Thursday, November 24, 2011
Why faith schools are hot
There is a really interesting article in North and South, a New Zealand magazine. Titled “Brand Catholic: A (Not so) Private education,” (Joanna Wane, 40-52, North and South, November, 2011) it explores the reasons for the popularity of faith-based schools.
It notes the irony, that “[Western society] may indeed be an increasingly godless society …. Yet despite that spiritual drift, parents are flocking to faith-based schools, with one Auckland principal describing Catholic education as a “very hot” brand.” (42)
While peculiar to New Zealand (where private schools can chose to integrate with the government, thus qualify for government funding, while retaining a “special character.”), the place of faith-based schools is also a crucial part of mission in other countries, like Australia.
So why are these schools hot?
One suggestion is that this is part of a cultural shift toward a values-based education. “There is a lot of hopelessness around in the world today. In a faith-based school, you can provide meaning and hope in the lives of kids in a way that you can’t in a school that has to be basically secular.” says Pat Lynch from Association of Integrated Schools (44).
A second is that they are a great greenhouse. Says one parent of a Catholic school, “It’s a very nurturing environment and by and large the girls come out with a nicer worldview that from the private schools.” (42).
A third suggestion it that it is because of an underlying pragmatism. They are good value of money. They show quality academic performance indicators, all at a cheaper rate than independent private schools.
Not everyone is convinced that being hot is positive. New Zealand PPTA President Robin Duff expresses concern over the potential for group think and asks whether government money should be spent on potentially sectarian communities.
Yet a contrasting experience is noted by a non-believing teacher at a Catholic school, who shared in the article how comforting it was for her to be in a close-knit community in the days following the Christchurch earthquake (46).
As a missiologist and as someone interested in fresh expressions, the article clarified for me a number of questions around the relationship between faith and community.
- Are faith-based schools a “soft” expression of Christendom, in which the school becomes a “carrot”, used by churches to enforce church attendance upon families seeking admittance?
- Are faith-based schools in fact a new form of church – offering formation, care and mission? Is this a logical place for fresh expressions? Or does this simply increase the dangers of group think? And how would inter-generational relationships work in the complexity of being a teenager today (going to church at school with my parent!)
- How should faith-based schools connect with the ministry of the surrounding local churches? What is the impact for the local church when the school does Easter and Christmas, in term ie before the holidays, perhaps better than the local church?In a network society, should parents who send their children to faith-based schools be taking a break from their local church?
Lots of room for further (post-graduate) research me thinks!
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