As Christian parents, our most important aim is to see our children walking with the Lord all the days of their lives. When they live under our roof, we can see to it that they are reading the Word, praying, and going to church because those are things we do together as families. We can demand from them, and then hold them accountable to, living like a Christian should live, practicing Christianity. At some point, however, a child has to take ownership of his own faith. At some point it is not only the God of his fathers, but it has to be his God too, his Lord and Savior. Have you ever considered what role the school plays in that?
One of the most important elements for successful gardening is rich, fertile soil. Plants cannot flourish in bad soil, but they do thrive in good soil. Last summer we set up a container garden at the school. Our generous patron for that project, Mr. Dave DeBlander, insisted upon our having good soil from the start. “That is the secret sauce,” he insisted, and he is right. No plant can reach its potential without excellent nutrients for the all-important root system. The soil is the beginning of everything for the plant.
The same can be said about growing children—they need good soil if they are going to thrive. Well, not soil exactly, but its equivalent. The environment children grow up in—their home, church, and school—is for them what soil is for plants. It is either good soil or bad soil. They either thrive or wither. A lot goes into preparing good soil, but ultimately, the best way to know if the soil is good or bad is to evaluate the harvest—ask, “How did the kid turn out?”
Two chief goals of classical education are to help students become lifelong learners and to give them the tools they need be successful at learning for the rest of their lives. While a person may catch the bug for learning any time in life, there is no better season for inspiring that love of learning right down into a person’s bones than in the early years before he or she becomes a teenager.
Even though we are barely halfway through the school year, this is enrollment season, and classes are already filling up for next year. Families are touring the school, meeting with our admissions counselor, and drawing comparisons between classical Christian and other models. At Trinitas our kindergarten classes are nearing full and we have accepted a few students for other open seats in the grammar school. The grammar school is where most of our effort to bring in new students is focused. There are two other natural entry points for schools: seventh and ninth grades. While we do accept students in those grades occasionally, it can be difficult to enter a classical school that late in one’s academic career, especially as late as ninth grade.
Throughout the ages Christian monks have cloistered to free themselves from the ungodly influence of the outside world. The seclusion and the freedom from the day-to-day rat race provided them increased opportunity for study and prayer that was not otherwise available. That tradition gave us some fine scholarly work in areas as diverse as Christian doctrine and agriculture. Indeed, Western Christian thought and heritage was preserved by such cloistering. In our age of mega schools and assembly line secular education, I want to suggest that Christian children can benefit from the cloister-like atmosphere at a small classical Christian school.
One of the mantras of classical Christian education is “repair the ruins.” The line comes from John Milton, that seventeenth century English poet and intellectual who wrote the classic, Paradise Lost. Milton wrote on a host of other topics, including education, and once wrote,
“The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him.”
The classical educator sees himself as a servant in this labor, a guide to his students. But repairing the ruins and redeeming truth, goodness, and beauty which has been lost by our culture is not confined to the classroom.
One question parents should ask themselves is, “What do I really want from my child’s education?” This question is the first one parents should ask when enrolling their children in school for the first time, but it is also a good question to come back to each year. It is easy to think that we have to follow the same educational pattern that we grew up in or that everyone around us accepts as normal, but the truth is, we have options. In fact, never before have we had so many options in education, so parents are in the driver’s seat like never before. With so many options available, a few clarifying questions are in order:
One of the toughest days for parents is their child’s first day of school. The event is especially difficult for mom. Let’s face it, there is something unsettling about handing your child over to a group of strangers who take her behind locked doors where you are not free to follow. Whew! The first day of school leaves more than a few moms feeling, well, is guilty the word I’m looking for here? One begins to wonder while driving away from the school, just what is the parents’ place in education.