Heroes

Superhero-paint

by Dr. John Scholl, Academic Dean and Rhetoric Director

This year, the TCS ninth graders are engaged in a four part study of the ancient world—Israel, Greece, Rome, and early Christianity—and at each stop along our journey we have analyzed heroes, men and women who were idolized by these cultures. Thus far, we have compiled a long list of men and women, including Abraham and Jacob from Israel, Achilles and Odysseus from Greece, and Mucius and Lucretia from Rome. These people are windows into the cultures they represent and are worthy of study because they show us what kind of people these cultures considered great and admirable.

I also find this study rewarding on a personal level. As a kid, I often thought about heroes, of course the superheroes who lived on TV, but even more so, historical American heroes: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and my favorite, Davy Crockett. I wanted to emulate them, so I dressed as Davy Crockett for Halloween and read several books about him. My heart thrilled with excitement as I learned his story: his rise from obscurity to the halls of Congress (he even considered running for President!), his journey to Texas, and his death at the Alamo, as he sacrificed himself for the liberty of his new home. It seemed like a marvelous story. It inspired me and shaped my vision of greatness.

Crockett would have fit easily among the ranks of Roman heroes. In the third quarter, the 9th graders read Books 1 and 2 of Livy’s History of Rome and there encountered many of Rome’s most cherished legends. The story of Mucius is a great example. Mucius became a hero when he attempted to assassinate a king who was marching against Rome. The assassination went awry, but rather than accepting execution meekly, Mucius stood before the king, jabbed his right hand in a fire, and casually burned it off, to display the courage and determination of the Roman people. His message was simple: Romans would sacrifice everything rather than accept the loss of liberty. Shocked by Mucius’ act, the king gave up his invasion. Livy argues that Rome’s greatness and glory were established by men and women like Mucius, lovers of liberty, models of courage, patriotism, and self-sacrifice.

Then Julius Caesar arrived on the scene (to oversimply the story just a bit). Caesar was certainly courageous but not terribly interested in self-sacrifice or liberty. He sought glory and was as much a Greek hero, in the model of Achilles or Alexander the Great, as a Roman one. His accession to power was a watershed moment for Rome. In accepting him as dictator for life, the Romans created a new heroic ideal, by which men became idols (in fact, many were deified) partly by wooing the people with gifts: food—ultimately free grain for a city of more than 500,000 people—and entertainment. This new type of hero, almost a complete opposite to the heroes of the past, was the standard for Caesar’s successors, the emperors who created Imperial Rome.

Why study this? Or what should we learn from this? I always struggle to answer those questions for my students. Applying the lessons of history can be a difficult task, one that is done poorly, in my opinion, more often than well. That said, I will offer briefly one lesson that I hope the 9th graders will learn from our study.

The rise of Caesar, and in him the creation of a new Roman ideal, is a great reminder that we need to choose our heroes carefully. Livy wrote his history to point out the dangers of the new imperial ideal and to call his fellow Romans back to the past, to the greater, higher heroism of men like Mucius. In a similar vein, one might call Americans back to our past heroes—surely a fitting pursuit in an election year. However, I want to take the lesson in a different direction. As a youth, I could love Davy Crockett only because I was ignorant of his faults. He was courageous and patriotic, yes, but also neglectful of his family and of God. He was in many ways, then, a great American—patriotic, courageous, passionate about liberty—but not a great Christian. American Christians can easily fall into the trap that captured me, lionizing American heroes while ignoring their pursuit of Christ. Sadly, many great Americans have not been great Christians. We must, therefore, be wary of following them too closely and look elsewhere for our heroes. That is what my students are considering as they study early Christianity in the fourth quarter.

