Recently two significant events have deepened my appreciation for acts of faith done with patience.
First, we bought a small farm. In April, my family moved to East Marysville, which happens to have a Granite Falls address. (You can’t see my face, but I typed that with a smirk.) It used to be a part of a bigger farm that previous owners parceled off to fund their children’s education. While it’s only three and a half acres, it’s a lot of work just to keep up, let alone to make forward progress on our ambitious visions for the house and land. We have ten chickens, some young fruit trees, a pathetic vegetable garden, and all the weeds a farmer could want. We also have some fields that I’d like to convert to more space for my kids (and their kids) to be able to run around and kick a ball. It’s a great start, and we are very excited. We love it, but it will be years before we are making good use of the space.
Second, I went to Europe. Two months after moving, I was able to join the Raggants on the trip to the U.K. and Normandy. A number of things impressed me there, which gave me encouragement to stay the course with my little farm. I was impressed that our going to look at really old things presupposed that those things were, in fact, built to last. The first site we really enjoyed was St. Paul’s Cathedral, which took a scant 35 years to build. We walked along Hadrian’s Wall, which is still standing after nearly 2000 years. We saw thousands of acres of farmland that took generations of cultivation to be free from stumps and rocks. We may be trapped in the current moment when looking at them, but they didn’t become presentable overnight.
Back to the farm, and particularly to those fields I need to clear. They are full of rocks. Thousands and thousands of rocks the size of golf balls that won’t grow grass, won’t feel nice underfoot, and will destroy a lawnmower. We are raking them up and shoveling them away. As I write this, we are about ten percent finished with the job. It’s going much slower than I thought it would, and one of my kids has referred to it as the toughest task she’s ever faced.
In a fast-paced society and a culture rife with immediate gratification, clearing a field of rocks by hand is good work. Part of me wants to rent a rock picker or to haul in 600 yards of topsoil to bury those rocks. But ten years from now, will I regret having cleared that field by hand? Probably not. Will my grandkids probably be glad I did? I think so.
Looking ahead to the school year before us, it’s helpful to be reminded that while children do grow up quickly, the work we are doing is not just for them. It’s for the current generation of Raggants and their kids….and their kids…and the communities in which they live. There is no quick fix, no power equipment that can do it for us. But if we do it well, maybe future generations will be able to look on our work – done in faith and with patience – and praise God for His grace to them.
In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul delivers a Tweetable one-liner: “[Y]ou are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” We belong to another. But man, do we ever love autonomy. Freedom-loving Americans cherish hotdogs and fireworks and baseball and not having to do anything we’re told.
The inescapable reality, however, is that we are all delegates. Call it stewardship, or faithfulness, or something else, but no matter what, we are all representatives of someone else in our various charges.
Teachers operate with parentally-delegated authority and responsibility when it comes to their students. They must bear this in mind when making pedagogical, disciplinary, and curricular decisions.
Parents operate with God-delegated authority and responsibility when it comes to their children. We must bear this in mind when we are training our children and pursuing their hearts.
I operate with Board-delegated authority and responsibility when it comes to the support of the teachers. I must bear this in mind when I stand before a parent, a community member, or the teachers.
We all represent someone else when we act…and when we don’t.
This also means that we are not the principal characters when it comes to most of the stories around us. N.D. Wilson has helpfully suggested that parents should purpose to operate as awesome support characters in their kids’ stories. You may be the main character in your own story, but even then you’re not the point; you’re the object lesson for celestial readers.
This may come as a bit of a curious sort of send-off for the school year, but let me ask you a few questions:
How would your summer look if you planned to be an amazing support character in the story God is writing about your child?
How would you plan your vacations if you removed your own personal preferences from the equation?
What would your work, leisure, and sleep schedule look like if you were to present a timecard to the Lord on August 31?
If you were mindful of your delegation of authority and responsibility to your children, how would you help them structure their days?
Then, when your kids say how much they hate their new schedule, how would you respond to them as God’s representatives? As support characters in their stories?
I could go on, but my reminder to us all (i.e., to myself first and then to the rest of you) is this: We are not our own. Shepherd your kids, spend your money, steward your bodies, plan your days, love your spouses, consume God’s word, and do your work as good delegates, as though you represent someone else…because you do.
The following are notes from Mr. Higgins charge to the 2023 graduates.
