American Education, A School that Works, and Romans 12:2 (by Bill Raynor)
As a long-time faculty member in the nation’s largest public university system, I have observed many of the challenges facing education in our country. Students leaving the K-12 system and entering higher education are different than previous generations. This seems especially true when it comes to level of preparedness, focus / direction, and work ethic. How will our kids compete in a global economy that increasingly places a premium on knowledge and education?
Certainly the reasons for the K-12 problem are complex, and real solutions that are effective seem equally complicated. There is a personal example I am aware of however, that really works well.
For the past couple of years, my son has attended Oneonta Community Christian School (OCCS) in upstate New York. I also serve on the Board at OCCS which is non-denominational focusing on Christian values and academics. OCCS students are often ahead of their outside peers and graduates have gone on to attend prestigious universities. The K-12 school is small in size (only 60-70 students at any given time), so it is literally like going back to the one-room school house. There is a family atmosphere where teachers and parents not only watch out for their own kids, but the other kids as well. In fact, the kids watch out for the other kids. My son thrives at OCCS and actually looks forward to going to school. He does his homework without being prompted (most of the time), and often completes assignments ahead of deadline. He has developed a desire to learn and knows it is one of his responsibilities. He is competing 7th grade but can easily handle some of the quantitative problems in a freshman college course. I could not be more grateful to OCCS.
What else makes OCCS so successful? A big factor is the holistic view that students, parents, teachers, and staff have towards life in general (not just academics). For people of faith (and the OCCS community is highly faith oriented), this is the opposite of compartmentalizing. The parents are not only engaged in their child’s education, but in the operation of the school, fund raisers, PTA meetings, etc. OCCS students not only excel in academics, but grow spiritually and learn to support each other in a loving and caring way. Academics are enhanced because other areas of life that impact the learning environment are enhanced. In fact, OCCS is a fun place to be with all types of activities going on: music, sports, social functions, etc.
At OCCS, the teachers are our unsung heroes because they work tirelessly on behalf of our children. They do this for a fraction of the salary at public schools (money is not their primary motivator anyway). They do this because they want to be there – they have a “calling” to be there. They encourage students to work together and support each other. It is not unusual for my son to seek advice from students in higher grades – and students in lower grades have come to him for assistance. Last month when he was home sick for a few days, the teacher and entire class called to check in on him. If somebody is having a difficult day, there are many people around for a friendly hug. It is that kind of a place.
Many individuals have written about incorporating faith in other areas of life. Ken Eldred did it in his book The Integrated Life. Dr. John Coverdale (who taught at Princeton, Northwestern, and Seaton Hall) did it with his books on Opus Dei and Catholic doctrine. The Catholic Framework for Economic Life (CFEL) was a reference point for me on previous articles, and many others had their own way of approaching the topic.
Because faith is at the center of all aspects of OCCS, a favorite scriptural verse often comes to mind. Romans 12-2: says “Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God – what is good and is pleasing to Him, and is perfect”. When thinking of the conforming vs. transforming aspects in Romans 12:2, I often conceptualize it in graphical form:
The four quadrants of Romans 12:2 can be applied to Christian schools like OCCS:
- Quadrant 1 is the most desirable (high faith transforming / low world values conforming).
Almost everyone I know in the OCCS community falls into this quadrant. They are living the holistic life: transformed by faith and rejecting external values inconsistent with Christian beliefs. Nothing is compartmentalized. OCCS is effective because they allow students to be transformed in a positive direction instead of being adversely impacted by negative external cultural forces. Because faith is integrated everywhere, sports, music, social activities (and academics of course) start reinforcing each other. There is a synergy effect because everyone at OCCS has similar values and goals. They are all on the same page – working together, and supporting each other to educate children consistent with the faith we all share.
- Quadrant 2 (high faith transforming / high world values conforming)
Is it possible for faith-based schools (and other institutions) to be transformed by faith, but also conforming to values external to faith? Some would argue no because that would not meet the true definition of transformation. I believe it is possible however, and these institutions would fall into Quadrant 2. An example would be a Christian school that spends too much money needlessly on excessively elaborate facilities (high conforming to culture). The school is attempting to project an image that may be desirable to the world, but not humble to God’s desires. The school may do a good job teaching Christian principles (high transformation), but if money is being spent frivolously and inconsistently with faith values, then there is a problem. This is not the case at OCCS where facilities are modest which helps keeping costs low for parents. Thus, conforming to external standards of this type (or others) is “checked at the door” at OCCS.
- Quadrant 3 (low faith transforming / low world values conforming)
Is it possible for faith-based schools (and other institutions) to not really be implementing faith principles the way they should, but doing a reasonably good job of not conforming to external values? Again, some would argue no because that would not meet the true definition of transformation. I believe it is possible however, and these institutions would fall into Quadrant 3. Example: A Christian institution where administrators make sweeping judgments about faculty without knowing all the facts. Externally, the institution may appear to be adhering to their principles and not conforming to outside values (low conforming). Inwardly however, this institution is engaging in behavior that is not very Christian like (low transformation). Again, this is not the case at OCCS where everyone does their best to adhere to common faith principles.
- Quadrant 4 (low faith transforming / high world values conforming)
These would be institutions that are faith-based in name only (equivalent to many secular institutions in some ways).
Certainly I am not contending or advocating that good education is exclusively the domain of faith-based schools. There are obviously other schools and teachers out there that work hard and do their best at educating our youths. In fact, there were two teachers and one principal that really stood out when my son was in different public school systems. Having said this though, the good teachers and administrators often seem like they are in a system that is archaic and ineffective. This is the reason my wife and I searched for an alternative a few years ago. We came to learn for Christian schools to be effective however, they must operate in Quadrant 1 of the Romans 12:2 graph. In other words, they must practice what they preach.
My wife and I are fortunate because our son attends such a school. The school administration and parents support the teachers – and all are engaged on behalf of the kids. The students sense this, learn from it, and grow spiritually, academically, and in other ways. It is exciting to watch and I thank God OCCS is a true Romans 12-2 school.
Copyright ©2011 William Raynor. All rights reserved. Published here by permission.
Dr. William J. Raynor III is the Professor of Finance and International Business within then Business & Information Technology Department at State University of New York (SUNY) at Delhi.