A Case for the Study of Primary Resources

Greetings from Evangel Classical School!

It’s hard to believe that we’re now but a few days from our follow-up meeting when we look to make the official announcement of our plans for ECS this fall.

So if you  haven’t done so already, please plan to be at the meeting on Monday night, April 30 at 7:00PM at Marysville Seventh-Day Adventist Church to hear more about what’s to come in the fall of 2012.

In previous news posts, we’ve tried to explain what is distinctive about the classical and Christian model.  One piece of the model that I appreciate the most is the commitment to being as true as possible to the various disciplines. For instance, that requires going beyond the memorization of formulae in mathematics, and it involves being unafraid to ask, “But why?” when it comes to history and the Bible.  But also related to history, there is a strong commitment to making use of primary resources.

Any historian will tell you that this is what historians do: they spend as much time as possible examining primary resources in order to get the clearest picture of the period in view.  Contrast this with what many bad historians do (along with many schools and universities): they rely on secondary resources, or another man’s work and explanation of what happened rather than taking a look for themselves.  They end up with interpretations of interpretations.

Now don’t get me wrong; obviously, scholarship has its place.  We value the work of good historians who have themselves examined the primary resources and done much of the legwork to make our study easier.  But we still recognize that the more removed we are from the primary resources, the less likely we are to be accurate in our understanding.  If you’ve ever played the telephone game, you know what I mean.  In a circle of twenty participants, by the time your original message gets back to you, you’re fortunate if the idea is in tact, let alone the words themselves.

Another illustration might be our appreciation for theologians.  We are very thankful for the way many Church fathers and theologians have labored to make the Bible and its doctrines more understandable.  But he is no student of Scripture who only reads the words of men but fails to read the Word of God.  We want to train our students to be able to read the works of theologians and to discern truth from error.  That requires an accurate understanding of Scripture.

As for history textbooks, they are particularly helpful for younger students who are learning how to study.  But as students become able, we want to introduce more and more in the way of primary resources…just as with Scripture.  That is true to the discipline of history, it yields more accurate understanding, and it’s challenging for the mind.

In case you’re wondering why I’ve devoted a news post to this matter, I do so because this right treatment of the disciplines appears to be getting rarer and rarer in our schools.  As a culture, we are about the business of forging lazy learners who would rather get their history from movies or TV, who would rather have a dependable formula whether they understand it or not, or who are satisfied to be able to speak a language without understanding how it’s constructed or where it came from…or where it’s going.

I’ll finish by anticipating an objection: Primary resources are too hard for our students to understand, so studying them is then a waste of time.  Well, we can’t blame anyone for that but ourselves, and we shouldn’t expect that anyone else is going to fix it.  And rare is the student who finds out on his own how rewarding a right treatment of history can be.  If God wills to give us the energy to teach them and grants them the appetite for knowledge, our students will soon be able to read more widely than we can and with greater understanding.  (Think about the possibilities that would bring!) But we cannot expect that will happen if they only read simplified and modernized language and potentially-biased interpretations of history textbook writers.  They must supplement their historical diet with a steady supply of primary resources.

Risus est bellum!

In a Nutshell…

We’ve said before that these are exciting times in the life of our school.  I was talking with someone earlier this week about how we’ll be able one day to look back on these days with an affectionate grin, grateful for how God made us dependent upon Him with so few answers to our questions, and grateful that we likely won’t be repeating them.  But who knows?

As YOU know, we’re in the planning window between April 2 (the soft deadline to at least express interest in sending your child(ren) to ECS) and April 30 (our scheduled follow-up informational meeting to share our official plans for fall 2012).  That means we’re feverishly making phone calls and having meetings in order to make decisions and plans as best we’re able.  We covet your prayers in this time, and as always, we are available to address questions, comments or concerns you may have.

Again, do circle April 30 on your calendar as the date of our follow-up meeting.  It will be at 7:00PM in the basement of the Marysville SDA Church.


As we anticipate the coming school year, I would caution all of us against losing sight of the bigger picture for sake of the tyrannically urgent.  Yes, we need to buy textbooks and uniforms, pencils and teeny chairs, but there are lots of good reasons why we aim to make good use of the classical and Christian model for our children.  To remind us of why, I give you a lengthy quote from Gregg Strawbridge’s “Classical and Christian Education: Recapturing the Educational Approach of the Past:”

“Christians should desire for their children to learn of Christ at school, as well as at home and church.  The devotional and spiritual aspects of the Christian faith are often emphasized in the home and church.  But there is more to our faith than sacred activity and devotional experiences.  Schools, regardless of their kind, are places where children are inescapably trained in some view.  Christian schools ought to be places where children are trained in the Christian world-and-life view.  I assert that it is the duty of believers to see to it that their children’s education is consistent with their Christian convictions (Eph. 6:4; Deut. 6:4-7).

