themes in religious education

Inspired by many students’ struggles with the school system, I decided to write this post. This will be based on my personal experience, but I think they bring up very important trends that need to be verified and addressed. This is my  experience with the Christian private school system.

Since I entered pre-school, I have been enrolled in Christian education. I do not have any comments on the administration from elementary school, just vague memories of sitting in the principal’s office because of my demonstrative behavior, visits which were likely warranted.

In fifth grade, I moved from Portland Christian to Kings Way Christian. Throughout these middle and high school years, I would hear parents complain about a lack of communication between the administration and the students’ families. Rules would be enacted without consultation with the affected party to decide whether they would be necessary. The main example I can think of from high school was dress code, the situation of which changed so drastically without any notice, so many students received detention the first day of school for breaking rules with which they were not even informed.

The theme of poor communication extends still into my college years. Many changes have been made to campus without much student input, or without vetting a significant portion of the student population to find out who the change will affect. I believe that a shift in accountability needs to take place, where administration seeks a dialogue with students. Steps have been taken by the current HSU president to have an open door and listen to students who come to him, and I applaud that effort and think it is a huge step in the right direction.

However, the second theme I want to address is more fundamental to our stance as a religious institution. I have noticed that when a mistake is made in administration, there is a reluctance to admit it or rectify it; instead I have seen defensiveness and denial. In high school, I applied for the national Honor Society. I was denied, because a teacher’s testimony stated that I was not suited for an Honor Society due to my pretension and condescension. (I mean, I was pretentious and condescending, but I was also an ignorant 15 year old who used those traits to cover up my intense lack of self-esteem.) I was crushed. After my meeting informing me of my denial, another teacher asked me about the outcome. I informed them that I did not make it because I was reported to have poor character. They replied, “Well, maybe they have a point.” I ran out of the classroom crying.

That same teacher asked me to talk to them after school. I show up, and talk about how my feelings have been continually hurt in the classroom by the teacher whose testimony spoke against me. The teacher I was speaking with said that my version of events didn’t sound like that teacher, they were a good person, and it probably wasn’t intentional. Except that it felt extremely intentional.

Once other faculty members heard what happened to me (the same thing happened to several others) they encouraged me to reapply. I did reluctantly, and was accepted the second time. The initial issue with the testifying teacher was never addressed. No one admitted to making a mistake or mishandling the situation.

When students present an issue, administration should listen, not deflect or deny. When students cry for help, those in power should work to affect change or rectify the situation.

There is a mental and physical health crisis across the country in religious private education, at least as far as I have seen. If students are complaining, it is because they feel powerless to change the situation and they are hurting. If they are angry, it is because something is wrong that needs to be changed or addressed. More questions should be asked about private religious education, and why the themes of poor communication and deflection are so common across levels of education and geographic regions. As Christians, all institutions should seek to be examples of Christ’s love and agents of the Christ’s reform. Everyone should ask themselves if they are working towards those goals individually and communally. If not, then let’s get to work.