What Type of School Did You Attend?

This post is from Helen Lee, author of the very fine book The Missional Mom: Living with Purpose at Home & in the World, and I hope you can read her book. Christianity Today recently sketched some conclusions of the Cardus Report that examined the results of Christian schools — Protestant and Catholic and homeschools. That report had some surprising results, and so Helen is going to help the Jesus Creed blog community think through some of that report, beginning today … but expect several posts in the future.

What type of school did you attend? And did it matter?

When it comes to education, I’ve experienced the gamut: I’m a product of public schools, two private non-religious colleges, and also a private Christian college. (I’ve always loved being in school!)

My kids, similarly, have been nurtured in a variety of settings, starting with private Christian preschools, then public elementary schools, and now they are being homeschooled. And like many parents, I sometimes wonder how much their educational context will ultimately shape them. How much will the choices my husband and I make in this area affect their future path?

If those are questions that interest you, take a look at the recently released Cardus Educational Survey, which surveyed about 3,000 graduates from a variety of school contexts (public school, private Catholic, private Protestant, private non-religious, and homeschooled) and attempted to determine the effect of high school context on a graduate’s future behaviors and beliefs.

In particular the report is trying to address the question of whether Christian private education is fulfilling the goals it has set out to accomplish–and whether those are the right goals to begin with.

Now, you can do as I initially did and comb through the report and the data, poke holes at the research process and data collection, then second-guess or affirm particular results depending on your own particular biases and previous experiences.

But I am no expert in any of these particular educational contexts, even if I have lived in and through a good number of them myself. So I wondered, how would educators and administrators from each of these groups respond to the report? What would they question and what would they affirm? I know I’ll find it useful to hear from professionals in the field with direct experience and knowledge of the issues and topics highlighted in the report, and I hope you feel the same.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be interviewing educators from these categories of schools and getting their feedback on the report, as well as discussing the current state and future trends in these particular school settings. And ultimately, we’ll want to affirm that which is special and unique about each educational context, while raising questions about that which can be improved in each setting.

So, feel free to read the report and comment below about your own educational experiences. I’d love to know what type of school you attended before college, and how did attending that school impact your 1) spiritual formation, 2) academic accomplishments, and 3) cultural engagement?

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • rjs

    Well downloading the document requires giving them personal information(name, email etc.) – I could give fake info, but instead I simply won’t read their report.

    Can you summarize their findings?

  • Diane

    I would echo the above comment. I find the topic fascinating however.

  • Scot McKnight
  • rjs

    The summary gives a taste – with homeschooling not faring too well.There is not much information though.

    I attended decent public schools, as did/do my children. There are environments and situations where we would have made other choices – but where we were this made the most sense and has been great for our kids.

  • rjs

    With respect to the three questions:

    1) spiritual formation: School was only relevant here in that it was always obvious that there were people, decent people, who held other views. School was neither formative nor destructive. Home, family, church provided the background for spiritual formation.

    2) academic accomplishments: They provided enough background and training.

    3) cultural engagement: Hard to say here – I am no activist.

  • http://www.themissionalmom.com Helen Lee

    I don’t recommend relying on the CT summary, as the results were inaccurately reported there. (For example, the conclusions that were given about homeschoolers were based on the survey’s attempt to isolate the impact of the school context; homeschoolers actually went on more missions trips, for example, than students in Catholic, non-religious private, or public schools, contrary to what the CT report indicates.)

    The intent of the report was primarily to learn about private Christian schools, and the impact of that school choice on the future behaviors of their graduates. The basic summary was quite positive with regards to the impact of attending Christian schools:

    “Christian school graduates are uniquely compliant, generous, outwardly focused individuals who stabilize their communities by their uncommon commitment to their families, their churches, and larger society. Graduates of Christian schools donate money significantly more than graduates of other schools, despite having lower household income. Similarly, graduates of Protestant Christian schools are more generous with their time, participating far more than their peers both in service trips for relief and development and in mission trips for evangelization.”

    The report also indicates that a private Christian school graduate ultimately makes family the top emphasis; is less engaged in politics, has more general direction in life, and is “a foundational, reliable, and indispensable member of society.”

    Other key results: “Catholic schools provide higher quality intellectual development…Protestant schools…are not advancing (students) to a higher education any more than their public school peers. Protestant school graduates attend less competitive colleges than both their Catholic and non-religious private school peers.”

