A blog exploring the truth, beauty, and goodness of Stonehaven's Christ-centered classical education.
One of the more misconstrued virtues in modern Christianity is that of modesty. When you hear this word, what comes to mind? "The idea of modesty has been almost exclusively attached to women's dress," says Christian writer Meggie Cotonethal. In her article "Modesty Misunderstood" at Desiring God's website, she argues that Biblical modesty goes beyond the details of what a woman wears. It is a virtue to be pursued by both men and women. Cotonethal says, "Men have every bit of opportunity to be modest or immodest as their sisters, and that should be both a joy and a warning to them." In 1 Timothy 2:9, the Greek word used by Paul expressing his desire that women dress in "respectable" apparel is kosmios. The same Greek word kosmios is used again by Paul in the very next chapter (1 Timothy 3:2) when he says that male overseers in the church ought to be "respectable." What is modesty? "Modesty is behavior that flows out of remembering our true place of service, and does not conceitedly boast about the self, but boasts in God," says Cotonethal. The technical definition of modesty is, "the quality or state of being unassuming or moderate in the estimation of one's abilities." Modesty is simply the beautiful fruit of humility. When we are secure in our Christian identity, we will not yearn for the attention that immodesty seeks to attract. Philippians 2:3, "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves." Paul follows up this verse describing the perfect example of modesty provided by the obedience of Christ. The life of Christ is marked by his all-consuming passion to reflect the glory of His heavenly father. We want our children to grow up content and fulfilled when they are giving honor and glory to God and not themselves. Ralph Waldo Emerson found a concise way to express this idea saying, "A great man is always willing to be little."
Last week, I noticed a billboard along Cobb Parkway that boldly proclaimed "In Science We Trust." The message, sponsored by the organization Freedom From Religion Foundation, was clear in its message: it is time for Homo sapiens to move past the fairy-tale Christian belief in the supernatural and place their trust in science. The individual that paid for the sign says, "If all of us had faith in science and humanism, we would improve life on Earth so fast." A second supporter of the message says, "We need to place our trust not in some deity to rescue us, but in reason, compassion, and humanity." Our children are growing up in a world where an increasing number of people view belief in God as contrary to reason, science, and compassion. The New Atheists, believing religion is a moral poison to the world, are now zealously proclaiming their message of unbelief. They have become evangelistic in their methods and will pursue their agenda in a similar way to the Christian evangelist. Such a view is having and will continue to have a major impact on our educational institutions. Elevating science to the position of God is becoming foundational to our country's educational philosophy. The question for the Christian church is how are we equipping our children to respond to this message?
How can we teach our children that science is compatible with Christian faith? The first thing we want our children to understand is that every belief system requires faith. The idea that there is a way of seeing the world without faith is absurd. Even the atheistic sponsor of the billboard uses the word "faith" in support of science and humanism. The secular humanist will often boast that their system of belief (reason and science) does not require faith. G.K. Chesterton noted that, "Reason is itself is a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all." I have often heard the unbeliever ask God to make his existence clear for all to see. "Why can't God just show up in the sky and help us out a little bit?" There are at least two obvious problems with this demand. First, God does make his existence abundantly clear. The sun rises every morning, the changing of the seasons, and the inexplicable beauty of nature all proclaim his existence on a daily basis (Romans 1:20). Second, a miraculous appearing of God in the sky would be explained away by the unbeliever. C.S. Lewis rightly recognized that, "If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion. If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say." The question is not whether or not a person will have faith or not but rather in what will we place our faith. Will we place our faith in man or in God?
Science has not always been seen as an emeny to Christian belief. A professor of History at Messiah College named Ted Davis explains, "Throughout the Scientific Revolution, it was taken for granted that religion and science were closely intertwined; both were needed for a complete understanding of the world. Indeed, the modern scientific method is to a significant degree a product of theological reflection on God, nature, and the human mind." Our children need to learn the history of science and that it once enjoyed a harmonious relationship with Christian faith. The scientists of the Scientific Revolution (Kepler, Copernicus, Newton, and Huygens) believed that their scientific studies helped them understand the very nature of God. Davis says in his article, "The more we know about nature and the more deeply we understand the details, the more we will be led not only to glorify God, but also to admire and thank God-in short, science could help make us more pious."
