Before most of our third graders were born, a small group of naive and ambitious parents and some their friends decided to start Evangel Classical School as a training ground for culture shapers. We wanted to forge worshipers with sharp skills, a robust worldview, a big work capacity, and a playful smirk. I say we were naive not because we were wrong or idealistic, but because we had only a vague idea what we were really getting into, how very valuable that enculturation would soon prove to be, let alone (at least for my part) how much fun we were about to have.
A veritable lifetime later (for those third graders, anyway), our status as a training ground is becoming more concrete and necessary.
More Than the Shell
Communicating the data related to math formulas and how suspension bridges work and writing an essay and reading a novel are all fine. Really. But all this data has a point, a telos to which it is directed and to where it is going. In order for education to occur, the telos must be included in the lesson. Modern education is all shell, no nut. To teach the what without the why or the how misses the point. Yet that’s the best our modern educational offerings are doing!
It gets worse. Increasingly even the what is being reimagined. Our culture has no authoritative, true, and clear answer for some pretty simple questions: What happened in 1619? What is a boy? What is truth? How much more ill-prepared are we to answer the follow-up questions: Why was the American Revolution fought? What is a boy for? Why does truth matter?
We’re training our students to be able to answer these simple questions, which makes Raggants surprisingly exceptional.
More Than Academicians
People who can answer these questions will stand out in our culture like the captain of the ship with his funny hat, special coat, and words worth listening to. They will have an idea of what’s just beyond the cultural horizon because they will have examined historical trends. They’ll know that once you’ve navigated A, B, and C, that D is likely around the corner.
Our students will have been trained to reason with the tools of Latin grammar and Logic. They will have read Paul’s letters and Lincoln’s letters, Marx’s Manifesto, Hitler’s struggle, and Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail for themselves. They will have sung fighty and jubilant psalms and recited the Apostle’s Creed hundreds of times, reminding themselves and the cosmos that the Maker of Heaven and Earth is doing all of this on purpose.
Every day our students play a cultural role at our school (and in your homes!). In this cultural greenhouse that we call Evangel Classical School, students are being formed and shaped by the conversations they have, the songs they sing, the relationships they cultivate, the books they read, the math problems they work out, the sentences they diagram, the teachers they imitate, the games they play, and more. The curriculum is like the chisel in the hand of the woodworker.
Our prayer is that – equipped with all this – they’ll be prepared to be citizens who shape the worldview of others for Christ’s sake, and we ought not be surprised when others look to them to lead.
More Than a School
So we’re more than a school. Ours is a project that is far more about shaping certain sorts of people than it is about their report cards or transcripts or strictly academic metrics. We are trying to train our students how to think, not what to think. We are trying to train them how to be certain sorts of people, not how to get good grades (to get into a good college, to get a good job, to make lots of money, etc.).
I’ll say it again. Grades are not themselves the point, though they are handy as we try to gauge and assess the academic aspect of our arrow-shaping. We’re training free men, not hirelings; we’re not merely training in the skill of getting good grades, but rather being certain sorts of persons, thinkers, worshipers.
And this is why you are so important in this process; if we were just a school, then parents would do well to get out of the way and let the professionals do their jobs. But we are trying to help you shape your people, and you have to be worshipers yourselves, faithful to your churches and your people, and working hard to shape your children in obedience to God. Only then can we operate properly as an extension of your church and your home as we help you in this ambitious but grace-saturated undertaking.
It is hard to believe that this is our tenth Information Night for ECS. I’ve been to all of them, I’ve said some words at all of them, and I can say with certainty that the tenth looks nothing like the first. That night we didn’t have any students, no cute Kindergarteners in sweater-vests, no fun fish sound-offs from Second Graders. We had some ideas, but they were as concrete as a Plato’s view on the afterlife, which is to say, not very substantial.
A lot has happened in a decade, and I have a better idea of what we’re doing, and what we’re trying to do. I also have a better idea of the limits of a “talk” about classical Christian education and what we want that to look like at ECS. But all that leads me to the point I want to share tonight: I am more unhappy than ever. And what’s more, if you choose to send your students to ECS, we will do everything we can so that they, and you, experience the same thing.
This kind of unhappy begs for a bit of context, some explanation, and I’ve got two sources in my mind for what I mean.
The first source is Aldous Huxley’s 1932 dystopian novel Brave New World. Have you read it? Orwell took a different route with his 1984 (published 1949), let alone Lewis’ That Hideous Strength (1945) (and Lewis is the best of the three). Huxley imagines the World State where science and data and reproductive technology and entertainment have enabled the government to eliminate all the inconveniences and pains of life. Big Brother isn’t so much a threat to make you disappear as in 1894, but rather to medicate you so that your worries disappear. It’s like a Johnson & Johnson baby-shampoo regime: no more tears tyranny.
