An Essential Ingredient

Thankfulness is an essential ingredient for the Christian life.

We have written about this before, but we’ll probably continue to do so until we either (A) we get it right and no longer need to hear it ourselves, or (B) it becomes untrue. Since neither of those will probably ever happen, it bears repeating now.

Of all people Christians ought to be most thankful, as we have the most to be thankful for.

This is the substance of the opening of Peter’s first letter:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).

We have been given an inheritance as sons of God, and the inheritance is beyond compare or explanation. We receive this inheritance not as begotten sons, but as those who have been adopted. Adopted children don’t earn their parents’ favor; it’s simply given. And ours has been given to us “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Wow. Let’s review:

  • Jesus has procured our salvation; we have not.
  • God has brought us (undeserving sinners) into His family; He has not begotten us.
  • We are now co-inheritors with Christ of the cosmos, recipients of an inheritance that is glorious and defies imagination.

Our inheritance is also guaranteed by the seal of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), and our current status (right now!) is that of inheritors, although we cannot yet fathom what we’ve been given.

But what about now? I’ve got a messy house, coughing children, a stack of bills and late tuition for my kids’ school.

That may be true, but it’s also not hard to see profound and undeserved blessings in each of those complaints, if we would adopt an attitude of thankfulness. Houses, children, a school for them…they’re all gifts from God! And how dare we receive these things with a grumbling sense of entitlement? After all, we’re not even begotten children of our heavenly Father!

We must remember in this season of Thanksgiving that what sets us apart from the world is that we enjoy not only the gifts we have, but also the Giver of the gifts. Our thanksgiving can be full, where the thanksgiving of the natural man can only be partial. He may be thankful for the turkey, but he cannot know or love Who it ultimately came from unless that too is granted to Him from the Father.

I’ll finish by zooming in to thankfulness when it comes to our kids’ education. Thankfulness is a great weapon in the war on discouragement and despair. It aligns our perspective and keeps us from grumbling. It infuses grace into our own speech. Perhaps you’re frustrated because…

  • Your children have left their completed homework on the counter again, or…
  • That teacher doesn’t seem to understand how busy your ministry calendar is, or he obviously would lighten up on the reading load, or…
  • You just can’t seem to lead by example with joy in your home, since your kids have a better attitude about their work load than you do.
  • You just don’t understand why cursive and phonics and math facts are so vital for kindergarteners.

Well, if that’s you, you’re not alone. But remember too that…

  • All these things are being used by God to shape us and our kids into the fully-sanctified bride of Christ.
  • We have been given all of these things – from children to raise up and sonship by adoption – by grace.
  • Thankfulness kills pride. When we realize that God has given us all we enjoy, we also realize that we don’t deserve any of it. This will come out in our speech.
  • We are always teaching our children how to love God and how to handle life.

Just think of what sorts of mountains they’ll be able to topple if we can equip them, by God’s grace, to handle all of these challenges with deep belly laughter and an attitude of thankfulness.

May God bless your family richly this Thanksgiving, and drive thankfulness right down to the marrow of your bones.

Risus est bellum!

Jonathan

Letter from a Hopeful Dad

For a moment I’m going to remove my U.H. hat and replace it with a H.D. hat. Oh, and H.D. stands for “Hopeful Dad.”

As you’re probably aware, I’m the father of three Raggants. I have a vested interest in seeing our school thrive and our students’ success, and it goes beyond my role as headmaster. If your family is like ours, you have moments when schooling is especially hard. Some books are really hard to read. Some math concepts are really hard to grasp. From Logic to Latin to Literature, faithfulness in the trenches can be challenging. We’ve had plenty of 10:00pm Latin caputs and revisions of math problems after evening church functions. I get it. It’s hard.

But recent homework marathons (perhaps a bit of an overstatement, I grant) have reminded me of a few points that I preach to others in my more lucid moments. These are things that I know:

I know I don’t want preferential treatment for my kids. Though he’s getting better, my son has a tendency to be sloppy in his homework assignments, and I praise God that Miss Bour doesn’t give out neatness points cheaply. If he gets full neatness points for subpar work, he’ll learn that mediocrity is the standard, and putting forth 70% effort is good enough. It makes the points cheap. Someday soon he’ll get full neatness points and it’ll be a big deal when he does.

If Mr. Bowers makes exceptions for Abbie because she’s my daughter, he’s depriving her of a good education. So as a dad I want him to know that he has my full support and I value his faithfulness.

