Monthly Archives: July 2010

Welcome, Ruth Hoffmann

I am very pleased to announce that Regents Academy has added Miss Ruth Hoffmann to its faculty. Miss Hoffmann is our new 5th grade teacher for the 2010-2011 school year.

Originally from Washington, Miss Hoffmann spent the last four years in Moscow, Idaho, as a student at New Saint Andrews College. A graduate of NSA, she has a bachelor of arts in Liberal Arts and Culture. She aspires to give her students a love of the written word and train them to see themselves as characters in God’s story of the world.

Miss Hoffmann has three siblings, loves horses and horsemanship, and is excited about East Texas humidity and mosquitoes (the first two have been positively verified). She will arrive in Nacogdoches a bit later in August.

Welcome, Ruth!

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God’s Greatest Resource

H.G. Wells once said, “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” The premium for an excellent education rises as the foundations of our culture continue to erode. While Rome burned Nero famously fiddled, but while our civilization slips toward suicide, we are determined to do something. We intend to educate our children to be critically minded grown-ups who are wise in thought and deed, well-mannered, ready to filter and critique what they encounter in the world, and disposed to love what is true, good and beautiful. And God has positioned Regents Academy strategically at this time and in this place to accomplish this task both for our children and for future generations.

God has given us many resources – Bibles, facilities, curriculum, technology, funding. But the greatest resource God has given to us is people. Classical Christian education is predicated on a vision of wise teachers investing themselves in students to cultivate a love of learning. David Hicks, author of Norms and Nobility, wrote that “The most important thing, therefore, about a classical, Christian education is that faculty members exhibit in themselves the virtues and values that we want to see in our students.  Thus, in the classroom the teacher is the primary text.” God has blessed Regents Academy with outstanding teachers who love both their subjects and their students, who come alongside parents to aid them in the discipleship of their children.

As headmaster one of my highest priorities in the coming year is to invest in our faculty and develop them as Christian men and women and as classical Christian teachers. This is why we will have a new Friday schedule. We will release about an hour early every Friday so that our teachers can have time for needed meetings, training, and development. Also, we have built into our yearly schedule three half days for teacher development. Families can enjoy these early Friday releases and half days, and we can all know that the teachers we love and appreciate so much will have additional time to grow and improve, even beyond the excellence they bring to the classroom each day.

One final thought: I would encourage you to find ways to lift up and bless your children’s teachers. They are gifted, passionate men and women who devote themselves to a task that is worth far more than we are able to pay them.

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Avoiding Lord of the Flies

Here is another reason Regents Academy strives to inculcate proper manners in its students:

Manners are minor morals. They are the everyday ways we respect other people and facilitate social relations. They make up the moral fabric of our shared lives. They need to be taught.

— Author and education professor Thomas Lickona

Children do not naturally come by manners. Leave them alone, and, well, have you read Lord of the Flies? Manners must be taught, trained, reinforced, modeled, corrected, and then trained some more.

This is an essential component of a Christian education.

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Exalt or Debase, Barbarize or Refine

British statesman and conservative author Edmund Burke wrote the following about manners:

Manners are of more importance than laws. Upon them, in great measure, the laws depend. Manners are what vex or smooth, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us . . . . According to their quality, they aid morals, or they destroy them.

This is one key reason we stress proper manners, etiquette, and respect at Regents Academy. Manners are not just window dressing for a bygone generation. They are essential building blocks for a culture that glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ.

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What is “Education” Anyway?

Here is Noah Webster’s definition from his landmark 1828 dictionary:

The bringing up, as of a child, instruction; formation of manners. Education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations. To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.

Notice how all-embracing this definition is. Notice how it includes not just an intellectual, rational component, but also “temper” and “manners and morals.” True education, true Christian education, is all-encompassing — it teaches the whole child in obedience to the whole Word of God. If we think of education merely as what goes on when students are learning subjects or merely as a rational exercise or merely what goes on at a school building, we are thinking wrongly.

