In the general discussion surrounding schooling, there is an abundance of talk around the idea of “school reform” that focuses on raising standards and test-scores. This approach allegedly helps students be “college and career ready” or to help those in poverty climb up the “ladder to the middle class”. This view of reform is driven by the narrative of: study hard, pass the tests, get good grades so that you can go to college, graduate, get a job, make money and buy stuff.
The problem is that the statistics bear out a world where this narrative fails students at both ends (the poor and the rich alike): At one end (in Oklahoma City Public Schools) 35,000 students live at or below the poverty line, 2,000 students are homeless, and 300 children have at least one parent in prison. These statistics only tell half the story.
At the other end, for those in the upper socio-economic brackets, statistics tell a story of hidden despair: children in affluence are at the greatest risk for eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and suicide; upper middle class girls appear three times more likely to suffer from clinical depression than those from other socio-economic groups; students in affluence report significantly higher substance abuse than their inner-city counterparts; and, due to the excessive pressure to achieve, children in affluence manifest higher levels of anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation.1
In other words, with the current reform push of turning failing “poor” schools into “successful” well-funded schools with high test scores does not seem to be the answer. Even if every student achieved at the highest level, schooling would still miss the mark because the over-arching purpose for which we educate has not been addressed. We might have very smart people, but not wise. We would not have addressed what it means to do the very difficult work of choosing virtue, nor would we have discussed what it means to journey toward shaping a more peaceable world.
The challenge is to move beyond school “reform” to spend ourselves on behalf of school “redemption” and to rethink what it means to be well-educated from a Kingdom perspective, asking, “If God were in charge of educating children, what would that look like?” This effort takes into account a variety of school environments: public, private, Christian, higher education, and homeschool initiatives. We are driven by this overarching question: “How do we make the city we live in the best place to raise a child?” One approach to the mission would be to nurture a culture of learning by empowering effective efforts, engaging individual networks and talents, and generating momentum for new initiatives to realize flourishing communities.”
1 Children of the Affluent Challenges to Well-Being Suniya S. Luthar and Shawn J. Latendresse Curr Dir Psychol Sci. 2005 February; 14(1): 49–53.
The Price of Privilege. Madeline Levine. Harper Perennial, 2008
The Culture of Affluence: Psychological Costs of Material Wealth Suniya S. Luthar Child Dev. 2003; 74(6): 1581–1593.