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More on Nature and Practicality

Sometimes (always) our circumstances and needs blind us to the reality of the things with which we are working.

Every school has a budget and salaries to pay. Students are gathered in classes sometimes as large as 30 or more students. Facilities are inadequate. Problems are endless.

These represent real problems for a Christian classical school. Indeed, the 20th century imposed these problems on the Christian classical school. So the circumstances within which we seek our vision are very incongruous with that vision.

Having spent 16 years seeking that vision “uncompromisingly” I can assure you, I understand the conflict.

The board, the headmaster, and the administrator are charged with establishing a Christian classical school in that context and its a challenging task with which they are charged.

But if they take the “practical” approach, it’s an impossible task.

Of course, what I mean by the “practical” approach is really the pragmatic approach. The pragmatist says, “I don’t have time to worry about the philosophy behind this thing. I have to pay the bills. Reality is what reality is and we have to live in reality. Our parents want our students to get into good colleges. Our students need to test well. Our teachers need to teach tomorrow’s class.”

All of which is quite true. Only, I argue, such heads and administrators and boards spend to little time looking at one rather important reality: the reality of Christian classical education. Contained in that reality, of course, is the reality of the child’s soul. And contrary to those realities are the structures and methods and approaches of the modernist educator.

The unexpressed and maybe unthought assumption behind many school leaders seems to be that if they really pursue a Christian classical education, then they will lose their student body, parent support, etc.

The unexpressed and maybe unthought assumption behind many teachers seems to be that if they take the time to deeply understand Christian classical education, they will not be able to do their job effectively or it will demand changes in the way they do their work that they don’t want to make.

If those unexpressed and maybe unthought assumptions really occupy the subconscious minds of classical school leaders and teachers, the game is over before it begins.

Think about it. All these schools get excited and build web sites and promote themselves as classical schools. Then they explain what classical education is using ideas and concepts that no classical educator would have understood, much less conceived of.

But to take the time to truly understand classical education is impractical. We don’t have the time. We don’t have the money. We have to fill our school with students and get them into the good colleges where they can live in the dorm brothels.

Fine. But then why call yourselves a classical school?

One is forced to conclude that at least some schools do so because “classical” is a hot word, an effective marketing term, at least in some quarters.

I know that some people have determined to stop using the term classical for that very reason.

It has been taken over by Christian Darwinists or Christian Utilitarians who have found that using words as codes to generate interest is much more effective than using words to carry meaning, in this case a meaning that has grown over the centuries to contain a richness and profundity that the Utilitarian mind is incapable of discovering.

In short, having adopted the Pragmatic approach of the age, many who use the term classical and Christian for marketing purposes will make “practical” use of it but will not examine the nature of classical and Christian education. They fear that it would make demands on them that they do not want to meet.

I thoroughly understand that. It’s just that they sin against language, against the Christian classical tradition, and against those who want to build Christian classical schools when they do so. Thus their practicality is doing what I believe to be deep and lasting harm by perpetuating the confusion of these leaders, misrepresenting classical and Christian education to the wider community, and lying in their promotional materials.

Once again, the problem with Pragmatism is that it doesn’t work.

I’m not meaning to write an attack piece, however. This is an appeal to those of you who may have fallen into this trap by virtue of habit and necessity. I appeal to you to remove yourself. That Pragmatic cheese isn’t as good as it looked and the spring was not as strong as you feared. You can release yourself. The trap is only in your mind.

What can you do? Here are some simple suggestions:

  • Screw your courage to the sticking post (if the meaning isn’t clear, read MacBeth)
  • Think and take the trouble to ask about the meaning of the words you use
  • Ask: How do children learn, by nature?
  • Ask: How should we assess, by nature?
  • Do not look to the way things are as the way things must be.
    • Do not look to the “experts” who base their theories on industrial assumptions for confirmation and standards
    • Look to the God-given standards that arise from the God-given nature of things
  • When you don’t understand something, don’t say, “I don’t understand. Next!” Say, “I need to understand if I am going to fulfill my duty. I’ll take the time to do so.”
  • Take your time, but do it honestly and strategically.
  • Compromise, but only for the short term. Compromise strategically. Take the next hill. Reinforce. Then go to the next one. Don’t take the next hill and settle there!

It is extraordinarily difficult to honor nature in the school setting. It always has been, but never more so than now. But if you aren’t consciously trying to move in the direction of nature, than you will certainly be carried along in the direction of Materialism and Naturalism instead.

You will find yourself using conventional modes of instruction, assessment, and management. These modes are social constructions. And here’s how you will perpetuate the problem:

When your students graduate and go on to be teachers and attend teachers college, they will learn under the constructivist theories that dominate and control the modern mind. And because you had been modeling that theory for them all through childhood in the way you governed your school and taught and assessed your students, they will take it as a matter of course.

And their capacity to perceive truth will atrophy.


Recommended Resources:

  • Norms and Nobility by David Hicks
  • For teachers: CiRCE Apprenticeship (two seats remain as I write)
  • For heads of school and administrators: CiRCE Headmaster coaching (contact me if interested: akern at
  • For boards: CiRCE Board Development and Strategic Planning
  • For faculty: CiRCE Teacher Training
  • For everybody involved in the school: CiRCE 2009 conference CD’s
  • For you: C.S. Lewis: The Abolition of Man (please read and meditate on this book if you haven’t already)

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