A final thing children need to know about science is that it is incapable of answering the deeper questions of life. John Polkinghorne, a former mathematical physicist at Cambridge, stresses "the crucial point that larger questions of meaning and purpose go well beyond science - in other words, science cannot make sense of itself: why is science possible at all?" A child at Stonehaven will be taught that science is not contrary to faith in God. We hope our children can follow in the footsteps of scientists like Johannes Kepler and say, "The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God."
The first assignment for a Harvard University student in an art class with professor Jennifer Roberts is to select a work of art and then go look at it for three solitary hours. Nothing more than that. No essay or report, just a quiet three-hour observation. A writer for The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman, explains the goal of the assignment, "the goal is to experience that jumpiness, tolerate it, and get through it - whereupon they see things in the artwork they'd never have imagined were there." Patience is a virtue. We've heard this proverbial phrase often and yet its realization seems more and more difficult with every improvement at Amazon, Google, and Apple. Two-day shipping from Amazon feels more and more like The Pony Express. Siri or a Google search can quickly resolve our impatience for information. I remember the day when people went to a library in search of information. These are great things but they aren't helping develop the virtue of patience. In my time as a teacher, I would argue that patience is one of the quiet but important virtues of a good student. A good education should become increasingly more difficult as a child grows up. A difficult education will frustrate the impatient student as they look for the easy answer. The patient student looks at difficult assignments or challenging problems and understands that perseverance is required. In his article, Burkeman refers to an interesting study illustrating the irrational behavior that can accompany our impatience. Participants in the study were offered a choice between a check today or a larger check to be delivered in two weeks' time. "About two-thirds chose the smaller, sooner reward," says Burkeman, "But here's the twist: more than half of those then waited more than two weeks to cash the check." Many were too impatient to receive the bigger payout but not motivated enough to make the laborious trip to the bank. Patience is less glamorous in comparison to trendy virtues like grit and confidence. Yet, it is a virtue that we should desire to see formed and shaped into the character of our children. Sure, it will make them better students. More importantly, it will help them become better people.
It is generally accepted that reading is a virtuous activity. And yet, there is an aspect of reading that feels selfish. The reader finds an isolated, cozy corner of the house and "escapes" from the various needs of their world. It is likely that when the reader is embarking on a literary adventure, there is still laundry to be done, dishes to be washed, and rooms to be cleaned. How can we justify such selfish behavior when there is so much "loving" of others to be done? Our children enjoyed such literary adventures today at school. Our annual D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read) Day forces our children to put aside the many other objectives of our curriculum and life to celebrate a love of reading. Corners were found, books were devoured, and the "dirty dishes" of student life were waiting to be cleaned. What if the ultimate goal of reading was to love others? Is it possible that the apparently self-centered act of reading can actually be used as a means of loving our neighbors (Matthew 22:39)? In his article "Lectio Divina: Medieval Reading for the Modern Classroom," classical Christian educator Sam Koenen advocates a form of reading that would cultivate "moral self-improvement so we can better serve our neighbors." He contrasts the modern form of reading with a medieval method of reading called Lectio Divina. Koenen says that, "Students trained in lectio divina will be trained in habits of humility, charity, and diligence, and will have ordered loves for God, their neighbor, and their world." There is a way in which we can read books that will transform our character and therefore enable us and even inspire us to better love others. "Reading would become worship," says Koenen, "as the reader's darknened soul was ignited by the text, his soul set on fire with the beauty of Christ's goodness and truth." This is how we want our children to read. Not in service to self but rather knowing that God can use words and stories to order our passions in accord with His divine will.