    Final point: “We find the motivations and outcomes of Christian schools to be in large part accurately aligned, but we question whether the motivations of Christian schools ought to be re-evaluated to provide a more comprehensive institutional program for the families which they serve and the communities in which they operate.”

    So…there is a good amount of content here to chew on! I am looking forward to getting into these topics with administrators/teachers in these various contexts. Feel free to post questions that you hope we tackle!

  • http://www.themissionalmom.com Helen Lee

    (All quotes above come from the Cardus report, not the CT summary, to clarify.)

  • JohnM

    Does the report talk about where different types of schools (other than public) are more or less common? I mean in terms of region and/or type of community.

    As for my experience – small public school in the rural Midwest. I think there were about 38 people in my graduating class. Impact on spiritual formation? As with rjs #5, family and church provided the background. Cultural engagement and academic accomplishment I believe somewhat suffered because of how small the school system and surrounding community were. For one example, when I was in H.S. only one foriegn language – French – was offered at all, and as I remember no one wanted to take it anyway. There were far fewer courses and extra-curricular activities than in the H.S. my children attended.

  • http://www.inthewhisper.com Monica @ In the Whisper

    Ah, education. One of my growing passions.

    Hubby and I were both educated in relatively good public schools and attended public universities. Our oldest son is in public kindergarten, but we plan to homeschool in future years. Private school of any stripe is not an option for us because of the expense. Hubby is also currently studying (at a public university) to get his teaching degree.

    Common wisdom in our city is that the main difference between public/private schools is that the drugs are better at the private schools. While the Cardus report may say that Christian school graduates are “uniquely compliant, generous, outwardly focused individuals,” I would posit that much of this is done from guilt/shame or a “this is the way we live” mentality, rather than a devotion to Jesus. (Please make sure you read the MUCH part of that; of course I also know Christian school graduates that are devoted to Christ.)

    I look forward to reading the rest of this discussion, Helen. In my opinion, the thoughtful involvement of parents–seasoned with much prayer–has more of an effect on how our children grow up than which schools they attend.

  • http://www.themissionalmom.com Helen Lee

    The survey does not account for regional differences as far as I can tell. Wow, JohnM: 38 people in your class? Was it a close-knit community? I was part of a class of 500 in a public school setting, very competitive. High on academic accomplishment, low on spiritual formation, for certain!

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I attend large city public high school (graduating class close to 800). Attending a school like that is like living in any metro public area. You can find anyone and anything that interests you.

    1. Spiritual – my school was 50% Jewish and I was in advanced classes with them so my classes were probably 80% jewish. I appreciate/know them. I did not seek spiritual formation so I did not find it.

    2. Academic – the large (rich) Jewish base of my school made for excellent academics, and a terrible football team. The vast majority of my HS teachers had PhD’s and we were offered all the way through freshman college level in the school.

    3. Cultural engagement – Wonderful. It forced me to interact with a wide range of people and appreciate them all. My friends were people in my classes so I spent time in a wide variety of settings.

    So my kids go to a large public school, unfortunately it is much more homogeneous than the one I attended so they don’t get as much benefit.

  • Amos Paul

    I grew up in a small, private Protestant school setting. It was basically a complete failure for me. The learning style was extremely easy for me–so I hardly put in any effort. I grew up unquestioning as per my basic belief in God–but never motivated for any real discipleship or specific self-betterment. I could easily tell that the school’s style of Christianity was extremely cheesy and un-reasonable, and thus became very critical for quite awhile of most forms of Christianity.

    I appreciated my State University much more with the vast variety of peers from other contexts. Though those were also quite rocky as I, personally, had faith and life issues that I had complacently put off seriously caring about before. Really, though, it bothered me even there how pig-headed (blatant attacks on faith and other ideas for no real reason in un-related classes) and uncritical a lot of teachers were. My previous school had self-study… so I guess I’ve seen the benefit and detriment of both styles.

    I would say that school is critical in providing us with both intellectual and social character development by engaging us with the world. I personally believe that’s incredibly important, from lacking it in much of my early experience, but obviously I agree that public schools and universities can have their downfalls.

    Addendum: Not really surprised by the homeschool results. I’ve known/know several people who were homeschooled. Most turned out okay, but still resent the homeschooling. More of that delated social and intellectual engagement…

  • Chris

    “Now, you can do as I initially did and comb through the report and the data, poke holes at the research process and data collection, then second-guess or affirm particular results depending on your own particular biases and previous experiences.”

