Exploring Nature and Technology

One of the beautiful aspects of classical Christian education is that it teaches students perspective and priority. Specifically, it teaches them to look to God first, then to man; to the universal, then to the particular; to nature, then to technology. Each element has value, so the distinctions are in terms of order and hierarchy, not of better and worse. I'd like to take a brief look at the last pair, the relationship between nature and technology in classical Christian education.

A knowledge of the natural, physical world is key to a primary education. Students learn about the nature of reality, its potential and its limitations. The human mind, a physical organ with intangible thoughts, links the natural world with the supernatural. This creates a greater sense of wonder, and a paradoxical union of opposites: students are aware of the ingredients of the world in all their near-infinite variety and order; they learn of the world's preposterous smallness and stupendous magnitude; they see their bodies, that they can be used in wonderful ways, but that reality is not defined by our senses, or by the physical world; that there is the heavenly and immortal realm of the Creator, which is our ultimate home. They learn to ask the question the psalmist asked: "When I look at the heavens . . . what is man that You are mindful of him?" (Ps. 8:3-4)

In a small way, these are some of the reasons why classical Christian education emphasizes simpler, purer uses of the human body and mind: nature walks to complement scientific studies; cursive, with its intimate and dance-like motions; the feel of paper between fingers and the tactile work of pencil annotation; the study of the stars, drawing our eyes physically upward, as when the psalmist lifted his eyes to the hills (Ps. 121:1); the study of traditional music on acoustic instruments, made and performed by human hands; the emphasis on the spoken word, conversation, and speech as ways of imitating the living Word, and of most perfectly developing loving relationships with each other.

Does this mean that technology is a detriment to education? Not at all. Even the word "technology" does not mean what we might think it means: it is any "science of craft," which therefore applies to book-binding, not just to smartphone manufacturing. The point of the emphasis of nature over technology is one of priority only. A study and love of nature leads to a study and love of technology. It is a natural, God-given progression to take the glorious fundamental elements of creation and to use them to create further gifts that glorify God and are a benefit to mankind. Problems only surface when that perspective, or progressional hierarchy, is ignored. Then, technology, in a limited and restricting sense, usurps the tools and the imaginations of students, stealing their work ethic, robbing them of their thoughts, conjuring false and impossibly romantic alternate realities, and deadening their senses to the beauty of creation. The gift of technology becomes a curse. In The Screwtape Letters, a similar scheme is used to drive humanity subtly from God: "The more often [a man] feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel."

Classical Christian education is at root about developing thankfulness, both of the natural elements of the world, and of its invented glories, like smartphones, Bugatti supercars, and treat-tossing dog cameras. But like every other good gift from God, timing is key. Imagine if Man had been created on the first day, not the sixth! (Just Adam floating in the void, like in Kubrick's "2001.") We are teaching students the same thing: First know who you are, who created you, and what the gifts are that you have been given. Then, get busy creating and enjoying gifts of your own.

Developing a Respect for the Past

Classical Christian education, if it's worth its salt, educates today's kids for today's culture. But unlike other educational forms, it looks to the Past regularly, often critically, but always reverently. In the Past, it sees its ancestors, and by extension, sees itself.

Today, as Enlightenment philosophy has reached full maturity, other educational forms see the past primarily as the source of racism, sex discrimination, and narrow-minded religiosity. At best, the past is an irrelevant non-entity, a great-grandfather in a rocker chewing his wet gums. The past cannot speak meaningfully into the present.

Classical Christian education aims to see the past as a hoard of treasure, full of events, characters, and experiences that reveal what is right and wrong, wise and unwise, tested and untested, beautiful and ugly. It is a gift that "there is nothing new under the sun" (Eccl. 1:9), since it means we can know the consequences of ideas and actions if we will only listen. The past is not so much a glorious golden age (at all) than it is a means for thankfulness and wisdom. Classical Christian education does not teach students to live in the past, but it teaches them to love its good parts, avoid its bad parts, thank God for all of it, and use its wisdom to live God-glorifying lives in today's world.

To that end, classical Christian education views the past in a few key ways.

