Selling the School: A Christian Response to the Consumer Education Model

“What are you producing?”  This question is often asked by Christian school boards that are often managed by business people.  Education is not an assembly line.  And in the Christian school seeing people as people not products should be unqualified.

Do we “love people and use things” or “love things and use people”?  At times, even in Christian institutions, people can be corrupted by prevalent cultural viewpoints.  The Bible teaches, children are made in God’s image, to be treated as Spirit-gifted individuals, prompted to change according to biblical truth, as responsible agents deciding between truth and falsehood.  Viewing education from the vantage point of a consumer directly contradicts the proper foundation for a Christian school.

A caveat to begin: fundraising is not the issue.  Even Jesus had financial support from those who could afford to give (cf. Luke 8:1-3).  The apostles were also interested in raising funds for those who were hit by famine (cf. 2 Corinthians 8, 9).  There are copious references to “handling money” in Scripture that set fiscal parameters for proper conduct of God’s people, not the least of which is having a proper reputation before both God and men (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:21).  Money in the context of ministry is essential.  But God will always raise up those who will directly contribute knowing the need (cf. Philippians 4:14-18).

Worldview Confusion But there is a difference between funding the school and seeing students as a market.  Belief systems have contributed to the belief that Christian education is a commodity to be purchased, teachers are resources to be funded, and students are consumers to be satisfied.  Various worldviews have contributed to the unbiblical notion that people are the market.  They include:

  1. Individualism—“choice” is an assumed right in Western culture.  While people do make school decisions, Christian education should be understood as distinctive, not merely an alternative among options.
  2. Utilitarianism—if it cannot be “used” then it must not be useful.  While instruction must be applied, Christian education is premised upon the personhood, not the production of, an individual.
  3. Materialism—“matter is all that matters” to some people.  While finances are necessary to pay teachers, Christian education stresses that children matter more than money.
  4. Pragmatism—“immediate results” are commensurate with goodness.  While goal-oriented training does take place, Christian education teaches the truth that seeds are planted and may take years to grow.

Monetary Phrases Wall Street parlance is transferred from the trading floor to the school board room.  Notice the transfer and equality of meaning from the sphere of the stock market to the schoolhouse in the following examples:

  1. “Getting what you pay for” is a phrase suggesting that quality of product is equal to financial outlay.  If a product is considered cheap and little is spent for it, one should not be surprised.
  2. “User friendly” indicates a desire for both access and success.  People are happy if time and effort are reduced in procuring any given item.
  3. “Not the only game in town” represents the view that options exist.  If a business fails to meet needs, needs will be met elsewhere.
  4. “I want to get my money’s worth” is a variation on the first theme.  In this case, the person desires every possible profit based on some perceived cost-benefit ratio.

If Christians are concerned about a materialistic approach to life, those in Christian education should begin to dispel any perceived equivalence between money and people.

Deserving Questions The mentality of “I’m paying for a product” misinterprets education as factory production.  Children become commodities.  Teachers become salesmen.  Parents buy and sell.  Schools are in competition.  Consider the following inquiries in response to a customer or client-based assumption.

  1. What is the biblical basis for the consumer model?  If the model comes from outside the biblical paradigm shouldn’t it deserve strong critique?
  2. Does this model force us to biblical change or cultural accommodation?
  3. Who is the consumer: the child or the parent?  The answer to this question forces a discussion of ownership.
  4. A consumer model is based on a business view of life.  If this is true, can what a Christian school does be called “ministry”?
  5. Compare the amount of money spent per child in government schools versus Christian schools.  Shouldn’t we expect more from the government school in the consumer model since more money is spent for each child?
  6. If “getting what one pays for” is taken to its obvious conclusion, shouldn’t we expect less from teachers who are paid poorly?
  7. If Christians lived in another country would this model be used?  Would poverty force us to accommodate to resources?  Are we allowing environmental factors (i.e., wealth) to drive our theology and philosophy?

The questions are rhetorically designed.  Obvious answers should press everyone involved in Christian school education to reevaluate their mindset and approach.

Potential Contradictions The teaching-learning process is unlike any other vocation.  The consumer model fails to address elementary truths concerning education.  Since the first statement after each number below is inherently biblical the only question left to answer is how can the Christian community accept the consumer model?

  1. Everyone is different.  Not only do they have variant learning modalities but each individual is affected by multitudinous environmental influences.  According to the consumer model, no machine could be made to manufacture a bulk product that would accommodate the differences.
  2. The process of learning changes constantly to fit the needs of the classroom situation.  According to the consumer model, no designs could be replicated consistently to meet the buyer’s demand.
  3. Results in teaching are not seen immediately: sometimes, not for years.  According to the consumer model, the business would go under within days when production lines failed to meet inventory quotas.
  4. Both teacher and student are responsible for education to take place.  Transferring and receiving knowledge leading to change is necessary.  According to the consumer model, the producer and purchaser would be responsible to provide a product—a self-defeating process.

Christian schoolteachers are interested in producing transformational agents in society.  Business people must make a profit in order to be successful.  The two are not equivalent.

Possible Solutions “Paying for a product” slant to education reduces the enterprise to a physical, visible, financial “bottom line.”  Approaches that might offer achievable clarification could include:

  1. Researching a biblical view of education from Scripture.
  2. Requiring former Christian educators to be on Christian school boards.
  3. Redefining marketing and mission in the Christian school with biblical principles.
  4. Reeducating parents and staff through multiple communication links that the Christian school is not controlled by a consumer mentality.

Christian school education—all subjects taught under the authority of Christ—rejects such a naturalistic explanation of a process to be governed by supernatural standards.  The Word of God permeating every discipline through the power of The Holy Spirit and biblically integrative teachers has the goal of internal, eternal transformation of the individual student.

This article was first written and published in Christian Educators Journal 2002 and has since been republished in the same publication February, 2009.

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