Educational Excellence

Several weeks ago, I was asked if I would write “a few paragraphs” on the topic of Educational Excellence as an introduction to the further exploration of Pacific Christian School’s mission statement that you will find in this edition of the Pacer Press. This set me wondering: What of worth could I possibly communicate in a few paragraphs on a topic that has filled many books and has been one of the primary visionary topics for Board discussion at PCS over the past year? As I thought about this, my mind kept returning to the ideas presented by Dr. Jamie Smith, a philosopher and professor at Calvin College who was the speaker at the Christian Schools Canada leadership conference last Fall. In his book, Imagining the Kingdom, Smith writes that a distinctly Christian Education has a unique mission. It is not just about informing students – ensuring that they gain the information and skills that allow them to advance to the next level of schooling or the workforce. It is, more importantly, about forming students’ entire beings. Smith describes Christian education as “a holistic education that not only provides knowledge but also shapes our fundamental orientation to the world.” He goes on to say that as students graduate from Christian schools, they “are sent into God’s good (but broken) world equipped with new intellectual reservoirs and skills for thinking; but ideally they are also sent out from the Christian [school] with new habits and desires and virtues. They will have been habituated to love God and his kingdom – to love God and desire what he wants for creation – and thus engage the world.”

Smith contends that for much of the modern age, we have emphasized the development of the mind and a Christian worldview. We have operated under the assumption that if we just teach people to think and believe the right things, right action will follow. However, this is based on a very incomplete picture of what a person is. As human beings, we are not just “brains on a stick,” as Smith puts it. Rather, we have bodies, feelings, emotions and desires. Formation and transformation must include our whole beings. Having the right ideas in our mind will only bear good fruit if our hearts and desires have become oriented to God’s good purposes for his creation:

Most of our action is not “pushed” by ideas or conclusions; rather, it grows out of our character and is in a sense ‘pulled’ out of us by our attraction to a [desired goal]. … If the alumni of Christian [schools] are going to be “prime citizens of the kingdom of God” who act in the world as agents of renewal and redemptive culture-making, then it is not enough to equip our intellects to merely think rightly about the world. We also need to recruit our imaginations. Our hearts need to be captured by a vision of [an end goal] that “pulls” out of us action that is directed toward the kingdom of God.”

Education Excellence – to the glory of God is the vision of Pacific Christian School. It is fleshed out in the mission of nurturing students in Christ-like living, critical thinking and joyful service to be faithful citizens in God’s world. This mission captures so well the necessity of an excellent Christian education to focus on the formation of all parts of our being. Yes, we must engage the mind (critical thinking), but also the character (Christ-like living). And practicing joyful service engages our actual physical bodies in a way that orients us to be people who love and serve. When we put this mission into practice as we engage subject matter, participate in athletics, create and perform art, plan schedules, set policies, and carry out the full breadth of activities involved in being an educational institution, we embark on an educational project that is truly formative – and this, I believe is the essence of Educational Excellence – to the glory of God.

Lorna Herzog PCS Secondary Assistant Principal

Note: all quotations are taken from: Smith, James K. A.  Imagining the Kingdom: how worship works. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.

January 20, 2016