A blog exploring the truth, beauty, and goodness of Stonehaven's Christ-centered classical education.
(Archive: October 9, 2017-January 2, 2018)
Consider the different methods a person might use to memorize something. We could read the material silently, listen to another read, listen to a recording of oneself reading, or read aloud in real time. Which of these four methods would you guess is the most effective? A study with 95 participants from the University of Waterloo "showed that the production effect of reading information aloud to yourself resulted in the best remembering." I would expect many of us to consider this a "no duh!" finding but does this match the way our children (and adults for that matter!) try to memorize information? Reading aloud is the Fosbury Flop approach to memorization, yet many of us continue to use the inefficient Straddle Technique. Knowing effective methods for memorization will definitely be helpful for a Stonehaven student. The classical Christian approach believes memorization is a critical tool for learning. Not just learning facts but more importantly learning to love that which is true, good, and beautiful. Memorizing helps us grasp the truth and beauty of the information in a unique and personal way. New York University professor of English, Catherine Robson, argues for the value of memorizing poetry saying, "If we do not learn by heart, the heart does not feel the rhythms of poetry as echoes or variations of its own insistent beat." Making a theater of the material to be memorized will create an experience and a mental picture helping them better recall the information. Not only is it more effective, I would think many of our children might find greater enjoyment in the task of memorization when speaking aloud.
This Christmas season, two stories will be told to the world and to our children. These two stories share a lot of the same words: joy, celebrate, and cheer. These two stories share some traditions: food, feasting, and the giving of gifts. These two stories share a similar look: colorful, festive, and decorations. However, the center and focus of these two stories could not be more different. One "Christmas story" will put our children at the center and will tell them a destructive lie about the source of goodness, love, and joy. In his article "Warning: Christmas is Coming!" pastor Paul Tripp describes the secular Christmas story, "It calls them to find comfort where comfort can't be found, to place their hope in things that will never deliver, to think they can accomplish what only the Messiah can do." The story our children need to hear this Christmas season is that, "God did the unthinkable, sending his Son to be the sacrificial Lamb of redemption." Christmas, like any other holiday, must be viewed by parents as an opportunity to train and shape the affections of a child's heart. In his article, Tripp provides "5 Weapons" parents can use to "help your children focus on the true Advent story." Just like all the stories of the Bible, the story of Jesus' coming to this world is a story that ought to humble us and exalt Him. Which of these stories will capture the hearts of our children? Let us pray that our children feast upon the story that puts Jesus at the center of the Christmas story.
Many classical liberal arts colleges are finding it more and more difficult to preserve one of the central tenets of a liberal arts education; the teaching of Western civilization. Reed College, a small liberal arts college in Portland, provides a rigorous year-long course to all freshmen called Humanities 110. The course seeks to help students understand the writings, thinking, and culture of the ancient Greeks. A group of students, objecting to its ethnocentric focus on Western civilization, organized a more than year-long protest of the class. Writer and Reed alumnus Michelle Nijhuis said, "protesters have repeatedly disrupted classes, intimidated lecturers, and bullied other students both online and off." I think it is only a matter of time before Western civilization classes are expunged from most college campuses. Such protests should force Stonehaven to ask the question, "Why do we study and focus on Western civilization?" In an effort to defend the teaching of Western civilization, New York Times columnist David Brooks says that, "It gave diverse people a sense of shared mission and a common vocabulary, set a framework within which political argument could happen and most important provided a set of common goals." We want to preserve a common way of living, a culture, and a society for our children. For hundreds of years, Western culture formed and shaped a society where diverse people could live in harmony with one another. This way of living is threatened by the current of our extremist culture and we could all benefit from going back to the wisdom of ancient Greece.
What makes a good life? What makes a healthy life? In a study of adult development started in 1939, Harvard professors analyzed the behavior of 268 students over the span of their entire lives. A second parallel study, called the Glueck Study, followed the lives of 456 youths from inner-city Boston. One of the primary goals of the research was to collect data and information that might help answer the above questions. When looking for indicators of a healthy life we would expect to find physical exercise, healthy diets, and mental stimulation among the findings. As important as these are, researchers found that the most potent predictor of long-term health was found in the strength of their human relationships. Director of the study and psychiatrist Robert Waldinger says, "The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health... Several studies found that people's level of satisfaction with their relationships at age 50 was a better predictor of physical health than their cholesterol levels were." Those that were able to establish and maintain deep and meaningful relationships in their family and community were the most likely to live long and happy lives. This "discovery" should resonate with the Christian hope. Our faith is built upon a relationship. God desires a personal relationship with each and every one of his children and He pursues this relationship vigorously through the person and work of Jesus Christ (John 15:5, 1 Peter 3:18). The findings in these studies demonstrates the value of a classical Christian education in two important ways.
