An ACA graduate takes action in life. She knows that knowledge is worthless if it isn't applied, and so she has missional habits for the sake of her personal development, her family, her job, and her broader community.
As some of you know, Augustine Classical Preschool students have been learning about teeth and dentists this week. Clyde, my three-year-old son, has taken to the subject admirably.
"This is junk food," he says contentedly, taking great bites out of a lollipop.
We teach our children the important habit of brushing their teeth regularly (circular motion, please), but at the same time it's a rare child who never has sweets. That's because candy isn't exactly junk. Used reasonably, it's more accurately a treat -- a gift -- for the special moments. Sometimes, we tend to think of certain foods as "bad" (naughty food! moral failure!) and so campaigns are launched to kill them dead and blot their names from the Book of Life. But "the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof" (Ps. 24:1), and "for everything there is a season" (Eccl. 3:1). We taste and see that the Lord is good, usually with the spinach, potatoes, and chicken, but sometimes with the sundaes.
Think of education the same way. We don't ever want to use education to stomp students flat, as though they are insects to kill, and Scripture agrees: "You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk" (Deut. 14:21). Education is food, not a cauldron. It has life-giving beauty and should not be used as an instrument of death (like in a Dickens novel). So education both in the classroom and at home needs an occasional dessert.
But this is a tough balance, and many schools with great mission statements serve up lamesauce standards in the actual classroom. And in the home, some students do nothing but hammer the video games (after homework, of course), or perhaps worse, have no honest notion how to spend after-school time except by surfing their smartphones. Bad, naughty video games? Satan-spawned social media? No, just too much dessert.
The good things of life are hard to master. Great books, mathematics and science, logic, high music, abstract thinking, age-old stories -- these are the deep-magic gifts of God. With faithful training comes love, and with love comes an appreciation of gifts in their unique places. So have a lollipop.
Grace and Peace, Nate Ahern
When I was growing up, I remember hearing about how some acquaintances of ours had decided to do "unschooling." Replete with the wisdom of modern educational philosophies, they let their kids choose their own curriculum start to finish, which turned out to involve things like horseback riding between 12:00PM - 2:00PM -- and then not much else.
My 12-year-old self was agape. Flummoxed. Nonplussed. (And probably a little envious.)
When there are no fixed standards in play for education, you can get a whole lot of interesting results, all of them (of course!) equally valid. Biff is a math whiz and publishes a paper on neutrino detection by the time he is nine years old (nice job, Biff), whereas Tuppy likes to get up at 10AM, play video games till four, and then kick around some blocks till dinner ("I love how hands-on Tuppy is!" says his mother). Some kids like to go to class and work hard, others prefer SnapChat Mondays. It's all a beautiful matter of personal choice. Our precious children are learning about what they love.
One of the crucial things for us to understand as parents and educators is that this kind of relativistic educational philosophy is no surprise at all if we don't have anywhere to hang our hat. If we can't point to a universal standard that says, "Here, not there; this, not that," then why shouldn't our kids do what they want? We can say that they'll have a miserable life if they don't work hard -- but what about (says Tuppy) the miserable life I'm having right now by doing all this dumb homework? What about the students' feelings? Who died and crowned my daddy's educational views king?
This may seem far-fetched, but given current educational trends and philosophies, it isn't far off. And even the best-raised kids like to intellectually gripe, and someday they will be asking questions about why all this rigor is really necessary? When they do, will they have a standard of excellence and a standard of beauty to point to in answer to their questions?
The Bible has many principles and few methods, and so we shouldn't thwack our kiddies on the mazzard with it and tell them to get to work. But we should always teach our children, gently and joyfully, that Scripture shows us rich, gospel life in full color -- and that kind of life is replete with hard work, sacrifice, stamina, and eyes trained to see God's grace and beauty. Not a life you can get to by steering a nifty joystick.
Grace and Peace, Nate Ahern
Little kids bring us back to basics. My wife and I knew this was coming before we had children, and we haven't been disappointed. Our Clyde and Haley love stuff. They can't enough of it. Every morning when they wake up, their over-sized grins (and body convulsions) shout one thing: let me see more stuff! Except for them, it's not "stuff."
Toys, Mom's eyes, Dad's grab-able nose, a new book, sun making checkered patterns on the floor, fluttering pages, mallards on the frozen pond -- dreams come true. And we've discovered that they are right. Those things are magic, and we had only begun to slowly stop noticing them. We had grown up.
In Orthodoxy, Chesterton (who loved kids) said this:
The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, "charm," "spell," "enchantment." They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. A tree grows fruit because it is a magic tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched. The sun shines because it is bewitched.
Bewitched by the loving, adventurous hand of God. Our children will grow and mature. They will move from arithmetic to calculus and from dependence to independence. But they must never lose their sense of wonder and observation that they first had as little children. They will observe more somberly, more deeply -- but always with open eyes for God's countless gifts.
