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Karen Pence

The media flared up over reports last week that Karen Pence, wife of U.S. Vice Pres­ident Mike Pence, is now teaching at a Christian school that upholds tra­di­tional bib­lical views of sex­u­ality and mar­riage. Before long, #ExposeChris­tian­Schools became a trending hashtag on Twitter. The Cov­ington Catholic episode last weekend — in which the media over-hastily accused boys from the school of harassing a Native American — pushed Christian edu­cation further into a critical spot­light.

The shock-and-horror response toward Pence’s job from main­stream media was unwar­ranted: Immanuel Christian School, where Pence teaches, is much like other Christian schools of good rep­u­tation and is con­sistent with standard bib­lical teachings ascribed to by many churches. And Christian schools hardly form an under­ground cult; nearly 8 percent of American stu­dents go to reli­giously-affil­iated schools, according to data from the National Center for Edu­cation Sta­tistics.

But many Chris­tians’ responses in defense of Christian schools fell short, or even smacked of self-right­eousness. On Twitter, some responded with coun­terex­amples of their own good Christian-school expe­ri­ences. Others simply scathed the media for its igno­rance of Christian culture and beliefs.

The knee-jerk response is a shame and a missed oppor­tunity. For good or ill, the public eye is on Christian schools, and it’s offering a chance for them to educate the public on what they do well — and present Christian phi­losophy in a kinder light. It’s also a chance for self-reflection on their edu­cation methods and the ten­dencies to extremism that any close-knit culture can fall into.

Even from a secular stand­point, Christian schools have much to offer. A 2017 Gallup poll found that 63 percent of American adults gave church-related schools an “excellent” or “good” rating, com­pared to 44 percent for public schools. Stu­dents at private reli­gious schools score much higher on stan­dardized tests than those at public schools, and reli­gious schools excel with behav­ioral out­comes and narrow achievement gaps, according to the Council for American Private Edu­cation.

With smaller class sizes and teachers who sup­posedly share a faith that preaches loving your neighbor before yourself, Christian schools also — ideally — cul­tivate warm and even deep rela­tion­ships among stu­dents and faculty.

Christian school employees and grad­uates can tout these qual­ities, if true. But they can also take a moment to listen. Like any com­munity caught in its own echo chamber from time to time, Christian schools are liable to fall to extremes. Some­times these extremes are harmless or even funny, but some­times they become abuse.

On Twitter, the “expose” hashtag elicited responses ranging from uniform com­plaints (the skirt was an inch above my knee!), to bul­lying over sexual ori­en­tation, to no civil rights cov­erage in history class. These com­plaints aren’t ver­ified — nor widely applicable, nec­es­sarily — but they’re not unbe­lievable from schools that do uphold tra­di­tional views of mar­riage and focus on the Judeo-Christian her­itage.

Christian schools would do well to listen and evaluate, insofar as they may be at fault. How do you deal with the kid who comes out of the closet, or the girl who gets pregnant? How do you teach other stu­dents, who are young and foolish and judg­mental, to approach these peers? Do you give stu­dents an under­standing of cul­tures and people unlike them?

The portion of Immanuel Christian School’s “Essen­tials of the Faith” statement so abhorrent to the media pro­claims the school’s right to refuse admission to an applicant whose home envi­ronment opposes “the bib­lical lifestyle the school teaches,” including “par­tic­i­pating in, sup­porting, or con­doning sexual immorality, homo­sexual activity or bi-sexual activity.”

Of course this is repulsive to main­stream culture — though for Chris­tians, mar­riage between a man and a woman is a com­monly-held point of doc­trine. It is also not the only point of doc­trine they hold; in the same para­graph, even, Immanuel Christian empha­sizes that “con­tu­ma­cious behavior” and “divisive conduct” are also not part of a bib­lical lifestyle. Those are much more acceptable to our culture.

Somehow, schools must uphold rigid and cul­turally-unpopular prin­ciples without degrading those who break them. Some have suc­ceeded at this balance, but many have not.

Christian schools should take pride in their bib­lical prin­ciples and aca­demic strengths, but be wary that such an emphasis can destroy humility and push stu­dents’ iden­tities into the wrong places. While holding a strong stance on sex­u­ality, they must guide stu­dents away from self-right­eousness and pride and teach them to rec­ognize their own sin. They should teach God’s prov­i­dence but acknowledge the mental and physical hard­ships that some stu­dents face, which can be over­looked in private-school com­mu­nities.

From the Christian school I attended K-12, the most lasting impact came from teachers who demon­strated kindness and self-sac­rifice toward me and my peers. They care about our lives still. But I know that this counter-example does not negate all the com­plaints about Christian schools. And not all of my peers felt the same way about the school I went to — some­times because of their own faults, but some­times, perhaps, because the school could have tried to better under­stand them.

The greatest asset that a truly Christian school has is Christ and his love. Focusing on him in the midst of antag­onism and scrutiny might soothe those who smell a cult and redirect those Chris­tians who have gone astray.

Nicole Ault is a senior studying Eco­nomics.

 

  • Jen­nifer Melfi

    secular stand­point is the only stand­point that matters. Hillsdale was a secular school until 2015. Focusing on the private aspect of student lives, as described above, is very hard to do well. It leads to most of the issues which draw people into the camp against any private insti­tution. Hillsdale itself should be con­cerned con­sid­ering the scandal of Pres­ident Roche.