Education: Thinking All the Way Down and Not Getting Offended

So there was this guy named Leonardo da Vinci, and he did some pretty great things. Just about everyone ever thinks he was about the biggest genius in history, and that he changed the world. During his life, he said this:

"Nothing can be loved or hated unless it is first understood."

When it comes to parenting and education (which are the same thing half the hours of the day), I think we've got to get what Leo said right. We have to teach our kids to suspend judgment until they actually understand something. Then, once they understand it, the next step is to show them that they really don't, they've only understood what they want to understand. They should hit the books again. They should talk more with their teachers and mentors, especially those who will challenge their thinking. Then they can get busy having some sort of opinion.

The main point is that we all think we understand something, but it sometimes turns out we might not. "The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him" (Prov. 18:17). This is part of the core of a good education.

But there are a few caveats, as usual:

  1. When it comes to ultimate or foundational truths, such as God, creation, good and evil, and the nature of man, we should teach our kids that truth is divinely revealed (Ps. 19), not figured out just by man's reason from a supposed tabula rasa. We should teach our children to study God's truth (2 Tim. 2:15), not blindly accept it, but that without first having the Light of Christ, there is no knowledge.
  2. Teaching our kids to see all sides of an issue, and to challenge their preconceived notions, is not the same thing as teaching them to be lifelong skeptics. It is not the same thing as teaching them to thumb their noses at tradition and values-based thinking, and to view true enlightenment as holding no opinions whatever, unless they are the opinions of the currently-in-vogue academic elite. That is the way of nihilism and sorrow.
  3. Once we have taught our kids to see all sides of the issue, all while seeking Christ as the ultimate guiding Principle, we should teach them to decide one way or the other. Chesterton said that a mind is like a mouth: it is designed to eventually close on something. 
  4. Once we teach our kids' minds to close on something (which is not the same thing as being close-minded), we should never inadvertently teach them to avoid controversial opinions simply because they are not popular opinions. Part of love is not being needlessly antagonistic in our thinking; but part of courage is always saying what we think is right.
  5. Our kids should learn to be exposed to different or offensive opinions without being offended. This is good practice, because Paul reminds us that the Gospel is offensive to those who don't believe -- and yet we must love both the Gospel and those who are offended by it. 

In short, our kids should be like Leo, and be like Christ.

Questions You Should Ask Yourself About a School

Enrollment season is in full swing, and it's an exciting time for all of us. For ACA, it means another opportunity to witness God's faithfulness via growth. For many of us, it means an opportunity to meet new families this fall, and to recommit to educating your children well according to God's life-giving truth.

But as parents, you should be regularly re-evaluating your educational choices. While there are few things so important as a long, single-minded commitment to your goals, usually through a single church or school, no church or school is perfect, and your children are far more important than a place.

As you annually re-evaluate your educational goals, ask yourself these questions:

1) What are your core non-negotiables for your kids' education? In other words, what 1-2 features of a school or its curriculum are you not willing to compromise on? 

2) What does God's word say about how we should educate our kids? What practical value does scripture have on our school choices, and does it exclude any schools or systems?

3) What level of importance do sports, extra-curriculars, and other social opportunities have? Is it possible to over-emphasize academic programs and created socially awkward or reclusive children? On the other hand, is it possible to over-value a school with an array of non-academic programs at the expense of your children's academic future? Where is that line for you, and why?

4) What value do you place on a school that emphasizes lasting and beautiful accomplishments in art, science, mathematics, and politics versus emphases on interpreting education through the lens of race, gender, identity, and sex?

5) What place does a school's political correctness have in your educational choices? How do you define for yourself which schools are woodenly traditionalist on the one hand, and which are driven only by fashionable political trends on the other?

6) Is it possible that a school's culture -- and not just its academic programs, or its impact on our finances -- will have a lasting impact on our children's hearts and minds, for better or for worse?

7) Wherever you go, there you are. Are you re-enrolling at ACA, or perhaps considering a different school, reactively or from discontent with the status quo? 

These are important and sobering questions. And yet they are so worth wrestling with! We love our children, and we cannot ever undervalue the profound influence of our educational choices over time. But don't we have a merciful Father who loves us? He gives us this task of raising our children, full of consequences in real life, and yet he extends us his love and assurance. 

MLK and Universal Truth

Yesterday we enjoyed another holiday by celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Though MLK is best known for his "I have a dream" speech, he also once said this:

"Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal." 

