The Cardus Education Survey (CES) has been on tour. For the last three months I have been discussing the impact of the public and independent school sectors on North America’s graduates with Christian educators across Canada and the USA. Along the way I’ve been privileged to witness the beauty of a salmon run on Vancouver Island, the splendor of the Canadian Rockies, and the eerie majesty of the Grand Canyon.
The CES is the only national survey commenting on the contribution of graduates from religious and independent schools to the public life of the nation. Once again, the survey has confirmed findings that undermine the somewhat persistent stereotype that Christians schools are socially and politically divisive. Independent Christian school graduates are more likely than public school graduates to feel responsible for helping those in need and more willing to volunteer in their communities.
Mark Twain wrote that “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.” Christian schools look different in all of the places I’ve visited. Some are fully funded by government whilst others are resourced by the sacrificial giving of parent and community. Some schools are celebrating their 50th anniversaries, having started in someone’s living room and grown into three campuses, others are sparkly new academies in purpose-built learning environments. Still others host churches and community centre programs in their midst. In many neighborhoods across North America, Christian schools are welcomed as trusted friends within the community they serve. However, within the political sphere, Christian schools – and indeed religious schools of all stripes – are becoming the casualty of a secular liberal project intent on pushing all things religious to the fringes of public life. When you pull at a fringe there is a danger that the whole beautiful weave and thread of the fabric will become unraveled. Education is a significant part, for good or for ill, of equipping us to live well together in the public sphere.
When travelling is done well, it promotes far more reflection and listening than talking and consuming. The CES tour has been a listening and a looking exercise for all those involved in Christian education. One of the unique contributions this research makes is in enabling each school sector, whether independent or separate Catholic (in Canada), Protestant, independent non-religious, or public, to see the profiles of the graduates who have emerged from their systems. The Cardus survey reports school sector examines the academic, cultural, social, political, and religious outcomes of graduates. It is important to able to talk in meaningful ways about how your education influences the kind of a person you will become, including but not limited to, the amount of money you will earn and the kind of job you will do. Our school sectors and our graduates should be able to see themselves in the Cardus Education Survey; what are they hearing about the contribution of their school sector to the broader educational landscape in Canada and the United States of America?
Johanna Admiraal, a first-year undergraduate student at Michigan’s Calvin College, is an example of a Christian school graduate who has been able to see her education journey reflected in our data. Johanna heard me present the Cardus Education Survey findings and was gracious enough to share with me her response to my presentation. She has given her permission for us to quote from her piece at length. Johanna was homeschooled in Ohio and Switzerland, and attended a British international school, as well as Christian and public schools in the U.S. She speaks from a unique position, having personally travelled through a remarkably varied educational landscape. This is what she saw and heard in the Cardus Education Survey:
I found Dr. Beth Green's lecture on the results of Cardus's most recent education study fascinating. Although Cardus researches both in the United States and in Canada, this presentation focused on the 2016 Canada study, comparing the outcomes of Christian education to the outcomes of public education. Controlling for familial influence, the research demonstrated the effects of Christian and public education, both in terms of Academic achievement and civic/social involvement. I found the findings both interesting and, in many cases, astonishing. One statistic that stuck out to me was that graduates of Christian education are more likely to volunteer, go on missions trips, and feel responsibility for others than graduates of public education. Both groups were equally as likely to donate money to charities and organizations. The reason I found this fascinating is because it reveals much about the lessons different types of school teach children. Donating is good and necessary, but it is not as others-oriented as volunteering. Volunteering is valuable in that it involves investment of time, energy, and emotion -- often when investment is difficult. Volunteering forces a person down into the messiness of humanity. It helps both the one volunteering (in that it develops valuable character qualities) and the one for whom the service was originally intended. Volunteering is a Christian value that encourages social compassion. Our Christian schools may be failing in some aspects, but in encouragement of social compassion and responsibility, they seem to be thriving. The purpose of education is certainly instruction in purely academic areas such as STEM and the humanities; however, as a future teacher, I strive to keep in mind that it is much more than just academics. Education is a means to a change...a societal change...a world change. According to Cardus's data, its impact on the hearts, minds, and future lives of children is incalculable.
Calvin College is helping Johanna reflect on her own vocation – her calling to become a teacher in the public school system. Johanna has seen in our findings the tremendous potential of North America’s Christian schools to re-enforce habits associated with cohesive family life and patterns of generous giving and volunteering above and beyond the religious community. Johanna’s reflection is encouraging, not least because she is starting out her own journey as an educator who wants to embody these qualities. Johanna has also prompted me to think about the challenges our survey data presents to the Christian school sector. When Johanna writes about the ‘failings’ of Christian education, she is talking in part about the close alignment of our graduates, notably academic outcomes, and asking whether there are in fact areas where we might expect Christian school graduates to demonstrate a more distinctive profile than they do? The Cardus Education Program is committed to resourcing the conversation about teaching and learning, governance, leadership, and policy innovation in education with robust empirical data. Engaging in this kind of research is one of the ways to travel well together and cultivate charitable and wholesome public life.