What will Heaven be like? When I ask my middle school students this question, their responses are predictable: “there will be TVs everywhere; I’ll get to play soccer all day; I’ll get as many cookies as I like.” If I ask them whether everyone wants an eternity of soccer and cookies, they usually say, “everyone’s Heaven will be different.” They think that whatever you most desire is what you will get. Heaven will be cookies, for some, dirt biking for others, and time with friends for others. Heaven will cater to our appetites; Heaven transforms to suit us.
My first year teaching at a classical school was a uniquely challenging year. I knew very little about classical education. Though I had years of experience teaching English as a second language overseas, neither this experience nor my degree in Russian prepared me to teach classically. When the school year began my firstborn was not yet one; by midyear, I was pregnant. The headmaster announced his resignation, and the school threatened to close. I was just trying to keep my head above water.
Yesterday we visited a local music store to add a third (and final) tiny violin to our household. The family orchestra has expanded from a duo to a trio. Early this morning, as I sipped coffee and worked on an essay for graduate school, a cacophony arose from the schoolroom. It is usually the hour that I hear my oldest practicing his scales or playing my favorite Hungarian Dance by Brahms. Today, I heard two different songs played simultaneously, with intermittent screeches from the tiny violin. Exhaling, I remembered that Plato is to blame.
At this point in the school year, everything feels new: new books, new lesson plans, perhaps new grade levels, and new students. Sometimes those fresh faces are the ones we are related to; even our own children can present unfamiliar challenges and seem to have become new people over the summer months. And then there are the newcomers you’ve never met before. Some of them may be destined to become lifelong friends, the ones who make that indelible impression on our hearts.
Anyone who has been around the CiRCE website or social media long enough knows that one of our most prolific and popular and controversial writers is the inimitable Joshua Gibbs, the man whose beard is an emblem of his writing. His beard is as long as a list of his contributions, and his contributions are—often—as knotty as his beard. It doesn't happen very often, but every once in a while a post of his will spark some controversy in the world of social media that inevitably leads someone to comment, "Come on, CiRCE.
In a two-part lecture on the medieval imagination, published in a collection called Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature, C. S. Lewis invites students to take an hour-long starlit walk with the assumption that Ptolemaic astronomy is true. My experience of Circe’s national conference, A Contemplation of Worlds, was a similar exercise: taking a starlit walk through education with the assumption of medieval cosmology. It was a feast of harmonious beauty that invited contemplation and wonder.
Socrates: Excuse me, but someone left a large ugly plastic thing in my classroom. I tripped over one of the hanging wires.
Staff: Socrates, that’s your new smartboard. Tomorrow is a faculty development day so you can learn how to use it.
Socrates: What am I going to use it for? Separate the talkers? Plato and Xenophon are so chatty.
Staff: It’s the latest technology that delivers quality instruction to your students.
Socrates: Am I getting fired?
Staff: No, Socrates. It doesn’t replace you. It makes your job easier.
“Nothing in life is free” — unattributed
Any teacher (or parent) worth their salt will want their students (or children) to be wise. In Christian circles, Solomon is often seen as the paragon and exemplar of wisdom. We have the story of Yahweh coming to Solomon in a dream and asking him what he would like. Solomon asks to be able to discern between good and evil, and so pleased with his answer, Yahweh grants him this—and (let the reader understand) more.
Why start an independent Christian School? A meditation on three sources of motivation.
Like the two poles of a magnet, the dystopian and utopian forces repel and attract with equal strength. In starting an independent Christian school it is possible to be motivated by one or both of these drives. These may serve as a spark that lights the flame, but they cannot function as its fuel. The only entity that can sustain and grow a healthy Christian school is, as I will argue here, Christ Himself.
The Dystopian Drive
Most humanities teachers have some degree of romanticism. It’s hard to teach without it. But sometimes the stories and people we teach seem like faint echoes that bear little relevance to us.
Before proceeding further, I must confess: I am a proud romantic. St. George is my hero, Beowulf is the grandest epic, Susan Pevensie is still alive (do the math), and King Arthur will return one day.