What Schools Teach Us about Religious Life | Second Edition

by Daniel R. Heischman (Author)
©2018 Textbook X, 178 Pages


The second edition of What Schools Teach Us About Religious Life continues to explore the ways in which private education in the United States mirrors the growing complexity and fluidity of religious life in the United States. Through the study of ten different private schools—representing a wide variety of religious traditions as well as some secular institutions—a picture of contemporary culture, and the place of religious belief within the culture, emerges. Each chapter of this second edition of What Schools Teach Us About Religious Life contains a different picture of how individual schools then address that culture.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword and Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1. Introduction: Overflowing Containers
  • Chapter 2. Doing Both
  • Chapter 3. A Bold American Experiment
  • Chapter 4. The Elephant in the Corner?
  • Chapter 5. Unashamedly Unapologetic
  • Chapter 6. That Long, Funny Word
  • Chapter 7. Educating Hearts and Minds
  • Chapter 8. Minding the Light
  • Chapter 9. Delving into the Difficult
  • Chapter 10. Changing the Narrative
  • Chapter 11. Religious Connectivity
  • Chapter 12. Conclusion: Gentler Souls

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Any attempt to do a limited study of educational institutions representing a wide variety of traditions and philosophies will inevitably be vulnerable to accusations of having overlooked one group or the other, or one type of school or the other. No doubt some will not be happy with the kinds of schools I have chosen, or the ones chosen within a certain tradition. That, to my mind, speaks more to the scope and variety of private schools in the United States than however limited this study turns out to be. Suffice it to say that I sought to find schools that were diverse geographically and religiously, open to the idea of welcoming someone from the outside coming in and holding conversations with a wide variety of constituents, and in some way serving to help shatter some of the stereotypes and categorizations that many have ascribed to private education.

So, too, there may be some who feel that my description of their schools was altogether too positive, overlooking of institutional flaws large or small. I had no interest, in this project, to do an expose or “tell-all” of any given school. These are institutions that have a powerful story to tell, not only about their own internal life but, also, I believe, about the rapidly changing character of religious life in the United States. If what I write seems too good to be true for any particular school, I would simply say that I am hoping to ← vii | viii → serve as a counterbalance to most of the media portrayals of private schools that give attention to the inconsistencies or underbellies of what are often and mistakenly described as elitist institutions. Hopefully, this study confirms that private education is not about elitism, nor is newsworthy simply by virtue of the unsavory or ironic tales they often can tell.

Whatever degree these schools are honest about their struggles is a testimony, to my way of thinking, to their strengths, not their deficiencies. These schools live amidst a culture of very high expectation, be it academic achievement, institutional fairness and equity at all levels, or, in the case of religious schools, the assumption that they will always live up to their stated beliefs. The latter are often found wanting under the accusation that, “I thought you were a religious school.” Amidst what is often a cultural cult of perfectionism—both within the school and without—it takes real courage to be transparent regarding where the school and all of the members of the community have fallen short of their mission. By their very nature these are idealistic communities, and shortcomings can seem at times shameful. We all seek to “talk up” the institutions with which we are affiliated. One of the ways, it turns out, we “talk up” is to be forthright about where our schools still need improvement.

Our culture is hungry for models—of individuals as well as institutions—that can help instruct us in how to be people and places of integrity and commitment, while also being eager to be diverse, welcoming communities. As vastly diverse as these schools are, philosophically and geographically, they each inspire us with their willingness to hold these two goals in tandem, often in tension.

This project could not have been completed without the cooperation of each school community, including the hard work each one put in to making these extensive visits possible. The most gratifying commonality I personally experienced with the ten schools in this study was their hospitality, and the degree to which they were willing to invite a stranger into their midst, who would carry out conversations with a variety of people in the school community. Each one went out of their way to provide space for me for these conversations. Every school chronicled here went to great lengths to schedule a wide variety of people who otherwise were leading very busy lives. These people showed remarkable kindness as well as organization, down to the simplest but most humane of gestures, checking in with me, periodically during my visit, to see if I was finding my way around or was in need of anything. ← viii | ix →

To the individuals who coordinated these events I owe my deepest thanks: Patrick Barrett, Director of Strategic Initiatives at The First Academy; Amir Al-Sarraf, Head of School at New Horizon; Carrie Branson, Assistant to the Head of School at Waynflete School; Dr. Eileen Council, Principal, and her Assistant, Julie Bainum, at Houston Christian High School; Mary Healy, Director of Human Resources at Breck School; Victor Shin, Associate Principal and Dean of Programs at Bishop McNamara High School; Tom Hoopes, Chair of the Religious Studies Department at George School; Kelly Simon, Executive Assistant to the Head of School at Lakeside School; Sara Roemer, Director of Communications for St. Marcus School; and Rabbi Laurie Hahn Tapper of Yavneh Day School. I am in awe of their collective willingness to go out of their way to make me feel at home.

To the members of the ten school communities who graciously shared with me their insights—particularly the students, who always are the most inspiring people to talk with in a school—thank you for another form of hospitality extended to me, sharing with me your experiences of and insights about the schools you clearly love.

Finally, wish to extend my thanks to the Governing Board of the National Association of Episcopal Schools, who encouraged me in the pursuit of this project while still attempting to lead a national association, and to the members of the NAES staff—Ann Mellow, Linda Burnett, David Schnabel, and Sarah Tielemans—who put up with all of my inconsistencies and absences from the office during the time I was doing this work. Thanks, as well, go to my friend, John Kinsella, who did much of the initial proofreading of this document, and whose observations—on the record and off!—helped to keep me sane during the completion of this project.

The second edition of this book is dedicated in loving memory to Matthew Geiger, once a member of the Religion Department at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School in Alexandria VA. Matthew’s life and vocation was devoted to the intersection of religious belief and practice with the teaching of young people, and his untiring commitment to self-reflection and spiritual growth was a constant source of inspiration throughout this project. What’s more, as is so often the case with the closing days of any great person’s life, I learned much about living through his example, and that of his wife, Emily. I am confident that he is well pleased by the furtherance of this project into a second edition. ← ix | x →

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Overflowing Containers

These days, very few people who join our church were raised in the denomination or tradition we are part of, and we are hardly unique in that.

—Lillian Daniel1


X, 178
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (March)
variety pluralistic constituency tradition reality investigation
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Vienna, Oxford, Wien, 2018. X, 178 pp.

Biographical notes

Daniel R. Heischman (Author)

Daniel R. Heischman is the Executive Director of the National Association of Episcopal Schools (since 2007) and has served as the Board President of the Council for American Education (CAPE). An adjunct instructor in the Doctor of Ministry program at Virginia Theological Seminary, he was formerly the Chaplain of Trinity College (2003–2007), Assistant Headmaster and Head of the Upper School at St. Albans School in Washington DC (1994–2003) and Executive Director of the Council for Religion in Independent Schools (1987–1994). From 1979–1987 he was Chaplain and Head of the Religion Department at Trinity School in New York. He is the author of Good Influence: Teaching the Wisdom of Adulthood.


Title: What Schools Teach Us about Religious Life | Second Edition
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190 pages