Hugh of St. Victor, a 12th century Augustinian monk, included in his book Didascalicon a summary of Lectio Divina and its appropriate application to all forms of literature (not just Scripture). The three aspects of medieval reading include:
The ultimate goal of Lectio Divina is to cultivate readers that will be formed and shaped by the truth, goodness, and beauty of the words they read. We hope to see our children growing in humility, gratitude, and grace as they read great literature. Our children might see reading as simply another means of data transfer with little impact on God's kingdom. When we help our children see the redemptive power of reading, they will then understand that reading has the power to shape their soul.
Click the link below to read more about the Lectio Divina and to see what Koenen idenitifies as the "three key problems with modern reading."
There are many blessings that come with being a part of Stonehaven's small and tight-knit community. We have cultivated and nurtured a Christ-centered community full of grace, love, and compassion. Such a community reminds me of the theme song from the comedy sitcom Cheers... "Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. And they're always glad you came." My hope is that every child, parent, and member of the Stonehaven community feels "known." With all such blessings, there will come related threats where the devil will seek to divide us. Living life with one another in such a close manner can be a breeding ground for disunity and conflict. Conflict is inevitable in every school community. What I hope is different about the Stonehaven community is our willingness to listen to and empathize with one another. In James 1:19-21 we read, "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls." Let us be "quick to hear" and "slow to speak." Are we quick to assume the best in others? Are we doing our best to see the issue from the other's perspective? Are we patient and thoughtful when voicing our concerns and frustrations? We are seeking to raise up children that possess humility, patience, grace, and compassion. What do our children see from their parents, teachers, and mentors when we encounter conflict and disagreement? Let us provide for them examples of forgiveness and forbearance in our human relationships. This is the story of Jesus. Should it not also be the story of our beautiful school?
In Kevin DeYoung's article "Distinguishing Marks of a Quarrelsome Person" at Gospel Coalition, he says:
"So what does a quarrelsome person look like? What are his (or her) distinguishing marks?
To read DeYoung's "marks" six through twelve, click the link below.
Do you talk to your children about race? We know that God's kingdom is made up of "a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages" (Revelation 7:9). Our children live in a world of people that look, speak, and behave in very unique ways. How are we preparing our children to live faithfully amidst such beautiful diversity? The Christian church and our communities should not shy away from having difficult and potentially uncomfortable conversations about race. Author and writer Trillia Newbill says, "...not only should we as Christians be talking about race, but we should be the ones best equipped to be at the forefront of the conversation, and best resourced to be teaching our children about it as well." I love that our children have a perfect place for this conversation in our own school. At least a few times each year during chapel, I will ask the students to look around the sanctuary and tell me how people look different? Tall, short, older, younger, girls, and boys are all easy answers to the question. I see at least a few students squirming in their seats. Who will state the obvious? Who will mention that we have different skin colors? Children that have been at the school for many years now know that I expect them to mention this very obvious fact. Absolutely! Wouldn't it be boring if we all looked exactly the same? I usually follow up this exercise by asking them if a person's skin color makes anyone better than another. Are we not all made in God's image? "Children may not be ready to learn a full theology of the imago Dei," says Newbill, "but they can understand that every human being is made by God." This conversation is important and it needs to be had with our children in the home and in the classroom.
Why is it hard so hard for us to talk about race? The underlying reason that keeps us from discussing race is fear. We are afraid of offending others. We are afraid of confronting our own issues and perceptions on race. We are afraid of appearing racist or biased to others. Issues of race are deeply personal and emotional and it is understandable that we as a people fear having such conversations. Yet, we have been commissioned by God to bring peace and unity to a divisive world. This might require us to become uncomfortable and address difficult issues.
What are three common excuses for not talking about race? Newbill discusses the below excuses in more detail in her article "Do You Talk to Your Children About Race?":
Excuse 1 - Children Won't Understand
Sure, children at young ages are not able to understand the complexity of racial issues in our world. But they are never too young to hear about the diversity of God's kingdom and God's love for all people. "We want to be ahead of our society in teaching our children. That is one reason it is important that we give our children a biblical foundation for creation, the fall, redemption, and what Jesus has accomplished through the cross for every tribe, tongue, and nation."
