Thursday, November 17, 2005

Worth Doing Well

That late, great Anonymous once said, "If something's worth doing, it's worth doing badly." But as with many things, we must say yes and no. Applying this to education in particular, one of the great concerns I and others have with the Classical Christian School movement (I speak as one from within the movement) is the possibility that we are inoculating our students to literature, history and classical languages. In other words, many classical Christian schools seem to have the, "if one's good, two is better" mentality when it comes to classical studies. Of course sometimes this is true. God apparently liked a number of things to come in pairs, if one arm was good, two was certainly better. And other things like fingers and hair certainly came packaged in greater quantities. But two heads is not better than one. And so it is with classical education. If Latin is good, perhaps Latin, Greek and Hebrew is better. Perhaps if 200 pages is good, 2000 is better, but not necessarily.

And for this reason, I would want to argue that in an important sense, especially when children are young, less is more. If education is worth doing, and it is, it is worth doing well. And in some areas, it would be far better to let things go, if it would mean doing them badly if we tried. It is far more important teach our students love for truth than for them to know the entire history of Rome. It is more important for our students to love beauty than for to know the history of Western Art from the Minoans to the present. It is far more important for our students to love the goodness of God than to remember who came first Odysseus or Othniel. They will not remember all the details of the Odyssey from when they were 10 or 11, but they will remember how it felt. Do their eyes light up and their imaginations wander, or do they roll their eyes and wish they were still at home playing Halo 2? My fear is that many schools are turning the greatest books and the classical languages into vaccinations. Are we igniting flames of imagination and excitement and wonder? Or are we ensuring that they never need another drop of Latin, thank you very much.

I am more and more convinced that how we interact actually creates the what. The method creates the content. When students are introduced to the world of history and literature, we should want them asking for more. It should be like so many evenings I remember when I was young, when Dad would come to the end of another chapter, and we would all beg for him not to stop. That kind of joy and anticipation is true Christian Education.

Douglas Wilson spoke this morning in Greyfriars Hall about the need for evangelists to have a deep awareness of the sovereignty of God. And I think the same is true for teachers and educators. This is not to say that it doesn’t matter what we do ‘cause, heck, God’ll fix whatever messes we make. Sure, God will do that too, but more importantly, we can be free to love our studies, love our students, and encourage them in their pursuits, not over anxious for their souls, not finicky about whether they ‘got it all’. Because, of course, they didn’t get it all and they won’t here and now. But God is faithful, He’ll make sure they do eventually.

And this is why less is more. If a class can handle 200 pages, a great teacher will assign 150. If students could enjoy a forty minute lecture, a great teacher will lecture for 30. The greatest teachers are not only concerned to impart wisdom; they are also concerned to impart the desire for wisdom. And thus, less is more: if we can give our students just a taste of the glorious story of history, just a glimpse into the beauties of Scripture, just a line of some silly song in Latin it is possible that they will come begging for more, hungry to learn, hungry for wisdom.


Staying Put

Once again the Daily News, that bastion of fundamentalism, has made a declaration regarding the future of Atlas School. I've come to enjoy the Daily News as a sort of extended comics section in general, although I must say they are improving in some areas here and there.

However, late last week, perhaps Friday, a front page story was run on the outcome of the Board of Adjustments hearing. The headline ran something like: "Atlas to leave downtown Moscow." With a number of qualifications that statement might be true. But as far as journalism is concerned it's like announcing that NSA is a worthless education or that peas and carrots are gross. As Jeff Bridges once said, "that's just like your opinion, man." And opinions are generally relegated to the 'Opinion' page.

But the fact of the matter is that Atlas School has no current plans to leave downtown Moscow. The law allows for due process, appeals and other judicial forms of discussion, and we’re still pursuing those rabbit trails.

The Board of Adjustments did reject our appeal of the zoning administrator's decision to 'enforce the code against Atlas School'. In a 3-2 vote it was their determination that Atlas School was a "school" and as such was excluded from the downtown because the word "school" does not appear in the Central Business District zoning guidelines, even though it does specify that "similar institutions" are allowed. And one would think that "churches, synagogues, commercial schools" would be "similar" to "schools." One brave man, who incidentally was accused of being affiliated with Christ Church (he wasn’t), argued in our favor that "schools" could be considered "similar institutions" because after all, "similar institutions" are nowhere defined in the holy writ as excluding schools. That man can follow an argument. But, as the courageous gentleman found out, diversity and open mindedness are code words for getting rid of anyone remotely related to the aforementioned institution.


Monday, November 14, 2005


I dropped the side bar of books a while back because I could never keep up with it. But here are a few of the current books on my plate: C. Stephen Jaeger, The Envy of Angels. Jaeger teaches around the corner at the University of Washington. This is a fascinating study of the cathedral schools that existed around 950-1100 A.D. Jaeger's thesis revolves around the concept of 'charismatic education', an educational experience based upon the personality and personal interaction with instructors. Stanely Hauerwas, The Hauerwas Reader. Hauerwas is a professor of ethics at Duke Divinity School. I started with Unleashing Scripture, an essay followed by a series of sermons on the subject of the Word of God and its rightful place within the community of the Christian Church. I've really enjoyed Hauerwas so far. Just one quote: "Any religion that doesn't tell you what to do with your pots and pans and genitals can't be interesting." (Actually that's Chuck Primus, an instructor from Notre Dame, but quoted by Hauerwas and thoroughly in keeping with his rhetoric.) John Millbank, et al, Radical Orthodoxy. Millbank was Peter Leithart's advisor at Cambridge. I haven't gotten any further than the introduction, but I'm curious and look forward to more.


