A Time to Scale the Cliff

It has now been nearly two months since we had school at school, and each day brings a new surprise of some sort. I spent a good deal of time trying to decide what I would write, and I could think of nothing novel (another word that’s thrown around a lot these days). I think that part of the reason for this is because this is more of a season of application than it is a season of instruction.

There are times to learn about how to scale a cliff under enemy fire, and times to apply that learning. There are times to learn that God is sovereign, and there are times to apply (or rest in) that knowledge. There are times to learn that God installs fallen men as political leaders…men who are prone to grasp for power and to make mistakes…and that it is the duty of faithful Christians to respectfully obey as far as we can. I happen to believe that right now is a time to apply that particular lesson.

But the soldier who is scaling that cliff while an enemy is sawing at his rope from above may need reminding of his training as the bullets whiz by his head. It’s true: times of application are also times when review is in order.

At the risk of preaching to the choir, I want to review the very basics of sphere sovereignty. I suppose some of you are very familiar with this concept, while others have never heard of it. But it is a formula for human flourishing that has been the hallmark of healthy Western culture…and it’s something that we teach at ECS.

In brief, sphere sovereignty recognizes the proper autonomy and mutual dependency of the various spheres of authority. In his very helpful book, Lectures on Calvinism, Abraham Kuyper talks about a bunch of spheres that ought to operate with a degree of independence from one another (including the spheres of Art, Education, Politics, Science, and the Church).

I’d encourage you to read the book, or buy and watch this video series, or sit in the next time Omnibus V is talking about the stalemate between Henry II and Thomas Becket (I’m still not sure who won…). I think sphere sovereignty is a really great thing…and so does God…or else He would have blurred the lines of authority. We see evidence of this all over Scripture; consider two quick examples.

First, while laying aside judgmentalism, Christians are actually to judge other Christians in order to keep the Church pure; the Church has a degree of authority to decide who belongs in the her pale and who does not (see Mt. 7:1-2, 18:15-20, 1 Cor. 5:12). Christians are not called to judge unbelievers (that authority belongs to Christ).

Second Christians are not called to be the boss of civil authorities, even though we are to try to influence them with the gospel. (See the example of Paul in Acts 25-26; cf. Rom. 13:1-7, 1 Pet. 2:13-25.)

We could go on, but Scripture is not silent on sphere sovereignty; rather, it teaches it.

But what does this look like on the ground?

When the Church looks after her own, a society flourishes. It’s supposed to look like this. Christians gather en masse on Sunday morning and assault the gates of Hell with our worship (have you ever heard the Raggants sing Psalm 94?). We consciously behold Christ for a couple of hours, becoming more like Him in the process, and we are taught from God’s Word. Great. Then we leave…different. We go out into our communities as faithful, informed ambassadors of Christ in the other spheres and we do a good job, because we’re constantly being shaped and grown into more Christlike people by our worship. The Church’s job is (among other things) to train up people to go operate in the various spheres.

But notice that the Church’s job is NOT to tell the other spheres how to operate. She can make suggestions and recommendations and offer advice, but the Church’s job is not to try to run or operate the different spheres. And if a pastor tries to tell a mayor how much sales tax is biblically allowable, the mayor ought to ignore him.

But this cuts both ways, and you can probably see where I’m going with this. Just as the Church has no authority to try to operate the government, likewise, the government has no authority to direct or operate the Church…or to tell her how or when to operate or not.

Now, it must be acknowledged that common sense is no threat to sphere sovereignty. If your younger brother tells you that it’s raining outside, you don’t leave the umbrella behind just because he has no authority over you. If the State (informed by smart doctors) recommends that folks at church keep six feet apart because a particular virus can leap five feet, we don’t dismiss the State out of hand because they have no authority in the sphere of the Church.

But that is a very different thing from ordering the Church not to meet at all. The exchange of recommendations, advice, and ideas between the spheres is wise, healthy, and good; ordering other spheres around is not.

So what about school? Sadly, in the current situation, we do need the governor’s permission to assemble as a school. And unlike the Church, the school is not its own sphere, and the school does not have explicitly enumerated rights in the First Amendment. (I like to think that peaceable assembly is a matter of perspective. Ha.) So the case to meet as a school in disobedience of the governor’s order is difficult to justify on constitutional or biblical grounds, let alone how we would be received by our neighbors (and all of that is if Reclamation Church would even allow us to do so). Nevertheless, we hold out hope that somehow we’ll be able to assemble at school before the end of the semester.

