Public Square & Theology 101

When It Comes to Shaping Students, Do We Have the Right Priorities?

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What was your favorite part of school? For me, I loved the excuse to read great authors and talk about ideas. This would be shortly followed by my opportunities to participate in sports and orchestra.

On a recent visit by IFWE staff to Cornerstone Schools in Washington, DC, the response to this question was very different.

As we walked through the halls on Friday morning, Executive Director Derrick Max would snag a boy or girl on their way to the drinking fountain and ask them to tell a bit about themselves and why they enjoyed going to Cornerstone.

Many recounted their transition from their old school, explaining how much better the Cornerstone teachers are and how excited they are about the new opportunities. But their excitement about the opportunities was prefaced by one thing:

My favorite part about school is learning about God.

It was humbling to hear.

I grew up in a Christian home, and God was first and foremost in our Sunday schedules. But if you had asked me before I got to college what my favorite—or even most memorable—part of school was, I would not have said God. Conversely, if you had asked my parents what they desired most for my education, God would have been on the top of their list.

Polarizing Priorities

As it happens, my parents aren’t alone in their desire for me to learn about God. Pew Research surveyed a whole bunch of American adults about what they want taught to their children, and quite a few agreed with my parents.

  • Among those who are consistently conservative, 81% think it is especially important to teach children religious faith, and 59% say it is one of the three most important of the twelve qualities.
  • Among the general public, responsibility is the most universally valued quality to teach children: 93% say teaching children responsibility is “especially important” and 55% rate this as the most important.
  • Empathy for others, curiosity, and creativity rank very high for liberals, while conservatives emphasized religious faith and hard work.

Perhaps not surprisingly, if you were to ask these questions to an equally weighted group of liberals and conservatives, you would find they would overwhelmingly agree that they desire the best for their children. They just have different priorities for how to get them there.

Each parent is trying to mold his or her child into the best son or daughter, sibling, friend, neighbor, and citizen that he or she can be, but this study shows that parents’ perceptions of the importance of each quality are very different.

The Right Priorities

As I reflect on this data, I can’t help but notice that those qualities that are most outward focused are most highly prized. We – and I speak not as a parent but as a daughter, friend, and neighbor – desire our children and neighbors to be invested in the community as a whole.

It’s all very well for children to be high achieving, but if it’s simply for selfish gain, what is it truly worth?

Qualities such as empathy for others and helping others are admirable, and they should be pursued. But they should be pursued secondarily.

When we seek first a relationship with Christ and all that that entails, the rest of our life falls into order. The children at Cornerstone needed to understand their worth and purpose before God before they could realize their academic talents or reach out to help others.

In a way, this is similar to how our callings are ordered. First is the primary call to Christ, and after that, our secondary callings to work, family, church, and community fall into place.

Flourishing comes about when we surrender our talents and efforts for the glory of God and the bettering of others around us. This is why the parents of children attending Cornerstone Schools understand the spiritual, monetary, and time contributions expected of them. This is why, when asked what they liked most about Cornerstone, the kids all pointed to God.

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