(Archive: March 13-June 5, 2017)
One of the more common and simple commandments in the Edwards household is, "Go outside!" This is an especially popular expectation during the summer months. It is not rare that this command is challenged by our children with grumbling pleas to stay inside. "Daddy, I don't want to go outside... it's hot... what are we going to do outside?" What are you going to do outside!?! I don't know... just about anything you want! With a few loving but firm shoves and a locked door, the kids are banished to the brutal elements of the Edwards backyard. Only minutes later though, the children have embarked on another imaginative adventure of their own creation. With no parental involvement, they have constructed their own world of play and entertainment that often consumes several hours of their day. When the summer months arrive, I often reference a thought-provoking article written by the staff of what was formerly The Heiskell School. The article challenges parents to expect two things in their role as parents. First, require obedience. Second, refuse to entertain. The first shouldn't surprise the Christian parent but the second needs a little more explanation. The authors of the article argue that, "When you refuse to entertain your child, you encourage resourcefulness, creativity, and imagination, all wonderful traits that will serve him well at school and later in life." We should not feel obligated to plan and execute activities that will keep our children busy during every waking minute of their summer. "In summer there should be lots of unscheduled free time." The beautiful truth is that our children will learn and enjoy many things during these times of free and unplanned exploration. Lock the door and let 'em run free.
A friend of mine once shared a humorous and informative story of a young boy playing with his friends. The boy had dressed up in Native American garb, was chasing his buddies around the house and was hollering in a deep and threatening voice... "I am the Chief End of Man!" This is an amusing mix of warrior play with a young boy that has been well catechized in the Westminster Confession of Faith. For many Christian parents, myself included, we were unfamiliar with the idea of a catechism until much later in life. Why does Stonehaven catechize its students? What is the value in catechizing our children? Tim Keller tackles this question in a short video at The Gospel Coalition website. He gives three reasons for catechizing children. First, "When you memorize something... you tend to meditate on it." At first, our children will learn catechism answers simply for the sake of learning. Yet, the act of memorizing is often the first step towards creating an appreciation and love for God's truth. They begin to ruminate and think deeply upon the truths they have committed to memory. Second, "Catechism with young children creates categories with children." Our children are beginning to organize truth into categories or "buckets" that will be helpful when they learn new truths about God and his world. Third, "Another great thing about catechism is it's communal." Catechism is a great opportunity for parents and teachers to show and demonstrate a love for Biblical truth. The back-and-forth dialogue will naturally lead our children into deeper questions and a desire to learn more about Christian theology.
Do we gain an impression of other people through a handshake? There are many handshake varieties: the "upper-hand," the "double-hander," the "left-side advantage" (see Joe Biden in the picture), the "limp fish," and the "handshake bully." Researchers continue to find that our body language often communicates more than we know. The "handshake bully," an individual that nearly breaks the bones in your hand, will often present an aggressive and domineering first impression. Maybe necessary for a meeting with a North Korean diplomat but probably not the best option for a first date. An article in The Week, notes that, "if you're meeting someone for the first time, a bad shake can leave a lasting, negative impression." Training children how to effectively communicate with body language deserves the same intentional thinking that we give to teaching children how to read and write. In the case of a handshake, we would train our children to, "make eye contact, repeat the person's name, and base the strength of your grip on your partner's." A classical education is interested in helping a child consider every aspect of human thought and interaction. We desire to see our children communicate God's love in everything... even a handshake.
Philosopher and atheist Christopher Hitchens once argued, "If religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world." Those antagonistic to Christian thinking want to believe that education will convince believers that their faith is irrational. Is it really true though? Does education impact our beliefs and religious practice? Data from the Pew Research Center challenges the idea that education is "the cure for religion." Emma Green, a writer for The Atlantic, found that the results made a convincing argument that "education makes believers more likely to be active in their communities, not less." Among college-educated evangelical Protestants, 68% go to church every week. Whereas, only 55 percent of those who only went to high school attend church every week. Other results support the idea that a college education will increase the chance that a person will be involved in the Christian community. One critical aspect of Stonehaven's academic program is to provide our children with a rational defense for their Christian faith. C.S. Lewis said, "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." This is a beautiful image of the intersection of faith and reason. Granted, we come to know the Lord through faith and it is a faith in the miraculous and incomprehensible nature of God. Yet, this faith provides a light giving meaning and purpose to everything else in the world. The education our children receive will only serve to strengthen and stimulate their faith in Jesus.