ECS is not a church, but we do comprise churched families who are trying to make sense of all of this input, and ours is the ongoing and relentless job of training our kids to process the current cultural madness and to respond accordingly. I hope this little primer on sphere sovereignty helps to that end.

And let us never forget: RISUS EST BELLUM!

Jonathan

Unprecedented Firefighting

Well hello there, everyone. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been relaxing furiously the last couple of days, just looking for stuff to think about and ways to fill your time.

I’m kidding.

This has been a time of unprecedented firefighting (as in, putting them out) the last couple of days. And sometimes you try to douse the flames with baking soda…only to find out you accidentally grabbed the magnesium powder. (I mean, they look similar, right?)

To be sure, in making decisions the last several days, we have been trying to apply at once both wisdom and faith. We wish to trust what God has said and not freak out with the masses who refuse to honor the God of the Virus. (Most of us would rather not share an ER waiting area with a consistent Darwinist.) But of course, as much as depends on us, and because we want to love our neighbors, we’d like to exercise discretion at the same time.

To be sure, these are strange and difficult circumstances. Some of you feel that more than others. Maybe you’re trying to administer school-at-home to three grammar-aged Raggants. Maybe you have a salon that has been closed for a time. Maybe you own a small business that operated on a thin margin, and that cannot sustain two weeks of low sales…let alone six or eight weeks. Believe me, as one who recently has gotten to make some weighty decisions that will rather practically affect many people I care about, I get it. It do.

But let me take this moment to offer a few words of encouragement.

This is a great time to apply our worldview. Last week I got to talk about this situation with my students, and it was a rich conversation. One of the things that came up was an important principle: Just because someone is telling you to do something who otherwise has no authority to order you around doesn’t mean he’s wrong. I may not appreciate Governor Inslee’s methods or worldview, but I don’t think he’s necessarily going after churches or Christian schools in the present moment. At present, in the interest of loving our older neighbors or those with compromised immune systems, we’re dying the death of convenience while also doing what the governor said to do. (Even since last week, this has gotten trickier, as I’m not sure when groups of more than 50 will be able to meet without legal repercussions, but I digress.) This is a time where conscience and the Word will allow us to submit, even if it’s costly to do so.

While I’m not suggesting that it is happening right now, we do know that it is in times of panic that tyrants emerge with greater power that they don’t relinquish. The older ECS students should be able to share with you some examples from history, because we’ve read about them. So when crises come, we should be alert, trust God, and those with whom we’ve chosen to lock arms.

Your foxhole buddies would jump on a grenade for you. On Monday I spent about four hours on conference calls with ECS teachers and administration. While reflecting on that time of brainstorming, strategizing, and paring our lessons to the “essentials” (a term we used a lot yesterday), I had to remark, “What a group to go to war with.” I am so, so thankful for our teachers. As we were asking them to do more work, and then to cut back out some of their planned assignments as we try to love you all, there was not a single grumble nor complaint at all by any teacher. None. That’s who I want in the trenches with me. They trust me, I trust them, and you can too.

But it’s not a blind trust. We are here to serve you, so make sure you’re asking the questions you need to, and don’t be afraid to push back if necessary. We are not trying to get out of our jobs, but we are trying help you do yours well even when we can’t meet at school.

This is part of the reason why cultivating fellowship is worthwhile: we’re also cultivating loyalty mutually. In a school community of sixty-ish families, there has been some anxiety and nervousness, but nobody is freaking out (at least not to me), and the general vibe has been very Risus est bellum. People are fighting to laugh when it’s not funny, because doing so reminds us that we win, and above all…

God is still on the throne. None of this is catching Him by surprise. We believe right down to the marrow of our bones that God is sovereign over every molecule, soul, thunderclap and coronavirus. Not only is He sovereign, He’s also good, and He has loved us enough to initiate a relationship with us. We are not impervious to sin or its practical consequences (He has used plagues and enemies to chastise His people plenty of times), but this is only because He loves us and because He is holy. I look at that as just about the worst-case scenario here. If the worst thing that can happen is for God to chastise His children, then we’re in pretty good shape…even if we all get sick.

So rest your bodies, maintain sensible social distance, don’t lose heart and laugh…not because this is funny, but because it will help to orient your Godward focus.

—U.H.

ECS School Closure Information

Greetings, Raggant families.

As you’ve probably heard by now, we have decided to cancel school-at-school at least for the next two weeks. We will reassess after Spring Break and be in communication with you all with any updates. I wanted to offer some insight into how we arrived at this decision.

