In his book, The Cheating Culture, author David Callahan cites an incredible study: in a survey of almost 200 top athletes, more than half indicated they would take a drug that would help them win every competition for a five-year period – even if they knew that at the end of the five years the drug would kill them. While hard to believe, this statistic points to an overwhelming societal pressure to achieve success and fame.
The desire to achieve success by any means necessary has become epidemic. We need look no further than the daily newspaper to see examples of dishonesty in business, journalism, sports, medicine, law, politics, and education. Students are not immune to such pressures: a 2008 study of thirty thousand students revealed nearly two-thirds had cheated in class in the past year and almost one-third had stolen something from a store. In his recent book on virtue, author and educator Howard Gardner writes, “Most Americans are extremely reluctant to judge harshly the moral codes of others, unless these codes sanction frankly and unambiguously destructive behavior.” Indeed we live in a culture that is increasingly not only marginalizing traditionally accepted virtues but redefining them in the name of postmodern progressivism.
While the cultural landscape continues its rapid change, one thing has not changed since our first parents: in our flesh we are given to all manner of dishonesty if we aren’t careful to set up appropriate boundaries to prevent wrong priorities from consuming us. Christian young people are not immune to the temptations toward dishonesty. Thus, one of the most compelling factors for parents to consider as they seek the right educational setting for their children is finding an environment that emphasizes not only the right behaviors, but perhaps more importantly the right presuppositions about why right behaviors are important.
Which brings us to why classical, Christian education is so important. Classical and Christian education is often referred to as an education that emphasizes the seemingly outdated virtues of truth, beauty, and goodness. Modern educational trends have left these much-needed virtues behind. Unfortunately, ideological tolerance, multiculturalism, and freedom of choice in our culture trump truth, beauty and goodness. Pursuing classical virtues through education requires a prioritization both in content and pedagogy. Learning becomes not solely an academic endeavor, but a path to grow in character and Godly virtue. Imitating Christ in our attitudes, our work, our speech, and our character focuses our attention beyond mere grades and measurable, testable outcomes. As children pursue the virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, they seek to become more like Christ.
What do we practice to promote honesty at school? We talk and teach about the ramifications of plagiarism and the value of doing your own work to the glory of God. We seek to model faithful and honest speech and action. We highlight those in history and literature who are paragons of honesty in spite of their circumstances. And we take steps to guide students’ hearts through repentance and restoration when they fail, acknowledging that we all fall short and find grace at the cross.
The goal of a faithful Christian school is to prepare young people to be faithful disciples of Christ. We acknowledge that perfection is unattainable in this life. However, a rich learning environment where the underlying assumptions revert back to the truth of the Scriptures will shape and form a student’s ideas, practices, habits, and character. Classical and Christian education seeks to equip, to disciple, to refine, to transform our children into young men and women who, by God’s grace, live honestly before God and man.