Education is all-encompassing. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 reminds us of this reality:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

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The Case for CCE, chapter 5

Chapter 5 of The Case for CCE is called “The Case Against Government Schools.” Wilson states his bottom line clearly: “Given what we have seen to this point, there is no good reason for Christian parents to entrust their children to the government school system.”

We need to remember that Wilson’s purpose here is to tear down — but not to tear down in the sense of spreading wanton destruction, confusion, and division. Rather, he means to tear down in order to build up in its place. Wilson wants to do what good teachers do — discover existing erroneous assumptions and eat away at those so that sound assumptions can be inserted in their place.

For example, when I teach about Medieval Europe, in order to show that this period was an era of remarkable wisdom and light, the first thing I attempt to do is to tear down the assumption that this period was a thousand-year experiment in darkness, ignorance, and bigotry. There exist powerful assumptions saying that the Medieval millennium was a “Dark Age” (light came only after we got over Christianity) or the “Middle Ages” (coming between something good before and even better after). Where did these ideas come from? Are they accurate? Do they lead to a proper understanding? Assumptions are powerful, and in order to have a right understanding of something, we often have to have our assumptions challenged. Teachers who know their stuff know this.

So Wilson is challenging assumptions in The Case of CCE. One of the most powerful assumptions among American Christians is that their children ought to be educated in the local school system. Wilson is attacking this assumption and asserting instead the assumption that “Christian education is not a luxury or an option. It is part of Christian discipleship for those who have been blessed with children.”

He is also challenging the assumption that the government school system is “neutral ground” for Christians. If education is an inherently religious activity, then schools have inescapable objects of worship. Christians are called to worship only one Lord. A unified life under the Lordship of Christ, according to Wilson, cannot include multiple lords.

Government education was birthed in a revolutionary rejection of the historic Christian faith, and the progressive claims for the saving power of education were breathtaking. . . . But many Christians still think of local government schools as being somehow “our” schools. Because local government was significant at the founding of our nation, and because many of the forms of local government have been kept intact, many Christians still think this is the case.

Thus, many Christians argue for the reform of the schools by restoring school prayer or the teaching of creation or making schools safer. But “Why prayer in an officially agnostic institution? Why the teaching of creation in an officially pluralistic institution? Why do we think it is a victory when the pagans admit our Lord, as an option just for some, to their pantheon of gods many and lords many?”

Further, Wilson argues that merely reacting to the ills of the schools — things like danger, academic incompetence, and immorality — “is not good enough. Believing parents must come to see Christian education as a demand of the covenant.” “God requires that covenant children be brought up in covenant truths.” Biblical passages like Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Psalm 78:5-8 make this clear.

Wilson takes up corollary issues: the “salt and light” argument for leaving children in public schools so that they can be an influence for good, and the issue of Christian teachers in public schools. But his central point is clear: Christian parents are to give their children a Christian education, and this simply cannot be accomplished in the local school system.

One last quote that begins to point in the direction of a positive argument for classical and Christian education:

Educated under the wrong kind of fear, our children will become servile in their thinking. Educated under no fear at all, they will become arrogant. . . .  God demands that we teach our children (His children) in accordance with their station. They are royalty and should receive a royal education. The mark of such an education is confident humility.


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Why “Regents”?

I once asked our board chairman, Dr. Mark Sowell, why the founders of the school chose the name “Regents Academy.” Mark is never slow with a comeback, so he said, “Because we wanted to.” I was content with that answer, but after he took his tongue from his cheek he gave me a real answer.

Regents Academy chose its name when the school was being founded in 2001.  Several families gathered to begin a school in Nacogdoches that is thoroughly Christian and decidedly classical in its approach.  These families did not want a school that was only available to children of a certain church or denomination, and they did not want it to be the vision of only one person.  They felt that the school needed a board of various faiths, professions, and experiences to help guide the school.  Each board member, or regent, must be completely committed to the classical method of education and represent the Chrisitan faith in their character.  Regents Academy became the name chosen to represent the founding precepts of the school and continues to reflect the ongoing mission of our school.

