This past January, I attended real-time presentations given in Hawaii, Estonia, Russia, Belgium, and over a dozen states in the Lower 48, without leaving the comfort of my home office—and all in a single Saturday. It seems hardly a week goes by that I don’t attend a webinar that normally would only be available in person, thousands of miles away. This is one silver lining from the world moving to Zoom.
But despite the unprecedented access to conferences these days, the more virtual sessions I attend the more I’m convinced that a conference isn’t primarily about hearing a great speaker or leaving with a trove of new insights. Recalling the in-person conferences that have had the greatest lasting impact on me, it is the off-platform conversations, chance encounters, and deep connections that are most meaningful.
And it is this that makes Converge 2022 (formerly, the Global Christian School Leadership Summit) indispensable. Few, if any, opportunities provide better engagement with leaders in the Christian school community.
But why is a think tank like Cardus involved?
I’d get in trouble if I said it’s because we make the conference more interesting. The truth is: we need what Converge has got!
I’ll explain more, but before doing so, a quick backstage tour of Cardus will help. We need to understand who Cardus is and why we care about Christian schools. From there, we’ll clearly see why we’re excited about Converge and how our partnership adds a unique element to the conference.
Cardus and Christian Education
Let’s start with the world of think tanks. The simplest way to understand them is to think of traffic intersections (or roundabouts, if you’re in Australia or England).
Think tanks typically work at a three-way intersection of academia, government, and media, with the purpose of providing thought leadership in one of two lanes: government-based or market-based public policy “solutions.” Cardus is unique in that we are situated at a crossing with a fourth spoke: culture. Our work is about more than just credible research, sound policy, and public narratives, as important as those are. We believe any lasting impact will come from cultural change.
This is why, to continue with the roadway analogy, we think it is naïve to assume everyone using the street will be driving an automobile. What about cyclists, pedestrians, and trolleys? There might even be a subway or “tube” running directly underfoot. In the same way that envisioning only motorized vehicles impoverishes a transportation network, framing public policy discourse with an eye for only rent-seekers and taxpayers is myopic. A healthy society requires a robust civil society—the self-organizing communities of human social life and institutions, beyond the state and business, which nurture the common good.
This is why Cardus is active with Christian schools and educational leaders. Our work is always common-good oriented, and thus, our research interests focus on the relationship of civil society—especially faith-based institutions—in the public square. From a public policy standpoint, you can hardly talk about K–12 schooling without acknowledging how formative it is in shaping society and our shared, public life together. To quote one of the foremost influences on Cardus’ intellectual thought, Abraham Kuyper:
Education touches on one of the most complicated and intricate questions, one that involves every issue, including the deepest issues that invite humanity’s search for knowledge—issues of anthropology and psychology, religion and sociology, pedagogy and morality, in short, issues that encroach upon every branch of social life.
Thus, Kuyper declares, “Education is a distinct public interest.” Not ‘public’ in the sense that it is or ought to be administered by the state, but ‘public’ in that education is elemental to all social and cultural life.
In other words—as Kuyper articulated elsewhere—education is a function of the social, not political, order and therefore, notwithstanding minimum state standards, should be independent of politics. (As an aside, perhaps this helps explain why Christian school graduates—educated outside the politically-controlled school system—abate political polarization, per the evidence I recently presented on CACE’s blog).
To quote James K.A. Smith, from his time as editor-in-chief of Comment, our quarterly core thought-leadership publication:
One of the reasons Cardus champions the cause of school choice and true pluralism in education, challenging the state’s monopoly on schooling, is precisely because the common good is better served by the state making room for a diverse array of educational institutions and approaches. … Schooling is the sort of social good that is best tended by smaller “societies” within society where parents—and the rest of us—are more intimately invested in the lives of children in our community. Schooling is a local project, not a federal one (the benighted hopes of “common core” notwithstanding). When we recognize this, parents win, children win, and as the… Cardus Education Survey demonstrates, the public wins, too: so-called “private” schools are a public good.
Cardus and Converge 2022
But there are at least three more reasons why Cardus is interested in a major convening of Christian school leaders, generally, and at Converge, specifically. These are the reasons we attend Converge and are honoured to be involved with the hosting organizations.
First, our original research only has meaning insofar as it is translated into tools that practitioners can use. Converge provides an excellent forum for this. For us to be relevant to conference partners and attendees, we must translate our data and findings into practical material for school leaders. We don’t want our research to sit on a shelf but to be useful to real people with real challenges in the real world.
Second, our research is conversational. As Cherie Harder recently wrote for Comment:
Intellectual hospitality is important to our very ability to think well. Thinking itself is a relational act; as Alan Jacobs writes in his wonderful book How to Think, “To think independently of other human beings is impossible, and if it were possible it would be undesirable. Thinking is necessarily, thoroughly, and wonderfully social. Everything you think is a response to what someone else has thought and said.” None of us is truly an independent thinker. The way that we think, as well as what we think about, consists largely of what we have previously been exposed to through our relationships and interactions.
We want to engage with questions as they emerge, postured with a listening ear. Converge is a conference with its hand to the pulse, where you hear from the sector’s foremost leaders on the ground. For us, this is critical to informing ongoing research.
Third, we are deeply committed to cultivating and enrichening culture. This requires the interaction of all sorts of associations within an ecosystem of organizations. We think and work dynamically in relation to them. Thus, our activity in Converge is an act of both solidarity and unity, as we—together—sow, shape, and nurture the ideas and leaders in the proverbial ‘garden’ of Christian schooling. We steward these relationships by giving the best we can, and listening and learning from others.
Especially as we look forward to convening—in-person!—at Converge, this posture of genuine humility and solidarity is essential if we are to live out the 2022 event’s theme: Leading Courageously, Renewing Hope. In bridging divides in this critical cultural moment, our unity will be found in both our pursuit of truth and how we pursue it. To quote Brandon McGinley’s recent Breaking Ground article:
A commitment to truth means an openness to others and a willingness to listen and to learn, not in skepticism of truth but the mutual and cooperative pursuit of truth that is an aspect of the love of neighbor. We can practice and demonstrate this among ourselves as Christians, showing that the truth—the real Truth—does form and sustain communities, does make living together not just possible but joyful, does bind us together while making us servants of all.
This is at the heart of who Cardus is, why we exist, and why we are tremendously excited for Converge 2022.
See you there!
Abraham Kuyper, On Education (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2019), xxii.