Uncomfortable Blessings

When I give a talk I prefer to build up to a Big Reveal. This time I will tell it to you up front, then go back and explain what I mean and why it’s important and what you should do about it. Here goes: Since the start of ECS I believe that no one has learned more than me. I have reasons for this claim and, if it’s true, I also believe that no one has been more blessed than me either. Of course, I’m happy to share, the blessings and a bit of the story.

On a spring afternoon seven years ago my wife wanted to talk. She had just finished a marathon math lesson with our oldest daughter, who was in third grade at the time and whom we were homeschooling. Math was a sore spot in those days; things just weren’t adding up, if you know what I mean. But math was merely part of the problem, and there was no answer key. Both Mo and I were coming to realize how big an education we wanted for our kids and we were detecting a mismatch between that vision and our capacity to give it. I had attended public school, Mo had been homeschooled, and I was excited for her to homeschool our kids. I thought I was a pretty impressive husband for how supportive I was of her work.

But that discussion on that afternoon was less like realizing that we needed to upsize to a mini-van and more like realizing that we needed to get a 747, and that we were going to have to build one with instructions ordered from the back pages of a Popular Mechanics magazine. While we talked about a few options, she finally said, “Look, Sean, you are going to need to be exhausted educating our kids, so you better figure out the best way to do it.” That is a haunting, prophetic exhortation, and I wouldn’t be giving this talk without it.

One of the options we discussed was trying to convince some other crazy families to start a classical Christian school. But since all she and I had done at that point was read about those elusive creatures called classical schools, we decided it might be good to get some experience at one of them to see the theory running around in plaid skirts. We enrolled our kids at Providence Classical Christian School, located in Lynnwood at the time, a 40 minute drive one way without traffic. Maggie entered in 4th grade, Cal started Kindergarten, and we knew within a week that we found the good wine, like the kind Jesus made.

Around the same time we bought a three-ring binder from the Association of Classical and Christian Schools on how to start a school. Ha! Jonathan was excited about the possibility, as were a few other people that were at least willing to indulge the dream. We started reading, a lot. We talked, a lot, about truth and goodness and what is beauty and why bother. We wrote a vision document and statement of beliefs, chose a name, a mascot, and a motto. It took us another five years to get the mission chiseled into one sentence. It’s easy to blather and hard to summarize for that elusive elevator chat. It’s even harder to get off that elevator and do something.

While we loved homeschooling, and we loved PCCS, we wanted more people to have access to this worldview-ing in the Marysville area. One option we discussed, and I’m not joking, was to buy a bus and commute en masse to Lynnwood every morning and afternoon. Instead, we started with twelve students, K-10th, in a farmhouse basement in the fall of 2012.

Initially, I thought I was going to be exhausted telling students all the things I knew. I mean, I was an involved parent, pastor, board member, teacher of Latin, and reader of school-starter notebooks. Turns out, I was exhausted trying to figure out all the things I didn’t know. I had to learn what sort of scissors exercises help penmanship in the pre-polly stage and why cursive handwriting is better than printing. I needed a better answer for Why Latin? than that “it’s classical,” and hard. How old should someone be to start Kindergarten? Why are school desks actually a thing? What do you do when you don’t have lockers or desks or your own space to leave things so that 8 year-olds are carrying 30 pound backpacks around? What sorts of character do we want our graduates to have?

Sheesh. That doesn’t include trying to read and learn from the books and history that I didn’t pay attention to when I was a student. I’m part of a group of auditors that will finish the 6th and final year of Omnibus in a few weeks. We’ve done Hammurabi, Homer, Herodotus, Hitler, Hobbes, Hemingway, and Huxley, and that’s just one letter of the alphabet. I had a master’s degree with almost no mastery of economics and politics. Or fiction. We had to start a fiction festival just so I could do my penance to generations of librarians and literature teachers.

How do you know when it’s too much lazy complaining about homework, or that it’s actually too much homework? What is the maximum student load for a class? What if you have five more students than that number, but you don’t have that money to pay another teacher?

How do you encourage teachers who are exhausted and trying to figure out the best way to love and teach their students, but also enable them to have a life for serving their own spouse and kids?

These are all great questions. Weighty questions. Pressing questions. Exhausting questions. And, would we really want it any other way? This is our place, and it is the place where God grows us.

If you listen to professional educators, and especially education lobbyists, they’ll rant on repeat that the system needs more money. Let’s raise a levy. Get more government grants. But, many schools have gotten more money and not gotten more smart. Maybe some day God will give us such an overfunded budget that we don’t know what to do with it, but money never made a mental muscle. No check ever created hunger to learn. Gifts may be sweet, but they don’t increase strength.

The feast we’re enjoying is festive because of vision of something great and many sacrificial labors to deal with the difficulties of getting to that vision. It’s true of this barn, of this meal, and of our school. Those for whom it is the tastiest are those who have given themselves to the voluntary work of being uncomfortable.

We’ve hired full-time and part-time men and women who will and do give their lives for their students, not because they know it all, but because they hate that they don’t. They’re not education experts, they’re education desperates.

This is not a bug, it’s a feature. While we are giving our kids an education that we didn’t get, we are giving them an example of being exhausted toward something that’s worth it. This isn’t because these are the only people we could find, it’s because it’s the kind of people we want to graduate.