Good evening, graduates, their parents and families, school board and faculty, and guests. It is actually a blessing to me to have both the opportunity and the delight to speak to you tonight. There is no place I would rather be than right here, right now, with you.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t great places to go, other great places we could be. The post graduation get-togethers will be fun and your summers full and your falls and farther futures will take you to various and valuable fields for good work. But it’s not only appropriate to look back and thank God for what He has done, it is appropriate to look around and enjoy where God has you even in this moment.
It would be very easy to ruin our time by looking at the time, by counting down the minutes on the clock until we can get out. The minutes will pass, but we are filling the minutes with meaning on their way by.
Take a moment and mediate with me on the Aristotelian (probably) truism that you always are where you are, or more often phrased: wherever you go there you are. This is not sophomore dialectic, it is senior rhetoric. It’s life rhetoric. While it’s obviously true when the FBI is tracking the location services signal on your phone (unless your phone isn’t on you), the cliche is more about your character than your address. The cliche is so obvious that it’s a temptation to forget its force.
I asked ChatGPT to tell me about the phrase, “wherever you go there you are,” and the artificial intelligence explained it as being about “inner self awareness.” Really? Is that it?
Among the first few books I read about classical education is The Seven Laws of Teaching. I’ve read it a few times over the years, and it’s John Milton Gregory’s first rule that has left a deep groove in my mind. Gregory says,
“A highly effective teacher will love God, love life, love the students, and love the subject he teaches.”
A teacher thinking about what he teaches must start by thinking about loves. As C.S. Lewis put it, * docere et delectare, docere delectando*: “to teach and to delight, to teach by delighting.”
The great commandment is about love: love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, then love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said these two commandments summarize all the law. Our character is seen in our loves.
These are not about internal awareness but about affections expressed. These are not loves of self-reflection or self-fulfillment. They are loves that light up our current location, our present situation.
Our loves are to be present tense, we are loving, not future (we will love) or subjunctive (we might love). We love now, we love this neighbor/classmate/customer, and extended, we love them in this minute and in this place. We are not always grasping for the intangible “later” or “elsewhere.” If a teacher can’t bring his loves into his work and into the room, it creates boredom, if not abhorrence in the students.
“The teacher, feeling no fresh interest in his work, seeks to compel the attention he is unable to attract, and awakens disgust by his dullness and dryness where he ought to inspire delight by his intelligence and active sympathy.”
Because we can disobey, we can actually get around the cliche. It is possible to not be where you are, to go through the motions with little or no heart in them. It’s possible for a teacher, it’s possible for a student. It is possible to put one’s attention on a future time or a different place; “Senioritis” is a diagnosis of division: the parts aren’t all together.
This doesn’t mean you can’t pursue goals; goals are great. This doesn’t mean everything must stay the same forever; it won’t and it can’t. But it does mean that the impact you make as you walk toward your future and your goals will be different.
One of my top-five favorite books, all time and any genre, is The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Capon. There is no other book I’ve highlighted more than this so-called “cookbook.” You all read it just a couple months ago in your Capstone class. Though I haven’t talked to any of you seniors about it directly, I have been directly impacted by your reading of it, and not only in the presentation feast you all hosted last night. The whole school has smelled different.
Capon is the kind of cook (and author) who makes you wish you could sit down at his table because he loves what he sets on it for the sake of those sitting around it. We can’t fellowship over bread and cheese and puff pastries and lamb, but we do imagine ourselves settled in his kitchen and seeing his wry smile and asking for another glass of whatever he’s pouring. We want to be there because he wants to be there. He has loved the food so that we want to love it.
Whatever the ingredients were, something started simmering among you seniors in a way that lifted the aroma of the whole school campus. You were like butter and cream that thickened the laughter. You were like a splash of wine that made Matins more bright. You were like onions, not making others cry, but revealing more layers of what raggants can do.
In some ways you’ve saved the best for last. You are leaving ECS better, not because you’re leaving, but because you spent your last days not trying to be somewhere else.
Allow me to commend this mindset, this way of loving where you are, and recommend it to you as a strategic and potent lesson as you go on to other “Wheres.”
Young people are tempted to think they are wasting their lives if they aren’t where they think they could be. But it is more likely to waste your life that way, consumed with constantly thinking about where you’re not. Young people are tempted to think that their parents, and sometimes their teachers/school, are holding them back from something better. It is more likely that they are trying to give you beloved resources so that you can have something better. Those days of preparation aren’t wasted any more than the third inning of a nine-inning game, no more keeping you back from the “important” than dinner ruins dessert.
