I know something about you. Everyone knows it. It’s an open secret. You are flawed. You sin. In fact, your heart is tangled up with sin. … what’s that? You know something about me, too?
There are at least two constants that we can always count on at our school. First, we are all sinners and bring our sins and flaws to school with us. It is impossible for our classical Christian school to exist apart from sin because it is made up of sinful children, sinful parents, sinful teachers, and sinful administrators. But second, (and more important) where sin abounds, God’s grace in Christ abounds still more. God abundantly forgives and redeems, and He overcomes the destructive effects of sin in the lives of His repentant and redeemed people.
Regents Academy is a wonderful school. We have a lot to be thankful for, and there is a lot that is right about what we are doing. But it is all by grace – all of it. Every good thing about our school is an undeserved gift, and everything that we do well is from our Heavenly Father. And this fact should humble us. We should, truly, humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord so that He will lift us up (James 4:10). Part of this self-humbling is acknowledging the temptations that we are prone to fall into. Schools have particular temptations, and classical Christian schools have their own temptations as well. We are not immune.
A couple of years ago, a classical educator from Idaho named Brian Douglas wrote in First Things about five temptations for classical Christian schools. I intend to share them with you over the next week or two. Here are his introductory comments along with the first temptation. I hope we all take his wise words to heart.
Having taught at a classical Christian school for five years and followed the classical Christian education movement for some years prior, I have come to believe that it is the best approach to K-12 education available today.
Due to its understanding of education as the reshaping of a child’s soul (in contrast to “discovery” models of education, for example), the method tends to develop thinkers defined by who they are instead of workers defined by what they do. Its focus on the Great Conversation gives students respect for history and helps them see themselves as contributors to that conversation. Unlike inward-facing fundamentalist approaches to education, this movement does not shy away from the world, but instead teaches students to interact thoughtfully with contemporary culture.
Classical Christian schools do these and many other things well, and consequently their numbers, acceptance, and influence are on the rise. However, as this form of education comes of age, it needs to be wary of certain temptations. Five specific cautions come to mind.
The first temptation is to overemphasize mistaken notions of success. The bigger our schools grow, the more respected a faculty we attract, the better we implement a Trivium-based curriculum, and the more accomplished our graduates become, the more we will be tempted to slip into something of a prep school mentality. Staff members and families begin to think of their school as an elite academic institution, one that produces a better “product” (by whatever measure) than others in the area.
In contrast to a more “successful” classical Christian school, less established schools may feel inferior because they lack the appearance or reputation of other schools. They might yearn for the facilities and programs that they see as their ticket to being an elite school: “If only we had …” It is easy for any educator to mistake the trappings of education for education itself.
The history of the movement demonstrates that amazing things can be done despite want, but as our schools grow richer, the temptation grows to consider these things the keys to success. Buildings, labs, athletics, the best materials, and other tangible things are good and helpful (and probably even necessary), but they can become the same kind of covetous idolatry that Israel displayed when it asked God for a king. Our focus must always be on the one thing that actually determines our success: God’s power and promises.
Mistaken notions of success are best revealed by our attitude toward our graduates. When they are prominent and successful, we hold them up as evidence that our school is prominent and successful. We must be doing something right, the argument goes. But when graduates fall short of our expectations, we feel the need to explain them away: They failed because of family influences, they had spent years in public schools, they had a weak church background, etc.
The reality is that our students are like our own children. Parents know that even if they do everything in their power to bring their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, whether or not the children ultimately have genuine Christian faith is beyond our control. Likewise, teachers can guide students toward God, but only the work of the Holy Spirit in their souls can make them into the kind of Christ-honoring graduates that we would like to produce.
Instead of lifting up our best students as proof that we are doing things “the right way,” our response to their success should be gratitude. God be praised for his work in the lives of these students, in many cases despite our flaws. Rather than feeling ashamed of less successful students, we should pray that the seeds once planted would come to life by God’s grace. The idea that they are evidence of our failure reveals an errant and unhealthy understanding of success.
Stay tuned for more temptations to beware of next week.