Sharon sat in the chair opposite me at the table in my school office.
Her voice was quivering. She had come to share her difficult news with me. She was going to enroll her son, who she had been home schooling, in the city’s middle school for seventh grade. She was afraid I would be disappointed in her choice.
I paused, prayed silently, and spoke quietly (three things I’m not naturally good at). “Sharon, I want you to do what you believe is in the best interest of you son…always!” I wanted to allay any concerns she had about making a decision that pleased me – or anyone else.
For the previous four years Sharon had been home schooling under the umbrella of the private Christian school I founded and administered. She worked in the school office, enjoyed being part of the team, appreciated the Christian education community, and loved her son. Neither she nor her husband were pleased with the public school environment in the small town in which they lived. There was already known gang activity at the middle school her son would be attending. I knew this was a difficult decision and there must be a compelling reason.
“Would you like to talk about it?” Sharon shared that Nicholas’ test scores were lower than she anticipated and she was failing as his teacher. There were no traditional Christian middle schools in the area, so the right answer must be the public school. Her husband would support whatever decision she made.
“I will support you in whatever you decide for Nicholas and for your family” I promised. I meant it. “Can we visit about your goals for Nicholas?” She nodded. I continued.
“Why did you bring him home to begin with?” I knew the story, but I wanted to give Sharon the opportunity to tell it. Nicholas had been shy and retreating, appearing rude and self-absorbed. He had begun to be disrespectful at home and was uncooperative with friends and family. His disobedience and dishonesty finally led her to believe he needed a different educational environment.
I probed, “Tell me about Nicholas’ progress at home.”
Nicholas, had been a delayed writer. I remembered that just three months earlier Sharon had been thrilled with his progress as she compared the writing samples in his portfolio. She was even more pleased with the character development. She had watched her child begin to demonstrate attentiveness, contentment, cooperation, courtesy, and friendliness all since she began teaching him at home. In her recent quarterly review she had observed improvements in following directions, industriousness, obedience, and respectfulness.
Pulling out her quarterly review, I asked, “Are these qualities that you value for Nicholas’ education?”
“Of course!” she exclaimed. “These are the character traits I have always wanted for Nicholas…why I thought he needed a distinctly Christian education.”
“Have you looked at the test scores of the school you’ll be sending him to?” They had been printed in the newspaper just a few weeks earlier, so we looked them up together. The middle school’s scores were considerably lower than Nicholas’ results, and fared even worse compared to our private school’s average scores. But for me that wasn’t yet the essence of the issue.
So, I asked what seemed like an obvious question. “Do you believe these standardized tests value what you value?” I asked.
“I’ve never thought about that!” It was evident she had not. Sharon was about to make a decision that contradicted everything she believed she valued based on an evaluation instrument that did not value what she valued.
This false dilemma is not limited to parents and teachers.
It is not about which school or coop or learning center is the right choice. Leaders in education, business, and church are prone to the same fallacious logic. The first educational resource I authored is a text titled Evaluating for Excellence: a Handbook for Evaluating Student Progress. For years I conducted seminars about authentic assessment. The light bulb moment in every seminar was looking at the root word for evaluation: value. To evaluate implies assessing progress in something we value. Many people rely on instruments of evaluation that espouse values they do not hold.
In leadership studies this is referred to as values alignment or, as in Sharon’s case, misalignment. This is where we look at whether our stated values align with our decisions. Everyday examples of this include saying we value saving while we overspend, or deciding we value family time and rescheduling to incorporate it. As a teacher, a parent, or a school administrator, it is important to check that your values are aligned with those making decisions about things that are important to you like curriculum, competence, character, and conduct.
That brings us to the question: where do values come from?
In teaching high school students about values, we categorize values as intrinsic, from inside of us, or extrinsic, from the outside. Sharon was relying on extrinsic values: she did not personally value that particular test, but she knew other people did (like her relatives and church friends) and she was trying to please them. She was not happy with her decision because it was not based on her values. Extrinsic values are not ours and striving to gain more of them is never satisfying.
Sharon’s intrinsic values were for her son’s overall development: intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual. She knew what she valued in character, progress, health, nutrition, fitness, and many areas of study. She also believed that many of these values were biblically directed. Sharon believed Nicholas’ character development and spiritual growth were her responsibility. He flourished when she guided him toward positive learning environments and life-giving community.
As parents and teachers we have an obligation to identify what we value before we evaluate it. Then find tools to measure those values. And ask God to show us what he values for us and for the children he has entrusted to us.
God tells us in his word that he resides in us. You know that you are God’s sanctuary and that God’s Spirit lives in you, don’t you? (I Cor. 3:16). That means His values are also at work in us – intrinsic. As we are aligned with God, we are aligned with His values. A sign of spiritual growth is to value what God values.
Peter lists a few of God’s values for early Christians and for us. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. (2 Peter 1: 5-8)
For Sharon, the real issue at hand was not the choice between public, private, and home schooling. The issue was that Sharon’s decision had to rely on intrinsic values – and those values needed to be aligned with God’s values for her family. How do you know whether your values are aligned with your Heavenly Father’s values for you?
For help in assessing your own values and methods for evaluating your student’s educational progress see my resource Evaluating for Excellence: a Handbook for Evaluating Student Progress. This handbook has been used by thousands of parents and teachers to evaluate what they really value. Or attend a seminar near you.
Dr. Teresa Moon, founding President and CEO of the Institute for Cultural Communicators, is an internationally-recognized seminar speaker, education consultant, author, and leadership coach. Each year, she travels globally equipping students, teachers, and parents to become “cultural communicators,” transforming ordinary students into extraordinary communicators and authentic leaders.