Finding a new voice: the role public school students can play at Calvin

File photo.
File photo.

According to the Calvin admissions office, 48 percent of the students currently enrolled at Calvin College have graduated from public high schools.

I happen to be a part of that statistic, and as a public high school student, I came to Calvin expecting to simply sit back and be fed the Word. I was looking forward to that after experiencing fairly severe loneliness while following God on my own in the academic arena for 13 years.

I thought I had been through a hell of some kind and deserved a break from all the probing questions about my faith and life choices. Hadn’t God refined me enough?

In my first year at Calvin, I was surprised by how much Calvin’s message to public school students (from friends, classmates and even professors) tended to be “we can fix all that public schooling has done to you.”

The way many people at Calvin talk about public schools is demeaning and painful, as though I am somehow less of a Christian because the last school I attended didn’t offer Bible class. What I thought I wanted —  to sit back and be fed — has turned out to be dehumanizing and disempowering.

God does not call us to lives of complacency. God calls us to active service, active redemption and active pursuit of him daily regardless of whether we are surrounded by Christians or non-Christians. Not only does the community here at Calvin have much to offer those of us who previously attended public schools, but we also have much to give back to this community.

Those of us who have come from public schools tend to have experience in a particular “flavor” of what it means to pursue God. This experience should be an asset to Calvin College.

We have been asked difficult questions about suffering, evil and sin; we have come to the realization that Sunday school answers will not cut it anywhere outside of the Sunday school classroom. We had to decide if we agreed with what our parents taught us; if we could not explain our beliefs, nobody took us seriously.

We have grown up with non-Christian friends whom we love and deeply respect and whose goodness has challenged our faith by revealing that it is possible to care for other people without religious rationale.

These friends are not “outsiders” or “unbelievers” but incredible people who often seem to be better imitators of God than we are.

The integration of faith and learning is far from new to us, as we have been integrating on our own in the classroom since kindergarten; ants and lizards are way cooler when you know that God made them. Most of these lessons did not come in Bible class or even at youth group, but from our own experiences, day in and day out.

We bring stories and questions with us from our public schools, but we also hold answers we have found over the years.

We have access to a world outside the Christian and west Michigan bubbles and, because of our backgrounds, we do not find that gap as difficult to bridge.

These are the experiences we are longing to share with the Calvin community, if given the voice and opportunity.

 

About the Author

Abby Paternoster

Abby Paternoster is the Chimes opinion and editorial editor for the 2013-14 school year. She is a sophomore from Ann Arbor, Michigan studying international development and social work. She loves to travel, experience new cultures and witness the work God is doing around the world.

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