It has been said in various contexts that you can’t make a good omelet with rotten eggs. Along the same lines, C.S. Lewis stated that no matter how much or how good the wine is, if you pour it into a mud puddle, you still have a mud puddle. Jesus Himself referred to the same kind of predicament, i.e. wasting something valuable on an unworthy or unready recipient. He called it “casting pearls before swine.”
Classical, Christian education is a valuable commodity and to gain the fullest possible benefit from it, students need to come to it with a home-developed foundation. Put another way, there are certain intrinsic characteristics of the families whose students do well in this kind of education. When these characteristics are absent, it is very likely that in spite of the best efforts of the school and teachers, the student will gain little. The following is not intended to be the exhaustive compilation of those characteristics, but they should serve as examples to illustrate the point. The order of their presentation is rather random, since they all relate.
“Moral training” is the big “E” on the eye chart of prerequisite characteristics. Put even more plainly, children coming from homes where God’s Word is honored and obeyed will see a profound similarity in the expectations at school regarding their behavior. Homes that identify sin as sin, expect cheerful obedience, show love and forgiveness consistently will find the school’s standards will reinforce those biblical principles.
But how does that kind of training practically look at school? What are some even more precise evidences of a firm foundation that enables a student to get the most out of the school’s program? One very obvious evidence is the student’s view of authority in general, and his parents’ authority in particular. A good measure of the student’s regard for authority is the love boys show to their mothers, and the respect girls display for their fathers. Listen to how students talk; if the subject of parents comes up at all, it takes very little astuteness to determine the health of the student’s view of his parents.
Another related characteristic is old-fashioned etiquette or manners. In the past, good manners were referred to as the “oil” of maintaining good relations with others in public. It is not a sin, per se, for a boy not to hold the door for a girl, but it is probably an indicator that his training in being a gentleman is not complete. The way a child speaks to an adult, the way he sits or slouches in his desk, and other numerous little acts that show respect for others, especially the elderly, speak volumes about that student.
A firm foundation also shows up in the way a student “filters” the plethora of cultural messages. Is there evidence of growing biblically-based discernment, or does the student generally accept almost every attractive, popular theme at face value? Legalistic rejection is not biblical discernment any more than is a wide-eyed, “I-wanna-be-hip” attitude. Biblical discernment takes a lot of study, time, and a willingness to stand alone at times. “Wise as serpents, innocent as doves” sums it up quite well.
A student’s appearance billboards both his respect for others and his family’s training in discernment. Even in the secular world, appearance is recognized as the message-sending device it is. Dress should not be THE means to determine success, but it is a lie to tell children that it doesn’t matter at all. Even young children understand the difference “dressing up” makes in how they are to regard their activity. All little girls want to look pretty at a wedding, and all young boys want to wear their team uniform with pride. A student who supposedly doesn’t care about his appearance actually cares too much for himself and not enough for those who have to see him. This attitude profoundly affects his teachability.
A firm foundation provides a student with a solid work ethic, i.e. standards of doing a job well. This goes beyond just being honest and not cheating on the test. Doing their work “as unto the Lord” practically means they don’t have a “is-this-going-to-be-on-the-test?” mentality toward the acquisition and value of knowledge. Most often the students with a strong work ethic, who sweat bullets for every B they get, will fare far better in the adult world than those gifted students who breezily accept their A’s.
Finally, parents will improve their students’ opportunity to gain much from a classical, Christian education by ensuring that they (the parents) understand, value, and teach the purpose of this education. It is not enough to send the kids and pay the tuition – the parents must be able to articulate the reasons they are doing this and help their children understand it as well. Otherwise it will only be one more program dad and mom sign their kids up for, like summer swimming or piano lessons. Do you want this type of education for your grandchildren? If not, or if it doesn’t make any difference to you, then consider going with something cheaper and easier. If so, than it must be understood to be valuable by your children. They will pass on only what they value, for all else will drop away with the passing of their parents’ generation.
How firm is the foundation? As we look at the students here at Logos, there are evidences of many, many deeply sunk pillars; may God be pleased to allow us all to build upon them well.