This is a sobering truth that we must always teach our children, one which is at the core of education.  Apart from a universal standard for truth, finite man's laws are basically arbitrary.  Without that standard, might makes right, and laws are based on the whims, bad or good, of the ruling government.  Perhaps they are "good" laws, but we have no universal means by which to verify their goodness.  Perhaps they are "evil," but we have no ability to condemn them.  There is no moral Law-Giver, and therefore no moral law, by which to distinguish good from evil.

During the formative years, our children must never assume that "right" and "wrong" are moral absolutes of themselves, as though they are terms with intrinsic authority. Conversely, we must never let them think "right" and "wrong" are ideas without any moral content whatsoever; that right and wrong are relative to opinion.  We must teach them that the only way to condemn evil (whether Hitler, racism, Planned Parenthood, or whacking lil sis on the head with a toy truck) and the only way to praise what is good is to appeal to an absolute, changeless, and loving standard of truth.

That truth can only rationally and satisfyingly be the gospel, the Story of the God-Man whose name is Truth, and who loves us infinitely and personally.

All the right things...without beauty?

Welcome back! It has been so good to see your children again this week, and I am grateful for the holiday break each of us was able to enjoy. God loves rests and restarts (so do I), and I hope you'll share my enthusiasm for our kids this spring. Every day forms them, and by partnering with ACA, you are changing their lives right now.

As we kick off this new year, I'd like to remind you of ACA's wonderful educational mission: ACA exists to provide an education that is both classical and Christian. It exists to equip students to know, love, and practice what is true, virtuous, and beautiful. It challenges them to strive for excellence as they live for the glory of God and for the good of all people.

I encourage you to take a fresh look at these words and contemplate them carefully. As you do, I've found the quotes below to be an excellent aid in helping me continue to grow through this mission:

1) "In vain does one repeat what the heart does not find sweet." So said Alexander Solzhenitsyn, prominent Russian author and political prisoner in themid-20th century. If we teach our children all the right things with good teachers and perfect curriculum, but we do it without sweetness and beauty, our education is to no purpose. 

2) "'Ye were bought at a price,' and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us." Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this, and it reminds us in a wonderful way that we are all called to high and hard things. Education is difficult for theglory of God.

3) "Take heed to yourselves, lest your example contradict your doctrine."Richard Baxter, an English Puritan and poet, spoke these words to fellow pastors -- but what excellent wisdom for us as teachers and parents as well! Our students are keen to detect our hypocrisies, and so we must hold ourselves to high standards of faith and conduct for the sake of our children.

Let's continue to partner together for the long haul. God loves long obediences in the same direction, and you are each doing a good work for your children. Onward for Christ's kingdom!

From Our Academic Dean

Dear friends,

Nothing is free, except for God’s love and grace. Beyond that, everything comes with a cost.

When Gabe and I were discussing educational choices for our kids back in 2010, Sam, our now-fifth-grader, was enrolled at a North Denver preschool. Space in the pre-k class for the next year was limited, and in order to secure him a spot, I was required to take on a lot of responsibility and leadership in the school. And even then, the question remained: What about kindergarten and beyond? Our neighborhood schools were not an option as they consistently rank poorly, and I had been told to not even attempt to choice into the most desirable schools in our district. Everyone wanted spots there, so the chances were slim.

That's when Gabe said we should start looking for a private school. I was speechless. My view of private school at the time was very limited, and I assumed it would be out of our reach financially. But Gabe reassured me. We would make it work, he said. His parents had put him in private school, and if they had made it work, so could we.  

Around the same time, a friend invited me to an open house for a new Christian classical school that was opening up in the neighborhood. After hearing about the vision and mission of the school and meeting some of its founding families, I knew that if I would be required to spend my time and invest in a school wherever our kids attended, I would rather do that for a Christian school where truth, beauty, and virtue would be held up to my kids every day.    

And the rest, they say, is history. Well, sort of.

Our kids have been continuously enrolled at ACA since then, and as of last year, we have outspent the entire cost of Gabe’s college education. That can be a sobering fact to think about. Friends with children enrolled at public school often look at me in disbelief and ask how can we afford -- and can continue to afford year after year -- private school. But at the end of the day, how can we not afford to send them to ACA?  

Further, how can we afford to have our kids spend the majority of their waking hours in an environment that is opposed to the truth of the Gospel?

How can we afford to put our kids in the public school system that consistently produces students who are not prepared for college or life?

How can we afford to have our kids in a system that holds them to ever decreasing standards?

How can we subject our kids to sub-par curricula that are not worthy of their time and energy?

Education always comes with a cost, and even public education is not free. Recently I was talking with a Christian mom whose kids are enrolled in a public school. Because of this, she does not work outside of the home and instead spends many hours a week volunteering at her kids’ school. More importantly, she said she needs to have the emotional energy to debrief with her kids every night, to help them process and make sense of all that they see, learn, and experience at their school. To me, that seems like the more expensive choice in many ways.

