I grew up in an idyllic small town in Minnesota as the youngest of four kids. I had more people to look up to then anyone could ever ask for, and my siblings and parents helped me understand my place in the world by the expectations they set for me. As an admittedly exasperating little sister, I was always a part of the action. I loved to play goalie for my hockey-loving brothers in the street. My sister was always seen with me tagging along with her wherever she went. Perhaps my siblings valued my presence or maybe they were coerced into spending a lot of time with me. It was probably a combination thereof, but no matter what their motivations, I came away believing that I had a place in whatever arena I found myself.
Growing up in this family that consistently showed me that people of all walks of life were to be respected and valued, I just knew I had every opportunity in the world to choose my path in life. Everyone had value, everyone deserved to be heard, and my family always ensured that people knew they were welcome to participate in our lives. The experiences my siblings and parents offered me surely impacted the way in which I viewed myself in relationship to the world.
Room at the Table
There was always a place at the table for me, no matter what the task, and I was fortunate enough to always have people in my life that valued, and even invited my participation and voice, including in my career in Christian education. But as I have been able to observe dozens of Christian schools and participate in several national and international Christian organizations, too often I have been the only woman, or one of a small minority, at the table—and I have noticed. Too often, I have witnessed women’s voices silenced, dismissed, or explained away.
I don’t think the majority of our organizations are purposefully excluding women from leadership roles, and at times, I have seen institutions making some efforts to intentionally hire women for leadership positions. But the reality is, too often, culturally or structurally there is not enough room at the table within our Christian schools for women to meaningfully contribute, even when they do have a rare leadership role. Because this observation is in stark contrast to organizations such as CAPE and NAIS, it leads me to believe that we in Christian education aren’t creating the space and culture necessary for more women to thrive in leadership positions.
Made in His Image
If we believe in imago Dei, that all people are made in God’s image, we need to do better. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he invited people to hear him—people his disciples raised their eyebrows at—and he ensured that they knew they were loved, even if he was shattering every cultural norm of the day. As Paul Hurley (1981) writes, “The most striking thing about the role of women in the life and teaching of Jesus is the simple fact that they are there.” Let me repeat that: They are there. We can be sure that it wasn’t easy to include women in his ministry, but Jesus, in his perfect understanding of the love of his Father, reached out and made space. Jesus understood what would help women find a place in his ministry and he went ahead and did it, and his male disciples learned to as well.
Questions to Consider
Perhaps we need to ask ourselves what we are doing to ensure our organizations are explicitly and implicitly valuing the presence and voice of women. Perhaps we need to take a hard look at whether our values and practices reflect the belief that imago Dei applies to our organizations and the culture that permeates them. Perhaps we need to recognize the ways in which our organizations are making it difficult for women to add value, and fix it. While there is no simple, comfortable solution to this issue, we are overdue.
Hurley, James. 1981. Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
This blog is one of a series on women’s leadership in Christian education that is co-published by the ACSI blog and the CACE blog, in an effort to bring innovative and relevant thinking in Christian education to our respective readerships.
Kathryn Wiens is currently a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. She has done extensive research around independent and faith-based schools as well as single-gender education. Having worked in both public and independent schools, she has served as Dean of Curriculum and Instruction, Director of Admissions, Science Department Chair, and has taught chemistry and biology. Katie is active as a volunteer at her son’s school and has served as the associate director of a nonprofit organization that supports school leaders from schools across the nation. Currently living in Kennesaw, GA, she married to Timothy Wiens, an independent school head, has one son, Eliot, and cannot describe her life without mentioning her two Great Danes, Greta and Lena.