Blog - "Fiddling While Rome Learns"
Fiddling While Rome Learns
The Significance of Bible Stories, Fairy Tales and Fables
Mrs. Linn, Preschool and Pre-kindergarten
Once upon a time there were children who loved listening to their teachers read enchanting stories in the classroom: a story about God helping a runaway slave defeat an evil pharaoh, brave knights defending the honor of fair maidens, conquering heroes slaying wicked dragons to preserve peace and harmony in the village, a patient turtle entering a race with a lazy rabbit – and winning, and most importantly, the Son of God born for the salvation of the world. These narratives instill in children a moral imagination: truth and virtue, good morals, and God’s love. They illustrate concepts of justice, goodness, truth, and beauty. Absent their beneficial influence, children are confused about what is right and wrong. What was “once upon a time,” should be a present reality.
We teach children rules, but how is wisdom attained? Life experiences are said to bestow wisdom, but not all life experiences are equal. How do we get our sons and daughters to desire or understand the importance of good moral values? How do we set them on a God-pleasing path? British philosopher and theologian G. K. Chesterton commended the virtues of fairy tales:
My first and last philosophy, that which I believe in with unbroken certainty, I learnt in the nursery. I generally learnt if from a nurse; that is from the solemn and star-appointed priestess at once of democracy and tradition. The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales. (Orthodoxy, 87)
A classical education presents to children, especially the very young, fables exemplifying moral values and fairy tales demonstrating the true, good, and beautiful that derives from their characters’ actions. When the truth is told, good will prevail. Out of this good, something beautiful will occur. What a young child cannot be taught through immediate personal experience, he/she learns in God’s Word and other stories from the past. Children love stories. They can relate to the characters and scenarios in them. They have a strong desire for the triumph of right over might. By forming a mental bond with these characters and their challenges, they begin to shape their own moral imagination, giving them the desire for goodness while God’s love gives them refuge. Vigen Guroian, author of Tending the Heart of Virtue, writes:
The great fairy tales and children’s fantasy stories attractively depict character and virtue. In these stories the virtues glimmer as if in a looking glass, and wickedness and deception are unmasked of their pretensions to goodness and truth. The stories make us face the unvarnished truth about ourselves and compel us to consider what kind of people we want to be. (Guroian, “Awakening the Moral Imagination”, https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2013/05/awakening-the-moral-imagination.html )
In Bible stories, God tells us how we are saved through Jesus’ love and forgiveness. We are all His children and have a purpose to love and care for one another. His word is true and good, which encourages us to be good people. His word gives us strength to carry on when we are weary and discouraged.
In the end we want to live “happily ever after,” but life is a bumpy road. As parents and teachers, we need to give our children the foundation and tools to cope with the perils of this world while achieving success. By means of stories then, we can hope for the formation of wisdom and virtue in the hearts and minds of our children. As Guroian concludes, “When the moral imagination is wakeful, the virtues come to life.”
What is True Education?
By Mr. Josh Brisby, M.Ed.
In the past we have discussed the differences between classical education and public education. Yet, it is one thing to think of differences between different types of education; it is another thing to ask, “What is true education?” The following proverb is attributed to my favorite philosopher, Socrates:
Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.
Socrates was famous—or perhaps infamous—for always asking questions and seeking to define terms. And, as Plato’s dialogues show, Socrates was never truly satisfied with the definitions that his philosophical quandaries produced. So, to continue in his legacy, let us ask how we would define the word 'education.'
Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘education’ as “the action or process of educating or of being educated.” This, of course, begs the question, what is it to be educated? Webster defines ‘educate’ as “to train by formal instruction and supervised practice especially in a skill, trade, or profession” and “to develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically.”
As we can see, even what comes from a supposedly objective source, the dictionary, is quite vague as to what constitutes education. I teach my students to strive for seek the why of things. In this case, we need to seek which definition of education is correct—or perhaps none of them are—and then understand why we think so.
First, using the Socratic method of dialogue, we can seek to take a position and teem out its implications, drawing it to its logical conclusion. Take the above definitions. The first can be easily dismissed: “the action or process of educating or being educated.” This definition commits the logical fallacy of petitio principii, or “begging the question.” It defines nothing. It uses the same related word ‘educate’ so that it never defines education. I call this ‘the politician’s trick.’ Politicians are superb at this sleight-of-hand. “I’m going to fix the economy by making it better. And I’m going to make the economy better by fixing it.” Please notice, did the politician ever give the specifics of how he is going to fix the economy? Indeed, what does he even mean by fix? So we can easily do away with the first definition from Webster.
Let us now consider Webster’s second definition, “to train by formal instruction and supervised practice.” To be honest, this is probably the accepted definition today, at least in most schools. We can see this by how they approach the rest of the definition, “especially in a skill, trade, or profession.” What does it mean to ‘train’ someone? Is it not to mold someone to be or become what the teacher desires? In this sense, is it not simply ‘filling with knowledge’ for the purpose of a trade or skill? This second definition is exactly what Socrates wishes to avoid when it comes to education. The one who is ‘educated’ in this definition simply “receives knowledge of a skill,” nothing more. The child or adult, in this sense, is merely passive, a vessel through which so-called knowledge is poured.
Let us now look at Webster’s other definition of education: “to develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically.” This, I would argue, is what true education is. Why? Because we all, in our heart of hearts, know that an education is not merely training or the development of skills. When we think about people, we think about all the various qualities or characteristics that make up such a person. This even leads many to think of a good education as a well-rounded one. That person can only be made or formed if he or she is growing mentally, morally, and aesthetically. And that person cannot do that without all aspects of life, physical and spiritual. Further, that person is not merely passive in this education, but they participate actively. In this true education, the teacher is not only the facilitator, who ignites the spark. The teacher tends the spark and kindles the fire. The student participates in this education, fanning the flame, because the teacher instructs and piques the wonder and the curiosity of the student. As Socrates says, “I teach nothing. All I can do is teach them to wonder.” Socrates considered himself a “midwife,” merely giving birth to ideas. This is what true educators do and are. We teach our students how to think. We do not think for them. We inspire their wonder and curiosity of the universe, and we ignite that spark. We put the wind in their sails for them to navigate their ships.
This is true education. Why? The whole student continues to grow as a person, and we educate them not just for a forty-minute class period, but we inspire them for life. By the act of educating, students are inspired to begin and to continue with their education. This is why graduation is called “commencement”—which means “beginning.” Graduation is not the end. It is only the beginning. Now our students are ready to seek to always strive for education, to fan that spark into a flame, to strive to take their sails and navigate the vast ocean of wonder and curiosity that lies out there in God’s wonderful universe.
This is true education.
Sarah Mackenzie, The Read Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids (Zondervan, 2018).
Reading is essential. We all know this to be true, but we do not always take the time to read to our children. It is easy to put aside reading for pleasure during our busy schedules to tackle things that we feel are more important or necessary. However, we are missing a most important opportunity with our children when we eliminate reading time, especially read aloud time.
The Read Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie does an excellent job explaining the benefits of reading aloud to your family. I found this book to be inspiring and enlightening. Mackenzie simply encourages reading together with no other intent than to spend quality time together. Just read and eventually you will see the benefits of such a simple activity.
The Read Aloud Family is divided into three parts. In Part 1, Mackenzie illustrates the value of reading aloud. She explains how books help us to see the world beyond ourselves. By reading together a little each day, Mackenzie explains that you are creating a connection within your family that will run deep. Parents should read together with their children without setting expectations or making it a learning activity. Choose good quality books and read them aloud for pleasure. The topics of the books will open up family conversation and even the experiences you have together with books will create fun, family memories.
Stories are powerful, and they can impact the reader in a variety of ways. She recommends choosing books that inspire heroic virtue. Your children will live vicariously through characters as you read. Stories stoke the imagination and reach the heart of the reader, creating empathy and compassion through characters and plot.