 

The Heavens Declare

heavens declare

by Kate Patrick, Rhetoric School Math/Science

The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours out speech,

and night to night reveals knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words,

whose voice is not heard…

The law of the Lord is perfect,

reviving the soul;

the testimony of the Lord is sure,

making wise the simple;

the precepts of the Lord are right,

rejoicing the heart;

the commandment of the Lord is pure,

enlightening the eyes;

Psalm 19: 1-3, 7-8

Take a few moments and transport your mind back to the Renaissance. You’re Tycho Brahe, spending your nights gazing at the stars from the attic of your home, taking notes and doing math, charting the regularity of God’s creation. During the day, you join your family and your community at mass, hearing, in Latin, the words of the 19th psalm. King David, speaking to you from across the centuries, communicating the rhythmic regularity and beauty of the created world. You think, “How did David know? Had he charted the course of the stars? How could he have this depth of knowledge of God’s perfection without the physical evidence I am faced with night after night?”

Tycho Brahe, believing wholeheartedly in the perfection of God’s created order, correctly predicted several major astronomical events in his lifetime. He then passed down his charts and computations to Johannes Kepler, who would in turn, gave them structure and codified them in to scientific law. These men, scientists to their core, physicists before the science had unified in to one field, relied on the Word of God’s promise of perfection to explore His Created world. One could argue that this was the reality of scientific exploration through the majority of its history – men (and later women) of faith, seeking to define what God had already perfectly balanced and enumerated.

When Sir Isaac Newton published his magnum opus, 1687’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematice, he used the work of Brahe and Kepler to expand the natural laws that God had set forth to include the concept of gravity and suddenly, our solar system came into view. Our Heavens sung the song of perfect creation and we could describe natural phenomena, wondrous creation that had captured the imagination of generations. Science’s faith in God’s perfection in creation even lead to a 200 year-long chase to capture the “missing” 43 arc-seconds per century in the perihelion of Mercury. Many scientists tried and failed to find the cause of the shift in Mercury’s orbit, something that would cause the planet to seem to defy the order of the Laws of Creation. Finally resolved by Einstein in his description of relativity, the chase was over, and the perfection of God’s creation left scientists in awe once again. Einstein himself said, “There is no logical way to the discovery of elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition, which is helped by a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance.”

This brings our trek through the history of science and scientific thought to today. No longer taught to seek out God’s perfection seeing everywhere the “order lying behind the appearance”, scientists are currently being educated in the art of the fudge-factor. If chaos births chaos and created order is not to be expected from our world, then there is no reason to pursue an answer to a question. Science is compromised in the substitution of interpretation for facts, in perspective for the truth. If there is no Creator and no created order, then there is no reason to believe that perfection can be found, so the pursuit is dropped wholesale. As Believers, we know that this is not true, that we can see the Hand of God working in our natural world and that His creation is ours to discover.

As we steward the next generation of scientists, let’s remind them (and ourselves) not just of the beauty of the world around us, but of the order and the regularity of God’s design. Who knows what wonders can be unlocked if our science begins, once again, to acknowledge that we are not describing a chaotic system of uncontrolled chain reactions beginning with a butterfly flapping its wings in Africa, but that we are observing and defining an intricately designed machine that was built specifically with us in mind and in heart?

The Greatest Commandment in Education

appleheart

by Michelle Duncan, Second Grade teacher

I believe the most critical element of successful education is love. Not only sincerely loving the person you are educating, but also communicating that love consistently and effectively. As a teacher, whether in the classroom or at home, if we have not love then we are only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

We are all familiar with the saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” This definitely applies to our students. They don’t want to learn from us unless they know that we love them. Really, truly, deeply love them. Even if we are able to “force them” to pay attention through discipline and routines — the information they acquire will not transform their hearts, minds, souls like true education should. One educator says it this way: “Knowledge cannot be passed, like some material substance, from one person to another. Thoughts are not things which may be held and handled. They are the unseen and silent acts of the invisible mind.”¹ Furthermore, “The vigor of mental action, like that of muscular action, is proportioned to the feeling which inspires it. The powers of the intellect do not come forth in their full strength at the mere command of a teacher, nor on the call of some cold sense of duty. Nor can the mind exert its full force upon themes which but lightly touch the feelings.”  If we don’t make education personal — then the person learning won’t care.

