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.

Clarity in Morally-Confusing Times

As I get opportunity to interact with a host of schools these days, I am impressed at how much trouble we can get in when we adhere to traditional Christian teaching and morality. I don’t want that to be the case for Evangel Classical School and our community. (Sadly, that was not the case in recent months at Kings.) I wish to be crystal clear, for the record: We love the Bible, we are training the Raggants to submit to it, and we embrace what we are convinced to be the clear and traditional teachings about marriage and human sexuality. God’s intended plan for marriage is to be between one man and one woman for life. Sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful, and when Christians engage in such behavior we act like unbelievers and it betrays our status as new creations in Christ. God created male and female (Genesis 1:27); this is not socially constructed, and it is not fluid.

I realize that’s a doozy of a first paragraph, and not what you’re accustomed to reading from me, but I assure you, it’s because I love ECS, our community, our mission, and our opportunity to shape young minds and form tomorrow’s culture-shapers. If that is going to happen, we cannot compromise where God has been clear, though many in the pale of the Church are doing that very thing today.

And sometimes it causes me to wonder.

What would the Church fathers argue to be “of first importance” if they were drafting a creed today?

To be sure, these are morally-confusing times, and Christians are doing little to introduce clarity to the confusion. It comes as little surprise that – in the spirit of Romans 1 – even professing Christians are inventing new ways to muddy the waters of Orthodoxy. We have a whole new list of lines between the false and the true today.

In its ongoing effort to suppress the truth in unrighteousness, our culture is spending the spiritual capital our fathers left us like entitled teenagers with a besetting addiction and old money…and the Church is not far behind. We’ve invented our own morality, traded in our freedom for shackles, and crafted diabolical knots for the consciences of our neighbors.

And where has that gotten us?

We murder our infants in the womb and call it “freedom.”

We normalize what God abominates and call it “love.”

We jettison the culture of our parents and call it “education.”

But I return to my original question. If the Church fathers were drawing lines in the sand today, would they insist on Sola Fide? The inerrancy of Scripture? Would they articulate afresh that a marriage is between a man and a woman? I wonder.

At ECS, our aim is to equip “another generation [to] carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.” This necessarily includes spending time studying the Bible, the Great Books of the West, and equipping students to think logically and speak clearly and winsomely. Along the way, we see some recurring lessons.

First, we see that the key to human flourishing is obedience to God’s commands. For instance, take my comments above on marriage. When we love and encourage marriage between one man and one woman for life, which is God’s intended arrangement, we find ourselves in strangely rare company…and our kids flourish in security and think that this sort of thing (i.e., a husband and a wife together in happy matrimony) is normal. Of course we live in a Genesis 3 world, and we’ve all been affected by divorce (including many in our own ECS community and the Sarr family tree), but I’ve never met a person who argued that divorce was consistent with God’s obvious design.

Or consider human sexuality. Two men can claim to enjoy romantic love for each other, but that’s not a sign of God’s blessing, and it is not fruitful as the marriage bed is intended to be.

Or what about politics? When we study history and the Bible, we can see what happens when Church and State blur their jurisdictional lines and try to do each other’s jobs. (Take the power struggle between Thomas Becket and Henry II. Juxtapose this with the the prophet Samuel and King Saul. What do you see?)

Through our study, our students see what happens when men dismiss what God has said and follow their own wisdom. God gives us just the sort of freedom, love, and education that we demand.

I realize that it’s becoming increasingly offensive to draw lines like the ones I’ve drawn here, but as many among us try to deny or redefine what God has said, we wish to be faithful to God’s Word and enjoy the variety of fruitfulness that comes of that faithfulness. Nor can we deny the results that we can see historically when men prefer their own wisdom to that of the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

The trendy thing in our culture today would be to label ECS as anti-gay (as happened with Kings) because we love biblical and traditional marriage, for instance. Not only is this lazy and inflammatory, it doesn’t go far enough. We believe that homosexuality is sinful. We also believe that pride is sinful. And adultery and gluttony, too. The list of things we’re against can fall safely under one big umbrella: sin. We want to be anti-sin…though we’re a community of sinners trying to kill that sin and live in fellowship with God and with one another.

Instead of thinking of our anti’s, it may be more helpful to think in terms of our pro’s: We are pro-obedience to God’s commands, pro-personal holiness, pro-relational harmony, pro-loving our neighbors sacrificially, and lots more! Beyond this, every day at ECS is more like a work party than it is like what I grew up thinking of when someone said “school.” So we are pro-partying.