The data so far seems to demonstrate that where this disease has emerged, it has been curbed rather effectively via “shut down,” namely, keeping our distance from one another. In reality, very few in our school are susceptible to dangerous or long-term effects; almost all are very healthy, and many also get some variety of the flu every year. But we commonly are in contact with older folks or folks with compromised immune systems who may be more vulnerable. So while we do not share the general alarm that is characterizing the news and social media, we also know it won’t hurt us to help do our part to minimize the spread of the virus, even if doing so is inconvenient.

We thought about continuing to meet, and making a statement in the process (namely, that we don’t need the state’s permission to operate, and neither will we comply with their demands that we shut down). But we also figured that in this case, the costs of such a statement outweighed the benefits, especially when the health of our community may potentially be threatened. The statement we can make is a way to love our neighbors. So we believe that the reasonable decision under these circumstances was to close for a while.

We were helped in our decision by Governor Inslee’s announced closure of all K-12 public and private schools. Though we’re technically a co-op, we believed that it was in keeping with the spirit of this ban that we should at least close for three weeks, after which time we should know a lot more (in other words, the virus ought to have run its course in any of those presently affected by who are nonsymptomatic, we’ll have an idea as to how aggressive measures are working, etc.). We also want to be ready to return to school if the threat has passed by then, though the stated ban is through April 24.

When I made the announcement to the students this afternoon, there were a few smiles and cheers, but the overwhelming majority of the students (and teachers!) were sad and disappointed. Some cried. I think this says a lot about our school community. It says that between the Bible songs, Logic lessons, and blacktop recesses, something is getting through.

Our meeting together gives us opportunity to realize our mission. As our mission statement reminds us, classical education is one of the tools we use in our work of enculturation. Granted, this is not impossible if we have a season of school-at-home, but it is harder. So is cultivating the fellowship in our school community that we value so much.

As I’m fond of saying, traditional education is about the transfer of information; classical education is about the transfer of culture. Information is easy to transfer remotely; culture is not. So we’d much rather be meeting at school like we normally do.

Some may wonder if we are in a position to offer a discount or refund for days that students are not in class. As strange as it seems, having students stay at home saves us almost no money. The teachers will continue to work remotely, we will continue to pay rent and insurance, and (with the exception of a few consumable supplies like Expo markers, bandaids, and toner) our operating costs will remain the same. If we were saving any money by this decision, we’d be glad to pass that along to you. Sadly, that is not the case.

But now, having made the decsion, what is next?

Starting next week (Monday March 16), we’ll be employing a modified, school-at-home model. Of course, our families are veterans at this, since we do it every week. The teachers have been asked to think of reasonable homework volume and complexity, so as to make the best out of this situation. Please check Sycamore daily for updates, due dates, assignments and special instructions.

Your child’s teachers will still be available to you, just as they are normally on Mondays. So feel free to reach out to them, and they’ll be glad to help you.

We have also canceled the Raggant Fiction Festival, but we have an eye on March 20, 2021!

As always, if you have any questions, we are happy to help.

Risus est bellum!

Jonathan (for the ECS Board)

The Fruitfulness of Fellowship

In the fall of 2012 when we opened Evangel Classical School, the founding families were all friends. We’re all still friends today, in fact. We had a common aim to educate our children in the classical model, but all of the hard work and the memory-making were sweetened by love for one another. This may sound sentimental or idyllic; I assure you it is not. Those who were there for the Granite Falls drought (we had a Honey Bucket because the toilets couldn’t flush), the subsequent deluge (and accompanying flood of the basement where we met), the moments plucking gravel from bloody knees or the witnessing of the circle-of-farm-animal-life could tell you that our beginnings were uncommon, unprofessional, hard, and grace-saturated.

And thanks to the people, I would change none of it.

Memorable as they were, it was not the circumstances that made our beginnings pleasant; it was the people. And it was the grace of God that made the situation hilarious. We were not so naive as to find our beginnings ideal. We broke nearly all the rules for starting a school (I’d love to tell you about our first K-6 Science test or our discipline policy before the name-check-check system….), but convinced of the sovereign goodness of God, we laughed along the way.

As for the people element, I am better positioned now to know it for what it was. And the truly remarkable thing is that it has only gotten better. I’m not kidding. When you are around your people, 116 is better than 14. And while there is a lot to be said about this, my particular suggestion at the moment is this:

Never underestimate the fruitfulness of fellowship.

In the few years of ECS’s existence, we have not agreed on everything. We have sinned against each other (adults and students alike). We have occasionally disappointed each other and have spent time giving and receiving correction. But beneath it all has been a common love for Christ, a common Spirit indwelling us all, and the inescapable reality that the Spirit is not at odds with Himself, so Christians (in whom that Spirit dwells) ought to enjoy harmonious fellowship…even if we disagree. And preserving our fellowship is important!