A good education will prioritize and exalt the cultivation of true, good, and beautiful relationships within the school community. Although some of our children are born with a propensity towards relationships, every child needs to be trained in this social art. It is much more than the quantity of friendships we possess. Waldinger says, "it's the quality of your close relationships that matters." Stonehaven excels in the building of relationships. We recognize and believe that relationships will be critically important to the future success of our children. Thomas Aquinas said, "There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship." It is more important than fame, wealth, or success. We want our children to be the type of friends we see in the Lord of the Rings. When Frodo wonders if he can trust anyone after learning they all are aware of the Ring, his friend Merry says, "You can trust us to stick to you, through thick and thin - to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours - closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo." Tolkien puts into words the kind of friends we desire and more importantly the type of friend we should yearn to be (Proverbs 18:24). Consider the security, warmth, and joy Frodo feels knowing his friends have this type of loyalty to him and their willingness to share the burdens he bears. Waldinger says it well, "The people that fared the best were the people that leaned into relationships... Good relationships keep us healthier and happier. Period."
Yet, all relationships will find their greatest realization when built upon the cornerstone relationship with our savior Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:19-21). We want our children to understand that every human relationship will disappoint them at some point. Fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sisters, and brothers will all fail us in one way or another. Depend on it. It is only when we have nurtured a loving and dependent relationship with Jesus that we can weather any storm or tribulation. One need look no further than the story of Job. Pastor Charles Stanley said, "There is only one secure foundation: a genuine, deep relationship with Jesus Christ, which will carry you through any and all turmoil. No matter what storms are raging around, you'll stand firm if you stand on His love." This truth must be communicated to our children consistently in every sphere of their lives. This truth is communicated often and fervently at our school and we trust that upon this foundation will grow a generation of healthy and content children of God.
In the sixth century AD, a retired Roman statesman known as Cassiodorus started a "monastery school" in Southern Italy called the Vivarium. The Vivarium is remembered today for its role in the preservation of Western civilization. The monastery was endowed with a fine library containing the best literature in history at the time. The most important Greek, Roman, and early Christian literature was collected in the monastery library. The monks were expected as part of their daily work to copy these manuscripts to ensure the preservation of their cherished culture. They believed in the power of words and the importance of preserving a particular language. Consider the task of the Christian parent when disciplining their child. When seeking to emphasize a child's need for Jesus we would say, "You have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Would it be sufficient to change a few words and say, "You have messed up and need some help?" The first admonition directs the child to their need for a savior and the second phrase could be addressed by a secular psychiatrist. One of the most important tasks before the Church today and all its ministries is the preservation of a Christian language. In his article, "The Church as Culture," Robert Louis Wilken says, "St. Augustine, for instance, believed that there was a distinctively Christian language, what he called the Church's way of speaking." The school must participate in this most important task. A classical Christian education seeks to preserve the "grammar" of orthodox Christianity. We are training up a generation of children that we want to remember the story of their Christian heritage and words will play a central role.
What are the words and what is the language we want to pass on to the next generation? Wilken answers this saying, "There are some words and phrases in Christian culture that are simply irreplaceable. Words and phrases such as 'obedience,' 'grace,' 'long-suffering' (the biblical form of patience), 'image of God,' 'suffering servant,' 'adoption,' 'will of God' - when used again and again form our imagination and channel our affections." We as a school can equip our children with this language in two important ways. First, our teachers and staff can use Biblical language in our teaching, training, and discipling. We want to speak the words of Scripture to the point that our children adopt this way of speaking without even thinking about it. Second, this underscores the value and purpose of reading the Great Books of history. Cassiodorus recognized how important it was to pass on the literature that would pass on the faith to the next generation. A school that neglects the reading of classical literature is passing up a beautiful opportunity to form and shape the affections of a child. Both Cassiodorus and Augustine believed the reading of classic literature was a "transformative" act for the reader. A child educated in a classical Christian school through twelfth grade will have read books like Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, Dante's Divine Comedy, Augustine's City of God, Milton's Paradise Lost, Hugo's Les Miserables, Shakespeare, and Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. The reading of these classics will immerse our children in the language of Christianity. Wilken provides an apt conclusion, "We cannot hand on to the next generation what the words signify if we do not hold fast to the words."
