It’s hard to make theory (or theology) and practice match.
Recent experiences have drawn my thoughts toward the questions of how NCS as a school can better serve minorities, underprivileged, marginalized, and learning disabled students. It’s like the fences just keep getting higher. Everything about the private school model screams NO TRESPASSING.
The classical school movement — and the Christian school movement in general — hasn’t always done the best job reaching out to those who are not “like us.”
Let’s face it: My church has a lot of white, upper-middle-class professionals in it. The religious diversity among the school community represents a few more evangelical traditions, but everybody is still very much “the same.” Nobody has a tattoo or crazy haircut. Most of the minorities are here because they’ve been adopted (and that’s great — don’t get me wrong). But everyone is basically, homogeneously white.
Our mascot should be a gallon of milk.
How do we explode the fences? So much of Christ’s ministry targeted the poor, the sick, the needy, the helpless.
But He didn’t have to pay a light bill, buy books, maintain a facility, or meet payroll. Our Christian educational ministries suffer from the economic realities of life in this world. A school is expensive (time, money, emotional investment, wear and tear).
Let’s say for argument’s sake that an Andersonian millionaire dies and bequeaths NCS a million dollars for scholarships and student aid. Great. But we haven’t removed the barriers just by offering scholarships.
Some of our scholarship kids live on the “wrong” side of town. What if mom doesn’t have a car or the gas money to run a kid back and forth to school everyday? The main school population doesn’t live on south or west Anderson. Who’s going to get these kids to school and home again? What busy family is going to leave home 20 minutes early to drive all the way across town to do a favor?
What about extra-curricular activities?
I can relate to this one …. I grew up on top of a mountain in western Pennsylvania surrounded by frightening, stereotypical “mountain” people. My family had one working car, and my mom always had it at work 30 minutes in the wrong direction. I never participated in any ex/cr things at school because I didn’t have a ride home. At least NCS has a pretty good tradition of faculty members pitching in to give rides … I remember my 8th grade English teacher driving me home after we went to a Shakespeare play at a local Penn State campus (one of the only two professional, live, theater performances I saw during my schooling in PA). After the field trip, Mrs Shawley put me in her blue Ford Escort and gingerly picked her way up the winding mountain roads to my house (buried in the middle of the woods — she could probably hear banjo music…. lol). The whole ordeal seemed SO awkward for her and for me and for my dad, who was embarrassed that he had no way to pick me up after school on his own.
My family was poor. I’ll say it straight up. My dad had a good job at a steel mill an hour away until he woke up one morning half-blind, with no explanation. I was in 2nd grade. He lost his job immediately (but retained a pension). His income was cut by 2/3. My mom became the sole breadwinner, and from that point on I’m not really sure how she paid all the bills or how we had money to eat. I *really* don’t know how they paid for my Christian school tuition. (That’s probably why we didn’t have much to eat. My dad could cook supper for us through an entire week on $30 of groceries.)
Every day at school at NCS brings constant reminders to some of my students that they aren’t privileged enough to own an iPod or have enough spare cash to spring for YoGo’s after school on a whim. The big field trips in October are an insurmountable barrier. I understand. My family never went on a single vacation. We couldn’t afford it. And that’s ok. I had a good life, good parents, good friends. But if something cost more than $50, the answer was no. No letter jackets; no class ring; no extra trips.
Simply providing a gateway into the private school full of upper-middle-class kids isn’t enough. We need to rally around whole families to fill in the gaps of a support network that most Christian families just take for granted
What about students set apart by learning disabilities? Again, Christian schools usually can’t afford to hire the necessary special education staff to properly handle kids with significant learning problems. Dyslexia. Dysgraphia. Processing issues. Major reading deficiencies. Kids who don’t ‘get’ math or grammar.
Shouldn’t we be able to craft Christian schools that offer a place to all of the household of faith? Did God abandon some parents and some kids to wander in an unhelpful education system because their kids don’t score at the top of the charts?
Praise God, NCS does not follow the popular philosophy of some classical schools to worship “rigor” above humanity, to screen applicants with a standardized test so that only the “A students” remain. I thank God every day for the C students in my classroom, for the ones who have to struggle and fight for every.little.bit.of.progress — not because I want them to struggle (I hate it), but because those kids are the beautiful feet which will carry the Gospel of peace around the world.
“Smart kids” struggle against laziness and pride and arrogance. Instead, talk to the kid who knows he can’t get math without an extra hour of work. Talk to the kid who knows her reading comprehension is so weak that she will spend hours just trying to grasp a single assignment. You’ll usually find a very hard worker, a student who has learned that determination is worth a lot more than raw talent. Given a chance to actually learn, those kids will be Kingdom workers worth their weight in gold.
Blessed are the weak, for they will see the strength of God in their weakness. Shouldn’t our school somehow be a haven for those kids too?
I don’t have any answers here. I’m just rambling. I’m thankful for the good progress NCS has made on all fronts. I’m glad my classes are as diverse as they are.
But the issue is real.
We need to do more than open our doors and invite the poor, the needy, the struggling, the minorities, the Calvary Home kids to come to school.
We need to cross the road … and pave it.