The students have found security in knowing that the teachers are in fellowship. They see the teachers laughing together and loving each other and genuinely liking each other.

At some point, each of our teachers has asked for forgiveness from his students. When a student visits my office, his readmission to the fellowship of class comes after he seeks the forgiveness of those whom he has wronged. This preservation of fellowship is not only good training for life, it’s essential for our relational health now.

As a teaching staff, we pursue fellowship with each other. Whenever we can, we eat meals together. We pray for the students together. We have philosophical conversations reminding ourselves of why we are doing what we’re doing. We share successes and failures. We spar. Some even cry (usually the ladies). But this is not just a delight, it’s intentional. We cultivate this because it’s not just good for us, it’s good for our students.

This applies obviously to the relationship of parents; when Mom and Dad are okay, the world is okay. It’s really good for the kids when the parents are cultivating their own oneness.

A church staff that is godly and unified will have a people who flourish securely.

A city council that is likeminded and altruistic will bless the citizenry.

Two second grade moms in the school parking lot chatting through first period brings some administrators anxiety; it brings me encouragement.

The examples are many, but the point is simple. Fellowship is not just hard work, and it’s not just fun; it’s fruitful. It brings about good fruit in plenty of predictable and surprising ways.

I truly love and enjoy all of the people with whom I labor at ECS. I’m grateful to God for how He has blessed me with them. I’m also glad for all the families who have joined our school community.

There’s no mistaking that the people are what makes ECS special. It’s not our model of education, our facility, our snappy uniforms or impressive test scores. It’s the people. Our people are the ones who laugh when they want to cry; our people are the ones who sing loudly in the hallways; our people are the ones who stick around after school to play and chat when they’ve been here all day; our people are the ones who are glad to see each other every day. As best we can, our job is to cultivate this, but at the end of the day, it’s a grace from the Lord that we gratefully receive.

May God continue to show His favor to us in these ways, and may we strive to preserve fruitful fellowship.

Risus est bellum.

Jonathan

Why Kindergarten?

As young people, most of us competed in some sport or hobby. We dreamt of being the next NBA All Star, but on the way to our illustrious and humble ambitions, we found ourselves sweating through hours of drills; shooting three-pointers for over an hour and running lines certainly didn’t feel necessary nor worthwhile, and had little flash for all its substance. This principle carries into all areas of life – practicing scales doesn’t feel like headlining Carnegie Hall, studying color wheels doesn’t clearly transfer to one’s acclaimed exhibit in the National Art Gallery, and learning to chop an onion never made anyone a Julia Child.

During Mrs. Hevia’s first grade class last week, she brought a young man to the front and asked him, “What has prepared you to do your work so excellently? What pointers can you give to the class?” His answer was: Kindergarten. It wasn’t getting more sleep, taking summer classes, or getting glasses – though, depending on the child, those things certainly can’t hurt.

He was, in a word, answering a question we often get: “Why should I send my child to Kindergarten at ECS?” At its core, Kindergarten scratches the same preparatory itch as linebackers doing ballet, but even better. It combines fundamental aspects like scales and drills with a thriving community to help our youngest students excel in both character and ability.

First, Kindergarten bestows a rather practical and pedestrian skill-set within a setting of order and clear expectations. It helps students truly learn their phonograms and practice reading drills, and most Kindergarteners are reading by the time they proceed to first grade. They begin learning their math-facts, they gain experience singing in a choir, learn chords, and even study art and appreciate the beautiful through cursive writing and Penmanship Awards. They don’t excel in these things because we only accept geniuses. These are entirely normal children who cover a radical spectrum of giftedness, talents, abilities, and aptitudes. They learn them because they are taught by teachers who love them and their subjects, and who expect complete obedience within the learning environment. Surely you can teach all these skills at home, just like you can learn basic athletic skills from your father or mother – or perhaps at another Kindergarten (though it’s harder, honestly, with alternate programs and learning objectives) – but I can attest to the fact there is something different about learning at ECS, which primarily has to do (and must be fused) with, our second major advantage.