The past involves real people. Poorly written textbooks that are strong on dates, controversies, and propaganda are good at making historical figures look like figures and not people, but a true history, in all its romping realism shows them as men. It shows them as women. They lived as we live. They thought the thoughts we think. They struggled with the same temptations. They ate, slept, went to the bathroom, and dressed. They had quirks and personalities. They were great, they were noble, they were evil. This is why they are in books. But we can forget that they were human as we are human, in every particular, and this should give us perspective, respect, wisdom, and inspiration. God died for them, too.

We are also the past's actors. The present is now the past. History is not just about those people over there: it is also about us. Just as the men and the women of the past shaped events to bring us to now, so we are shaping now to make the future. This is our sobering and fantastic responsibility. We are called. We have roles to fulfill. Our children are watching us.

The past creates thankfulness, because it gives us an ability to honor our forebears. We owe everything to those who went before us. Our primary attitude should be, “How is it possible that we have so much?” and never “Why do we have so little?” Why should any of life be remotely pleasant? Why are we free? Why can we choose our religion? Why can we have any beliefs we wish? Why financial well-being? Why are we educated? Unless we are content to forget origins and assume all these things are rights, history gives us reason to be thankful in everything. Those who went before us gave all of themselves to us.

The past creates thankfulness because it gives us an ability to condemn our forebears and avoid their paths. The past is full of not-so-good people, of vice personified, resulting in slavery, bloodshed, discrimination, and abuse. Knowing and respecting the past allows us to consider and condemn, which (done the right way) furthers the goal of the gospel for humanity.

The past is teleological, not cyclical. History has an end, a goal. It’s true that the past repeats itself today because of the changelessness of human nature, but this is not the overall character of history. History is driving toward something. It is intentional. From the dawn of time, through the rise and fall of many civilizations and religions, there has been progression. Knowledge has grown steadily. The stories of law, politics, philosophy, medicine, and religion have developed and matured. We're headed somewhere, and that somewhere is the real future date when "the earth will be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." (Hab. 2:14)

Classical Christian education teaches students to love old books, old ideas, old characters, to consider and criticize them with respect, and then to act act. We are each in a Story. What's our line? Do we know our cues? Classical Christian education teaches students to love the Story they're in, and to be thankful for the characters that gave them their parts to play today.

The Hows & Whys of Classical Christian Education

Classical Christian education assumes that life has a purpose, and that there are such things as right and wrong. Man's life is ordered by God who has revealed what is true and what is false, what is wise and what is unwise, and what will bring joy and what will bring sorrow. It teaches that humanity has a narrative with a problem, a climax, and a redemptive resolution, and that we are each actors in that story. In other words, classical Christian education teaches the hows of the world -- the events, the formulas, the processes, the content -- but it also undergirds them with meaning, with the fundamental whys. It provides meaning for each subject, and for each of our lives. It connects the otherwise disconnected particulars with an ultimate Universal. 

Secular education, including classical charter schools, do not assume any of this, beyond adopting a series of moral guidelines unmoored from any objective standard. Students are taught how the world works, but they cannot give an ultimate accounting for why it should work that way, or why various historical and cultural trends are good or bad. Secular education, with many merits in terms of knowledge acquisition, ultimately trains students to think from a utilitarian and self-serving basis: What is right must be what works best for the most people, or what harms the least number of people, at any given time. Or, what is right must be what I personally feel to be best, or what I identify with most. 

Like many other methods, classical education is excellent at teaching how and what, but students crave more. Is the quadratic formula true because numbers, and a quantifiable natural world, happen to still behave in a consistent way through time and chance? Or is it a formula that reveals the mind, and therefore the deeper purposes, of a Designer? Did Rome fall because it was no longer a relevant player on the world stage of the early Common Era, or because its ideas, and therefore its actions, had moral consequences? Are the world's famous people, such as Queen Boudica, Jeffrey Dahmer, Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Harvey Weinstein, Bonnie & Clyde, King David, Eminem, or Donald Trump, models for how we should each live or not live -- or are they each equally good humans exercising their basic human right of self-identity? Students will ask these things, they will feel them, they will crave to know why. Classical Christian education gives them an ultimate reference-point for truth in Christ.