In Part 2 of the book, Mackenzie focuses on how we can make connections with our kids through books. We usually do a great job reading aloud to our children when they are young, but as they get older and read on their own, we tend to abandon read aloud time with them. It is at this time that reading expectations at school become the main focus for children who strive for success in the school environment. Reading then becomes a duty. Mackenzie states that “parents who think the primary importance of reading is to be successful in school are less likely to have kids who enjoy reading than parents who see reading primarily as a venue for entertainment.” (p.93) Home is where your children have a chance to fall in love with books and read for pleasure.
This is not to say that reading at school is a bad thing. From my experience in both elementary and middle school, children enjoy reading and discussing books in the classroom. Teachers work to foster a love of reading. Parents, however, cannot rely on the school to create a love for reading. The most successful way to do this is to create an atmosphere in the home where reading is done simply for the pure joy of it.
With this is mind, we need to be intentional about making the act of reading aloud a part of our family culture. We need to make reading less of a duty and more of a delight. Put some snacks on the table, open up a book and read. Let conversation or questions naturally arise from the reading; do not read with the intent of quizzing your child on the book afterwards.
Mackenzie explains that reading aloud does not have to be long. Take whatever time you have and read. Books do not have to be heavy with content; they can be simple and fun. If a book choice for your family is unsuccessful, then simply choose a different book to read. You can even use audiobooks when traveling or commuting. Let your children work on something while you read. They do not have to be sitting still. It can be easy to turn reading into a habit in your home.
It is never too late to read aloud to your child. Even if your children are teens, read aloud together. The content of books at this age is as such that adults and older children can enjoy and talk about together. The time spent together with teens is also priceless and this simple act can foster a close relationship between you and your children.
Mackenzie also includes advice on how to choose a good book by using certain criteria and a series of questions. She explains ways you can talk to your kids about books by using both intentional and organic conversations, and she lists examples and explanations of ten good questions to ask about books.
Part 3 of The Read Aloud Family outlines the different age groups and what to expect when reading aloud to each group. It also includes a book list for each age group to give parents a resource as they begin or continue their read aloud journey.
As a parent and an educator, I have always understood the importance of reading. However, I have also always felt like I could do more by way of reading to my kids or my class. What I also found encouraging about this book is that Mackenzie explains that there are times we do not do as much as we want, but that every bit we have done already has been beneficial. I encourage every parent to read this book for inspiration and encouragement as you begin or continue your read aloud journey.
The simple act of reading aloud at home results in numerous benefits to your family. Begin reading aloud now. You will never regret the time you spent reading with your children.
**You can also listen to Sarah Mackenzie on her Read Aloud Revival podcast to get more ideas about reading in your home.
Mrs. Bohot, Kindergarten
Philosophy As Wonder, Curiosity, Goodness, Truth, and Beauty
By Josh Brisby, M.Ed.
Here at Memorial Lutheran School we teach Logic as well as Speech and Debate during the middle school or “logic years.” We inspire our students to love wonder, curiosity, goodness, truth, and beauty. These topics all converge in a subject usually reserved for college students: philosophy. However, philosophy certainly has a place in middle school and high school because of the connections between inquiry and wonder, curiosity, goodness, truth and beauty. Philosophy has traditionally been divided into various academic fields. Let’s explore how each field can find its place in the classroom.
The inquiry of metaphysics and ontology inspires us to be curious about the questions “what is real?” and “what is the nature of reality?” Many of us take this for granted. For example, I assume the laptop on which I am typing this article, right now, is a real entity. I can “feel” it and “see” it. Yet, if I assume it is real merely because my senses notice it, then how am I sure I am not hallucinating? Rene Descartes in particular went so far as to doubt everything but concluded that at least he must exist, since he was thinking. “Cogito ergo sum,” “I think therefore I am” is his popular contribution to thought. Was he right? In exploring questions of being and reality, we can respond to this with a critique as well. Asking our students “why?” gets them to think. I often tell students I am the “why guy.”
The inquiry of epistemology inspires us to wonder about the question “how do we know?” For example, we take for granted that atoms exist. Have you ever seen an atom? We take for granted that Hawaii exists, or that George Washington existed. How do we know that all this is not some grand conspiracy? Of course, that would be pretty over-the-top; but, at the very least it raises the question. Can we have true knowledge simply because someone else has told us? Philosophers ask the question of how knowledge is justified and warranted. Can I have true knowledge if there is a possibility I could be wrong? Or does this knowledge have to be infallible to be real and true? The nature of knowledge is even a topic that some Christian philosophers have sought to address. They usually point to Colossians 2:3, “in [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Yet of course I would ask them if this passage is really talking of Christ in the sense of epistemology. The Bible is sufficient for knowledge of salvation. But is it sufficient for the rules of chess or a flight operator’s manual, etc.? The question of “how do we know” brings students and teacher alike to curiosity and wonder together.
The inquiry of aesthetics asks “what is beautiful?” You have heard that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Is this really true? Does not God have an ultimate standard of Beauty? The philosopher Plato responded to this question with his theory of the forms. Everything is a lesser copy of an ultimate Form, insofar as there are therefore different degrees of “beauty,” with ultimate “beauty” being the “perfect form of beauty.” For Plato, “ugliness” is therefore not a “thing,” but simply a lack of the “form of beauty” on this “chain of being” or a lower rung of the ladder. When discussing “beauty” then philosophy permits us to move beyond opinion and into a substantial discussion with the ancients.
The inquiry of ethics asks the question “what is good”? It also therefore deals with the inverse, what constitutes evil. What are the virtues? What are the vices? Aristotle believed everything could be thought of in terms of excess or deficiency. The in-between, or the “Golden Mean” is how one can find the “good” or the “virtues.” This branch of ethics is called “virtue ethics.” For example in Aristotle’s system, the virtue of “courage” has an excess of “foolhardiness” and a deficiency of “cowardice.” No one would say a man that rushes into battle without weapons or planning is “courageous.” Nor would one say that a man who runs away from battle is “courageous.” But a man who plans and receives counsel and training and weapons before running into battle would be considered courageous. How philosophy intersects with ethics provides for ample discussion on the question of what is “good.”
The field of logic is the study of proper argumentation and how to apply those arguments. What is an “argument”? A formal argument has premises and a conclusion. An informal argument will not be as “polished” as this, but will be an assertion backed up with evidence. We all make arguments every day. Even something as simple as this assertion, “mom, we need to get gas for the car because the needle is on empty,” is an argument. The mother in this example could respond with a counter-argument by saying “no we don’t because the needle is broken.” The son or daughter could respond in turn with another counter-argument in saying “but daddy had the needle fixed so we really do need gas”, etc., until one side finally concedes. Here at Memorial we enjoy this especially in Logic class and in Speech and Debate. Of course, we teach our students to argue respectfully and logically.
There are other fields of study as well, such as cosmology and cosmogony which have to do with the nature and origin of the universe. Here at Memorial we have what we would call a “Christian cosmology” and even a “Lutheran cosmology” in that we affirm that everything in this universe is ultimately about the Cross of Jesus Christ as the center point of all of history.
Philosophy has a significant place in the classroom at a classical Lutheran school. Here at Memorial, it is taught in ways that inspire love of wisdom, and of wonder and curiosity. The Good, the True, and the Beautiful are found in Christ and in His Word and in His creation. He is true Wisdom. Equipped with this Wisdom by faith, our faculty and students stand ready to venture into areas of philosophy inclined to wonder as they think and live in the world.
It is not surprising to hear that our nation’s children are performing low on history proficiency tests. Our educational system has set us up for that result. For many years, the focus in elementary schools has been on math and language arts because the state testing standards hold the most weight in those subject areas. As a result, schools and teachers have made history a low priority beginning in the foundational years of elementary school. But this is only the beginning of the problem.
History has been replaced by social studies during the foundational years of elementary school. Social studies deals with the social aspects of our society, focusing on community and citizenship. Instead of using these foundational years to develop a strong understanding of our history, we focus more on our current society and culture.