“There are more important things to do than hurry.” (Capon, Location 922)
It’s true with smoking meat and with some meals. You must not be chintzy with your proteins, or your presence. This is a kind of unreasonable hospitality, unreasonable because being a great host is about the heart, not the venue.
You are the class with the most years under their ECS belt, some of you for as long as ECS has existed, so 11 of your 13 years of school. Now you are done. You can get out and finally do what you want. And you will find that wherever you go, you will take some of here with you.
During your senior presentations one line was quoted from Capon more than any other. I love it as well.
“boredom is the fertilizing principle of unloveliness.” (Capon, Location 83)
So with that in mind, here is my charge to you. Last year I urged the seniors that they were too blessed to be stupid. To you, class of 2023, you are too loved to be bored. And not being bored is the same as loving where you’re at, which is the same as being where you are. Wherever you go, you know the the fertilizing principle of not trying to be somewhere else before it’s time. You have made ECS more lovely, and yourselves as a class, by being here. That is a potent, and delightful, lesson to love.
The following are notes from Mr. Higgins’ talk at the Fundraising Fiesta.
A principle is a first thing (derived from the Latin word princips which means “first, chief”) that serves as a foundation; you build on a principle, a (good) chain of reasons starts with a (good) principle. I learned a principle that started snowballing for me around the time that ECS started: thanksgiving is not something we fight for, thanksgiving is something we fight with. Thanksgiving isn’t the win, thanksgiving is a weapon in the war. It’s true with feasting as an expression of joyful gratitude. We share bread and wine, or tacos and cerveza, not because we’re finished, but as part of the fight. Laughter is not for when the battle is over; it’s not risus post bellum but risus est bellum.
So here’s the principle that we should keep in mind tonight: ECS is not something we fight for as much as something we fight with. We’re not simply trying to preserve the institution, we’re trying to spend it.
Of course I don’t mean that we are trying to go bankrupt and get out of the education business. Our fiesta tonight is a party to increase our resources, more locked arms and a more stocked arsenal/bank account. But we do need to know what we’re doing enough so that we never forget what we’re doing: commending the works of the Lord to another generation so that they will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.
A couple significant things have happened in the life of our school since the last time we feasted in this room. The Lord has provided us with owned space, our own classrooms and a not-closet-office where the headmaster can sit down with interested families or double check-marked students without banging kneecaps. We also found out that sprinklers would be almost twice as much as the quote we raised money toward, but there are still holes in our ceilings that give evidence of progress.
The second thing is that we arrived on the State’s radar, provoked by a pressing plea to the city council to deny our facility use permit. As word got around, the State Board of Education was not impressed that we had not secured their approval. As our school board agreed to help purchase a place that needed loving into more loveliness, so we agreed to submit to a over-reaching and bureaucratic process for sake of playing a longer game.
We know where we’re going to have classes next year, we know what immunization records are required and where to keep chemicals in the closest, and these a helpful because we have a lot of fighting left to do.
There are afflictions at every turn, antagonists without and apathy within. We haven’t come this far to put our feet up on the desk, we’re putting them down on the gas pedal, both of them.
One of our temptations as an institution is to get complacent and comfy because little kids in their mostly put-together uniforms are so darned cute. They are cute. It’s a hoot to hear Kindergarten sound-offs (and almost as much of a hoot to watch the army of proud parents in the back with phones out taking video of said sound-offs), to watch penmanship improve, to see their red-faces near the end of the Liden Mile run during first recess. And when they earn their marble party pajama read-in day, we smile widely and say, Well done. But this doesn’t mean we’re done. The age-appropriate reading speed and comprehension skills equip them for reading new WA state legislation 35 years later. You remember how it goes: “See Jay run. See Jay ignore science and data.”
There’s a derogatory term I’ve seen thrown around, at least on my Twitter timeline, about the “normies.” Normies are those who want to go back to the how it used to be when (it seemed like) everyone got along, when “boys will be boys” meant that they got their pants dirty not that they were groomed into buying tampons. But what so many so-called “normies” don’t seem to see as clearly, which we need to fix for sake of the following generation, is that “normal” is a theological category. Normal and natural depend on God who created nature and defines what is normal; if we don’t give Him credit He will give us up to folly and dishonor.
I do believe in what’s called common grace; God sends rain and sun on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). Non-Christians can (and do) get married, have kids, go on vacation, play sports, build bridges because they know 2+2=4. But they can only have those things and enjoy them if God is kind to them, and they will be judged by the Lord if they don’t thank Him. They are accountable for every good thing He gives.
