Mission Critical

These are the notes from Mr. Higgins’ talk at our recent Information Night.

I’ve had a couple conversations recently, one with my wife, about how close it came to ECS never existing. If there had been other resources available to us or even another classical school closer than 45 minutes away, and certainly if there hadn’t been anyone else interested in jumpin’ Geronimo, it’s hard to say that ECS would have been born.

Which has also gotten me thinking, what about ECS is crucial? The question of what is mission critical came up during covid lockdowns and then again last summer as our school board considered how to navigate state requirements for private schools. What is not just preference, but nonnegotiable for sake of educating our kids, and even as we think about our children’s children? (I’m now closer to when my grandson will start Kindergarten than when my son started.) There are a lot of things that are important for life and for quality of life; bones and muscles, eyes and ears and fingertips and feet. But if there is no heartbeat, the body is dead.

The heartbeat of ECS is our belief that Jesus is Lord. The evangel in Evangel Classical School is the gospel, the good news, which is of “first importance,” “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). And so “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

Jesus is the Messiah, He is also the Maker. “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3; see also Colossians 1:16). He is the one in whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17), and “He upholds the universe by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3).

And while this may be obvious, it is delightfully inescapable for us. ECS is from Him and through Him and to Him; we are built on the foundation of His existence and glory (He is and He is great!), we are energized by our faith and hope and love for Him, and we are resolved to carry and advance a culture that honors Christ. We want to be explicit and emphatic that Jesus is Lord.

That confession is mission critical to educating/discipling the next generation. There’s a timely book titled Battle for the American Mind: Uprooting a Century of Miseducation that was just published in June of 2022. It’s easy to read, and everyone should read it, and track the cultural damage happening not just to, but through, our public schools. Our board chairman got on a kick last summer and was handing out copies by the box. One of the co-authors is the president of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools (David Goodwin). The other is a current Fox News “Fox and Friends Weekend” host (Pete Hegseth).

The book is really good, but there is a kind of irony to some of the responses to the book. More than education, schooling is about enculturation. Pedagogy—one’s method and practice of teaching—is “the act of formulating a culture in children.” It’s about defining and triggering affections for the true, good, and beautiful. It’s identifying what is lovely and then learning to order our loves correctly (per Augustine, ordo amoris). It’s having, and then sharing, a common vision of the good life (per Aristotle).

In Western Civilization, wherever the gospel has taken root it has grown a distinct set of loves and understanding of that good life, a #blessed life, which only comes by fearing the Lord. But it’s also observable in many places that after a while, some tried to keep the good life without the good news. They held on to some traditions and cultural practices without having the transcendent Giver. And what’s happened in the U.S. in the last century, and certainly at broadband speed in the last decade since ECS started, is an attempt to attack objective reality, as if reality is what keeps us from the good (sound familiar? Genesis 3:1-5).

Hegseth and Goodwin argue for a return to a model of education that acknowledges up and down, right and wrong, male and female, black and white. They especially look to the model of classical education which isn’t embarrassed about facts (Grammar), uses reason (Logic), and promotes what is lovely and appealing (Rhetoric).

There is a kind of Fox News viewer, a kind of political conservative, who is fed up with 78 gender choices and 13 Pride Months a year and Critical Climate Race Change Theory curriculum and then gets excited when hearing about the classical model. But the “Western Christian Paideia” depends on the Christ. “Jesus Christ has to be at the center of all of it” (Hegseth and Goodin, Location 3344). Reviving the model without the Master is just rewinding the video, but we already know how it ends.

I went to public school. Last year was my 30th anniversary of graduating high school. My teachers weren’t public perverts and my classes were no worse than meh. I would have learned a lot more if I’d have done a bit more of my assigned reading. But the thing I really “learned” was that all the things we did for school didn’t matter to God. At least no one gave any credit to the Lord.

That said, there are other Christian schools, actual institutions in/around Marysville, that acknowledge the Master without taking advantage of the classical model and resources. Actually, they often use the same methods and books as the government schools, but add in a Bible class or a weekly chapel. This isn’t a criticism of those schools, but this is our information night, here’s what we’re trying to do.

We commend the works of the Lord so that the next generation would carry and advance Christ-honoring culture. We are not commending safety, as if all we needed was to escape. Sitting down to read without being surrounded by guns and drugs and guys in the girls’ bathroom is great, but that’s a sign of sanity, not great success. We are not commending smarts, as if there has never been a tyrant or villain with big brains. (Rebekah Merkle writes, “If you graduate [from a classical school] with all of the skills but none of the discernment, then you’re actually turning into a monster.” Classical Me, Classical Thee). We are not commending success, not as the world defines it, as if acceptance into the godless-college system or a higher-paid cog in the machine is winning.

We don’t use Jesus’ name as commas in our prayers, but we do pray our students will learn how to use commas because Jesus is the Word and the giver of language for which we are stewards. Jesus isn’t the answer to every question in science class, but that would be more true than the “Big Bang.” We don’t think the 11th commandment is “Thou shalt follow the Trivium,” but we do think that knowledge of details, understanding in order to distinguish, and wisdom that enables deft/skillful living come from the Lord.

So much so-called schooling is built on a foundation of oatmeal soaked in paint thinner. On its own the United States is not indivisible, without God the Blessings of Liberty promoted in our Constitution are not secure, and apart from grace our American way of life is as shatterproof as glass. The Lord is our only sure foundation (Isaiah 28:16, see also Matthew 7:24-27). When the rain falls and the floods come and the winds blow, It’s mission critical for us to equip the next generation to be like the wise man whose house didn’t fall because it had been founded on the rock, and the rock is Christ.