When history is taught in schools, namely in the later middle school and high school years, it is taught through limited means, focusing only on certain key historical figures and events and addressing issues through the lens of our current culture. Our attitude toward our nation’s history these days is a negative one that dwells on the mistakes of our past. We take less pride in our nation’s historical accomplishments and put an emphasis on its shortcomings.
The result of this approach is disappointing. We shun our past and attempt to erase any negative reminders of that past by tearing down statues and changing the names of buildings. This selective approach to history not only limits us in our understanding of our past, but creates in us a resentment of it.
Our nation is losing its memory and, as a result, we are losing our future. Our future comes from our past, both our successes and our failures. When we minimize what we teach in history and ignore parts of our past, we do not have the means to lay a proper foundation for our future based on the experiences of our past. We do not see the full picture or understand both sides of each story to help us to fully interpret what happened and why. We have a divided approach to history and, therefore, we lack the benefits of a shared history.
In his essay "On History," President John F. Kennedy wrote, “History, after all, is the memory of a nation. Just as memory enables the individual to learn, to choose goals and stick to them, to avoid making the same mistake twice—in short, to grow—so history is the means by which a nation establishes its sense of identity and purpose. The future arises out of the past, and a country’s history is a statement of the values and hopes which, having forged what has gone before, will now forecast what is to come.” We learn the collective history of our nation because it helps us to understand the timeline of events that lead us to our present and continues to pave the way for our future.
Our classical Lutheran education at MLS does not follow the common educational approach. Instead of social studies, we thoroughly teach history from kindergarten to eighth grade. We begin with our nation’s history in kindergarten, setting the timeline of events of our country from before its beginnings to the present. The students at this age drink up all of the knowledge they learn about historical people and events of our country and are excited and curious as they learn about them. They discover common traits of some of our great leaders and learn about both accomplishments and losses in our nation’s history. They learn about symbols and monuments that were created to honor our nation and its leaders.
In first through fourth grade, our students study history from the beginning of time to the present, establishing a timeline of events, incorporating the geography of places where these events occurred, and gathering information about people and events significant to each of the time periods. We continue to set the foundation of both our nation’s history and the history of the world through these formative years through a gathering of knowledge.
By the time this foundation is set by middle school, our students are ready to take what they have learned to the next level. Understanding the timeline of events and drawing from their knowledge of history, students at the logic level study history through a variety of ways. Through the use of primary sources, they delve into the writings and thoughts of different leaders of a particular period of history. Rather than a textbook, students choose a variety of sources on the different topics being studied and research these events, eventually writing about them.
As our students continue to study history and discover our rich past, they are better able to understand the workings of their world and make connections between current events and events of our past. The study of history helps to preserve our nation’s memory and provide an account of our past, an understanding of our present, and a direction for our future.
*This blog is inspired by “A Nation with No Memory Has No Future” by Joseph Pearce, The Imaginative Conservative, https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2020/01/nation-with-no-memory-has-no-future-joseph-pearce.html, and “On History” by President John F. Kennedy, American Heritage, https://www.americanheritage.com/history.
A Peek into the Second Grade Classroom
You leave the office, walk down the hall, come as far as the library, you look to the right and see our second grade classroom. As you peer in, you see a room that shows “time standing still”. The Math Meeting time board shows a March calendar bordered by student-made Trinitarian shamrocks. Time is standing still. Mrs. Gaub’s block calendar on her desk says, March 12th. Here we are, May 12th is upon us, and “we’ve continued our pursuit of knowledge online for the past two months.”
Let us continue to look around the classroom. We see a Poetry Tree - a mainstay in second grade room. We memorize a poem each month as we continue to learn at the “grammar level.” The recitations of “The Topsy, Turvy, World” by William Brighty Rands, which is a definite student favorite, and several poems by Longfellow, Stevenson, and Field help the children to accumulate a rich vocabulary. They learn the cadence to the melody of the vowels, metaphor and simile, as well as the emotion behind the poet’s writing.
As we continue to look around the classroom, we see a rich source of books for leisure reading, when students complete their written work. Another option is “Drawing Warm-Ups,” a grammar level packet of drawing instruction and practice that the children do that reinforces learning the elements of shape. This is an exercise to develop careful observation and, later on, an appreciation for the beauty and structure of pieces of Art. A poster of “Babar The Elephant,” including elements of other famous paintings, shows us how these simple lines and circles can be discovered in masterpieces.
Now turn to the front of the room. There, framing the whiteboard, we see the counting strips. These are a centerpiece of learning number-sense. We begin tackling multiplication, which helps us learn products quickly as we recite and sing the multiples of two through twelve. Patterns in math stimulate our number sense and prepare us for the abstract thinking needed for mental math, and the next phase of learning in our liberal arts education.
While peering into the classroom in the early morning, we are gathered around the piano, singing during our opening devotion time. We sing the weekly hymn and catechism lesson through song. We love to sing every chance we get! In the afternoon, you will hear grammar chants of adverbs, adjectives, prepositions and helping verbs!
Another glance in our room you hear short, precise sounds of our phonetic alphabet. We recite our phonograms and words, syllable-by- syllable to tackle spelling and reading. When we encounter new words in Literature, History, or Science, we know we can break the words down into syllables. Phonics rules we put to memory help us in our own writing as we add a suffix to a word which begins with a vowel.
Perusing the room for students work, you will see work displayed which is edited for our “personal best” in manuscript writing and eventually, cursive writing. We learn the elements of cursive, the five strokes, and put them to use while making each letter. And, yes, you may even see the students talking to themselves, they may be saying, “start with a short upswing, pull straight down to the baseline, finish with a tiny upswing”.
You may even see us leave our classroom to go to another classroom and be filled with the Grammar of History, Latin, and Art. Learning spatial relations (geometry) is a characteristic of an educated person. In the book, Classical Education: the Movement Sweeping America, Veith and Kern write, “Someone who is educated should be able to handle numbers (mathematics), science (astronomy), aesthetics (music), and spatial relations (geometry),” (14). So we learn the geography (maps) and architecture of the time period being studied in History and Art. Latin requires mental gymnastics that ultimately strengthens the mind. We also leave the room to strengthen our bodies in physical education class.
Most importantly, we will be found in the church for daily chapel, or inside the room with our Bible storybooks in hand. We focus on God’s Word given to us about His only Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is here that we not only learn about all God has done for us, but we receive forgiveness for all our sins as we gather in our Lord’s House.
All the learning we do in our room is centered in Scripture. It guides our learning of history, our world and nature, the Bible verses we memorize, and the hymns we sing. Most importantly, we give God the glory for our redemption through Christ who died and rose for all mankind.
So here we are, May 12 is tomorrow, and, to the naked eye, the second grade classroom looks lifeless and deserted, stuck on March 12. But the learning has not stopped. The second grade students are excelling in all areas of our curriculum in a different classroom. The ‘new’ classroom looks like the inside of each student’s home.
When I volunteered to write an article on this important topic, we were not in COVID quarantine. “The Importance of a Pleasant Atmosphere in the Home” has since taken on a whole new meaning.
With most of us being at home 24/7, taking care of and “homeschooling” our children, this topic is certainly relative to our home environments today. Can we really create a pleasant home environment amid the chaos and new routines?
As we are well-aware, a child’s home environment has a profound impact on learning and behavior in school (see “The Impact of Home Environment” https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/the-impact-of-home-environment/).
Well, school is now at home, so trying to create that pleasant environment may be tougher than we think. We all want the best for our children, and that most definitely includes good behavior. Before this much-despised quarantine and back in the “good old’ days” when your children were at school, you probably asked the question, “How was your day?” or “Were you good in class?” Now you are asking yourselves those same questions! How was your day?
If you did not already have a calm, pleasant environment at home, you may be struggling to find routines that work: balancing schoolwork, parental work-from-home duties, and quality family time. This task has probably seemed overwhelming to many!
This pandemic quarantine is unprecedented, and we have been coping as best we can to make our long “at-home” days work. Gone are the days of 8-plus hours at school, rushing to plan dinner, and making time for homework and downtime (if any is left). As a result of the mandated “stay-at-home”, many of you have become closer as a family and have enjoyed having this added time together. But maybe some of you are thinking, “I can’t wait for everything to get back to normal.”
