Lutheran Education Uniquely Well-Suited to Prepare Grounded and Exceptional 21st Century Citizens

Urban theorist Richard Florida, in his February 17, 2012 post, “A Blueprint for a 21st Century Workforce,” lays out a couple key skill components for work in the 21st century:

When my colleagues and I parsed the data on the hundreds and hundreds of jobs that make up the U.S. economy, we identified key skills that matter to wages.

The first is well-known – “analytical or cognitive skill,” of the sort most people associate with knowledge work. While it is certainly the case that doctors, computer scientists, and software engineers earn more money based on their cognitive skills, analytical skill has an even bigger effect on wages for both blue-collar and service workers.

But the skill with the biggest effect on wages is the “social intelligence skill.” Much more than being friendly or outgoing, it includes the ability to help develop people, to organize them around goals, to recruit and lead teams and mobilize the right people for a project  – the cornerstones of leadership and effective management that add to organizational productivity.

Even more than with analytical skill, social intelligence increases the wages of knowledge workers but of blue-collar and service workers as well.

While many are advocating vociferously for religion to be relegated to private corners of American life, I would argue that Lutheran theology (and, therefore, Lutheran schools) is uniquely suited for our time. Lutheran theology, with its deep respect for God’s world and for human life and potential (for good and ill), with its always-timely teaching on the holiness of all lawful vocations, and with its core, abiding hope that flows from God’s gracious reconciliation for man in Christ, leads to a holistic and (Dare I say?) humbly ambitious worldview.

For example, if analytical skill is a key part of the new economy (and that’s hard to argue with), then one must have a foundation from which to analyze. The tribal or relative truth postmodernism will and must pass away, as it leads to intellectual and social chaos (From what “truth” do I base my decision???) and, necessarily, to a Nietzschean assertion of power. Lutheran schools, on the other hand, teach not chaos and chance but the Creator, order, respect and grace. Children taught in Lutheran schools have a foundation from which to analyze all forms of data, which leads us to what Florida calls the “social intelligence skill.”

The children at our Lutheran schools are taught to value God’s world, to respect human life, to understand and cultivate their God-given aptitudes and abilities, but to do with with a healthy dose of humility and respect for others in the community. They are taught, in the words of St. Paul, to “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4.15) Indeed, when Lutheran schools are at their best they understand themselves as “learning communities” that are extensions of the family, which is the crucible of truth of love. Consider, on this note, Martin Luther’s explanation of the commandment “Honor your father and your mother”:

What does this [4th Commandment] mean? “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”

Well-functioning Christian families are always learning to speak the truth in love. Parents learn this art in relation to children, children in relation to parents and to one another. All are always learning to speak the truth in love in relationship to one another and to the other authorities (government, employees and employers, the church, citizens) whom God has established. I would argue, in fact, that nothing on earth teaches respectful truth-telling like learning confess your sins to one another in the family. If I, as a parent, can have the courage to swallow my pride and admit to God that I acted too quickly in anger to my children and know the freedom and forgiveness of Christ, then I can have the courage to admit the same and seek the forgiveness of my children. In so doing, then, I am teaching my children how to do so themselves. Accountability and respect, I have found, are absolutely key “social intelligences” that translate to our more public life.

In fact, according to Luther’s explanation, children in a Lutheran school are taught to “love and cherish” not just their families but the teachers, administrators, and governments that serve them, even when they do wrong. They are not taught to be radically autonomous individuals who must discover and assert their own personal power; rather, they are taught that they are gifts of God, each uniquely intelligent and remade in the image of God through Christ with His consequent love and concern for the whole creation; they are taught, over time, to understand the truth and to speak it in love to all authorities.

Now, more than ever, Lutherans and their schools need to be true to their confession of faith.  If we do so I am convinced that we will be a beacon of truth, hope and love in a culture that is being overwhelmed by a swirling sea of relativity.