    That’s the whole fun in reading any report!

  • http://themissionalmom.com Helen Lee

    #9 Monica: Love what you said here: “In my opinion, the thoughtful involvement of parents–seasoned with much prayer–has more of an effect on how our children grow up than which schools they attend.” I tend to agree!

    #11 DRT, sounds like my high school! Large Jewish population, strong students, bad football team: we won not a single game my senior year! =)

    #12 Amos Paul, your experience in private Christian school supports what at least part of the survey results say. As for homeschoolers go, you need to read the actual Cardus report to see what it says…or wait for my future post on this area. =)

    #13 Chris, by all means poke away and come back to share your interpretation of the report!

  • http://www.fivedills.com/blog.html FiveDills

    I myself am a product of the public school system. I think I turned out okay even though I occasionally hear voices in my head. ;-) After high school I wasn’t quite ready for college. I entered into service with the United States Air Force for 6 years where I later received my undergrad degree in business administration through the GI Bill. Military schooling was just as good as the public schools if not better. Much later in life I went back to school earning my Masters in Biblical Studies at an unaccredited seminary online. Nevertheless, I found the educational experience productive and quite rewarding.

    My take on the public school system is this… I wish the public schools spent more time determining the students strengths and natural gifts, focusing more on these rather than forcing subject matter that the student may likely struggle with all along. I struggled through subjects that require concrete thinking (math, science, grammar, etc) but excelled at subjects that require abstract thinking (history, reading, language arts, art, etc). My grades suffered greatly as a result of doing poorly in those subjects that required concrete thinking thus lowering my GPA and limiting my choices for college. If the public schools spent a good amount of time analyzing the students strengths and empowering them to succeed at those strengths, I believe we would have far greater success with students in general.

    One last comment… we purposefully placed our children into the public school system because we have found it to be a decent option. But, more importantly we wanted our kids to begin integrating into society at an early age, mixing it up with kids of different race, gender, religious beliefs, ethnic groups, etc. Too often we see our friends homeschooling their children or isolating them strictly to Christian private schools where they have no interaction with the rest of the world. I believe this is a grave mistake that can hurt the child later on in life. If we don’t put Christian kids into public schools how else are non-believing kids going to hear or learn about Jesus? Both of my older kids actually helped lead a couple of non-believing students into a relationship with Christ by inviting them to VBS one summer. And, one school year my oldest son did an oral report about Martin Luther in his 5th grade social studies class, allowing him an opportunity to tell about Jesus to his entire class.

    Too often we isolate our kids and keep them within the cozy confines of our Christian communities. Is this what we are tasked with doing? The Jesus I understand tells me to mix it up with the world… be in the world but not of it. I hope and pray I see more Christian parents willing to step out in faith and allow their children to be a light in an otherwise darkened world. This, not to mention allowing opportunities for us parents to engage the public school system, not trying to change or oppose the system, but simply be the light that we are supposed to be.

  • rjs

    On homeschooling – although we have not chosen this option, I know many who have for a variety of reasons. As a non-scientific, anecdotal observation…

    When parents homeschool because they think they can provide a better educational experience the outcomes are often quite good. When parents homeschool to protect and control the things their children are exposed to and taught there are often problems of a variety of sorts …

    There are always exceptions to any generalization.

  • http://disorientedtheology.wordpress.com Paul A.

    I went to a tiny Protestant Christian private school from second grade through graduation from high school. I was first in a class of six, and our high school had about 30 students, so yeah. Tiny.

    I guess I hold some resentment toward the school. It was a failure academically, in my opinion, relying on the right-wing propaganda of A Beka Books and doing nothing to prepare students for college. The teachers were not certified, or even remotely qualified in some cases, and there were no guidance counselors.

    Spiritually, I would say only one of the six of us who graduated in 2000 had anything I would characterize as being close to a strong faith, and I knew her the least well, so I couldn’t say for certain. The school was affiliated with a NT-restorationist faith tradition that hews strictly to biblicism. as a result, students in the school tended to have academic notions of faith at best. There was no encouragement to engage in meaningful activities like helping the poor; it was all about who’s in/who’s out.

