Bring Them Up

The Souls of the School

I enjoy the opportunity to talk about things I love in different ways. It’s a good challenge to take up a known thing and try to see it from a different angle. This is our 11th ECS Information Night, and in all the fundamentals the information is still the same as it was at the first. 

I’m adding to my challenge tonight, though, because I want to remind us about two valuable things, though one is more valuable than the other and must be prioritized as such. It is easier to pit two things against each other (even if they really shouldn’t be). It’s easier to cheer for one side and hammer, or at least nitpick, the other than it is to hold a careful tension.

Mr. Sarr regularly reminds us, parents and teachers, that ECS is not a church (here’s one example). The best school day can’t replace corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. The longer the school operates, the more obvious are the school’s limits and the more obvious the benefits a family gets from their membership in a church body.

One can’t replace the other, though there is a resemblance between both church and school. Both are institutions, organizations founded for a common purpose. And even more than similarity, in key ways a school such as ECS supports a part of the church’s mission (and I don’t just mean TEC). A church glorifies God in worship and in making disciples—that is, learners, students—who love Christ and obey His commandments and care about what He cares about. Since Christ created all things, we teach our students to love algebra, volcanoes, poems, letters and languages, and more because Christ loves those things.

As institutions, a church and a school compare because what matters most is the soul, every soul, all souls. When we rightly say that the church is not a building but the people, we can also say that a school is more than a place, it is a living community of souls.

There is a fantastic book you probably don’t need to read if you meditate on the title, The Trellis and the Vine. This analogy frames our priority.

A gardener who spends his time researching trellis, always repositioning or repainting trellis, to the neglect of the vine is a bad gardener. He may be so bad that he becomes a carpenter or a painter after the vine shrivels up from lack of attention. The point of the trellis is to serve and support the living plant, to give it space and direction to grow and climb, and, depending on what kind of plant, to enable it to produce more fruit. The living thing is the point, the priority, the purpose of the gardener’s work.

This isn’t because trellis is bad. A tomato plant not staked will fall all over itself. It won’t get the sun or water as it needs, and so the fruit may be small and spoiled as soon as it sprouts. In a school there are stakes, the right books and age-appropriate desks and Ticonderoga #2s, as well as different rules and procedures intended to give the plant a place to bloom.

But it is easy for trellis maintenance to get more attention, and it’s easier to give attention to the trellis. Things that don’t squirm, fuss, or fail take less work, and the work still looks like there’s real progress. But the soul of a school are its souls. What makes ECS special are the souls of the Board, the Headmaster, the full-time team, the part-time teachers, the volunteer helpers, the parents, and the students. 

We are in an “exciting” time, in WA and at ECS. We are out of step with the State and we keep running out of space. We’ve been looking for a few years for a place we could really plant ourselves, a place where we could spread out the trellis, to have more rooms and more room to play than on pavement. At the same time, the most pressing concern is always the souls. 

Souls over Sycamore (though what an amazing app of common grace that allows communication about homework between teachers and parents directly), souls over standardized tests, souls over seating arrangements, souls over musical scales, souls over swing-sets and soccer balls. Grades may help to reveal what’s happening in a given class, yes, but most of the time our teachers spend at the end of a Quarter is concerned with identifying character. Maybe we could call them “Soul cards.”

One of my favorite gifs of all time is from an Old El Paso taco commercial. The family is struggling to decide whether to have hard shell or soft shell tacos for dinner. A young girl shrugs and says, “Why not both?” and then they lift her up onto their shoulders in celebration.

Going back to the previous metaphor, good trellis makes for healthy vines. It’s both, and we pray for both. Yet we always need to keep in mind that as we commend the works of the Lord to the next generation, it’s because that generation will live forever. They are, along with us, eternal souls. This reality provides us with reason to provide them with the best we can in the here and now, while also holding somewhat loosely the seen things because they are fading away (2 Corinthians 4:18).

So as you process all the information, as you think about the future of the school as well as your investment, remember that there is no profit for a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul (Matthew 16:26).