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What's so impressive

When people of a certain age see someone with dreadlocks, their first impression is often to think, outrageously, that he must be on drugs.

Sad to say but we do still tend to judge people by their first impression on us. We typecast too. When people of a certain age see someone with dreadlocks, their first impression is often to think, outrageously, that he must be on drugs. On the other side of the coin, though, most of us will try to make a good impression when we first meet someone. The problem is though that we do not always know what will impress the other person.

It is the same with schools. Prospective parents (and even current parents) will look at a school and see what impression is given; schools, in turn, seek to give a good impression in all they do, especially to prospective parents.  Parents naturally want to be impressed and so they will tend to ask about percentage pass rates and rugby results, not bursary opportunities or service areas.

Have we ever stopped to wonder what impresses God about schools? It is easy to find the answer: man looks at outward appearance; God looks at the heart. In the long run, which is more important? In the world’s eyes, figures and numbers impress big-time, so parents will think that a huge enrolment figure or high school fees must indicate a good school or that every department must have a 100% pass rate and the school must beat the rival schools every time in sports. But so what?

We tend to be impressed (as the world is) by those in high places with all their supposed knowledge, importance, uniforms, results, wealth, religiosity and pomposity. However, a poor widow who gives two very small copper coins may give more than all the rich folk who proudly pour in wads of notes. Someone with two talents may give as much as a person with five talents; it is what they had in the first place that determines the result. A child that messes up but admits it and corrects it humbly is as important as the one who is always there, always doing the right thing, always succeeding. The weak and young and alone, are just as impressive as the strong or the old or the wealthy. 

Yet we do love to boast about our achievements. Interestingly, in the Bible, Paul argued that if anyone wanted to boast about their achievements, then he had every reason to be up there at the front. He went to the ‘right’ school; he got the highest marks; he was placed in high leadership; he represented the highest authorities; he gained his Colours. However, he humbly recognised that “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss … I consider them rubbish.”

In a similar vein, on a different occasion, Paul gave an interesting slant on the matter when he said to them [paraphrased]: “You want to boast? Ok, let’s boast” and then he proceeded to share a long list that what he had gone through (prison, pain, danger, depravation) which made all other boasts totally insignificant and meaningless, yet at the end he simply added: “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” In that regard, therefore, perhaps we should be ‘boasting’ more about the pupils who cause us problems at school, for surely it is in helping them that the school’s true value can be seen most.

Why should we not be impressed with those that outwardly appear to be impressive? Boasts about our abilities can lead to pride and to greed, to works and to lies. It will lead to us having to continue in such a vein, even when we are not actually able to walk the walk. We should therefore not boast about our academic successes or sporting achievements or modern facilities. The novelist Louis L’Amour once said: “Too often I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen.” The same could be said of many of us: we boast of the wrong things. We look for the wrong things. We boast of what we have done, not of what we have learnt.

 A school, just like an individual, may be tempted to proclaim its self-righteousness. However, if God is not impressed by such things, then neither should we in our school. What then should impress us? We might learn from the exhortation: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom [academic results] or the strong man boast of his strength [sports achievements] or the rich man boast of his riches [fancy facilities] but let him who boasts boast about this: that he … exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth.” That should tell us something about what a school should be ‘boasting’ about and what parents should be looking for in a school. Impressive, yes?

  • Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.

Email: tim@atszim.org website: atszim.org

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