Living According to Reality

The Place of Logic In a Post-Logic Culture

For a couple of years, I’ve been struggling to find a concise and compelling justification for our offering of Logic at Evangel Classical School. Like, an elevator-trip rationale.

Though I’ve never considered ceasing to offer Logic as a class for our middle-level students, I believe firmly in doing everything we do with intentionality. We want to teach and make our curricular decisions on purpose, and I want to understand myself why it’s so valuable in order to communicate that well to others.

So what is the point of teaching our students Logic when they are tasked with shaping a culture that has abandoned any regard for sound reason?

Our culture tells itself that a key to our flourishing is not only to permit same-sex unions, but to celebrate them. If enough couples did that, we’d quite literally cease to exist, since procreation requires the union of a biological male and a biological female (Romans 1:26-27).

Also, we have lost the cultural capacity to explain that last sentence in any definitive way. No longer are TruthGoodness, and Beauty considered to be transcendent. They are now regarded as fluid, along with things like definitionsgender, and reality:

  • Genders can be changed like socks, but men are oppressors, so don’t choose to be one of those.
  • Women are largely victims, but men can become them if they want to.
  • People are responsible for the sins of anyone from history with the same skin color and gender…whatever that is.
  • Humans who are not yet born are not entitled to any freedoms…unless they’re wanted, in which case killing them is a prosecutable offense.
  • Like men, women are entitled to the privilege to have sex without the consequence of pregnancy; but the same is not true for men being afforded the privilege of pregnancy.
  • In a move applauded by ostriches everywhere (who have as much economical sensibility as they do ability to clap with those teeny wings), our president has authorized the canceling of billions of dollars of student loans with the charm of a hot-poker-to the eyeball to those of us who sacrificed to honor similar vows. 
  • “Women’s health” is not about women’s health. The same is true of “reproductive rights” and “marriage equality” and more modern jargon.

Where is the True? The Good? The Beautiful? The transcendent?

It’s no rhetorical spin to say that I could go on all day itemizing the madness, but I’m sure you could come up with examples without my help. I don’t list them in this way to be flippant, titillating, or crass; I do so to make the case that this battle is real, now. This is not preparation for hypothetical warfare which may one day be necessary; it’s training for fighting outside the base this minute. We are trying to train our students to deal with ideologies that are not on the horizon, they’re all around us.

We live in a Genesis 3 world with plenty of sin and blame to go around. We don’t need to do moral redefining to prove that it’s bad. In a three-dimensional exhibition of Romans 1, we invent new ways to be evil (1:30), and we are happy about it…and we think this is sophisticated (1:22). If we’re not currently under the abandoning wrath of God (1:24, 26), then I cannot imagine what it is supposed to look like.

So is Logic obsolete? Antiquated? A waste of time? By no means.

We tell our students that studying Logic is more about correcting themselves than it is about correcting others. Sometimes that message only hits home in the sense that they practice on their parents and siblings (usually the younger ones, who don’t have the same tools). This is a clunky bug in the system as they are introduced to a new tool, but its misuse is not a problem with Logic itself.

In a recent discussion with Sean Higgins, he quipped that we train students in Logic in order for them “to appropriately live according to reality.”

I plucked this from a context that included more goodness around it, and if he’d known I was going to examine his offhand remark, he may have been more careful in his word smithing, as he is prone to do. So it’s not inspired or airtight, but I thought it was pretty good! For sake of this exercise, I’ll dismiss the adverb (appropriately) as superfluous (and unfortunately located in the midst of an infinitive, for the three people who actually care) and briefly consider the rest:

“To…live according to reality.”

“TO…LIVE”

This points the students’ logical focus inward. Our students’ biggest problem will never be their adversaries, it will be the sin in their own hearts. Like the man who must deal first with the log in his own eye before he’s ready to go after the speck in his neighbor’s eye (Matt. 7:3-5), our students must rightly order their own thinking before undertaking to correct their neighbors.

Further, identifying the flaws in their opponents’ arguments (or panicked pleas) can help our students to not be seduced by lies…let alone to live according to those lies.

Our students cannot be shapers of culture for good or purveyors of the truth if they cannot live well, and living well requires living “according to reality.”

“ACCORDING TO REALITY”

Logic as a discipline is loaded with assumptions, the dependence on which has brought us to where we are today as Westerners. The most influential minds in Western History have assumed that reality as well as transcendent virtues. Those were actually something worth knowing and pursuing. And the men who best represented those virtues were the men they looked to for leadership (and they were not necessarily the caesars or kings).

Today, we elect the leaders whose “virtues” we hold dear, but we have a problem with our virtues. They are not transcendent; they are fluid and squishy…and in many cases, freshly-redefined (e.g., Love, Tolerance, etc.). And when you have virtuous Jell-O for your foundation, your structures can only have the strength of styrofoam.

Logic reinforces the notion that absolutes exist. Logic has rules, like the rest of our existence, and they’re not ours to create or change. They are transcendent, outside of us. Washing our students’ minds with what is True, Good, and Beautiful is loving, and it is necessary as we equip (arm?) them to shape culture. That also provides a virtuous bedrock for culture building or improvements…which is to be preferred over virtuous Jell-O.