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The Case for CCE, chapter 4

In chapter 4 of The Case for Classical Christian Education Douglas Wilson takes up the topic of “The Nature of Man.”

There are some quotes in this chapter that are, frankly, shocking. But they are not by Wilson. More on that later.

It is impossible to understand or practice education well apart from understanding philosophy. Methods, statistics, budgets, procedures, techniques, and formulas have their place. But if a biblical worldview teaches us anything, it is that there is such a thing as worldview. Big philosophical questions matter, questions like

  • What is real?
  • How do we know what we know?
  • What is good?
  • What is the meaning of history?
  • What is the world and where did it come from?
  • What is man?

A biblical worldview teaches us that these questions are relevant to everything; they are foundational. And further, without the Triune God, His Word, and His wisdom, we can neither make sense of the world nor live truly meaningful and unified lives. So classroom management and educational statistics and curricular procedures and pedagogical methods have their place. But first principles are first. And this is why Wilson is beginning with a question that would undoubtedly appear to many educational technicians to be utterly irrelevant.

I am speaking of the last of the questions listed above: What is man?

Here is Wilson’s point: “Every builder should have a blueprint. He should not build in a random or haphazard manner. It is the same with educators. They should have a blueprint. Where are we going with this? . . . In order to teach a child rightly, his parents must know both who and what they are, and they must know on the authority of God’s Word.” They must know that mankind has fallen away from his original task; he has been corrupted in his mind, body and soul; and he has had the image of God in him defaced and deformed. Jesus Christ has come to re-establish man in his Edenic work, to redeem him from his corruptions, and renovate the image of God in him by conforming him to Himself.

Without that storyline, education cannot have its proper place or goals, and our service to our children falls apart.

But now the shocking (perhaps I shouldn’t be shocked anymore) quote:

Again I would say, that, whenever a human soul is born into the world, God stands over it, and pronounces the same sublime fiat, ‘Let there be light;’ and may the time soon come when all human governments shall cooperate with the divine government in carrying this benediction and baptism into fulfillment!

These words, spoken  by educational innovator and father of American government education Horace Mann, demonstrate his belief that when we finally “[supply] free, universal education — the fulfillment of inherent human goodness will be at hand.”

Here is one species of the basic humanistic answer to the question, What is man? Man is a basically good creature whose flaw is ignorance, and education serves the purpose of dispelling that ignorance and therefore lifting him up to where he belongs and fulfilling him.

How does the humanistic approach solve a child’s problem of ignorance? One answer is “to fill the student’s head with facts . . . presto, the ignorance is gone.” The other more subtle answer is to “help the rational side of the student learn to suppress the passionate side.” However, “both approaches exhibit a deep commitment to reason — to reason as a savior.” There is an inherent tendency toward idolatry here.

Central to the task of education, then, is a biblical answer to the question, What is man? And when we allow the Bible to answer that question, we find that the image of God in man and the recovery of that image in Jesus Christ is central to our understanding of who we are. If we do not look to the Savior for knowledge and freedom, we will be enslaved to any number of harsh masters who convince us that they are saviors.

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The Case for CCE, chapter 3

In chapter 3 of The Case for CCE author Douglas Wilson catalogs and analyzes various attempts at reforming the current educational system under the chapter title “Healing the Wound Lightly.”

And I need to make an observation at the outset. Much of what Wilson has to say is offensive to many people. It is seen as the equivalent of walking up and poking a stick in someone’s eye. No civil person does that sort of thing. But consider for a moment the value of being told the truth.

If you and your son were going mountain climbing, and I told you your knots were all wrong and would surely unravel, imagine how you might respond. “How dare you criticize my knots? These knots are the same knots that have been used in our community for generations. They are approved by a panel of experts and funded by the official mountain climbing association. And furthermore, I am insulted that you would suggest that my knots are faulty. These are ‘our’ knots. How dare you!”

Is that a measured and rational response? What if you just went and took a close look at your ropes and knots and considered that maybe there really is a problem rather than finding insult at the suggestion that there might be danger? It seems to me that falling off a mountain is a great enough peril to justify humbling yourself and seeing if everything is safe.