The best work doesn’t need to get stuck in the founders generation, the ones who walk from cup of coffee to cup of coffee. The goal isn’t getting established, with enough faculty and facility and funds. The goal is not getting settled, and having a faculty and facility and funds that get us into new uncomfortable positions. The fundraising feast is not about meeting our current needs. It’s to make it so that we have more needs and bigger needs.

The very first assembly message I gave was about how wise people change their mind, regularly. Either you know it all at the beginning, or you stay in your bunker, or you have to learn.

Little did I know how little I knew, or how costly and painful it would be to learn. I’ve learned more than anyone because I had more than anyone to learn. But thanks be to God who delivers us from sin and ignorance, who gives us freedom in Christ to learn about, and love, all that Christ claims as His. Thank God for kids who love it. Maggie told me this is one of her favorite nights of the year; I wouldn’t have imagined. Thank God for teachers who keep growing, for a school community that keeps singing more loudly and harmoniously.

Many of you feast on similar blessing already (even if mine is bigger!). Others of you could join. It is costly. It takes time, repentance, even money. But as Paul told the Philippians, he didn’t want their financial gift for himself, but “the fruit that increases to your credit.” To train a generation of those who will give (produce, create) rather than take (consume), we must show them what it looks like to have skin in the game, which means we’ve got to roll up our sleeves.

So thanks for enjoying some of the labored for fruit with us. Consider giving, not so that we can be more comfortable and get out of work, but rather so that we can get more people to enjoy the work of learning, and all its blessings.


These are the notes from my talk at last Friday’s Fundraising Feast. –Mr. Higgins

Fundraising Like a Calvinist

If God is in control of everything, then why do we bother to work? Why bother to pray? If He’s got it all figured out, knowing which blessings He plans to dole out and the best times to do so, why ask for anything at all? And more to the point, why should we ask Him to bless the school financially when doing so doesn’t change His plan?

In brief, knowing God is in control is not intended to prevent our faithful behavior. Rather, it ought to energize it.

First, God commands us to ask. Knowing our anxious thoughts doesn’t keep God from wanting us to bring Him our requests: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:4-6).

Our faithful praying makes God’s act of blessing an answer to prayer. And He loves to answer the prayers of His saints.

What’s more, God commands outcomes as well as means to those outcomes. When it comes to growing our school, we all have opportunity to be used by God, whether it means bringing in families or funds.

Last, our confidence in the sovereign control of God frees us to rest and feast. Come next Friday night, my biggest concern will be that my heart is rightly oriented to give God thanks along with you, as I fully trust that He will bring in as many dollars as He wants. No more, no less. And while I care deeply about the school, I won’t fret a moment over the dollars; He is in charge, not me.

If you’re reading this, consider feasting with us on May 11 and becoming part of the extended family of our school. If you can give cheerfully to the school, awesome. If your contribution is grateful and merry feasting and packing away a second dessert, then cheers! Regardless, please RSVP to Jolie Hall (jhall@evangelcs.org) by this Friday (May 4) so we can plan for your presence.

Risus est bellum!

Jonathan

Lessons from the Trenches

In Omnibus VI, we’re currently reading Citizen Soldiers, which is a treatment of “The US Army from the Normandy Beaches to The Bulge to the Surrender of Germany.” It’s been a fascinating study, and many of the students have devoured the this hefty historical volume, intrigued by the European Theater of WWII.

This week as we discussed the book, we took the helicopter up another thousand feet to examine how the young men whose character was forged in the foxholes and firefights of France and Belgium were uniquely prepared on their return to lead America into a time of remarkable prosperity.

I’m sure there are a host of factors, but I would suggest that at least part of the explanation is that in post-WWII America we had introduced to our workforce and society thousands of men who had been forced (in battle) to perform under pressure, to adapt to terrible circumstances, and to persevere in unfavorable conditions. These skills transferred well to just about any context, and the result was America’s economic and political flourishing.

But there were down sides, too. These very young men went off to war before many of them had learned how to be faithful husbands, loving fathers, and sacrificial leaders. In war, many of their leadership examples led from a safe distance, making some terrible decisions because they were so safely removed from the grind of the front lines. Not surprisingly, many of the front-line soldiers returned to American society and practiced the same thing with their children. Many of those Baby Boomers were then born to incredibly capable but sometimes detached parents who wanted their children to have a great life, but who did not train their children to handle responsibility and adversity as they had learned in battle. The moral revolution of the 60s and 70s didn’t come from nowhere.

I really wish that I could say that our culture learned its lesson, repented, and started taking more proactive measures to disciple and provide for our children. Quite the contrary, we’ve outsourced their training to the state. We’ve modeled for them that work is bad and we should do as little of it as possible. We’ve even taken measures to eliminate them before they’re born if they’re too much trouble.

We still reap the benefits of the remarkable, dominion-taking labors of The Greatest Generation. But three generations later, we have nearly none of their work ethic. It’s our desire that Raggants who are stout image bearers and copious producers have the work ethic of their great grandparents while also having modern resources.

