These are my notes from a talk I gave at our school’s recent Information Night.
I’ve had a couple conversations recently, including one with my wife, about how close it came to ECS never existing. If there had been other resources available to us or even another classical school closer than 45 minutes away, and certainly if there hadn’t been anyone else interested in jumpin’ Geronimo, it’s hard to say whether ECS would have been born.
Which has also gotten me thinking, what about ECS is crucial? The question of what is mission critical came up during covid lockdowns and then again last summer as our school board considered how to navigate state requirements for private schools. What is not just preference, but nonnegotiable for sake of educating our kids, and even as we think about our children’s children? (I’m now closer to when my grandson will start Kindergarten than when my son started.) There are a lot of things that are important for life and for quality of life; bones and muscles, eyes and ears and fingertips and feet. But if there is no heartbeat, the body is dead.
The heartbeat of ECS is our belief that Jesus is Lord. The evangel in Evangel Classical School is the gospel, the good news, which is of “first importance,” “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). And so “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
Jesus is the Messiah, He is also the Maker. “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3; see also Colossians 1:16). He is the one in whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17), and “He upholds the universe by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3).
And while this may be obvious, it is delightfully inescapable for us. ECS is from Him and through Him and to Him; we are built on the foundation of His existence and glory (He is and He is great!), we are energized by our faith and hope and love for Him, and we are resolved to carry and advance a culture that honors Christ. We want to be explicit and emphatic that Jesus is Lord.
That confession is mission critical to educating/discipling the next generation. There’s a timely book titled Battle for the American Mind: Uprooting a Century of Miseducation that was just published in June of 2022. It’s easy to read, and everyone should read it, and track the cultural damage happening not just to, but through, our public schools. Our board chairman got on a kick last summer and was handing out copies by the box. One of the co-authors is the president of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools (David Goodwin). The other is a current Fox News “Fox and Friends Weekend” host (Pete Hegseth).
The book is really good, but there is a kind of irony to some of the responses to the book. More than education, schooling is about enculturation. Pedagogy—one’s method and practice of teaching—is “the act of formulating a culture in children.” It’s about defining and triggering affections for the true, good, and beautiful. It’s identifying what is lovely and then learning to order our loves correctly (per Augustine, ordo amoris). It’s having, and then sharing, a common vision of the good life (per Aristotle).
In Western Civilization, wherever the gospel has taken root it has grown a distinct set of loves and understanding of that good life, a #blessed life, which only comes by fearing the Lord. But it’s also observable in many places that after a while, some tried to keep the good life without the good news. They held on to some traditions and cultural practices without having the transcendent Giver. And what’s happened in the U.S. in the last century, and certainly at broadband speed in the last decade since ECS started, is an attempt to attack objective reality, as if reality is what keeps us from the good (sound familiar? Genesis 3:1-5).
Hegseth and Goodwin argue for a return to a model of education that acknowledges up and down, right and wrong, male and female, black and white. They especially look to the model of classical education which isn’t embarrassed about facts (Grammar), uses reason (Logic), and promotes what is lovely and appealing (Rhetoric).
There is a kind of Fox News viewer, a kind of political conservative, who is fed up with 78 gender choices and 13 Pride Months a year and Critical Climate Race Change Theory curriculum and then gets excited when hearing about the classical model. But the “Western Christian Paideia” depends on the Christ. “Jesus Christ has to be at the center of all of it” (Hegseth and Goodin, Location 3344). Reviving the model without the Master is just rewinding the video, but we already know how it ends.
I went to public school. Last year was my 30th anniversary of graduating high school. My teachers weren’t public perverts and my classes were no worse than meh. I would have learned a lot more if I’d have done a bit more of my assigned reading. But the thing I really “learned” was that all the things we did for school didn’t matter to God. At least no one gave any credit to the Lord.
That said, there are other Christian schools, actual institutions in/around Marysville, that acknowledge the Master without taking advantage of the classical model and resources. Actually, they often use the same methods and books as the government schools, but add in a Bible class or a weekly chapel. This isn’t a criticism of those schools, but this is our information night, here’s what we’re trying to do.
We commend the works of the Lord so that the next generation would carry and advance Christ-honoring culture. We are not commending safety, as if all we needed was to escape. Sitting down to read without being surrounded by guns and drugs and guys in the girls’ bathroom is great, but that’s a sign of sanity, not great success. We are not commending smarts, as if there has never been a tyrant or villain with big brains. (Rebekah Merkle writes, “If you graduate [from a classical school] with all of the skills but none of the discernment, then you’re actually turning into a monster.” Classical Me, Classical Thee). We are not commending success, not as the world defines it, as if acceptance into the godless-college system or a higher-paid cog in the machine is winning.
We don’t use Jesus’ name as commas in our prayers, but we do pray our students will learn how to use commas because Jesus is the Word and the giver of language for which we are stewards. Jesus isn’t the answer to every question in science class, but that would be more true than the “Big Bang.” We don’t think the 11th commandment is “Thou shalt follow the Trivium,” but we do think that knowledge of details, understanding in order to distinguish, and wisdom that enables deft/skillful living come from the Lord.
So much so-called schooling is built on a foundation of oatmeal soaked in paint thinner. On its own the United States is not indivisible, without God the Blessings of Liberty promoted in our Constitution are not secure, and apart from grace our American way of life is as shatterproof as glass. The Lord is our only sure foundation (Isaiah 28:16, see also Matthew 7:24-27). When the rain falls and the floods come and the winds blow, It’s mission critical for us to equip the next generation to be like the wise man whose house didn’t fall because it had been founded on the rock, and the rock is Christ.