My oldest daughter, a freshman studying elementary education at Montana State University, was assigned to read The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession for her EDU101 Teaching and Learning class. Making application from my previous post, I picked it up and read it over the weekend.
Plodding through 175 years of American education felt excruciating at times, not because of the research and writing (which were excellent), but because of the history and heartache chronicled (and experienced particularly by teachers).
As author Dana Goldstein summarized on page 261,
When American policy makers require every public school to use the same strategies – typically without confirming if their favored approaches are actually effective for kids – they reduce the discretion of the most motivated teachers, whose contributions to the profession should be scaled up, not shut down or ignored.
This is an age-old problem in American education reform. Our system is highly decentralized in terms of curriculum, organization, funding, and student demographics and needs, yet we have expected local schools to implement one-size-fits-all reform agendas imposed from above.
Since political reality suggests we aren’t likely to drastically centralize our education system anytime soon, perhaps it is time to look not just to nationally prominent politicians or philanthropists or social scientists to improve schools, but also to teachers themselves.”
Goldstein’s epilogue, “Lessons from History for Improving Teaching Today,” surprisingly then read as if from the playbook of an independent school. Let me share just five (there are plenty more) of her key observations/recommendations for public school improvement, with a sentence or two from me (as a headmaster of an independent school) as to why I agree:
1) Teacher pay matters. Most parents I talk with find it hard to believe that teacher salaries – public or private – are as low as they are (the median annual public school teacher salary in Bozeman is approximately $45,000; Petra’s is around $31,000). Even if one believed the lie that “teachers only work nine months out of the year,” it’s amazing how little schools – public and especially independent – are able to financially compensate those who invest so much in shaping our children.
2) Teaching communities should be able to choose their own curricula, assessments, and teacher evaluation practices. As we like to say at Petra, teachers don’t just handle our curriculum; they are our curriculum. Few care as much about what kids are learning as teachers and administrators accountable to local parents rather than state and/or federal politicians and mandates.
3) Long-serving “star” teachers often come from low-income backgrounds, graduate from non-elite colleges, and are people of faith. Mission – not pedigree – is what makes the best teachers. While training and education are important (and we believe in both), the degree that most qualifies a teacher to be in the classroom is the degree to which he or she is committed to the mission of our school. Interestingly (especially for a secular book), Goldstein remarks that people of faith make better teachers, which we would say is a result of being created in the “imago dei,” or “image of God,” who is the ultimate Teacher.
4) Tests should be returned to their role as educational diagnostic tools, not educational funding metrics. Thankfully, this one is (finally) getting some notice as leading education researchers (not to mention any teacher worth his salt) will tell you that, as Goldstein writes, “…the most authentic use of achievement tests is to diagnose what students know and can do so teachers can better target instruction toward them.” I’ve written on this before, so for Petra’s particular take on testing, click here.
5) Be real about the limitations of the public system. And, I would add, any systems (including independent ones) that try too hard or are depended on too much to somehow replace the family or the Church. “We consistently expect teachers and schools to close achievement gaps and panic when they fail to do so,” wrote Goldstein, “but we do not provide families with the full range of social supports children need to thrive.” This can be just as true of independent schools as public ones, yet we must ideally function only “in loco parentis” – “in the place of” (not “in place of”) parents.
Some issues are no respecter of schools, public or independent. Kudos to Dana Goldstein for writing a book The New York Times called “meticulously fair and disarmingly balanced,” as well as to Montana State University for including it in their freshman education curriculum.
According to the educational website, Edutopia,
Parent involvement is the number one predictor of early literacy success and future academic achievement.”
But, according to the Pew Research Center,
About a quarter of American adults (26%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic, or audio form.”
We all intuitively know that reading – to our kids, in front of our kids – benefits our kids. But we also all experientially know that reading requires time and energy – two commodities we as parents too easily believe we possess in too small amounts.
Perhaps we do better reading books in the summer when the schedule seems lighter and the days longer. And yet, if we aren’t reading consistently ourselves (and especially during the school year), how will we convince our kids of this supposedly important habit, both in their studies now as well as later for the long-term?
