My initial response questioned whether this was in fact the task of schools. Schools are, afterall, places where we are charged with the task of teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. This presumption is rarely accepted anymore though it seems. Everywhere we see some kind of activism being promoted, the most glaring example being that of environmentalism. As a Christian school, I must admit that I believe our calling to be much deeper than simply academic. We believe our calling to be the training of Christian people with deep character who heed the word of God in all areas of Creation – public policy and social movements included.
My secondary response was more troubling to me. I questioned whether we put the good futures of our children in jeopardy if we encourage them to be involved in situations of dissent. They could be arrested, it could look bad for their reputation, It could negatively affect their future standing in society, I thought. It didn’t take me long to admit to myself that this was a very short-sighted and selfish outlook, especially in light of our call as Christians to confront the evils of the world in Jesus’ name.
Eyal Press has written a little book of short stories about people who have lived dissentingly and very unselfishly. In Beautiful Souls: The Courage and Conscience of Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times he quotes Cass Sunstein who says “Conformists are often thought to be protective of social interests, keeping quiet for the sake of the group. By contrast, dissenters tend to be seen as selfish individualists, embarking on projects of their own. But in an important sense, the opposite is closer to the truth. Much of the time, dissenters benefit others, while conformists benefit themselves” (p. 159).
If this is true, and I think it is, then all of us benefit from those around us who challenge the status quo. In this same sense, we do a disservice to others and ourselves if we unthinkingly accept present circumstances. In our schools and in our homes, do we encourage our children to be conformists or dissenters? My guess is that most of us would have to admit to the former. We want our children to behave in certain socially acceptable ways. This is not how Jesus lived. Jesus consistently acted contrarily to the society around him, which often meant dissenting against the religious leaders. The recipe here isn’t dissent for the sake of itself, it’s dissent for the sake of the Gospel. If we’re calling our children to follow Jesus, then we’re also calling them to conform to Him and to dissent that which doesn’t.
Anyon, J. (2005). Radical possibilities: public policy, urban education, and a new social movement. New York: Routledge.
Press, E. (2012). Beautiful souls: saying no, breaking ranks, and heeding the voice of conscience in dark times. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.