to do? How can teachers and administrators and parents navigate a changing environment together, adapting to new norms while also maintaining the school’s original mission? Where’s the balance?
We’ll start by stepping back for the larger view on this change, and then we’ll zoom in on the experiences of two schools to see how they’ve navigated the changes in their communities. Then we’ll reflect on some aspects of those changes and how to best face them. We hope that, whatever your background, these discussions will enrich your ability to do the work God calls you to do in your unique place.
It took thirteen years as a Christian school parent to recognize what I love most about Christian schools: the relationships students form with dozens of unique, caring models of what it means to follow Christ. Looking back, I realize that those relationships are what I’ve always found most meaningful in the classroom, no matter which side of the desk I sat on. So thanks to the many teachers and colleagues who have modeled for me how to find a place in the kingdom of God, and thanks to the students who have let me do that in their lives.
What I value most about Christian education is the shared foundation it provides. Even when students (and teachers, and parents, and church members) disagree about the best way to fulfill God’s vision for the world, we can take comfort in the fact that we’re working toward a common goal: the welfare and flourishing of all of God’s creation. So whether they’re reading a novel or studying ecology or constructing a timeline, students know that their teachers are helping them construct a more nuanced understanding of this complex, broken, and hopeful world. I can’t imagine navigating this cultural moment without that sense of shared purpose.