In a mysterious way, reading drills directly transfer to future success in Omnibus, as three-point drills help you nail the game-clincher, but the second major advantage of Kindergarten at ECS is the culture, and I would address two major elements of this. First, the Kindergarteners are surrounded on all sides by living goal-markers: first grade, sixth grade, twelfth grade, teachers. They see the goal, and they observe the steps along the way…and these “steps” bandage their knees when they fall, call-out their shenanigans on the playground, and sing and speak and work in ways that can’t help but inspire and shape a little soul. I often rode horses in front of my parents or friends at lessons or while practicing at home – and it was wonderful. But it was an entirely different ball-game to find myself in an arena surrounded by the best in the nation, practicing and honing my skill-set and my vision amongst them – amongst what I wanted to be some day. At a very young age, Kindergarten allows your son or daughter to play and train with a flawed but awesome set of students, and the only way you get that kind of influence and molding is to actually be here in the middle of the training camp.

The other way our culture seeps into these young sponges is through the absorbent flavor of the school – garlic lodges in your pores no matter how you get it, and it stays with you a long time. The same is true of gnomes, laughter, interclass fellowship, work-ethic, and so much more. Your student can certainly acquire excellent Kindergarten skills any number of places (though I would argue ECS is still the best place because, Mrs. Hall), but will they smell good in the process? Will they learn how their twitching affects the person sitting right next to them? Will they begin to see the larger picture of how to answer in a group, how to open doors for ladies, and how to speak both in unison and stand alone when needed? Will they, at an early age, begin to understand the fundamentals of fellowship and teamwork and community? I can testify that my daughters began to learn all these things in the home – it is the core bedrock of their obedience and learning – but they have been cemented in Kindergarten and continually molded through subsequent years at ECS.

We certainly care about the individual and the home – and no matter your background, or whether or not you attend Kindergarten at ECS, if you’re the right fit for the school, we will delight to have you. But it’s harder without the foundation – walk-ons can thrive in a college environment, but it can be challenging to adjust to the team when you’ve just been playing pick-up games. And if you can get the skills and the culture of an excellent team, wouldn’t you take it? If you could merge humility and homonyms, subtraction and strength, responsibility and reading, why would you ever not?

—Mrs. Bowers

Good Fences Make Good Students

I used these notes for my most recent Information Night address.

Maybe Robert Frost’s most popularly known poem is “The Road Less Taken,” but the title of my talk plays off a line from the poem, “Mending Wall.” A stone wall separating two farms in New England needs mending, and while they work one of the farmers questions if the work is really necessary. Twice the neighbor farmer says, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Among other layers of meaning, we’re reminded that boundaries are a blessing. I know where myself and where my stuff belong, and so do you. A good wall, rather than create tension, enables neighborly trust, and trust enables fellowship.

When it comes to so much that poses as education today, the primary passion seems to be to break down every wall, to tear down all the fences, to demolish every boundary line, especially if it looks like someone is hiding their privilege. Modern education is a bulldozer in Prius clothing, driven by suspicion and doubt and envy.

Just last week WA State Democrats introduced House Bill 2184 to provide “comprehensive sexual health education” starting in 2022, which includes compulsory sex education for Kindergartners. A Comprehensive Sexual Health Education work group (CSHE) argues for starting so soon because the “social emotional needs of our youngest students must be addressed for prevention of future challenges.” On one hand there have always been sex assumptions for Kindergartners; Bill was a boy and Jill was a girl. Bill had the pocketknife, Jill had the butcher knife. No one had to teach students that there were two sexes, and it certainly wasn’t controversial. That was education with good fences, with the God-given (and naturally observed) distinctions: male and female. This is a truth, one of many truths in God’s creation, that are a blessing to those who leave the fence alone, or at least have two separate bathrooms.

The denials of male and female by many modern “educators” causes the opposite of education. That kind of curriculum isn’t transferring a body of knowledge, it questions knowledge about the body. It causes confusion, it raises doubts, and it grows fruitlessness. It is built on tearing down walls. The unwillingness to distinguish and celebrate and train toward strengths of the differences between male and female is just one example, but it is the sort that has other faces. How many politicians have recently said that “Abortion equals healthcare.” That is like saying “War is peace,” which George Orwell wrote in 1984. It’s how the Ministry of Truth trashed truth and rewrote history.

The only way for there to be liberty and justice is by acknowledging the fences of objective and fixed truth. For Christians, we have these walls because God made the world, and He made it knowable (not exhaustively but dependably), and He blesses those who receive His gifts, including the boundaries. What God has joined together let no man separate, and what God has separated (light from dark, day from night, male from female) let no man muddle up.

At ECS we see His gifts and we utilize the tools of classical education to help our students appreciate the fences and enjoy the gifts.