Our living under the abandoning wrath of God is a reality. So is the gospel. Jesus has conquered sin and death and made a way for us to be reconciled to the Father. This is absolute, not fluid. And praise God that we get to spend time among lovers of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. May we equip our children to do the same as they undertake to lead the next generation.

Risus est bellum!

-U.H.

A Cultural Cathedral

The following are notes from Mr. Higgins’ 2022-23 Convocation message.

I read three books this summer. Hopefully you read even more. These are three that I won’t easily forget and that I think, perhaps strangely enough, easily relate to each other.

The first I’ll mention is a book that has been on my to-read list for many years. It’s not a long book, but it is a book about projects that take a long time. It’s written for 10-11 year-olds, and we have a copy in our 4th grade library. Here is my book report and rally to begin another year.

The book is called Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction. It was published the year before I was born (1973), but it’s a story about the citizens of a small town in France who decided to build the biggest and most beautiful cathedral in their country in the year 1252. It’s actually a fictional story about the people of Chutreaux; there is no city with that name, so there are no remains of this particular project. But the imaginary cathedral takes details from in-real-life construction of Gothic cathedrals built in the 12-14th centuries.

The bishop of the city when they started died before they finished. The master builder of the cathedral himself died more than halfway through and had to be replaced. In the non-fiction preface, the author only gives one qualification about what makes his story less real: the workers didn’t take any long breaks in construction. And still, it took 86 years from the first decision to the final detail.

To build something so grand took a lot of money, obviously a lot of time, and it also took a lot of different people doing their work expertly. There were teams of people, those who cut down trees in a nearby forrest and prepared the wood, those who cut out stones from a quarry and moved them to the site, those who dug deep footers and blacksmiths who made nails and hooks and hinges. There were master craftsmen and apprentices and assistants, masons and mortar makers, carpenters and climbers and cooks. No one person could have done it.

In one way your life as a student is like this. Even though your years in school are a jumpstart, your education is a lifetime project. It will take much time, much care, much effort, and a multitude of people. As the Lord adds to your knowledge and understanding and wisdom, as He knits you together with love for truth and goodness and beauty, your life is a cathedral.

In another way, ECS is a great project. For the first time, after ten years of school, now we even have our own building! Thanks be to the Lord. The classrooms are our classrooms, they have our desks and our chairs. Many of the rooms have been painted, they’ve gotten new lights, the things on the walls are decorative and educational and ours. Though they wouldn’t identify as Michelangelos, the teachers, many of the students, and some friends of the school have painted and furnished and adorned and loved this place into a more lovely place.

This facility is probably not ever going to be cathedral-level beautiful, and that’s fine. We’re actually trying to build something much more difficult than walls, something that will outlast us. We are like so many medieval stonemasons, adding a few more bricks to this generational project. Lord willing, the best years of ECS may be seen our grandchildren.

Another book I read this summer is Battle for the American Mind. It was published just this year. It’s about schools and education, about the trajectory of troubles for many government schools over the last century. The problems that are all around us are worse than new math and unscientific science and willful ignorance of history. The root problem is that people don’t have any real vision of the “good life.” They wouldn’t know beauty if it poked them in the eye-balls. They think the state has more power to make things better than the power of self-control. They have no center, no real reference point other than their feelings. They’re not practicing or pursuing virtues.

What we’re building here at ECS is more than just students who get high scores on tests. We’re not just trying to get you to graduate early so that you can get through college quicker so that you can get a high paying job. Those things are fine, but they are like a cathedral constructed of Popsicle sticks.

We want you to be great-souled. The word magnanimous is just that: manga = great and animus = mind or heart or soul. It’s related to those who are animated, full of life. We want a culture of families, students, and teachers who know and love, who know what is lovely and why they should love the lovely and be abounding in love. Previous generations referred to it as ordo amoris, ordered loves. This is where intellectual and moral virtue comes from. We want you to learn the stock responses of God-fearers, to be unimpressed by what the world says is cool, which never lasts long anyway.

This includes the alphabet and phonograms, this includes reading your assignments, but it also means paying more attention to what’s in your heart than how long a classmate has been talking. It means committing to work hard, and then actually working when it is hard. It means listening to those who know better, it means looking to take responsibilities that make the whole thing better.

We are in a battle for minds and our minds are necessary for the battle. We are trying to battle by building a culture, a paideia, that forms what you like and that you’re like and what you pursue as good.

Which leads me to the third book I read, Good to Great (a book published in between the first two, 2001). The definition of good is a little different; good in this case is about commercial success rather than cultural blessings. It’s a business book, but there’s some valuable overlap.

Want to be great? Be fanatically consistent in the right things. Those things aren’t always big things. One of the greatest dangers is thinking that the right things are other things rather than the ones right in front of you. Do what must be done; do it faithfully. That makes great people, and a bunch of people working together makes a great culture.

We care about raggant virtues. Be generous, be a producer, be a learner, be thankful, be joyful. As we work toward being great, let us be staff and students known for: High discipline, low drama.

I read something else good just yesterday, and I’m thinking maybe I should tape it to mirrors around me. It said: stop whining. An alternative, since we’re on the first day of school: don’t start whining.

Your education is like a cathedral, ECS itself is a different sort of generational project, an educational cathedral, and may the Lord bless this next year of classical education, weaponized laughter, and sacrificial labors so that we will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.

Letter from The Professor

It was quite warm in the Christopher Wren church that summer day, and my very flamboyant British professor had just finished a discussion on the glories of archways when he turned his eyes upwards, snorted, and decried the defacement of one of his favorite churches: “Look at the ceiling – upside down bundt cake pans and fat flying babies. Typical Victorians, ruining perfectly good architecture.”