“The classical emphasis in structure, content and method is unsurpassed for providing the tools of learning.  This emphasis heartily provides for intellectual development, academic achievement, and moral stability.  It provides a way to educationally apply the mandates of God’s Word, to seek true knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.  In our growth in the mastery of God’s world, as well as His Word, we apply that ancient mandate — ‘Fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion’ (Gen. 1:28, cf. 2:20).  Through high quality education we also apply the mandate to love God with our hearts and heads.

“Christian education is our duty to God (Eph. 6:4; Deut. 6:4-7).  Classical education in methodology and content equips learners with the tools of learning.  Here is classical and Christian education in a nutshell: the trivium provides the tools of learning, Scripture and the classics furnish the core content, and Biblical truth is the fixed point of reference.  The trivium is the hammer, the classics are the wood, and the Bible is the ruler” (10).

And…risus est bellum!

Our Mascot: the Raggant

At Evangel Classical School, we share a focus with the classical Christian school movement on the liberal arts (which are largely misunderstood in their own right) and the intentional blurring of the disciplinary lines.  Many modern educational attempts to “differentiate” instruction (to use the jargon) may involve two disciplines (e.g., English and social studies) approaching a common project (e.g., a report on Spain).  But it usually stops there, and students’ minds are as divided as their class schedules.  A common outcome is the math student who doesn’t do English or the history buff who hates the sciences.  Sound familiar?  In many Christian schools, attempts to integrate the Bible into the curriculum are mandatory afterthoughts to the real lesson which could do just fine with or without the obligatory biblical add-on.

But in The Case for Classical Christian Education, Douglas Wilson states the appealing alternative very concisely:

“Classical Christian academies teach all subjects as an integrated whole with the Scriptures at the center” (111).

That is the educational approach to a comprehensive view of Christ’s Lordship.  We often compartmentalize and categorize much of life when all of life is an “integrated whole” under the umbrella of Christ’s Lordship.

Though identifying problems generally is easier than suggesting helpful solutions, we like the classical Christian alternative with its view to a complete, comprehensive education that has interest in the far corners of Christ’s domain.  And that means trying to perceive all of it.

Like a raggant.

A what?!  You ask?  A raggant.  Let us explain.

Perhaps you’ve heard of a an enjoyable trilogy by ND Wilson entitled 100 Cupboards.  If not, we heartily recommend it to you.  In the series, the main character Henry York, learns that one entire wall in his attic bedroom comprises ninety-nine cupboards (there’s one more downstairs – that’s the one hundredth) which are actually doorways to other worlds that have been plastered over and hidden from view. Henry’s adventures begin when a magical creature called a raggant relentlessly, tirelessly and successfully travels far and wide to find young Henry.

ND Wilson explains the raggant’s introduction to Henry’s family in 100 Cupboards:

“It stood up on all fours, shook out gray feathered wings, and looked around the table.  It was shaped almost exactly like a rhinoceros, only it was eighteen inches long and winged.  It had one short, blunt horn, split and cracked at the end.  It’s belly hung almost to the ground, like a basset hound’s” (278).

And this is a dignified, proud creature that takes itself way too seriously, which is completely comical and ironic given its ridiculous appearance.  Beyond this, the creature is rather endearing in his determination, loyalty, and comical stoicism.

In the second book of the trilogy, Dandelion Fire, ND Wilson gives us a bit of an insight into how the raggant operates and perceives the world:

“The raggant didn’t have any extra senses.  He only had one, and it interfaced everything into an amazingly complicated but entirely accurate caricature of whatever worlds were within his range” (226).

That is a picture of how we want for our students to perceive Christ’s domain academically.  We want their perceptions of the world to be less compartmentalized (like human senses) and more academically integrated like the blended, combined senses of the mighty raggant.

A raggant has no conception of distinct senses; he cannot help bringing his one interfacing and accurate sense to bear on his perception of life.  We want that for our students, too.  Whether examining a flower or a Rembrandt painting or a geometric formula, we’d just as soon have them unable to separate the truth from the goodness, the beauty from the science and so on.  And the classical and Christian model lends itself to that.

Thankful that someone else has come up with such a powerful example for us (thank you, ND) in the form of an endearing and novel magical creature, we can’t think of a better mascot for our school.  ND Wilson and Random House have kindly granted us permission to use the raggant as our mascot.

And we would also recommend that you get used to shouting it and hearing it exclaimed: