Christian and Humanist Education – Part 1

Christian Humanism, the history and theory of, with a focus on the twentieth century. Starting with paul at Mars’ Hill through the Patristic period, Birzer will briefly discuss the meaning of the liberal arts in the formation of the Christian church – through the reformation. He will then focus on a number of (mostly) Christian thinkers key to understanding the humanities in an age of ideologies: Irving Babbitt; Paul Elmer More; Albert Jay Nock; Christopher Dawson; Romano Guardini; T.S. Eliot; Russell Kirk; and Stratford Caldecott. He will also give some time to the most damaging and influential ideologues of the past century and a half: Darwin; Marx; Spencer; Freud; and Nietzsche.

Brad Birzer

Brad Birzer is Russell Amos Kirk Chair in American Studies and Professor of History, Hillsdale College, Michigan. Author of several books, including his most recent, American Cicero: The life of Charles Carroll, Birzer writes frequently - in a variety of publications and through a variety of different venues - on liberal education, biography, western civilization, and American culture and history. Birzer is a Senior Fellow with ISI, Chairman of the Board of Academic Advisors for The Center for the American Republic and a Fellow with the University of Louisville's McConnell Center.

Christian and Humanist Education – Part 2

Christian Humanism, the history and theory of, with a focus on the twentieth century. Starting with paul at Mars’ Hill through the Patristic period, Birzer will briefly discuss the meaning of the liberal arts in the formation of the Christian church – through the reformation. He will then focus on a number of (mostly) Christian thinkers key to understanding the humanities in an age of ideologies: Irving Babbitt; Paul Elmer More; Albert Jay Nock; Christopher Dawson; Romano Guardini; T.S. Eliot; Russell Kirk; and Stratford Caldecott. He will also give some time to the most damaging and influential ideologues of the past century and a half: Darwin; Marx; Spencer; Freud; and Nietzsche.

Brad Birzer

Brad Birzer is Russell Amos Kirk Chair in American Studies and Professor of History, Hillsdale College, Michigan. Author of several books, including his most recent, American Cicero: The life of Charles Carroll, Birzer writes frequently - in a variety of publications and through a variety of different venues - on liberal education, biography, western civilization, and American culture and history. Birzer is a Senior Fellow with ISI, Chairman of the Board of Academic Advisors for The Center for the American Republic and a Fellow with the University of Louisville's McConnell Center.

Writing in the Grammar School

This workshop will focus on using several types of literature (narratives, myths, legends, fables, poetry) to help grammar-aged students write. The workshop is designed to generate engaging ideas that help students use the richness of the language by writing in various ways (pre-progymnasmata exercises). This workshop will be helpful for first through fifth grade classes.

Tammy Peters

Tammy Peters and her husband, Hud, have four children. Their oldest daughter recently was married last fall and their youngest just obtained his driver's license. Tammy has thirteen years teaching experience in classical Christian education. In her teaching career, she has taught in all the elementary grades, has been a district reading specialist, and has instructed both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Tammy presently teaches third grade and is the Assistant to the Grammar School Principal at Mars Hill Academy, Cincinnati, OH. She has also written English grammar curriculum.

Classical Christian Education from the Scientific Revolution to STEM

From Voltaire in the 1700s to the 21st century polemicists and even federal judges, the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century has been interpreted as a move to explain the world as mechanical and godless. In fact, the most important figures in this movement were classically educated Christians. Classical Christian Education is still important for teaching STEM subjects today.

Christian Kopff

E. Christian Kopff was educated at St. Paul’s School (Garden City NY), Haverford College and UNC, Chapel Hill (Ph. D., Classics). He has taught at the University of Colorado, Boulder, since 1973, and most currently as Associate Director of the Honors Program. He has edited a critical edition of the Greek text of Euripides’ Bacchae (Teubner, 1982) and published over 100 articles and reviews on scholarly, pedagogical and popular topics. A Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, he has received research grants from the NEH and CU’s Committee on Research. The Devil Knows Latin: Why America Needs the Classical Tradition (ISIBooks, 1999) is widely cited by Classical Christian educators. He translated Josef Pieper, Tradition: Concept and Claim (ISIBooks, 2008; St. Augustine’s, 2010) and contributed the Introduction to Herbert Jordan’s translation of Homer’s Iliad (Oklahoma UP, 2008).

The Big Challenge: Can We Beat the Rising Cost of Christian Schooling?

Retiring Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) President Ken Smitherman is sounding the alarm. According to a study of ACSI tuition statistics, over the past twenty years ACSI member school costs have risen an average of five percent a year.

(Quick math: At these rates, a $3,000 tuition in 1988 now costs more than $7,500—a 152% in- crease. Compare that rate of increase with the Consumer Price Index, which rose an average of 3.06% per year during the same period. If ACSI tuition costs had held to the CPI, a $3,000 tuition would be just over $5,300—a 77% increase.)

“Given recent economic trends,” says Smitherman, “these tuition rates are not sustainable.” Affordability, he says, is one of five critical challenges facing the Christian school movement in the next decades. In his 60-minute workshop, he discusses finances for more than half the time.

And Smitherman’s concern is not isolated. In a recent blog, National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) President Pat Basse noted the fol- lowing:

  1. Schools that have experienced a downturn in applications and/or “pushback” from parents on tuition increases have reached their “price-break point” and should consider moderating tuition increases in the future. Some of these will consider freezing tuition or even reducing tuitions. All will likely effectively reduce tuitions for a larger proportion of current and future families by increasing financial aid.

  2. The 25-year average trend of CPI+3 (Consumer Price Index, plus three percentage points) is unsustainable for much longer and…financial sustainability for the future would recommend much more modest increases.

The current crisis might recommend, even for schools with continued strong admis- sions indicators, a more modest increase in tuition than in the past — as acknowledgment to the anxiety parents are feeling about their own capacity to pay and give. A data point to consider here: 2007 was the first year since 1966 when family income for the top 5 percent actually declined. And 2008 is certain to be another such year, probably a much greater decline.

In general, ACSI and NAIS represent two ends of the socioeconomic spectrum of American private schools. Both models, however, are feeling an identical pinch.

On the one hand, ACSI schools have more typically appealed to parents on the basis of affordable pricing. Many ACSI schools advertise tuition in monthly increments—the message being that families can figure out how to afford private education on the same terms as they justify car payments or the Christmas savings club.

The parents who first enrolled their children in ACSI schools in the 1960s and 1970s were mostly the product of public schools. As public schools became increasingly secular, they opted for the new Christian schools with public school equivalent academics, gaining the bonus of Christian faculty, Bible study, and devotional activities. Despite
near universal efforts to control costs through low salaries and other “efficiencies,” however, tuition continues to balloon.

NAIS schools tend to appeal to more affluent families for whom private schooling is an automatic expectation. Old boarding schools with historic reputations are the backbone of the NAIS tradition, and the distinctive culture of each school is its main attractive feature. As you can infer from Basse ’s comments above, there has been a natural expectation among many NAIS member schools that private education is expensive and mainly for those families who can afford the rapidly rising costs. If you apply the above mentioned CPI+3 formula to the 20-year inflation average, NAIS school prices have risen by an average of greater than 6% each year. (At that rate, a $7,000 tuition in 1988 would now be $21,408—a 206% increase.)

Perhaps no more.

Before we start accusing private schools of mismanagement or malfeasance, it is important to remember that there are legitimate economic reasons for these costs. Research by Independent School Management, Inc. has associated the cost of running private schools with cost structures in other service industries. The problem with services like education, social work, legal, etc. is that technology cannot decrease costs and increase productivity to the extent possible in manufacturing and other industry sectors. Our basic delivery method is people. The longer they are with us and the more value they contribute to our schools, the more expensive they get.

So, what will we do? If even wealthy families are nearing the break-point on how much they are willing to spend on tuition, where does that leave the rest of us? There are at least two areas which many schools could focus on to begin to alleviate the mounting stress.

Pricing and Value

Since most school budgets are heavily dependent on tuition, it is unrealistic to expect that Christian schooling will somehow become less expensive over time. However, it is worth considering both how well the program is supported by our tuition structures and the impact on families over time.

If we think outside of the typical tuition box, we can spread the cost of quality education to reduce both the short-term cost crunch and to lessen the impact of cost increases over time. In the past three years, I have worked with schools that have been willing to address this challenge head-on. The results have been to strengthen the value to parents and to predict more manageable tuition increases.

In the midst of record state budget deficits, there is also an opportunity for Christian school to demonstrate superiority over public school offerings. California is poised to lay off 20,000 state workers, one result of which will be reduced staffing and deep programming cuts. Private schools will continue to offer art, music, and other educationally vital programs. All of a sudden, the qualitative difference between “free” education that is susceptible to economic shifts or legislative mismanagement and private schooling that enriches and shapes students consistently is evident.

Leveraging the Right Things

When examining a school’s finances, I frequently encounter operational costs associated with unfunded capital projects or budget deficits. I’m not a debt hawk, but I have been shocked recently by the extent to which heads and boards are willing to leverage their schools’ assets and growth projections. The days of easy credit may be gone for now, but in my view, easy money for schools is a slippery slope that both drives up costs and puts a school’s entire mission at risk.

It is also often true that a heavily mortgaged school has not learned to raise money on the basis of its mission. Developing a prevailing attitude of investment in mission within a school community takes effort, patience, and considerable skill. A school that has been making ends meet with fish fries and magazine sales will likely not be able to instantly generate the commitment and enthusiasm necessary for a multi-million dollar campaign.

If we cut corners with credit, we exacerbate the inflationary pressure that seems to be putting so many schools at risk. Board financial policies need to spell out the tolerance for debt maintenance in our operating budgets. Percentages of total debt to annual revenue need to be defined. And we need to learn to ask people to give to the reason that we exist—our mission. If I did not believe in the value of authentic Christian education to students, families, the church, and our culture, recent financial trends might make me more anxious. As it is, however,
I have a great deal of confidence in the future of Christian education. But we must face reality, and we must respond with creative plans and the determination to do what we do with greater attention to excellence than ever before.

Parris Island for the Soul: The Prophetic Schools That Christian Student Need

It seems that life is a drinking bout rather than a war. We clothe ourselves with boudoir trappings rather than armor. Ease and self-indulgence are everywhere preferred to the rigors of military preparedness. We practice on the peaceful harp rather than
on the weapons of warfare, unaware that this sort of peace is the most terrible of all wars.”
— Erasmus

“Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” — St. Paul

“Ever since boot camp, I have believed that life itself is much like combat. Life is a struggle to wrest success from the odds favoring failure and to achieve the satisfaction of overcoming the spiritual and physical challenges that confront the individual striving to be all that he can be, striving to make the world a better place for his loved ones of today and his descendents of tomorrow.” — Zell Miller

Low Expectations

Men are turned into Marines at two locations: Parris Island, South Carolina and San Diego, California. (Female Marine recruits go to Parris Island.) Each year approximately 38,000 Marines receive their basic training, which is far more intellectually and physically rigorous than comparable training in other branches of the military. Most Marines
acknowledge that these twelve weeks are the most difficult thing they ever have had to do in their entire lives. By training, tradition, and triumph, Marines are the elite fighting men and women of the United States Armed Forces. And yet wise drill sergeants warn new recruits that though basic training is hard, it’s not nearly as hard as being a Marine. The training, for all of its intensity, is only training. The real combat—the goal of all the hard work—is still ahead. By contrast, most Christian education does not prepare students for any kind of combat—mental, spiritual, or physical. Parental expectations for the academic discipleship their children need is low, presumably because they are naïve about the character of postmodern culture and the spiritual dangers of the college life their children will soon face. Michael Spencer, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, chides, “Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism.” Week by week, in church youth groups across the country, teens play games. The objective is fun, not disciplined preparation. Pastors, youth group leaders, parents and educators routinely celebrate adolescent immaturity. More often than not, we stunt our kids’ growth, then decry the results.

Acceptance of chronic immaturity is a biblical scandal when one remembers that a sixteen-year-old Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the traditional exemplar of mature discipleship: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38) Clearly, it is time to get serious about discipleship and to expect more from our children and students. Coddling and rescuing has become a form of worldliness. It’s time for them to grow up, to assume responsibility, and to prepare for battle. Playtime is over.

Dorothy Sayers reminded parents in the 1940s that this has not always been the case:

When we think about the remarkably early age at which the young men went up to university in, let us say, Tudor times [14-16 years old], and thereafter were held to assume responsibility for the conduct of their own affairs, are we altogether comfortable about that artificial prolongation of intellectual childhood and adolescence into the years of physical maturity which is so marked in our day? To postpone the acceptance of responsibility to a late date brings with it a number of psychological complications, which, while they may interest the psychiatrist, are scarcely beneficial either to the individual or to society.

Of course, there is a time for children to be children, but there is nothing particularly noble about infancy or child-like behavior. For example, self-will and instant gratification are traits tolerated in babies, but intolerable in adults. Romanticism’s notions of the “noble savage” or “innocent child” are unbiblical. Jesus called his disciples to trust like children but to think and act like adults. God want us to have, writes C.S. Lewis, “a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at the job, and in first class fighting trim.”

Christians should be able to discern evil and persevere under peer pressure: “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness and in deceitful scheming.” (Ephesians 4:14) So the goal of childrearing is adult maturity, not a protracted, protected, and praised immaturity. The writer to first century Hebrew Christians laments prolonged spiritual immaturity:

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. [emphasis mine] (Hebrews 5:11-14)

Spiritual growth is expected of every believer. If immaturity persists, something is amiss.

A worthwhile benchmark for children’s development is a close examination of Jesus’ own example at twelve, notably the only description of Jesus that we have during his early childhood. Here on the cusp of adulthood (children were assumed to be adults as they entered into their teenage years) we see Jesus taking ownership of his beliefs, passionate about kingdom service, entering into prolonged conversations with adults about things that mattered, asserting growing independence even while maintaining a respect for the authority of his parents. (Luke 2:41-52) Why should we expect less from our sixth graders?

Wartime Footing

We must acknowledge that we are in a battle and that the priorities in our lives must be ordered on the basis of a wartime footing. A new recruit at Parris Island knows well that he will likely be facing hostile fire within weeks. The training moves his attention immediately from the casual to the crucial, with three effects on his attitude.

First, the recruit assumes responsibility for his own preparation. His life and the lives of his comrades will soon be on the line. His commitment to proficiency provides more than rank or a paycheck. Commitment forms core values like honor and duty. All Marines know that they will soon be assigned a task that they alone are able to fulfill and that it must be carried out to the best of their ability, because lives will be at stake.

Until we see Christian schooling in the same light as Marine training, it will not receive the parental support or student attention it rightfully demands. If we truly live on the basis of our beliefs, then those who shape beliefs shape our destiny. Schooling forms a student’s mind and heart. Dallas Willard emphasizes this point: When we bring people to believe differently, they really do become different. One of the greatest weaknesses in our teaching and leadership today is that we spend so much time trying to get people to do things good people are supposed to do, without changing what they really believe…. We frankly need to do much less of this managing of action, and especially with young people. We need to concentrate on changing the minds of those we would reach and serve.

And yet we regularly send unprepared students into spiritually dangerous environments, like sending Cub Scouts to fight forest fires. We routinely send spiritually and intellectually ill-prepared students into university classrooms and dorm brothels that take no prisoners. Our aim must not be isolation from the battle, but adequate preparation for it.

Second, the successful Marine accepts the rigor of the training because of the nature of the coming combat. The measure of the training is dictated by the expected nature of the challenge and the capabilities of one’s foe. Here is a description of our spiritual adversary: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12) These adversaries make the terrorists and armies Marines face look like toy soldiers.

Yet Christian parents and educators play games with training because they really do not take what we are up against seriously. We flirt with sin. We taunt the Devil. We let our guard down. When in fact we should be spiritually armed (Ephesians 6:13-17), resistant (James 4:7), and alert (1 Peter 5:8). The fact that we are more than conquerors in Christ (Romans 8:37) must not lull us into complacency or delude us into thinking that we don’t need preparation. “Train yourself to be godly,” Paul charges Timothy. (1 Timothy 4:7) In the heat of battle, automatic responses save lives.

Third, the recruit understands the relevance of the training, because it is tailored to the hardest test he or she will face. Likewise, our students’ training must be spiritually sensitive, academically savvy, and socially relevant. We need to ready them for real engagement against the greatest intellectual challenges of postmodernism and against the greatest social challenges of hedonistic nihilism.

Parents and educators need to face the reality of adolescent life: watch Catherine Hardwicke’s movie “Thirteen,” Emily Abt’s movie “Toe to Toe,” read Abigail Jones and Marissa Miley’s Restless Virgins, Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons, the transcript of the PBS documentary “The Lost Children of Rockdale Country.” Learn about the mostly fictitious world of “rainbow parties,” and log on to www.myspace.com. Journalist Caitlin Flanagan writes in The Atlantic, “I believe that we are raising children in a kind of post-apocalyptic landscape in which no forces beyond individual households—individual mothers and fathers—are protecting children from pornography and violent entertainment.”

What did we think we were up against? We need to get our head out of our super-spiritual clouds and honestly address what our children face. Yes, these movies and books are R-rated, but so is their world.

Some well-meaning Christians will immediately appeal to verses such as Philippians 4:8 to counter this recommendation: “Finally, brothers, what is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” This verse, however, is not a prohibition against engagement. These are the guidelines necessary for it. Denis Haack writes:

The apostle is not giving us a checklist by which to measure our involvement with the non-Christian world. Neither is he giving us a justification for withdrawing from the people and culture of Babylon. He is rather commending—and commanding—the development of a fully Christian mind and heart and imagination. When he tells us to “think about such things,” he is using a word, which means to meditate and reflect on, to contemplate, with the result that what is meditated upon becomes so much a part of us that it molds our thinking, our doing, and our feeling. In other words, he is teaching us what is necessary to prepare us to engage the culture and people of Babylon with the gospel, without compromising, and without being seduced by Babylonian ideas and values. Too many Christian schools attempt the impossible task of isolating students from secular culture rather than the fully accomplishable goal of preparing them for secularism’s challenges. Philosopher Nicholas Wolterstor suggests that if educators want to get students to follow a particular course of moral action, disciplining behavior based on rules or providing positive role models is not enough. Rather, compelling reasons must be demonstrated to them in the light of the alternative. He writes, “The best defense against attacks on the consensus (truisms) of one’s community is inoculation—presenting and then refuting arguments against the elements of that consensus. Inoculation is far more effective than no defense at all, or reassuring defenses which never so much as mention objections.” Christian schools should equip students for every challenge they may face in the classroom or in the dorm room—from a professor espousing “incredulity to metanaratives” to being “sexiled” by one’s roommate. We must inculcate a confidence in the gospel’s ability to face all comers, rather than a defensiveness that hides behind a compartmentalized piety. We must teach them to follow the clarion call of J. Gresham Machen when he wrote, The Christian cannot be satisfied so long as any human activity is either opposed to Christianity or out of all connection with Christianity. Christianity must pervade not merely all nations, but also all of human thought. The Christian, therefore, cannot be indifferent to any branch of earnest human endeavor. It things,” he is using a word, which means to meditate and reflect on, to contemplate, with the result that what is meditated upon becomes so much a part of us that it molds our thinking, our doing, and our feeling. In other words, he is teaching us what is necessary to prepare us to engage the culture and people of Babylon with the gospel, without compromising, and without being seduced by Babylonian ideas and values. Too many Christian schools attempt the impossible task of isolating students from secular culture rather than the fully accomplishable goal of preparing them for secularism’s challenges. Philosopher Nicholas Wolterstor suggests that if educators want to get students to follow a particular course of moral action, disciplining behavior based on rules or providing positive role models is not enough. Rather, compelling reasons must be demonstrated to them in the light of the alternative. He writes, “The best defense against a acks on the consensus (truisms) of one’s community is inoculation—presenting and then refuting arguments against the elements of that consensus. Inoculation is far more effective than no defense at all, or reassuring defenses which never so much as mention objections.” Christian schools should equip students for every challenge they may face in the classroom or in the dorm room—from a professor espousing “incredulity to metanaratives” to being “sexiled” by one’s roommate. We must inculcate a confidence in the gospel’s ability to face all comers, rather than a defensiveness that hides behind a compartmentalized piety. We must teach them to follow the clarion call of J. Gresham Machen when he wrote, The Christian cannot be satisfied so long as any human activity is either opposed to Christianity or out of all connection with Christianity. Christianity must pervade not merely all nations, but also all of human thought. The Christian, therefore, cannot be indifferent to any branch of earnest human endeavor. It Know I Learned in the Marines, former Georgia Governor Zell Miller suggests that all Americans need to go back to basic training to relearn the values of neatness, punctuality, brotherhood, persistence, respect, shame, responsibility, achievement, courage, discipline, pride, and loyalty. A free society, he argues, demands broader “characteristics, which constitute the difference between a responsible and contributing human being and an unconscionable savage bent upon taking or destroying whatever they want that they are unable or unwilling to earn for themselves.”

Educators speak of outcome-based education, so what are the routine outcomes we expect to see demonstrated in the lives and capabilities of our classical Christian school graduates? I’ll argue for these six, framed in the language of “prophetic” schools.

1. A prophetic school graduate will think and live out of a Christian worldview rooted in historic, biblical orthodoxy.
2. A prophetic school graduate will demonstrate apprenticeship to Jesus by having a detailed understanding of and plan for spiritual formation.

3. A prophetic school graduate will have a cultivated mind that maximizes his or her intellectual potential in service of truth.

4. A prophetic school graduate will have a captivated imagination in service of meaning and empathy.
5. A prophetic school graduate will have an understanding of the doctrine of calling and a personal sense of how his or her identity and gifts can be used in kingdom service.

6. Finally, a prophetic school graduate will have a global perspective that sees the gospel mandate and the world’s need in its broadest creational context.

Thriving Not Surviving

I believe that this is more than idealistic pap. Throughout my career as a teacher and administrator, students have embodied all of these characteristics. I know their names and can see their faces.

They are my inspiration. It can be done, though too often such students are the exception not the rule. My fear is that it doesn’t happen more often because we don’t expect it to happen. But, if the Marines in twelve weeks can turn a 19-year-old teenager into a combat-ready adult, I do not see why Christian schools, empowered as they are with the resources of the kingdom of heaven, cannot in twelve years turn boys and girls into “Special Forces” in kingdom service.

Our graduates face a society in which Christianity is seldom more than an afterthought—been there done that, so “last year.” They face a world in which objective truth is cast aside as mere social convention or personal opinion. They face a world in which casual sex is de rigour and tolerance for gender confusion a virtue. They face a world in which personal peace and affluence has debased the American dream into a non-stop shopping spree.

Since 2001, the only religious group that grew in every U.S. state was people who say they have “no religion,” about 15% of Americans. But of those between the ages of 16-29, the number jumps to 40% who no longer self-identify as Christians.

And, still, too often the average Christian high school graduate wanders into college life mirroring these cultural values, ill-prepared to make a kingdom difference. Parents and teachers pray that they will survive, when our goal should be that they thrive. Until we believe it is possible, until we believe that the gospel demands nothing less, until we create prophetic schools, the cultural status quo will prevail and the truth, goodness, and beauty of the gospel will remain irrelevant and ineffective.

Christian schools are sitting on the front lines of what amounts to a civilizational crisis. What we do for our students matters in more ways than we can imagine.

Learning to Live in Reality

An answer to this question needs to first address underlying assumptions: What is the purpose of Christian education? What is the nature of truth? What is the gospel? What is required of discipleship?

The purpose of Christian education is to equip students with a Christian mind – a true understanding of reality and how to successfully live within it. This means more than just knowing a biblical worldview. It also means being given a compelling vision of the good life and how to appropriate right here and now the resources of heaven. Spiritual formation is not optional— something to be added or subtracted from the curriculum. It is the culmination of all the factors that go into shaping what a person loves, what they trust or rely on, and who they follow. Both Pope Benedict and the Al-Quaeda operative are being spiritually formed. The only difference is to what. So the first thing to acknowledge is that every school, including the notorious government schools, is involved in spiritual formation.

The truth we teach is more than cognitive. It includes reason and imagination, being and doing. We must shun all forms of dualism that pits the academic knowledge against spiritual depth, smarts against piety, excellence against devotion.

Many parents, administrators, and teachers struggle with this question because of two factors. First, they have naively assumed the Enlightenment dualism of fact vs. value: science is about objective facts; religion is about subjective values. This is a lie from the pit of hell—and one that is celebrated and assumed by all public school education. Since many of our teachers have been trained by these institutions as have most of our parents, this assumption, though false, is common. When the Bible says that the way up is down, it carries the same epistemic force as the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The good, true and beautiful are all based on objective norms whether couched in the language of the liturgy or the lab.

Second, they have naively assumed a truncated gospel that only addresses the sin problem but leaves out much of life. By reducing the gospel message to fall and redemption, we have adopted a message that gets people into heaven and fails to get heaven into people. Many Christian parents want the Christian school to simply provide a long altar call in a safe place. If at the same time the school can keep their child from publicly shaming them with an embarrassing pregnancy or drug and alcohol arrest, so much the better. Most Christian schools gladly oblige to focusing more on overt behavior than the heart condition. With enough administrative coercion, students’ heart realities can be faked until they leave for college.

If the gospel, however, includes creation and restoration (in addition to fall and redemption), then a fully orbed discipleship is in view. And true discipleship connects Sunday to Monday, the head to the heart, and the sacred to the secular. The mission of the Christian school emerges as understanding God’s good creation and the ways sin has distorted it, so that, in Christ’s power, we may bring healing to both people and the created order. And, as God’s image-bearers, we are able to exercise responsible authority in our task of cultivating the creation to the end that all people and things joyfully acknowledge and serve their Creator and true King.

All living things depend for their existence on a reality larger than themselves. This is a fact of life. It is not enough to teach our students the nature of reality without teaching them how to live successfully within it. Our goal for our students is that they become apprentices of Jesus, thereby becoming the kind of person whose lives are dependent on the resources of heaven. Our aim is not merely to create believers, but followers.

Central in our Christian schools must be a curriculum in Christ-likeness and a school culture that encourages reflection on Jesus’ priorities and character. The crisis of the church today is mirrored in Christian schools. It does not lack evangelism; it lacks an understanding of and commitment to discipleship. Competencies in spiritual formation are just as important as competencies in language and math.

We must take care in our schools not to produce modern day Pharisees, those who know Scripture but lack its transforming power. To be truly educated is to know the truth about reality and how to live life on the basis of it. And in the end, reality is relational. To teach that knowledge can somehow be segregated into compartments is to deny the lordship of Christ over all of life—a lordship which demands more than getting all the facts straight, and which demands a daily reliance on a spiritual power that is beyond us.

Dallas Willard observes, “Spiritual persons are not those who engage in certain ‘spiritual practices,’ but those who draw their life from
a conversational relationship with God. Thus they do not live their lives merely in terms of the human order in the visible world. They have ‘a life beyond.’” If flowers wither without a life beyond, so will our students. We are dishonest about the nature of reality if we exclude such information from our instruction.

Giving Birth to the Counter-Culture

I am glad to be invited into this conversation, but I need to make it clear up front that I am the Christian leader of a school instead of the leader of a Christian school – I head up a Classical Core Knowledge Charter School. While I know many might be curious about what I can add to this conversation because of the limitations that I have a public school, I do believe that the formation of the child’s spirit plays a central role in the mission/vision of our school.

My emphasis on formation, however, is implicitly shaped through the story offered through exposure to the Western tradition as discussed by the teachers and staff in the school community. Formation is also reinforced through the distinct nature (i.e., rituals and traditions) of the community.

While I started my teaching career in a private, Christian school, I subsequently decided to see if I could make an institutional impact in the public school world. Four years ago I became principal of an urban charter school. When I first looked at the academic standing of the students that registered to attend my schools, I realized that these kids had been truly let down by the district-run public schools. I would have to ensure that academic excellence was a central component of our school’s culture if these kids were going to have a chance of becoming well-educated, virtuous citizens in their community.

Part of my hope for the project came from the fact that I myself had grown up in these neighbor- hoods and was able to escape as a result of great mentors who stepped into my life. Solid educational opportunities ultimately enabled me to get into and graduate from a very strong college in the Northeast, something that had not been done in my family to that point. As I reflected on my journey, I tried to look for other examples of success in the black community that ran counter to the current malaise in urban public schools that we read about weekly. I was overjoyed when I started to read about amazing work that the American Missionary Association (AMA) did the Southern blacks following the Civil War. The AMA, out of the Northeast, sent groups of teachers to establish schools and to teach and acculturate the children of freed slaves into new possibilities that didn’t exist for them before.

By 1866 there were about 1,400 Northern white teachers teaching black children in 975 Southern schools. The classical education that these teachers brought, provided a solid foundation in the English language while also exposing students to the broad range of stories in the Western tradition. Through these stories, former black slaves were able to gain a perspective on their situation that they had never had before. With this perspective they gained a new sense of hope and courage to face their situation as newly freed citizens.

One of the success stories from this period was Mary Jane Patterson, whose family emigrated from North Carolina to Ohio before the Civil War. Patterson graduated from Oberlin College in 1862 and became the first Principal of Preparatory High School for Colored Youth—later renamed Dunbar High School—in Washington, DC. While most women were not allowed to take Latin, Greek, and mathematics in college, she insisted on taking these courses and brought her strength and determination into her job at Dunbar. Having this kind of person shaping the standards and traditions of the school in its early years undoubtedly had something to do with its later success. The school continued to attract high-achieving black leaders. Three of the school’s first ten principals had graduated from Oberlin, two from Harvard, and one each from Amherst and Dartmouth.

Over the entire 85-year history of academic success in this school, from 1870 to 1955, most of its graduates went on to higher education. This was very unusual for either black or white high school graduates during that era. It is also important to note that not only did Dunbar students go on to college, but many of them became successful, ground- breaking leaders. The first black man to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy came from Dunbar. The first black enlisted man in the army to rise to become a commissioned officer also came from this institution. So did the first black woman to receive a PhD from an American university. And the first black full professor at a major American university. The first black federal judge, the first black general, the first black Cabinet member, the first black senator elected since Reconstruction, the doctor who pioneered the use of blood plasma, historian Carter G. Woodson, poet Sterling Brown, and Duke Ellington, all attended Dunbar High.

What is amazing to me about this story of academic success and student formation is that they did this during a time when there were supposedly no doors open to blacks in the broader culture. Because of their excellence, though, they opened doors that previously did not exist. These stories stand in stark contrast to the low academic standards prevalent in many urban centers, and at Dunbar High School today.

To recover some of the academic and moral excellence that arose in the black community in the last century, I focused first on hiring excellent teachers who knew their content more than their educational psychology. But their intellect alone would not be able to do the job. Like the AMA teachers, the teachers I hired would also need to be living examples of moral excellence so that their students could see the qualities that we sought for them to acquire. I also worked very hard to develop strong rituals and traditions in the school community that reinforced a sense of “we” versus “me” while also providing for regular opportunities to publicly celebrate the embodiment of our core values in particular students.

I realized, despite all of the effort to build a haven of academic excellence, I needed to make sure that we were truly helping our students to become “fully human.” Glimpses of success in this area became evident in conversations with sixth graders as they debated some of the moral issues in The Prince and the Pauper or when seventh graders discussed what it means to be “authentic” in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

I truly believe that the various works from the western tradition that we exposed our students to did make a great impact on many of our students, if not all equally. For once they were able to see a world beyond the videos of BET and the Hip-Hop music that permeates their iPods. For once, they could let down their cynical and jaded attitude toward the world and explore questions of truth, beauty, and goodness in a setting where it was cool to be somewhat intellectual.

One of the best indications for me of the formative impact we had on students took place with the enrollment of new students. As these new students came on board the existing students felt it was their responsibility to acclimate the new students into
the unique culture that they had helped to build at our school. While I would love to say that massive cultural changes took place within the doors of my school, they did not. But I am very proud of the tremendous progress that I saw in the young men and women, and amongst the staff and students who worked so hard to build a counter-culture in Washington.

Could Dorothy Sayers Join SCL

Douglas Wilson is right. In his review of Wisdom and Eloquence on the preceding pages, he says that every school must decide where they stand with respect to Dorothy Sayers’ characterization of classical education. He details his own successful experience with and support of Sayers’ model while summarizing the authors’ fundamental disagreement. So with a founder and current board member of SCL, Robert Littlejohn, joining with a former SCL board member, Charles Evans, to spearhead one philosophical camp while the other is led by the man whose book, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, triggered the modern classical and Christian movement, where exactly does SCL stand?

On the sidelines, applauding loudly.

SCL is not a proponent of one viewpoint. Rather, we are facilitators of discussion and debate. SCL is a professional society with membership open to individuals involved in classical, Christ-centered education. Many of our members are educators in ACCS schools and hold views of classical learning quite similar to those expressed by Mr. Wilson. Our goal is to offer an opportunity for professional classical educators to compare their various viewpoints, share the variety of their experiences, learn from each other and challenge each other—much as we expect our students to do in our class- rooms.

So as you read the preceding article, whether you found yourself nodding along with Mr. Wilson or with Dr. Littlejohn and Mr. Evans, you will find like minded educators among the ranks of the SCL member- ship. You will also find intelligent, experienced, passionate educators on the other side, eager to debate.

At SCL, that’s what we call a good time and we think Dorothy Sayers would have agreed.

Promoting Our Differences

Professional observers of the living world (Ecologists) agree that members of the same species compete for limited natural resources such as food or shelter materials when they occupy the same physical location. But ecologists have long debated whether members of different species compete with one another for such resources within the same habitat. Whether this “inter-specific” competition exists or not, it is evident that individuals can best coexist in the same habitat if they occupy different niches. So it is with schools.

The stark reality is that the demand of students and parents seeking private education in any area is limited. However, within that limited supply there exists a continuum of educational needs, and each school must clearly understand and clearly articulate its particular niche in order to attract and keep its share of families.

The key to competing successfully in the private school market is not to be unique. This term can frighten families who want the stability of a school that implements best practices learned from similar
schools. Rather, the key is to articulate your differences in terms that are easily shared—student to student and soccer mom to soccer mom. Word of mouth will always be your best marketing, so ll those mouths with expressions that both speakers and hearers can understand and appreciate.

This has been particularly difficult for classical, Christian schools. To say we are “Christian” lumps us into a category of schools whose missions and niche might be very different than ours. To say we are “classical” means something different to everyone. Saying we are “Trivium-based” usually further confuses prospective parents, and few within our schools understand or can explain the method.

It falls to every school to determine what really makes it different and to articulate that difference in the simplest language. Distill your distinctives to a sentence fragment, followed by no more than 8 bullet points. Use the best pictures you can find to illustrate your points on your website and in print.

Schools often forget two important targets in their marketing strategies: the families you already have (internal marketing = retention) and teenagers. The easiest student to enroll is the student you already have, but current families need regular reminders of the great education their child is getting through samplings of what their children are learning and data.

Many schools are terrified of a mass exodus when students reach that age when parents begin to give way to their children’s wishes about school choice. Yet most marketing efforts target parents with pictures of sweet, uniform- clad second graders reading a book with their grandmotherly teacher. Rising high-schoolers form an equally important target audience and the way to a teen’s heart is through a school culture that attracts and holds them.

Relationships are the key to the attractive school culture, especially in the middle and upper grades. It should be clear to every student that their teachers support them and care about their academic and personal success, both in and out of the classroom. Soliciting and responding to student input on school culture issues goes a long way toward building student satisfaction.

These marketing and cultural components don’t happen accidentally. The school that wants to attract and retain students will develop its culture and its marketing strategies intentionally.