I know that my kids are being enculturated, and a report card can’t fully capture that. If Ellie is faithful and earns straight C’s, she’ll come away from ECS with an appetite for knowledge, broad interests, deep loves, vibrant relationships, and having beheld Christ for 11 years (she was in 2nd grade when the school opened). She’ll appreciate Latin and history, even if she’s mastered neither. And she’ll have the work capacity of a locomotive. This is because of the cultural water she’s swimming in. We (and her teachers) are using a bunch of tools like good books and math lessons to train her in character. And I want her to be faithful.

I know I’m always teaching. How I respond to adversity and frustrations and joys and opportunities are effective tools for training my kids about how to handle life. My (hopefully-humble) readiness to laugh as a taunt to our enemy while remembering God’s sovereign goodness is instructive for my kids. My eagerness (or hesitation) to seek forgiveness when I wrong my children is showing them how I expect them to treat each other.

All together, this motivates me to be intentional in my living and grateful for the education that my children are receiving. And by God’s grace I see plenty of reasons to remain one H.D.

Letter from the Headmaster (U.H.)

Some of you might want to know what a “U.H.” is. I’m here to help.

“U.H.” stands for “Unruly Headmaster.” That’s me. And the ones who have dubbed me the “U.H.” are the ECS gnomes. It’s true.

Though they wouldn’t fancy much being called the “ECS gnomes,” since they hold ECS in derision.

Now that I’ve introduced still more confusion, I’ll try to clarify.

Many of you know that our mascot is the Raggant, from ND Wilson’s 100 Cupboards series. In the series, the protagonist, Henry York, disturbs peace enjoyed by some grumpy gnomes who live on the other side of his bedroom wall, which is actually a collection of doors to other worlds.

Henry is surprised and confused when he receives some grumpy notes from the gnomes, in which they dub him “W.C” for “Whimpering Child.” He gains this title because of his routinely crying in his nightmares. So Henry is the W.C. But what about the U.H.?

Well, last school year we learned that there are gnomes somewhere in the vicinity of ECS when I began receiving notes similar to those the gnomes gave Henry York. Apparently there are portals someplace in the church building similar to those found in Henry’s bedroom, and the Gnomes of District 93 have little appreciation for the sorts of sounds coming from ECS and disturbing their otherwise peaceful (and quiet) existence.

I’m told (again, by letter) that this includes laughter, singing, and chanting…and that it must stop. I’ve even been accused of contributing to this disturbance, earning me the title “Unruly Headmaster.”

Along with the Raggants, I’m “unruly” according to of a bunch of stodgy gnomes, and that’s alright with me.

I imagine the gnomes would be happy hanging out in Grendel’s cave, where they’re insulated from merrymaking and songs about the Measurer of the world. But being in close proximity to our students must be especially troublesome…where Raggants sing for fun as well as for facts, where they recite the Apostle’s Creed with confidence, and where they engage in cheerful conversation on a daily basis.

It’ll be a sad day if the gnomes stop slipping grumpy notes under the door of the U.H. By God’s grace, may it never come!

Risus est bellum!

-U.H.

A Generation with No Last Name

This note from Unruly Headmaster, a.k.a., Mr. Sarr was included in the Raggant Standard from June 7, 2017.


When a child is born, we give him a name. A first name. A Christian name. There’s usually a story behind this naming, and it tells a little bit about what he’ll be born into. But unlike his surname, his last name tells where he came from. There are generations of stories in a last name. Crane. Walker. Marlatt. Higgins. Harsh. Stories.

How tragic would it be to divest children of their last names? To do so would be a step toward making them placeless, sons of nobody. Or at least acting like it.

How can we know who we really are if we don’t know where we’ve come from? How can we know why we think as we do without knowing who has influenced our thinking? And who influenced them? And what did they write? Modern American children are becoming less and less capable of answering these questions, and their teachers and parents are only a little better off. I embody this bitter indictment, but I’ve repented, and I’m trying to learn…that I may have something to pass on to my children.

Culture is a baton, and the point of education should be to pass that baton to the next generation. We ought to be training our kids to receive that baton in full stride and run faster and farther than we have. The operating assumption of classical educators has been that the culture-carrying tools are the liberal arts, including the Trivium (Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric) and the Quadrivium (Astronomy, Arithmetic, Geometry and Music). If students have these tools, they are not only becoming competent culture carriers, they’re equipped to learn just about anything they want.

Additionally, classical educators believe that passing on culture is impossible without the inculcation of virtue in the pupil. With the advent of the Scripture we have an objective and consistent authority when it comes to virtue training. We can trace the influence of the gospel from Jerusalem to our doorstep as our forebears have carried the baton to us.

Meanwhile, our culture not only pretends there is no baton, we cut off the feet of the next set of runners. So even if we do hand them something glorious like Paradise Lost or Tchaikovksy’s Symphony No. 4 in F Minor (a personal favorite of mine), they have no idea what to do with it. They think it’s not worth the effort it takes to appreciate it, so they opt for choose-your-own-adventure novels and Taylor Swift.