Excuse 2 - Race is a Political Issue
If race is only a political issue then we are in big trouble. The Christian church ought to be passionate about promoting a view and understanding of race aligned with Biblical truth (Ephesians 2:13-16). A true Christian understanding of our racial diversity will see opportunity and not a threat to our way of living. Race is much more than a political issue. It is a theological issue and one that we need to understand if we are going to obey God's evangelical call on our lives (Matthew 28:18).
Excuse 3 - We Want our Children to be Color-Blind
Some parents think that if they never discuss the issue of race, that their children will learn to be "colorblind" and will naturally treat all people as equal. Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman argue effectively against this idea in the third chapter of their book NurtureShock. They say, "We might imagine we're creating color-blind environments for children, but differences in skin color or hair or weight are like differences in gender- they're plainly visible." Our children see it and we need to engage in meaningful conversations that can help them treat all people with dignity, respect, and love.
Newbill argues against these excuses saying, "When it comes to teaching our children, instead of trying to ignore or avoid the topics of racial diversity, differences, and harmony, let's teach them to embrace them. And let's show them from Scripture why we all should." It is time that the Christian community create a more welcoming environment for these difficult conversations.
Over the years, in my work as a math teacher, I have collected a variety of math and science toys. The scientific playthings that I enjoy most are the ones that behave in a curious fashion. My eclectic collection includes Euler's Disc, Sicherman Dice, Endless Landscapes, The Gaussian Gun, and The Inverter Magnet. One of my favorites is The Snail Ball. Picture an inclined ramp with a very minor slope downwards. When you place a normal "ball" (marble or ball bearing) at the top of the ramp, it will descend to the bottom in a just a few seconds. When you place The Snail Ball on the six-inch ramp, it will go down the ramp, but it takes anywhere from two to six minutes to reach the bottom. I so enjoy watching the expression on a child's face as they marvel at this little oddity. "How does it do that!? Why is it moving so slow?" No fireworks, no loud music, no juggling clown... just a slow-moving ball. Kids love it. The wonder comes from the ball behaving in a manner contrary to our assumptions of how a ball ought to roll down a ramp. Is gravity broken? The mysterious movement of the ball inspires a child to guess the reason for its slow descent. Magnets? No. Friction on the ball's surface? No. The Moon? No. A spherical metal shell filled with a viscous liquid surrounding a second sphere in the inside? Yes. Albert Einstein said, "The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science." There is beauty in mystery. "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" Romans 11:33. A good education, a true classical Christian education, will expose a child to the wonderful mysteries of the world and use these opportunities to connect them with the "inscrutable" ways of our Creator.
Enjoy watching the Snail Ball patiently move its way down the ramp:
Consider the imaginary Burton family. Horace and Linda have three children (two boys and a girl). The Burton's are well known in their community for having very strict rules - no Television during the week, no dating until their children are sixteen years old, the boys can't grow their hair past their ears (definitely no beards like their Head of School), and their daughter can't wear shorts or dresses that are above the ankles. The ankles! I would guess the Burton's would find themselves accused of legalism with their old-fashioned rules. But is this really legalism? The best answer is maybe. Having high standards is not legalistic. Establishing specific rules is not legalistic. Strict rules are often present with legalism but they can also be present with faithful obedience. Christian families ought to put up man-made fences that can protect our children from wandering towards sin. Stonehaven's former Headmaster, Scott Taylor, provides some helpful insight, "To avoid the sin of drunkenness, one guy's fence is to never ever drink, while my fence might be a limit of two drinks in an evening. Neither of us are more righteous because of the nature of our fence and neither can equate our fence to God's Law. But both of us can avoid the sin of drunkenness." In her article "Legalism or Love? Religious or Radical?" at DesiringGod.org, author Trillia Newbill says, "Equating the pursuit of godliness to legalism can cause a world or problems. This mistake eventually leads to projecting judgment on others and even living licentiously." We all build fences to avoid sin but we place them in different places. It's not the location of the fence that defines legalism but rather the intent of the heart.