Humans need knowledge, but they yearn for purpose and meaning.  Classical Christian education says, "Look, here is a beautiful world. Learn about it!" Then, like many secular schools, it says, "Be a good citizen in this world, and love your neighbor." But finally, unlike those schools, it says, "Love your neighbor, and the world, because Christ is the incarnation of Truth who first loved you, and who will always love you."
 

Film: Geronimo! Amen

During our Parent Info Night this past week, we shared with you a short film resource on the resurgence of classical Christian education in America over the past few decades. This film, "Geronimo! Amen", is shared again below.

ACA is part of a large nationwide community of like-minded educators and parents, no small niche-group on the fringe of modern education. This is encouraging on many fronts, particularly as so many parents are returning to what is time-tested and true for the sake of their kids, and as many secular corporations, higher-education institutions, and other entities are recognizing the great value a classical education brings to the work force.

Please take a few moments to be encouraged by the short film below.

Welcome Back to School!

Dear ACA parents and friends,

Welcome back to school! On behalf of our faculty and staff, I'd like to thank you for a successful first week of the 2018-19 season.

This year's enrollment stands at 119 students, solidly our highest to date since our 2011 founding. With 21 full- and part-time teachers and staff, our class sizes remain small but vibrant, a key long-term goal for us. We retain healthy venues partnerships with Belmar Church in Lakewood and Vietnamese Central Baptist Church in Edgewater, and we are thankful for our new and returning teachers who show our students how to know, love, and practice what is true, good, and beautiful.

Parents, thank you. You each know that education is one of the most important gifts you can give your children, and that the school you choose can have life-long consequences for good or ill. Education is not just academic formation: it forms hearts and souls.

With a view toward this whole-life mindset, I encourage you to partner with us and get involved at Edgewater and Lakewood. There are a few key ways you can do this:

  • Bless and encourage your kids each day, whether in preschool or in high school. They need your daily guidance and support.
  • Volunteer. We have designated workdays throughout the year as well as regular opportunities, events, and tasks you can plug in to.
  • Visit your child's classrooms as much as you are able. Schedule a visit via our offices, but you're also welcome to drop by at any time.
  • Stay informed with assignments via communication with your teachers. K-12 families can access assignments via ThinkWave.
  • Regularly check our website calendar for school-wide events, and get connected to other parents and events via our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram pages.

I am grateful to each of you for your continued commitment to ACA for the sake of your children. You are doing a good work for them, and we are honored to train them up for the glory of God and the good of all people.

Grace and Peace,
Nate Ahern
Head of School

STEM, Theology, & Classical Education's Weird Uncles

Classical education has some weird uncles.

One of them is the idea that a classical school is where you learn Latin, wear uniforms, and are occasionally allowed to smile.

Another is that classical education is the method you choose if you want your kids to be overly sheltered and unable to ever get a job because of their liberal arts education.

Another is that classical education devalues STEM and mostly cares about old books written by dead white guys.

But accurately, classical education is the most historically successful educational methodology because of one key distinctive: it calls theology the queen of the sciences, the central hub from which all fields of study come.

Picture a wagon wheel. Each spoke of that wheel is a "science," or a primary field of study: Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, Astronomy, Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. But at the center is the hub, Theology. Without Theology, no other fields of study can have any meaningful unity, structure, or validation. Theology is the Queen of the Sciences because she rules and establishes them in a way metaphorically similar to the way God rules and establishes our lives. It is a universal standard, a unifying principle. Without that center there is chaos.

Today, STEM is typically placed in the center of the wheel, replacing Theology as antiquated. But while STEM has great value, directly reflecting God's nature, it cannot answer ultimate questions such as why we are here, what are good and evil, why the problems of ancient man are still the problems of today, what principles validate controversial scientific or cultural advances, and what is the measure of all things -- God, mankind, or individual whim? 

In short, classical education sees the greatest possible value in all fields, because it best recognizes their proper places. It sees, with real practical wisdom, that even though dessert is delicious, you can't have it before you eat your dinner, or before you've given thanks for where it all came from.

Sage Chapman, Head of School for the Day

Dear parents and friends,

This is Sage Chapman, and I'm Head of School for the day. I'm in 4th grade at ACA, and today [April 26, 2018] I get to learn about how to lead a school.