In the earlier stages, K-elementary school, we teach the facts about the alphabet and phonograms, about how letters make words (with proper spelling), about how words make sentences (with proper syntax). We still teach that 2 + 2 = 4, that triangles have three sides, that addition and multiplication share the associative property, that long division can be checked because it is not a guessing game. In classical education jargon this part of the Trivium is referred to as the Grammar stage, with grammar referring to the ABCs of each subject. Each piece of truth is like a brick in the wall. Gravity only works one way on earth, and that’s helpful to know and changes what you expect when you walk out the front door.

We aren’t creating robots, though there is a lot of repetition and reminders through songs and chants and catechisms and sound-offs. They may sound like parrots, but it’s fun, and it’s not filling their minds with the false.

As students mature, as they begin to see even more things for themselves than what their parents and teachers put in front of them, they start asking questions about how? things work together, or don’t. They start asking a lot of why? things are the way they are or aren’t, should or shouldn’t be. Our emphasis around the time of Junior High is in Logic, the second part of the Trivium, which includes training in formal logic and validity of argumentation. It also includes putting questions of worldview to Homer and Plato, to Beowulf and The Divine Comedy, and many other great books.

There are two problems with teaching students logic. One is that they can get critical of those who are sloppy or those who cheat when they argue; ideally, though, they are learning to sort out their own faulty thinking first. The biggest actual problem is that so many people today, including the talking heads on television and YouTube and Instagram, only care about how something makes them feel. Our students should be able to say that’s the Snowflake Fallacy. Or, narcissism.

Already at the Logic stage, but encouraged even more as they near the latter years of High School, we emphasize Rhetoric, presentation, beauty in art and artful writing and speaking and singing. It is possible to adorn a pig, but the truth can be adorned, too. Persuading others is not pummeling them, nor is it propaganda. It is the art of showing that the walls we live by are attractive.

We want to help make Marysville great again (#MMGA). We want to play a part in making Marysville a destination for Christians to worship and work and raise the next generation to carry and advance Christ honoring culture. That means that we need walls, and teachers, working beside parents, who maintain those walls. Good fences make good students.

I love this illustration by G.K. Chesterton near the end of his book, Orthodoxy:

We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased. (p. 143)

It’s no wonder that so many students are having no fun; they have no safe place to play.

We live in a wild world, but not an imaginary one, and the walls of truth enable us to laugh and to learn; if you visit on a school day, you will hear how loud it is; our song has not ceased. Ironically, in our context, living with such walls makes our school offensive, not just as an annoyance but on the assault. Because we believe that Jesus is Lord over it all, we are outrageous. More than outrageous, we want you to consider ECS as a place that helps your students become outcourageous.

—Mr. Higgins

Why I Love Information Night

As Information Night approaches, I am reminded of how important this event actually is. I would love for all of our people to be as excited about it as I am, but I understand if you wonder why we ask all the current ECS families to attend…especially if you’ve already decided to send your kids to the school.

In terms of evening requirements, we try to keep the ECS calendar fairly light. The families of ECS are usually rather involved in their churches and communities; we have plenty to do without additional calendar items. So we make our requests for Raggant families’ time minimal: we have a couple of concerts, the Fundraising Feast and the Information Night. None of these are added flippantly, and we try to give plenty of advance notice so you can plan accordingly. But then we plan and expect for every family to attend, because these events are really important.

You may be thinking, “The concerts I can understand; they’re performances, after all. But the Info Night and the Feast? Why must we attend those?”

That is a fantastic question, and the answer is simple: enculturation.

It’s true that much of what we are attempting to do as a school has to do with academics. But more than this, our aim is cultural. You don’t need to spend much time around ECS to learn that we value fellowship and people. My favorite times of the day are Matins and after school, when our people gather in harmonious enthusiasm, marked by smiles and grace, not earbuds and hoodies.

This is rather countercultural in a time when “teacher accountability” has more to do with test scores than personal character. “Student safety” means protecting kids from their judgmental parents (so we’ll give them condoms at school). “Diversity and inclusion” mean that we must tolerate and celebrate the worldview of anyone…except the intolerant. “Multiculturalism” means you must increasingly disdain and apologize for where (and who) you came from. We’re cheerfully aiming to combat these trends at ECS.

Not only do these evening functions give us a handful of additional opportunities to be with our people, they go a long way to determining who will be included among our people. But for the moment, as it’s just around the corner, I want to zoom in on Information Night and offer three reasons why we ask all the school families to be there.