What exactly is legalism then? Newbill says, "Legalism is pursuing good works with the intention of earning God's favor." Legalism is not the adoption of specific rules or high fences but rather it is when you think these rules and high fences make you holier in the eyes of God. John Piper says, "The essence of legalism is when faith is not the engine of obedience... Legalism is not simply the pursuit of the law. It is pursuing the law in the wrong way." Legalism is a very real problem and I don't want to downplay its pervasive presence in our culture. From how one should eat to the right form of worship, legalism abounds when we consider ourselves superior for simply following a specific set of man-made rules. However, we can't allow licentiousness in an effort to avoid legalism.
In a school setting, it is helpful for us to make the distinction between house rules and God's rules. God's rules are often more general - "I will not look with approval on anything that is vile..." (Psalm 101:3) and "women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control..." (1 Timothy 2:9). House rules are more specific like hair length and dress codes. It is the necessary job of parents and teachers to develop the house rules that will help our children avoid the sins that will naturally tempt them. Limiting access to the Internet, restricting attendance to particular events, or prohibiting certain types of apparel are house rules we all ought to implement. "Having a strict house rule wherein compliance is fully expected, does not mean that you are equating your house rule with God's rule or that you are being a legalist," says Scott Taylor. The house rules are the bowling lane bumpers keeping us from veering into the gutters of sin. Piper can bring us home, "Discipline is not legalism. Hard work is not legalism. Acting against carnal impulses is not legalism. They may be. But they may also be the torque of the engine of faith running on the fuel of the Spirit to the glory of the grace of God in a self-centered and undisciplined world."
* A special thank you to Scott Taylor for providing me his thoughts on this topic in an email. He continues to be a sage voice helping me understand how to train up my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Clare Vanderpool is the author of Newbery Medal winner "Moon Over Manifest" and her second novel, "Navigating Early" is a Printz Honor book. Vanderpool's writing style is almost ethereal, as she writes with a smooth cadence that washes over the reader in even tones. "Navigating Early" explores many important themes for young (and old) readers: loss, friendship, loyalty, acceptance, empathy, and grit.
The book is intricately structured as Vanderpool follows two young boys on a quest to find the missing numbers of Pi. It's as unique as it sounds considering that one of the boys is autistic with savant abilities. He sees numbers as having shape, texture, and color and reads the number Pi as a fantastic adventure story. The book follows both the story of Pi and the quest of the boys who are trying to find Pi.
As I read this book, I echoed the tension within the protagonist who gets swept along in this adventure. Especially as the boys' adventures start to reflect Pi's adventures in extraordinarily similar ways, I was relieved with how the author weaved a realistic explanation and felt satisfied with the resolution in the end.
It's a great read for readers of any age as it causes the reader to wrestle with deep ideas surrounding loss and friendship. And... you might think about Pi a little differently!
Kathryn Jackson is Stonehaven's professor of Latin and 7th grade Pre-Algebra. She is the wife of Eric and the amazing mother to three beautiful children (Canon, Anne, and Kate). Being a lover of reading and writing, a book review is right up her alley.
Often I will walk away from an event or gathering and think about the positive impression of a particular person. I think to myself, "That was an impressive person." I then try to figure out what it was that gave me the impression. Often, as I think deeply about it, the positive impression was made because the person was an excellent listener. I find that they might have said very little about themselves but they showed interest and passion for whatever it was I was saying. Possibly one of the most overlooked virtues in our culture is that of listening. "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Matthew 11:15). When we think of what makes a person a good listener, we usually think of the following things. Being silent when another person is talking. Responding with facial expressions and sounds of confirmation ("Mmm-hmm"). Repeating back to that person what they have said ("If I have heard you correctly, you feel..."). Although such things can be characteristics of good listeners, these behaviors fall well short of what really makes a person a good listener. In a Harvard study, four main findings were found that described the qualities of a good listener. First, good listening is not always silent. "To the contrary," says Leadership consultant Jack Zenger, "people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight." Questions are indicators that you are interested and engaged in what the other person is saying and that you would like to know more. Second, good listeners cultivate a conversation where the speaker feels supported and respected. The listener is seeking to create a positive interaction that will ultimately encourage and inspire the other person. Third, good listeners are not interested in winning an argument. They are striving to promote a "cooperative conversation" where everyone is helping the interaction flow smoothly. Fourth, and maybe most surprising, "good listeners tended to make suggestions." This seems counter-intuitive to the traditional advice regarding listening. "Don't try and fix the problem... just listen!" Yet, the study found that those that can thoughtfully and patiently provide suggestions will be seen as better listeners.