There are a number of strategies that our culture is using to divest our children of their heritage. Some are more subtle than others:

  • Keep them from good books. The right books teach us why we think the way we do, and they train children to think in biblical categories, as they learn what evil and good look like. Sometimes fiction is clear where reality is fuzzy. Additionally, many of the right books are primary resources that teach us our history (while many of the wrong books are secondary resources that spin our history).
  • Keep them from character training. If truth is relative, as our culture insists, there’s no point in telling a child he’s wrong about anything, whether it’s the sum of 2 and 2, or poking his classmate in the eye with a pencil. This is bound to end badly. But it’s alright if we’re all just soulless protoplasm.
  • Make them believe we’re all the same. At the heart of multiculturalism is parity.
  • Make them hate where they’ve come from. This is the telos to all of our multicultural talk and training. If we can get them to believe we’re in a bad place now, they’ll soon want to be someplace else.

Conversely, at ECS we want our students to know and love their heritage…not because it’s perfect, but because it’s a gift, and it’s ours. We didn’t ask for it, but it has produced us, and that’s worth learning about. Like having a last name.

Many of you are trying to make educational decisions for your children for next year and beyond. And when you do, it’s important to ask a number of big questions (since this is a big decision). Look your child’s teacher (or principal) in the eye and ask these sort of things:

  • What is the ultimate point of education?
  • Why are we learning this stuff?
  • How do you decide what to teach?
  • What standards do you (or your decision-makers) use?
  • Why do YOU do this? Is it to reproduce yourself in the lives of your pupils or to get the summers off?
  • What do you think of old books? Are they obsolete or foundational?
  • Is there an objective standard of morality?
  • How do you determine your classroom rules?

There is a wealth of presuppositions behind the answer to each of these questions, and conscientious parents should care about all of them. May God grant us wisdom as we prepare to pass the baton.

Risus est bellum!

Jonathan Sarr

The Gravity of Glad Sacrifices

The following notes are from the address Mr. Higgins gave at the recent Fundraising Feast.


Oxford defines gravity as “the force that attracts a body towards the centre of the earth, or towards any other physical body having mass.” Isaac Newton calculated the movements of planets based on their masses and the distance between their centers. Albert Einstein argued his theory of general relativity that the curvature of spacetime accounts for the direction and momentum of free-falling objects. Scientists have measured gravity grasping objects toward the center of the earth at a rate of 9.8 meters per second squared. These all involve observations and formulas and theories, and maybe a stopwatch, but none of them demonstrate what gravity does better than dropping a bowling ball out of a three story window.

Evangel Classical School is not large but, by God’s grace, we have a little bit of gravitational attraction. This isn’t scientific or philosophical speculation, it is something that can be seen. It is also a reason to give thanks to God and something to ask God to bless even more.

The journal app I use recently showed me an “On This Day” entry from four days before our school’s first Information Night in April of 2012. I had written the following:

With just a few days to go before the announcement meeting for ECS, a fall start with our current plans seems less likely than ever. There are only a few families who seem excited about the idea, and even fewer who seem committed to the work it requires.

Five years later ECS has almost 60 students, a modest number for sure, yet that is close to a 500% increase from the 12 we had day one, and it’s manifestly more than none. We have a headmaster, three full-time teachers, and a troop of part-timers. We have textbooks and literature books and hula-hoops and footballs and tables and chairs and whiteboards as well, but those things are only as weighty as the people who wield them. Our people give the school gravity, and the gravity is growing.

There are other words for it, too: energy, buzz, traction, momentum. But I prefer the image of gravity, where mass and energy become an attractive force.

You’ve seen it at work before. Some individuals have a personal gravity; they can’t help but draw a crowd. Organizations can have gravity. There is a kind of pull that not only works to increase the numbers, it also works to change the attitude of the group itself.

In one of my classes this year I noticed a crippling lack of interest and effort from most of the students. Teaching felt like sweeping water uphill with a broom without bristles. But more than a month ago one of the students started to work. Her parents had come alongside of her and encouraged her, and she took to it. In just a couple days of class, her eager participation and obvious effort turned the tone of the entire class around. She didn’t stand up on her chair and exhort the other students to get with it. As far as I know she didn’t track them down between classes and threaten them if they didn’t work harder. She changed the culture of the classroom by her happy diligence. That’s gravity.

The whole school has a type of gravity to it. Not everyone is won by the gravity, but many are.