So far, I have led the teacher staff meeting and said hi to parents. I have helped with Chapel. Mr. Ahern and I talked about what a Head of School does. It's a lot! It's also about encouraging people and doing hard things. I got to meet ACA's landlord, and I sent riddles over the radio to students! I'm looking forward to more things this afternoon.

I get to tell you some news. We raised a lot of money at the Spring Gala! Here is how much.

$18,650!

That's after expenses have been paid. This money goes towards classrooms and tuition assistance, and it is more money than we raised at last year's gala.

If you have a question about more gala income categories, Mr. Ahern can answer that.

Good job raising money for my school! I am having fun at ACA and I like to learn here. Thank you for making me able to do that, and for reading my email today.

Sage Chapman
Head of School for the Day

Would the World Be Better Off Without College for Everyone?

In a recent article for The Atlantic ("The World Might Be Better Off Without College for Everyone") Bryan Caplan suggests a couple things: 1) that it might be better to prepare our kids for the workforce than teach them things they'll never use (like the great books, or chemistry when you're a psychology major); and 2) that students and teachers today are getting stupider, lazier, and less inspired.

The article is good and worth the time. Caplan is at once thought-provoking, incisive, and perhaps a little misguided in his suggestions. But he certainly diagnoses several 20th- and 21st-century educational problems accurately.

As you consider this article in light of an evolving (devolving) educational landscape, a few questions may help you prioritize your college planning, however distant:

  1. Is the purpose of education (and a university degree) to make oneself marketable, competitive, and affluent only, or is it to redeem culture for Christ via technical knowledge and moral wisdom?
  2. If the purpose of education is to "redeem culture for Christ," do we know what that looks like on the ground? Do we know what that phrase means for our educational choices? College choices? Job choices? 
  3. If education should do away with whatever subjects are not later "used" or "remembered" (however that is measured), is it possible that an aspect of our humanity is lost? That we become, in a sense, more like machines? If so, how would we measure this?
  4. If the purpose of education is not simply glorified technical training, is it still possible that a liberal arts education, as it is understood and taught in our politicized, student-run universities today, is now meaningless?
  5. Progress is a virtue -- as long as the destination is good. In what ways can we continue to stand on the ancient promises of God, the timeless methods of quality classical education, and embrace the gifts within our increasingly modern technical world?

Safety & Security at ACA

Dear ACA parents and friends,

Over the past week since the February 14 Florida school shooting, there has been a firestorm of controversy over appropriate solutions. Though school shootings are tragically common, there is now the sense of a potential legislative tipping point. That may or may not occur; but these controversies are good, given the horrific nature and increasing frequency of school shootings. We love our children, and they desperately need protection.

Gun laws aside, you need to know a few basics about where ACA stands and what we are doing to protect your children now and in the future.

1) We take all verbal threats seriously. If a student or staff member makes a suspicious or threatening comment about violence, ACA has a policy to immediately notify law enforcement. While administration has a right to exercise reasonable discretion, our policy is to report in all situations with any uncertainty. This is not to deny the rights of free speech, or to create an environment of fear, but to love and protect our school by setting high standards for safety.

2) In the past 12 months, ACA has partnered with a professional security firm, the Makhaira Group, to perform a comprehensive safety assessment on our Lakewood campus. ACA is underway prioritizing and implementing updates and protocols based on the Makhaira Group's recommendations.

3) Part of ACA's systematic security updates involves active shooter training, which will take place for all staff in the coming months. While we do not expect to be confronted with a shooter situation in our future, we are committed to being fully prepared.

4) ACA participates in the Edgewater and Lakewood police departments' emergency notification system. Whenever there is danger in the vicinity of our campuses, we receive immediate notification from the police. Additionally, ACA has recently purchased a new emergency 2-way radio system for all staff and is in the process of updating lock mechanisms on all its Lakewood campus doors.

5) ACA fully believes in the real protective power of Jesus Christ, and that he watches over us and cares for us in a physical way. ACA, and each of its students, is in the palm of Christ's loving hand. Therefore, though we're commanded to be wise and protective of our families and children, we are also assured that we need not live in a spirit of fear. Our Father loves us, and he knows the plans he has for us -- plans to prosper us and not to harm us.

Grace and peace,
Nate Ahern
Head of School

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 one of the biggest geniuses 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.