But it was Christians who got all kinds of good and squandered their blessings as Christians. Christians received good without acknowledging Christ’s kindnesses or kingship in public. Christians acted indifferent about education, whether or not Jesus—as the One who made and who sustains it all—was named. Christians got complacent, we got fat in our feasting rather than using our feasting as fighting. The crazy all around us is because we didn’t honor Christ.
So ECS continues to press forward to the glory of Christ. The young kids are cute, but we’re not teaching raggants to be normies. They are not NPCs (non playable characters in the game). Each raggant is being equipped for his or her vocation/calling. We educate them so that when they are grown they can stand with their fathers, shoulder to shoulder, against enemies in the city gates. It’s why we have arrows on the ECS seal, not just because the headmaster likes archery.
“Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:4-5).
Mrs. Hall’s husband, Ryan, recommended a book at the beginning of the year, a book that our board chairman, Chuck, then read multiple times, and then Jonathan and Jim read it. Providentially most of our upperclassmen visited Canlis, a fine dining restaurant in the Queen Anne neighborhood, run by brothers, one of whom is mentioned in the book, Ureasonable Hospitality. Anyway, among many, this line stood out to me as a conscious concentration of our mission:
”the legacy we had charged ourselves with defending and extending.” (Location 1676)
We’re trying to do something unreasonable, not as in irrational, but as in exorbitantly special, which does include enjoying normal things giving explicit thanks to the Lord. We are not trying to be Christian normies, if that means being satisfied with cozy and covert rather than carrying and advancing Christ’s name.
We need more funds to do it. Playground equipment is fun, as it is a reset for memorizing science facts. We don’t want any student to mix up XX and XY because they didn’t get their wiggles out. It’s not so we can have our own little isolated safe-space to play, but for play and laughter as war. We’re all paying our taxes and tuition to try to pay teachers better, among a multitude of other costs.
Invest with us in the culture that honors Christ, everything else is crazy. We cherish the blessings of God to ECS, and may God bless ECS even more, not just by preserving her (as we fight for), but by making her formidable and potent in the fight (as we fight with).
The erratic weather and happy tulips agree with the calendar. It’s springtime. And the Fundraising Feast is just around the corner.
At ECS we are particularly fond of feasting, and for reasons we’ve documented in a host of contexts. But since it’s already teed up for me, I’ll take another swing. Feasting is an important cultural ingredient to what we are trying to build at ECS.
To be sure, feasting can be done badly. If we eat or drink to excess, we’re gluttons and drunkards. If we make the food the focus, we are focusing on the gifts, not the Giver. If we eat without gratefulness, we may be ingesting calories, but we’re not feasting.
But let me take the philosophical hot-air ballon up another hundred feet or so. Feasting is grace-saturated and it is fun. It is alluring to onlookers. It is a hallmark of a life worth wanting.
For our part, while we are (rather certainly and excitedly) a school, we are also more interested in being used by God to produce certain kinds of people than we are about producing intellectuals who may or may not love God. The sorts of people we are trying to produce will be aware that they have nothing that they have not received. And for what they have received, they are grateful…and they act like it.
When we act grateful, we boast in the Giver of the good gifts we enjoy. We tell any who are watching that God is gracious, and He is free with His grace. That means they can have it, too!
So our feasting is literally an evangelistic weapon. We showcase the goodness of God when we feast. We want for our fully-trained students to do this routinely…unto the salvation of their neighbors and the glory of God.
And in the end, it’s really fun. I love this evening with our people. The conversation, the music, the food, the sangria…. “SANGRIA?!” Oh! right. I haven’t mentioned what we’re doing this year.
This year, our Fundraising Feast may be better dubbed a “Fundraising Fiesta.” We will have a “fiesta bar.” And sangria. And probably Coronas. It’ll be delicious and, well, festive. Ole.
Come dressed for a party, and that’s what we’ll enjoy.
Whether we use Saxon or Harold Jacobs for math depends on how much review is enough and how much is too much. Whether we use Latin for Children or Lingua Latina for Latin grammar depends on what we want to get out of those particular hours of fourth grade. How completely we adhere to the Omnibus curriculum depends in part on whether we agree with postmillennialism.
But just as guns don’t kill people, books don’t teach students. Curriculum matters, but people matter more. The right curriculum can’t get bring a healthy culture; the right people can.