But in order to cultivate that in them, we have to try as best we can to reproduce some of the lessons from the Belgian trenches and make them happen in the classroom, the kitchen, the back yard, or our imaginations. (Praise God for good books). May God bless our efforts as we do so.

–Mr. Sarr

An Invitation to Our Fundraising Feast

Evidently, feasting is important.

Throughout the Old Testament and the Church Age, the people of God have feasted for a number of reasons. The practice continues today. We feast for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, and more. At Evangel Classical School, we feast for Reformation Day, at Christmas, and again in the spring at our Fundraising Feast.

I write now to invite you to join us at this year’s Feast. As I do, I’d like to consider quickly some reasons why we feast.

We feast to remember. Carving time out of the calendar to rehearse God’s blessings and provision is a good practice. Where the Israelites celebrated Passover to remember God’s provision of the Passover Lamb and their subsequent delivery from Egypt, we feast to remember God’s many and various blessings to ECS. Whether physical or spiritual, they all come from Him.

We feast to receive. Good earthly fathers love to give good gifts to their children, and they love it when their children receive and enjoy those good gifts. How much more is this the case with our heavenly Father? He gives us good gifts, and loving the Giver enables us to rightly enjoy the gifts. Our proper receiving and enjoying what He has provided doesn’t make us idolaters; it keeps us from becoming idolaters.

We feast to give thanks. When we eat, drink, sing, and make merry with grateful hearts, we can be sure the God looks on us with delight. Routine and frequent giving of thanks shapes our hearts like water over a rock. As we rehearse God’s generosity and our unworthiness, it elicits proper gratitude from us, which is a necessary ingredient to feasting.

It’s little wonder that our enemy hates our feasting. Feasting is a sword for which there is no shield. There are spray-painted cardboard counterfeit swords of gluttony and entitlement, but what shield can our enemy raise to stop our merry feasting? Right. There isn’t one.

So this isn’t just another private school fundraising dinner. This is a low-pressure, high-mirth call to thank God, enjoy His blessings, lock arms, and advance culture…and all together. I invite you to join us. If this is your first introduction to our school, this is a fantastic opportunity to hear our mission and vision. And the company is first-rate. Please pass along this invitation to those whom you believe would be interested in joining us.

This year we are going to be at a new venue. It’s at Marion Field Farm outside of Arlington (about 20 minutes from ECS). It’s a beautiful and elegant setting for the Feast, and we’re very grateful for the opportunity to dine there. All of the ECS student will be performing. We will provide dinner and activities for the students when they’re not singing in the program. Unfortunately there is no childcare facility or staff available for small children or younger siblings of the Raggants. (If you need help finding a sitter, I recommend the ECS Parents Facebook page, as some ladies have already done a bit of brainstorming.)

The dinner is free, but your RSVP by Friday May 4 will be most helpful so we can make the appropriate arrangements. (Please RSVP to Jolie Hall: jhall@evangelcs.org)

Once more, here are the details:

  • What: 6th Annual Evangel Classical School Fundraising Feast
  • When: Friday May 11, 2018, 6:30pm
  • Where: Marion Field Farm, 10611 Moran Road, Arlington WA 98223
  • Who: Friends of Evangel Classical School
  • Why: To remember, to receive, and to give thanks
  • RSVP: Please RSVP by May 4 to Jolie Hall: jhall@evangelcs.org

Please don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions at all.

Risus est bellum!

Jonathan Sarr

Tofu Christians and Cultural Bouillon

I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten tofu…at least on purpose. Some people are not sure they’ve ever been around a Christian. This ought not be the case.

If you ask any vegetarian or fan of Asian cuisine, they’ll tell you that tofu takes on the flavors of other ingredients around it, whether they’re salty, spicy, or sweet. This parallels the cultural influence of many modern Christians. We are told to flavor the culture like salt on a steak, but we perform like spongy tofu instead. And this is what our culture not only expects, but demands of Christians.

Many modern Christians are like tofu, taking on the cultural flavor of those other social ingredients around them. They don’t stand out, they don’t make waves, and they contribute about as much value to their social context as a lump of tofu in your curry dish. Perhaps you can’t taste it, but it gives you a bit of nutritional benefit (some protein, amino acids, etc.). Having Christians around is nice, isn’t it? They’re easy to push around, they don’t make waves or even curse. How pleasant! But beyond that, many Christians, like tofu, don’t actually do much of anything. They’re more identifiable for what they’re not: they’re not unbelievers…and tofu is not meat.

Increasingly, Christians are shouted down in the public square by those who have read neither the Bible nor the Constitution. We’re told to keep spiritual principles and practices to ourselves. Our opponents may cite a separation of Church and state, or invoke anti-discrimination clauses, or even spin some of the Bible back at us (Judge not, lest ye be judged. Turn the other cheek. What do you have against love?)

Decreasingly, our children are taught to submit first to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to obey Him first and principally in private, public, and political matters. The world is not asking for a reason for their hopefulness and joy. But then again, the ginger-scented tofu is rarely asked how it got its unique aroma, either.

The more we capitulate to the tyranny of this moral revolution, the less distinct we are from the world. We even take on the world’s cultural flavor. We all know this, but few Christian parents know how to navigate (and flavor!) these waters when the waves just keep getting bigger and bigger.