This weekend, I began reading Jackson J. Spielvogel’s Western Civilization, the excellent history textbook our secondary students use all through their 7th-12th grade years. My daughters (all of whom had weekend reading assignments in Spielvogel) noticed my seemingly strange selection as they walked by me lying on the couch, and wondered out loud why I was reading their textbook on a Saturday night.
Before I could answer, they each mentioned how much they themselves liked Spielvogel’s text and how it helped them anchor in the timeline of history the many original source novels and essays we read. This, of course, is exactly how our teachers intend the book to be used, but it was nice hearing my kids’ explanation of our pedagogy (the method and practice of teaching) and how it helped them learn.
(Candidly, it was also nice to feel like I was doing something – i.e. reading the same book they were – that communicated interest in their lives and what they are learning. And, I learned and re-learned quite a bit about the ancient world of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and classical Greece.)
At all levels of our curriculum, our students read plenty of great books. As parents, why not read some with them? In lower elementary, learn some phonograms with your little ones; in the upper elementary, jump in on a chapter book every now and then, or read along in Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World history series.
If you have a student in the secondary, ask him for the booklist this year (we’ve already handed out all his books) and get started on a novel or essay now that he’ll read later in the year. Last year, I intentionally chose to read Moby Dick with my senior, but as I knew it would take me longer to read than her, I gave myself a couple months of extra lead time and finished just before she did. On the several occasions at the dinner table she shared what had been discussed in class and her thoughts concerning it, I could engage genuinely, which meant a lot to me and, I think, to her.
Forsake the “all or nothing” mentality that paralyzes so many of us (dads especially) and pick a book or two to read with your student this semester. Our kids – regardless of age or grade – will take note of our efforts and benefit as we model (even sporadically and imperfectly) this important tool and discipline of learning.
The following four-minute video debuted at Parent Orientation, with the text taken from Mr. Dunham’s “One-of-a-Kind and of One Mind” address to parents.
There isn’t one parent here who doesn’t want the fruits of classical Christian education listed in the video for your child:
We are of one mind here, which is why we are here. As Petra parents:
– we’re finished with academic education that doesn’t contribute to a student’s physical, emotional, and spiritual experience;
– we’re done with curriculum that does not teach the biblical story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation, tying all subjects together and giving them meaning;
-we’re through fighting trial-and-error educational progressivism, test-driven curricula, and no particular moral end in mind.
Instead, we’re of one mind in pursuing this one-of-a-kind classical Christian education as our desired means to the best of ends for our kids. We intend for them to engage with the best books, impassioned teachers, and most beautiful school culture possible.
Prior to the school year’s start, our staff invested good and profitable time learning and preparing to cultivate in our students four key faculties of flourishing, as presented by Academic Dean Sam Koenen:
1) Attentiveness. We become what we behold because we are worshiping beings. 2 Corinthians 3:18 describes this reality: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” We want to call our kids to study with rigor, defined as “being able to pay close and extended attention to that which is studied.”
2) Memory. The ability of students to access what they have learned in the past so they know how to live in the present is crucial to their success. Memory has always been an essential attribute of God’s people (consider the theme of Deuteronomy: “remember, remember, remember”), and is therefore an important element of our curriculum and pedagogy.
3) Imitation. We are made in the image of God and are called to act as he does – in imitation of the truth, goodness, and beauty of his word and his work in the world. How do students learn this at school? Through our teachers, who do not just handle our curriculum; they are our curriculum.
4) Harmony. Helping students recognize and resolve discord in their character is important for helping them do the same in resolving discord in the world. To learn to love and live at peace with God, man, and themselves is how human flourishing happens.
Ours is a one-of-a-kind education, and we want to be of one mind concerning it. We invite you to get informed, to stay involved, and to pray for our little school as we seek to instill these four characteristics in your students – not only for themselves, but for the flourishing of humanity and the renown of Jesus the Christ.
The following is an excerpt from Mr. Dunham’s opening message, “Clinging to Calling: Vocation for the Here and Now,” at this week’s Faculty & Staff Orientation.
What does calling look like in the classroom? In our context, a faculty member who has embraced his or her calling takes the following approach:
– He or she is always prepping. I’m not just talking lesson plans and seating charts (though those are important); I mean being spiritually ready to do what needs to be done. If your heart is unprepared to love students, if your sin is unconfessed, if your Bible is not read, if your prayers are not prayed, what is it that you are bringing to your role? The only answer you’re left with is yourself, and none of us are that good. Doug Wilson, in a message given at this year’s Logos Summer Teacher Training, said, “Everything going on at your school is going to have something to do with everyone’s walk with God.” How will your walk with God affect Petra Academy?
– He or she is mindful of mimesis. Mimesis is the modeling of – not just teaching – an ideal. The degree to which you are virtuous in your approach is the degree to which you can teach virtue – otherwise, the hypocrisy is too great. If I am going to teach my 8th graders the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control), my approach in doing so cannot consist of the opposite (hate, despair, turmoil, exasperation, rudeness, evil, harshness, infidelity, and unrestraint). Can you imagine being taught by someone like this? This is hypocrisy in its worst form.
– He or she explains the “meta-.” “Meta-” is the sense of the “why” to go with the “what” and the “how”. If we can’t answer why we’re teaching something, we should stop teaching it until we can. There is much value in pulling back with our students and reminding them of the “why” of “what” and “how” we’re doing, of showing them the box cover of the puzzle that goes with all the pieces they’re trying to put together. Simply put: the “why” of the “what” and “how” matters.
– He or she pursues relationship. As faculty, we must have a ministry of presence as we relate to our students. Teaching is hard, but it doesn’t have to be harder than it needs to be; much of it is simply doing the things our favorite teachers did – listening to students, taking them seriously, imparting them with truth, goodness, and beauty, and loving them unconditionally along the way.
The degree that most qualifies you for our mission is not from any college or university; it is your degree of commitment that matters most:
“Recognizing our need for God’s grace, Petra Academy strives to awaken love and wonder in our students by teaching to observe with humility, think with reason, and articulate with charity for the flourishing of humanity and the renown of Jesus the Christ.”
Jesus’ words in Luke 16:10 are still true: “He who is faithful with very little will be faithful with much.”
Let us cling to this calling in the hope of being so faithful.
We look forward to seeing you at Petra Academy this fall! School officially begins on Tuesday, September 5, but there are several important happenings across August of which to be aware:
– Tuesday, August 1, 3:45 p.m. is our monthly Board Meeting in the Petra Library (the Board took July off, as we do every year). Watch for your packet arriving via email.
– Monday, August 14 begins our 5th-12th grade girls volleyball (3:45 p.m.) and 7th-12th grade boys soccer (8 a.m. and 3:45 p.m.) Questions? Contact Athletic Director Tyler Ashley.
– Tuesday, August 15 is the deadline for families who elect to pay semi-annually or annually.
– Saturday, August 19, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. is our annual Petra Work Day. Petra families are invited to join members of our Admin Team in repairing all the vole and gopher holes in our playground, as well as trimming up the willow trees along Cottonwood. Bring wheelbarrows, shovels, trimmers, gloves, water, and a lunch; we’ll provide donuts, orange juice, and coffee!
– Wednesday, August 30, 7-8:30 p.m. is Petra Parent Orientation. All parents – new and returning – are requested to attend this important gathering to meet and connect together.
– Thursday, August 31, 1-3 p.m. is our Elementary Meet the Teacher PreK-6th grade students (with their parents) are invited to visit their classrooms and meet their teachers before school starts. (Note: Classrooms assignments will be sent by August 15.)
– Thursday, August 31, 1-3 p.m. is our Secondary Locker Setup Secondary students are invited to outfit the inside of their lockers before school starts.
Downloadable school forms and supply lists for 2017-18 are here.
Petra’s offices will remain open Tuesdays-Thursdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. throughout August. (Important note: Staff Orientation will be taking place Monday-Wednesday, August 28-30, from 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., during which staff will be unavailable without an appointment outside of those times.)
Finally, CTP test results and Petra Academy yearbooks will be available for pick-up in our office beginning Tuesday, August 1. New and returning families, be sure to grab your new Griffin car decals when you come in!
We look forward to seeing you soon as part of Petra Academy’s 22nd year.
PS: If you have not yet signed your tuition agreement or paid fees, please do so no later than August 15. Questions? Contact Business Manager Tosha Bos.
One of the joys of summer (apart from the school year ending, of course) is the opportunity to walk back through the past nine months and thank God for His blessings, for they are many.
Academically, we saw students at every level work hard, embracing the curricular challenges presented within each new grade and seeking to understand what our teachers so passionately attempted to present and inculcate. Our new Upper School Lyceum presentations from faculty contributed to the weekly intellectual stimulation, as did the many Grammar School field trips and educational festivals highlighting different aspects of our world. We witnessed the manifestation of fruit from our academic endeavors at each Recitation (Grammar and Upper School), by the expression of creative projects hanging on the walls, in the conversations and discussions engaged in in the classrooms (and, I’m told, at dinner tables everywhere), and through our Upper School Thesis presentations – all culminating in our Senior Commencement at the end of the year, in which we graduated 10 students we loved very much.
Artistically, we witnessed the deeper establishment of our music program with our new 4th-6th grade Orchestra joining our dynamic 4th-8th grade Choir for two wonderful Schola Cantorum concerts. We studied many and varied forms of visual art, and learned some of the history of each along the way. We dedicated a full two days to our Upper School Shakespeare Festival, extending our love for the Bard down into our Grammar school in partnership with Montana Shakespeare in the Parks and their Montana Shakes! week-long program in which over 40 of our 3rd-6th graders participated. Our Upper School students participated in our first-ever Film Festival and studied three stunning films from Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Decalogue project. And, we took a big step in our Drama program, producing a custom version of the theatrical favorite, Meet Me in St. Louis, complete with rousing song and dance numbers performed in front of record attendance numbers – our first foray into the wonderful world of the onstage musical.
Athletically, it was a banner year of spirit and accomplishment: we saw continued improvement at all four levels of our volleyball program, turned in our best JV basketball record to date of 10-3, and won our third state championship in five years in Ultimate Frisbee. Most importantly, we saw the beginnings of an actual fan base – of students K-12 (and their families) attending and cheering on our Griffin teams because they were our own. Our new line of Griffin Gear helped unify our look, and Spirit Days and our new Contio Spiritus pep rallies each month gave expression to our newly-cultivated school spirit.
Of course, if we’re talking spirit, there were our traditional feasts for Reformation/All Saints’ Day, Advent, and Easter, as well as yet another beautiful morning for Field Day, all of which added to the fun. We installed the first elements of our new Grammar playground (with more still to come), our 3rd-6th graders took history on parade, our 7th-12th graders learned about etiquette (and looked great doing so) at Protocol, and we loved hosting our elders for Grandparents’ Day. Finally, our Upper School house system competed – athletically, dramatically, academically, and musically – throughout the year, and we were all reminded of – maybe even surprised by! – the unity fostered by the houses when we retired them for summer at our year-end closing awards ceremony, where we celebrated each other’s accomplishments and cried a tear or two at a powerful slide show summarizing 2016-17.
Administratively, we celebrated our freedom to educate students the way we do during School Choice Week, welcomed dozens of school leaders from other parts of Montana interested in what we were doing, and secured another five-year accreditation from our accrediting body of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools. We improved systems (most significantly being online registration), welcomed new Board members, and attempted to lead humbly and with care for each and every student and family. We sought to own our shortcomings and failures, asked forgiveness and took responsibility for what we could or needed to, and worked to view issues as opportunities to get better. Most importantly, we sought God’s Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, and remain ever-grateful for what we discern to be His gracious response to us.
Thanks be to God…for 2016-17, and for everything.
During last week’s Board meeting for the month of May, our Education Team proposed the following class offerings/changes for consideration for adoption in the 2017-18 school year. The stated purpose of these changes was to address a number of issues in our current academic schedule, many of which have come to our attention through multiple conversations with students, parents, and teachers in ongoing discussions on how to improve what we do at Petra.
All of these proposals were researched among other Association of Classical and Christian Schools and carefully considered over many months by our administrative and teaching staff. Both our administration faculty and our teachers agreed that these proposals were the best solutions to these academic issues, and on the heels of much good and honest discussion at the Board meeting last Tuesday, I’m pleased to report that each of the proposals passed. They are:
Problem: For the past several years, our Humanities teachers have noticed a lack of Biblical knowledge in the secondary, especially among (but not limited to) transfer students.
Solution: Add a 2x/week Old Testament class in 7th grade and an 2x/week New Testament class in the 8th grade. These classes will survey the canon of Scripture, study the thematic and doctrinal unity of Scripture, and develop students’ abilities to read, understand, and apply Scripture to their own lives and their studies.