So, what is “normal”? As of right now, we know that it is not rushing out the door to get to school on time, heading to work, or rushing to after-school activities. “Normal” may be a calmer, more relaxed start to the day where you sit down and have breakfast together before starting the day. You might even have time to sit down for dinner together.
You are probably thinking to yourself, “We are already together all day, every day!” But many of these hours can still feel stressful with the monitoring of Zoom chats, doing math worksheets, or writing reports. So, yes, it is still important to create that special “down time” to relax together.
Parents are the best role models for their children, and the examples set at home will either encourage or discourage them. Our home and family are where we should feel most comfortable. Children learn by imitation, so it is important to set a positive and loving environment, yet still set boundaries and expectations.
Being organized at home can go a long way in creating a pleasant environment. To minimize chaos, try designating personal spaces for everyone. Each family member should have their own special place in which to put things such as backpacks, bags, books, schoolwork and personal items, like tablets and phones. Having that sense of organization will lessen arguments and reduce anxiety about where things are when you need them. Create a simple flow for your days. Print your schedule or routine and post it where everyone can see it. Take a few minutes each day to tidy up the house as a family. Do morning chores before breakfast and evening chores after dinner (see “Create a Pleasant Atmosphere,” https://classicallyhomeschooling.com/pleasant-atmosphere/). Working together can create that sense of responsibility and satisfaction in helping one another.
As a classical school, Memorial Lutheran School teaches the good, true and beautiful. How can we best translate this emphasis into our home environments?
One important way in which to fill your home with goodness, truth and beauty, is to gather as a family in prayer and for family devotions. These are the things your children will remember. They will remember their home as a place of love, kindness and especially, the love of Christ. Your children will likely grow into adults who will want to create this same type of home for their families. Start and end your day with prayer. As Matthew 18:20 tells us, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
This really resonates with me. I fondly remember growing up, attending church every Sunday, getting together with my grandparents, and sitting at the lunch table talking about the importance of keeping Jesus front and center in your daily life. As the Bible tells us, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and he will not depart from it,” (Proverbs 22:6).
Another important way in which to create and maintain a pleasant environment in the home is to eliminate the negative influences that endanger young children and teens. Most of today’s television programs are not family-friendly and can be hazardous to a child’s well-being. Because children learn by imitation, watching shows that are contrary to Christian values can result in behavior that is not God-pleasing. What we as parents exhibit to children, is what they will remember, and how they will pattern their behavior. When a family shares Christian principles and values, they grow together (see “The Importance of Home and Family,” https://www.meaningfullife.com/home-and-family/).
Now that we are experiencing this constant togetherness, take time to play board games, work on puzzles (good for any age level), go outside in the nice weather for walks and bike rides, or draw in the driveway with sidewalk chalk.
Or you can just simply give each other hugs. Yes, you can give those in your household a big hug! Just be sure to use the “virtual hugs" for your neighbors and friends!
In closing, remember that it is important to treat your children and others with kindness and Christian love. Tell your family and loved ones often that you love them. Create that warmth and love that results in the pleasant home environment that is so vitally important in today’s world. The surety of Jesus’ love will provide comfort in these troubled times.
“Making sense of a chaotic world…”
While we experience a global pandemic, it’s a fitting time to discuss this topic. Chances are you’ve read other posts over the past several weeks that have attempted to do this: make sense of a chaotic world. Maybe some of them have turned out to help, and maybe some have increased your anxiety (for me, most often the latter). This topic has always seemed to be at the forefront of my mind (and presumably, yours since you’re reading this), and it’s been there long before COVID-19.
Within the last few months, and with each passing day, everything in the world began to look different. The impact of COVID-19 on education specifically, has brought the world to re-evaluate what we previously understood education to be. Zoom, webinars, blackboard, remote meetings; while these are not new, they were certainly not the norm for everyone. Now, a remote classroom is currently the only type of classroom. It’s all new and uncertain, which can feel chaotic.
Nevertheless, as I’ve personally attempted to make sense of our chaotic world, I’ve realized how the chaos highlights the importance of education and specifically a classical education. Living in a chaotic world highlights classical education’s most basic principles of science and art – and the relationship between the two.
I’m not a trained educator, and I’m by no means an expert in classical education. However, I am a product of it. I have distinct memories of my first run-in with classical education: a nervous little second grader, crying at the dining room table while attempting to memorize Bible verses, poems, and the Gettysburg Address for Friday tests. This first exposure to the ground-rules of knowledge, grammar, mathematics, music, logic; while difficult, provided a foundation for my continued growth.
Fast-forward two decades: I’ve earned a degree in Middle East Studies, I’ve completed my military service, and I’ve begun a career in a start-up company. As I’ve reflected on my experiences, what I see now is that the world has always been new, uncertain, and truly chaotic. But, my foundation in the basic principles of classical education enabled me to navigate it.
I’ve come to understand life and vocations as the continual balancing of the science and art sitting at the heart of classical education. Science provides the structures in which art can be created. Art is the way in which we choose to make sense of newness and uncertainty in the world.
My second-grade tears were the result of the struggle to learn the science: the basic elements of a word, musical notes in a scale, the construction of a sentence, the timeline of our history and those who came before us, the ways they constructed their sentences. This basic understanding of science, the structures, the processes, the laws, was my foundation. Within these frameworks, I could then create the art: the thoughts, the arguments, the ideas.
From my classical education came the ability to learn the structure of the problem and create a solution: learn the science and create the art.
It didn’t end in second grade. Through college I learned philosophy, history, politics, and music. With an inter-disciplinary approach, I crafted a thesis linking them all into an understanding of how hip-hop shapes cultures in the Middle East through similar mechanisms as it did in the Bronx, NY. Through my military career, I learned the effective range of weapons, how to structure a command, and use a radio. With an understanding of these capabilities, I crafted plans and performed actions I hoped were adaptable and flexible enough to withstand an ever-changing situation. Through my transition into a civilian career, I learned a new business lexicon, how to use productivity tools, and the form and function of my company’s product. With collaboration across our teams, I helped craft unique solutions to drive scalability and efficiency throughout the company. I’m humbled by the knowledge that this process will continue as the world presents new and uncertain challenges.
This balance between science and art shapes the way we perceive our world and grow in our vocations. Because the world will always feel chaotic, the need to learn new disciplines, structures, and science will always remain. It is with those building blocks of knowledge that we can create ideas, solve problems, and produce the art that will help us make sense of what is new and uncertain.
Classical education builds a foundation of knowledge and shows a rich history of ideas. Most importantly though, it teaches the process of life-long learning through a continual balancing of both science and art. And that is how we make sense of a chaotic world.
Learn the science. Create the art. Repeat.
The Necessity of Recognizing Beauty in Our Modern Society
In researching classical education and in my pursuit to better understand “beauty” within our modern society, I found some information which helped to shed light on what we are teaching at Memorial Lutheran School. In Awakening Wonder: A Classical Guide to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty by Stephen R. Turley, he writes the following commentary regarding his book:
“In his masterful work The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis observed how modern education was changing our conception of what it means to be human. By cutting off students from the transcendent values of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, modern schools ceased cultivating virtue in students and instead communicated a mechanistic vision of the world that viewed students as products to be engineered. Lewis believed that in seeking to control nature, modern “conditioners” would also seek to control humans and remake them according to the preference of the conditioners, since any appeal to Truth, Goodness, or Beauty had been rejected. Lewis argued that we must recover these transcendent values in order to prevent the dehumanizing tendency in modern education and renew the cultivation of virtue.”
In our current society, everything is subjective and no one is wrong. Everyone should “live their truth”. In classical Lutheran education, we heartily disagree. There is one truth. It is God’s truth. There is goodness, which is informed by scripture, molded by catechesis, and measured by morality. There is beauty, and God’s creation shows us daily how to understand and recognize that which is beautiful.
