Joy in the Ordinary
 

Lately, I have found that I struggle to truly enjoy the everyday tasks of life. Instead of remaining present where I am, my desire is to rush through whatever I am doing so that I can move on to something more pleasant or exciting. Whether it is washing the dishes, tidying up the room, or running through Latin vocab the night before before class, I am finding it difficult to maintain an attitude of joy when I am working. I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable with moments that seem mundane. Rather than recognizing these moments as opportunities to serve my wife and others, and I treat them as if they are merely boxes I need to check off, in order to get on to the next thing.

I know that in many ways, this is simply a part of our culture. More and more, it seems to be a struggle for people to remain present in moments that fail to live up to their expectations of entertainment. I find this troubling. I don’t want to simply make it through all of the day to day experiences of my life. A large portion of life is made up of doing things that are not particularly exciting to do, but that doesn’t mean those moments aren’t worth experiencing. I want to be able to recognize God’s beauty and purpose in all of the moments of my life. When I tune out moments that are difficult, awkward, or even just boring, I’m choosing not to recognize God’s holiness in each moment.

Part of why this has been on my mind recently, is because I have been thinking about the ways in which I want my students to approach their tasks. I genuinely wish for my students to view their studies in a way that shows a true joy for what they are doing. When my students fill out a grammar worksheet that they may find repetitive, I want them to do so with the knowledge that working with integrity and a good heart is just one small way that they can point to God’s glory. I want them to recognize and respect authority when they are being reprimanded or corrected, not out of fear, but out of an assurance of love that stems from God. I want them to live worshipful lives, and I believe that part of a worshipful life is performing even the smallest of tasks with a joyful heart.

Recently, my wife Kristian and I lost water in our apartment for several days while some necessary work was being done on the pipes. Thankfully, given that we live in such a privileged area, this was no more than a minor inconvenience. We were able to get by well enough with the help of some kind friends, and the showers at our gym. What it did mean though, was that doing the dishes and cooking elaborate meals was no longer a possibility. For the better part of ten days, I was relieved of my normal responsibilities of managing the kitchen. At first, I was thrilled to swing by Cookout for my Kristian and I on my way back from work, and just throw away the egregious amounts of styrofoam and tin foil that was left when we were finished eating. Pretty soon though, I started to miss the creative outlet that cooking provides for me. Even though I may not feel like doing it every day, cooking stimulates my brain in an important way that is healthy for me. Likewise, cleaning the kitchen after dinner is one of the ways that I can most regularly serve Kristian. Beyond just being a necessary chore, it is a small action that I can take to show my love for her. I should complete duties with a thankful heart, rejoicing in the gifts that I’ve been given.

I think we often overlook the importance of small, menial tasks. They can often be the richest parts of our day, and they provide us with opportunities to bless one another. So I hope that within our school we are modeling this for all of our students. Real and lasting joy comes from God, and doing work with a happy heart is one way that we can honor Him.

 
Jesse Case
O Holy Night and a Dog Named Buddy
 

It’s Sunday morning as I write this, and I am home because overnight we had a nasty blast of icy snow that has left my driveway a sparkling sheet of white. While I should have spent this extra time at home doing restful things that quiet and enrich my soul, I decided to sweep/vacuum the whole house, organize everything that looked disheveled, and revise future lesson plans. This is not necessarily a bad thing—I am a scientist who firmly believes in the second law of thermodynamics and the proliferation of microbes. But let me explain.

Our rescue dog, Buddy, has been acting weird lately—I’m suspicious he is starting to go blind. He is older, and has always been a low-key, people-loving lab. But now, he avoids steps, got very stressed at his favorite friend’s house, and won’t walk on the tile in our kitchen. While I was vacuuming this morning, he followed me like a shadow. While I was typing lesson plans, he kept trying to climb into my lap. Naturally, I got very frustrated because my productivity was being hampered. Like a true Millennial, I switched tabs and googled, “what to do when your dog is being extremely clingy,” immediately followed by “how to help an old blind dog.” How thoughtful and responsible of me.

Website after website explained the causes of separation anxiety, why you should not rearrange your furniture, and how to dispense dog treats using positive reinforcement. Yikes. Then, I stumbled upon this instruction, “Remember: older dogs still need attention. Make effort to spend time with them. Play with toys, take them on car rides, or just sit on the floor touching them.” So, I got out of my desk chair, laid down next to Buddy, and stroked his back. He nuzzled my face, leaned back, and instantly drifted off to sleep. I sat there and sobbed.

The Holy Spirit’s conviction pierced my soul. All Buddy needed was two minutes of simple presence. It reminded me of a line in my dad’s favorite Christmas song, O Holy Night.