We want our kids to be trained to love what God has said, to submit to it (even when they don’t feel like it) and then to be wildly blessed and happy as God rewards the faithfulness He effects in them. We want for them to be able to discern truth from error, see through the lies of the enemy, and to stand strong in their biblical convictions to love and honor Christ in their choices. Amazing blessings await the faithful, and we fiercely fight for this on behalf of every Raggant.

May God give us the conviction of the Church fathers to know where to draw lines with grace and wisdom, and the courage to remain on His side of those lines.

Risus est bellum.
—Mr. Sarr

Why Houses?

This September, amidst cheers and hoots and hollers, ECS welcomed the largest entering Secondary class seen to date. As the dust settled from Field Day and the bright stage lights dimmed after the House assignments were decreed, it seemed an apt time to address why we even have Houses at ECS.

It’s not because we want to be like Harry Potter. Really. Not even a little bit. We do want to enhance the Secondary experience and are admittedly borrowing the concept from a system that originated in England’s public schools, particularly boarding schools, where students literally slept and ate in a particular house. Since then, Houses have developed into a grouping of students that provide a sense of smaller community within the broader context of larger and sometimes impersonal schools.

Now clearly, ECS is not a public boarding school, but we do hope our Houses operate as microcosms within the larger whole of the school – a way for students to get some on-the-ground, unique training for how their individual gifts, weaknesses, strengths, and actions affect the larger household of their families and their houses of worship.

On a practical level, Houses help to tear down the false boundaries built-up between middle-schoolers and high-schoolers, welcoming the incoming seventh graders with great excitement into an immediate, smaller community of Secondary students. It also practically allows for more fun throughout the year – who doesn’t like a good competition? Finally, it just makes organization easier when we can group the entire Secondary into four distinct units in twenty seconds flat.

On a deeper level, though ECS is concerned with students feeling both inclusion and enjoyment, the Houses are meant to mature students…and maturation is often not fun. Certainly our students know what it’s like to be a member of a family and a church body – but this is a new opportunity as they begin to unfurl their proverbial wings. It’s a chance to exercise leadership potential amongst peers, flap into new aeries of creative endeavour, and sharpen their talons in both easy and challenging relationships. The House system uniquely qualifies for this because it fosters individual growth and maturation within a context of close community, mirroring a core Christian truth that our individual actions must affect the greater whole. When one cries, we all weep; when the little toe runs itself against the bed-frame yet again, the teeth clench; when one member leaves trash strewn through the Sanctuary, the whole House takes a five-point hit.

The House system hopefully shows the students that their individual efforts, talents, and abilities are a gift from the Creator for the benefit of the whole. Likewise, their weaknesses, sin, and apathies have consequences. In a world that worships autonomy, the House system is a weapon in our arsenal to showcase the value of an individual and the supreme value of that individual dying to bring life to others. Certainly this can be seen in larger contexts – even the school as a whole – but the House system provides concrete, quick, quantifiable feedback.

Thus we hope the Houses are a special means to balance individual growth with sweet fellowship as students learn to love others as themselves. This is the primary reason we keep families together in Houses: because we are commanded to love, and we believe the Houses help us to love our neighbors…and the hardest neighbors to love are the ones we share four walls with. Also, for those without siblings (or as the eldest sibling), the FTT (Full-Time Team) takes many things prayerfully into consideration when choosing a House for a student, including others in the House, the House leader, and the strengths and weaknesses that come bundled in the student, all with the view to how that student’s placement will both strengthen the House and the individual.

There are also some things the Houses are not. They are not meant to be representative clubs or personalities or identity markers. When the Houses were first announced a little over three years ago, the Secondary was still quite small, and a few families comprised each House. By God’s sovereign decree (and I am sure to His amusement), those Houses developed distinct personalities overnight – but this was not by any design on our part. Since then, none of the House leaders have sought to encourage nor entrench such flavors. Instead, we desire for the Houses to reflect the triune God, who delights in both unity and diversity everywhere His thumb-print touches (See: animals of Madagascar). The Houses should be diverse – we want every House competition to truly be up for grabs, and we want very different members learning to work as joyful teams to His glory.

The Houses are also not a chance to avoid doing work or making certain people into leader-trophies – as though if a House wins, it doesn’t have to take a clean-up day in the lunchroom. We treat winning as a chance to lose – in this, we hope our Houses follow the model of their Savior, who was first in line unto dirty feet, lepers, and tortuous death. Our prayer is that the Houses will be a mechanism that brings abundant life to the school, not a vehicle for conflict, proud competition, or pug-nosed leadership.

And within all of this, the House system at ECS is still emerging from the toddler phase. We are adding new events and new leaders. We are graduating students out and adding them in. We are solidifying our own telos of the “whys” and clarifying our views. But our prayer all along has been that the Houses will provide a close ring of compatriots to laugh with and fight alongside – that it will enhance the Secondary experience in small, seen ways, and unseen marks that indelibly etch the soul with wisdom, grace, and joy.

