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Cardus: How Christian schools benefit the public

How does Christian education contribute to the common good? Last December, about 50 Cardus supporters gathered in the redesigned Cardus boardroom in the heart of downtown Hamilton, Ontario to hear President Michael Van Pelt and Executive Vice President Ray Pennings share Cardus’s vision for the organization’s future work in education. Cardus, a Christian think tank, has spent more than five years researching a key question: How does Christian education interrelate with the public square? Van Pelt stressed that in order to better connect Christian education to the public realm, we need a shift in language and strategy. The times, cultural spaces and cultural dynamics are changing. 

Pennings reminded the audience of Cardus’ research results: Christian schools are major contributors to the common good. According to its studies, 24- to 39-year-old graduates from Christian schools are contributing to society at levels greater than that of public school graduates. Christian school graduates are achieving what the education act requires public schools to pursue. And Christian schools are doing it better than the public schools.

Very few people, however, recognize this. Instead, the common portrayal of private schools is one of isolation and withdrawal from community. Such negative perceptions of Christian schools have not been sufficiently addressed, and they are potently shaping public policy.

Cardus wants to challenge these misperceptions so that Christian schools are seen as a resource rather than a threat. The contributions Christian schools make to the public good could and should be a blessing to public education.

Pennings specifically identified a number of such elements that have emerged from Cardus’s recent research:

  • Christian schools provide value for money. Christian education is a benefit to the taxpayer. A quality education does not always have to mean more taxes.
  • Christian schools build citizenship. Graduates of Christian education are exemplary citizens, active participants and role models in their communities.
  • Christian schools develop excellent workers. Christian school graduates are less focused on income than other groups, focusing instead on location, service and sense of vocation.
  • Christian schools build character. Given the increased emphasis on morality and character in public schools, Christian schools have proven ideas about character building, and lessons that can be shared.
  • Christian schools are an argument for school choice. In a culture that values diversity, school choice creates best practices, innovation and excellence.

Future project
It is very clear that Cardus is excited about the future of Christian education in North America. After investing five years and $3 million into Christian education research, Cardus is about to embark on a new phase of its work in education. Pennings informed the gathering that Cardus has a “significant new [project]” that applies their research “into the public policy space.” As part of the initiation of this plan, Cardus recently hired Dr. Elizabeth Green as its new Education program director.

This renewed emphasis on the common good is powerfully consistent with Christian education’s focus on discipleship and Kingdom transformation. God calls his children to share his love for his people and his Creation, which should have a marked impact on cultural engagement and participation. Cardus’s research results should encourage supporters of Christian education to be more intentional and transparent about the nature and impact of their cultural interactions.

Stay tuned to hear more about Cardus’s plans as they unfold. Bookmark cardus.ca/research/education for updates and resources, including Cardus education research reports.

  • Sean is Assistant Professor of Education at Redeemer and former News Editor for Christian Courier. Sean’s research focuses on the communication of educational care. He appreciates CC’s cultural relevance, Biblical distinctiveness and willingness to address the complexity of living with hope and courage in a broken world.

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