Near the end of the book there are two chapters (chapters 16 and 17) of 151-proof ideology presented in a Socratic-ish dialogue in the office of the head of the World State, known as the “Controller,” a man named Mustapha Mond, and another man named John, simply called the “Savage,” who is one of the few natural-born men in the story. The Controller calmly reasons that the Old and New Testaments are unnecessary, as is Shakespeare, that salvation comes in a pill called soma, that the government can provide every comfort necessary. Then the Savage replies:
“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin.” “In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”
The more you know, the more you’ve tasted, less you can be manipulated or conditioned, and the more unhappy you set yourself up to be.
My second source is from the Old Testament, by a man who called himself a Preacher, or perhaps he could be better called a pundit, or a sage.
“In much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” (Ecclesiastes 1:18)
The sage was Solomon, gifted by God with great human wisdom, wisdom which he applied to learn even more. His proverbial conclusion is that wisdom is a grief-giver, wisdom harasses the mind with a clearer picture of what’s wrong. The second line is about sorrow; it is a coordinate action, the more gold you put in the bag the heavier it is to carry.
So I am unhappy like the savage, and I get the lesson of the sage. In our day it is harder to tell them apart.
ECS is a project that claims the right, even more, we claim the responsibility, to be unhappy.
Some of us are unhappy that we didn’t get an education like this. How much different or better might we have done?
We are unhappy with how our government sees us as so easily pacified, satisfied with stimulus checks and streaming video. Perhaps you remember the scene in “The Matrix” when the traitor, Cypher, says he’d rather enjoy the imaginary steak his mind convinces him is real than to be real, and be unhappy: “Ignorance is bliss.” Dorothy Sayers warned in her essay “The Lost Tools of Learning” that we would need better education to ward off all the propaganda. She could not have imagined “15 days to flatten the curve.” The Ministry of Truth has been working double-plus shifts.
We are unhappy that the State celebrates their legislative attempts to turn 220lb boys with pony tails into star women’s soccer players. We are unhappy that we can’t have civil debates about anything, that we can’t ask and expect answers about mandates that violate our constitution. We are unhappy that no one seems to remember the past, let alone learn from it. We could have learned about religious liberty, we could have learned about how fear often spoils freedom. We could have learned that communism has been tried, and found everyone wanting.
Our mission at ECS is as follows:
We commend the works of the Lord to another generation with the tools of classical education, weaponized laughter, and sacrificial labors so that they will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.
Because we take that seriously, we are unhappy that we have so much ground that needs to be recovered, and now defended, with still so much more ground that needs to be covered.
We use the tools of classical education to help us. Though “classical” can have a number of forms, it certainly includes recognizing that we are not the first humans on the planet to know anything. We receive (and rejoice in) the truths about subjects and verbs, about sorts of fish, about suffrage and Jesus’ suffering for our salvation. In the Trivium, the “three ways,” these truths are part of the grammar, and there is grammar for every subject. Things happened leading up to and in 1776 that have objective reality, and we’re not trying to rewrite it. 2 + 2 = the same thing, every time, and that’s not because of systemic racism; God said, and it was four.
In the Trivium there is also an emphasis on logic or dialectic, where ideas are debated, rules of argumentation are learned, and fallacies exposed. It’s more than just heat, more than just feeling, and more than just throwing bricks through storefront windows in the name of justice. Dialectic is a method for teaching subjects, and is itself a subject especially suited for those junior-high students who are probably already contrarian; why not make it constructive, or at least less annoying?
The Trivium is capped with rhetoric, where the truths have been gathered and sorted and then adorned. Whether in writing or in speeches or in some other form of expression, truth is shown with great allure. Grammar is like learning the names of notes on the staff, logic is like discerning the difference when it’s sharp or flat, and rhetoric is like making it sing.
At ECS, we’re happily addressing our unhappiness. We have teachers who love the Lord, who love their students, who love the Word and all the things that God has made.
So in this respect our school is not a “safe” space, it’s not trouble-free. We have God, and poetry, and inconvenience, and tears, and good, and sin. And the evangel. This is a project for brave new unhappiness, or from the other side of the coin, a brave new happiness, as we remember that laughter is war, and Jesus is Lord of it all.
The above is roughly what I said at our school’s annual Information Night last evening.
Evidently, God thinks the U.H. needs regular reminders about the gospel. I’m pretty sure I agree with Him, which is one reason why I’m grateful for disciplinary office visits from students.
It’s strange, I know, but it’s true. These visits are rarely enjoyable (although sometimes, I admit, they’re hilarious!), but I do not dread them, and I generally find my follow-up conversation with parents to be marked by gratitude and like-mindedness. But I think these office visits benefit me perhaps more than they benefit the students. Why is this? In these conversations, I get to rehearse the gospel. I get to speak truth to the a student on the other side of the office, as well as to my own heart.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones was described as having preached the gospel for four decades in the same place. As a young man, I thought that was strange. Why would an evangelistic message be necessary every week for decades? What would you say once the hearer actually got saved?
Now years later I realize that a study of the gospel offers profound insight into the nature of God and that it cements principles by which the faithful Christian must live.