As a parent and teacher at ACA, I love the richness of our curriculum, that our kids study real history and not social studies, that they read the great classics of literature and not third-rate books that advance the popular political or ideological agenda of the day. And, included in this rich tapestry of learning, my kids are constantly being pointed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the real source of truth, beauty, and virtue. To me, that is worth every penny. And then some.

Amanda Rodriguez
Dean of Academics

From Our Board Chair

Dear Fellow ACA Parents,

In this season of thankfulness and celebration, I have been reflecting on the good work of parenting. It is a calling that comes with both great costs and great joys.

God reminds us through His word that our children are a blessing, and He leads by example as a loving and thoughtful Father to us. Because we're created in the image of God, the gift of parenting includes bearing the weight of many responsibilities -- from providing life-giving support to our infant children, to bringing them up in the wisdom and instruction of the Lord as they grow older, to preparing them for independence and influence in their latest years. These responsibilities most strongly influenced the early conversations my wife Brady and I had about how we should educate our boys, Waverly and Jensen. Three central themes emerged from our conversations:

1) How do we ensure that our boys are having their worldview comprehensively shaped by biblical precepts, and that they are growing spiritually?

2) How do we provide and model contexts where the Gospel is demonstrated and proclaimed, particularly to the unbelieving world around us?

3) How do we best fulfill our responsibility for stewarding our boys’ intellects, ensuring that they are effectively challenged and growing academically?

We concluded that the environment at ACA is one where children are consistently and continually pointed to the truth of God’s word and encouraged to live in light of that truth.  When we hear faculty and staff speak to our boys, we see significant alignment between what they hear at ACA and what they hear from us at home about who Christ is and who they are in light of Christ.  Further, when we considered the people with whom our boys would spend more of their waking hours during school than they would with us, getting to know the competent and loving faculty at ACA instilled a confidence that Gospel-centric living is being modeled for students every day.

When it came to weighing the options for an academically rigorous environment, we were pretty well sold when, at both a recitation and a classroom visit, we heard students demonstrating their Latin skills and (here’s the clincher) seeing them classify sentences using English terms that I’m not sure I ever knew.  While these skills are impressive in their own right, to us they were illustrative of a curriculum that holds students to high yet attainable standards while clearly developing the fundamental skills to equip them for lives of learning.

I share our family’s perspective because my prayer is that you are encouraged to consider the ways in which your own family has been blessed by this amazing community at ACA. As you recount those blessings, I also pray that you pause to consider how you might contribute financially to the continued health and growth of ACA. It is true that our investments of time, talent, and treasure bespeak our loves, and I hope that you will consider joining us as we seek to apply our love of ACA in our investments. As you’re likely aware, ourend-of-year fund raising campaign is in full swing, and we endeavor to maximize those contributions by meeting our goal of raising at least $25,000, which will be matched by a generous donor. 

I want each of you to know how grateful I am that you are part of our incredible community. May this Christmas season bring quiet moments to soak in the indescribable wonder of God’s grace in sending His son Jesus, as well as loud moments of celebrating His coming with exceeding joy. May you form precious memories with family and friends through it all, and may you ring in the new year with hopeful expectation of what God is doing in your life and in the life of Augustine Classical Academy.
With Most Sincere Gratitude,
Justin F. Riley
Chair, ACA Board of Directors

Education is Never Neutral

Education is never neutral.

This is an incredibly important reminder for me as a parent. Everything speaks, and everything that speaks has to stand somewhere -- it has to believe something. Thankfully, classical Christian education is not neutral, teaching children the glory of knowledge and of God. But public, charter, and private schools also speak. They also stand somewhere with a set of beliefs. What are they saying to this generation of students?

Let’s remember the important goals we share for our children. Let's remember the non-negotiables. Education is a battleground for their hearts and minds. Our goals for them are high academic achievement and faithful hearts. If we ascribe to the myth of neutrality, those goals are lost.

This Christmas season, remember our children's minds and hearts. ACA's vision for education is high and good, and it takes continued robust funding. 

Our 2017 Matching Grant Drive is a wonderful way to help. To educate the next generation of children for the glory of God and the good of all people, we need tangible gifts from people just like you. Join me in praying about ways we can each give back to ACA. No gift is too small.

Grace, peace, and blessings to you and your children.

Nate Ahern

Beyond Letter Grades and Lesson Plans

Learning and teaching are about the in-between parts.