Which is why I’m excited about the mission of Evangel Classical School. It is this:

> We commend the works of the Lord to another generation with the tools of classical education, weaponized laughter, and sacrificial labors so that they will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.

This is big, but it’s not really complicated.

We’re trying to train our students to face their opponents with a gracious word and a confident grin. As they read many of the great works of Western Civilization, our students gain an understanding of where we have come from and where we are headed, philosophically, historically, ideologically and otherwise. They learn that Scripture provides the key for unlocking and answering many of the mysteries that have confounded Western thinkers from Plato to Nietzsche.

When we teach them Latin, we aim to teach them in precision of thought and the chief language in which the story of the West is told. There’s no room for ambiguity in Latin.

When we teach them Logic, we aim to teach them in order of thought, giving them the ability to identify flaws in their own reasoning, and we teach them to identify the fallacious tricks that our opponents employ to deceive us and others.

When we teach them Rhetoric, we aim to train them in expression of thought. Those who can speak clearly, winsomely, and well…and who have something to say, will be the cultural bouillon cubes of the next generation.

We’re trying to train them not to be free from work, but to be free to do a lot of work with joy. As we train them rigorously, they grow a big capacity for work. Work is good; it predates the fall. We don’t want for our students to try to escape it, but rather to do a lot of it happily.

We’re trying to train our students to laugh and sing at the right times, for the right reasons. We can laugh because we serve a sovereign and good God, and we’re on the winning side of an already-determined outcome…even if it’s still playing out right now. Happy Raggants have a song on their lips and a psalm in their hearts. People like that are hard to beat down. And boy, does that make Grendel cranky.

In an age of tofu-like Christians, what we need are for Christians to be cultural bouillon cubes. Bouillon cubes are not obnoxious, but when they’re introduced to the boiling pot of veggies, it boosts and determines the flavor of the mixture. A few years from now, when our Raggant bouillon cubes are dropped into the spheres of politics, education, the arts and sciences and commerce, by God’s grace may they have a potent and delightful impact…with that confident grin.

–Mr. Sarr

Why Rhetoric?

It happens often enough: I meet a nice lady in the line at Costco who asks me what the stubby orange flying rhinoceros is on my jacket. I say it’s a Raggant. Puzzled look. I quickly explain it’s our school mascot, a fictional creature from the book series 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson. By-passing most of that explanation, the lady has identified I am a teacher, and so she asks where: at ECS. Typically, between the evasive “evangel” portion (which at least sounds slightly familiar), and “classical,” she chooses the next ever-popular question, “Classical? What does that mean?”

I now have around six years’ experience answering this question, and have rarely done so well (or quickly, as at this point that cashier has rung through my mountain of provisions, the debit machine is beeping, and one of my children has to use the potty). I have learned to employ an analogy, which may be helpful to you in future shopping excursions, but will hopefully also aid in explaining why we teach Rhetoric proper at ECS.

Classical Education is like Legos. In the Grammar stage, about Kindergarten to sixth grade, the students are learning the basics of all the subjects: the colors of the Legos, shapes, how many dots are on the top of each one, how those fit together, and how to add and subtract them when constructing large towers. You start to give them rudimentary instruction manuals as they progress, and they begin to assemble the pieces into forms, putting together buildings or cars, like writing a paragraph or completing a math equation. Then, they progress to the Logic stage in late sixth to about ninth grade. Here we hand them the advanced manuals, and start studying why these Legos work the way they do and introduce strange new things, like hinges and motors and mini-figures that can act upon the stage of these large Lego worlds and do odd things like fight entire wars over one pretty girl-figure with nice hair. We hand them some Lego creations to disassemble and reconstruct. They may begin debating with each other the best way to construct a Lego colony. The final stage is the Rhetoric stage. This is the Master Builder stage, where we take everything they have learned in the previous two stages and tell them: Build. Build excellently, beautifully, and truthfully in a way that matters to The Master Builder and changes the world.

Rhetoric is the capstone of Classical Education. It is what everything in the early stages of your child’s education is building towards. That said, actually defining Rhetoric is tricky. It is a bad buzz word in political circles; it is a subject; it is field of study; it is a stage of development. And, ironically, definitions vary widely. Aristotle defined Rhetoric as “the faculty of observing, in any given case, the available means of Persuasion”; Plato defined it as, “the art of enchanting the soul”; ECS’ composite working definition of Rhetoric is “the art of a virtuous man writing or speaking well.”

Accordingly, Rhetoric is aiming for three primary things:

  • Crafting Art
  • Cementing Virtue
  • Communicating Excellently

Students work on all three of these elements through their early years at ECS, from needing to rise from their seats to give an answer in class, to the Character Evaluations before them on every quarter’s Report Card, to Art and Music classes. The Progymnasmata exercises which students are completing in their Writing & Rhetoric texts (pro meaning “early” and gym meaning “exercise,” so early writing exercises) are a critical part in all of this, giving students foundational ways of writing about and processing the world. Thus, they will have actually studied and gained the skills of Rhetoric before they ever reach upper-Secondary.