Our current culture and public education system are heavily dependent upon technology and sometimes lacking in true human connection. Although cell phones, GPS, and computers have enhanced our lives, they have also made us less able or willing to think for ourselves. For example, I have been terrible at road directions for as long as I can remember, with many a time (prior to GPS) driving back to the same spot or driving in the absolute opposite direction. However, I at least kept a map handy, and tried to learn where I was going and notate the landmarks around me. Nowadays, the GPS tells me where to drive and how quickly, in minutes, I will arrive at my destination. It is a technology that has improved my daily life but doesn’t help me to improve my internal navigation skills.
A lot of us have lost our interest in reading real books because of our self-imposed overly busy lives and the very short blurbs of information available to us online. Since we all have more time on our hands right now, consider instead the Great Books Covid-19 Challenge at https://veritaspress.com/blog/the-great-books-covid-19-challenge. Many of these books actually can hold our interest, if we let them. They are even available online, which allows technology to improve a different kind of internal navigation skill.
We all know that the most recent generation of children has never known a world without internet. My eighteen-year-old son lamented the possibility that a storm might take out the internet, and I explained to him that it didn’t really bother me that much since I could always read a book.
For that matter, it’s always nice to stop and really focus and actively listen to the people around you. We are so distracted as a society. I request most things to be emailed or texted to me so that I don’t forget. There’s no doubt that the impact of modern society and technology is wide-reaching, pervasive, and sometimes very negative.
When I think about beauty and what it means, two primary things come to mind. First and foremost is the beauty of God’s creation around us. It is awe-inspiring to see the many colors, patterns, and features of the natural world. Second, I think about the beauty of human interaction, such as witnessing someone’s kindness and mercy towards others. We have a lot of opportunities to see the beauty of humanity in the midst of the coronavirus overload. We are all forced to slow down and “smell the roses” right now due to the “stay home, work safe” order in place in Houston. Although it might be tempting to be overwhelmed and stressed by the only thing the news wants to cover right now, this is also an occasion for us to see the beauty around us in nature and in fellow humanity.
I remember seeing a tv program a few years ago that explained some of the elements of human attraction, and the takeaway was that people are drawn to human symmetry and proportion. I would absolutely agree that humans value the beauty of symmetry, and I would venture to say that it doesn’t stop with human attraction to the opposite sex. We are also moved by the beauty of architecture and art, color and form, and the element of surprise.
I live in a part of town where my drive in to work passes through some areas which have quite a bit of trash. My nine-year-old and I were at the stoplight last week, and he noticed the simple beauty of the flowers alongside the litter. An appreciation of beauty in today’s modern society sometimes requires us to see past the shell and recognize the surprises within the greater landscape.
The beauty of human interaction can be seen everywhere if you slow down and intentionally observe all the wonderful examples of people looking out for each other during this worldwide pandemic. Despite all that preceded Covid-19, at our core and because we are created by God, we care for each other deeply and sometimes selflessly. Jesus is the ultimate example of this love. Here at Memorial, we hope that you had a beautiful Easter weekend, and we are all looking forward to seeing each other back at school soon.
Tiffanie Conchola, Early Childhood Director
“Paradox: a statement that is seemingly contradictory...and yet is perhaps true” (Merriam-Webster).
At least, according to the dictionary, Holy Week is filled with paradoxes. What we normally think is true is turned on its head. What we believe (both about God and about ourselves) comes crumbling down in the face of the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The order, or better yet, the disorder of this age is upended and ultimately undone.
Still, paradoxes lead us to confess the truth of the Holy Scriptures. The whole of salvation history, as encompassed by the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures, is replete with such paradoxes that leave the wise confounded in their wisdom and the simple enlightened by Divine revelation.
It began with the promise that the God whom the heavens and the earth cannot contain (1 Kings 8:27) was found to dwell bodily in the flesh of Jesus (Colossians 1:19). The Babe of Bethlehem manifests the Holy One of Israel in the very human body of the son of Mary. And thus, the great paradox of Christmas is that Mary is the mother of Her Creator; a seeming contradiction that the Scriptures declare to be true. So true, in fact, that the salvation of all depends on this.
His mission, as He stated, was to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10), to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). Or, as St. Paul says, “Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Those whom the world celebrates as the “good” the “righteous” and the “deserving” are the very ones whom Jesus disdains. There are no miracles for Jesus’ hometown doubters nor for mighty Herod. There is nothing for the religious elite of Israel, those who “sat on Moses’ seat”.
And so, the Messiah goes to the political and religious heart of Israel, Jerusalem. There, the church and state of His time, Pilate the Governor and the Sanhedrin, both judge Him to be worthy of death. Then the miracle of miracles occurs, as the prophet Isaiah foresaw some eight centuries earlier, “the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). St. Paul later explained it like this, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (1 Corinthians 5:21).
The Holy One of Israel bears the sins of all people so that we might possess Jesus’ eternal righteousness. He is soiled with our filth that we might be cleansed. He dies the death of every man so that every man might live eternally. “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,” sings the Church in confessing the name of the Holy Trinity. Here too, the church must gasp and stagger again at the depths and lengths of God’s love and commitment to a fallen humanity that he would trade places with us, and in so doing, give us His Name, His Glory and His Kingdom. “As it was in the beginning (at Creation, perfection) is now (forgiven, reconciled) and will be forever (reigning in life everlasting with all His saints). Amen.”
“NO, a million times NO!” human reason and sinful hearts proclaim! It cannot be! Only those who make themselves good enough, worthy enough can ever gain that wondrous gift. This is a paradox that has gone too far. And yet, so is the Savior and Creator of this universe. He goes too far; too far in forgiving, too far in bridging the gap, too far, right into suffering and death, into condemnation and hell, to conquer the unconquerable. Here, He restores His hopelessly lost creatures as ONLY He can do.
Until the last day, when Jesus ushers in the Kingdom visibly, the Church with one voice through the ages cries out that the soul-sick are healed, those blind to God now see, the deaf hear the Gospel of salvation, those dead in sins are made eternally alive, because at His death, Jesus reconciled the Father to the world by trading places with us, becoming sin for us while making us sinners righteous.
The Church and her Faith are all built on a paradox. What seems to be so, isn’t. Our wisdom will always fall short. Eyes (and hearts) clouded by sin and decay insist that this cannot be the way things are with God. But it IS! A paradox! A God of paradoxes!
So, this Good Friday, weep with joy. Celebrate solemnly! Gather with all the Church in heaven and on earth even though we be few or alone in our homes! Lovingly lay aside hate! Forgive the unforgiveable! And ponder anew God’s unimaginable Paradox.
Mr. Brda, 5th Grade
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is not the God of dead men. He is not the God of the dead brothers and the dead woman. He is the God of the living. Those who die, as all men and women and children do, and die believing in Him, are alive in Him.
The resurrection of the body is a quintessential article of faith for Christians. In just two weeks, either from home or in small assemblies at churches, the Christian Church will celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord: Easter. This is the hinge, the sine qua non, (without which there is none), for Christians. We do not believe in a dead God, but a living God. We believe in the crucified and risen Jesus and that by believing in Him we have life in him, both now and forever more. This is also the reason why Sunday is the chief day of worship for Christians: every Sunday is a little Easter, all year long.
Here in Matthew, Jesus is confronted by a group of 1st century Jews who did not believe in the Resurrection. They are called the Sadducees. They were considered within the pale of the 1st century pre-Christian "Church," but their views were wholly unorthodox. Their views did not match what the Bible (Old Testament) taught. The Holy Scriptures, the Old and New Testaments, teach the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting (Hosea, Daniel, the Gospels, 1 Corinthians, etc.). Oddly enough, although many of you may not have had experience with Christians of this sort, there are “Christians” today, like the Sadducees of old, who reject the truth of Christ’s resurrection and therefore the need for a physical resurrection for humanity too.
