Headmaster Jed Culbertson addressed the school families and staff at Fall Kickoff sharing ten fruits of classical Christian education that he has witnessed in the last ten yeas at Agape Christi.
Welcome ladies, gentlemen, young ladies, young men! It is my privilege to stand before you now as we begin our second decade.
When we started our first decade, we had a lot of hope, trusting that the ideas we were reading would bear fruit by God’s grace. That hope carried us all the way through our first graduation this past May.
But now that we have made it to this point, what now? Are we done? Have we arrived? No, we are merely at some point in the middle of our journey. And just as Christian needed to renew his vision of where he was going, so we should pause and see if the things we have learned align with that vision from all those years ago.
So tonight, I’m going to share ten fruits of classical Christian education that I have now been blessed to witness, and not just hope in—one for each year.
1. Logic in Real-World Conversations
We teach logic so that students will be able to tell the difference between the truth and lies. As they think more logically, they think more in line with a God of order. This summer one of our students attended an event with other high schoolers from a broad swath of backgrounds. At one point the discussion turned to spiritual things. One of the other attendees shared about how, at her church, pronouns were, “fill-in-the-blank,” depending on the sensibilities of each individual congregant. Instead of “Our Father,” it would be, “Our blank,” and people could say father or mother. This extended to pronouns throughout the liturgy. Our student shared that, in Scripture, God has already revealed His pronouns, so if we use whatever we would like, wouldn’t we be misgendering God by not using his preferred pronouns? The other person said she would need to think about that. Sharing truth in ways people can understand and that will make them go, “Hmm, I’ll need to think about that,” is what rhetoric is all about.
2. Exploring Deep Wisdom Early in Life
As I consider the time that I have lost in my life (and often squandered, if I’m candid), I am envious of the incredible works of literature, history, and theology that our students will read over their years here at Agape Christi.
If you ask any of the moms or dads here that work in finance, what are the three most important things you can understand about the financial world, you will probably get different lists. But I can almost guarantee that on every one of those lists will be the power of compounding interest.
But compound interest goes beyond money. The earlier that a person learns a new idea, or fact, or concept (provided they are ready to learn it), the more that will be applied to future ideas, facts, or concepts. And the growth as we learn is not linear, it’s exponential.
I didn’t read The Lord of the Rings until I was in my thirties, let alone Melville and Shakespeare and Athanasius and Augustine and Milton. I missed out. But as an aside, parents, it’s not too late for you if you’re like me. We wouldn’t tell someone in their forties who hadn’t started saving, “Well, might as well give up!” Neither should we neglect to start exploring the stores of wisdom though it’s not our habit.
3. Sustaining Fortitude
I was glad to be able to see Agape Christi’s first interscholastic soccer match yesterday. I was of course pleased to get the tie, but I was more struck by what I saw on the pitch. I didn’t see a single athlete with a lazy effort. I didn’t see the team get discouraged when they went down two goals. They dug deep and fought hard to the final whistle. Then they congratulated the other team with their heads held high. Our students will need to be strong to be faithful, both now and when they move out into the world.
4. A Worldview of the Other
When we train the habit of “Ladies first” we are teaching our young men to see others around them and set aside their prerogatives to bless others. We are selfish by nature. But when we are in a tight space, day in and day out, we are forced to reckon with the fact that there are these other things around us called people, and they don’t always want to do what we want them to do. And we have to grow in humility and learn how we can bless them, to the glory of God, and not for our own boasting. I have seen countless instances of students thinking of others before themselves, and in this, the Lord is pleased.
5. A Passion for the Word, especially that of Scripture
Greek isn’t everyone’s “thing,” but just like many good things, it can grow on you. When we begin to learn a foreign language, we can want to boil things down to a one-to-one correspondence. For instance, many of us non-latin learners know the phrase, “Carpe Diem,” which means: “Seize the day, right?” Maybe…
When you look up a translation of carpe, you find: pluck, pick, harvest, and a dozen other English choices, but not seize. Does that mean it’s a bad translation? Maybe, maybe not. Learning the languages of our lineage give us a greater grasp not only on our own language, as I highlight at Open Houses, but of a broader understanding of the world than just our native language gives us. And when we apply that to the languages of Scripture, it will equip us to better handle our swords. I love when students begin to work their way through the words of Scripture in Koine Greek. And you know I’m a Latin guy, but it’s all so great!
6. Iron Sharpening Iron
Over these years, I’ve been told about a lot of ways that I’m not doing as well as I should be, or about blind spots I have had. I’m glad that I, and our students, are in a place where we can freely say that, “He who hates correction, IS STUPID!” That’s right, and we can encourage each other to be humble and take correction and grow to be better. Along with that, I am grateful that, most of the time, those correcting me have also taken to heart the admonition to do so gently. Of course, I’m not done growing, and neither are you, so let’s keep at it.
7. Glorious Music
Of the seven liberal arts, music was singled out as the crown of all the others. This is because grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy all were believed to be utterly harmonious when fully understood. I have been deeply blessed, as many of you all have been, to hear and participate in the otherworldly transcendence of beautiful pieces that draw on themes of goodness and truth. There is nothing like tackling a complex piece and hearing you and your friends make art that you could never do on your own, tapping into something greater than yourself. And when that is in the service of praise of the most high God, words fail.
8. Friendship of Faith and Science, Not Enmity
I’m blown away by the way our teachers are able to parlay their appreciation and knowledge of God’s creation into wonder in their students. In our generation, we were taught the undercurrents of a belief that faith and science were at odds. That science aligned with objective truth, and faith was the purview of the subjective experience of individuals. They had nothing to say to each other. But this is false. When I shared about the breakthrough last year in which scientists extracted more energy from nuclear fusion than they put in, that happened in line with God’s established laws of creation. When the kindergartners watch a caterpillar spin a chrysalis and emerge as a bright orange and black butterfly (the state butterfly, by the way,) they can see empirically how amazing it is, and give God glory for his mastery.
9. Inter-Generational Power
When I see our coaches pouring into student athletes, it means running alongside them, not just barking orders at them. (I had that second kind of PE teacher in junior high. His name was, I kid you not, Coach Poindexter. But I digress.) When the women take young ladies out for coffee, or a dad asks about the life of one of his child’s friends, I praise the Lord for this community of trust where people I love are pouring into my children, teaching them things that I might overlook.
10. Cultural Impact
Teachers will often tell me, when returning from a field trip, that the docent or the guide or whoever works at the location shares how impressed they are with our students. Here’s where we need to be careful. Students, when you hear that, you may be tempted to think, “Hey, yeah I am pretty great.” And I might be tempted to think, “Look at what a great job I’ve done with these students.” But that’s getting it all wrong. That leads to doing what we do just to look good. When we do that, we look bad. People can tell when we think we’re so great, and then they don’t compliment us—they use words like “arrogant,” “conceited,” “haughty.” Nasty wordses.
But if our goal is not to look good, but to treat other people with dignity, because they were made in God’s image; as we consider their needs first; as we remember our manners and how they help us to show love to our neighbor, people will notice, and they will see Christ, and not just us. If we simply aim to change culture as an end in itself (because we learned from David Allen to Get Things Done), it can often go wrong, but when we are faithful, speak truth, and boldly let our light shine as stars in the heavens, culture will be changed to the glory of God.
These are ten things that I’ve noticed in my ten years here at Agape Christi, and I hope they bless you, and carry you through even in difficult or doubtful times. Because what we are doing here is worth it. The hard things usually are.