The Nave at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London

It was in that summer that I started really learning about worldview and philosophies and understanding why the Victorians were so prone to scatter rotund babies and demigods over their ceilings. And because I also studied Fantasy literature, a central question began reappearing: What does it mean to be a child? What does it mean to be mature? And how does one move from childhood to adulthood well?

Though a Standard article does not afford enough space for a treatise on philosophical perspectives on childhood and maturation, I challenge you as we round-out the summer and head towards school to consider how you answer the questions above. Do you see children as innocent, sweet angels to be protected from the evils of the world for as long as possible? Do you see them as tiny adults meant to be dressed in topcoats and tails? How do our children arrive at adulthood with some level of wisdom, strength, and virtue? Such answers must inform every facet of how we parent and educate…even down to how we decorate our church buildings.

As I began having children, I had to admit that many of my answers had been shaped not by biblical understanding, but by a hefty influence of Romanticism and a zesty dash of Victorianism. If we believe that children are born in a state of innocence, only to be corrupted by the evils of society, we have fallen directly into the philosophical trap that bound brilliant thinkers like Rousseau, Godwin, and more. Once stuck, we are apt to idolize childhood, viewing it as a time of Edenic innocence that will be permanently altered and broken by the outside world.

But is this how the Bible presents childhood? Certainly Christ has a special care for children, inviting them to Himself and exhorting us to become like them in many different ways: wonder, trust, love, simple faith, and more. But in typical biblical fashion, we are likewise exhorted to grow up and stop acting like children, setting aside the milk of infancy, for “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 4:15).

So…which is it? What does a mature, child-like adult look like? And how do we do it? This is why Sam Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings has long been one of my favorite characters in Literature. We are too apt to see maturation as a loss of innocence, faith, and wonder. Think of many coming-of-age stories, from Harry Potter to Star Wars: we know a child has attained adulthood when he is up to no good. But Sam matures in a thoroughly Christian way: he grows as he faithfully moves forward, answering the call to adventure while yet immature, and doing incredibly hard things. He, like Merry and Pippin, leave the Shire as greenhorns and return as valiant warriors. They have matured not through the loss of innocence, though they have experienced great hardships, but through the loss of foolishness and the taking up of wisdom. They are hardened in the right ways, while their capacity for mirth, fellowship, and curiosity has only been deepened and broadened.

At ECS, the teachers and staff labor to come alongside you so your child will one day “carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.” We are here, by God’s grace, to help your child lay aside the immaturities that so easily entangle and take up the virtues that strengthen muscles and hone faith and fuel ingenuity in that advancement. We reject the world’s definition of maturity as incarnated in narcissistic young adults with jaded consciences seared to any sense of awe and ears dulled to the call of Lady Wisdom. But we also reject the notion that these children are to be plunked down in a meadow and entirely hedged in to avoid the perilous journey right around the bend. We desire to take their hands and begin the ascent.

Thus we hope that every visit to the U.H.’s office, every chant, every song, and every piece of homework that takes a little longer than you had hoped for and every book just a little beyond their mental reach will cause them to, as the Green Lady in Perelandra would say, grow older not through a loss of innocence and faith, but through attainment of wisdom and a deepening capacity for knowledge of themselves, this world, and its maker – in short, worship. We don’t fear the mountain of maturation, but with each step befitting their frames, we hope that they will be honed, grace-saturated, virtuous men and women who laugh louder, climb higher, and worship louder than those who have gone before.

—Mrs. Bowers

Too Blessed to Be Stupid

The following are notes from Mr. Higgins’ graduation address last Sunday evening.


Hailey and Autumn, euge, bravo and well done! We praise the Lord for you, and we praise the Lord with you that He has blessed you with strength and endurance to finish this phase of your education. My graduation message to you tonight is simple. I believe it will be helpful and hopefully memorable. The message is this: you are too blessed to be stupid.

There is a categorical cornucopia of those who are dumb, fat, and happy, but I want to argue that your blessedness, your beatus, your happiness, won’t allow you to be stupid.

Stupid is a word your mom probably doesn’t want you to use. Stupid isn’t usually polite, and it’s regularly used to describe someone else’s actions/decisions that we just don’t like. But I have something more specific in mind.

I recently read a 46 year-old book titled, The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity by an Italian economist named Carlo Cipolla. It’s short, a little over 80 printed pages, and ought to be on everyone’s summer reading list, including those who have just finished high school. I am going to share the best of the book, but I knew the gist before I read it and lost none of the value.

Cipolla points out that humans are relational creatures. To my knowledge he didn’t claim to be a Christian, but as Christians we know that we are made in the image of one God who has revealed Himself in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This means that we were created with the capacity for work and connection, even for cooperation. For some this interaction is a painful necessity, other individuals will put up with other persons they don’t really like so they don’t have to be alone.

Think in economic terms what each person brings, what each person aims for. “From each action or inaction we derive a gain or a loss and at the same time we cause a gain or a loss to someone else.” (Cipolla, Location 202) Those benefits and losses can be plotted on a matrix.

He observes that there are always four types of persons in their interactions: 1) the Helpless, 2) Bandits, 3) the Intelligent, and 4) the Stupid.

The helpless person may contribute a minimal amount to society but is often taken advantage of. It’s not that the helpless person is ignorant per se, it’s that in his interactions he is more impoverished than enriched. The helpless are drained even when they aren’t the worst drain on others.