In the midst of grades, registration deadlines, homework, and extracurricular events, this is a fundamental mark of true education: fighting blindness. Keeping eyes of wonder open.
Grace and Peace, Nate Ahern
As we continue the slow, wonderful task of teaching our children the love of learning, we have to be aware that at some point they might call our bluff. "I'm supposed to love learning? Just like you don't, Pops?" If we never crack a book, or if our kids see our recreation time as little more than Facebook surfing (and they're always watching us), the game will be up sooner or later. If we want our kids to love learning, we've got to love learning, too. And that means knowing a wise thing or two about basic fields of study.
Recently, I mentioned a few fundamentals on the importance of Science, particularly as related to typical classical-Christian-school pitfalls. History is another core subject -- and even more foundational -- that we must have some love of, or respect for, if we want our children to engage the culture and redeem the time.
But frankly, this is tough. History, for today's generation, is a cultural weirdo. Uncool. Irrelevant, unless you're into that sort of thing. Sequestered. History is now over there for those people. (You like History, and I like my fries with cheese.) And those people either (at best) "read biographies" as a hobby, or (at worst), if they're an academic heavyweight, swing History around like a sledgehammer for the sake of pet political agendas.
But that's false history.
History is more than events and more than a subject in school. Studying it is more than just reading a novel that actually happened. Getting history into your bones is a lot like getting wisdom into your bones -- a task the Bible is constantly setting us to. "See him, son? Don't do that. See wisdom over there? Be like her." In short, history is a life-long study of wisdom for the wise. Here's why:
History tells great stories. There are few things more compelling than a good yarn or tale. But when those tales are actually real, their force is huge. It may be that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, but truth is always a better story. Fiction has appeal and vitality, but a story that’s true has the unstoppable power of reality. “Did that really happen? How is that possible? I can’t imagine doing that myself. I want to be like them.” History excites questions about real things. History inspires action. And that's the kind of inspiration we want for our students.
History involves real people. Poorly written textbooks that are strong on dates, controversies, and propaganda are pretty good at making historical figures look like figures and not people, but a true history, in all its romping, story-telling glory 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. Of course they were great. Of course they were noble. Of course they were evil. This is why they are in books. But we 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 history’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. And our children are watching us.
History is thankfulness, because it gives us an ability to honor our forbears. 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 even 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 any finances at all? 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.
History is thankfulness, because it gives us an ability to condemn our forbears and avoid their paths. History is full of not-so-good people. History is full of vice personified. Knowing history allows us to discriminate and condemn, which (done the right way) furthers the goal of humanity.
History is teleological, not cyclical. History has an end. It has a goal. It’s true that history repeats itself 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 that real (historical) 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)
It's old news that classical Christian education in the US is rolling, but it's still welcome news, and relevant. Over the past 35 years, significant momentum has developed, with solid national test results, low school crime rates, interested students, rigorous classes, and wide-ranging subjects. And it's all time-tested.
At ACA, our students study hard. They memorize, lots. They recite Scripture, Church creeds, and the anatomy of insects. They study Latin, logic, phonics, mathematics, history, theology, and the rich stories of traditional children's literature. They chant about respecting authority, respecting class time, and obeying teachers "right away without delay." And they walk in lines.
Classical Christian education: saving our children's souls one day at a time.
Or does it? One of the trickiest aspects of our sin nature to understand is the simple fact of our sin. It exists, and it gets into everything, including our educational ideas. We see evil in the world, and we try to fix it -- autonomously. We want to comfort, love, eliminate poverty, and create holy-and-Ivy-league-ready students, somehow thinking that if only we implement the right systems or run enough clinical trials, we'll eventually solve problems for good. But that's exactly where our human problem lies: we try to fix things with things, not with Christ. We claim Christ, and then we put our trust in stuff, or systems, or school philosophies. The problem is not our love and compassion for our children or our neighbor, which Christ inevitably uses for his glory; the problem is our compassion apart from Christ. We want the efforts of our love to fix it, and for the problem to be done.
This is a trap all too easy to fall into with classical Christian education. A neat-and-tidy education formula. "The way to raise godly children is to find a godly school. A classical school, ideally." Plug-and-play education. Problem solved.
But Christ wants our hearts, not our systems. The whole-truth way to raise and educate godly children is to know nothing but Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2) and to model that for our kids. ACA won't do that. Other classical Christian schools can't do that. Only Christ can. The beautiful and outrageously simple key to a rigorous Christian education is submission to Christ. Only then does a classical Christian school come into the picture for Christ's glory -- and Christ will make it glorious. Without him, all the chants in the world won't make our children see Christ's beauty. Classical Christian education is a method -- and a very good method at that -- but Christ is the way.
Onward for excellence and the glory of God!
Grace and Peace, Nate Ahern