May 11, 2017

Countercultural for the Common Good: The Recent Cheltenham High School Events

An essay by Mark Moser

You might remember that we started this calendar year with a sermon series entitled “Countercultural for the Common Good.” What does countercultural mean?  It means we’re different, and this for a simple reason:  Christ has called us to follow him.  So we cannot give ourselves to the American dream and its promise of the good long life.  On the other hand, but also because of Christ’s call, neither can we be isolationist or indifferent to our neighbors of the Easton Road corridor.  Instead, we are decidedly for the common good.

But what does this look like?

Concerning schooling choices, it’s not always so clear.  Is Christian private school the proper countercultural response?  Or homeschooling?  Or, if these seem isolationist, perhaps public school is the best choice?  Lise and I have chosen thus far to homeschool our children, including a one day a week co-op, but we have always appreciated New Life’s diversity and internal dialogue on the schooling question.  In fact, we’ve seen all the K-12 options at New Life over the years (including use of a private boarding school), and the variants and hybrids seem only to be growing — charter schools, cyber schools, partial participation in public school, early community college enrollment, etc.

So we’ve chosen homeschooling.  Does that mean we have no interest in our public school system?  I hope not, although outside of paying taxes, we’ve had little involvement with it.  But things changed a little bit this past week.

We live in the Cheltenham school district.  We love our home and neighborhood.   But recently an ugly fight in the hallways of the high school made the news through a video shot by a student.  This occurred on May 3rd, but it became clear to all that this altercation was not an isolated incident.  In response to the public outcry, the school administration called a meeting to discuss the present state and future plans for the school system, including a lengthy Q&A session.  Lise and I attended this standing-room only event on Monday, which was covered by the local news.

We are just now getting to know the school system and its current state and value system.  For instance, a staff expert in mindfulness and positive psychology opened the meeting with a short encouragement.  Similarly, we heard numerous comments during the evening about hopes and plans for increased staffing of mental and emotional healthcare professionals.  That was an important theme of the evening.  Many students are struggling to cope with all kinds of issues, and the school system is struggling itself in response to this.

Another theme was the difficulty of disentangling multiple issues.  All seemed to recognize that disciplinary measures are needed, but this topic spilled into strong concerns of racism, as well as sexism and inconsistent policy enforcement.  Moreover, questions lingered on the exact roles of teachers and the local police in physical security and any disciplinary process.  But with all these problems taking center stage, the occasional plea was voiced:  “And don’t forget the good kids, who just want to learn.”

No doubt the night could have gone poorly, but respect and civility largely carried the event.  Attendees need to choose to be satisfied with a forum like this, with the opportunity to speak and offer well-timed applause, and it appears they were.  Credit also goes to the superintendent, on the job now 18 months, for his personal presence at the front of the hall.  His administration received many pointed and persuasive criticisms as you might imagine.

But the most memorable voices of the night were the students who spoke at the microphone.  At a time in which Cheltenham morale is low, you could feel the spirits of the adults in the room being lifted as they heard eloquent and informed words coming from the mouths of their students.

Whether due to a different place or a different time (or both), it was clear to Lise and me that the schooling experience here and now is different than what we both experienced.  We continue to get our heads around the different problems, terminology, technology, and values.  And sorting through the good and the bad is not easy!

Were the Mosers a help at the meeting?  Hardly.  We certainly did not waste anyone’s time with one of our voices at the microphone! But we said a prayer on the way inside and afterward, and hopefully we took a small step in getting to know our community better.

Believers have a bold declaration from our Lord that we are salt and light — two images that richly convey both a countercultural identity and a mission in this world.  And this calling remains true no matter which schooling option we choose!   So although the details of being salt and light will look different for each of us, it typically begins by simply being there and listening carefully.

Countercultural for the common good.  How is the Lord calling you in your life circumstances and opportunities to reflect this commitment?

For the One Who Came to Save,

Pastor Mark

Mark Moser

Mark is the Pastor at New Life. Before coming on staff he spent many years teaching computer programming in the IT sector, while he also pursued theological studies. Mark and his wife Lise live in Glenside with their four children.

Topic: Loving our Community

What does it look like in everyday life to love our neighbors as ourselves and love one another in the body of Christ? We have some wonderful stories to tell.