Problem: Due to the amount of material to be covered in our Humanities classes, writing instruction in the Secondary has not been systematic or comprehensive. As a result, several students continue to struggle with issues of crafting arguments, arrangement, style, and writing process.
Solution: Change 9th grade Material Logic class to a Classical Composition class.
Note: Currently, Material Logic consists of a review of 8th grade Formal Logic, followed by a series of essay assignments on apologetics issues. These essays focused primarily on argumentation, but not the other aspects of writing. The curriculum for Classical Composition will shore up students’ logic skills by training them not only in crafting logically sound arguments, but also expressing them in the most persuasive way.
11th Grade Course Load
Problem: For several years, students have remarked about how much more difficult the junior year workload is compared to the sophomore workload. This is due primarily to the relative ease of the 10th grade classes compared with the 11th grade classes, especially Rhetoric, Trigonometry, and Chemistry.
Solution: Implementing the previously-approved math tracking program (see Board packet from April 2017) in the 11th grade year will alleviate the homework load for juniors in the standard math track, who will take Algebra II instead of Trigonometry. Another needed solution is to switch when Biology and Chemistry are offering, moving Chemistry to 10th grade and Biology to 11h grade.
Note: Other ACCS schools (i.e. The Oaks and Ambrose specifically) offer Chemistry in 10th grade, and the prerequisite math for Chemistry is basic Algebra, which all students will have taken by 10th grade.
Dual Enrollment for Computer Science II
Problem: The students of our first Computer Science class missed the dual enrollment opportunity provided for this year’s Computer Science class. And the current dual enrollment students are very excited about computer programming and eager to continue growing in their knowledge of this subject.
Solution: Offer Computer Science II as a dual enrollment class for all students who have taken Computer Science I. All of next year’s juniors and seniors will be eligible for this class and its dual enrollment opportunity through Montana State University.
12th Grade Course Offering
Problem: Our current senior class offerings require students to choose between Physics/Calculus and Economics/Government classes. The math/science track is demanding, but so is the econ/govt track, which requires students to do Humanities-style reading and discussion in addition to their normal Humanities and Aesthetics reading. The following changes to our senior class offerings address several issues.
Streamline Rhetoric II as a 2x/week class – At the recommendation of Ginny Owens, our Rhetoric teacher, the senior thesis project could be taught in a 2x/week class. This focuses all the instruction and student work on the researching, planning, writing, preparation, and delivery of the senior thesis, the capstone project of a Petra Academy education.
Offer Civics as a 3x/week class – Civics is an important class for all students to take, especially as it helps shore up their knowledge of 19th and 20th century American history. Civics will be offered the same period as Rhetoric II, on the days Rhetoric II does not meet.
Move Aesthetics material into Humanities 12 – Due to several overlaps in content between Humanities 12 and Aesthetics, it makes good sense to combine these into the same class. Making Civics a required class also allows us to move some of the Humanities 12 political philosophy materials into Civics. This eliminates any unnecessary redundancy among these three classes.
Add Survey of Mathematics class to help seniors shore up math skills – This was addressed (and approved) in the math tracking proposal, but it is extremely important for seniors to take a math class. First, math is a subject worth studying for its own beauty, but also for the way it trains our minds to think and reason. Second, most colleges and universities require students to take math classes, so seniors need at least to shore up their math skills their 12th grade year. This Survey of Mathematics course reviews important concepts from Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry.
Offer Spanish III in 12th grade – The above changes result in an empty period. Spanish III is the best class offering for this slot, as it enables students to take one more language class with the emphasis on grammar review, cultural study, and conversation.
These proposed adjustments and additions are organized together in our tentative Secondary schedules and Electiva listings.
As Headmaster, I’m grateful to be leading a school committed to the ancient pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty with a willingness to work for improvement in doing so. Thank you to our Petra Board, faculty and staff, and parents and students for helping to propel us forward in our mission, striving to awaken love and wonder in our students for the flourishing of humanity and the renown of Jesus the Christ.
Contrary to popular belief (or at least that of my 8th grade Logic class), I’m not old enough to have been around in 1968 when Olympic marathon runner John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania cramped up while running due to the high altitude of Mexico City. I didn’t see Akhwari, at the 19 km point of the 42 km race, get jostled by the other runners and fall badly, wounding his knee and dislocating that joint (not to mention hitting his shoulder hard against the pavement).