Humans are imitative creatures, and children are always being shaped by their influences. They are going to become like those influences, which is why the influences themselves matter, too.
For years we at ECS have talked about our aim as being the shaping of souls, the formation of character, and the transfer of culture. Our mission statement sums it up well; the telos of our work is the carrying and advancing of Christ-honoring culture by our fully-trained students.
From enrollment decisions to discipline conversations to teacher meetings to soccer in the parking lot to the actual minutes practicing math facts and Latin vocabulary and reading drills and impromptu speeches, our aim is cultural more than it is curricular.
I know of a lot of schools that have better procedures and more airtight policies than we do. They have processes for volunteer coordination and curricular review that are commendable and worth working to grow into. We need to work on all of that. But when schools lead with those things, I believe that they set the bar too low, and they set themselves up for failure.
You see, procedures and paperwork are easy to manufacture and replicate. They don’t require a soul. But if you work on developing the soul of an organization, then the other pieces often come with the package…if they actually need to.
Jesus said to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). If we seek first the culture of the school, the curriculum will take its proper place.
I understand the allure of the shiny things, but you can have a shiny floor in a shiny gymnasium, or shiny Mary Janes on cute little feet, and it matters not at all if you compromise culture to get it.
Let’s consider how this informs our teaching at ECS. I recently offered these thoughts to our teachers, but I will share them here for sake of your encouragement and perhaps for your own application as parents. When, for instance, you’re tempted to fuss about whether or not your son will master his times tables through the 12’s by the end of the year, or whether or not your daughter will pass all her reading drills, or whether you’re ever going to get through that pile of laundry, recall those things that you already know. Here are a few that offered to the teachers earlier this week:
You’re always teaching. Your behavior is instructive…more than your words. If you freak out or stress out or make excuses, you advance that as a legitimate option for your students. If you maintain a glad presence and you’re marked by joy despite circumstances, you advance that as a legitimate option, as well.
The gospel wasn’t your idea, but it is yours to own. As obedient Christians, you get to teach by faith. As you rehearse the gospel and enflesh it for your students and their families, you’ll be dying a thousand effectual deaths. You will die to your schedule by your thorough lesson planning and your timely grading. You will die to your own preferences as you put the students ahead of yourselves and serve them well. You’ll die to self in your over communication on email and Sycamore for the sake of your students and their parents. You will model faithful obedience in your loving discipline unto restored fellowship…even – and especially – when you don’t feel like it. And God will take those deeds of faith and obedience and bring glorious fruit.
The transfer of culture is more important than the transfer of information. If all you’re giving your students is information, data, and skills, you’re shortchanging them and missing the point of our mission as a school. You need to be concerned with equipping them (with tools, skills, attitudes, and the character) to shape the culture for Christ’s sake when they’re through with ECS…no matter where God has them.
Laughter is war. When in doubt, laugh. You can laugh as the right sort of taunt to your enemies. You can laugh because God is in control, writing a variously hilarious story that you get to be a part of…and that is different from the one you’d have written. You can laugh because it’s not about today. So when you’ve been faithful but the moment is frustrating or even terrible, that’s okay, because you’re aimed at something way down the road, and the pothole out of when you’re peering right now is part of the road you must navigate for now if you (or your students!) are ever going to reach your destination years from now.
Maybe one day we’ll have some shiny things, too. But it is not worth it if it comes at the expense of our culture. That is an important point to keep in mind now…in the thick of enrollment season.
As a school, if we are so focused on the curriculum, or programs to retain the students, or impressive facilities, or an actual playground, figuring that the culture will just work out, we miss the point. The same is true of you. Is a big house and fancy car to be preferred over a happy dinnertime vibe? No way. The culture WON’T just work out. You have to work it out.
Teachers and parents alike have to be fighting personal sin with a vengeance, repent before our children if necessary, be competent and confident and humble (all at the same time), gracious and patient and firm (all at the same time), and a loving disciplinarian.
And my final encouragement is this: Take a look around you and listen next time you’re walking past Mrs. Pakinas’ office, or eavesdropping on Mr. Liden’s class, or you pass a knot of secondary girls in the parking lot. What sort of cultural advancement is going on throughout the school day? It’s possible that some of it will not encourage you, but I’ll bet a lot of it will.
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.
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 Truth, Goodness, and Beauty considered to be transcendent. They are now regarded as fluid, along with things like definitions, gender, 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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.