Imagine that Jesus came to your house for dinner tonight. At this dinner, Jesus requested that you behave or act in a particular way. "I want you to be more involved in your church... You need to spend more time with your family... Pray more often." How would you respond to these requests? I would expect God's children to respond with faithful and humble obedience. Now let's consider the more normal dinner occasion. The family surrounds the table and parents are making reasonable requests of their children. How should we expect them to respond to the commands of their parents? Ephesians 6:1 says, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right." Training our children to obey their earthly parents is a fundamental way in which we are training them to obey their heavenly Father. When disciplining our children, the paradigm we follow is the relationship between God and his children. Matt Whitling, a classical Christian school educator, says, "Faithful discipline is primarily an exercise in imitation... One way that our Father provides a way of escape for His people is through training them." God gives many commands in scripture and he expects us to follow them with a cheerful heart. Many in the world view parental expectations for obedience as an antiquated, oppressive, and unloving approach to child rearing. However, expecting obedience from our children is not simply an attempt to make our lives easier. In the end, it is really not about the parents or teachers at all. The ultimate goal of training our children to obey earthly authorities (Romans 13:1) is to cultivate in them a desire and passion for obeying God. "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). We want to help our children see obedience not as an act of obligation but rather as an expression of love.
We are living in a topsy-turvy world with a culture that is increasingly willing to call up, down and right, left. In his 2015 dissent to the Obergefell decision granting same-sex couples the right to marry, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts argued, "If a same-sex couple has the constitutional right to marry because their children would otherwise 'suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser,' why wouldn't the same reasoning apply to a family of three or more persons raising children?" This prescient comment is unfortunately finding the light of day in a New York courtroom where a judge granted three-way custody to a "throuple." It would be difficult to make this stuff up. A writer at Slate called the decision, "a necessary next step in a vision of parenthood and child-rearing that extends beyond the boundaries of monogamous marriage." The current cultural revolution is steps away from the acceptance and celebration of polygamy. America continues to slide down a cultural slippery slope at an ever-increasing speed. In a similarly confusing case in February, a transgender boy, taking hormones and steroids, won a girl's wrestling state championship in Texas. Can't fault the opponents for feeling that the situation was a tad unfair. The International Olympic Committee has decided to allow trans women (born male) to compete in the women's category as long as they have testosterone levels comparable to other women. I wonder if this will cause any problems in the future? I once heard a pastor say that the current battles in our culture will be determined by who gets control of the dictionary. Marriage, boy, girl, parents, family, and love are just a few of the words threatened by our culture's bold efforts to redefine the world. As sad as the current state of affairs might look, it helps underscore the great purpose, vision, and need for Christian education. We need to prepare ourchildren to boldly and articulately resist these efforts to redesign the world. As G.K. Chesterton said, "Right is right even if nobody does it. Wrong is wrong even if everybody is wrong about it." Our children will grow up and sit as judges, serve as coaches, and educate the next generation. A Stonehaven education seeks to assist parents in helping their children understand that all words ultimately find their meaning rooted in the character of God and are consistent with his holy word.
In a 2015 survey of 30,000 U.S. teachers, 89 percent reported being strongly enthusiastic about teaching when they began their careers but only 15 percent felt the same way today. Seven out of ten teachers said they "often" felt their work is stressful. A research brief by Pennsylvania State University found that, "High levels of stress are affecting teacher health and well-being, causing teacher burnout, lack of engagement, job dissatisfaction, poor performance, and some of the highest turnover rates ever." How does the stress of a teacher impact student learning? It is not surprising that the research shows that, "When teachers are highly stressed, children show lower levels of both social adjustment and academic performance." Teachers reported that the cause of the stress often came from, "having to carry out a steady stream of new initiatives - such as implementing curricula and testing related to the Common Core State Standards - without being given adequate training." A significant blessing of being an independent school is having the freedom to define our own standards for success. These standards are governed by careful interpretation and application of God's word to the sphere of education. Too often, the success of a school is measured by numbers and data disconnected from the complex context of a school's particular situation. Stonehaven's student vision provides a more beautiful and aspirational goal for the education of our children. This is our school's measure for success. A child possessing the Christian virtues promoted in our vision statement will be well prepared to live a God-honoring life.