    Culturally, we were a conservative intellectual ghetto in the midst of a liberal, superficially Catholic culture (southern Connecticut). Opposing viewpoints were presented only to the extent they were required to be rebutted. Engaging the culture meant voting for the most conservative candidates possible and shaking our heads at all those who did not see the plain teachings of the Bible against all the things we thought were wrong.

    There were some truly loving teachers there, some of whom I have deep love and respect for. But I’m firmly convinced I’ve managed to graduate, go to college, earn a decent wage and move to a healthier place in my faith and relationships despite my high school education, not because of it.

    I know several home schoolers (I married one of them), and there are essentially no common threads between them other than that lone fact. Their personalities, interactions with others, levels of faith and cultural engagement are all completely different from each other. So I’m leery of generalizations of any kind on that subject. It really depends on the makeup of the child and the ability of the parents. My wife and all five of her siblings were home schooled. They have all turned out much different, and I can safely say it was a great choice for some of them, and a terrible choice for others.

  • Robin

    Helen (and others) how much can we understand about (current) public school outcomes from past public school outcomes since teachers contend that the entire public teaching universe has been turned upside down in the past 20 years. Teaching to the test, NCLB, massive changes in educational rules…all of these make me think that these results might not be helpful in making decisions for my children, depending on the time frame under review in the study.

  • Robin

    Monica @ In the Whisper,

    I don’t know if you are familiar with this option but there are lots of private/homeschool hybrid options. In our area Dorothy Sayers is a Classical Christian School and the kids are taught at school 2 days/week and at home 3 days/week. You can imagine that the tuition is much less than at regular private schools.

    That is moot if you just really want to homeschool, but if you wanted other options that might be more affordable I thought I would throw it out.

  • Robin

    I went to a rural public school. I’d give it a “C” on education, “D-F” in spiritual formation, and I don’t even know how to evaluate cultural engagement.

    I was bored throughout highschool academically, but even if I had lived 20 miles down the road and attended the highschool with 3,000 (instead of 700) I would have had as much academic stimulation as I could handle. Spiritual formation wouldn’t have been any different, it was a wasteland.

  • Joe Canner

    My wife and I went through public school and our kids have experience with homeschool (traditional and co-op), secular private school, and public school. As noted by several previously, homeschooling is not for every child and not for every family. Homeschooling through high school requires a great deal of money, time, dedication, and expertise on the part of the parent and a lot of self-motivation on the part of the student. Many homeschooling families that I know personally heavily supplement what they do at home with community college coursework. This does a good job of preparing them for college, but may not be an accurate representation of traditional homeschooling (except to the extent that this is typical practice).

    As for public school, the quality of education seems to depend in large part on where you are and whether you can get your kids in advanced (honors, GT, AP, etc.) classes.

  • http://www.justvisitinghere.blogspot.com Kathi

    I attended a public high school and started going to church when I was a sophomore. I wouldn’t say that was due to going to public school, but because we had a great church that reached out to high schoolers and supported us. When I told my school counselor that I was going to a private Christian school she asked me if that was the right choice.

    Private Christian college was a great experience and working on my masters at a state public school was a great challenge as well.

    I have two kids that I homeschool. Our goal is to at least school them through middle school and give them the choice to go to high school if they want. My oldest is starting 9th grade this year and she has decided to stay homeschooled. What I love about her being homeschooled in high school is that she has so many options available to her for her education. She would like to be a make-up artist, so she is going to “intern” at a salon. She also wants to take Russian and she will do that next year when she can enroll at the community college. As far as art, she is taking a class at a small private Christian school.

    My son, who is 5th grade, may not make the same choice for high school. He would just love to hang out with his neighborhood friends all day long. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there!

  • Jess

    Wow – this is very interesting!

    I’m South African, but from grade 1 to grade 9 I attended Christian schools that ran the ACE syllabus, so I grew up with an American influence and all that goes along with the ACE method.

    Up until about grade 7, I really loved the Christian school. It was as a 12 year old that I started to become resentful about the “fake” Christians and forced spirituality.

    When I arrived at a public high school in grade 10, I was significantly further ahead academically. I was able to work fairly independently and was very goal-oriented. I loved being in a bigger high school with more sports and activities! (especially team sports, which in our small Christian school was dismal!) I excelled in extra-curriculars and ended up as Deputy Head Girl -our school system is similar to the British one.