—Mrs. Bowers (filling in for the UH)

An Eye for Learning

The following notes are from the talk given by Mr. Higgins at our Convocation on the first day of school.


Or, Paying Attention to Curriculum and Character

There is an ancient Egyptian myth about Osiris, a god known for many things, including being the ruler of the dead. This is not a Bible story, but it is its own kind of mirror to problems that people have.

Horus head
The head of Horus

Osiris represented tradition, and even more than tradition, he came to represent dangerous failure to change. Osiris had a scheming brother named Set who was eager to overthrow and destroy Osiris. It wasn’t that Osiris was dumb or even deceived by Set, but Osiris didn’t want to see his brother’s evil intentions. Osiris chose to be blind. Eventually Set took a chance and attacked his brother, hacked him into pieces and sent his parts throughout the kingdom and his spirit to the underworld. Humpty Dumpty would have had an easier time pulling himself back together.

Some time later Osiris’ son Horus came to fight Set. You may have seen the symbol of Horus as the single Egyptian eye. He was also represented as a falcon-headed man; falcons are known for incisive vision. One story teller put it like this: “Osiris is tradition, aged and willfully blind. Horus, his son, could and would, by contrast, see. Horus was the god of attention” (12 Rules for Life, 222).

Seeing is not less than, but it is more than, mere knowing. This seeing beyond what is already grasped. Because Horus could see, he could see the wickedness of his uncle and fought him. He defeated Set, but not before Set tore out one of Horus’ eyes. Later Horus took back his eye, and then in a surprising twist, Horus went to the underworld and gave the eye to his father so that Osiris could see.

There are a couple angles in this story. The first is that it may hurt to see; Horus saw his uncle’s evil and lost one of his own eyes fighting the evil. The second is that seeing is the necessary act to move forward. Seeing was necessary to defeat Set. Seeing was what Osiris needed. If we do not see, if we refuse to learn and mature, our knowledge will grow stale or corrupt.

“Every bit of learning is a little death” (ibid., 223). It is death to our pride to acknowledge that we didn’t know everything already. It is death to our reputation as our ignorance is exposed, or worse, our pet blind spots. But when we learn, when we pay attention, we are sacrificing what may feel secure for something that is better. To get perspective, it’s easier to stand on a dead long than climbing a growing tree, but the dead log will only let you see so far.

There are two general categories that I want to exhort you to open your eyes to see this school year. For simplicity sake, let’s refer to them as head and heart, or we could summarize them as curriculum and character.

Pay attention to the curriculum.

This may surprise you, but our school does not exist as a proving ground for experts. Our school is a provoking goad to learning. What I mean is that we don’t meet here in order for you to Show and Tell all that you know, let alone that you know it all. One thing we know is that you don’t actually know it all, and more importantly, what you know should become a foundation to see more, not a fence to keep you from going further. Knowledge should increase your attentiveness, not your apathy.

One of the most fundamental principles at ECS is that not only are we permitted to, but we are accountable to, grow in Christlikeness. But what does that mean? It does mean that we should obey the Father like Christ did. But it also means that we should observe what Christ has made. Being like Christ means being interested in the things that He is interested in, and He made the world. “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3).

Christ made the heavens and the earth, He made the visible and the invisible. He not only created but He continually sustains all things. “He upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). We don’t keep the stars in place, but we can at least pay attention to them. Science, subtraction, Logic, letters, poetry, and history are all His delight.

Your current knowledge is not absolute, as in, you do not know everything. There will be times when you wish you knew more than you do, but the solution to that frustration is not to complain about the work required to see more. Teachers must keep seeing, and so must parents, so that you can keep seeing. The mission of ECS is that you would carry and advance Christ honoring culture. If you don’t have anything more to learn, then here we are, and here we’ll stay.

I remember my first day of 7th grade, and in particular my literature teacher Mr. Brenner. He had a sign hanging on his podium that he made sure to emphasize: “Hire a teenager while they still know everything.”

Pay attention to your character.

It often hurts to look at our own hearts. We don’t like what we see, so we go out of our way not to see. I mean, who wants to see his own sinfulness, more deeply, more clearly? Considering how we’ve offended God is nerve-afflicting. Looking at ugly things is not a good time, especially if we are the ugly ones.

But this is where you make or break your joy. You cannot be one of God’s children and thrive with unacknowledged sin. Willful ignorance about your sin, or proactive defensiveness of your sin, will choke out your joy. What is true for each individual is also true for a culture made up by those individuals. One weed can get its root deep, but if there are a lot of weeds in the garden, things are going to be a snarled mess.