We start every morning of school at school with Matins. We say the Pledge of Allegiance, we say the Apostles’ Creed, and we sing a song from the Cantus. I’ve found it almost impossible to get through the entire 5-7 minute mini-meeting and keep a good grip on my grumpiness. I’m reminded that I’m a part of a group of 70ish people—students and staff and some of the parents who are still around at that point—who are committed to loving our neighbors as we express our belief in and love for God. Mr. Sarr is always ready to lead us joyfully, and that joy of being together and getting ready to work for the Lord pulls us further up and further in. That’s gravity.

It is a question we ask when considering whether or not to accept a new student. If the student (and his family) are not quite aligned with us, but still interested, do we have enough gravity to pull them in, or will they knock us off track?

We’ve seen a phenomenon with our end of year evaluation tests. We give spelling tests that include words a grade level or two above where the students are to see if they can take their understanding of phonograms and other rules they’ve learned to make educated guesses. There are two types of students: those who get upset, if not break down in tears, because they don’t know, and those who know that they don’t know but are totally up for the challenge. The ones who are up for the challenge—which is different than knowing how to spell everything correctly—are consistently the students who’ve been at ECS for more than a year, who’ve seen others around them joyfully trying things they might not succeed at. That’s gravity.

What is it that causes this kind of cultural gravity to grow? What is happening at ECS that God is blessing?

Jesus told His disciples, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32), which was a reference to the kind of death he was going to die (verse 33). The cross was the purchase point of salvation, it is also the sun around which the eternal life of every believer revolves. And the author of Hebrews said about Jesus, “for the joy that was set before him [He] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). His life wasn’t taken, He spent it without resentment. I think we could summarize the principle as follows: by God’s grace there is great gravity around glad sacrifice.

Both the glad and the sacrifice are required. Gladness without sacrifice may still be gladness, but it will probably be light. Dandelion seeds are playful in the breeze, but not much of a draw. Sacrifice without gladness may still have an effect, but it’s demanding, or done with a heavy stink. This is the Thanksgiving hostess terrorist, holding her guests hostage until they see and acknowledge all the work she did. Who wants to be around that? Who can sustain sacrifices like that? None is attracted to this, no, not one.

Glad sacrifices are a product and picture of the gospel, this is the Evangel.

We pray for God’s Spirit to make us glad in giving up our lives and He has given great grace for this so far. Mr. Sarr sets the mead hall tone that makes Grendel’s mom mad, the Board is on board the joy train, the teachers embody the war of laughter day by day, especially those on the “Full Time Team.” Mr. Bowers makes science lovers in one hour a week because he loves biomes (and everything else in creation). Mrs. Hall never walks a lap around the parking lot—and she makes a lot of laps—alone. Mrs. Bowers collects kindergartners around her desk and contrarians around her discussion. Because we live in the world God made, the world God loved so much that He gave His Son for, those who make glad sacrifices can’t help but draw others in. It doesn’t draw everyone in, but it is picking up size and speed.

You can be part of it. You can gladly sacrifice with us and make the ECS gravity a pull to Marysville: from some who are already in it, for some to come to it. You can gladly sacrifice your words, telling others about the school. No Facebook boosted post can do what you can. You can gladly sacrifice your minutes, coming in to volunteer in a variety of ways, using your gifts to serve the students. You can gladly sacrifice your dollars.

We hope to add 18 students to our total number for next year. This would enable us to hire (and pay) another full-time teacher. Why not two more, or three? The people are the most important piece of the gravity, but how great would it also be to have a playground, a field, facilities that show off what we’re doing? We can’t do that yet, and that’s fine, but you could help us get to a spot where others want in. That’s gravity that comes from glad sacrifice.

If it seems too smug to talk about our not-quite-five-year old gravity status, as if we’re the Pluto of wanna-be planets, I’d say these things. First, we’re not too smug to quit working. In his book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton wrote,

[T]he old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.

We know we must excel still more in laughing and laboring. Second, we’re not too smug to invite others such as yourselves to join us or to ask you to help. That’s part of why we’re here tonight.

And third, we’re not too smug to feast in thanks to God. That’s the other reason for this evening.

Great gravity sustained through generations won’t happen without God’s blessing, and it will be God’s blessing, proportional to our glad sacrifices.

A Festal Curriculum

This note about the Fundraising Feast from the U.H. (that is, the Unruly Headmaster, a.k.a., Mr. Sarr) was included in the Raggant Standard from April 19, 2017.


Some disciplines are more fun to train than others.

Getting up early? Hard.
Going to bed early? Harder.
Laughing when things look bleak? Super-hard.
Feasting? Hard. And easy. And requires clean-up. All of it.

Allow me to offer some context for my observation.

As Christians, we do a lot of asking. We ask God to save us, to sustain us, and to meet our needs, both small and great. This is right and good, and–when done in faith–it brings God great honor. He loves to work through the prayers of His saints. When He answers our prayers, then, it is right to give Him thanks. Feasting presents such an opportunity.