But Rhetoric class is an essential time of special training which takes every tool in the tool-bag and uses it in new and creative ways. We start with studying virtue, personality, and identity: How are you formed? How do you, as you have been crafted, now craft to God’s glory? Who is the person next to you; how do you know; how do you show him Christ’s love? Next we move into the study of Rhetoric proper, types, and how to present it all well. Logic? You can deploy that in a Rebuttal paragraph to disarm your opponent, and even turn his own arguments against him. Diagramming sentences? To go now boldly and split infinitives, or start stacking substantive alliterations, or use cliches wisely; it’s all up for grabs. We practice through many different forms, employing impromptus, writing speeches, reading books, and discussing it all.

The end goal is, as Rebekah Merkle says in Classical Me, Classical Thee, to make each student “a leader…someone who is compelling enough that others want to follow…the skills you are learning in rhetoric are actually all about beauty, about expression, about learning to articulate clearly and communicate precisely in order that truth will be desirable to the hearer.” This is one of the final classes our arrows experience; it is their target-practice. They fly, they miss; they sometimes hit the wrong targets in the wrong ways. But with each flight they learn the warp and woof of their own making, they learn more of their Maker, and hopefully by the time they are notched into the bow and make their final flight from ECS on graduation day, they will fly uniquely straight, strong, beautiful, and true.

–Mrs. Bowers

Better Than Unbreakable

I recently read a brilliant illustration. Imagine you wanted to send a priceless wine glass to a friend through the mail. You would find a reinforced box and wrap the glass with thick layers of soft padding. You would double-tape the box and, before sending it, you’d write in all-caps with a fat red Sharpie on multiple sides, “FRAGILE: HANDLE WITH CARE.” The glass is valuable but easily breakable.

What is the opposite of that? As the author of the book observes, and I admit that it was what first came into my mind, most people think the opposite of the wine glass is something such as a hard cover book. Wrap it in a tough box or wrap it with tissue paper, it probably won’t matter. Will the post office be careful with the package? Also, it doesn’t matter. A book can survive a lot and isn’t likely to be busted.

Between the two, which type of student would we want most? Our sixth year Omnibus (a History/Lit/Theology combo) class finished Moby Dick a few weeks ago. I audit the class but am behind in my reading, so I more recently came across this exhortation from Ishmael about halfway through the story; it’s about the benefits of being like a whale.

It does seem to me, that herein we see the rare virtue of a strong individual vitality, and the rare virtue of thick walls, and the rare virtue of interior spaciousness. Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter’s, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own. (Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick: or, The Whale (pp. 334-335). Penguin Publishing Group)

I like that: an internal temperature of one’s own no matter the season. But, this is not actually the opposite of the wine glass. The book is sturdy, (and, as Melville argues, a whale is self-controlled), and that is good, but sturdy is not the opposite of fragile. The opposite of easily breakable would be some substance or some product that not only survives, it gets better being knocked around. Imagine writing on the outside of the box: “MISHANDLE LIKE NOBODY’S BUSINESS!” By the time the package arrived, having been thrown against walls and dropped on the floor and kicked out of the truck, the contents have gained value, not lost it. This is more than robust, this is antifragile (which is the name of the book I’m reading).

The principle applies to many domains: economies, governments, science, health, as well as education and individual persons/students. A number of things benefit from some stress, from some tension, from some difficulty. This affects what kind of persons we want to be. It affects what kind of persons we want our students to become.

Our society is doing a great job at making fragile persons, including Generation Snowflake that needs puppy petting therapy rooms in order to recover from hearing a new idea, especially one that challenges long-held but shallow-rooted assumptions. Written on the side of our schools: “Fragile: Don’t touch.”

It doesn’t need to be that way.

My wife regularly says, though she doesn’t claim to have come up with it, that we ought to be preparing our kids for the road and not preparing the road for our kids. Parents want their kids to do well, to succeed, to pass them. But this doesn’t happen by making everything smooth and easy. Our kids will succeed not when we’ve put enough padding around them that they “survive.” Besides, we can actually do better than making them sturdy. What if we trained them in such a way that when the world throws crazy things at them they thrive?

This is our mission at ECS. The school board finalized our mission statement last summer.

We commend the works of the Lord to another generation with the tools of classical education, weaponized laughter, and sacrificial labors so that they will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.

This is a battle. It requires wisdom to really see a culture, it requires strength to carry a culture, it requires wisdom and strength and courage and hope to advance a culture.

The world is certainly offering her alternative to a Christ-honoring culture. The chaos and the volatility that come with denying the Lordship of Christ is bad, but, for the right kind of person, such chaos is the perfect opportunity. The culture of unbelief is hostile, but it is also self-defeating. It can’t stand on its own; it has to borrow any truth it depends on. Our students are being equipped not merely to withstand the attack, but to take advantage of every weakness in the system and tip it over.

Such training requires a variety of things, including the “tools of classical education.” This is an old pedagogy, with a Dorothy Sayers twist that emphasizes certain parts of training with certain ages of development. There are three categories of these tools considered under the heading of the Trivium (one of the things that goes into the Classical school difference): Grammar, Dialectic/Logic, and Rhetoric.

