It is a well-worn maxim of Christian classical education that teachers “come alongside” parents in the education of their children, that we are “co-laborers” in the task of, “raising children in the paideia of the Lord.”
Maxims are wonderful because they focus a thousand points of light into a single beam that can project a unifying vision for the body politic to follow far into the darkness of the future. On the other hand, the brilliant potency of a maxim can easily blind its followers to the mundane realities out of which that those thousand points of light spring—all of which require the very normal, repetitive, and often unnoticed effort; effort that draws not upon the power of a maxim, but upon the power of loving relationships.
Sally is a student who has been at the school for several years now. She doesn’t make many waves. She neither impresses by her intellect, nor disappoints by her conduct. She’s average. Enamored of the world’s culture she has little desire to read good books, sustain intellectual conversations, or discover the joys of difficult labor. Her mom and dad are too busy with their own aspirations to take much interest in shaping Sally’s desires. They express happiness that Sally’s in a “safe place” and “making good grades” and “staying out of trouble.” Sometimes they praise the “rigor” of the school, and sometimes they think it needs to have stronger “math and science” offerings.
The administrator cannot reasonably justify not having Sally at school, since she isn’t a difficult problem culturally or academically, and although the family seems to be just a fellow traveler on the road of classical and Christian education (planning to get off when the road forks at Big State School with Big Scholarship Money) there are teachers who need better salaries and buildings that require upkeep and a host of other very practical and necessary reasons why the school will be likely to keep Sally on board whether or not things “click” with her desires and the desires of lifelong learning and costly faithfulness.
It is tempting as a teacher faced with such lackluster learners to use the maxim of co-laboring and coming-alongside to avoid the responsibility one has for a student like Sally. “I’m not Sally’s parent,” or “I can’t compete with the popular culture they let her consume,” or “I don’t understand why they’re here, and why we keep families like this around” or a host of other Very True Concerns that make the task of educating students classically and in a richly Christian manner daunting, debilitating, and discouraging.
If I am honest, many times I want my co-laborship to liberate me from the responsibility of Sally’s outcome as a human being. I see where she’s headed, it disappoints me, and I want Mom and Dad to bear the weight of that projected inevitability.
Then I read Christ’s words in John chapter ten.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:11-16 NKJV)
Is Sally not a child of God? Is she not a sheep? Are not Sally’s parents, too? Families like Sally’s are precisely the sheep that are in the midst of wolves; the Carcharoths of college, career, and comfort. My excuses show that I look at them the same way that the hireling of Christ’s image looks at the flock of sheep. The reality is that instead of imitating the Good Shepherd, I’m running away, abandoning Sally and her family to the wolves, and all the while I think I’m being like one of the apostles, shaking the dust from my feet at having my Prize-Winning-Classical-Vision rejected.
A classical educator may not be Christ insofar as she does not see into the souls of her students and parents the reality of their nature, sheep or goat (or even wolf). A classical educator is all of Christ, however, in how she responds to those who have professed Christ and committed their family to the school in which she teaches (however weak or inconsistent that profession and commitment seems).
Classical educators are shepherds, even as co-laborers and come-alongsiders.
We will either be like the Good Shepherd, or like the hireling. Some days we may even be both. The Good Shepherd who laid down his life for us has given us a life we cannot lose, leaving what remains of this “body of death” to give away for others who face the same wolves in the same wilderness. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” It is a most encouraging truth to know that we cannot lose the ones whom the Good Shepherd has laid down his life to save. But we can run away.
The words of Jesus that follow his image of the Good Shepherd and the hireling say this: “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”
Not long after saying so, Jesus laid down His life and took it up again, making it possible for us to do the same. In this season of Easter, as the renewed blasts of Christ’s Resurrection still trumpet behind us, may we be renewed in our vision to co-labor and come-alongside not only the parents of our children, but also the Christ who works in us His resurrection power.