I am finding a common emphasis being made in Christian schools today that, I believe, is very dangerous. On the surface, it may seem logical and maybe even commendable. However, if we study it carefully, we will find that this emphasis can be very deceptive and destructive. You may be asking, “What is this dangerous trend?”
It is the emphasis on “academic excellence”. WAIT! Before you stop reading, please know that I am not saying we shouldn’t be striving to do our best and, in turn, challenging our students to do their best in every area of life, including learning. The pursuit of “academic excellence” that I am witnessing is not about just doing our best at learning. It is about pursuing knowledge in order to gain the recognition and praise from the world.
In far too many Christian schools “academic excellence” is fast becoming an end in itself. It is not a means to a greater end but it sees the gaining of more knowledge and scoring higher on standardized tests as the ultimate goals of learning. Not only is this the ultimate goal of learning for many of our students but schools are also measuring their success by how well their students do on standardized tests, how many national merit scholars they produce and the universities their students have been accepted at.
Today’s idea of “academic excellence” is a far cry from what it was in earlier times. The high levels of education that many men and women achieved as far back as the 1400s have always amazed me. Even when our country was being established, you could find people who were entering the university by the time they became teenagers. Some were serving their country as ambassadors in foreign countries at an age when most of our hormone-crazed middleschoolers are laying on the sofa playing video games or absorbed in social media dribble.
What was the difference? It wasn’t because they had better facilities, teachers, technology, and instructional programs and strategies. The one thing they did have, that we don’t, was a comprehensive biblical worldview from which they derived their meaning for all of life, including learning. They weren’t striving for mere “academic excellence”. They were living out their biblical worldview in an effort to know God better and from that knowledge glorify God in all they did.
They believed Psalm 19 and Romans 1:20 to be true. So they craved to study all that God had made as a means to better know Him. In their efforts to do this, they excelled in their learning. Consider the following statements from some well-recognized scientists of the past who were also very strong Christians.
Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion…This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. Issac Newton
Great is God our Lord, great is His power and there is no end to His wisdom. Praise Him you heavens, glorify Him, sun and moon and you planets. For out of Him and through Him, and in Him are all things…. We know, oh, so little. To Him be the praise, the honor and the glory from eternity to eternity…Geometry is unique and eternal, a reflection from the mind of God. That mankind shares in it is because man is an image of God…The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God and which He revealed to us in the language of mathematics. Johannes Kepler
For who, after applying himself to things which he sees established in the best order and directed by Divine ruling, would not through diligent contemplation of them and through a certain habituation be awakened to that which is best and would not admire the Artificer of all things, in Whom is all happiness and every good? For the divine Psalmist surely did not say gratuitously that he took pleasure in the workings of God and rejoiced in the works of His hands, unless by means of these things as by some sort of vehicle we are transported to the contemplation of the highest good. Nicolaus Copernicus
It seems to me that one’s motive behind one’s pursuit of “academic excellence” is of greater importance than the level of “academic excellence” one achieves. What do you think?