When we feast, we discipline our hearts. We consciously make merry, enjoying gifts that come from the Giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). These gifts often include good food and drink as well as other merrymaking souls around us. When we enjoy God’s good gifts with gratefulness, we honor Him.

Feasting also disciplines our minds. We consciously give God thanks with our words and our grateful actions. John Calvin suggested that fasting is effective for subduing the flesh while demonstrating contrition. In a similar fashion, feasting is good for us, too. When we feast, we respond deliberately to God’s blessing, and we do so with thankfulness, singing, fellowship and enjoyment. It takes “Thank You” to the next level.

I’m convinced that this needs to be a part of our curriculum. With the Raggants, we celebrate the start and end of school and Reformation Day with feasting. We throw in a Christmas party for good measure. And for the adults, we also have our Fundraising Feast. In this, we schedule a night for the adults in our immediate and extended school community to gather and enjoy some of God’s blessings to the school with full-throated (and full-bellied) gladness. Fittingly, we express additional needs as a school and invite the guests to be used of God to meet those needs.

But let’s not kid ourselves: this is hard work. From planning to putting up decorations to childcare to food service to cleanup, it’s hard work. And even for the guests, it’s our job to make sure our hearts are in a position to receive as well as to give. Fasting is a lot less mess. But this discipline of feasting is worth the effort it takes.

But I want the Raggants to be able to both ask well, and to receive well. Let’s show them how.

May God help us to receive well on May 5.

–Jonathan Sarr

Why Uniforms?

The following article was written by Mrs. Bowers and is included in the Raggant Standard from March 3, 2017.


When most people think of uniforms they conjure up ranks of faceless soldiers, grease-spattered and braces-bespeckled McDonald’s workers, or straight-laced English schoolchildren standing rank and file under a grey mizzle.

Certainly there is a type of uniform that seeks to flatten and deface–a bit like the Green Witch of Underland and her Earthmen, or the above instances. The point in these scenarios is to not be unique–to efface individuality in the interest of uniformity and obedience to orders (sometimes with life-or-death consequences).

I would like to argue not for uniform uniformity at ECS, but for harmony. As I was discussing this with Mrs. Higgins, she brought up the example of singing, and as we like singing here, it seemed an apt analogy. We love all the individuals of ECS with their quirks, strengths, weaknesses, and oddities–and we love all of that being present within our two choirs. However, the goal of a choir is harmony. We have some strong singers, but those strong singers need to learn to harmonize so everyone makes beautiful music together. There will come a time–within the school and without–for that individuality to shine, but that is not the primary emphasis of daily song, nor daily learning. Much like within the Church, we love the toe-ness of toes and the finger-nail-ness of fingernails–and sometimes we stub our toe and it has its moment of grandeur–but we are part of one body. Our students are part of one school–as they learn and are equipped, they are in it together, encouraging and edifying and challenging and even teaching one another. Our harmonizing of gifts and talents is liturgized (of course that’s a word) in our uniforms.

We desire blending in this sense, but we also want close-knit unity. Students can hit all their notes while casting a vicious sidelong glance. We may not be seeking the same uniformity of the military, but we are in a fight, and there are a lot of arrows being whittled around here. And what exactly is school for? It equips them to be winsome, deep-souled worshippers of the triune God. This is squire-academy for valiant fighters-in-training. We are part of the same squad, team, group, and unit–this is the training ground and boot camp for future battle, and as such, we come dressed for the occasion. This is not so kids won’t be distracted by others’ clothing choices (because you can’t prevent distraction in a world of squirrels and snowflakes), nor for the ease of knowing what to wear in the morning, and not to equalize the playing field of fashion (because the mayfly and Michael Jordan alone evidence that no playing field, animal or otherwise, is equalized).

It is to remind the students that this is their job–this is their people–this is their fight, and they are all in it. Little or big, fast or slow, older or younger, a uniform presents a physical, instant recognition of inclusion and solidarity.

Amongst this harmony and unity, we also seek clear identity. To borrow yet another analogy, did any of you fuss when you donned the uniform of your high school or college sport’s team? You may have disliked how something rode up in the wrong place, or the shortness or tightness of an item, but you didn’t mind wearing it. Your parents may have gulped when they wrote the check. But they did it. It was worth it.

Why? First, it was an accomplishment. You were proud of where you were, and you were excited about the history of that school and program. It identified you as part of something. We want the Raggants to feel the same way – they are all a part of something BIG and AWESOME. I will try to tease it out in a future article, but we even wear the plaid skirts as a nod to Scottish Presbyterians who planted Classical schools as they moved across the country. There is history and weight here, and we want to rejoice in that (and identify with the Scots, because….haggis. And golf.).