Take a student who willfully sinned against his teacher in some outrageous fashion, say, blurting out repeatedly in his gleeful enthusiasm for Latin declensions without deigning to raise his hand. Scandalous, right? If he does this enough, he winds up talking it over with me. In my office, we’ll talk about the obvious stuff, like self-control, and what it’d be like if everyone blurted out all the time, and how enjoyable that would not be. But what else?
We also talk about the nature of sin, and how it destroys fellowship. That blurting out cannot now be undone, but it can be forgiven. And back in the classroom is a flawed and forgiven teacher who is eager to restore to fellowship and to class a flawed and repentant student. So the ticket back to class (for the student who is ready to do so) is an apology, replete with the profoundly-Christian request for forgiveness from the teacher (or any human object of the sin). And every time (no, really), the teacher is glad to welcome back the student to class.
Is that not a fantastic picture of what God does with us? The teachers and I will tell the students as much. Just as sin hinders fellowship with God, so it hinders fellowship amongst humans. That can only really be fixed with forgiveness, which must be sought and given. God does it with us; we should do it with one another.
I’ll often tell the students that this is how the Christian life works, and that they’d better get used to it, because they’ll be sinning against people (and they’ll be sinned against!) for the rest of their lives…though hopefully with decreasing frequency as they become more complete in Christ.
When you’re the sinner, pray for the Spirit’s conviction of sin; confess your sin before you’re confronted, own it, repent, and ask for forgiveness.
When you’re sinned against, remember how patient God is with you; love fellowship; be ready to forgive and restore your brother to full fellowship when he repents.
And enjoy the sweet fellowship and the picture of what God does for us.
At the austere age of twenty, I had determined I would never do certain things in my life: date a cute guy named Andy Bowers who had just started working with me at Home Depot, major in English, go to the University of Virginia, drive a minivan, teach at a private school, and work in any capacity with junior high students.
Armed with such fierce convictions and ample goal-accomplishing horsepower, I set out to accomplish my dreams.
And though the Lord granted many of my desires, He also proceeded to dismantle every single one of my declarations over the next five years of my life. That cute guy in Home Depot? I dated and was engaged to him before I was twenty-one. My hatred for literary theory and the twisting of Story I had experienced throughout high school and community college rerouted into a burning desire to see C.S. Lewis taught in the most secular college I could find. (I figured this would be Oxford. God, of course, plopped me into Everett Community College). I had a BA and MA in English by twenty-two. Oh, and that Master’s Degree? It came from the University of Virginia. And by twenty-three, I was teaching at a small private college and working with junior high students in our Church’s Youth Ministry.
And I now own two minivans.
Just to prove that God was not done showing His mighty sovereignty, goodness – and sense of humor – He blessed us with a surprise pregnancy last September. And in January, we discovered it was twins. Boys. We laughed through the entire ultrasound.
My life has been rerouted by God many times. In my twenties, such detours were usually accompanied by much wailing of voice and wringing of hands. But every time, mostly in spite of myself, I arrived at the next exit with new spiritual muscles and a heart strengthened in faith and joy-capacity. It didn’t mean I didn’t hit potholes, get distracted from the road, or callus my hands with my death-grip on the disconnected steering wheel, but I have always ended somewhere good.
Twin boys is a pit-stop I never expected. I didn’t even see the sign five miles before the turn-off. Covid-19 was a strange hand-painted sign we ignored a few miles back – yet here most of us stand, a bit bewildered at this point of the journey, never expecting God would land us at this point in history.
This brief autobiographical interlude hopefully serves to illustrate that we serve a God who upends our petty plot-lines and reroutes our best-laid plans. In the midst of such redirecting, we do not want to be the flopping ninnies, the proud people of the concrete-necks, or the hand-fluttering fools of Folly. It’s one of the reasons I love literature so much – it teaches us to remember we are characters in a very large story, and we would be wise to consider just which character we are being.
I love ECS and I have loved teaching here, but this year will find me not teaching in any official capacity as I care for two little boys. (But I will still be doing administrative work, so I will haunt the halls.) How will I respond to this unforeseen change? We may come back to a new schedule, split days, and mask-wearing. Or complete normalcy. What kind of characters will we be in this next stage of the story? We haven’t traversed this part of the road-way yet; we aren’t sure what sort of amenities exist (or don’t) off this exit. We may not be able to find the proverbial bathroom, and in that moment, we all want to be the hero: resilient, strong, humble, courageous, and selfless. But more often than not, if we are really honest with ourselves, when God throws a trial, change, disappointment, or wardrobe in our way, we act far more like Edmund than we do Peter. I long to be valiant Eowyn, but in the moments of honest self-assessment, I am far more like Gollum, hunched over in a corner, fussing and fearing and obsessively loving my Facebook feed.
My prayer for the next year of ECS is that we will laugh as the right kinds of characters and rejoice in the journey. There are some twists and turns ahead on a narrow road – elections, mandates, diseases, blessings – but there is a guardrail the entire way. Christ is driving, and He has established every turn of the wheel and every wayward opossum. He has promised He will not leave us alone, but has given us the divine Helper who will constantly help us and point us forward, to the end of the road, where Christ reigns victorious, and our laborious road will transform into streets of gold.