The bandit likewise is not a dunce, but exerts more energy in causing another’s loss in order to gain for himself. Thieves can be quite creative but they concentrate on what they can get. It’s a win-lose relationship, a bigger piece of the pie for bandit means he’s taking it from someone else’s piece.

The intelligent uses his brains for win-win. He benefits, not just parallel to, but together with, the benefit of others. The pie gets bigger for everyone. Intelligence in Cipolla’s definition is not just mental horsepower or IQ, not just quantitative reasoning on the CLT. It’s applied logic in love, a relational intelligence. Having read Proverbs we’d label it wisdom.

The fourth character in the last quadrant is the stupid, and he is the worst. Cipolla defines it in the third and “golden” basic law of stupidity: “A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.” (Location 245)

“Our daily life is mostly made up of cases in which we lose money and/or time and/or energy and/or appetite, cheerfulness, and good health because of the improbable action of some preposterous creature who has nothing to gain and indeed gains nothing from causing us embarrassment, difficulties or harm.” (Location 255)

And it’s not just an individual concern.

“This [stupid] group is much more powerful than the Mafia, or the military industrial complex, or international communism—it is an unorganized, unchartered group which has no chief, no president, no by-laws and yet manages to operate in perfect unison, as if guided by an invisible hand, in such a way that the activity of each member powerfully contributes to strengthen and amplify the effectiveness of the activity of all other members.” (Location 101)

It might seem that bandits would be worse: purposefully benefitting themselves at the losses of others. But bandit types can be reasoned with to some degree, or at least we can use reason to understand their decisions. The helpless are also not helpful for a community, but their biggest problem is that they can’t stand up against the stupid.

The stupid person is committed to doing things that benefit no one. They take the perfectly good pie and throw the whole thing in the trash, probably while congratulating themselves since sugar is a drug that causes diabetes. No one wins, and there’s no logic that can move them. They will work hard to make it so that they don’t have to work hard, and that hinders others from working hard. The stupid are “the most powerful dark forces that hinder the growth of human welfare and happiness.” (Location 107)

Cipolla’s categories get close to Solomon’s characters. The helpless is as the naive or the simple. The bandits compare to the scoffers, the sinners whose feet run to evil (Proverbs 1:16). The intelligent are the wise. And the stupid is the fool. It’s more than failing grades and a low Lexile reading level, it’s resistance to knowledge that does good.

  • “a fool flaunts his folly” (Proverbs 13:16)
  • “a babbling fool will come to ruin” (Proverbs 10:8)
  • “the mouth of a fool brings ruin near” (Proverbs 10:14)
  • “doing wrong is like a joke to a fool” (Proverbs 10:23)

“Let a man meet a she-bear robbed of her cubs rather than a fool in his folly” (Proverbs 17:12).

Bertrand Russell once said (ironically): “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” Solomon said it a long time ago.

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

Cipolla asserts that the percentage of stupid = σ is a constant, and “Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.” (Location 121). No matter what group or demographic, there are always those who make decisions detrimental to themselves and others. If Cipolla is right, you can see that now, not just when you “go out into the world.”

Examples in a school context: Students who defend not doing their work and make it hard for others to do theirs, whether mouthing off with each other or blowing off their assignments. Teachers who habitually over-assign work that then we also have to grade. Or broadening the view: Politicians who mandate untested or unnecessary restrictions to the harm of everyone.

Raggant-about-to-be-alumni, you are too blessed to be stupid. The blessings God has given you are abundant and extraordinary. Your parents have blessed you, your teachers have sacrificed to do the same. You’ve read books and had conversations about things that maybe most students, most human beings, never will. These are not blessings that just happen anywhere.

Blessings include but are not limited to: learning how to partner for projects (with others who don’t care as much as you), learning how to keep reading good things when your eyes hurt, learning how to learn when the subject is difficult, learning how to sing in harmony, learning how to laugh when it’s hard, learning how to make and defend your case, learning how to change your mind.

You both have finished this part of your course and are more equipped than the majority of your peers who are hurting themselves and others by not taking advantage of the assignments in front of them. You have been blessed, and I charge you to bring blessings to others, for their joy and your own.

Hailey and Autumn, we are glad to celebrate with you as you cross the ECS finish line. Fear the Lord, be wise, get wisdom, remember that you are too blessed to be stupid.

Keep Founding

The following notes were from Mr. Higgins’ talk at last Friday’s Fundraising Feast.


I am one of the founders of ECS. Being a founder is interesting, because founders aren’t the past tense of finders. A founder doesn’t find something that was there, a founder lays down a foundation for something that could become. The only thing that existed about ECS eleven years ago was an idea. But look around. The wine and steak and laughter and songs and relationships are real.

Photo by Mrs. Bowers

This is our ninth fundraising feast, and this is the ninth time that I’ve spoken. Someday there will be another speaker (and the people rejoiced). Debatable statistics say that most people would rather drown than speak in public, but even if the task doesn’t seem fun to you, you can certainly imagine that it is a privilege. Year by year I ask Jonathan if he would like me to speak, and he keeps including me because I’m connected as a founder, a board member, a parent of raggants, a teacher, and now a grandpa to a future raggant!

But as I said, it won’t be me up here forever, and not just when I’m dead. If we fulfill our mission, it definitely won’t be. My comments so far are a personal angle on our institutional vision. I have the perspective of a founder with a purpose to make more of them, and from my perspective it’s working.