Second, it was the accepted and pragmatic uniform for the sport. We wore these hideous full-body leotards in crew because you didn’t want anything catching in the shell (and chafing is a beast). Swimmers wear suits that will minimize drag. In the same way, uniforms help us to minimize academic drag – we are here to work – we are here to be part of the team – we are here to learn and fight and win and be proud of the whole process.

Third, uniforms are a representation of something–we identify uniforms with teams and countries and cities–if we are doing things right, the longer our students wear uniforms, the more they love them because the more they love what the uniforms represent. Of course it could all dissolve into high-flung legality and high-nosed pomp, but that’s part of why we are the only school on the PLANET who wear a little, tubby, basset-hound-unicorn-rhinoceros on our uniforms. It’s just downright cool, and it helps keep us in our place.

Finally, uniforms are utilitarian. They make it easy to tell who is who in the parking lot or on the court. They make dress code enforcement far easier, and mornings less complicated. In the long run, especially with a system and numerous offspring of the same gender, they save a good deal of money. They (hopefully) reduce the stress and pressure of the Fashion tyrants who exert their iron will in back-to-school sales and commercials.

Uniforms carry the force of tradition and weight of history–from the slums of Haiti, where students without enough food still get dressed in crisp uniforms on school days, to the robes and jester-hats of Medieval Professors, we stand with them. Uniforms are, in the end, just exterior. But like a squire who finally proves himself worthy of knighthood, as our graduates lay aside navy cardigans and white button-up shirts, our hope is that they will do so with a sense of fondness–a thankfulness for the training they received in those uniforms, training which now well equips them to don new uniforms in new adventures.

–Mrs. Bowers

Why Latin?

The following article was written by the Unruly Headmaster, Mr. Sarr, and is included in the Raggant Standard from February 7, 2017.


Lately I’ve had a couple of curious parents ask me respectfully and sincerely why we study Latin. A lot has been written about this subject, and much of it is very helpful.

Let me commend to you a couple of very accessible resources:

  • An article from Memoria Press entitled “Why Latin is Not an Option.” One snippet: “[It] is the ability of Latin to teach students how to think that is the most underrated of its benefits. A grammar-based Latin study is not simply a grammatical study, but an exercise in what modern educators like to call ‘critical thinking skills.'”

  • Dorothy Sayers’ essay “The Lost Tools of Learning.” If you’ve never read this, do yourself a favor and read it. If you have read it, and you’re still wondering why or what it is we do, it’s worth revisiting. One taste: “I will say at once, quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar.”

And there are lots and lots more, but those two are a good start.

Now that I’ve done that, let me offer a few (quite unoriginal) thoughts of my own…many of which have been inspired by the above (and other) resources.

  • Latin is the most important language of Western Civilization. (And yes, I realize the New Testament was written in Greek.) We’re Westerners, we love the West, and our love for the West helps us to better love other cultures. And if the whole story of the West had to be told in one language, it would be Latin. When we look at the great books of Western Civilization, almost all the writings are either Latin, contribute to Latin, or were written by Latin speakers.

  • Latin grammar aids in English language mastery. Generally speaking, students who can make sense of Latin parts of speech and who can capably translate a Latin sentence are well- equipped to make sense of English. Additionally, most polysyllabic English words come from Latin. As an added bonus, learning (Latin-based) romance languages (i.e., Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian) after mastering Latin is far easier than without a prior study of Latin.

  • Latin requires precision. As an inflected language, Latin is far more precise than English. Depending on its endings, a Latin noun can be identified as a subject, direct object or indirect object. And in order to apply the proper ending, the Latin student must first know what an indirect object actually is. But this also frees up the speaker or writer to switch around word order for particular emphases.

  • Latin is a classical language. And classical education requires the studying of a classical language. Otherwise, it’s the studying of new and old stuff in an old way. The study of Latin has only fallen out of vogue in the last few generations; it served our fathers very well, and has contributed in no small way to our Protestant and Western heritage. When we study Latin, we study the language of Virgil and Calvin. And when our students are fluid readers of Latin (as is our ultimate aim), they will not be at the mercy of translators when engaging with many of the most influential works of our culture.

I wish I would have studied Latin when I was in school. It would have made my English studies (my college major) more interesting and easier. It would have made learning Spanish (my college minor) simpler, as well. But I’m thrilled that my kids are getting something that I did not. And they’re well on their way to surpassing their father in this way, too.

We still have some wrinkles in our Latin program and offerings that we continue to work out, but we’re convinced that, as G.K. Chesterton famously said, “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly,” until we can get good at it. Latin is worth working for, and our children will be better off for it.