The following notes are from the commencement address by Mr. Higgins at the Evangel Classical School 2020 graduation held on May 31.
Good evening to our school board, faculty, families, friends, raggants young and old, and especially to our candidates for graduation. All of you have worked a great work to get here tonight, and it is an honor to celebrate with you.
I suppose it is fitting that we are outside in a yard for this commencement ceremony, since the first convocation many of you attended, the first convocation ever at ECS, was also outside in a yard. How many things have changed in these last eight years, and how many things have become even more important.
You are under no obligation to remember the first quote I used that September Tuesday afternoon in 2012. I’ve given it voice numerous times, and each time I tend to think that I finally know what it means.
If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.
From holding classes in a basement (four of you were the “big table buddies”), to a drought on the property requiring a port-a-potty for multiple weeks, then a flood in the same basement, soccer in a gravel driveway, and backpacks too big for Odysseus’ shoulders, these were just some of the challenges in the first six months. Ha. We thought last spring was challenging, as the Headmaster in particular spent months searching for a space that could hold our growing student body, trying to avoid spending tens of thousands of dollars for a fire alarm, only a year later to have a non-functioning fire alarm in a building we can’t meet in according to the governor. Who knew what sort of damage declarations of emergency could accomplish? Mr. Lewis said it, “Favourable conditions never come.”
Of course ECS doesn’t exist to reach scholastic utopia, even less are we attempting to bunker down and ride out storms. We exist to sharpen arrows for shooting (that is, shooting with arrows, not at them). We exist because there are problems, not to get away from, but to be equipped for. You have been doing cultural work, plowing the field, and it is time for you to expand the field and plow with the tassel on the other side of your cap.
We have given you not just our first years, but our best years. And now it is time for you to do it even better. From the beginning we have never desired that you would be able to solve our problems. From the beginning, we have wanted you to learn a much bigger lesson. We have wanted you to have an example of wanting something so badly that you would go through walls to get it.
To that end, let me pass along two lessons, two exhortations I believe will help you carry and advance Christ honoring culture.
Change your mind, a lot.
By this I do not mean that you can never know anything. I mean that you do not know everything. This is not a call for ignorance or feigned humility. It is a call to acknowledge that God loves growth, that God cares about a lot of things, and that He cares about You learning about and loving more of His things.
Your classwork at ECS has exposed you to the stream of Western Civilization and in particular to the radical changes brought about by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The gospel is “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” And in fact, the gospel requires a change of mind, it requires repentance. When men and women (two categories about which you should not change your mind) realize that they are sinful, when they turn from self-righteousness to the gift of salvation by grace, reformations explode.
If you do not learn to change your mind, you will have less opportunities to be right. If you do not change your mind, your pride will make you brittle and fragile. If you do not change your mind, you will be left behind, fighting old wars that only exist in your head.
The Bible describes the character who won’t admit when he’s in a mess as one who is “wise in his own eyes.” Solomon wrote, “Be not wise in your own eyes / fear the LORD, and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 3:7). The opposite of being wise in one’s own eyes is fearing the LORD. The wise-in-his-own-eyes-guy, or “wise guy” for short (note that we do not use this as compliment) thinks his mind is hot snot.
As just one example, I spent most of my life being wrong about the usefulness of fiction. I thought all fiction was bad or, at best, a distraction for younger or weaker minds. Now I think that bad fiction is bad and that good fiction is marrow for the bones. A man who isn’t reading good stories will have brittle bones.
In his essay titled, “Self-Reliance,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” In other words, sticking to your guns no matter what is a sure way of shooting yourself in the foot.
To the degree that we have succeeded at ECS, you realize that there is more to learn than ever. More than a head start, we hope you have a taste for what is good and want more of it. It isn’t just that we wanted you to learn Latin and Logic and literature, we want you to have a life. A well educated person knows how to spend her leisure time, not filling up on the vanity of life under the sun, but resting or sharpening their tools for advancing the work.
My wife has illustrated it as standing on the shoulders of parents, or teachers, and being able to see that if everyone moved down the wall 15 steps, it would would be more strategic. If the person on the ground complains that the one looking over the wall isn’t being thankful, “Don’t you know how hard this is?” it’s the person on the bottom who can’t see what they’re supposed to be doing. They demonstrate that what they wanted is credit, not climbing. You are the ones climbing, but it won’t be long before kids (or students) will be climbing on you.
The reason for changing your mind is because you submit to the unchanging Word of the unchanging God. Evolution is a illusive progress to who knows where. Repentance is growth toward eternal glory.
Count your blessings, a lot.
You are #blessed. That is an assumption that has warrant. There are things that are “your blessings,” and counting them is not futile. Our God blesses those who fear Him, and the blessings are like streams of water.
To always be counting your blessings is to live a life with the perfume, or cologne, of thankfulness. How fragrant are the grateful. How like a light in this perverse, dark, and grabby-souled world you will be. Any fathead-airhead-knucklehead-bonehead-blockhead-pudding-head can (be governor, I mean) grumble. Complaints are running over the gutters of our social sewage system.