Rhetoric is "the application of language in order to instruct and to persuade the listener and the reader. It is the knowledge (grammar) now understood (logic) and being transmitted outwards as wisdom (rhetoric)." Professor and author Sister Miriam Joseph says, "Grammar is concerned with the thing as-it-is-symbolized. Logic is concerned with the thing as-it-is-known. Rhetoric is concerned with the thing as-it-is-communicated." Notice in the above definition the connecting of knowledge to grammar, understanding to logic, and wisdom to rhetoric. Is it not true that the most neglected of these three in education today is wisdom (rhetoric)? What school doesn't value and elevate knowledge and understanding? That is a given but the idea of wisdom seems so ancient and undefined in our culture. Yet, we find a clear command in Scripture for our children to pursue wisdom (Proverbs 4:6, Proverbs 13:1). The pursuit of wisdom strikes at a core assumption in modern education that truth is relative. Wisdom demands an ultimate standard of truth, beauty, and goodness. Classical Christian schools have a particular interest and desire to see the art of rhetoric revived in our schools. The classical Trivium considered Rhetoric to be one of the three essential disciplines of study for a person to be educated. It is with this perspective that our school is excited to see our school embark on a journey to complete the Trivium through the twelfth grade. Wisdom, eloquence, and persuasion are virtues that find their greatest potential in tenth through twelfth grade. Plato said, "There are three classes of men; lovers of wisdom, lovers of honor, and lovers of gain." lt is our desire to see our children become lovers of wisdom.
You have heard it said that, "You are what you eat." You can get idea of a person's health by reviewing a spreadsheet detailing every thing consumed by that individual. How might we gauge a person's spiritual health? Author James K. A. Smith recently wrote a book called "You are What You Love," to discuss how the deepest passions of our hearts are what prime and motivate our actions and behavior. The activities and routines that we consume on a daily basis define who we are and what we love. Ultimately, we are not driven by our minds and what we know. Smith says, "It's not that knowledge is unimportant. It's just that it's not enough. You can't think your way to holiness." Smith sees many young evangelical Christians that possess the right intentions, "There are now all kinds of evangelical Christians who are invested in engaging, influencing, and 'transforming' culture." The desire to impact our culture for Christ is clearly present but is the church really having an impact on our secular culture? Why don't we see our culture being transformed by the gospel? Smith believes that, "Too often, in the name of 'transforming' culture we end up becoming assimilated to the culture. Or in the name of 'relevance,' we just end up mimicking the dominant culture." He argues that cultural transformation and cultural reformation occurs when we have developed habits or cultural liturgies that will form and shape the deepest desires of the heart. Smith explains, "We have completely underestimated the power of habit and the (de)formative power of cultural practices. That's why I call these cultural practices cultural liturgies-because they are heart-shaping rituals that actually shape what we love. So what I'm trying to do is to help people see that these cultural liturgies aren't just something that you do; they do something to you." I believe these ideas should guide the way we educate our children.
What are these cultural liturgies that Smith is referencing and how should we incorporate them into the life of a school? Cultural liturgies are practices, routines, rituals and habits that we do in our life that will shape our affections as they increasingly become a part of the fabric of our lives. A family that makes a habit of reading and enjoying poetry daily will cultivate an appreciation for the beauty of words in their children. Stonehaven has many rituals, routines, and habits that are forming what our children love and appreciate. The school's catechism is forming a foundation of spiritual truth for our children. We are developing a culture of singing where our children see their teachers and parents worshipping God through song. The teachers and staff invest in our children beyond the intellectual sphere and into their hearts. Our children feel loved and cared for by their teachers. Our children are expected to greet adults and one another with respect and honor. We consistently provide opportunities for our older children to interact and mentor the younger ones. These rituals are shaping the desires of the hearts of our children. Theologian N.T. Wright says, "You become like what you worship. When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object of your worship." If we worship that which is true, good, and beautiful, then we shouldn't be surprised to see our children grow up to be true, good, and beautiful people.
