Is it Ironic that the CEO of the College Board is Praising the Virtues of Religious Education?

College Board

David Coleman is the President and CEO of the College Board, “a mission-driven non-for-profit organization, best known for the SAT and AP Program.”  In a recent piece at Christianity Today he sings the praises of religious education.

Here is a taste:

First, religious education celebrates and cultivates productive solitude—the practice of being alone. We don’t need to visit a monastery to recognize the essential link between solitude, contemplation, and prayer. Today’s young people especially need productive solitude as the technology of interruption has grown to outpace the discipline of concentration.

The sometimes-crazed pursuit of college admission tends to destroy such solitude and inhibits excellence in any activity outside of the classroom. Typical college applications have five to ten spaces for activities. There should be no more than three. If you want to do more, so be it. But those pursuits should stem from genuine interest, not the anxiety of needing to fill blanks on an application.

A second powerful practice is reverent reading. Reading deeply—attending to a text with the full powers of the mind and heart—is vital to communities of faith and to academic success. C. S. Lewis describes it best when he compares reading well to looking at a work of art:

We must begin by laying aside as completely as we can all our own preconceptions, interests, and associations. We must look and go on looking till we have certainly seen exactly what is there. The first demand any work of any art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way.

I find that students are often asked more about themselves than the books they have read. Lewis describes true reading as enlarging the soul, a skill critical for the first year in college, when students spend less time in class and more time reading independently.

A third gift of religious education is what many religious communities call “grace and gratitude.” Religious training invites us to strive with all our might while recognizing the limits of our power.

A young person informed by grace and gratitude escapes the illusion that they are entirely in control of their lives. That awareness makes them less fragile in the face of failures and more grounded when successful.

Read the entire piece here.

I endorse everything Coleman says here, but I do find it a bit ironic coming from the guy who brings us the SAT and the AP Exam.  As someone who has taught AP US History, graded AP US History exams, and have daughters who have taken multiple AP exams, it all seems a bit odd.

  1. In my experience, the AP exams and the SAT encourage the kind of ambition and “crazed pursuit of college admission” that Coleman derides in his piece.
  2. In my experience, the AP exams are so geared toward coverage that they force teachers to “teach to the test.”  This hardly allows an instructor to delve deeply into texts and read in such a way that “enlarges the soul.”
  3. The AP and SAT, and the culture of success and ambition these exams have created, seem to exacerbate student anxiety and train them in unhealthy habits of self-mastery and self-control.

Perhaps I am missing something here, but it seems like the SAT and the AP Exams cultivate educational habits that are mostly at odds with the kind of religious education Coleman endorses in this piece.

Having said all this, I think Coleman might be the kind of guy who is willing to think hard about these issues..  Watch this lecture

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