If you don’t watch your heart, the sin in your heart will cut up your gladness into little pieces and scatter your soul all over the place. It won’t feel good. Paul told Timothy to “keep a close watch on yourself,” and that such attention had effect not just on himself but for those Timothy led (1 Timothy 4:16). It requires looking, and admitting, and sometimes even getting help to grow.

There will be all sorts of exposures of your heart this year. You will get to see how much patience you really have, how much diligence you really have, how much truthfulness you really have, how much skill you really have. Will you look for the opportunity to repent?

Don’t lie to yourself, or to others. You need to grow. We’re not going to freak out that you have immaturities, ignorances, and sins. Don’t you freak out either, and also don’t cover your eyes.

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15)

Conclusion

Do you know what you don’t know? What do you want to learn more about this year? You don’t necessarily need to have a plan, but your teachers will help. They have books for you to read and homework to assign and tests to give. They have curriculum, they have maps to show you more places that Christ loves and wants you to love. Listen to them, follow the path of their dry erase marker. Knock on their doors until they open up library of their own looking.

And also, are you prepared to become more like Christ in head and heart? Do you have an eye for learning the right loves, for seeing more ways to obey, for attending to the parts of your heart that need to be wrapped into integrity?

Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. (Ecclesiastes 4:13, ESV)

Uniform Un-standard Deviations

‘Tis the season to make a hundred shopping decisions related to school uniforms. In the spirit of playful clarity, I’d like to share with you some helpful reading material. We have had the same Uniform Committee for eight years, answering the same questions for eight years, and they’ve normalized some responses for our benefit…and amusement. And though the responses to the supplied questions and objections are intended to be smarmy and playful, they are nonetheless accurate. So here ya go.

Uniform Un-standard Deviations

AKA Teacher’s Uniform Cheat Sheet Addressing Common Confusion, Questions and Offenses

Skirt Length

  • Length should be at the knee, not mid-thigh OR mid-calf. It is purposefully not a precise measurement as a kindness to those tall, skinny girls among us who are unable to conform to the policy length without purchasing a skirt eighteen sizes too big and wadding up the waist in a rubber band.

Pants

  • Boys need to be wearing a black belt. Even if they don’t like it.
  • Pants can’t be saggy or droopy. Even if you have the above-mentioned belt on.

Shoes

  • No high-tops.
  • Nope, for real, no high-tops.
  • No boots. Think of these as high-tops that had real ambition in their rebellion.
  • Dress and Event Uniform requires DRESS shoes. Everyone really does know what this means. I promise.

Tights

  • Tights need to have feet. No leggings or footless tights. This is because the girls have feet and we don’t want them feeling left out.

Dress and Event Uniform Confusion

  • There is literally only ONE difference between these uniform requirements:
    • Dress: NAVY tights or socks
    • Event: WHITE tights only

Freezing Children

  • No outerwear other than uniform jackets and sweaters are allowed in the school or classrooms. (That means no hats, too.)
  • Yep, not in the school at all. No, not even in the hallways. But yes, outside during recess is great.

Shirts

  • Everyone except for secondary girls must have their shirt tucked in at all times.
  • The tucking exception for secondary girls is to allow for modesty when it can be difficult. However, the look shouldn’t be sloppy and the shirt can’t be hanging out beneath any sweater or jacket worn on top of it.

Masculine Details

  • Hair should be clean, neat and modest in style and appearance. Be wise.
  • Hair needs to be off the ear and collar. Unless said boy has a very, very short neck.
  • No jewelry. Except a wedding ring would be okay. But hopefully none of the boys are married.

Feminine Details

  • Girls are allowed to have subtle feminine detailing on their shirts like modest ruffles or shaping. It is a glory for girl Raggants to look beautiful while still looking generally…uniform.
  • Jewelry should not be distracting in any way. Necklaces should be tucked into shirts. Earrings should be a single stud or post earring per ear.
  • Makeup should be natural and not over-done.
  • Here’s a short Q&A to sum up many of the discussions about the girls’ uniforms:
    • Q: But…how will my daughter look special enough to really stand out?
    • A: 😑

Okay, it’s me again (Jonathan). While these represent our most common uniform questions, “common” shouldn’t be confused with “frequent.” It’s not as though we have a community of uniform fussers. I’m grateful for a culture where the students generally don their uniforms with pride and joy. I’m grateful for the parental contributions to that culture. I’m also grateful that our Uniform Committee has reasons for the decisions they’ve made, and I hope you find this to be as worth reading as I did.

Risus est bellum.

-U.H.