If there is any difficulty in counting one’s blessings, it is that it’s exhausting. Who could keep up with every given heartbeat, let alone name all of the visible and invisible care and kindnesses you receive from the Lord.
But let me add that counting your blessings may, it will, require you to change your mind about what counts as a blessing. Your expectations should not only be higher, your expectations should be wiser. Very rarely will your blessings look, let alone feel, glamorous.
We know the resurrection of Jesus is a blessing, but do we also call His death, death which atoned for all our sins, blessing? And though we do not seek the pain, He sends it to us. “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:28). It is granted, it is chosen and appointed. Don’t flinch in the dark.
Learn the shape of your blessings, work your way out from the cross. On one hand, it is disappointing, and unfavourable, to finish your final year in quarantine and to graduate like this. On the other hand, no graduating class from ECS will have this story. No other class has been blessed to embody risus est bellum like you. No other rumpus of raggant alumni has had to practice civil disobedience just to get their diploma. This ceremony itself is a lesson, it is a blessing, and there will be more where this came from.
The cheeky motto of the class of COVID-19 is Omnino cancellatum est, “everything is canceled.” But, because of the education you’ve received, a better motto might be: omne mirile est, “everything is awesome.” It’s true even when conditions are not favorable. All are yours, and you are Christ’s.
In many ways you are responsible for the depth of friendships between your parents, for the increase in breadth of vision and love for Marysville, for revealing our shortcomings, our need for grace, and how sweet that grace tastes. You are much to blame for my interest in Narnia, Middle Earth, coloring pages and more. I am tired, but I am changed, and thankful.
We don’t want you to want someone else to do it. We don’t want you to wait for all things safe and predictable and comfortable, for the “perfect” conditions. We want you to be starters and singers. We want you to be just like us, only with merry impudence. Geronimo, yes, and also, Fix bayonets.
“What is vital and healthy does not necessarily survive. … We ask too often why cultures perish and too seldom why they survive; as though their conservation were the normal and obvious fact and their death the abnormality for which special causes must be found. It is not so. An art, a whole civilization, may at any time slip through men’s fingers in a very few years and be gone beyond recover.” (Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama, 113)
“No art lives by nature only by acts of voluntary attention on the part of human individuals.” (124)
You are going to have harder days potentially than we have imagined. And if the Lord does not return, future students will study about your work. You are changing the world from a backyard, in Jesus’ name.
I know, I know. It’s weird to say that. I think that in some circles it would effectively squash any Coolness™ I may have boasted beforehand. But that’s fine; I find that books, gel pens, papers, speeches, choir, uniforms, freshly sharpened pencils, and homework are all worth good-natured mocking about nerdiness. I even like finals week, and Herodotus is my favorite author, so I deserve it.
Consequently, I just didn’t want to graduate. Graduation marked what seemed like the end of my favorite things, things that I wanted to stretch out and enjoy forever. My mother kindly reminded me that books and writing wouldn’t magically disappear once I moved a tassel from right to left, and so I got a little more excited about the whole thing. I then looked towards graduation with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. High school gave me a very clear trellis to grow my work on, and I was simply afraid to lose it.
But I’m a Calvinist with a strong streak of narrative love, so I should have known that God had a plan for me — and this time, the whole globe — that would completely undermine my expectations. I lost my last quarter of school-at-school due to the COVID-19 craziness, and I’ve been grown in new and uncomfortable ways through that loss. God told (and is currently telling) a weird story which I get to be a character in; I really don’t aim to be the sort of woman who needs to call for smelling salts. So, with encouragement from parents, friends, and Scripture, I buckled up, did Zoom workouts from my living room, Zoom classes from my room, graduated on a farm, and enjoyed most of it, even when I needed to write a poem to productively express a sad emotion.
I’ve been a high school graduate for ten days now, and I’m loving it. This week I’ve spent most of my time working alongside the teachers during “Outservice” week, and I’ll be joining the team as a full-time intern teacher next year, with duties including assisting Mrs. Pakinas with fourth grade and probably teaching a few classes of my own. Monday was my first day helping out, and about four hours into it I had reached a new conclusion on my graduation.
The conclusion I reached is as follows: I can already tell that I am going to love working at ECS even more than I loved being a student at ECS, for a few reasons. The teachers are a team hungry for fellowship and itching to “carry and advance Christ-honoring culture,” and I am honored that they would include me in that endeavor.
The school taught me, alongside my parents, to love the work in front of me because of the principles behind it. Yes, I naturally love new notebooks and learning just because I enjoy them, but I realize that’s not at all the main reason I love ECS. I loved being here because of the culture that came from the teachers and their collaboration with parents.
Education is sorely lacking in our culture— if you don’t believe me, watch this video, which isn’t any form of rhetorical argument that I was taught— and we have a unique opportunity to fill our local community with God-glorifying men and women who are not afraid to stand up to lies from media outlets or friends and family. Nehemiah and his men worked to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls because the city sorely needed defenses; Christian parents and teachers must currently work to rebuild the educational defenses that have been neglected, and in some cases, torn down purposefully. This is what the school aims to do.