Antifragile students know their facts. They know that there are only three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. They live in a world of “he”s and “she”s and “it”s. What an advantage to distinguish male and female and not only when choosing a restroom or hooking up a sound system. They know that two plus two equals four, all the time, because God made it that way. Our youngest students sing about the Bible and about the catechism and about the parts of speech because they love to sing and because they don’t have any doubt about God’s good gifts in creation. This is the Grammar stage.

Antifragile students test their arguments as well as the advertising propaganda shot at them. They know that syllogisms can be valid, but not sound, yet we’re looking for both. They live in a world of good, better, and best, and are learning to distinguish which is which according to created categories and according to the standard of God’s Word. This is the Logic stage.

Antifragile students express their ideas. They’ve assembled truth and assessed what is good and they prepare to adorn their persuasions. They are polishing their prose, poetry, and presentations. “Rhetoric is the class that’s trying to turn [a student] into a leader” (Rebekah Merkle, Classical Me, Classical Thee). This is the Rhetoric stage.

We train students in the grammar stage to be curious, to love to collect and chant (HIC HAEC HOC!). We train students in the logic stage to be (a good sort of) contrarian, to love to correct and question. And we train students in the rhetoric stage to be creative, to love producing and shaping not just consuming and being shaped.

All of these things together work toward making courageous, Christ-loving, Christ-honoring students. We need young men and women who can choose well and advance at crosswords we as parents and teachers can’t currently see. We’re working to equip students who get stronger by figuring things out, with a deadline, with others depending on them.

I love C.S. Lewis’ quote about how favorable conditions never come. “The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.” We want students who want unfavorable conditions anyway. It’s not inconsequential that it was Bard (a synonym for poet) the Bowman who shot down the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit, and it’s not just coincidence that the only time Smaug’s weak spot showed is when he was flying and attacking.

At ECS we are laboring, with laughter, to produce a certain kind of antifragile person who is “impossible to sneak up on” (Merkle), who is part of a community of those who not only are not easily broken, but who relish the opportunities to build in a broken world.


These notes are from my talk at the 2018 Information Night.

In the Middle of It

Showing up at Disneyland on a whim is good. But maximizing your Disneyland experience involves a bit of planning and prioritizing. Intentionality, even. Your school experience is the same.

First, a disclaimer. By the remarks that follow, I do not mean to suggest that we have arrived at our philosophical or cultural destination. Neither do I wish to suggest that we’re awesome in and of ourselves. It is unmistakable, however, that God has blessed ECS beyond our most presumptuous requests, and He’s done so using lots of crazy means, like people, curriculum and the gospel. We cannot take credit for any of this, even though we’ve been in the middle of it.

Rather, I say this as one who has been shaped and grown in staggering and unexpected ways the last six years, as both a teacher and as a parent who is trying to navigate some unfamiliar waters…and I’m very glad to be joined by some pretty good swimmers.

Parents, I believe that your intentional investment in our school’s culture is good for you and your children. You get to know the people who are pouring into your children and you get to be a part of making the culture better. That said, I would like to suggest (in no particular order) some ways that you can maximize your family’s experience with Evangel Classical School.

Stay for Matins.

Matins sets the tone for the day at ECS. I love seeing all the Raggants in one place, excited to start the day. More than once their enthusiasm has swept me up and my hurried heart has been warmed and filled. When you come to drop off your student, consider sticking around until about 9:07 to see the school come together, to get to join some happy treble voices in a hymn or psalm, to be reminded of our Creed, and to pray. You can even give one more hug before sending them off to first period.

Get out of your car after school.

I love Matins, but the 3:00 hour is my favorite part of the school day, and not just because the lessons are over. I enjoy our people rubbing off on one another, sharing thoughts, victories, struggles and stories while the Raggants scamper about filling the air with giggles and footballs.

Some administrators get nervous when they see a knot of moms yammering in the parking lot. I love it.

Take some time to talk and visit and brainstorm and just enjoy the other school families. Odds are you’ll leave encouraged.

Have your child’s teacher over for dinner.

Relationships are important, and spending time cultivating a relationship with the person who is investing in your child is well spent. What’s more, when we are engaged in the sort of heart-work demanded of education, there are bound to be opportunities to practice forgiveness, and that’s easier when the relationships have been strengthened.

I would rather have the ECS teachers than any teaching staff on the planet, and it’s not just for sentimental reasons. They are a gift to our school and our families, and getting to know them (and their spouses) is wise. You’ll get to show your appreciation for them, and they’ll get to know you and your students better, better enabling them to serve you.

Read your Raggant’s literature books.

I love talking with my children about the books they’re reading, and even more so when I’m familiar with the books. I’m able to help them make sense of what they’re reading and discuss themes, issues and characters.

If your child is in Omnibus and you cannot keep up with that reading load, consider at least reading the introductions to the text in the Omnibus textbook. (Ask your students what I mean; they can tell you). You’ll be better equipped to help and support your student while also getting some great worldview training yourself.

Besides, many of us are (righteously, of course) jealous of what our children are getting; this is one small way to make up for lost time and opportunities.

Tell a friend about the school.

When you tell others about ECS, you may find yourself forced to articulate the school’s vision and mission. This is always a good exercise.

It’s a normal Christian practice to gush to others about the stuff we love. Hopefully you feel this way about the school.

Pray for the teachers and other families.

