If the foundational intent of education is helping students flourish as whole persons, then the big question is how to do this.
“I can’t just say to a kid, ‘Be good,’ ” says Christian education thought leader and consultant Dan Beerens, who has grappled with many schools seeking to answer this question.
He notes that in Christian schools an integral part of the answer is one’s faith in Jesus Christ.
“In Christian education we talk with kids about how did we get here, why are we here, what is our purpose.
“If that’s rooted in a relationship with Jesus Christ and a desire to live in ways that please Him and honour Him, and not because we’re saved by good works, but out of thankfulness we’re trying to follow His example and love others and do things that can look foolish — like loving our enemies,” this is where true flourishing begins, Beerens says.
Helping students flourish also requires schools and educators being committed to what he calls first-class, Beerens says, not to “look good,” but “out of gratitude for this salvation, this joy I feel in my heart.”
Christian schools also need to grapple with new thinking from educational theorists that schools need to focus more on creating entrepreneurial students, people who are inclined to be creative and innovative and come up with new things that help humanity.
The good news in this respect is even though this stems from an environment of upheaval, there are more tools than ever to help students, Beerens says.
He adds he is excited to see Christian schools across Canada delivering excellent education.
Several schools he’s worked with are introducing a project-based type of learning that allows for connection and coherence in terms of subject matter that is also proving highly motivational for students.
“These are schools that are leading the way for the rest; they’re helping their kids to flourish, to be more excited about learning, to act upon that desire to make a difference, giving lots of opportunities to see connections and so forth,” Beerens says.
A tool schools could find helpful in enacting their commitment to help students flourish is one Beerens has created as a measurement of sorts, 10 indications that students are flourishing.
Beerens says he’s encouraged educators to consider these in evaluating their performance, or having even the students do this.
One question from a teacher to a student might be, for instance, did I increase your passion for learning this year?
“I think the ideal is that I as an educator make all kids as passionate about the subject as I am,” Beerens says.
“Instead we have evidence that creativity declines from kindergarten on. We do too much narrowing down of kids, as opposed to helping them expand horizons.”
Beerens compares North America’s education approach to that of Finland, which has been recognized for its ability to create students who are flourishing. A fundamental distinction is that in America “if you’re not college-bound that’s somehow seen as less than,” whereas in Finland vocational aspirations are considered of equal value and in fact more financial investment often made into these programs.
“They’re just implementing the principle that all work is meaningful work, and it can all be used to benefit mankind and help mankind flourish,” Beerens says.
One final point he makes with respect to how Christian schools can help students flourish is that a shift in government funding could support the schools to do this better.
“I’m a strong believer, along with most of the other people in Christian education, that parents should be able to control how their tax dollars are spent. I realize this would come at tremendous political cost, of course, but I still think it’s a fundamental injustice.
“You look at Alberta, and they’ve given their parents vouchers, and I hardly see their province crumbling. In fact, the opposite; they get some of the top scores in education in the world.”