The school is in the business of people, as I believe the U.H. has said before. If someone graduated and couldn’t recall any conjugations or chemistry formulas, but they knew their identity in Christ and their calling in God’s world, the school would have helped fashion a person that could advance Christ-honoring culture, no matter what they set their hands to. I just happen to be setting my hands to teaching next year, alongside continuing my own education, and I am eager to do it with a red pen and book in one hand and a coffee in the other.
*Maggie Higgins (flagship student when the school began in 2012; graduate of the Class of 2020; teaching Intern for next year; resident Gnome agitator)
I’m sure that many of you have wondered about our plans for the fall in the event that restrictions on schools would prevent us from operating as normal. This is a very good question. We have been grateful for the flexibility and sacrifice of the parents, the work of the teachers, and the resiliency of the students in this time when the school building has been closed. But if there is anything we can do about it, we will not be repeating the springtime experience of guided homeschooling when school begins in September.
A distinctive of Evangel Classical School is our commitment to community. This informs our enrollment decisions, Matins, recess, field trips, conflict resolution, feasting, and more. In order to build the culture we wish to see here in North Snohomish County, the next generation of worshipers and culture shapers must be committed to fellowship and love, and that is hard to cultivate in a Zoom meeting (though we sure have tried). God only knows what the fall will hold, but rest assured: we will only start school in the fall as we have finished it this year if we have no other choice.
Additionally, I want to express again our commitment to love and serve you all, the families comprising our school community. You’re our people and the idea of leaving you to fend for yourselves academically was not even an option for the Board in our deliberations last evening. We are not considering closing the school. It may sound a bit cheesy, but we are building something, and this season has provided something of a setback, but not the doom of the school.
With that said, here are our preferred options (in descending order) for the fall. Of course they all have their pros and cons, and I’m glad to go into those if you’d like, but for now I’ll list and explain them briefly. Here goes:
Option A: Reclamation Church. We would be at Reclamation Church just as we were at the start of last year, with restrictions lifted and schools opened up by the state. We would be delighted to return to normal. But if that is not an option, then…
Option B: Multiple campuses. Between the main building and the Table Building at Reclamation Church as well as one other site, we have considered dividing our student body as needed across town in order to maintain a normal school schedule and keep fewer than 50 bodies in any one building.
Option C: Alternating days by classes. This would involve allowing some grades and classes to attend on certain days (e.g., Tuesdays and Thursdays) while the remainder met on the alternating days (e.g., Wednesdays and Fridays). This would keep our numbers down in the building and optimize spacing for the students.
Option D: Alternating days by families. This is similar to Option C, but families (rather than classes) would be able to stay together.
Option E: Guided homeschool (as with Q4 of this year). If all else fails, we would have a guided homeschool option again for as long as necessary. I’m confident that we could make some modifications to make it better than it was in the spring. Nevertheless this is our last option (at the moment).
A host of factors (some of which are out of our control) will inform and drive the Board’s decision as the fall approaches, but I promise to keep you apprised as details develop.
I know that it may see like lip service or just the polite thing to say right now, but I sincerely mean this: I am grateful for our school community. I have been impressed and humbled by how supportive our people have been, evidencing that you are committed to the mission of the school through thick and thin.
I look forward to seeing many of you at the graduation on Sunday. If you have any questions, please let me know.
It has now been nearly two months since we had school at school, and each day brings a new surprise of some sort. I spent a good deal of time trying to decide what I would write, and I could think of nothing novel (another word that’s thrown around a lot these days). I think that part of the reason for this is because this is more of a season of application than it is a season of instruction.
There are times to learn about how to scale a cliff under enemy fire, and times to apply that learning. There are times to learn that God is sovereign, and there are times to apply (or rest in) that knowledge. There are times to learn that God installs fallen men as political leaders…men who are prone to grasp for power and to make mistakes…and that it is the duty of faithful Christians to respectfully obey as far as we can. I happen to believe that right now is a time to apply that particular lesson.
But the soldier who is scaling that cliff while an enemy is sawing at his rope from above may need reminding of his training as the bullets whiz by his head. It’s true: times of application are also times when review is in order.
At the risk of preaching to the choir, I want to review the very basics of sphere sovereignty. I suppose some of you are very familiar with this concept, while others have never heard of it. But it is a formula for human flourishing that has been the hallmark of healthy Western culture…and it’s something that we teach at ECS.
In brief, sphere sovereignty recognizes the proper autonomy and mutual dependency of the various spheres of authority. In his very helpful book, Lectures on Calvinism, Abraham Kuyper talks about a bunch of spheres that ought to operate with a degree of independence from one another (including the spheres of Art, Education, Politics, Science, and the Church).
I’d encourage you to read the book, or buy and watch this video series, or sit in the next time Omnibus V is talking about the stalemate between Henry II and Thomas Becket (I’m still not sure who won…). I think sphere sovereignty is a really great thing…and so does God…or else He would have blurred the lines of authority. We see evidence of this all over Scripture; consider two quick examples.