How can the concept of an ambassador inform our work as parents? Theologian Ted Tripp argues that there are two types of parenting; ownership parenting and ambassador parenting. Parents employing the ownership model view children as their own possessions. If children ultimately belong to parents, it will be natural to adopt expectations for our children that are defined by our culture. For Christian parents, Tripp promotes an ambassador model of parenting. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an ambassador as a "person who acts as a representative or promoter of a specified activity." In this model, children belong to God and parents are sent by God to represent and embody the gospel to their children. In 2 Corinthians 5:20, the apostle Paul compares the work of the church to being "ambassadors for Christ." It is more natural to connect the image of an ambassador to the Christian's responsibility outside of the home. Yet, are we not also representing Jesus and the gospel in our home? This doesn't minimize the parent's responsibility to train up a child in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6). It focuses the desire of parents away from worldly expectations towards the more important question, "What does God desire in the lives of my children?" This view recognizes the Lordship of Christ in every area of our lives including parenting. "Parents embrace their complete inability to change the hearts and lives of their kids," says Tripp. "They recognize their role as instruments in the hands of the One who alone has the power to create lasting change. So they look for every opportunity to be tools of God's convicting, forgiving, rescuing, transforming, and delivering grace in their children's lives."
British philosopher Alan Watts said, "We get such a kick out of looking forward to pleasures and rushing ahead to meet them that we can't slow down enough to enjoy them when they come." We are commanded in Psalm 46:10 to, "Be still, and know that I am God." In our pursuit of achievement it can be difficult to slow down and enjoy the blessing of God's gifts to us. Our culture promotes and encourages a clear distinction between work and leisure. However, the Greek word scholé, which meant "leisure," is where the English word school finds its derivation. School, the place devoted to learning and thinking, was originally intended to be a place of leisure. German philosopher Josef Pieper says that, "leisure is the condition of considering things in a celebrating spirit. The inner joyfulness of the person who is celebrating belongs to the very core of what we mean by leisure." From this perspective leisure is a condition of the soul and less connected to a particular activity (reading a book, laying in a hammock, etc.). This means that we might not need to wait until the weekend or a vacation to experience leisure. Leisure can be enjoyed at work, at school, at the dining room table, and at the beach. And conversely, it won't be experienced at any of these places if one's soul is not "still" and able to enjoy the blessings of God. Pieper eloquently states, "It is not the same as the absence of activity; it is not the same thing as quiet, or even as an inner quiet. It is rather like the stillness in the conversation of lovers, which is fed by their oneness." We want to promote and encourage industry in our children but also ensure that we are not sacrificing the stillness of their souls in the process.
The story of Wikipedia provides a valuable example of what truly inspires and motivates people. In 1993, Microsoft launched an encyclopedia software program called Encarta. Encarta followed a traditional model by spending a significant amount of time, money, and resources to the creation of the encyclopedia. Wikipedia was launched in 2001 and was inspired by the ambitious plan of finding unpaid volunteers to create a free-source online encyclopedia. In 2001, it would've been hard to find a business expert who could've predicted the remarkable success of the volunteer-dependent Wikipedia. And yet, Encarta was simply unable to compete with Wikipedia's thousands of volunteer editors and ultimately closed its virtual doors in 2009. Another illustrative example of motivation comes from the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary in the middle 1800's. The endeavor was a massive 30-year project and heavily dependent upon the help of hundreds of volunteers to collect word definitions. The most prolific contributor was an inmate from an asylum for the criminally insane. Convicted murderer William Chester Minor ended up submitting more than 10,000 entries for the dictionary. What motivates us to contribute with no apparent material benefit? Minor received no remuneration and little fanfare at the time for his efforts. We are tempted to think carrots on a stick, extrinsic motivators, are the motivators to success. Yet, these examples show that motivation comes from the deep satisfaction that comes from doing the task itself. Author and speaker Dan Pink says, "When the reward is the activity itself--deepening learning, delighting customers, doing one's best--there are no shortcuts... The joy of the task was its own reward... The joy is in the pursuit more than the realization." This is an essential component of classical learning. The goal is to cultivate in our children a yearning to participate in true, good, and beautiful activities for the joy of the task. As we say in one of our Stonehaven shout outs, "Virtue... is its own reward!"