Risus est bellum! (That’s Latin.)
Mr. Sarr

The Nuts and Bolts of Education

These are notes from my talk about the Trivium at last week’s Information Night.


One of the best things about the daily nuts and bolts at our school is that we have separate bathrooms for boys and girls. I don’t start this way to get a laugh or to cause a shock. Gender specific facilities are important for modesty—though that’s not my primary reason for mentioning it. They are important for morality—though sin doesn’t depend on any given door being closed.

I bring up the distinction between male and female because we cannot have true learning or lasting culture without it.

Of course we couldn’t have following generations without male and female because humanity requires sexes in order to reproduce. Efforts to deny observable biology are efforts that destroy not only individuals, but also the future where any individuals could exist.

But I bring up male and female because God created and identified us that way.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26–27, ESV)

This means that part of bearing God’s image is being social, a reflection of the “us” and “our” in verse 26. We are made in the likeness of the Triune God. This also means that both males and females are equally image-bearers. They are different, so they receive different names and different responsibilities, but neither man or woman is more like God than the other.

It also assumes that our image-bearing relations and image-bearing responsibilities require us to acknowledge what God has made and what God has said. Boys and girls share some things yet they do not share all things, nor are they interchangeable. To deny or even to confuse this truth is to deny or confuse any possible foundation for learning.

After the poetic, lyrical celebration of male and female in Genesis 1:27 (if our culture succeeds at obliterating the distinction, what kind of songs will we be left with?), God gave a mandate.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28, ESV)

We must must receive the definitions and boundaries created by God. What are animals? What kinds are there? What are we supposed to do with them? What is dominion? What can we subdue? What are we going to eat (see verse 29)? These are necessary questions, but if we won’t accept the created realities of male and female, realities that are self-evident and Spirit-revealed, how can we be trusted with anything?

A classical Christian education begins with basic facts like these. It is called the Grammar stage of the Trivium (which means “three ways”), and it acknowledges that every subject of study has created realities or historical realities or revealed realities. We are not trying to rewrite or redefine. We’re receiving what God has made, what God has done, what God has said.

Birds and fish and bugs, planets, and plants are all different, as are the letters and phonograms of the alphabet. Numbers classify and quantify objects and ideas, narratives show truth in a different way. These are particulars to be acquired.

The school board is reading a book by Gresham Machen, Education Christianity and the State, and he lamented that so many school systems (in 1925!) want kids to be thinkers but the teachers don’t give them anything to think about. “It is impossible to think with an empty mind” (p 7). No facts and no figures because they aren’t fun. There is no est, only non est.

[Such a student can] not succeed in unifying his world for the simple reason that he has no world to unify. He has not acquired a knowledge of a sufficient number of facts in order even to learn the method of putting facts together. (p 4)

New things are collected all the time at every stage, but collection is the special focus of our Grammar School. The youngest students delight to soak in dates and names and conjugations by song and chant and sound-off and reading. They learn about the sun and moon, right and left, right and wrong–in math and morals. They are taught definitions about masculine and feminine, without which they cannot decline any Latin nouns.

The second stage is the Dialectic or Logic stage. The emphasis during these years, roughly corresponding to Junior High, is less on collection and more on categorizing, less on soaking in and more on sorting out. Students are taught formal logic, learning what constitutes an argument, what is valid, what is sound, and what is empty or false.

In her essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” Dorothy Sayers tipped her hand:

It will, doubtless, be objected that to encourage young persons at the Pert age to browbeat, correct, and argue with their elders will render them perfectly intolerable. My answer is that children of that age are intolerable anyhow; and that their natural argumentativeness may just as well be canalized to good purpose as allowed to run away into the sands.

During this time students are systematically exposed to various ideas and worldviews, especially through the classical works of ancient, medieval, and even some modern literature. They’re learning to see what fits and what is false. They are able not only to distinguish between male and female but also to develop convictions about it.

The third stage is known as the Rhetoric stage. While students are always answering or writing or performing, the emphasis of this stage happens in the last few years of high school. Students learn things to think, how to think things through, and then how to express their thoughts in speeches and papers.

This is a time not just to know the truth or to defend the truth but to adorn the truth. Even as male and female, men and women ought to be adorned differently. We not only recognize a difference between genders for sake of bathrooms and uniforms, but even in what we want them to become. Both our young women and our young men should be well educated, both bearing the glory of God’s image, and both expressing things that the other can’t and shouldn’t even try to do.

The classical model values the Trivium as scaffolding for the building. The blueprint itself comes from God’s Word. He has said, He has given, He has created, so we give thanks and receive and study and steward. The Trivium helps teachers cut with the grain as students are generally suited to soak in and sort out and speak up as they mature.