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

That’s what Buddy (and all of us) are craving: the knowledge that we matter, someone sees us, and that we are loved. And the knowledge of this worth comes from the presence of Christ himself. I felt the weight of my sin twofold.

1) I spent my Sunday morning rushing around and cleaning because for years I have never been able to shake the lie that my worth comes from what I do, and

2) How many glimpses of God’s grace and unconditional love have I missed because I could not slow down and be present? How many times has my husband, my mom, or a friend called and I put them on speaker and rushed around doing other things (trying not to make too much noise so that they won’t suspect anything)? How many times have I said “yes” to something that wasn't mine to do—and left Buddy’s precious little face peering out the window as I drove off to go try to prove my sense of worth to myself or someone else. No, I’m not obsessed with my dog, but he has certainly taught me more than I ever thought was possible.

It doesn’t matter how cleaned up things look on the outside if on the inside I am aching and exhausted from trying to prove I matter and that my value comes from what I can produce. Christ has come. God looks at me and sees the finished work of Jesus—that means I am enough. This grace is sweet. It gives me permission to cuddle happily with my dog, laugh earnestly at my students’ jokes, listen intently to my husband’s stories, and sit quietly in worship of my Creator. No more rushing, running, bull-dozing, and flying around trying to convince myself (or anyone else) I am worth something. I am already enough—because Christ is more than enough. Thank the Lord for His sufficient grace...and my old pal Buddy.

“What more can He say, than to you He hath said…to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled.”

 
Katelyn Printz
Why Teach Latin?
 

“And then, just as Wilbur was settling down for his morning nap, he heard again the thin voice that had addressed him the night before.
‘Salutations!’ said the voice.
Wilbur jumped to his feet. ‘Salu-what?’ he cried.
‘Salutations!’ repeated the voice.
‘What are they, and where are you?’ screamed Wilbur. ‘Please, please, tell me where you are. And what are salutations?’
‘Salutations are greetings,’ said the voice. ‘When I say 'salutations,' it's just my fancy way of saying hello or good morning.’”

When people hear that I teach Latin, often their response is a variation of one of two statements: “Oh wow! Isn’t that a dead language?” or the equally as surprised, “You must be teaching future doctors and lawyers!” And while I hope I am teaching students who may be very successful--whether as doctors, lawyers, or some other vocation the Lord may lead them to, I teach neither a dead language nor a language purely for the elite.

The quote at the beginning of this piece is from E.B. White’s beloved children’s book, Charlotte’s Web. This book has captured the hearts of many throughout the years since its original 1973 publish date, and is one of my favorite stories even now as an adult. I use this quote to show that Latin is not a “dead” language, but rather a language whose influence can be seen all around us. “Salutations,” the iconic greeting used by the friendly and wise spider, Charlotte, actually comes from the Latin word, “salus” meaning “health, welfare, or greeting.” More specifically, we can see the relationship by looking at the verb form “salutare,” meaning “to greet.” Derivatives of this verb can also be found in the military as one soldier may “salute” a higher ranking officer. A student of Latin may be more inclined to pick up on these links and understand a word’s meaning, even without having seen the word before.

Continuing to use Charlotte’s Web as an example, we first meet Wilbur the pig (one of the story’s main characters) through Fern Arable. Fern is a sweet, tender-hearted young girl who feels for poor Wilbur and saves him from being killed at the beginning of the story because he is the runt of the litter. Fern comes from a family of farmers. At this point, a student of Latin may have already picked up on some of the richness that E. B. White wrote into his novel. Arable, Fern’s last name, comes from the Latin word “arare,” which means “to plow.” We use this word in English to describe a field that is good for growing crops. While not noticing the play-on-words here by White doesn’t inhibit the reader from enjoying the story, understanding the reference can cause the reader to enjoy the story that much more. These details allow us to appreciate the author's work that much more. Already within just one story we see the extra layer of richness to be experienced by those who have invested time and effort into a study of Latin. This richness we invite our students into by teaching them Latin can also be to their benefit as we give them the tools to be successful in understanding the meaning of words. Because a large part of English vocabulary is derived from Latin, when we teach Latin to our students, we give them the ability to understand many more words than we have the ability to teach them. Most students will also encounter vocabulary sections on standardized tests. Several aspects of Latin can help them to break a word down into chunks they can understand, even if this is their first encounter with a new word.