Today is no different from our Lord’s day. Human reason cannot grasp the significance 1) of the resurrection of the body and 2) that God is the living God. He is the God who created all that exists and preserves it. He is the God who took on human flesh in the person of the Son and lived, as we understand living. He is the God who died and rose and ascended bodily into heaven. It is an astonishing teaching. Many make little of the body. Many adults treat it with disdain in life and in death.
As we get closer and closer to the feast of Easter, bear in mind the glorious truth of the resurrection. As we are consistently confronted in the news and in life with illness, disease, dying and the fear of death; look to your God who is the God of the living and not of the dead. Hold fast to this blessed hope of life in God in Christ Jesus and do not let go, even when all seems pointless and lost.
God bless you and keep you as you learn at home.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
A good education is one that leaves its student grateful. How many times can you remember having a teacher that brought you to feel nothing other than gratefulness for what you had learned?
I imagine that in the perfect world, every school would consist of only teachers that brought students to be this way. But a good school is a place with more than just a few good teachers. I think that a good school is one that strives to ask and answer, “how do we work systematically to create grateful students?”
I think about teaching for gratefulness from the perspective of teaching History. How would a good school teach History systematically (from kindergarten to high school) so that it leaves its students feeling grateful by the end?
It seems to me as though the system must work in a progressive fashion.
I think the progression goes something like this. There is no one on this earth more prone to wonder than young children. For this reason, young children are most well-equipped to wonder at the wisdom of people like king Solomon and Odysseus, the courage of people like Regulus and George Washington, and the faith of people like Abraham and Perpetua. Despite this natural advantage of young children, many schools today seem to replace rich stories such as these—in the name of practicality—with the immediate and the tangible, with questions like what is a mailman and how is my family different than a family in Asia. If you don’t believe me, go look at a social studies book.
After this initial phase of telling rich stories of the past, it would seem fitting to give students a sense of order for these stories. This would enable them to place the stories in the context of the great and glorious civilizations that rose and fell before the one we live in today. I work to accomplish this mostly in middle school, through a four-year cycle that goes from ancient history to the 20th Century. Students in middle school are ready to begin grappling with the larger picture. Yet the story of western civilization has been replaced by many today with world history and stories of great western oppression—how land was stolen from natives, how masses of people were enslaved by the colonists, how women overcame subjection and earned the right to vote, and how we have all become much better than we ever were through the civil rights movement. While many people who came before us seemed grateful to observe that we stand on the shoulders of giants, this switcheroo in curriculum has been most efficient at bringing us to resent those very shoulders.
Once students have seen the big picture, it becomes fitting—if our goal is to foster gratefulness—to bring students to appreciate the actual words and thoughts of the people who were heroes and villains inside the stories and civilizations they learned about in their youth. Primary sources. This period of study—call it early high school—includes a richer and more challenging body of texts. But it is Pericles' Funeral Oration that comes brings us closer to the experience that was the Peloponnesian War; it is Thomas Paine’s Common Sense that brings us closer to the experience that was the American Revolution. After the middle years, students reach a point where they are able to read and understand texts and ideas that are deeper and more complex than the secondary sources they learned from in grade school.
Despite this human development, many places forgo this opportune time to study primary sources with courses like (I know of at least one in our area) “Defining Moments in Political History.” In this, students are tasked with acquiring a more in-depth “philosophical” look at systemic oppression. The end of this is, of course, to become "woke"—to see one’s self as not only better than those in the past but also those in the present who fail to see what one has learned to see. On the other end of the spectrum, there are AP classes that are offered to teach the history 500 years in 2 hours, in order to make students feel like have mastered complicated subjects well enough to skip them in college.
Finally, I have come to believe that a good school goes even one step further than teaching primary sources. It is not enough to let students expect that as English-speaking Americans, everyone and everything must make itself digestible to them. Greek, Latin, German, French… any language that is useful for digging into many of the primary sources that were read at an earlier stage of education. It is an act of humility and respect to take the time to learn the language of another, in order to understand a person in his language. How cool is it to think that you can have the very same thought in the very same language cross your mind as the thought that crossed the mind of an ancient Greek or an ancient Roman 2000 years ago—not to mention the vocabulary that these languages build us up to understand. I cannot put into words how grateful I am that I have a job where I get to read real Latin literature with my 8th graders, where we get to laugh at Roman jokes in the language of the Romans. While all students can grow to to appreciate the past at this level, this is about the time in education when—for many—the main focus becomes getting a job and blaming the educational institutions that one came from as places that taught them nothing practical.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
It’s the day many of you have been waiting for, but you didn’t even know it. Do you know what today is? It is nine months until…Christmas! That’s right. If it hasn’t been on your mind recently, it should be now. Today is March 25, the twenty-fifth day of the third month of the year. In nine months, it will be the twenty-fifth day of the twelfth month of the year, December 25.
Now before you get your hopes up, there are no presents to download today. Today is about the true meaning of Christmas. It is the day that we celebrate the day when Mary, the Mother of our Lord, found out that she would be the Mother of our Lord. As the readings make clear to us, God had determined to save mankind by being born of a woman, in a unique way. Jesus, the savior of the world, would have God as his Father and a virgin, Mary, as his mother. He would be God with Us, Immanuel. He would save his people from their sins. He would be the Son of David, but his reign would be eternal.
The Annunciation teaches us a number of important Christian lessons. The first is that God chose to save the world by causing his Son, the Lord Jesus, to take on human flesh first as a baby. Remember Adam? We have no baby pictures. He was created as a man. Jesus, the redeemer of the world, and the Bible calls him the “second Adam.” If we had pictures from that time, he would have baby pictures. God took on flesh and did so first as an infant in the womb.
Secondly it teaches us about the humility, that is the humble nature, of Mary, the mother of God. It was a miraculous thing, that she would be the mother of God. It was a crazy thing. Who would believe it? However Mary did. She trusted in God and rejoiced that she was chosen to be the theotokos, the God bearer.
Lastly it teaches us that God is not afraid to be with us. He comes to be with us, to live with us, to die for us and to share with us his eternal life. God is not a God who is far off. God is with us. He is still “Immanuel,” God with us. Jesus still comes to us with his flesh and blood in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus still comes to us through preaching to comfort and sustain us with the bread from heaven.
Nine months are left until once again we put up our trees and sing Christmas carols. Don’t forget in the meantime that every day we can rejoice that our Lord Jesus became man and died for our sins. Don’t forget that throughout the year, even when it still seems so far away, it is important to remember that God became man to save man. And the greatest gift of all, regardless of the season or the month is that he did it.
God bless you and keep you as you learn at home.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
A Principle of Classical Pedagogy: Wonder and Curiosity
By Mr. Josh Brisby, M.Ed.
Folks who are somewhat familiar with the principles of the pedagogy of classical education are probably familiar with concepts such as the Trivium, educating in stages, the Romans and the Greeks and their contributions, a focus on hard copy books, a focus on worldview, and similar ideas. But as classical educators, one of the things we desire to inspire is a sense of wonder and a sense of curiosity. The Romans and the Greeks both desired to know the “why” and the “how” of things. They continued to explore, allowing nothing to hinder them or to stop them. It was in this endeavor that they continued to enjoy the freedom of this unhindered exploration.
As teachers, our desire is to inspire our students. One of the ways a student will become inspired is if he or she sees the enthusiasm of learning in us the teachers. There should never come a time when we think we are finished exploring. There should never come a time when we should think that we have “arrived,” as it were. In fact, even after Christ returns, we will still be exploring. We will be learning constantly and continually about our God, who is infinite. We will never be able to exhaust the fullness of Him, or of His creation, or of the richness of the forgiveness of our sins that He wrought for us on the Cross, which He delivers to us in Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and in His Holy Supper.
An excellent example of the importance of never having arrived in our exploration, wonder, and curiosity is discussed in John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony. The book discusses the concept of “westering.” Westering is the concept of the European explorers always discovering and moving westward. At the end of the book, the main character, a young boy named Jody, enjoys hearing his grandfather tell tales of his own crossing of the Great Plains. However, Jody’s father is cold and dry, and just wants to keep things at a surface level. So, Jody’s father is uninterested in hearing his father-in-law’s stories. Finally, and sadly, the grandfather just “gives up,” admitting that his explorations are over. Yet, he remembers that the whole process of westering was the wonder and the curiosity, and when he found the mountains, the discovery was just as glorious as the westering itself.