First, while laying aside judgmentalism, Christians are actually to judge other Christians in order to keep the Church pure; the Church has a degree of authority to decide who belongs in the her pale and who does not (see Mt. 7:1-2, 18:15-20, 1 Cor. 5:12). Christians are not called to judge unbelievers (that authority belongs to Christ).
Second Christians are not called to be the boss of civil authorities, even though we are to try to influence them with the gospel. (See the example of Paul in Acts 25-26; cf. Rom. 13:1-7, 1 Pet. 2:13-25.)
We could go on, but Scripture is not silent on sphere sovereignty; rather, it teaches it.
But what does this look like on the ground?
When the Church looks after her own, a society flourishes. It’s supposed to look like this. Christians gather en masse on Sunday morning and assault the gates of Hell with our worship (have you ever heard the Raggants sing Psalm 94?). We consciously behold Christ for a couple of hours, becoming more like Him in the process, and we are taught from God’s Word. Great. Then we leave…different. We go out into our communities as faithful, informed ambassadors of Christ in the other spheres and we do a good job, because we’re constantly being shaped and grown into more Christlike people by our worship. The Church’s job is (among other things) to train up people to go operate in the various spheres.
But notice that the Church’s job is NOT to tell the other spheres how to operate. She can make suggestions and recommendations and offer advice, but the Church’s job is not to try to run or operate the different spheres. And if a pastor tries to tell a mayor how much sales tax is biblically allowable, the mayor ought to ignore him.
But this cuts both ways, and you can probably see where I’m going with this. Just as the Church has no authority to try to operate the government, likewise, the government has no authority to direct or operate the Church…or to tell her how or when to operate or not.
Now, it must be acknowledged that common sense is no threat to sphere sovereignty. If your younger brother tells you that it’s raining outside, you don’t leave the umbrella behind just because he has no authority over you. If the State (informed by smart doctors) recommends that folks at church keep six feet apart because a particular virus can leap five feet, we don’t dismiss the State out of hand because they have no authority in the sphere of the Church.
But that is a very different thing from ordering the Church not to meet at all. The exchange of recommendations, advice, and ideas between the spheres is wise, healthy, and good; ordering other spheres around is not.
So what about school? Sadly, in the current situation, we do need the governor’s permission to assemble as a school. And unlike the Church, the school is not its own sphere, and the school does not have explicitly enumerated rights in the First Amendment. (I like to think that peaceable assembly is a matter of perspective. Ha.) So the case to meet as a school in disobedience of the governor’s order is difficult to justify on constitutional or biblical grounds, let alone how we would be received by our neighbors (and all of that is if Reclamation Church would even allow us to do so). Nevertheless, we hold out hope that somehow we’ll be able to assemble at school before the end of the semester.
ECS is not a church, but we do comprise churched families who are trying to make sense of all of this input, and ours is the ongoing and relentless job of training our kids to process the current cultural madness and to respond accordingly. I hope this little primer on sphere sovereignty helps to that end.
Well hello there, everyone. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been relaxing furiously the last couple of days, just looking for stuff to think about and ways to fill your time.
This has been a time of unprecedented firefighting (as in, putting them out) the last couple of days. And sometimes you try to douse the flames with baking soda…only to find out you accidentally grabbed the magnesium powder. (I mean, they look similar, right?)
To be sure, in making decisions the last several days, we have been trying to apply at once both wisdom and faith. We wish to trust what God has said and not freak out with the masses who refuse to honor the God of the Virus. (Most of us would rather not share an ER waiting area with a consistent Darwinist.) But of course, as much as depends on us, and because we want to love our neighbors, we’d like to exercise discretion at the same time.
To be sure, these are strange and difficult circumstances. Some of you feel that more than others. Maybe you’re trying to administer school-at-home to three grammar-aged Raggants. Maybe you have a salon that has been closed for a time. Maybe you own a small business that operated on a thin margin, and that cannot sustain two weeks of low sales…let alone six or eight weeks. Believe me, as one who recently has gotten to make some weighty decisions that will rather practically affect many people I care about, I get it. It do.
But let me take this moment to offer a few words of encouragement.
This is a great time to apply our worldview. Last week I got to talk about this situation with my students, and it was a rich conversation. One of the things that came up was an important principle: Just because someone is telling you to do something who otherwise has no authority to order you around doesn’t mean he’s wrong. I may not appreciate Governor Inslee’s methods or worldview, but I don’t think he’s necessarily going after churches or Christian schools in the present moment. At present, in the interest of loving our older neighbors or those with compromised immune systems, we’re dying the death of convenience while also doing what the governor said to do. (Even since last week, this has gotten trickier, as I’m not sure when groups of more than 50 will be able to meet without legal repercussions, but I digress.) This is a time where conscience and the Word will allow us to submit, even if it’s costly to do so.
While I’m not suggesting that it is happening right now, we do know that it is in times of panic that tyrants emerge with greater power that they don’t relinquish. The older ECS students should be able to share with you some examples from history, because we’ve read about them. So when crises come, we should be alert, trust God, and those with whom we’ve chosen to lock arms.