    Spiritually, when I arrived at the “government high school” (what we call public), I realised I had an opportunity to start with a blank slate. None of these people knew or cared what my faith was, and I could decide if I wanted to be known as a Christian. I can honestly say that my faith took a massive leap into authenticity and maturity as for the first time I truly owned what I believed. My final years of high school were amongst my most vibrant, growing years spiritually. I had a strong base from the Christian school and from my parents, and the non-Christian environment gave me the opportunity to engage with my faith without expectations.

    When I left high school, I went through the typical “slow fade” of drifting from my faith in university and came back to another season of growth and maturity in my final year at university.

    I’m now a youth pastor, my husband and I are in full time ministry together
    (he went to a private nonreligious school), and we’re trying to figure out what route we want to send our kids on.

    Looking forward to more of your analysis, Helen!

  • Pat Pope

    I attended Catholic school from kindergarten to grade 12 and then on to a private college. My brother, who is 8 years older, was educated in public school, but my parents didn’t think he was getting anything out of it and switched him to Catholic school.

    I was raised Baptist and my mother was devout. To my recollection there was no overt Catholicism taught in the schools even though I do remember attending mass. By the time I got to high school, the religion class was basic Christianity. So, I never waivered between Protestantism and Catholicism. I would say the basics that I got in school were undergirded at home and my mother was not the type to give over Christian education of her children to the school — or to the Church, for that matter.

    Academically, I felt I got a good education and there were standards to be abided by like the dress code, which I think were helpful.

    Cultural engagement was definitely there as I attended a Catholic kindegarten in an area that was experiencing white flight during the 60s and 70s, so I had white classmates and a white teacher. When I got to elementary and junior high, the classes were predominantly, if not all black. In high school, it was a different story because the school I attended was in a suburb that was known for its diversity. My classmates were white, black and I even remember an Iranian. They were also diverse socio-economically. There were girls (this was an all-girls school) from wealthy families, families that were on public assistance and everyone in between. I really am thankful for my experience with diversity and feel it has served me well over the years. One of my classmates was a Black Hebrew. So, cultural engagement was definitely there.

  • Barb

    I graduated from a public HS in a University town in Californiz. Education was held in high regard by the vast majority. at least 85 percent of my class went directly to a 4-year college (most of the rest to community college). I got a good education that prepared me for my college years. There was no expectation that school should provide spiritual development. Many of us went to various churches, and many who have carried on in the faith were part of a very alive Young Life club. BTW –this was 45 years ago.

    I went to a Christian college that gave me a great liberal arts education. I’m thrilled that my daughter choose to go there too (she’s a senior). Her public HS experience was different. A very ethnically diverse culture. What I learned as a parent was that in our area the “true Christians” homeschooled or sent their kids to private school and the Mormans not only sent their kids to public school, but they also filled all the voids left by the exiting “true Christians”. Why someone would rather homeschool than get involved in the public school always escaped me.

  • Dana Ames

    Public school all the way (1960s), in a rural California coastal town (except for K-1, when I lived in Montana and attended a Catholic school). Graduating class size was 172.

    Spiritual: There was some spiritual formation that took place in discussing important things with other students who were interested in God, some of whom, like me, were Catholic. The “Jesus Movement” hit in high school, so there were lots of casual opportunities; nothing official. My HS friends who had made a commitment to Christ were important in getting me to read the bible more, although I already liked doing that.

    Academic: Better than in most rural places. All the teachers were great; in the upper grades there was lots of room for individual study if you wanted. Our HS library was ranked among the top in the state for schools of our size. I was very well prepared for college, even without being able to take any AP classes.

    Cultural: So-so. San Francisco was only a few hours away, and one energetic Humanities/Foreign Language teacher made sure a busload of kids went to one of the museums there at least once a year. We had Community Concerts. Plenty of local amateur thespians and musicians. Large artist colony a few miles to the south, so always able to see “the latest” in that regard. Socially, our town was young enough to still have a fair number of immigrants, and we were mostly grandchildren and great-grands of the original settler generation. We had a large Hispanic minority, but they were considered “white”. We were pretty homogeneous except for income; though sometimes income disparity was obvious, I think there was not as wide a one as would be found in a more urban area. Personally, I was always curious and interested in meeting new people. I think that’s more a result of being raised in my family.

    There is a good Christian school where we live now, but we chose public school for our children. I did not want to homeschool, mainly because I feared I would be too hard on my kids, and we wanted them to engage with all kinds of people. Again, the teachers in our town are very good; several of our schools have won state awards. Biggest problem for my kids, as it was for me, was bullying/excessive teasing; that has not changed, unfortunately. From what I heard from other parents, I’m not convinced that would have been very much better at the Christian school.

