I work in a private school which accepts students from all over the Indianapolis area. 8th grade students and families have a wide array of strong options for public and private schooling in our community. My own family traveled the path of educational choice when our eldest was an 8th grader. It was a wild ride for my husband and I since we were raised in much smaller communities with one choice - the local public high school. I recognize the arguments for choice in education - but choice does add a sense of competition among our schools. For me, competition is a pitfall of discernment. It interrupts the process discussed in my previous post and places barriers to the open exploration of ideas.
Discernment vs Decision-MakingIn a brief, over-simplistic nutshell, decision making occurs when context understanding and reflection is over-looked. Decision-making happens quickly. Discernment takes time. Decision-making is often from above, by those with little to no relationship with the people affected. Discernment is relational - it takes place in dialogue with those affected. Decision-making occurs without reflection (I personally use the term prayer but am using reflection for the secular audience). Discernment occurs in time spent in reflection, reviewing feelings toward options and sitting with feelings of a choice made. Decision-makings assumes a good choice and a bad choice. Discernment assumes all choices are good but one may better lead to growth. And ultimately discernment is about growth toward a deeper relationship with God/Truth/Students. Discernment is about fulfillment. Competition leads to decision-making. Collaboration leads to discernment.
How Competition Creates BarriersIn Phase One, competition taints the context setting process. Ideally, discernment begins in a balanced understanding of the needs of an individual or in this case school community. "Well, High School West is doing it so we have to in order to attract students" is not context. Context is the social, racial, emotional, historical, economic, gender, mission-focused foundation of the unique school community. The moment a school cannot identify their context - their unique place in the educational system - discernment fails and decision-making occurs. Competition assumes comparison to defeat the other - not movement toward fulfillment of personal gifts.
In Phases Two and Three, the main threat of competition is its influence on experiences via fear of failure. A school will not consider all options open if competition is fierce - whatever the prize. Educators complain that students will not take risks for fear of a lower grade but how many of us administrators do not try innovative approaches for fear of market rejection? Administrators will second-guess themselves for days - eventually putting off any forward movement because of doubt. Paralyzing the process of discernment.