But, then he says that when they arrived at the sea, their explorations were just “done.” We are furthermore told that this made Jody sad as well—and rightfully so. The grandfather notes that “ Westering has died out of the people. Westering isn't a hunger any more. It's all done,” (Steinbeck, The Red Pony, 94).
We live in a day and age where wonder and curiosity have died out. It is not often found in people. Our fast-paced, fast-food, microwave, technological society wants us to refuse to slow down and contemplate. It wants everything to be quick. Author Ray Bradbury predicted a time, in his iconic work Fahrenheit 451, when slowing down and thinking and wondering in curiosity would be lost. We have reached that time in technological America. Instead of using technology as a tool, we have become dependent upon it. The joy of reading, contemplating, thinking, and discovering has been lost.
We think we have arrived at the ocean.
But like Jody correctly noted in Steinbeck’s novel, if we have arrived at the ocean, we can grab our boats.
Here at Memorial Lutheran School, we desire to inspire that continued wonder and curiosity of unhindered exploration. There may be an ocean in the way, but as the Stoic philosophers said, “The obstacle is the way.”
Will the ocean stop you?
A Peek in the Classroom - Kindergarten
By Mrs. Bohot
On any given day at Memorial Lutheran School, it is not uncommon to hear students chanting their phonograms, rapping their math facts, reciting Bible verses, or singing about the continents in the kindergarten classroom. This is an age of discovery and excitement where students eagerly learn about a variety of subjects. In kindergarten at MLS, we work to build a strong foundation for our children as they begin their educational journey through elementary school. We recognize their abilities and excitement for learning and teach in a way that helps them to grow in their knowledge and build their confidence as life-long learners.
The grammar stage of classical education provides a strong foundation for our kindergarten students. At this stage of learning, students soak up and gather an abundance of knowledge. They are always learning and exploring and retain much of what they learn. At MLS, we provide instruction that utilizes this stage of development in each of our students.
Reading is a critical skill at the kindergarten level. Our Writing Road to Reading curriculum uses a comprehensive approach that incorporates phonics, writing, reading, and spelling altogether. Students learn a variety of phonograms—sounds that make up words. They put these phonograms together to form words to read and spell. Students practice writing these phonograms and words at the same time they are learning them, and they use the phonograms to decode words as they read. This thorough approach to reading development uses a variety of skills—reading, writing, and spelling—to help establish both oral and written forms of communication. This approach builds a strong foundation from the beginning, doing more than just teaching a child to read, but helping to develop spelling and writing skills at the same time. Students are also introduced to a variety of literature. As they are read aloud, students discover different types of stories and identify the type of story being read. They use a variety of mental actions to be active listeners and readers as they comprehend each story that is read to them.
In Saxon Math, students learn a variety of math skills through the use of manipulatives and math strategies. They acquire a wealth of math facts using strategies, songs, and rhymes. Learning math facts through songs and rhyme helps to make it fun for the students, but it also develops confidence in their math abilities. However, students do not just memorize math facts, they are discovering the concepts of addition and subtraction through the use of manipulatives and math strategies at the same time. Most importantly, once they learn a skill, students continue to use it all year, never losing the skill once it has been learned.
Science is always a favorite among the students. In Elemental Science, students are introduced to a variety of sciences—chemistry, geology, botany, physics, meteorology, and zoology. They learn through labs and experimentation as well as instruction and exploration. They love the hands-on approach as they discover the world around them, and they develop an appreciation of God’s handiwork as they learn about the intricate details of the sciences.
History and geography are also taught in kindergarten to give students an opportunity to delve further in the study of their world and their country. Students learn about the history of the United States by learning about influential people in our history from Christopher Columbus to Martin Luther King, Jr. They focus on familiar subjects like American symbols and presidents and learn about the history behind them. In geography, students learn the continents of the world and the names of our fifty states through songs, and they also identify them on maps.
In religion class, students learn the rich history of the Bible beginning with the account of creation and ending with John’s account of heaven in Revelation. Religion is taught with a Christ-centered focus, incorporating both law and gospel to give students a thorough understanding of our sinful human nature and our need for Christ’s salvation. This is illustrated through every lesson. Lessons are not only chronological but also follow significant events of the church year, such as Christmas and Easter, so students understand the history as they experience the different seasons of the church year. Daily chapel also provides students consistent opportunities to confess their faith each day through liturgy and through song. The rich language of the liturgy and hymns is an ideal model for young children as they learn to express their faith daily. Using Luther’s Small Catechism, students learn about the 10 Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, Baptism, Holy Communion, and the Office of the Keys to better understand the basis of their faith. Students memorize Bible verses that support the catechism focus each week.
At MLS, students also have the opportunity to attend additional classes with other teachers. Music instruction involves learning a variety of music skills and songs. Students also have several opportunities to perform during the school year at church services and concerts. PE is taught twice a week and students experience a variety of different sports and physical skills. Students also have art class twice a week where they learn different techniques and occasionally study an artist’s work. Students also have a chance to visit the library once a week where they check out books and listen to a story read aloud.
MLS offers a comprehensive classical program that recognizes the developmental strengths of a child at each stage of learning. Instruction at the grammar level introduces students to a wealth of knowledge to help them establish a strong foundation as they prepare for the next stage of learning. It is a joy to watch these young students discover and learn!
Throwing Down the Gauntlet: Public Education vs. Classical Lutheran Education
By Mr. Josh Brisby, M.Ed.
One of the things that distinguishes us here at Memorial Lutheran School is that we are a “classical” school. But, not only are we a classical school, but we are also a classical “Lutheran” school. For many folks, when they hear the word “classical,” this usually evokes in their minds pictures of prep students, people who study dry, dusty books, or people who usually reject any or all uses of technology in the classroom. Yet, classical Lutheran education is an entire way of thinking. In fact, this thinking is starkly contrasted with the popular public pedagogies of our day; so much so, in fact, that it would be helpful for us to discuss the differences between modern education in the public schools, and classical Lutheran education.
WHAT IS PUBLIC EDUCATION?
First of all, public education is pluralistic. “Pluralism” for the purposes of this essay can be defined as the acceptance or basis of more than one view as the background and interpreting principle of a society or institution. In this case, the society that is pluralistic is our country, the United States. It is pluralistic because we accept all religions or faiths into our society, given the First Amendment in our Bill of Rights. Therefore, when any institution of higher learning is “public” in our country, it is funded by our tax dollars. Since the public of our country is composed of several faiths, then by definition the schools funded by the public’s taxes must be pluralistic. If the government of a pluralistic society were to use public funds in preference of one religion, one could easily argue that that said government would be violating the very definition of a public school. This opens up debate over constitutional law, of course, but that is beyond the scope of this essay.
Secondly, public education’s main purpose is to serve the public through preparing their students for the job world. When one has a pluralistic classroom, usually one cannot concern oneself with questions of ethics, virtue, morality, religion, the spiritual, etc. Indeed, the focus in our modern times has been to neglect the humanities in favor of the sciences, because the other above issues must be left for the parents.
Thirdly, public education is diverse. All kinds of children from all kinds of backgrounds and faiths have to be served in public education, and therefore it is difficult, if not impossible, to discuss questions of the deeper issues such as goodness, truth, and beauty. Related, subjects in the public schools most of the time have to be compartmentalized, and separated without connection. It is rare to see a connection in postmodern society between school subjects, since postmodernism tends to deconstruct even language itself. It has led to a disordered way of thinking (or more precisely, lack of thinking).
So, to summarize, the main purpose of public education is to prepare a child for the job world in our diverse and pluralistic society. Questions of morality, ethics, religion, etc., are usually deferred to the parents. Public education is less concerned with the good, true, or beautiful, and more concerned with telling children what to think and how to do.
