Standards of Excellence: Context

Standards of Excellence: Context

August 10, 2020

by David Williams, President, Taylor Seminary


In our last post, we began talking about how we ensure quality through the Kairos Project.  Because we don’t require many of the traditional aspects of education that have been associated with securing and maintaining quality, we often get questions on the topic.  We are excited to kick-off this short series on standards of excellence in Kairos and to provide a little more insight into why we have done things the way we have.  

Starting this week and going into the next several weeks, I will be making a few observations that are sometimes overlooked or, at least, not adequately accounted for in traditional educational practices. 

The first observation I want to make has to do with context. Standards of excellence are contextual.  In recent years, we have become more and more aware of the significance of context.  The things that traditionally have been understood by many as being non-contextual are being shown to be inherently contextual.  To put it simply, we are discovering that context matters.  Context matters greatly.  Context matters greatly for everything.  This is true in every dimension of our lives and that’s becoming clearer to us every day.  I want to explore why it matters in thinking about education.

When I was growing up in Texas, we had a colloquialism that we used to characterize anyone who had made a really bad shot.  We said that they had “missed by a mile.”  It didn’t matter if one was throwing a baseball, shooting baskets in basketball, or target shooting at the rifle range, “missing by a mile” meant you were a really bad shot.  Sometimes in class, I ask students if they were aiming at a target but “missed by a mile,” if their aim had been accurate?  After some discussion they come to see that the best answer one can give in the abstract is “it depends.”  It depends on the context.

Let me illustrate how this is so.  If I was shooting at a target 100 yards away, but it missed the target by 5 feet, you would judge my aim as inaccurate.  It was a bad shot.  But if you were sending a space craft 240,000 miles into space and missed the landing spot on the moon by 5 feet that would be characterized as amazingly accurate.  Whether or not missing a target by 5 feet is judged to be ‘accurate’ depends on the context.  Accuracy as a standard by which we judge something is always a contextual judgement.

I say this to raise awareness of the fact that every standard we use presupposes some context for it to be meaningful.  Whether we recognize it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not, there is an assumed context in which the judgement is being made.  That is simply the way things are.  As I say, this is hardly new stuff.  Missiologists have been trying to bring it to our attention for decades.  That’s one reason I have often characterized the Kairos Project as shifting toward a Missiological philosophy of education.  One simply can’t avoid the contextual nature of our judgements, and we need to stop making it appear as if we can.

This leads us to a second observation that standards of excellence are communal.  Please come back next week as we take a closer look at why this is.