    Dana

  • http://stumblingintograceagain.blogspot.com Leya

    I’ve only every attended public schools, and currently working on a masters degree.

    1) My schooling was extremely important to my spiritual formation. I didn’t grow up in a Christian family, but made close friends who were Christian in high school, and through them came to know Christ. I continued on to San Francisco State University (about as non-religious as non-religious education can get), it was in there that I really developed a healthy sense of questioning my beliefs while maintaining my faith. Given my extremely independent upbringing, and general distrust of authority, I don’t know if I would have made it through Christian schooling.

    2) Academically I’m happy with what I ended up with. I feel that I was introduced to a much broader range of ideas and people that I would have been exposed to in a Christian setting… as I generally work outside of the church (though not currently), it has been helpful to be on the same page as my non-religious coworkers when it comes to all things adolescent development.

    3) Cultural engagement means a lot of different things to different people. I feel that I am more able to engage with people who think and view things differently from myself. I don’t know how much that has to do with my formal education or just lived reality.

    Interesting study, I’m looking through it to see if I can use it for any of my classes this semester!

  • Steph

    I attended a private Christian school for high school after attending public schools. Spiritually, the program there has continued to impact me. Our eleventh grade curriculum covered the Life of Christ and our twelfth grade program addressed Romans. Tenth grade was “Old Testament.” The debate program that is now carried out through the English Department was then carried out under the Bible department, and so in twelfth grade we had organized student debates on the ordination of women and other church hot topics. (That’s the only one I remember as it was my assigned topic). Academically, it prepared me very well. The vast majority of us went on to college. I have a BA from Houghton (Christian liberal arts school) and MA from a state university. I think it fell short in terms of career preparation and awareness, though. (It was a mission-run school. Aside from missionaries and teachers, my career exposure was non-existent in the school context.) Culturally, it’s complicated. The school did not engage very well/often with the surrounding culture, but that has improved since then (the eighties) with concerted effort. We did not have a centralized campus, so that helped. But we were removed from a larger community. The express goal of the school was to prepare students for re-entry into North America, but N. America was very far away, seldom visited, and this was before the Internet age. The student body was culturally diverse but the school didn’t capitalize on that. Still, the diversity was there. Religiously, we were not diverse at all, in the sense that we were most all Protestant evangelicals. Still, several mission boards were responsible for the school, and so diverse viewpoints did exist, just not what I’d recognize as diverse now — exponentially less diverse than what I would use the term for now. Having so many different mission boards involved though probably did make us more theologically diverse than the average Christian school sponsored by a local church.

  • Karl

    Q-what type of school you attended before college?
    A: preK-12 I attended a private Christian school associated with a fundamentalist baptist church in my hometown.

    Q-how did attending that school impact your 1) spiritual formation,
    A: thankfully my family and home church impacted my spiritual formation as much as or more than my fundamentalist Xian school. But I still left with a fair amount of both spiritual and intellectual baggage especially in places where my parents and church had been (perhaps unintentionally) silent. When I decided to attend Wheaton College, the father of one of my school friends warned me about how Wheaton had in his opinion sold out to the world and I would be safer going to a state university where they were at least up front about being secular, rather than to a school that called itself Christian but had come loose from its moorings. I came out of that millieu without a cohesive view of spiritual formation but a lot of mixed up impressions, some of them probably good and many of them not. The idea of salvation as one-time decision (go up to the altar at the invitation) followed by multiple “rededications” . . . the idea of spirituality being marked by what “worldly sins” were avoided . . . and lots of other, typical fundamentalist conventions were all part of my spirituality from having them drilled into my head 5 days a week for 13 years, along with some healthier things I picked up almost by osmosis from my church and home. If the spirituality I saw modeled in my church and home had been more like that of my fundy school, I think I’d have had a much harder “landing” when I started to question much of the fundamentalist baggage and assumptions I’d brought out of my youth.

