In the 1981 slapstick comedy Stripes, Bill Murray leads a ragtag platoon onto the Basic Training parade ground in a quasi-military conga line in a last-ditch effort to graduate. After executing their version of close order drill, the commanding General asks from the viewing platform, “Where have you been, son?” Murray responds, “Training, Sir!” Perplexed, the General responds, “What kind of training?” In union, the men shout, “A-R-M-Y Training, Sir!”
Just a few years later, I found myself in those very barracks in Fort Knox, Kentucky, as a newly enlisted private. Unsurprisingly, my training experience looked nothing like that in Stripes, though we did, in fact, learn close order drill, among a myriad of other things. I can say with confidence that it really was “A-R-M-Y training.”
What’s true about the U.S. Army Basic Training program is that this very specific regimen is informed and shaped by the desired outcome. A clear mission transforms a disparate group of young men and women from civilians to functioning soldiers with a defined set of skills demonstrated by performance. The mission informs the practice. Basic Training is inextricably linked to mission. It has one function: to churn out new troops with a baseline of skills that form the foundation for what comes next.
In many ways, this sequencing is reminiscent of Christian schooling. When at our best, we look to mission first and then to the required people, places, and programs. However, we are not always at our best. Sometimes, secondary matters take precedence, resulting in mission creep.
We also face the challenge of competing missional priorities as we operate with limited resources. For example, how should professional development (PD) time and funding be allocated? PD priorities include sessions required by civil or accrediting governing bodies, instruction on technological or software skills, pedagogical and academic training, social and emotional awareness, intervention skills, and on and on.
Feeling the pressure of too many requirements to complete in too few hours and recognizing some deficiencies in student performance, we at Westminster Academy stepped back and regrouped. A few years ago, a team charted all the various professional development and in-service opportunities offered by the school.
Unfortunately, we discovered a random pattern rather than a deliberate plan. We were reacting and responding instead of planning and executing. A careful examination of our outcomes led to several conclusions, mainly that we needed a more comprehensive plan that balanced our priorities with available resources.
“We were reacting and responding instead of planning and executing.”
For starters, we divided staff development into four categories: mandates, pedagogy, philosophy, and care. Given the particular circumstances of our school, we opted to provide mandated training via asynchronous virtual offerings, leverage our parent association to champion care, and then rigorously marshal PD resources for pedagogy and philosophy. Since the Westminster Academy lexicon includes “Begin with the End in Mind,” our initial strategy was to focus on philosophy. Out of that work emerged several formative statements, including Portrait of a Graduate, Standards of Excellence, and Client Care Standards.
At the same time, we were wrestling with the social issues confronting Christian schools. Some erosion in our foundational thinking became evident. In the general course of time, we had neglected our collective and individual biblical worldview.
Tending to Worldview
So, why does worldview matter?
Though schools share many common academic targets, most schools also feature social and cultural development among their aims. Both commonly held aims and those that reflect a local context require some sort of ongoing training.
Secondly, all schools are uniquely positioned in society as instruments of worldview formation. Schools have the means, motivation, and opportunity to pursue this outcome. Most schools have mission statements and values. But where Christian schools depart from others is the specific worldview that we promulgate: one grounded in the Scriptures and the reality of the Gospel.
Unfortunately, tending to biblical worldview is not always a priority, partly because it is assumed to be firmly established among Christian school faculty and also because we see worldview as part of discipleship, thus in the purview of the Church.
“A proper biblical worldview cannot be assumed; it must be constructed.”
At Westminster Academy, we decided to address biblical worldview as a matter of first priority. This topic also became the focus of my Doctor of Ministry thesis. Through this work, our leadership team developed and then presented a training series on biblical worldview to all Westminster Academy faculty. It was recorded and produced into a video series so that each new faculty cohort would have access to the training.
In support of this initiative, the Institute of Faith and Culture published three related articles. The first two are based on excerpts from my doctoral project, Constructing an Effective Biblical Worldview: The Significance of the Christian Day School. The third, Truth or Consequences, was prompted by Florida’s recent tuition voucher program and its ensuing conversation. Taken together, they posit that worldview is foundational to education and critical for Christian education. As such, a proper biblical worldview cannot be assumed; it must be constructed. Given recent shifts in education policy and our social realities, a common understanding of worldview is integral to the role of Christian schools in advancing the kingdom.