Recently, I decided to attend my first Friday night football game, at Parkway West. While at the game, however, I was much more focused on the atmosphere of the event than the game itself. This was because, for a solid couple of hours, I felt a sensory overload; the sights and sounds were different than anything I had ever perceived about the classic high school football experience. This included the way people dressed, the diversity, the tailgate in the parking lot, and the general school spirit. Then, in the school, I saw large posters and multiple bulletin boards on the walls, and I overheard kids talking with certain explicit words I wasn’t used to hearing so casually.
After observing, I thought, “Kids certainly seemed more free to be themselves, and more passionate about their school — there were no strict modesty expectations (even for outside of school), no bans against certain chants, and no immaculate hallways devoid of announcements.” And while this was an out-of-school event, it still starkly contrasted Westminster in regards to the comportment of Parkway West’s students.
Maybe it is possible that these students are more prepared for the so-called “real world,” and more immediately, the academic and social freedoms available in college, because of their access to those freedoms right now. With that said, I wonder, respectfully and candidly, if Westminster truly prepares the whole student for college. In other words, will Westminster’s vision to “prepare and equip more young men and women to engage the world and change it for Jesus Christ” by “engaging the hearts and minds” actually come to fruition when students graduate, or will students, once exposed to the things of the world, be unprepared to respond positively at all?
To discuss this question, it is important to examine multiple Christian perspectives: a WCA teacher who attended both public high school and WCA (Mr. Dan Burke), a Parkway South senior who has attended public school her whole life (Samantha VanEssendelft), a WCA senior who attended public middle school and has friends at public high schools (Sophia Mullen), and a WCA senior who has only attended private Christian schools (Alyssa Legters).
In the commencement of this discussion about the “bubble” culture for each of these people, it is vital to define what a bubble even is- it connotates protection from infections besides designated ideals. Thus, in this article, though the term is usually out of context, the word “bubble” will be used since it is so familiar already. With that said, it is important to know what those in this discussion think the “bubble” even is. Mr. Burke, a senior English teacher at WCA, sheds his insight on the term.
“[Specifically at Westminster], I wouldn’t call it a bubble, I’d call it a chrysalis. We often talk about, ‘Well, kids aren’t learning unless they’re in the real world.’ Well, are they ready? A chrysalis is when a caterpillar-like creature goes into it, in this sort of crucible, waiting for development, and then breaks out of it and flies. [At Westminster, the caterpillar, the student, is preparing to fly into the ‘the real world’ after graduation],” said Burke.
While WCA’s bubble is a formative “chrysalis” to Burke, Sophia Mullen has a bit of a different — opposite, in fact — view on it.
“I feel like WCA takes pride in the fact that we are sheltered from what goes on around us, but they are just sheltering us from things during school hours and school events. In a way, it’s just hiding real-world problems from us that we already see in our lives outside of school. It’s really not that helpful,” said Mullen.
While Mullen’s side comes from formerly attending public school, Samantha VanEssendelft gives her view of the Christian bubble at Parkway South.
“I’m in the Christian bubble at my school, which is maybe hard to believe. And then, in my school, other bubbles would be exemplified by race, sexual orientation, and [various other] groups. But while everybody interacts, there’s still a sense of belonging in certain places,” said VanEssendelft.
And finally, Alyssa Legters, a long-time friend of VanEssendelft, explains her view of the Christian bubble.
“I think the bubble is the concept that students are surrounded by a Christian influence everywhere they go and are taught many biblical lessons, but are never allowed to face the real world,” said Legters.
But the actual concept of the bubble is only part of the equation; what the stances are on how the bubble is carried out by the school and reacted to by the students is equally important. Legters emphasizes how she believes this occurs at Westminster.
“How the bubble is implemented matters. I think the pros of the bubble are that students gain biblical knowledge and how the world should be, and also that it provides them with good morals and the right way of living. But the con is that they do not always see the world as it is, [which might cause some of them to not be] prepared for the real world, which would be Westminster’s fault,” said Legters.
As Legters explains some of the possible consequences of Westminster not implementing the bubble well, Burke points out how Westminster is able to do so as a Christian school.
“If you think about some of the conversations we have, at least [during the students’] senior year, they’re conversations that my public school students were never allowed to have, like a survey of religions or worldviews course, or even politically. I feel like even though the majority of our students identify as conservative, in a lot of classes, students really look at both sides of the issues, and the faculty try to help engage that,” said Burke.
For VanEssendelft, though, the way her Christian bubble is carried out is quite different at Parkway South, because there’s more than one bubble than for just the Christians.
“I have friends of different faiths, and it’s cool to be able to interact with them. I want to understand why they believe what they do, how it’s similar or different to Christianity,” said VanEssendelft.
But while these are what people are thinking through now, how they will actually be prepared for the next steps in life, college, and the real world, is still to be discussed. Burke, a seasoned adult, gives his realistic view first.
“College is going to be overwhelming no matter what. When you leave a Christian environment and have college professors who really challenge your faith, it’s going to be challenging. But I don’t think that because people go through a culture shock when they go through that change that Westminster’s done them this tremendous disservice. But I would also encourage students, if you’re going to go to Mizzou, you should get involved in a campus ministry and you should find a strong local church — you should look for support. If you don’t, you will probably suffer spiritually, and you might lose your faith — a lot of students do. If my kids go to a secular university, I’ll tell them that they need to find Christian support,” said Burke.
Legters, a current senior, will continue her Christian education into college. Although many students there will probably hold her same worldview, Westminster will have prepared her to defend her faith, regardless.
“I’m going to attend a Christian college, but I think since Christian colleges draw from a much wider demographic and attract people from many different parts of the country, my college will reflect a more diverse body of Christ and won’t resemble a bubble very closely. Also, I think that Westminster has given me some tools to use to defend the faith, but still, I don’t think Westminster has entirely prepared me to be able to do that because many times I’ve felt that Westminster has focused on converting students rather than equipping believers. I think a required apologetics course could be helpful for this,” said Legters.
Mullen, also a current senior at WCA, speaks into her witnessing of her newly-graduated friends’ tumultuous experiences in college, due to their lack of exposure to certain social pressures in high school.
“I’ve seen multiple people do things [in college already as freshmen] they never got the opportunity to do in high school, to the extreme, because they feel like they are finally free…They don’t have to worry about the school getting them in trouble when in reality they are harming themselves more,” said Mullen.
Finally, VanEssendelft, the public high school senior, speaks of her practice of being open about her faith and interacting with people of other faiths, and how it will carry into college.
“Regardless of where I go to college, I know that being exposed to other religions, cultures, gender identities, etc., has prepared me for my next chapter. Since college is all about being immersed and discussing these things with a diversity of people, I’m excited to continue growing in my faith and be able to be open about it,” said VanEssendelft.
Four different people. One an adult and a teacher. Three students, two at a Christian private high school and one at a public high school. Four with different views of their Christian bubble in their respective schools. Yet, all have the same faith, and all are united in their desire to continue growing in it. And, even Samantha, a student at a public school, is in the Christian bubble. While there are different approaches WCA could take to “engaging hearts and minds” for the next steps of their students in social and administrative aspects, the core of the mission is to cultivate a foundation for which students can build off of. The question now is how each student, outside of school, is to expose themselves to things of the world, in godly, curious, investigative ways.