Our Value Narrative
March 6, 2018
Below is the text from an old Straight from the Head. In it, Dr. Wolfe, our Head of School, describes how Cambridge is distinct and even countercultural.
One of the phrases currently in vogue for marketing private schools is the expression “value narrative.” It is an apt phrase referring to the story of a school’s importance for students and families. What makes one’s school distinct? What does it do well, perhaps better than most? What can students and families find in it that they cannot find as readily elsewhere? What are its educational strengths? The answers to these sorts of questions are the core of the value narrative of a school.
The Board, administration and faculty of Cambridge are constantly asking these questions of our school. In fact, sometimes it seems we are too preoccupied with these matters, and should instead get on with the business of fulfilling our mission. Ah ha! Therein lies the value narrative of The Cambridge School of Dallas. The fulfillment of Academic Discipleship® in a Christ-centered, classical manner is the essence of the value of CSD.
It is worth remembering that the value narrative can begin with the objective measurables, with two in particular. CSD is regularly around the 20th-25th priced private school in Dallas-Fort Worth. Yet, CSD regularly ranks in the top 5 in standard academic measurements (for example, SAT scores, AP pass rate, % of National Merit students, etc.). This combination in itself demonstrates the value of CSD. While that should not be the end of the discussion, since it does not get to the heart of our mission, it nonetheless is rightly a part of the narrative.
Earlier this year in his Faculty Lyceum talk, Blake Schwarz posed the following question regarding our educational goals: what are we really trying to do with your child? His answer? We are trying to lead them to know and follow Christ. The idea of mimesis, the Greek word for imitation, was central to the teacher/Rabbi-disciple relationship in ancient times. In fact, we see this in Scripture (1 Cor. 4:16-17;11:1). The Apostle Paul makes this central when he commands Christians to “imitate God” (Eph. 5:1). What we are ultimately pursuing is to know and follow Christ, and to bring each student along with us in that journey. Over the years, we have seen this become reality time after time, as the student, along with the rest of us, grows in wisdom and virtue. Articulate, thinking disciples emerge and begin to take ownership of their potential and calling.
This goal is not personal fulfillment, though that certainly can be and often is a proper byproduct of our mission. The greater motivation is to prepare each student to discern and fulfill more effectively the calling of God in his or her life. I should also say, in addition, that we believe that the life of the mind is central to discernment and the faithful living of the Christian life. Again, the Apostle Paul says this expressly in Romans 12:2:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
What a wonderful foundation for a Christ-centered, classical education!
In 1994, Mark Noll, currently Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at Notre Dame, published a book entitled The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. The scandal, per Noll (an evangelical Christian himself), is that contemporary evangelicalism does not have much of a mind. In other words, the life of the mind, and its historical manifestations, has largely been abandoned by contemporary evangelical Christians. Noll’s thesis has been largely affirmed across the spectrum of thinking Christians.
The founders of CSD gave every indication of affirming Noll’s thesis, and more importantly doing something about it. In that conviction lies much of the motivation for the founding and mission of CSD. The faculty and leadership of the school have affirmed that purpose from the school’s beginning to this very day. We believe that fostering the life of the mind to be well-trained and committed to serving the kingdom of Christ is one of our purposes and callings from God, both as individuals and as a school. In fact, we reject the all too common idea that godliness and the life of the mind are completely separate
This leads to a second distinct aspect of the uniqueness, or value narrative, of CSD. We aim at a life of learning in service of a life of virtue. Sometimes this goal is referred to as Christian formation. It is clear that a majority of our families have this as one of, if not the, primary reasons they have chosen to send their child to Cambridge. We are blessed to walk together with and serve families who share that
The call of God begins with living in conformity to God’s revealed will, which is found principally in Scripture. That is why we require theology courses throughout our curriculum, and why we approach those courses with as much depth, rigor and expectation as we do with other subjects. These courses are central – not ancillary, secondary, or peripheral – to our mission and its objectives.
We are radically serious about the call and purposes of God in the life of every student and family associated with our school, as well as with every faculty, staff and Board member. That begins with learning the character, nature, ways, and purposes of God himself as manifest in Christ, and learning how to follow him. We believe that God is not silent or passive. We must seek to know what he has done and said, and how best to understand all of this. In order to do this well, we must 1) learn about the world God has created – its history, physical characteristics, the way it works (so to speak), its people, languages, etc.; 2) learn about his word, the Bible – its history, languages, primary story line, people, themes, and meaning; and 3) listen carefully to the sages of the past whose voices have stood the test of time among many diverse cultures and peoples.
To what does all this add up? Simply put, we are a school deeply committed to high level learning in the service of God and his purposes. We believe this is distinctive, at least in our day and culture, and it is the most effective college preparatory education one can receive, bar none. There are many good options for secondary education in Dallas. There are few, however, which come anywhere close to what I have described above. And among those few, significant differences remain, some of which matter little and some of which matter greatly. Some of those differences are academic, some theological, and some cultural.
I should make one last important point about the mission and practice of our school. It is distinctly countercultural. That is partly by design and partly inevitable given the nature of the mission (perhaps I can tease out these ideas in a later communique, but not here). A life of wisdom, virtue and eloquence is not easily formed or easily lived, and it certainly runs counter to much within our culture. What we are
asking of our students is counter to what most of their peers face, both within and without school. It is likely counter to how most of us parents were educated and what we face regularly in cultural terms. This alone makes the mission hard to understand and embrace. The difficulty is compounded in multiple ways week in and week out. Our fallen human nature, combined with the toxicity of modern western secular culture, means we are constantly swimming upstream. This, by its very nature, is hard. Combine that with the sheer hard work to be done for high level learning, and you see the challenge.
Now the question remains; are we making good on the mission described above? Is our value narrative merely wishful thinking, or is there reality to it? We certainly have areas which need improvement and we continue to work diligently on these matters – facility acquisition, curriculum review, faculty retention and development, carefully managed and capped growth, etc. Most importantly, there is also the ever present challenge of getting Academic Discipleship right. That is the most difficult element of it all, and we strive to be consistently improving in this area week by week, situation by situation, student by student. Each Christmas break and summer we are reminded of the successes as we visit with alumni who come back firmly convinced that they now see the fruit of a Cambridge education. No matter where they attend college, CSD alumni, even those who perhaps struggled a bit at CSD, report that they are very well prepared, and often markedly more so than their peers. Further, they report that they are beginning to see the intellectual currents and implications like never before. They attribute this to their time here.
Please understand that there is no boasting intended in the above comments, merely an attempt to tell an important story. I tell this story because it serves an important mission, one which you have chosen to join, and one which we hope you will encourage others to join. Let us continue to work together toward its fulfillment. It will indeed bear good fruit, especially in the long run. The Proverbs say over and over again that the full realization of this mission requires humble receptivity, a positive attitude and hard work. I look forward to working together toward these ends, always with your student’s best interest and God’s call in mind. That is the mission of the The Cambridge School of Dallas; that is the commitment of her Board, faculty and staff. May our good Father grant us the grace, provisions and empowerment to make it so, all …
… Pro Christo,
B. Paul Wolfe
Head of School