Praying for people impacts my attitude toward them. It grows my compassion and helps to align my own attitudes as I go to God on their behalf. What’s more, it’s loving and obedient…two things we’d like to see in our children.

Visit a class unannounced.

This may be hard to believe, but I mean it. When I drop in on classes, I always leave encouraged, and I trust you would, too. Perhaps you’d like to hear Mr. Higgins’ Nacho Libre impersonations or how Mr. Bowers makes Prince Henry the Navigator a fascinating character. Perhaps you want to learn how Miss Bour puts awesome dance moves to the Bible songs or eavesdrop while Omnibus students discuss Just War Theory.

We love having parents around the school, so you’re most welcome to drop in.

And there’re likely more ideas, and I’d be glad to hear them all. The more we’re investing in our school community, the better it will be, and the more we’ll get out of it.

Risus est bellum!

Jonathan

The ECS Mission Statement

In the fall of 2017, the ECS Board released our freshly-crafted Mission Statement.  In October I talked through the Statement at an assembly.  Below are the notes from that talk.  Enjoy.


Evangel Classical School Mission Statement:

We commend the works of the Lord to another generation with the tools of classical education, weaponized laughter, and sacrificial labors so that they will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture. 

Many organizations are crystal-clear on their mission before they ever begin.  We had a rough idea, and it’s getting clearer.  While we’ve had a vision of what we were aiming for from the start of ECS, we haven’t had an actual mission statement until last week.

We commend the works of the Lord to another generation 

Psalm 145:4 reads, “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.”

To “commend” is to praise.  At ECS, we intentionally praise the works of God first to you all, with the hope that you will do the same thing, in time, and in turn.

with the tools of classical education, 

We don’t just commend the works of the Lord to another generation with our words, but with “the tools of classical education.”  Now this is a big point, saying a lot because classically, education was used to help prepare students to advance culture, equipping them well to do so.  As students learned how to work hard, how to reason, how to organize thought, how the world works and how to present ideas, they were learning how to advance their culture.

So in order for us to do this, we take a long, hard look at history and great books.  We want for you students to know how we got to this point in our culture’s history.  Where did our ideas come from?  What assumptions are behind our laws and customs?  Why do we hold the door open for ladies, and why do we love stories where the hero dies for the ones he cares about?  What does it look like when men try to save themselves?  What’s it look like when men try to make sense of the world we live in without looking first to the Bible?  What happens when people abandon sound reason or call evil things “good?”

An education aimed at advancing culture must include these sorts of discussions.

Sadly, but much of modern education is aimed at separating students from their culture.  Our culture tries to educate young people without examining the Bible that has influenced so much of our fathers’ decisions.  Many multiculturalists (maybe you’ve heard that word) want you to feel badly for the blessings you enjoy, and they won’t be happy until you’re willing to say that every other culture in the world is as great as yours.

We want you to love your culture so that you’ll be grateful for how God has worked to bring you where you are, and so you’ll be excited to actually make your culture better!  And we believe that this is the key to properly loving other cultures!  Just because you love yours doesn’t mean you have to hate others; may it never be!  Loving your culture is an important part of appreciating others’ cultures.

So when we talk about classical education, we’re talking about cultural advancement, which we’ll come to again later in the Statement.

weaponized laughter, 

RISUS EST BELLUM!

We’ve talked about this a lot before, but this is not just silly happy laughter, this is a laughter that comes from our souls.  It’s a laughter of confidence and gratefulness, and it cannot be squelched by cruddy circumstances or the devil.

Raggants, whether we realize it or not, we are in a cultural war.  It may not involve a bunch of bullets and grenades, but all around us there wages a war of ideas, religious agendas, and moral redefinitions.  And the leaders of the earth try to promote themselves and make a name for themselves…and Jesus laughs at them in derision.

We want to love our enemies, and laugh in the face of adversity.  And that is sometimes really hard.  But laughter is a lot easier when we remember that God is sovereign, He is good, and we’re on the winning side of a war where the outcome has already been determined.

Imagine you were in a war and you happened to stumble into the war room of your enemies.  You saw them gathered around a table looking over your battle plans…and they were confidently laughing.  Wouldn’t you be bothered, at least a little bit?  What if they were watching video footage of battles that hadn’t happened yet, battles where they were victorious and you were crushed.  And they were cheering and laughing with merry fists in the air.

This is not a frivolous, silly, amused laughter, but rather the confident and cheering laughter of the winning side…but before the battles are over.

and sacrificial labors 

One of the many evidences that the gospel is not from the mind of man is that our labors are effectual.  What that means is that we can know with absolute certainty that – even though we don’t see the results right away – God will use the sacrificial labors of His people to bring about His will.  He does this all the time.

This is encouraging, because we want immediate and visible results, but discipleship is a long road.  It’s taken you years to get where you are now, and it’s going to take a lot more years for you to get where  you’re going.

God sees our labors even when others do not, but the sacrifices your parents are making and the sacrifices we’re making as a school are actually tools that we are using to commend the Lord’s works to you all.  And our desire is for you to do the same thing for the generation after you.

so that 

There is a point to this all, and here we get to it.

they will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture. 