First, our students are our best promotion. Being around a group of happy, respectful, and intelligent (often witty) young people is a rare pleasure in our culture, and I get to do it every day when I’m with your students. Some are more outgoing than others, to be sure, but generally speaking our students enjoy school, have good relationships with their teachers, laugh every day, engage adults in conversation, love to sing, and aren’t ashamed to be seen in public wearing their uniforms. We have worked to cultivate all of this without manufacturing any of it, but in the end it’s work that the Lord must do or it will not continue. And we wish to not take any of it for granted.

When we have a chance to roll these students out before prospective families (as we will at Information Night), it’s an impressive presentation…and when it comes to the best parts of this presentation, we can take no credit. God’s grace is at ECS, and we want others to see that and want in.

Second, our current families are the best voices for life in the trenches. I’m very aware of many areas where we need to grow and get better as a school, and it is often the case that when you all are speaking to your friends about the school, you share the good and the bad. So when those friends of yours make it as far as my office in the inquiry process, I do not need to warn them about the growing pains, shortcomings, challenges and deficiencies of ECS…because you’ve told them already, and they came anyway!

You all are the best people to speak to prospective families about how our weaknesses affect you as a family. You’re also able to speak about transitions from your previous schooling experiences, how your child has benefited (or not), and how your family has benefited (or not) from your time at ECS. I would expect that families would take my words with a grain of salt. After all, I have to say nice things about the school, right? We teachers may be ones to speak to In loco parentis or Risus est bellum, but you are all able to speak to what it looks like on the ground, and how it affects your families.

Last, review is always in order. As Samuel Johnson asserted, “People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed.” Every year at Information Night I’m reminded why I would choose ECS for my kids in a heartbeat even if I didn’t work there. In a different setting, I may say that I rededicate myself to ECS year by year as a parent at Information Night…but I digress.

When I see the work the students are doing, when I hear them sing, when I see that they are excited to be there, and when I listen to Sean speak about our philosophy and classical Christian education, I’m deeply grateful for the work of God at ECS, and that my children get to be a part of it.

What’s more, I need that regular reminder that the work of educating my kids is my responsibility, and I’ve locked arms with faithful teachers and families that are flavoring the cultural waters in which my children are immersed. These teachers represent me very well when I’m not there, and together we can do a much better job of educating my children than Sonja and I could do by ourselves.

So for these (and some other) reasons, Information Night is one of my favorite nights of the year. Tell some friends whom you know would be a good fit for the school and bring them along.

See you there.

Risus est bellum!

Jonathan

Speaking the Same Language

Without question, the best advertisement for our school has been our people. Word-of-mouth marketing has been fantastic for us; when families tell other folks about the school, they will often include the good and* the bad, so by the time inquiring families get to my office, they usually have a good idea what they’d be getting into. Almost every single ECS family is here at the recommendation of another current ECS family, and I like it that way.

At the end of this month, we’ll have our annual Information Night, which means this is a great time to tell others about ECS. By now, the school families ought to have received some invitations to hand out at church or elsewhere to those whom you think may be interested in ECS. As you’re thinking of who you could bless with such an invitation (HA!), I wanted to offer a few reminders as to who the ideal candidate for enrollment would be.

Evangel Classical School would be classified as a discipleship school (sometimes called a covenant school). This means that ours is a school for churched families. The alternative would be what is sometimes called an evangelistic* school. Both models have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Evangelistic schools obviously appeal to a much broader demographic than discipleship schools. Unchurched families can send their kids to evangelistic schools and be reasonably confident that their children will receive a good, moral, private education; the class sizes will probably be smaller than at the public school down the street; there’s a good chance someone will be giving their kids some exposure to the Bible that they may or may not be getting at home, which is good, if you’re into that sort of thing.

A potential drawback is that evangelistic schools often include families who do not share the worldview of the school. The school and home – while enjoying a degree of partnership – may occasionally undermine one another. Imagine the confusion when a sixth grade teacher informs a student that fornication is sin, but the student lives with his dad and his dad’s girlfriend. What is now the student’s standard for conduct? What he’s learning at school, or what he’s seeing at home?

Discipleship schools appeal to a much narrower demographic: churched families. A family who sends their child to a discipleship school can be reasonably confident that the school and the family are speaking the same moral language. And when they aren’t, the Bible (which is an authority common to them both) should serve as the arbiter between them.

A potential drawback to discipleship schools is that some really fantastic kids who would thrive in our schools are not good candidates to come, because we cannot support their parents – the very thing we exist to do.