In my experience I have seen this most clearly on difficult days. At the end of a hectic and trying day I often realize that I was teaching without intentionally looking at my students in their eyes or without smiling at them. It is far too easy to get wrapped up in completing the lesson well and in a timely manner; so much so that I can forget that the most eloquently spoken and efficiently taught lesson is worthless if in the end it is nothing more than a box to check off. We must guard against becoming so task oriented that we forget to smile. We must intentionally remember and choose to delight in what we are teaching and, more importantly, to actively love whom we are teaching.

But what about when teaching is simply hard to enjoy?  How should we respond when a child continually derails the day? What do you do with the kid who won’t cooperate even when you’re trying to make it fun? What about the fact that we do need to check things off and accomplish tasks?

Our default is often to discipline. And this isn’t necessarily wrong! Children need discipline and it is an essential part of any healthy parent/child relationship as well as student/teacher relationship. However, what God has been coaching me on lately is that even on the toughest days, perhaps especially on the toughest days, the most beneficial response is a little extra loving-kindness. As counterintuitive as this feels when my plans are being interrupted and my day complicated by a child’s bad behavior—isn’t this response the heart of the gospel? “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  It is the kindness of the Lord that leads to repentance. Before administering the well-earned discipline to the child—have I offered unmerited favor and lavish love like Christ offers to me? Have I invited them into repentance with an embrace? Or do I always require the students to earn their rewards?

Sometimes the roughest days are when they most need a treat. And to not always have to earn it? This is amazing grace. Of course we ought to use discernment in each circumstance. It is a disservice to the child to spoil them. There is a time for loving discipline. The only way to know which response is most appropriate is discernment through the Holy Spirit. And, the only way we will have love to give (as well as know how to express it in the moment) is by knowing Love himself.  If we are not walking in love, living by his spirit, and filled with His spirit then we are helpless to love our children effectively and therefore helpless to educate them fully in what matters most. There is a reason that the greatest commandment is to love God and the second is to love your neighbor. What Love looks like, acts like, speaks like in the toughest moments is the most important education we can impart to the children. Love expressed as kindness and grace cannot be left out of the equation.

¹ John Milton Gregory, The Seven Laws of Teaching, (Moscow, Idaho: Reprinted from the first edition text (1886), unabridged, by Canon Press), 41, 42.

The Real St. George

 

st georgeTCS Third grade teacher Joelyn Phillips recently returned from a trip to Israel. When she and her family went to Bethlehem, they saw several references to Saint George. Mrs. Phillips had read he was a Roman soldier that had been martyred in the early 4th century, which led her to the question, “OK, so why is he known as a legendary knight of the Middle Ages?” She did a little digging and this is what she found.

Matthew 16:24 “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.'”

In Bethlehem are memorials like this one to Saint George, the patron saint of England, of chivalry, of Boy Scouts, and of various other things.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Saint George, it goes something like this: the princess must be sacrificed to appease a ferocious dragon. George, a brave young knight, promises the despairing king he will slay the dragon and save the princess. George is successful, marries the princess, and everyone lives happily after. This story is first recorded in a book of legends in 1265, though stories of Saint George were prevalent centuries before 1265.

However, the Middle Ages Saint George is a complete reinvention of a third century Christian martyr. The Roman historian, Eusebius, writes about a Roman soldier who was executed by Diocletian for his Christian beliefs. Though Eusebius does not mention the name George, fourth century inscriptions found in Syria and George’s burial site corroborate the chronicles of George as the martyr described by Eusebius.

The story of the real man is much more fascinating than the Middle Ages legend that has been perpetuated to modernity. George was born in Palestine in the 3rd century to a Roman officer and his Greek wife. A devout Christian, George served in the Roman army and ascended to the rank of tribune.

