I have lots of takeaways for myself and my general understanding of the national and international educational landscape. I also have specific takeaways for our own academy in Baton Rouge. And I have general takeaways for classical educators. I share the latter in this brief piece so you are encouraged, so you can sit with me at this table, and so I can share what I've been given this past weekend.
5) Attend non-Christian education conferences. There are indeed enemies of the cross, even systematically, but enemies of the cross come by degrees. For those willing to read the pagan classics as a core part of our and our own children’s academic formation, we are well aware of this. I was encouraged to hear a presentation on religion and school choice, what Robert Fox called “the best segment ever offered and presented at the conference.” Much of the presentation and discussion from the panel centering around case law concerning a Jewish school in New York who was legally and practically battling the overreach of NYC officials in their schools. I was similarly interested to learn of the dialectical fashion of this school’s pedagogy in how it instructs its students in Jewish law and literature. I was encouraged to meet many Catholics and even a high-ranking educator in Canada who was Dutch Reformed. The benefit of attending a non-Christian conference goes both ways. I suspect my own contributions to the discussions during talks or dinners, while I did not hide my Christian faith, was encouraging to those working on national and international policy and research. There was even a presentation on the research some professors did concerning the non-neutrality of values in public schools and how those values are expressed and seen and disingenuously pushed through various means by government-funded schooling. It reminded me of a philosophy class I took in grade school at the University of Dallas on the philosophy and metaphysics of values. While I know much of the assumptions and driving motivations of this conference, and perhaps many of the participants there, were not distinctly Christian, I was nonetheless appreciative of the honest and clear dialogue happening among researchers and professors who have increasingly more influence on school choice at the state and federal level.
4) Attend non-classical education conferences. I have a concern that CCE scholars are becoming too insular, that we create our schools and journals and curricula and audience and we speak into an echo chamber. This does not mean we abandon the beauty of CCE or do some weird capitulation because of tolerance-clamoring. Most of the presentations and speakers at the conference were against such foolishness happening in government schools. This simply means that what we are doing is young and small and we forget that, when it is the only thing in which we swim. And because it is young and small, there are many who have heard about it, who are intrigued about it, who are interested to learn much more, but whose professional and personal paths have required them to stay out of it. The blessings then go both ways. I was encouraged to see that CCE is having a wider and wider reach, even outside CCE circles. And I was encouraged that classical schools have a real purpose in moving the dialogue in education reform from pragmatism to more philosophical and political considerations. Likewise, I have a great respect for those battling on the policy and legal level to allow schools like Sequitur to operate, even if that individual has no idea of the quality of education we offer, and their motivations for fighting the existing power structures is different than mine. Many non-classical educators are making serious headway and room for the CCE movement to have a higher ceiling, and they don’t even know they are doing it, and we don’t either, until we meet in person at a conference breakfast table and visit.
3) Get to know other educators in your city. What has been said above is not a matter of national and international relations; it starts in our cities. It starts by loving and knowing your immediate neighbor, the one by the way, on the road.
2) Be thankful for what you've found. Classical Christian education is a gift, and those who have found it, by whatever degree, have found a great gift. There are many many educators out there spinning their wheels, lost in the modern jargon, who have only had a passing glance at CCE, but who genuinely want to know more. When they hear about it, I see envy in their eyes. I hear intrigue in their voice. For those of us in the structure, it can become so nuanced that we forget how beautiful this cathedral is. Don't take it for granted. Be thankful. Go out. Walk in the city. Turn back. Look at her from a distance. Be thankful.
1) Keep up the good work. Sequitur is not well-funded. We are not busting at the seams or blistering our fingers to manage waiting lists. But we are healthy. And we are faithful. And we are part of a shining community much bigger than our little academy in South Louisiana. Do not take your light for granted, however dim you may think it is, compared to the other classical school across the country or the bustling college prep academy across the country or the diocesan school that has lost its way but continues to raise over $20 Million in charitable donations each year. Do the work God has called you to do, where you are. And keep up that good work. What you think is a crumb is another man's loaf.
I was hesitant about this conference because it wasn't "my people." I was a bit hesitant to present and join the panel because I knew there would be a thousand differing assumptions between me and my audience, assumptions that are not merely preferential. But, while much of that was still true, the apprehension was dispelled when I met with the individuals who were actually attending the conference, when I saw that I could significantly contribute to the comradery, even if the conclusions aren't the ones Sequitur or any other faithful CCE academy would pursue.
To encourage my CCE colleagues to “step outside” is not to say we ought to waver on a consistent, solid, and clear educational philosophy, like the one to which we have committed. It is only to say that though we have the privilege to be curators of the best education in America, we are not perfect, and some of our blinders may very well be remedied if we interacted more with those who know little to nothing about CCE or who have themselves been swimming in a completely different educational pond.
One of the best words I could think of to describe my time at the conference was “neighboring.” I was recently reading that all-too-hidden Calvin Seerveld who said, “Neighbourhooding is a glorious gift to human nature: the opening to give to and receive from one’s fellow human what is needed….Any seasoned teacher knows that teaching means you wash the feet of your students. In line with the texts before us you could also understand and describe teaching, or Christian leadership of any sort, as a kind of neighbouring, where you bind up the wounds, the traumata, of the younger generation who come to you, having been damaged at home or in earlier schools. Blessed are those who neighbor the poor people who have lost their way and become captives or have been damaged in the arts, or in the marketplace, or in the minefield of politics. And it is a wonderful occupation to be anointed by the Spirit of the Lord to bring healing and comfort to those with need, to give good direction and to announce the coming jubilee and judgement for music, commerce, family relations, philosophy—you name it.” (Calvin Seerveld, On Being Human, p. 63-67) At times I could sense I was the one “neighboring,” at other times I was thankful others were “neighboring” to me. There is a need for those in CCE to consider what neighboring looks like, beyond our own immediate circles, however true, good, and beautiful those circles are.