With that as our context, and as we gear up for our Information Night, I offer a few requests:

  • Think about families who would be an excellent addition to our school community. These would be churched families whom we can support well as they obey God’s commands in their child-rearing. Then go ahead and invite them!
  • Pray for the Information Night, that we’d be able to showcase the school well in a very limited presentation.
  • Pray too that God would provide for us a place to put our new families, as we are quickly running out of space at Reclamation Church.

Thank you in advance for the crucial part you play in expanding the reach of Evangel Classical School.

Risus est bellum!

Jonathan

An Open Letter to the Gnomes

My dear Gnomes of District 93,

As you haunt the halls of Evangel Classical School, you no doubt witness much that disturbs you. I understand your annoyance. Each giggle of any pigtailed grammar girl represents a small blow to your tranquil and pathetic existence. Each act of charity on the part of one student toward another means you’re going to have to deal with still more happy sounds later on. You cannot abide laughter, you loathe happy conversation, and above all, you abominate the singing that sometimes wanes, but never dies at ECS. I get it. If I were you, I’d be grumpy, too.

But I have news for you. And to be frank, I’m glad to be the one bringing it to you. You ready?

WE’RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE.

In fact, we are only getting warmed up. We have entered a time of the year when the singing and mirth crescendo to decibel-levels to make a tarmac at SeaTac blush. It’s Christmastime, and we have even more reasons than usual to laugh, sing, and feast.

I don’t expect that you will understand, so let me explain the cause of our celebration.

Long ago, in the very early days of our kind, our first parents sinned, violating the perfect standard of the holy Creator God. Our parents and their progeny were forever estranged from Him unless and until we could be given the righteousness of Another. But there were no suitable substitutes. Wishing to demonstrate His grace and mercy, God purposed to rescue us from the consequences of our sin by providing a suitable substitute in the form of His only begotten Son.

At Christmastime, we celebrate this Son’s entering our world as a man, providing a suitable substitute for sinful men. But He also retained his divine nature as well, so His sacrifice could be applied to more than one man.

Our Creator sent His only Son into the world as a tiny baby who would soon bear the sins of the world. This would restore the fellowship with our Creator that had been broken since the sin of our first parents. When the Son grew up He died on a Cross as a sinless substitute for us. Sin and death suffered a death-blow of their own at the Cross, but it all started when the Son of God came to Earth as a baby. Obviously, this is a big deal, and it’s why we are exceptionally noisy at this time of year.

God gave His Son; we give gifts to each other.

Angels sang announcing the Advent of the Son of God; we also sing in marvel at the Incarnation and in triumph over sin and death.

Earth received her King at the first Christmas; we receive lots and lots of good gifts from God with gratefulness and purpose at this time of year…so we feast.

Gnomes of District 93, I implore you to gird up your beards and join us. It’s way more fun than what you’ve been doing. But if you cannot, then you may want to make plans to haunt some other places…for a few weeks, at least.

On behalf of your friendly neighbors, I wish you MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Jonathan Sarr
The Unruly Headmaster (U.H., for short)

Ours Is the Business of Whetting Appetites

Ideally, when their training is complete here at ECS, we’ll be able to tell the Raggants, “Go! Read, watch, sing, and pursue whatever you want.” And we’ll be able to do so knowing that they’ve developed appetites and loves that evidence maturity, discernment, and love for God and His people.

In his essay “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis suggested the following:

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

As you’re probably aware, he goes on to explain that spiritual pursuits and satisfaction satisfy far more deeply than world pleasures. After all, we’re spiritual creatures. But there’s a broader principle in view here, as I see it.

Let’s fast forward twenty years, when all the current Raggants are grown and gone, with families of their own, and having a bunch of children of their own roaming the halls of ECS. Imagine if those grown Raggants sing psalms for fun (and for fight); imagine if they mow their lawns and coach soccer and run the corner drug store and vote and worship in their churches and train their kids to ride a bike in the driveway like culture shapers. How awesome would it be to have grownup Raggants reading and rereading The City of God or The Canterbury Tales or Macbeth or Beowulf or That Hideous Strength because they love them, not because they’re assigned? This will only come about if they have the right appetites.

Only when we have the right appetites will we have the right pursuits…at least with any consistency. If our students properly love the Word, they’ll read it; if our students properly love their neighbors, they’ll serve them; if our students properly love their spouses, they’ll be faithful in heart and body; if our students properly love the Beautiful, they’ll pursue the True and the Good.

I say all this because (per our Mission Statement) classical education and sacrificial labors are tools that we use to “commend the works of the Lord to another generation.” Classical education is not the end. As cheesy as it may sound, this is but the beginning of a life of worship and living so as to shape culture. That’s why we care about whetting in our students the right appetites.

—The U.H.