Unfortunately, the Roman emperor, Diocletian, instituted widespread persecution of Christians. Thousands were tortured and killed. Diocletian urged his respected tribune to renounce Christ and sacrifice to the pagan gods. George refused. Excruciating torture was employed. George still refused. He was adamant in his devotion to Christ. Diocletian ordered George to be executed.

Following his death in 303 AD, news of George’s martyrdom spread throughout the vast Roman Empire and emboldened Christian believers.

Over time, George’s noble death inspired legends that deviated greatly from the true story. In the Middle Ages, George was portrayed as a chivalrous knight who defeats a dragon, probably symbolic of the devil. Saint George became popular among crusaders, who intermittently controlled the Holy Land during the Crusades (1095 – 1291). Later, in 1348, Edward III established an elite order of knights and chose Saint George as the patron saint. Shakespeare, in his play “Henry V,” has King Henry use the name of Saint George to rally his troops at the Battle of Agincourt. In 1606, Saint George’s flag—a red martyr’s cross on a white background—was made the official flag of England.

All very interesting. Still, the story of the real man, the Roman tribune, is the most fascinating…and inspiring.

Regarding Religion

Dry Bones

by Tim Woods, 7th grade Humanities teacher

Have you ever sat down in church and just felt empty? Have you ever left a service immediately forgetting whatever you just experienced?

Perhaps you’ve been disenfranchised with church as a whole for a myriad of reasons. Maybe Sunday has become a day of fear or frustration. Let us not kid ourselves, even those raised in the church can feel all of this. As a classically Christian-educated child raised in the church myself, I confess feeling the same tug towards complacency in my own life. So what can bring us back from this Stygian Pool of spiritual forgetfulness? We must recall the heart of the Sabbath and that pursuit entails more than just shunning our weekly work in favor of the effort to keep up with our favorite football team.

The reality of the situation is that our lives are already filled with the good things of the Christian religion. You likely go to church, read your bible when prompted and even attend events put on by your church to build fellowship with one another. These are all wonderfully good things and don’t hear me say otherwise. But we can engage with them like so many “dry bones” from Ezekiel 37. Did the people of Israel first disobey the Covenant by destroying their own obedience to the Sabbath and Mosaic law? They did not. Their falling away began, and we see it in the life of Solomon, when the good things of Yahweh began to be mixed with the wisdom of other nations. We can do the same with our own “Christianeze,” as I refer to it. The goodness of the Christian faith can become diluted by the happy feeling we get by being “faithful church attenders” or “wearing our Sunday best.” My 7th graders often hear me quote Tim Keller in saying “when temporary things become ultimate things, they become dangerous.” When our Christianity becomes just a box to check off, we have lost the heart of why we do it at all.

All these good things are like the ligaments that hold the skeleton up. All the elements of religion that mark us as Christians (prayer, worship, baptism, etc.) are like the sinews and ligaments that keep the bones from coming apart and falling into a disheveled mess. The etymology of the word religion was presented by Cicero as “re-legere” or to “re-read” something. However, a more contemporary etymology is “re-ligare” to “bind fast” where the prefix “re” is used as an intensive (link). But just like if we would see a skeleton with just its connective tissue, it’s still not taking a stroll down the street! Consider a rocking chair. It gets you moving but you don’t go anywhere. So what is this body of work missing, so to speak? It’s got a structure and some ligaments to keep it from falling apart, but there’s no life in this body. We could compare this to the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (vv. 15-17). So let us keep in mind that while activities of church life together are good, without an earnestness for their true heart, it can become easy for them to just become things to do.

The heart of the faith that we so often miss is the person of Christ. It was no accident that God sought to rectify the problem of sin through a human form. The truth is that we can live our whole lives sitting in church pews and be no more alive in Christ than those model skeletons we saw in Anatomy class. Oh sure, we’ve all gotten up and gone through the motions of the Christian faith, but if you have not been made alive in Christ, what good is it? If there is an emptiness in our church activity, it is because Christ does not dwell there. Not only does he function as the head of the actual church as we read in Colossians 1, but he creates effectiveness in response to our obedience. The beauty of the Revelation 3 passage we read earlier is that it does not stop with just a condemnation of being lukewarm Christians. The next verse encourages the church to “buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” (v. 18). The worship service in Heaven is going to be glorious, and it will be so because we receive our gold, garments, and salve at the door. Christ is aware that being warm or cold isn’t the core of the resolution, but instead oneness with the Father through salvation by the Son.