Seventeenth century poet and priest George Herbert said, "One father is worth more than a hundred schoolmasters." Our children are designed by God to respond to their fathers in a unique and powerful way. Fathers are created to protect, love, and provide for their families. Our sons will be looking to their fathers to learn what it means to be a man of faith, sacrifice, and humility. Fathers ought to be providing the image of what their daughters should expect in a future husband. Yet, our culture is starving for fathers to take on their God-given responsibility to lead their families. Pastor Voddie Baucham says in his article, "Dads, Your Children Need You" that, "It's a two-edged sword; fathers are not there, and the culture argues increasingly that they are not necessary." A school ought to play an active and supportive role in teaching our young men what it looks like to be a man of God. Classical education is certainly interested in training and preparing a young man to be an engineer, doctor, or plumber. But even more important, we want to help them understand what it means to be a Godly father and husband. The vocation of a man is subservient to their calling as a follower of Christ. Baucham says, "A man can have a complete lack of influence in his personal and professional life, but the day he becomes a father, all of that changes. Children neither know nor care how influential Dad is outside the home." Our children have a deep-rooted yearning for fathers to be present and engaged in their lives. We can change our world by expecting more of our young men by holding them to a higher, heavenly standard of fatherhood.
"Because I said so." A classic phrase that I heard often when I was a child. I remember feeling frustrated when I heard this... what kind of reason is that!? "I deserve the logic behind this insanity!" It wasn't until I became a parent that I could understand the validity of this saying. We, as parents, are not obligated to provide a three-point justification for everything we ask of our children. Are there times when providing rationale for an odd request is helpful or necessary? Absolutely. This might be such an example. Dad: "Calvin, don't go in the backyard." Calvin: "Daddy, why can't I go in the backyard?" Dad: "I just saw a Bear in our backyard and he looks hungry." This would probably satisfy his request. But if he were to ask, "Why can't I go to bed five minutes later?" or "Why can't I eat potato chips?" "Because I said so," is perfectly appropriate. My rationale probably won't satisfy his 5-year-old logic. I am his father and he should not feel free to question every directive of his parents. Christian parenting expert John Rosemond discusses the modern demonization of legitimate parenting sayings in his article "Four Things Parents Should Tell Their Kids." He argues that, such sayings have, "been distorted and demonized by the mental health community as psychologically harmful, which is balderdash given that child mental health is ten times worse today than it was in the 1950s, when their usage was commonplace."
Rosemond goes on to make a case for resurrecting other similar sayings. First, "Children should be seen but not heard." We can all agree that this phrase shouldn't be used indiscriminately but there are times when we want our children to demonstrate humility in the presence of others. They shouldn't think the spotlight shines on them at all times. A dinner party of adults is an example of a time where we want to see our children show respect and deference to the conversation of adults. Second, "You made this bed, so you're going to lie in it." Enough said. Third, "You're just a little fish in a big pond." The self-esteem movement would be appalled to hear such a statement. Yet, this is simply another way to help our children understand that the world does not revolve around them. God has called them to love and consider others and this will require them to minimize their view of themselves. Click the link below to read more from Rosemond.
Humanities (noun) - learning or literature concerned with human culture, especially literature, history, art, music, and philosophy. The humanities are quickly becoming an endangered academic species in the modern university. In the late 1960's, one in five college students was pursuing a humanities-related major. That number fell to one in twenty by 2015. The DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University in Toronto is attempting to resurrect the discipline in a creative way. The school recently launched a business major that requires students to take courses in philosophy, language, culture, and other humanities courses. Could it be that humanities courses are crucial in helping equip students to be successful in the business world? The director of the program said, "We did the research about what employers are looking for and we kept coming back to the same things: critical thinking, communication, cultural perspective." In The Atlantic article "How the Humanities Can Train Entrepreneurs", the author Jon Marcus noted, "a Carnegie Foundation report found that undergraduate business education is narrow and doesn't challenge students to think creatively or ask important questions." In a poll of employers, "More than nine out of ten say a job candidate's capacity for thinking and communicating clearly and solving complex problems is more important than his or her major." Stonehaven's student vision prioritizes the desire to form children that, "Listen carefully, reason soundly, speak precisely, and articulate persuasively..." and who, "Have mastered a core body of knowledge and are capable of discussing great ideas." The central idea of a liberal arts education is that when done right, it is an education that prepares a person for anything. Writer Mark Slouka says the humanities, "are the crucible in which our evolving notions of what it means to be fully human are put to the test; they teach us, incrementally, endlessly, not what to do, but how to be.'