Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Educated Person

Peter Drucker, the "man who invented management," once wrote a deft little essay entitled, "The Educated Person." After reading this essay, it was as if he personally had read the script of my professional life from the past two years and was clearly and succinctly diagnosing the problem and the cure. Let me explain.

Drucker argues that we now live in a knowledge society whereby educated people, not giant storehouses of data, make the difference. Thus, defining what counts for "knowledge," or who is really educated, is central.  The debate rages between two sides. On the one side are the humanists who insist that real education consists of the "liberal arts" tradition or the "classics," which some have categorized as about 100 or so Great Books. Drucker says that, left alone, this tradition leaves people with lofty ideas about wisdom, truth and beauty, but with little ability to make real change in the world. The other side argues that the technicians, the specialized fields like engineering, law, medicine or business--all fields in a particular specialty--are the real "educated persons." Although most TV dramas would agree that these are the "experts," without a connection to the past, are bereft of the tools to understand the complexities of the world and its inherited traditions.

Drucker's solution to this debate, in beautiful simplicity, is summarized with this single idea:
The educated person will therefore have to be prepared to live and work simultaneously in two cultures--that of the "intellectual," who focuses on words and ideas, and that of the "manager," who focuses on people and work.
Drucker sees that in our modern world, both sides of the debate about an "educated person" need each other.  We need to live in the world of words and ideas. This forms the context for which we view the "big picture" and gives motivation to our lives. Yet the vast majority of people live out most of their lives in organizations which focus on tasks and interpersonal relationships. In this balance is the true educated person.

Let me share a bit of my own story. I graduated from seminary with my master's degree in 2009. Having finished three years of graduate study in theology, and an undergraduate degree in economics and Spanish, I was filled with "words and ideas." And I was quite good at this world.  Grades were never a problem, and I received academic accolades for my work.  My education made me into one who loved old books and was incredibly optimistic about changing the world. My mind and spirit danced with visions of how church, education, and society ought to change.

But there was a problem. I was unemployable.

After I graduated I took a hard look at my resume and realized that I was just like a million other young, bright, educated 20 somethings who were unemployed (a recent study I read showed that 1/3 of us are currently jobless).  I had plenty of visions for change, but very few methods for actually bringing about such change.  So, I took two part time jobs to bring in an income and support my wife and baby daughter.

I quickly realized that I had been steeped in the beauties of the "humanist" (Christian humanist in my case) tradition, but had almost no ability to work with people or in organizations.  So, I began asking questions.  After a half a year of curiosity, I discovered mysterious documents with the name of "strategic initiatives." I desperately tried to figure out how people actually accomplished their visions, and how they worked with other people to make this happen.

This work of the technician, or the "leader" as some might call it, was new to me. And it was an incredibly important aspect of my own education that was missing.  I am now underway in a self-taught school of learning how to function in organizations and how to work positively and productively with other people--a true component of what it means to be educated.

In today's world, we sell students short if we don't show them the beauties and the lessons of the past. But we also sell them short if we don't give them the tangible skills to do something about their visions.  Real education, as it has been said, must be knowledge and character married to action--namely wisdom. King Solomon once remarked, "Get wisdom. Though it cost all your have, get understanding." Indeed, let the educated people of the 21st century pursue wisdom with the fervor of an intellectual and the diligence of a manager.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Philosophy of Ministry

This is a blog about Christianity and education.  Because my view of education is shaped first and foremost by the Christian faith, it seemed necessary to lay out some of my basic beliefs about Christian ministry.  These six tenets form the foundation and frame of a philosophy of ministry. I submit them now for your review.

Mission.  God’s mission to restore the world is primary; all else is secondary.  God has given us the Church as his chosen agent for global redemption.   The church is therefore inherently about restoring and redeeming individuals, social structures, and entire cultures.  Mission is the lens through which I evaluate all ministry activities and objectives.  The church exists not for itself, but for the world.   

Gospel. The gospel of God’s grace is the great treasure of the Church. The gospel is the way in which people come to faith as well as mature in faith (Rom. 1:16-17).  Because the gospel was the center point of Paul’s ministry, it must be for ours as well.  From leadership meetings to conversations with neighbors, the gospel of God’s grace must always be on our tongues. 

Truth. Evangelicals must regain an intelligent witness in society.  We must uphold Christianity not just as religious truth, but the ultimate truth which explains all things.  In practice, this means relating Christianity to not just our private lives, but to the public spheres of business, politics, art, and science. We also must know the public challenges to the Christian faith, and always be ready with a reason for the hope we profess. 

Discipleship.  The purpose of human life is to become like Christ.  This is done only in the context of Christian discipleship.  The imitation of Christ, which includes the classic spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible Study, solitude, service, and corporate worship, must be common practices for both ministers of the gospel and the laity.  These must be taught and modeled in Christian ministry. 

JusticeGod loves justice.  Because Scripture makes this so clear (Is. 1:19), the church must be an agent of justice both locally and internationally.   Caring for the needs of the poor, defending the oppressed, and breaking down racial barriers are central to manifesting Jesus’ kingdom in the present age.  In addition, acts of justice confirm the message of the gospel to an unbelieving world.

Holy SpiritChristian ministry is not done alone.  The Holy Spirit is leading His Church.  Therefore, leadership decisions, worship services, mission trips—indeed all Christian ministry—must be done seeking the guidance of the ever-present Counselor.  The Holy Spirit is the power to accomplish God’s mission on earth.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A New Model for Universal Education

One of the UN's Millenial Development Goals is to bring Universal Education to every child by 2015. Unfortunately, it doensn't look like this goal will be met.  Enrollment in primary education in the developing world has risen from 83 percent in 2000 to 89 percent in 2008.  Yet there are still around 69 million school aged children, mostly in southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, who will not be in school.  What are the barriers to getting these kids into school?