It’s a bit of an inelegant comparison perhaps, but I think the point holds. Rather than being offended by the suggestion that a long and fatal fall might be coming, maybe Christians should consider the point being made. And that in turn might lead to repentance. That would require humility and desire for the truth. But if our faithfulness to the Lord God and the safety and well-being of our children are at stake, shouldn’t we just listen to the one telling us the knots won’t hold?

That said, Wilson is telling us that the various educational knots we have tied won’t hold us. And it’s a tall mountain we’re climbing.

Wilson points to two basic groups who want to reform the schools: those who would reform from within and from without. What both have in common is a fundamental commitment to some form of tax-supported school system. “As unquestioned assumptions go, this one ranks near the top.” He quotes Mortimer Adler again, who sees government-sponsored schools to be as essential as a government-sponsored police force. So the question is not whether there should be government-supported education but “how our ‘public schools’ should be managed.” Wilson obviously is challenging the very legitimacy of a government-sponsored educational system.

Reformers from within want to re-institute prayer in schools or eliminate textbooks or raise standards or make the schools safer. Christians can support any effort to make society safer, even the hallways of the local schools, but what about the way Christians, “as participants in this vast democracy . . . want to use their presence to influence events in a particular direction”? The problem here is that the Christian faith is not well-suited as “a condiment to be used to flavor the neutral substance of secular knowledge.” The Scriptures call us to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:4-5), Christ tells us that whoever does not gather with Him scatters (Matt 12:30), and Christ called us to disciple the nations so that if we see anything out of line with His Word, we are to call it to obedience (Matt 28:18-20). In other words, “the Christian faith does very poorly as decorative material.”

Take prayer in school for instance. Let’s say we have prayer in school. To whom will it be offered? To the God of Abraham, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? But if prayer is being offered to some other god, then why are Christians pushing for it? In fact, “the ‘god’ being addressed in all such prayers is the generic god of American civil religion. Christians assume that this is not idolatrous prayer because the word god serves as a holding tank in which members of different faiths can put the content of their individual theologies.” But the god of American civil religion is a being “who has been defined in multiple court cases as non-triune — he is not the God of the Scriptures. Therefore, Christians have a moral responsibility not to offer incense on that altar and still less to try to get others to do so.”

Hmph. That knot won’t hold. I had better check my gear.

Reforms from without include experiments such as vouchers and charter schools; these are attempts “to use private sector pressure to make the government schools straighten and fly right.” Wilson criticizes these programs as movements toward fascism. Currently our educational system is socialistic — “the government owns and controls the means of educational production.” If this were done with a commodity such as steel, we would surely call it socialism. But fascism “as an economic system occurs when the government does not ‘own’ the means of production but to a large measure controls them. Private ownership is still allowed but in this case does not mean what it used to mean.” So vouchers and charter schools are the first steps toward fascism in education. And Wilson (and the Association of Classical and Christian Schools) encourages schools to have nothing to do with vouchers because “he who takes the king’s coin becomes the king’s man.”

Parents may view charter schools as “hybrids” that give benefits of both public and private schooling but “such avowed hybridization should arouse more than a few suspicions.” The only way to make the system work philosophically is to affirm the myth of neutrality, which is impossible for a consistent Christian.

The last issue that Wilson addresses is the matter of accreditation. There are reformers who are not interested in the money but want to maintain contact with the state because “they are insecure about their ability to produce an outstanding education on their own.” So schools do not detach completely from the current system because they fear they will be scorned “for their lack of educational expertise, certification, or accreditation.” Parents have a deep sense that accreditation ought to mean something. Yet they are interested in private schools because “they are thoroughly unhappy with the school they are leaving, which has been accredited for a hundred years.”

The point is that “excellence is not guaranteed by a piece of paper. Excellence in education is the result of vision, hard work, parental love, and a clear sense of mission. It does not depend on bureaucratic accreditation.”

The course for us is to be radical — in the sense of the Latin root radix, meaning “root” — we need to go to the root of the problem, not just heal the wound lightly.

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