Your foxhole buddies would jump on a grenade for you. On Monday I spent about four hours on conference calls with ECS teachers and administration. While reflecting on that time of brainstorming, strategizing, and paring our lessons to the “essentials” (a term we used a lot yesterday), I had to remark, “What a group to go to war with.” I am so, so thankful for our teachers. As we were asking them to do more work, and then to cut back out some of their planned assignments as we try to love you all, there was not a single grumble nor complaint at all by any teacher. None. That’s who I want in the trenches with me. They trust me, I trust them, and you can too.
But it’s not a blind trust. We are here to serve you, so make sure you’re asking the questions you need to, and don’t be afraid to push back if necessary. We are not trying to get out of our jobs, but we are trying help you do yours well even when we can’t meet at school.
This is part of the reason why cultivating fellowship is worthwhile: we’re also cultivating loyalty mutually. In a school community of sixty-ish families, there has been some anxiety and nervousness, but nobody is freaking out (at least not to me), and the general vibe has been very Risus est bellum. People are fighting to laugh when it’s not funny, because doing so reminds us that we win, and above all…
God is still on the throne. None of this is catching Him by surprise. We believe right down to the marrow of our bones that God is sovereign over every molecule, soul, thunderclap and coronavirus. Not only is He sovereign, He’s also good, and He has loved us enough to initiate a relationship with us. We are not impervious to sin or its practical consequences (He has used plagues and enemies to chastise His people plenty of times), but this is only because He loves us and because He is holy. I look at that as just about the worst-case scenario here. If the worst thing that can happen is for God to chastise His children, then we’re in pretty good shape…even if we all get sick.
So rest your bodies, maintain sensible social distance, don’t lose heart and laugh…not because this is funny, but because it will help to orient your Godward focus.
As you’ve probably heard by now, we have decided to cancel school-at-school at least for the next two weeks. We will reassess after Spring Break and be in communication with you all with any updates. I wanted to offer some insight into how we arrived at this decision.
The data so far seems to demonstrate that where this disease has emerged, it has been curbed rather effectively via “shut down,” namely, keeping our distance from one another. In reality, very few in our school are susceptible to dangerous or long-term effects; almost all are very healthy, and many also get some variety of the flu every year. But we commonly are in contact with older folks or folks with compromised immune systems who may be more vulnerable. So while we do not share the general alarm that is characterizing the news and social media, we also know it won’t hurt us to help do our part to minimize the spread of the virus, even if doing so is inconvenient.
We thought about continuing to meet, and making a statement in the process (namely, that we don’t need the state’s permission to operate, and neither will we comply with their demands that we shut down). But we also figured that in this case, the costs of such a statement outweighed the benefits, especially when the health of our community may potentially be threatened. The statement we can make is a way to love our neighbors. So we believe that the reasonable decision under these circumstances was to close for a while.
We were helped in our decision by Governor Inslee’s announced closure of all K-12 public and private schools. Though we’re technically a co-op, we believed that it was in keeping with the spirit of this ban that we should at least close for three weeks, after which time we should know a lot more (in other words, the virus ought to have run its course in any of those presently affected by who are nonsymptomatic, we’ll have an idea as to how aggressive measures are working, etc.). We also want to be ready to return to school if the threat has passed by then, though the stated ban is through April 24.
When I made the announcement to the students this afternoon, there were a few smiles and cheers, but the overwhelming majority of the students (and teachers!) were sad and disappointed. Some cried. I think this says a lot about our school community. It says that between the Bible songs, Logic lessons, and blacktop recesses, something is getting through.
Our meeting together gives us opportunity to realize our mission. As our mission statement reminds us, classical education is one of the tools we use in our work of enculturation. Granted, this is not impossible if we have a season of school-at-home, but it is harder. So is cultivating the fellowship in our school community that we value so much.
As I’m fond of saying, traditional education is about the transfer of information; classical education is about the transfer of culture. Information is easy to transfer remotely; culture is not. So we’d much rather be meeting at school like we normally do.
Some may wonder if we are in a position to offer a discount or refund for days that students are not in class. As strange as it seems, having students stay at home saves us almost no money. The teachers will continue to work remotely, we will continue to pay rent and insurance, and (with the exception of a few consumable supplies like Expo markers, bandaids, and toner) our operating costs will remain the same. If we were saving any money by this decision, we’d be glad to pass that along to you. Sadly, that is not the case.
But now, having made the decsion, what is next?
Starting next week (Monday March 16), we’ll be employing a modified, school-at-home model. Of course, our families are veterans at this, since we do it every week. The teachers have been asked to think of reasonable homework volume and complexity, so as to make the best out of this situation. Please check Sycamore daily for updates, due dates, assignments and special instructions.
Your child’s teachers will still be available to you, just as they are normally on Mondays. So feel free to reach out to them, and they’ll be glad to help you.
We have also canceled the Raggant Fiction Festival, but we have an eye on March 20, 2021!
As always, if you have any questions, we are happy to help.