"She's so intelligent," says a father or mother wistfully. "If only she'd do her homework." 

Or, "He's so smart, despite his illegible handwriting. Well, thank goodness for keyboarding classes!"

Or another: "His hair is always a mess, and he smells, but my! what a genius."

From a different angle, I remember with great fondness certain university classes or lectures in which the speaker was doing his best impression of Ben Stein in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," relying heavily on PowerPoint, and not at all heavily on vocal inflection. The content of the lectures was good, very substantive, but it was all I could do to stay awake. "He's such an acclaimed professor," I said to myself wistfully. "If only he'd make this interesting."

In short, good teachers and good students focus on the in-between parts: they don't just execute tasks, they fully embody their roles.

For teachers, this means they do not download information onto their students hard drives, straight-faced. They do not stand in front of the classroom and read straight from the textbook. They do not focus exclusively on their lesson plans and their handouts, and they do not use their voices like sedatives, or like clubs, as though their audience is hostile. Instead, they teach the in-between parts of a subject: they communicate information to minds that they know also come with hearts. They require verbatim memorization of textbook terms, but they first make those terms come to life, because all terms represent magical realities. They use lesson plans and handouts with great joy, because they know God is a God of order, and that therefore their students need order. They discipline with love, whether with lines or reprimands or office visits, because they know that God disciplines those he loves, and because they love their students as human beings made in the image of God, and who are being refined by fire and water for excellence.

For students, this means they do not measure their intelligence by a letter grade, but by their faithfulness in all duties, including regular homework. They do not think certain subjects are more important than others, as though poor handwriting and bad grammar are excusable as long as they "get the right answer." They do not think that personal habits, particularly personal hygiene, are irrelevant as long as they are math and science whizzes. Instead, they study with a sense of responsibility, knowing that simple obedience to a duty is part of learning, even if they already know the concept. They know that a job half done is a job not done, and so they do not accept poor penmanship or incomplete sentences, even if they nail the correct answer every time. They take pride in their appearance, since they know that etiquette and hygiene within the classroom are expressions of love, and of the golden rule.

Good teachers and students know that there is a deeper right than being right, and so they live and act with a healthy pride, and a great deal of thankfulness. They accept nothing less than excellence and the best they can possibly do -- and then they fill in everything in between: doing the right thing when nobody's looking, obeying simply and without questions, and loving their neighbors as themselves.

And as always, God will take care of the rest. 

Aim High, and Get There

Humans are quick-fix oriented by nature, and we live in a quick-fix culture. We want a formula to plug our problem into, and then we'll solve for success. With just the right program, you can turn the Achievement Crank. In fact, instead of being counter-cultural, this is sometimes exactly what we do with classical Christian education (CCE). We see it as a vending machine. Put in your tuition payments, and out bumps a well-educated kid.

Success? Sometimes, it's more like a mangled kid caught in the gears. They somehow turn out hating whatever we've taught them.

So here are some quick reminders about what CCE isn't, and a few reminders about what it is, and what we should keep doing.

What CCE isn't, and doesn't:

1) CCE didn't die on the cross for your kids' sins. It's an excellent method, and a great gift from God, but it doesn't create saints. (The work of the Holy Spirit does.) If we put classical education in the place of Christ and his Church, we'll produce the opposite of what we want.

2) CCE shouldn't be educational syncretism. Classical education is time-tested, which means it doesn't need much tweaking. It must teach today's student, not yesterday's, but it must not have flavors of other educational models. To tweak Chesterton, "Classical education has not been tried and found wanting; it has occasionally been found difficult and left untried." Let's go whole-hog, long-term, without looking to the right or to the left.

3) CCE isn't a Preschool-12th thing. It's a life pursuit. Because it aims to shape hearts and create life-long learners, we should think of CCE in terms of paideia, as a life culture. This means thinking about classical Christian colleges, and about our own classical pursuits as adults.

And few good reminders:

1) Shape your child's affections. Nothing competes with love. "You are what you love," says James K. A. Smith, and this goes for CCE. Do our kids love it? If they don't, it's pretty useless. Help shape their affections by lots of prayer, laughter, and light hearts. 

2) Aim high. Christian art and culture today is not up to par. Nonchristians produce better music and movies, and they've got a monopoly on cultural influence. This is because Christians are content with mediocre academic goals, mediocre colleges, and mediocre careers. We can do better. Set high goals for your kids for God's glory, and for cultural transformation.

3) Get there. Goals are nothing without follow-through. Robert P. George has said, "There is nothing so successful as success." Christ said, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." Aim high -- and then require your kids to get there, by hook or by crook. They can do it.