  • Grammar – learn the good; know and enjoy things (res) as they are. Collect and comprehend.
  • Logic – identify and distinguish the good from the bad; account for things, put things together. Consolidate and cultivate convictions.
  • Rhetoric – fight for and persuade others to love the good. Consecrate ourselves, our talents and knowledge for letting our light shine before others so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven.

Google may be able to marshal facts, but it can’t train a student in logic or rhetoric. Without grammar logic falls and rhetoric is vacant. We’re educating our students with all three.

We start by acknowledging Christ as Lord and Savior, and then acknowledging our identity and created definitions by God. Otherwise learning collapses in a heap of inconsistent relativities and society ceases because no one even knows what male and female are, let alone which bathroom they should use.

Mr. Higgins

Platonic Hammers

The following article was written by Mrs. Bowers and is included in the Raggant Standard from January 11, 2017.


I grew up watching This Old House with my Dad. I actually couldn’t care less (then and now) about nuances of carpentry or dovetailed joints, but I loved spending time with my Dad, and the information proved invaluable when working at Home Depot and smugly telling a pretentious lumber associate that OSB stood for Oriented Strand Board.

The other valuable thing I learned while watching carpentry shows with my Father was the need for the right tools – and the many uses for those tools. I learned about the basics like socket wrenches. I was amazed at the power of a radial arm saw, or the beautiful application of a lathe.

Recently during a Sunday morning sermon, Mr. Higgins asked parents, “What do you want your children to be?” In light of your child’s education, as you round the final proverbial lap with your eighteen- year-old shaking Mr. Sarr’s hand and clutching an ECS diploma, what type of soul do you want to see?

As parents and educators for both young women and men alike, we need to establish – perhaps simply daily remind ourselves – of the foundational goal of classical education. It is not to get a good job, get good grades, make good money, or even change the world. It is not geared to boys more than girls; the intellectually gifted nor the intellectually different. The end construction project all these tools are aiming at – what we want our students to be – are worshippers who glorify God. We desire to aid young people in their love, devotion, adoration, service, and delight in the triune, magnificent Almighty. Every algebra equation should be a small peg upon which to hang their wonder of fractals and bodily chemical equations and reactions – every diagrammed sentence a tiny glimpse of the Word that spins spider webs every day and the intricacy of language and relationships – every music class a mini-study of Three-in-One, diversity in unity, the necessity for major and minor chords in all things. The main point of classical education for parents, educators, and administrators is the carpenter him or herself: a full-bodied, fully-equipped, fully individualized sub-creator.

But this formative process is hard, and really, you have to believe that Latin actually does influence you as a worshipper of God – otherwise, why are you here? Why are you panting along the marathon? The 5K is just around the corner, and it’s free. As your son or daughter stands with their metaphorical tool bag before you, see the future carpenter first. See how education shapes and strengthens the hands, heart, mind, and soul. See that education is about virtue and character.

Then, look to the tools themselves. At ECS, we are trying to give your student a huge variety of tools; each young man or woman will use those tools differently. You have to trust that reading Plato equips a student for engineering and for mothering equally. The application will vary wildly, but as your student reads hard books from Kindergarten to 12th grade, educators are placing a powerful tool in the child’s bag. Let’s say it’s a hammer. Basic. Essential. Wildly useful. Your 12th grade son graduates and goes on to an Ivy League university where he seeks to become a biologist. He encounters Evolution in his survey class, and all of a sudden he pulls out the hammer and uses it for an application he hasn’t before: when the professor states Darwin introduced Evolutionary Theory, the student asks about the influence of Socrates on Darwin. Bang.

Your daughter graduates from a great school, gets a job, and then marries at twenty. Though she and her husband weren’t planning to have children right away, just nine months later, at the age of twenty-one, they are blessed with a glorious little soul. This soul begins growing, and one day in the wake of the child’s uncle dying, late at bedtime (when children become profound philosophers), he asks about heaven. He is scared of death, and Heaven is just some nebulous cloud in the sky. The young mother, rocking her child, begins to tell him of a Real World, where everything is solid, where there are un-fallen Forms of strawberries and grass so real it would hurt your feet now to step on it. She asks, “Will you help me pick real Strawberries and make Real pie in Heaven? All this, dear son, is but Shadows – Heaven is the Reality.” Bang.

So thank you for trusting us to help teach your child the difference between a phillips-head and a slotted screwdriver; thank you for helping bind up paper cuts and nurse weary muscles; thank you for dealing with the sawdust of intellectual fallout and the splinters of irritating math equations. Thank you for seeing that the carpenter and the carpentry is worth it, because we are part of the far bigger Building of an infinitely good Builder.

Mrs. Bowers