The Odyssey

Some of the most interesting elements of the story are the illusions and shadows that remind, mimic, and misrepresent various aspects of the Gospel. But before delving into some of those, it may be necessary to give an admittedly short defense of what follows. First, the epic poem is obviously the product of a pre-Christian paganism, and thus must be properly analyzed and appreciated from that context. However, pre-Christian or not, the world is inescapably the handiwork and symphony of the Triune God. Being a creature in the created world means confrontation with our Creator. Homer no less than any individual in the history of the human race came face to face with his Maker and either bowed his neck with thanksgiving or scorned the Truth with ingratitude. Further, it may be maintained by some that is simply unreasonable to cast a Christian shadow over the myth to see what fits. However, it must be asserted that the mysteries of redemption have not been confined to Old Covenant signs, shadows, and prophecies. In fact, the entire cosmos has been groaning and continues to groan in expectation for the redemption of the world (Rom. 8:21-22).

This said, The Odyssey is a ‘nostos’ or a return. The king has done battle with the enemy and is trying to get home to his wife, son, and kingdom. He is accompanied by a number of men who prove to be for the most part, bumbling fools. Here begin some interesting comparisons: Jesus is accompanied by disciples during his ministry, who often have a knack for putting their feet in their mouths, disobeying their master, and lacking faith in their master. Odysseus’ men are no better. From the Lotus Eaters to Circe’s island, his men disobey their master and wander into trouble at a terrific rate. Odysseus’ lifestyle of feasting and storytelling is another interesting comparison, particularly with the theme of hospitality so prominent throughout the story. Odysseus is given good food and rest by some hosts, and others seek to make him their meal (ie. the Cyclopes). Jesus is recorded throughout the gospels as being at meals and feasts, and many of the arguments and discussions that He takes part in are centered around the propriety of His eating habits. The Pharisees despise Jesus for eating with sinners, and some go so far as to invite Jesus to banquets in order to mock him (Lk. 7:36-50). Ultimately Jesus institutes a simple feast, the Eucharist, which will culminate at the resurrection in the great Wedding Feast of the Lamb. At the same time, the suitors are in Ithaca eating Odysseus and Penelope out of their house and kingdom. The men of the kingdom who should be guarding the Queen intrude upon the royal house and take advantage of the vacant throne, seeking to make Penelope their wife. Odysseus’ return has interesting aspects as well. He returns to his own and his own do not recognize him. He comes disguised by the gods. He spends the early part of his return seeking out those who have been loyal and labeling those who have betrayed him and done harm to his household. Even as Jesus who is the promised Messiah is not recognized by many of his own household. It also seems significant that Odysseus is disguised as a beggar. He has been humbled for a season in order to bring justice to his kingdom. As did Jesus. It is only a few of the oldest members of Odysseus’ house who recognize him. Likewise, it’s Simeon, Ana the prophetess, and other faithful Israelites who recognize Jesus for who he is. The actual unveiling of Odysseus can be seen from a number of different angles, but here are a couple. The clearing of his house is a miniature of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple. The actual clearing of the house is spoken of by Odysseus as a feast, and after the suitors have met their fates, Odysseus commands the servants to make like there’s a wedding feast taking place. This can be taken several ways of course, but in an important sense, Odysseus has returned to his bride and the whole event is a wedding renewal. These themes can compare with Jesus first coming, but there is much that might also sound like His second. Finally, Odysseus, like Jesus, is recognized by his people by scars. In the end, Odysseus also returns to his father and sets the kingdom at peace. And in these events, there are hints of the ascension and rule of Jesus at the Father’s right hand.

There are also a number of contrasts that can and should be made. Obviously, Odysseus lacks many of the necessary characteristics to what we might call Holiness. The Greek idea of a faithful husband obviously falls short of Christian standards. Nor can Odysseus be seen as the mediator between God and men: his justice is limited to a small portion of Greece (though it might be argued that his struggle to return is in some senses cosmic). And ultimately the justice that Odysseus brings falls short if only in so far as Odysseus does not give up his life for his loved ones. Death is not conquered by Odysseus, even though the story does center on his “descent” into Hades.

How might these observations be helpful? One of the most important reasons is for showing how the gospel story is inescapable, and how ultimately the story of Jesus is the only true one. Drawing these correlations can be helpful for teaching both the details and themes of the true gospel as well as showing the weaknesses and lies in the ‘gospel’ of ancient Greece. We ought to ask questions about how these themes work themselves out in the story and their cultures. What was the Greek view of marriage? Of masculinity and femininity? What is justice? What is hospitality? What is love or nobility? These questions are some of the most important questions in life and are answered very differently depending upon whether our savior is the Lord Jesus or a mere man like Odysseus.