Akhwari finished last among the 57 competitors who completed the race (75 had started) in 3:25:27 (winner Mamo Wolde of Ethiopia, finished in 2:20:26) when the sun had already set and there were only a few thousand people left in the stadium. When interviewed later and asked why he continued running, Akhwari said this: “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”
Inspiring, isn’t it? What a beautiful and powerful picture of human determination that brings to mind Paul’s words of spiritual illustration in 1 Corinthians 9:25-27:
Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
With only four weeks of school left, it’s tempting for students, parents, and faculty alike to want to let down in the name of “close enough,” as if stopping short of the finish line is somehow the same as running through it. With this in mind, here are three practical ways to help us finish the race:
1) Consider who’s watching. It may feel like we’re in the stands watching our kids round this final corner, but the truth is we’re on the track as well and our kids are running right beside us. Will they see us turn the corner or cut it as we get closer to the finish line? Make no mistake: whatever we do will be the example they’ll follow (not to mention the justification they’ll use), not only at the end of this particular school year, but with each one still to follow.
2) Cling to liturgies. Routines and regimens have gotten us this far; now is not the time to throw these to the spring breeze. Bath times and bedtimes, homework hours and habits – these structures from the past eight months are able to stand yet one more, but we must trust them enough to continue implementing them with our kids. Don’t forget the importance of Sabbath worship and rest each week, either; as parents, we need both as much as our kids do.
3) Check our words. “For out of the abundance of his heart, the mouth speaks,” Jesus says in Luke 6:45; the question is, “what abundance is in our heart?” It’s true for adults as well as for our kids: when we’re tired, our words can betray in an instant what we’ve tried for so long to build across the school year. Are our words filled with truth, goodness, and beauty concerning ourselves and others, or are we sabotaging the good work of God with our speech?
As you lean into this next month, know that we as a faculty and staff pray daily for our Petra community in our 8 a.m. staff meeting. Please join us as we pray and plod across the finish line together, so that when Saturday, June 3rd comes around, we can look back with no regrets, embracing the truth that we were meant not just to start the year, but to finish it as well.
…and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1b)
Good morning, students. And good morning to each of our parents, and especially to our very special guests, our grandparents.
We are thrilled to have you here for Recitation and Grandparents’ Day. While I’ve not met all of you, I have met many of you, and it’s my privilege to welcome you to Petra today.
As we begin our recitation this morning and prepare to enjoy the rest of the day we have planned, I’m reminded of these words in Deuteronomy 32:7:
Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations;
ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you.
Grandparents, with this verse in mind (and if I could be so bold), could I share two things that we – the younger generations – need from you today?
First, we need you to remember your days of old. You are the eldest among us and have lived in a world that we have not. Your grandchildren don’t need you to be hip or cool; they need you to be wonderfully old-fashioned as they “consider the years of many generations” – years that look very different from the ones in which they are growing up. As the poet John Donne wrote, “No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace, as I have seen in one autumnal face.” Your age is a gift – to you and to your grandkids – and I would ask that you embrace it as such, even as you make a present of it to them.
Second, we need you to play show and tell with us! As we encourage our students to “ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you,” we need your actions and stories to align. Model for them virtue and explain to them the good ways things used to be; show them how to live – with humility, with gratitude, and with the interests of others before your own – and then call them – repeatedly if necessary (and it will be necessary!) – to imitate you as you imitate Christ.
The challenge of what we in classical education call “mimesis” or “imitation” is enormous, of course, and you’re not going to get it right every time. But, if you’re brave enough to try and God blesses the attempt, the good news, according to philosopher Andy Rooney, is this: “Elephants and grandchildren never forget.”
The presence of a grandparent confirms that parents were, indeed, little once, too, and that people who are little can grow to be big, can become parents, and one day even have grandchildren of their own. So often we think of grandparents as belonging to the past; but in this important way, grandparents, for young children, belong to the future.
I am so grateful for your presence, support, and encouragement of our young students and in the life of our school. You have dropped off and picked up in a pinch, attended events and offered homework help, and many of you have sacrificially and financially supported our vision of seeing students prepared to live purposeful, godly lives.