Consider how different things are than two years ago, when we didn’t even host a fundraising feast because we were all ordered to stay home. But more than that, think about how different your life, your family, your weekly schedule, your budget, your relationships, your expectations, are now compared to before you got connected to ECS. The influence isn’t only one way, and it’s not always immediately positive I suppose. But all of us are changed (and/or challenged) by one another. Every new teacher and student and family adds to the foundation.

I am one of the first founders, but we are all ongoing founders. This is our school’s mission. We aren’t interested in making graduates as much as we are interested in graduating founders. By that I don’t mean that every young man or woman has to start a brand new school or business, though some will. I mean that every young man or woman will carry and advance the foundation.

That foundation is our confession that Jesus is Lord. He cares about everything He created, and if we are to please Him and grow in likeness to Him, we must grow in our care for everything He created. The works of the Lord are the foundation, and we commend them to another generation (Psalm 145:4). So we are always abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58), reading books and translating Latin and laughing at tyrants and stacking chairs again in and for Jesus’ name.

We are doing this so that we’ll be more than a “read-only” culture. If the government keeps down its current path, we’re going to see the increase of a “can’t-read” generation, which I suppose will at least keep them from being as irritated someday when they have to buy gas. Read-only is better than unread-only. But we’re aiming for more than literacy. We’re aiming higher than knowing history. Let’s make history.

A “read-only” people have “the ability to repeat what an ancestor has handed down – but not recreate it from first principles” (Balaji). In the model of classical education that we follow at ECS, the first stage is the Grammar stage, and it necessarily includes learning about and learning to appreciate all that we’ve been given. We repeat vocabulary words and multiplication tables and parts in songs because repetition is a tool in education. But it’s not the telos of education.

Repeating isn’t enough, and neither is knowing more so that we can have more informed complaints. We live in a day, or at least in a streaming news-cycle, where resentment is triumphing over vision. Algorithms are written to engage our attention with anger. We don’t know for sure what’s happening, but we know for sure someone needs to be damned. The cultural foundations around us aren’t just deteriorating on their own, they are being actively destroyed. Did we expect anything different from a system starting with deconstruction?

We have to learn what is better, and then commit to trying to build something better. That is the part we put on repeat, not just parroting what a founder said, but what a founder did. Keep founding.

Tonight will end, but it is not the end, right? When the dishes are done and the donations counted, we have a lot more to do. We will have school on Monday, four more weeks of this school year, graduation for our seniors, and a final assembly, then we start again in the fall. It’s just a little over 16 weeks away from the first day of school. Ha!

You also have only so many weeks have left. I read a book titled Four Thousand Weeks, which is rounded for how many weeks there are in 77 years of life. What are you doing with those? What foundation are you building up (or tearing down) for your family? For your city?

“The world is bursting with wonder, and yet it’s the rare productivity guru who seems to have considered the possibility that the ultimate point of all our frenetic doing might be to experience more of that wonder.” (—Oliver Burkeman, Loc. 55)

The point of tonight is not to raise the most money we’ve ever raised. That’s not the end of the game. The point is to give thanks and raise money for the purpose of continuing the wonder, and the work of helping others see the wonder.

I’m not so starry-eyed as to think everyone gets the wonder in the works of the Lord at the same level. Not all of our current students see what they’re being given. Do any of us? But, wow, how kind the Lord has been to us these last ten years. What fruit has come from so many late nights and caffeinated mornings. It’s totally costly, and yet what a foundation of laughter and feasting do we dance on. Even when God has said “No” to particular prayers, He has worked in ways we can easily commend to one another.

No person has worked harder than our Headmaster to find us a place to root our work. At the direction of the Board he asked a local church if we could rent their space, and we sent him back at least two more times after they said no. As it turns out, had that church, or the other alternatives we pursued said yes, we probably would not have been able to open our doors in the fall of 2020. Not only that, we wouldn’t be in the position that we are now to pursue purchasing the Reclamation Church campus.

For the first time in our history we are about to have our own property on which to build more foundation. We also have the opportunity to honor our city and protect our investment from burning down by installing a sprinkler system. This is not a distraction, this is the spoils of founding something that God has made so fruitful. A number of people have observed that the building isn’t as bright as they’d like. That’s okay, neither are we, and fixing the former is easier than the latter. The same is true for Marysville. Paint is cheap compared to the cost of bringing light to the darkness, and yet it’s exactly the foundation we’ve been working on.

We have joy in a work that we are only starting. We laugh because we can’t finish it. The work is that big, that glorious. We are doing this because an idea turned into 370 people having a feast. Imagine what it could be just ten more years from now?

Keep rejoicing in the works of the Lord and keep founding.

Yep, a Basement

Here is the next edition in our series of letters celebrating our tenth year at ECS, this one by Mrs. Jennifer VanderBeken, overseer of ECS’ original basement home, mother of three Raggants, and one of our first teachers


It is hard to believe that a decade has already gone by and here we are together celebrating Evangel Classical School’s 10th anniversary. What an amazing experience it has been and what a tremendous impact those experiences have had on our family and so many others. 


Really, the groundwork for ECS was set long before 2012 when God in His absolute sovereignty brought together like-minded families at a small church in Marysville and eventually, through a series of challenges and events, the idea of creating a classical Christian school took form. 


The first day of school was a gorgeous September day with an abundance of excitement and anticipation. Rays of sunshine highlighted the freshly ironed uniforms and carefully organized school supplies and streamed through the windows of the…basement. Yep, a basement. A basement located in a home, on a farm, on Goebel Hill Road…with the family who owned the basement, in the home, on a farm, on Goebel Hill Road living in Brisbane, Australia. 


