Over the course of the past year, my employer--Westminster Christian Academy in St. Louis--has steered things in a direction that (in my opinion) honors our past while seeking greater things in the future. Last year, our headmaster, Dr. Tom Stoner (now in his second year in Wildcat-land) laid out several key initiatives for the years ahead. It's obvious to anyone in the educational field that not every initiative resonates equally to each teacher, but one that I found quite strategically delicious was about "raising the academic profile".
That should be obvious, you say, for a school to believe that strongly about academics. Else, why engage in the process? Why not try to go several rungs up the ladder, especially in a place like Westminster where we are competing with other solid public schools as well as elite private schools like Mary Institute/Country Day School and John Burroughs School?
My case is somewhat different. I assume that if we are going to be excellent--defined by Westminster as "being better than we once were"--that is a passion we must have. But you cannot raise the academic profile of a school unless you have certain ingredients in the visionary stew. So what is coming over the next few weeks is my evolving take on the pillars that Westminster holds to--and that are good for any school--that gives substance and foundation to its pursuit of "raising the academic profile."
(Note: This is my take, and while I am strongly assuming these are in place at Westminster, please don't blithely reason that I am speaking as an official representative of Westminster's administrative leadership. I am neither official, representative, or administrative. Sometimes I can lead.)
That being said, today's necessary ingredient of our pursuit is...
(1) Truth matters
I know that's a very nebulous item to start with, and I promise I'll get more concrete later on, so that we're not always dog-paddling in the depths of the epistemological ocean. But it is absolutely critical we get this nailed down.
No school--whether a pre-school, a college prep academy, public comprehensive institution, or a college or university--will ever become truly great and remain great academically if it believes everything to be known is up for grabs.
To be great--and increasingly better--academically, you must believe that all knowledge has a standard, a firm reference point that makes complete sense out of everything. Obviously, Westminster being a Christian school, we believe that truth exists because God is truth, is himself the standard of truth and goodness, and Jesus Christ is the perfect embodiment of that. Of course, other schools and people might disagree on those particulars. But the point is that what matters is that (1) things can be known to be true, (2) we can have reasonable certainty about what is true and beneficial and wise, and (3) once embracing it, we can put truth into practice for the good of people and the world around us.
If a school believes that anyone can believe whatever they want (which people can), and that all these mental droppings that glisten like bacon fat in our world have equal validity (which they can't), then the school's mission will stall worse than a 1989 Chrysler LeBaron on a sub-zero morning in Idaho. I don't have time to go into all the details here, but Greg Koukl does a great job of laying out what happens if you believe everything is subjectively up for grabs. You might as well play a football game without boundaries, end zones, yard lines, a rule book, or penalties for accountability, while still demanding to keep score. Hardly makes sense.
The bottom line is that if your finish line is a vapor, you'll never succeed. Believing truth is totally subjective vs. truth matters as an objective reality is like the difference between throwing and arrow and shooting one from a well-strung recurve bow. The first way is horribly ineffective; the second can have both true accuracy and power.
To be certain, Westminster won't get it right in every microscopic detail every time. But we move forward in raising the academic profile because, as a teaching and administrative community, we believe that truth exists and truth matters, and truth can be discovered, embraced, and be transformational because that is part of a Greater Design. And if we believe that day in and day out, then we can be confident we have begun our pursuit of a more excellent standard in the right way.