(The following is Mr. Dunham’s Resurrection Feast message; the pictures are from the Feast itself.)
Back when Little Mr. Dunham was a boy of about 5 – quite a bit shorter, quite a bit skinnier, still wearing a suit and tie – he got it into his head that he was not loved by his parents. Now this had something to do with the fact that Little Mr. Dunham kept getting into trouble (particularly with his father, who was trying to help him obey), but Little Mr. Dunham was sure that the problem was his parents’ – not his – and he was tired of feeling so unloved.
One day, Little Mr. Dunham declared to his parents that he was planning to run away, but he wasn’t going to just do it any old way; he was going to leave in style. He found a red handkerchief and laid it flat on the floor. Then he grabbed some snacks out of the pantry (Little Mr. Dunham loved snacks!) and carefully placed them in the handkerchief before tying the handkerchief to the end of a stick. He then picked up the stick, put it over his shoulder, announced to his mother that he was leaving, and walked out the door.
Now you might remember that Little Mr. Dunham grew up on a farm, so there were a lot of places he could have gone that day. You also might remember that Little Mr. Dunham was only five and trips take a while when you have short legs, so what seemed like hours walking was really only five minutes down the gravel road. But that’s what Little Mr. Dunham did: he walked to the end of the driveway and down the gravel road until he saw a smelly, dirty, empty hog shed in the middle of a field (his father was a hog farmer) and walked over to it. He took the stick from his shoulder, unpacked his handkerchief, pulled out some snacks, and then waited…and waited…and waited…for at least 20 minutes.
All of a sudden, he looked up. There was his mother, who had walked down the road after him and was now standing in the door of the hog shed.
“Are you ready to come home?” she asked. With his lip trembling, Little Mr. Dunham nodded his head, dropped his snack, and started to cry. “I’m sorry I ran away, Mom, and I’m sorry that I didn’t believe you loved me,” he said, jumping into her arms. Then he said, “And I’m really glad you came after me.” His mother hugged him, and together they gathered up the handkerchief and stick and walked back up the gravel road toward home.
Sometimes we run away to see who will come after us. Now I’m not telling you to run away to find out, so don’t, but think about it: if you ran away and ended up in a smelly, dirty hog shed with nothing more than a handkerchief of snacks to eat, who would eventually come after you? For sure, you would have a parent come after you; I’m almost certain your teachers would, too; and probably at least one or two (if not more) friends would show up asking if you were ready to come home. That’s because they love you and care for you and want the very best for you.
Believe it or not, coming home from the hog shed is what we celebrate at Easter. In the Bible, Jesus tells three parables about finding three lost things: a sheep, a coin, and a son. Let me just read you the first one:
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’
So he told them this parable: ‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.'”
Now the truth is, there are no righteous persons; we all need to repent – that is, turn from – our sin – that selfishness inside of us that makes us think only about us. But what happens a lot of times in life is we get lost – like a sheep that wanders off – because all we think about is ourselves. We think we know best, our feelings get hurt and we get mad at the world, and we want what we want and don’t care what it takes to get it. So we run away – maybe not physically all the time, but emotionally, as we tell ourselves that no one loves or cares about us, which makes us mad or sad or both. So, we feel sorry for ourselves, and like Little Mr. Dunham, we decide to run away – but we’re secretly always wondering and hoping that someone is going to come after us and bring us home.
Well, I have good news. Jesus loves us and came after us to bring us home. But not only did he come after us, he died in our place to satisfy God’s anger at our disobedience. But not only did he die in our place, God resurrected him – he brought him back to life! – so that we, too, can have hope that we can live forever with God.
This is what we celebrate with our Resurrection Feast: God made a way for you and me to be with him forever, and Jesus has walked that way and come after us. All we have to do is say that we’re sorry for disobeying, come out of the nasty hog shed of our sin, jump in his arms, and trust that he will walk us all the way home. This is what Little Mr. Dunham did when he was a boy, and this is what Big Mr. Dunham still tries to do in response to God’s love each day. And this is what we pray for you – that you will know you are loved, and that when you tell yourself you are not and try to run away, you wouldn’t get too far before you look up from the smelly, dirty hog shed of your sin and see Jesus there ready to forgive you and walk you home.