Consumerism is Killing a Good Education

Education is not a simple commodity that is easily purchased off the shelf of a market or indiscriminately obtained by the memorization of facts.  To educate a child takes more than a good curriculum, a good teacher, and well-meaning parents. A good education takes time, discipline, and sacrifice. It is not easy, at times it is not fun, and our children’s education should certainly not be sacrificed on the alter of convenience. Parents should be intentional, well informed, and recognize that not all education choices are equal. Whether or not a parent chooses private schooling, homeschooling, or public schooling, we are responsible and will be held accountable for how we have chosen to educate our children.

Over the course of this past weekend I was reminded of the great influence our political and consumer culture has over those of us who care so deeply about the education of our kids. I attended the Florida Parent Education Association (FPEA) convention with its hundreds of venders and thousands of attendees. Eager families, wanting the best for their children, wandered the convention hall looking for curriculum and advice on the best ways to educate their students. Despite these concerned and good intentioned parents many were swept away by the consumerism that was manifestly present at such an event. Gimmicks, dancing scientists, and flashy booths ruled the weekend. New products, cheap tricks, and the empty promises of ease lure unsuspecting families into the lie that education really is a consumer product that is manufactured and dispensed.

We should rejoice over the choices we have been given to educate our children.  We should thank God that we live in a country with the freedoms and options that readily avail themselves. Yet, at the same time we must also acknowledge that all curriculums are not equal, and for that matter not all program are either. We all too quickly buy into the fads of contemporary society without critical examination or thought.  Learning styles, technological integration, and a focus on STEM are but some examples of these harmful trends that are continually perpetuated and embraced.

In his article The Danger of Mediocrity In A Consumerist Society, Joshua Gibbs argues that our consumerist society has not produced bad or awful things but that over time Americans have become satisfied with the mediocre. We have forsaken the good for a cheap substitute. We see the benefits of some curriculum and we see students grow in a variety of different programs. The reasons for this are that

No matter what film we watch, what record we buy, what taco we eat, the thing we are consuming is arguably just a little true, a bit noble, somewhat right, arguably pure, not entirely unlovely, slightly admirable, minimally excellent, or just barely praiseworthy.

Students can learn and grow through a variety of ways and methods. These programs may not be bad or ugly. Rather, many of these programs maybe just mediocre. Herein is the problem. Gibbs suggests that

Mediocre things are not simply lesser manifestations of the good. Good things and mediocre things do not exist on the same continuum, though we are often tempted to say otherwise. What is good is divine, a finite revelation of the infinite, a little sacrament of God’s condescension, a triumph of excellence over non-existence. Good things participate in the goodness of God. Mediocre things are a forgery of God’s goodness. Looking for goodness in mediocre things is not generous, but delusional. 

We want the best for our children but we too quickly compromise our principles settling for the fast foods, the conveniences, of modern education. Our compromises substitute an imitation for the real thing; we replace the good with that which is mediocre.

What do we value? What do we want our children to look like, what kind of human beings do we want them to become? It should be our vision for students that drives our academic mission and informs our educational paradigm. The vision of Smith Preparatory Academy is to establish a community of virtuous scholars who advance God’s kingdom in their community and throughout the world. Our mission is to provide the highest quality Christian classical education, to cultivate Christian virtue, and to promote the recovery of Christian humanism. Our robust philosophy of education dictates our curriculum and drives our program choices.  

Smith Preparatory Academy has borrowed a series of questions from another Christian classical school to help us think through our curriculum choices and other programs we are considering to implement. These questions serve as a tool for us. They enable us to think clearly about our decisions and provide safeguards against mediocrity and consumer mindset.

  1. Is it beautiful?
  2. Are we doing this because it is inherently good, or as a means to an end? If the latter, what end?
  3. Does it encourage the student to think of education itself as a high and noble enterprise, or does it cheapen education?
  4. Is it excellent? Does it demand the best students and teachers have to offer, and hold them to the highest standard they are capable of achieving? Or does it give in to the gravitational pull of mediocrity? Is excellence the highest standard, or is excellence subordinate to lower standards such as convenience, popularity, or marketing considerations (i.e., consumer appeal)?
  5. Does it encourage reverence for the mystery of God and the splendor of His creation?
  6. Does it encourage reverence for the mystery of the human person and respect for the student‘s own human dignity?
  7. Does it encourage him to desire truth, to understand such virtues as courage, modesty, prudence, and moderation and to cultivate these within himself?
  8. Does it help the student to see what difference God makes to all the facets of the world, or does it make God‘s existence seem irrelevant, trivial, small or private?
  9. Does it assist in passing on the received wisdom of the Christian tradition, or does it create obstacles to reception of the tradition?
  10. Does it encourage real searching and thinking? Does it provoke the student to ask ‗why?‘ Does it stir up a desire for understanding?
  11. Does it encourage conversation between and across generations or does it hinder it?
  12. Does it help to develop to the fullest extent what is uniquely human in the student: the powers of attending, deliberating, questioning, calculating, remembering, and loving?
  13. Does it encourage the student to become patient, to take time, and if necessary, to start over in order to achieve excellence, or does it subordinate excellence to speed, ease, and efficiency?
  14. Does it encourage the student to value rigor and discipline?
  15. Does it deepen the role of the family in the life of the school and the role of education in the life of the family, or does it erect a barrier between family and school?

Ask your self these questions the next time you go to purchase curriculum. Think deeply about what it is you are seeking to accomplish. Educating our children is a heavy responsibility. It is also a blessing that comes with enormous weight. We do not want to buy into the whims of contemporary society but we want to think clearly and act intentionally. If we truly want what is best of our child, then we need to be more than consumers. We must become Christian educators!

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