Parents and the school ought to be partnering with each other to raise up our children in culture of listening. When we turn on the television, we see the art of listening consistently devalued (and even mocked) for the goal of entertainment. Fox News, CNN, and ESPN don't have time for active listening and thoughtful responses. Try and imagine a person going on Fox News and thinking for seven seconds before responding to a difficult question. That would be their last appearance on a news program. Author, Henning Mankell says, "It's a principle that's been lost in the constant chatter of the Western world, where no one seems to have the time or even the desire to listen to anyone else... It's as if we have completely lost the ability to listen. We talk and talk, and we end up frightened by silence, the refuge of those who are at a loss for an answer." Think about the people you most respect and trust. I would venture to guess that many of those people are excellent listeners.
So, what do we do with our children to cultivate in them the skill of listening? Well... we listen to them. When they are excited to tell us something, we turn our attention to them. We look into their eyes and tell them with our bodies that we are interested in what they have to say. This might mean crouching down to the four-year-old to get down on their level. We will put away all of our distractions and show them how important they are to us. We should ask questions to gain a deeper understanding and to continue the conversation. We might not always agree with them, but we will support them and give them respect. When appropriate, we will offer suggestions or ideas related to whatever they might be saying. When we see them not listening well to others, we can challenge them to be quiet and listen better. James 1:9 sums it up, "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak."
Click the link below if you want to learn about Wenger's six "levels" of listening.
Charlotte Mason, a 20th century educator said, "The question is not, -- how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education -- but how much does he care?" Over the past five years, our staff has explored the educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason. Through this effort, we have acquired an appreciation for her approach and have considered how we can implement her teachings in our classrooms. The area we have recognized the most impact is in what has been called Nature Studies. Every student of Mason's was encouraged to keep a Nature Notebook or Nature Diary including water color paintings of flowers, trees, streams, rocks, insects, birds, and more. Our goal as a school is to find more and more opportunities for our children to directly observe, explore, and learn about God's world. Other aspects of Mason's philosophy we have studied include narration and the idea of synthetic learning (the natural integration of subjects). In an educational world distracted by utilitarianism and output, Mason believed, "education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life." Pastor and theologian Louis Markos put it this way, "True education is not a race or a contest, it is a love affair." When the central aim of an educational system is productivity, we will actually end up driving our children towards intellectual apathy. Productivity is more often the result of instilling wonder, love, gratitude, and humility into the souls of our children.
Charlotte Mason Resources:
Is it possible that individuals who seek out solitude will enhance their creativity? A new study by a group of psychologists at SUNY Buffalo has found "a link between a particular type of social withdrawal and a beneficial outcome - in this case, increased creativity." It is when we are alone, set apart from the distractions of the world, that our minds can ruminate on how to solve our thorniest problems. We are in need of more opportunities for deep thinking and prayer. Jesus provides the perfect example in Luke 5:16, "But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray." Often, Jesus was seeking solitude to prepare for his mission in the world (Luke 6:12-13, Matthew 14:13, Mark 6:31-32, Matthew 14:23). Solitude is not synonymous with loneliness. The right form of solitude will actually cultivate a beautiful internal conversation within our souls. Wendell Berry says in his essay "What Are People For?" that, "True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One's inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one's most intimate sources." The application with our children is clear. As parents, we would be wise to encourage opportunities for solitude in the life of our children. Take a walk. Find a peaceful corner of the house. Swing in the hammock. Their souls yearn for these quiet opportunities to think, reflect, and pray. They are just like us, overstimulated by the many activities filling up their day. Let us help them cherish any opportunity for solitude as it will likely help them express their unique giftings more creatively.