And this is it.  We want for you all to be equipped and eager to advance Christ-honoring culture when you leave ECS.  We want desperately for you all to take the baton of culture and run with it!  Run fast and far and laugh heartily along the way!

If you take full advantage of your time here, we’re confident that you’ll have the tools and the ability and the breadth of interest to advance this culture as “far as the curse is found.”

So once more…

We commend the works of the Lord to another generation with the tools of classical education, weaponized laughter, and sacrificial labors so that they will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture. 

Why Fiction?

Students at ECS read. A lot. They memorize phonograms, diagram sentences, and parse verbs–in English and Latin. They begin frolicking with Biscuit and homesteading with the Wilder family before they graduate to plodding with Plato, adventuring with Thucydides, and finally wrestling with a Leviathan.

In light of this reading load–and as a shameless plug for our upcoming Fiction Festival in March–I wanted to tackle (or at least arm-wrestle with) the question: “Why Fiction?”

There are clinical answers: it will help you communicate clearly, construct a work email, or write IKEA instruction manuals so people can actually assemble something resembling a desk instead of a piece of modern art.

Trust me, I am not disparaging clear communication or the use of possessive apostrophes. I would die upon the hills of subject-verb agreement, correct hyphenation, and the Oxford comma–to name but a few.

But may I offer that one of the most influential components of reading is the construction of people? Words mold, alter, edge-chip, buff, and refine. As Christians, this should be no surprise. The Word creates, divides, illuminates, enlivens, sustains, breathes, and communicates. God spoke and the Word created all that we see, and then the Word entered his own dimensioned and constricting materials to quite literally die for walking pillars of dust.

Story has a unique ability to shape our loves in ways few others things do, because it reflects the way the ultimate Author pre-eminently shapes. No child I have met wants to grow up to be pre-Dragon Eustace, Uriah Heep, or Javert. Give them Aragorn, Lucy, or Curdie.

Especially as young children, stories train our virtuous taste buds – they create flavor palates we love or spit out. As children we don’t necessarily know why we hate the White Witch, but we know that anyone who keeps Christmas away must be evil…because deep down we understand that things like life, color, messiness, parties, and even a redeemed Bacchus wandering through the forests of Narnia, are good things. Evil directly opposes those things–stories teach us that those who whitewash the world and create graveyards do it for power and for pride, and we shake our heads and back away, joining with the nymphs instead.

Not only do stories train our taste buds, they expand our palates. Stories pry us out of our own brain-boxes. As Franz Kalfka asserted in a letter to his childhood friend, “a book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” The tragedy of humanity’s inherent narcissistic prison is that most don’t feel the chains – we are all in desperate need of a light to shine on the bars and an axe to break us out. We want students at ECS to die to themselves while knowing and loving and caring for those around them; literature is a unique tool in this process.

Obviously, the Gospel is the only thing that can truly set a soul free from this dungeon, but literature can act as the match to light the lamp, and for Christians, it can certainly be a guide out of the maze of tunnels and into the fresh air of fellowship and selflessness and freedom.

Jumping into the great texts of Western Literature (and other cultures and times) is one of the only, and primary means, of dislodging our superiority. It fosters true critical thinking. It can humble us and teach us wisdom. Most people can cite the dates for World War II, the main players, and some concepts like Imperialism. Very few know what Hitler read, or what worldview led to the rise of Eugenics. Drill down a bit farther and actually crawl up into someone else’s soul for a moment: what makes a person turn Monster? Spy a golden ring with Gollum and feel the jolt of experimentation with Frankenstein. How does one justify horrendous crimes? Engage with the self-victimhood of Mein Kampf. Who would ever die for a sniveling weasel-child? Romp with Aslan.

This is where the role of literature takes a central role in the life of the reader. In fact, literature may be the primary – and potentially only means in this world–of entering into another person’s mind, albeit fictitious. Where else can you feel the desire of another, or understand his or her motivations, like in a novel? As Scientific American noted in an article in October 2013, a study from the New School for Social Research in New York showed that “literary fiction improves a reader’s capacity to understand what others are thinking.” Interestingly, popular fiction didn’t affect young readers in the same way–it simply took them on an oft frequented emotional ride with familiar-looking people in what the researchers called ‘readerly’ reading–you are simply entertained. Literary Fiction that is ‘writerly’ makes you fill in the gaps and participate–it forces you into different shoes–it enlarges your soul just a bit. This is why we teach some of the those hard, old, boring books at ECS–to foster humility, empathy, and action.

The Holy Spirit, prayer, meditation, and the Word can and must all resuscitate and foster our delight in God, His creation, and His people. They are the source and the bedrock. Yet Literature can aid in the recovery effort, and we must read with wisdom–rejecting that which would mold us grotesquely away from the good while fostering a voracity for vomit. True, ECS does sample some deceptively delicious looking appetizers in the hope that the students around our table learn some dishes are best fed to the dogs.

Ultimately, may ECS teach–and we all read–books that mould sturdy characters while whittling away our own weaknesses, stories that chip away at blinders to move our gaze further up and our steps further in. In this endeavor, please consider joining us for ECS’ third-annual Raggant Fiction Festival Saturday, March 24th. The theme this year will be “Character Development and the Development of Character.”

Mrs. Bowers