Singing the praises

keys_treble_clef_music_notes_74359_2560x1440by Brandon Pafford, Choir Director

Greetings from the TCS Choir Director! Teaching choir is a fascinating position with many challenges and rewards and I am honored and blessed to teach at TCS. I love working with the students on the aspect of music making. In my first TCS blog post, I’d like to share a little about myself as well as what I am trying to achieve at TCS.

My journey as a pianist began under the tutelage of my piano teacher-mother. I vaguely remember being given a choice to either do dishes or practice piano after supper. In our house of mostly boys (Dad, two brothers, and myself), Dad made it a rule whoever cooked does not do the dishes… In high school I enjoyed making music at the piano and took that skill to college. Then I earned an undergraduate and Masters in Piano Performance and a Masters in Accompanying and Chamber Music, and soon I was working as a musician in Houston.

So where does children’s music fit into that, you ask? I asked the Lord the same question when I kept bumping into Neil Anderson around Bethel (my church). The topic of TCS needing music in their curriculum came up each time. I told the Lord, “All I know is piano, theory, music history; not teaching music to children.” But you know the Lord, always stretching and wanting us to go places seemingly foreign for His purposes and not ours.

The blessings were immediate. I experienced satisfaction and fulfillment through tough lessons and students, as well as the Lord’s guiding presence. I realized I had retained a lot through my parents’ years of teaching children’s music at church, experience which I believed the Lord instilled in me from their instruction over my entire childhood.

So my background, albeit void of traditional music education, was preparing me for Trinity. Besides my history, I have specifically trained in a method called Kodàly. Basically, a Hungarian composer sought to make the whole country improve music literacy so that every student could read music when they graduated from traditional schooling. He used the folks songs passed down from generations to instruct students in singing, reading, and creating music. Due to poverty, musical instruments were not as readily incorporated, as in other more prominent European countries. I have found this same method engages students in music.

Think about it: where did you learn “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “London Bridge is Falling Down,” “Ring-around the Rosie,” etc.? Through “classic” folk repertoire, children learn and enjoy music. At TCS I like to take this a step further to traditional Christian folklore, such as “The Wise Man Built His House,” “Deep and Wide,” “I am a C-H, etc. There are literally thousands of folk songs that simplify music to the basics of tuneful singing, rhythm/beat development, and—probably the most important aspect—love of music. You’ve heard those waiters in the restaurant trying to sing “Happy Birthday” haven’t you? They never can quite stay on pitch. Hopefully every TCS student by graduation can not only stay on pitch but also read music.

So those are the basics—but for what? What then do we do with that? I’ve tried to wrestle with this and ask the Lord how to take it a step further. I have two main objectives.The first is that music making through choir or singing is to glorify God. The Psalms are saturated with praising/glorifying God through singing (Psalm 13:6, 18:49, 96:1, 104:33). Scripture clearly tells us to sing. I saw a quote on another music teacher’s window that proclaimed, “Music is what feelings sound like.” It is my prayer that TCS students can learn to sing well in order to express their feelings and grow closer to their Creator.

 

The second aspect was actually made clearer in last quarter’s morning assembly passage, Romans 12. Of course v. 16 stands out to me because of the musical term “harmony,” but I also hear the theme of “discipline yourself to be selfless.” The word “choir,” derived from Latin chorus, has the meaning of “uttering the same thing simultaneously.” I love the vowel ooo. For some reason a true unison and perfect intonation is achieved. There is something moving when 50+ 3rd graders do that on a single pitch. Why not direct that to the Lord for His glory?

