Curriculum is really important.
And curriculum doesn’t matter.
Whether we use Saxon or Harold Jacobs for math depends on how much review is enough and how much is too much. Whether we use Latin for Children or Lingua Latina for Latin grammar depends on what we want to get out of those particular hours of fourth grade. How completely we adhere to the Omnibus curriculum depends in part on whether we agree with postmillennialism.
But just as guns don’t kill people, books don’t teach students. Curriculum matters, but people matter more. The right curriculum can’t get bring a healthy culture; the right people can.
Humans are imitative creatures, and children are always being shaped by their influences. They are going to become like those influences, which is why the influences themselves matter, too.
For years we at ECS have talked about our aim as being the shaping of souls, the formation of character, and the transfer of culture. Our mission statement sums it up well; the telos of our work is the carrying and advancing of Christ-honoring culture by our fully-trained students.
From enrollment decisions to discipline conversations to teacher meetings to soccer in the parking lot to the actual minutes practicing math facts and Latin vocabulary and reading drills and impromptu speeches, our aim is cultural more than it is curricular.
I know of a lot of schools that have better procedures and more airtight policies than we do. They have processes for volunteer coordination and curricular review that are commendable and worth working to grow into. We need to work on all of that. But when schools lead with those things, I believe that they set the bar too low, and they set themselves up for failure.
You see, procedures and paperwork are easy to manufacture and replicate. They don’t require a soul. But if you work on developing the soul of an organization, then the other pieces often come with the package…if they actually need to.
Jesus said to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). If we seek first the culture of the school, the curriculum will take its proper place.
I understand the allure of the shiny things, but you can have a shiny floor in a shiny gymnasium, or shiny Mary Janes on cute little feet, and it matters not at all if you compromise culture to get it.
Let’s consider how this informs our teaching at ECS. I recently offered these thoughts to our teachers, but I will share them here for sake of your encouragement and perhaps for your own application as parents. When, for instance, you’re tempted to fuss about whether or not your son will master his times tables through the 12’s by the end of the year, or whether or not your daughter will pass all her reading drills, or whether you’re ever going to get through that pile of laundry, recall those things that you already know. Here are a few that offered to the teachers earlier this week:
- You’re always teaching. Your behavior is instructive…more than your words. If you freak out or stress out or make excuses, you advance that as a legitimate option for your students. If you maintain a glad presence and you’re marked by joy despite circumstances, you advance that as a legitimate option, as well.
- The gospel wasn’t your idea, but it is yours to own. As obedient Christians, you get to teach by faith. As you rehearse the gospel and enflesh it for your students and their families, you’ll be dying a thousand effectual deaths. You will die to your schedule by your thorough lesson planning and your timely grading. You will die to your own preferences as you put the students ahead of yourselves and serve them well. You’ll die to self in your over communication on email and Sycamore for the sake of your students and their parents. You will model faithful obedience in your loving discipline unto restored fellowship…even – and especially – when you don’t feel like it. And God will take those deeds of faith and obedience and bring glorious fruit.
- The transfer of culture is more important than the transfer of information. If all you’re giving your students is information, data, and skills, you’re shortchanging them and missing the point of our mission as a school. You need to be concerned with equipping them (with tools, skills, attitudes, and the character) to shape the culture for Christ’s sake when they’re through with ECS…no matter where God has them.
- Laughter is war. When in doubt, laugh. You can laugh as the right sort of taunt to your enemies. You can laugh because God is in control, writing a variously hilarious story that you get to be a part of…and that is different from the one you’d have written. You can laugh because it’s not about today. So when you’ve been faithful but the moment is frustrating or even terrible, that’s okay, because you’re aimed at something way down the road, and the pothole out of when you’re peering right now is part of the road you must navigate for now if you (or your students!) are ever going to reach your destination years from now.
Maybe one day we’ll have some shiny things, too. But it is not worth it if it comes at the expense of our culture. That is an important point to keep in mind now…in the thick of enrollment season.
As a school, if we are so focused on the curriculum, or programs to retain the students, or impressive facilities, or an actual playground, figuring that the culture will just work out, we miss the point. The same is true of you. Is a big house and fancy car to be preferred over a happy dinnertime vibe? No way. The culture WON’T just work out. You have to work it out.
Teachers and parents alike have to be fighting personal sin with a vengeance, repent before our children if necessary, be competent and confident and humble (all at the same time), gracious and patient and firm (all at the same time), and a loving disciplinarian.
And my final encouragement is this: Take a look around you and listen next time you’re walking past Mrs. Pakinas’ office, or eavesdropping on Mr. Liden’s class, or you pass a knot of secondary girls in the parking lot. What sort of cultural advancement is going on throughout the school day? It’s possible that some of it will not encourage you, but I’ll bet a lot of it will.
Risus est bellum.