While the Bour family enjoyed their extended stint in the Southern Hemisphere, our family had enthusiastically taken on the opportunity to act as caretakers of their property. Then when the fledgling ECS needed a space to meet, it made perfect sense to utilize the property for this endeavor. After all, what could be a more idyllic setting for a classical school than a beautiful property with sheep, goats, cows, and chickens meandering through the surrounding fields, eagles soaring above the large garden; all with a breathtaking view of Mt. Pilchuck?


During that first year, Mr. Sarr’s desk was in a storage area right beside the hot water heater and under the pipes to the upstairs hall bathroom. While kindergarten through 5th grade met in the open area of the basement (about 300 sq. ft.), the three secondary students met upstairs in the living room. Recess included school-wide soccer games on the gravel driveway and, for a time, swinging on the rope swing in the barn (until it became too risky). 


Toward the end of September, the property’s well ran dry, so we brought in a portable outhouse and large bottles of water to get by until a new well was drilled. Ironically, later in the school year the basement flooded with an ample amount of water, and we were required to face the challenge of moving the entire school upstairs for a time. Our already cozy and crazy school setting was even more so and yet absolutely wonderful. 


The lessons of God’s sovereignty in both abundance and want continued to come into focus throughout the year. The garden produced wonderful vegetables, including carrots to nibble fresh out of the ground during recess and periodically, a newly laid egg could be found in the hen house. A school wide contest to name a newborn calf resulted with the winning name being “Stewy.” When the two ewes, Sophia and Lily gave birth to their lambs we were delighted to watch two sets of twins frolicking together, not to mention very entertained.  However, it was heartbreaking to have one lamb, Benny, rejected by his mother. The little black lamb was brought into the house to be cared for and bottle fed. Eventually Benny died due to a heart defect and many tears flowed. On the other hand, when a naughty and downright mean goat was sent to the butcher tears were not shed and the students thoroughly enjoyed snacking on tasty goat pepperoni sticks. 


Now here we are in 2022, far from the farm on Goebel Hill Road and instead nestled in essentially the middle of Marysville. The four 5th grade girls were joined by three additional classmates and together made up the largest graduating class so far when their graduation was held clandestinely at the Pakinas’ Farm in May 2020. The three original kindergarteners whose feet dangled precariously above the floor at their shared table during their phonogram tests are now a part of the 9th grade class. Recess on the gravel driveway is now, for the most part, in a large parking lot, and while the footprint of the school has expanded beyond a residential basement there are still, shall we say, space limitations.

However, God’s faithful provision is perfect, and taking the time to reminisce is encouraging. With grateful hearts we look forward to the next ten years and wonder what our perspective will be at ECS’s 20th anniversary. Whether your family has joined us this year or several years ago or anything in between, we all have the immense privilege and important responsibility to lock arms, work together, and anticipate God working tremendously through the ECS Raggants and their families. 

—Mrs. Jennifer VanderBeken

Letter From The Intern (aka Miss Kara Rothenberger)

It has been amazing to get to watch God’s outpouring of blessings on ECS the past 10 years. When the school first opened its doors, I was 12 and officially the first guinea pig to make it through all of Secondary. From my perspective as a Raggant during those first insane years, I definitely never noticed how odd we must have looked from anyone else’s perspective – all I knew were faithful and joyful teachers, and a plethora of hard jobs to attack to the best of our abilities. Through the faithfulness of those first teachers, I was brought to Christ; over the years, their perseverance made me want IN to the party in all the ways they could give me. I remember thinking in early high school that there were no other people I’d rather lock arms with and jump into the trenches with gusto. Over these 10 years, between wearing hats of student and teacher, I can vouch for the fact that all these teachers continue to pursue God more and more every day, that their joy has been given greater roots than they thought possible, and God has given them more grace than they realized they would need.

A couple random memories that come to mind:

  • Year 1: Our entire school fit in the window of an aquarium where, 8 years later, my entire class had to squeeze to fit.
  • Year 4: Our first class of Seniors graduated. Today, 6 years later, our Omnibus classes are currently working through the same books those Seniors ended on.
  • Year 10: My first class of 2nd Graders (including the current youngest Rothenberger) is now in 5th Grade – this happens to be the same grade Mrs. Taylor Rothenberger started in 10 years ago. And now, in this tenth year, we will welcome ECS’s first alumni-baby!

God has been good to this little school, and I am daily blessed by the students, families, teachers, and Board. Laughter is, indeed, war within these walls! May it ring ever louder!

—Miss Kara Rothenberger

Letter From the CheerMan

As we round the corner on the second half of ECS’ tenth year, this section of the Standard will be devoted to sharing reflections from some of those who have been here since the beginning: teachers, spouses, board members, and students – many of whom have filled a variety of these roles over the years!

We begin with Chuck Weinberg, the ‘older’ Charles Weinberg and father to the teacher Mr. Weinberg. He has been the ECS Board’s Chairman (fondly called the “CheerMan”) from before we opened that basement door in September of 2012.


10 years – Crazy how quickly time has gone. 

When we decided to start the school the common model was to start in Kindergarten and add a new grade each year as that class went up in age. We had students in grades spreading from K-10, so we decided that we would ignore all the experts and accommodate all the ages. It was risky, it was hard, and it could have failed AND it didn’t fail. God blessed our small beginning and we are starting to feel the blessing more as we continue to bust out of our space. 