It is my goal at TCS to discipline and teach the students to “live in harmony with one another” through music making to praise and glorify God. I understand if choir is not everyone’s favorite part of TCS. I understand it can be difficult to love and enjoy music when I make them sing silly songs like “Mrs Murphy’s Chowder” (for pitch tuning), or say tah and ti-ti (for rhythmic literacy) or singing solfège hand signs every lesson (do re mi fa sol la ti do for music literacy and pitch recognition). But the overarching goal is for the Lord.

I hope that gives you insight to choir if you’ve never known what really goes on. I also hope you  see the importance of music. I didn’t even mention the studies that say musical training results in improved cognitive skills, higher paying jobs, and literal growth of the size of the brain. That can be another blog entry.

My prayer for your TCS student is to enjoy music and use it to glorify the Lord.

Great Expectations

fish-high-expectationsby Sarah Pfannenschmidt, Logic School Humanities teacher

While in Dallas at the ACCU conference last summer, I had the privilege of listening to Classical educators Douglas and Nancy Wilson give a session entitled, ‘High Expectations.’ I’m not sure what appealed more: the chance to hear the Wilsons speak or the possibility of defining what ‘high expectations’ means.

There’s something about Christian Classical education that seems to foster high expectations and require their articulation in a set of standards. Here at TCS, we certainly expect a great deal from our students. Anyone who browses through our academic schedule (rigorous!) or read our dress code policy (extensive!) would confirm this. Yet in a world that increasingly trumpets that there is no absolute truth, these expectations-turned-standards are both inspiring and daunting. I confess that as a teacher, I often wonder if my expectations for my students are appropriate. For example, I remember the terror my third graders shot at me when I challenged them to memorize chemistry definitions or parse Latin nouns. Their reactions were sufficient to make me paranoid as a first-year teacher. I couldn’t help asking, “Am I expecting too much of these kids?”

It was, therefore, immensely reassuring to hear the Wilsons explain that high standards are supposed to be “hard for” students to achieve, but not be “hard on” them. What’s the difference? The design of high standards is to train our students to 1) recognize the value of hard work, 2) develop self-respect, and 3) learn to thrive in the obedience that liberates. Consider God’s righteous and perfect law, which is the highest of all standards. His expectation is that we will demonstrate Christ in all we do, whether it be washing dishes or teaching Latin. We are enabled to do so because Christ has already met the standards on our behalf. Truly, this is good news! We are allowed to fail because Christ did not. God’s high standards remain, but now we have Christ in us completing the good work that he started. He is the reason we can and should have higher expectations for others and ourselves.

At TCS, we desire that our students will experience the freedom that Christ gives us to live a life of excellence. How do we motivate and help our students develop a desire to meet our high expectations?

First, a warning: Our students will not be equipped or enabled to meet our high expectations if we do not model them first. Let us not do as the Pharisees, who would “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves [were] not willing to move them with their finger.”

Rather than condemn others to uphold an impossible standard, the Wilsons suggested three ways in which we can promote a culture of high expectations:

1)   Show gratitude: be thankful for high expectations! Too often we are not held accountable, and then we are left to fight persistent sins that flourished in consequence.  Be grateful that someone cares enough to ask more of us.

2)   Choose cheerfulness: demonstrate joy in all things, especially the high standards. After all, the Psalmist declared, “The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul.” That’s certainly something to be cheerful about!

3)   Acknowledge that hard work is hard: It’s okay to admit that our standards are high. After all, they’re high because our expectations are high, and these are high because we care. Our students also need to know that we feel the burn. Sometimes I encourage my students by telling them, “I understand. [This task or concept] is hard for me too, but together we’ll get there.” They’ll respect us more if they know that the challenge is there for us as well.

In the end, be encouraged that having high expectations for your students does not make you (as my niece would say), “big mean meany-heads.” What is does make us is a people, freed by Christ, to give our all in every task. Let us therefore “press on toward the goal” with joy!