WHAT IS CLASSICAL LUTHERAN EDUCATION?
The public school pedagogies in general are to be contrasted with the main purpose of classical Lutheran education. So what is classical Lutheran education?
First of all, classical Lutheran education is “classical”. This goes without saying, of course. But what do we mean by classical? Classical education is concerned with the good, the true, and the beautiful. The classical pedagogy desires to train up our children in the virtues. It is geared toward the development of the whole child, both spiritual and physical. Indeed, one may say that classical education is concerned with the making of a person. Classical educators also recognize that the child develops in various stages. We commonly call these stages the "grammar" stage, the "logic" or "dialectic" stage, and the "rhetoric" stage. Each stage is geared toward the development of the whole child. Although we recognize that all three stages also overlap, the focus of the grammar stage is laying the foundation through rhyme and repetition; the focus of the logic stage is to teach the children critical thinking, making connections, and how to think; and the focus of the rhetoric stage is to teach the children to be confident, articulate, and well-written and well-spoken.
Second, classical Lutheran education is “Lutheran.” Indeed, how can we be concerned with the making of a person if we leave religion and truth out of it? How can we care about the good, the true, and the beautiful if we do not show them that the pure Gospel found in Lutheranism? The Gospel shows us that Christ is our ultimate Good. Christ is our ultimate Truth. Christ is Beautiful because not only is He good in and of Himself, but that He also makes us beautiful by giving us His Righteousness on the Cross and delivering it to us and wrapping us in it in Holy Baptism. Our students learn then that Lutheranism is good, true, and beautiful. How? We are convinced that the Bible is the Word of God, and that the true understanding of the Word of God is summarized in the Book of Concord, the Lutheran church’s confessional documents. This leads us to our next point.
Third, classical Lutheran education is catechetical. We place a heavy emphasis on catechesis, or training in the Lutheran faith, not only for our confirmands, but for all our students. We do indeed serve students of different backgrounds here at Memorial Lutheran School. But we are unashamedly Lutheran. We cannot talk about the good, true, and beautiful, if we were silent about what is “true.” Therefore we catechize our students to learn Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. We have daily chapel services in which our students learn and participate in the historic liturgy of the Church. We teach our students the Book of Concord, which is a summary of the Lutheran faith. And we believe that in doing so, they will rejoice in the Gospel that was placed on them in their Baptisms, and they will desire in turn to serve their neighbors out of thankfulness to God.
So we may say that the “classical” trains our children in how to think and what to do, and the “Lutheran” does the same. The main purpose, therefore, of a classical Lutheran education is to continually train our children in their standing before God (coram Deo) in the Gospel as forgiven completely in Christ, and to respond in love to their neighbor (coram mundo) in service and good works. Classical Lutheran education teaches our students how to think and what to do. The job world is only one of many benefits that a child trained under the classical Lutheran pedagogy will receive. We train them to go out in society as well-rounded individuals who will love and serve their neighbor, and to rejoice in the pure Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Christ apart from works.
In conclusion, we have seen that public education is pluralistic and teaches children what to think and how to do things. Its main purpose is to send workers into the job world. Classical Lutheran education is centered on truth and goodness and beauty and teaches children how to think and what to do for their neighbor. Public education tends to usually place the focus on technology and acquiring skills. Classical Lutheran education places the focus on the forgiveness of sins, and to become thinkers and articulate individuals who will serve their neighbor and bring this goodness, truth, and beauty into society.
We have not had time in this essay to discuss the differences that become fleshed out in the various school subjects, but that will be reserved for a future essay. So we must conclude by asking ourselves, do we want an education for our children that may train them to be workers for society, or do we want an education for our children that will train them to be thinkers that bring the Good News of the Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins in Christ to our society?
For this classical Lutheran educator, the answer is clear.
This post today marks the beginning of Memorial Lutheran School’s blog. Weekly the faculty, staff, and clergy of MLS will release articles and devotional material for the edification of our church and school families. Mondays will feature the release of an article on classical Lutheran education, philosophy, worldview or other topics. Wednesday will feature a sermon preached in chapel during the week prior or a devotion appropriate to the current season of the Church year. We pray that the blog will be a fruitful way for MLS to foster discussion and enthusiasm toward “building a strong foundation.”
The Faculty and Staff of MLS
“The How and the What”
---Musings on “the importance of teaching our students how to read and write, how to think, and how to imagine beyond themselves, their experiences, their lives, and their world.”---
Martin Cothran of Memoria Press has stated succinctly that a classical education is one that teaches students “how to think and what to do,” (Martin Cothran, What is classical education?, Memoria Press, 2017).
Reading, writing, thinking, imagining: these are critical skills. They are skills that require a judgment or discernment. This word "critical" comes from the Greek word kritikos, which in turn comes from the Greek verb krino, meaning to judge or discern. When one does any of the above (reading, writing, thinking, imagining), judgments and decisions are made. Seldom do we think about how we make those judgments. We do not ask the questions that we ought. What assumptions underlie our decisions? What assumptions underlie what others say or do? Are these legitimate assumptions? When reading, is there a way to sympathize with a character or an argument without claiming it as our own position?
A classical education is a “liberal” education. It is freeing in its inculcation of the “how” to think, read, write and imagine, and the “what” of virtue, eloquence, and Christian love. It is freeing too in how it permits each student to see that their knowledge, their works, their emotions and experiences all work together to serve those around them and those that they come in to contact with.
A classical education frees children to think critically and to do so with well-trained discernment. This is important because each student needs the tools of discernment to serve the neighbors that they will have now and will have in the future. A great education may be one that merely teaches "how to think" properly. But a classical Lutheran education is uniquely significant in that this, proper thinking, is not the end or point of the education. The end, the telos (another Greek term that is quite useful), is to love the neighbor, to look outside of oneself. A classical education is dedicated to teaching children "how to think" and "what to do." This is all for the benefit of the other and not the self.
Our education is directed outward. Much of education has been focused inward, motivated by the "self". Therefore, the focus on the teaching of “how to think" instead of “what to think” is “critical.” Now of course, students must be inclined and directed toward this “how”. A certain extent of the “what” must be taught so that reading, writing, and arithmetic can lay the foundation of the skills of the Liberal Arts. But once the tools are in place, then instruction toward the “how to think” can begin. “How” is applicable in a variety of circumstances and this is a boon to the classically educated youth. Many children and adults have been trained solely in “what to think” and there is little freedom to think outside of one particular profession or mode of life. A training in “how” provides the tools to transcend the modern sins of self-absorption and self-centeredness. The narcissism of our age (see Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations for example) becomes more deep-seated with every generation.
Thinking beyond oneself involves analyzing assumptions and presuppositions. Talking beyond oneself involves listening to others. Reading beyond oneself involves taking chances by reading outside of one's preferences. Imagining beyond oneself is the result of loving, analyzing, listening and participating in the conversation of humanity. On one level this conversation takes place in the classroom as the result of a curriculum founded upon classical principles and texts and lectures that come from the treasure trove of Western civilization. On another level, the formal instruction of education is the beginning of the act of inclining and forming students towards the actions that foster the love of the neighbor. This training in "how to think" molds one towards the proper "what": loving others in thought, word, and deed.
Classical Lutheran education inclines and forms students to think about themselves in light of others. Our Lord's summary of the "greatest commandment", love of God and love of neighbor, properly directs our focus and our end (Matthew 22:37-40). The love for God that Christians have is shown outwardly when we love our neighbors. The law here is that we need to think beyond ourselves, our needs, our emotions and our experiences. Learning "how to think" prepares us to do this academically and theologically. The academic knowledge and the theological knowledge gained from a classical Lutheran education equips students to think, talk, read and imagine in ways that serve others. The promise here is that God provides us love through our neighbors and love for our neighbors through us. Training children to be thoughtful, conscientious, and loving neighbors through thinking, reading, talking and imagining is a noble and worthwhile endeavor. We at MLS are glad that you are a part of it.
Rev. R. W. Paul - Headmaster and Associate Pastor