I also remember talking through the budget during planning sessions and the UH was/is always thrifty and trying to get his numbers exactly correct. Have fun trying to do that when you have no really solid idea of how many students you will have. It was somewhat laughable since each of the first few years we were increasing the size of the school by so many students that it was ‘musical-chairs’ with new families coming in, how many grades were together in one classroom and such, all while trying to be fiscally responsible. And just like “it didn’t fail” God also took care of those small beginnings and blessed the financial piece as well. 

One of the things I really enjoy is stopping by the school, on the way home, and seeing my four Raggant grandkids as well as the “other Mr. Weinberg.” Never did I imagine that Grant would be a teacher at the school and LOVING it. When our kids are young we try to imagine what they will be when they grow up; I’m still working on that myself, and being a Math and Science teacher wasn’t anywhere on the radar for Grant in my head. Next year, Lord willing, I will have five Raggant grandkids. Small beginnings and who’s to say that some of those Raggants won’t also be doing something on staff or teaching at the school some day? 

– Mr. Chuck Weinberg
ECS Board CheerMan

On the Weapon of Submission

There’s no denying that we are in a spiritual war. Our enemy is invisible and our weapons are unconventional. The Apostle’s arsenal included “the belt of truth…the breastplate of righteousness” and more. At ECS we’ve added to the list things like “weaponized laughter” and feasting. And really, any good gift from God becomes a weapon of our warfare when received with gratefulness.

If you want proof, consider the enemy’s perversion of God’s gifts to us. Food? Wine? Sex? Freedom of speech? Satan hates that stuff. He would have us fear food or (at least!) be gluttonous. He would have us abstain from alcohol because of its dangers when abused. He would have us commit sexual sins because doing so harms the image of God in us and because sex is meant to be fruitful, which he also hates. He would have us abuse our freedoms (including speech) to the injury of our neighbors. While we could go on, I want to focus for a moment on a weapon we rarely wield well: the weapon of submission.

Submission offers a formula for human peace, happiness, and flourishing. It is therefore well-positioned for abuse. Husbands abuse their wives; parents abuse their children; political leaders exploit those they’re supposed to serve and protect.

The abuse cuts the other direction, as well. Wives seek to manipulate and control faithful husbands; children seek to manipulate and control faithful parents; citizens subvert and undermine faithful leaders.

But what do we encounter when submission is the delightful norm for the faithful Christian? Well, I’ve already said it: peace, happiness, and flourishing.

A friend of mine once remarked that submission was a genius strategy to establish authority and responsibility among equals. Take marriage, for instance. Scripture nowhere argues that husbands are superior to wives, intellectually or otherwise. They generally have a different makeup and constitution, but it’s just that: different, not superior. Husbands and wives are equal in value, so how is a couple ever to make a decision? By identifying a responsible party who will give account for the outcome regardless of whose personality or voice is the strongest. And that party is the husband.

So even if a wife wants her husband to submit to her, he still bears responsibility for her before God. (I’ll let you read that again.) When a wife realizes this, she is then freed up to submit to her husband in the Lord. When the couple faces a tricky decision, she can say with appropriate respect, “[Husband’s name], you’ve gotten my input on this situation, and now I trust that you will do the right thing as God works through you to act in our best interests.” She can then support him even when disagreeing (provided, of course, that he’s not acting sinfully).

This extends to our children as well. I’ve had countless students unhappy in my office because they disobeyed. Quite literally, if they would have submitted to the direction of their teachers, they would have been happier than they were while paying me a visit. Such a child can say, “I don’t understand why you want me to [insert parental directive here], but I know that it pleases the Lord and everyone’s happier when I obey…especially me.” That’s idyllic, I know, and rather sophisticated for a child to use such language. But parents can help shepherd them that direction through cheerful and patient shepherding. This sort of weaponized submission can change the world.

To be sure, some objects of submission abdicate their authority, disqualify themselves, or otherwise don’t deserve our submission. But that too is an abuse. Christians must submit as far as we can, which is probably a lot further than we are submitting at present.

Benjamin Franklin is reported to have said, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” That’s true. Tyrants pervert submission and they should be thwarted. But there are times when the way to thwart a tyrant is by…submission. A king who tyrannizes his subjects deserves what he gets. But part of the way a king comes to ruin may just be through his subjects’ faithful submission to God. It happened to Nebuchadnezzar, and it certainly can happen to parents and presidents. This sort of submission is active, deliberate, proactive.

That’s one way to weaponize submission. Another is through the conscious exhibition of cheerful submission as we refute worldly wisdom. A child who cheerfully submits to his parents may prompt the curiosity of the world. A wife who cheerfully submits to her husband may find a husband who is working to take responsibility…unto the flourishing of her whole family. A citizen who submits whenever possible to the king (i.e., as far as faithfulness to Christ will allow) may soon find influence with the king. When we wield the weapon of submission, we hack at the root of humanistic ambition; we put feet to the faith we proclaim…that death brings life, loss is gain, and happiness comes through self-denial. We model our Savior, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

Though this is not a typical Raggant Standard “Letter from the U.H.”, I believe that we all need to be reminded that our kids (and students!) are learning from us. We are teaching them how to submit, and our actions are more effective teachers than our words. This is a principle we discuss frequently as a teaching staff, and we ought to do so as parents, as well. And just as we imitate Christ, may our children learn to wield this powerful weapon. And may grace cover the gap between our actions and our words…while we fight to close it.

—Mr. Sarr
The U.H.