Although the UN report does not explicitly state what they barriers are, it does state that "providing enough teachers and classrooms" is vital to achieving this goal.  It also states that programs to abolish school fees, build more infrastructure (roads and school buildings), and bring "school tents" to rural areas have been successful. However, it does not point out their funding sources. Although I could be wrong, I'd have to assume that the funds for these programs come from either the UN or from the local governments themselves.

  Now, I'm not an expert in this field by any means. Actually, I'm not even a novice.  But I do see a major problem in current efforts to address the problem of universal education.  They are almost all 100% dependent on donations, either from the UN, NGOs, or other non-profits.  Where governments have reprioritized education, populations have flourished. But in many counties, such as Haiti, the topic of my last post, the government is not viable, and doesn't look capable of becoming viable any time soon.  So, here's the question.  How do we get children in school apart from unsustainable donations from abroad or from wavering governments?

I happen to work at an interesting little school in Littleton, Colorado called Front Range Christian School.  Front Range Christian is an interdenominational PK-12 school which shares it's facilities with various tenants. It is the owner of Pierce Stree Village, a small strip mall with tenants who rent space from the school.  In an economic climate that has shut the door of various Christian schools in Denver in the past several years, Front Range Christian has survived.  One of its secrets to survival is it's innovative business model.  Tuition at Front Range Christian is offset by tenants paying rent to the school.  Not only is tuition lower than many competitors, but there is a symbiotic relationship between Front Range Christian and its community. Small businesses like Revolution Martial Arts and Revive Dance Studio offer classes to FRCS students. The businesses love the school because there are hundreds of potential customers coming daily, and the school loves the businesses for both offsetting tuition and bringing a more diverse course offering right on campus.

This synergistic model between school and small business is a potential answer to the problem of universal education.  Money is often the biggest barrier to building new schools, training more teaching, and affording tuition.  But consider a model like that of FRCS.  In the same complex, school and business co-exist and do so mutually beneficially. When this model is transported to the developing world, it has the potential to do various things.  First, it can bring affordable education to a region.

Second, it can facilitate job creation through the small businesses, even in places where there are no jobs.  Job creation is one of the most ignored engines of long term economic development, primarily because it takes so much work. One of my good friends, David Befus, is a professional in the field, helping to create thousands of jobs in the developing world.  This type of job creation can bring more economic prosperity to a community, which in turn can provide enough funds to pay for a reasonable tuition rate to send their children to their schools. 

Third, the proximity of successful small businesses to primary education could potentially help train young students in apprentice roles for trades.  Connecting even early education to training for potential jobs after their schooling is finished could give a major boost to both economic development and education. For example, if a young girl is able to take one course in business basics in 7th grade and 2 courses in making textiles for manufacture (think India) in 8th and 9th grade, even if she drops out, she will have the ability to make a living and break the cycle of poverty.

This model is imperfect, to say the least. Tenants must be recruited, training for both school leaders and business leaders must be prevalent, and the right leaders must be found.  But it's a model worth pursuing.  Should we pursue these routes, should we "spend ourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then our light will rise in the darkness, and our night will become like the noonday" (Isaiah 58:10).

Monday, January 3, 2011

Rebuilding Haiti's Schools

Hurricane Katrina was one of America's worst natural disasters; 1,464 people lost their lives.  Compare this number, tragic as it may be, to the earthquake in Haiti. Last January, 230,000 people died, and 1 million more were left homeless.  Haiti, already one of the world's poorest countries, lost nearly all infrastructure, and was set back years in economic and social development.  One of the areas of Haitian society deeply affected was its educational system.

To rebuild the country, an international body called the Haiti Recovery Commission (HRC) was formed. Last August the NY Times featured an article on HRC's projects to rebuild its educational system.  Realizing that rebuilding the Haitian school system is key to unlocking Haiti's potential, ambitious goals were set to provide tuition-free schooling to all Haitian children. Considering 90% of schools in Haiti are now privately run, mostly by churches and NGOs, this goal was bold to say the least. The man selected for the job was Paul Vallas, who brought reform to the Chicago public school system and post-Katrina New Orleans. The plan is to build 625 primary schools and retrain nearly 50,000 teachers.

That was in August. Today, Haiti is once again suffering. Recent elections have caused an uproar. Rene Preval is thought to have rigged the election, and only days ago hundreds of Haitians protested in Port-au-Prince to have Preval ousted.  In a fight for power, economic and social development have come to a temporary halt.  Sweeping plans to change the school system through government and NGO involvement may are freezing over on the tropical island.

I sincerely hope plans for change Haiti's public school system are a success. But my better intuition tells me that solutions will have to come from the private sector, awash with every non-profit and NGO under the sun.  Schools, however, hold out great hope. And schools with a Christian foundation have the potential to impact not only the social sphere, but the spiritual as well.

But will private schools fare any better than the public?  In a land of 80% unemployment, where will parents find even the most basic of funds to send their children to school?  This, it is thought, depends on the quantity of aid from overseas. Yet some of the best thinkers from the developing world have shown that long-term aid can help in emergencies, but cannot ultimately solve the problem of economic development. Trade, not aid, is the key.  Sustainable solutions are needed to rebuild Haiti's schools.  But where will they come from?  Tuition is unaffordable, people are without jobs, education is many times seen as just a way to get money from the US, and unending donations tend to fight against, rather than support, long term solutions.

What is needed is a creative model of school that can bring excellent education which is affordable and is self-sustainable.  This is the challenge...and the topic of my next post.