Welcoming and Wise

One of the things you will see around school this year is a lot of new technology in the teachers’ hands. This summer they all received MacBooks and iPads, and we are discovering new ways to use these for teaching and learning. We will be taking two full days in October for professional development focused on instructional technology. We have launched a Steering Committee to plan out the student phase of this digital learning initiative. On October 18 we will hold a Parent Night to talk about these developments with you parents, and we are planning several other forums for discussion and dialogue. Stay tuned.

This technology initiative is an instance of the creative tension that is part of the DNA of Trinity, a tension created by our commitment to being both welcoming and wise. We are seriously interested in these new technologies and the ways they are changing teaching and learning. We welcome them and the new possibilities they hold. We also want to be wise and cautious about the ways that technological changes shape our culture and about the unintended consequences of these new tools. Even as we are holding professional development sessions on how to teach for the 21st century using Web 2.0 technologies, we will be reading books like Nicholas Carr’s The Shadows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains. Some of us parents and teachers will want to push ahead with these changes; others will want to slow down and be thoughtful. I want us to do both, which complicated and much more interesting.

Sometime last year I was having coffee with a father who had been at Trinity for two or three years. I’ll never forget what he said. “Trinity is a special place, a unique place. It’s a school that welcomes the best in education that the world has to offer, but one that is careful and thoughtful and even a little suspicious of the entanglements that the world and its good things make on us. That’s a rare combination.”

I think he was on to something. He was describing a school that is both welcoming and wise. On the one hand, we want to welcome the good things the world and our culture have to offer.– like four-year colleges, organized sports, differentiated instruction, the internet, fMRIs, the National Association of Independent Schools, FIRST Robotics competition, ERBs, and iPads—just to name a few cultural phenomena with which we are significantly engaged at Trinity School. On the other hand, we must be wise and even a little suspicious of the loyalties and loves which these goods demand of us. Louis Armstrong was right—it is indeed a “wonderful world” we live in. But it is a fallen one and there are always strings attached to any culture’s goods. This is why Christians are called “aliens and strangers on earth” (Hebrews 11:13) and why the early Christians were accused of turning the world upside down (Acts. 17:6).

There is an inherent tension here, between the openness of a welcoming school and the cautiousness of a wise one. Choose one side of this tension and you can have yourself a simpler school. We could decide to be, simply, a best-practices private school, adopting whatever core values the culture (especially the elites) promotes. Our Christian faith and conviction would be a sort of civil religion, a spiritual expression of the culture’s dominant commitments. There are schools like this, and they are very good schools. But that is not Trinity.

Quite differently, we could simplify our schooling by deciding to shun completely all the godless nonsense out there. We might say that we want only Christians at this school; we would have lots of rules and build lots of fences; and we might make sure that all our textbooks were published by card-carrying evangelicals. We would define ourselves primarily by what we oppose. There are schools like this, and they have an important angle on the truth—for Christ is indeed Lord over and against all. But this is not Trinity School.

We decided from the very beginning that we wanted Trinity to be a place that is thoroughgoing in its Christian commitments yet hospitable toward the world and those who don’t share our faith. We welcome non-Christian parents and students, but we never try to disguise or tone down our Christian convictions. We want our students to choose benevolent engagement with the world through what James Davidson Hunter calls “faithful presence,” which is both welcoming and wise, and a little complex.

Such complexity makes elevator speeches and tag lines a little hard to come up with. We are working on those. For now, “Welcoming and Wise” is maybe not half bad.

Chip Denton


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