    Q-2) academic accomplishments?
    A: The quality of education I received at my fundy private Xian school was uneven, largely depending on the quality of the individual teacher. I had some stellar ones and some duds. Overall I think the quality of my education was on par with a typical public school education – not private prep school quality but not bottom-of-the-barrel either. We used the typical Bob Jones-driven curricula for private Xian schools for most subjects. Arriving at Wheaton I felt like many of my peers who had been through rigorous advanced/gifted programs in good public schools or (even more so) those who had been to private prep schools, were better prepared intellectually for college than I was. But I didn’t feel greatly disadvantaged compared to my class as a whole. I tested out of having to take any math in college (due to having an awesome math teacher in HS) and also tested out of my foreign language requirement only had to take 2 hours rather than 4 hours to fulfill my gen ed writing requirement. I was accepted by every college and university to which I applied including some nationally highly ranked schools that are more selective than Wheaton. Even though I have always “tested well” the teachers at my fundy christian high school should get at least some credit for those accomplishments. What my fundy education didn’t do very well was develop my critical thinking skills. It did develop my argument/debate skills, up to a point. But not the ability to listen empathetically and to critically examine even “received wisdom” nor the ability to weigh between two seemingly plausible or persuasive arguments, spotting the strong and weak points of each, seeing shades of grey. I had virtually no exposure to postmodern thought. So I had catch-up to do in those areas at Wheaton.

    Q-and 3) cultural engagement? Thankfully my non-fundy parents and non-fundy PCUSA church shaped my ideas on cultural engagement at least as much as my fundy school did. Even though I got plenty of fundamentalist input on avoiding corruption and “worldly things” from 13 years of fundamentalist baptist schooling and probably had all kinds of mixed and conflicting messages bouncing around in my head about what Christian cultural engagement should and shouldn’t look like, thanks to my parents and pastor I still emerged at 18 more influenced in those areas by the thinking of Francis Schaeffer and C.S. Lewis than that of Bob Jones or Jerry Falwell.

  • Karl

    “I can safely say it was a great choice for some of them, and a terrible choice for others.”

    This is true of homeschooling – even for kids from the same family who are taught by the same parent(s).

    But I believe it can also be truly stated of attending a small private Christian school (as I did), or a large competitive public school (as my wife did). Or most other educational options. Each option may be a great choice and experience for some kids, and a terrible choice and experience for others.

  • http://www.themissionalmom.com Helen Lee

    Fascinating to read your responses! I think one thing is certainly clear: it is hard to make generalizations about the value of one school context over another, because there are so many other factors involved (even though the Cardus study did try hard to isolate the school impact alone; but even that construct seemed forced and flawed at times.) Another point to note about the study, which the researchers clearly admitted, is that the results refer back to schools which the respondents attended anywhere from 6-21 years ago. So yes, to Robin’s (#18) point, this is one of the inherent weaknesses of the survey, that it is not really an accurate snapshot of education today. For this reason I’m hoping the interviews will help provide a more current perspective.

    Thanks for all your comments and participation. I look forward to posting the interviews as they become available!

  • JohnM

    Helen – I look forward to the interviews. Interesting subject. Late on this, but you asked if mine was a close knit community. I guess it depends on what you’d call close knit. In high school of course you knew everybody, but that didn’t stop kids from being mean to one another as much as anywhere else. As adults people are generally quite cordial and peaceable, though the men tend to be somewhat reserved. On the other hand, when somebody’s toes are stepped on, since you’re more likely to know the offender personally the animosity can be all the more personal.

  • Kenny Johnson

    I went to public schools. My K-6 education was fine, and except for 1 teacher (5th grade), I had good experiences. I was a bit of a shy and awkward kid. I didn’t really care for sports and as a teen got into computers (late 1980s). So Jr. High was rough for me. I got picked on a lot and dropped out of regular school and did public independent study. Tried going back to school in the 10th grade, but being out of regular school for about 2 years made it difficult. I dropped out again and did independent study until I was 18. I didn’t have enough high school credits to graduate so I got my GED at 19. Now, at 35 I’m currently working on a Master’s degree and don’t really struggle socially at all like I did as a young teen. I don’t know if any of this could really be blamed on public education, though.

    My son currently goes to a Christian pre-school, but we plan to send him to public school. The elementary school near our new house (rental) is highly rated. The Middle and High schools are moderately rated. Spiritual formation will have to come from home and church. Unfortunately, I’m kinda bad a being a leader there.

    As for the questions:
    1) spiritual formation: none and none from home or church either, 2) academic accomplishments: I did well academically, but poorly socially, and 3) cultural engagement: I’m not very active in the community.


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