As our students grow older, they will no doubt find that Latin is used beyond classic literature and standardized tests; it will be used in many of their classes. Latin can be found in many subjects, spanning from animal names and classifications in animals sciences, all the way to describing philosophical phenomena. While it is possible to look up the definitions of words used in these arenas, I can say from my own experience that just because it is possible to look up a term, doesn’t mean that one will remember the term’s definition for any length of time past the usage of that information. Just because we can look up the definition of a word, does it then carry that we always should? With the richness of literature in mind, how much better is it to simply know the information after a practice of study than it is to have to continuously look up the same information over and over again, possibly without realizing it? Once our students are no longer “students” in the academic sense, but rather are continuing their life-long journey of learning, they will again find that Latin is all around them. For those students who are in fact lead to be doctors and lawyers, they will find Latin in their vocations. For those students who become professional athletes, or work with food, they will find that Latin is all around them as well (ex. the word “calorie,” is derived from the Latin word “calor,” meaning “heat, fire or passion and zeal”). Beyond any vocational decision, if a former student of Latin should ever stumble upon the workings of C.S. Lewis, he or she will find that Lewis too employs a great deal of Latin!

Apart from the knowledge of the words used in Latin, a student of Latin may also come to a deeper understanding of English grammar. As one studies Latin grammar, there is the opportunity to better understand how we use words in English. Recently my students learned about the simple, progressive, and emphatic present tense forms in English. We were able to discuss these because we were comparing Latin and English. Latin has one way to say these three different things. “Amo” can be translated into English however, simply as “I love,” progressively as “I am loving,” or emphatically as “I do love.” This comparing and contrasting helps to solidify English grammar as well as teach Latin grammar. The more connections between a piece of information to other pieces of information in the brain, the more likely a student is to remember that piece of information. As the Latin student grows older, they will be able to tackle harder pieces of English syntax because they have understood the intricacies of grammar; they understand why a sentence means what it means, because of their study of Latin.

These things are also true when English is not the primary language of the student. For students whose first language is a “Romantic” language or is derived from a Romantic language (ex. French, Spanish, Romanian, Catalan, etc.), studying Latin may be of particular use as well, as these entire languages are more directly derived from Latin, whereas English simply has words--and some grammatical structure--that is derived from Latin. Learning Latin may also be useful to the student interested in learning any foreign language due to the liturgy of learning Latin.

Should a student or parent find that learning language for language’s sake is a bit much (particularly in 4th grade as we teach it at Valley Classical School), let us examine briefly the benefits of a study of Latin for the habits of studying in and of themselves. Similarly to math, Latin trains the brain to think in an ordered fashion. Because Latin itself is very structured, and because the language is no longer being changed due to widespread use, Latin allows the student to develop a very orderly, systematic way of thinking. Students learn that there is an authority higher than themselves; they learn that there is a standard that they must meet. When conjugating, or “unpacking,” a verb in Latin, a student will learn to ask questions like, “Who or what is the verb describing?” (person); “When did this take place?” (tense); “Did the subject perform the action or receive it?” (voice) every time they interact with a verb. This pattern, and other similar patterns learned in Latin help train the student to be precise--they leave little room for error. As a student studies Latin, they memorize and apply; they hear, speak, write, and do. This is how we learn. Some people are more inclined to certain ratios of these things, but they are all necessary for learning. Once students reach 4th grade, they are starting to form their own habits regarding how to study. Why not introduce them to a subject that is going to shape their habits well? The structure of Latin allows the student to explore what learning mode works best for them, while also requiring and training them to interact with the other modes of learning.

Throughout this piece, I have endeavored to explain why Latin is not only worth teaching, but why it is important to teach. We live in a world of many tribes, tongues, and nations. It is important as educators for us to also train our students in the knowledge that there are other experiences in the world--theirs is not the only one, nor is it the ultimate. To close, I would like to submit one final argument in the form of a quote from an educator with a passion for educating students in beauty and truth:

Latin guards against arrogance. The study of the language shows the young child that his world, his language, his vocabulary, and his way of expression are only one way of living and thinking in a big, tumultuous, complicated world. Latin forces the student to look at words and concepts anew:

What did this Latin word really mean?
Is this English word a good translation for it?
Doesn’t the Latin word express something that English has no equivalent word for?
Does this reveal a gap in my thinking?

A foreign language, as Neil Postman writes in The End of Education, ‘provides one with entry into a worldview different from one’s own….If it is important that our young value diversity of point of view, there is no better way to achieve it than to have them learn a foreign language.’”

-Susan Wise Bauer and Jesse Wise, A Well-Trained Mind

 
Kristina McClung
Not My Plan, But Yours
 

I am a planner. I like to have a plan for what I’m going to do, how I’m going to do it, and when I need to have it done. This desire for control and structure presents itself in both my personal and my professional life. When I sat down to sketch out what I wanted to write, or what I thought God wanted me to share, I had a plan. I had, in my opinion, great things to share through my post. I had even written the majority of the blog, and simply needed to put the finishing touches on it. All of my lesson prep was done. My grades were completed. Even the most immediate household chores were done. I thought, “Yes! I managed to get everything done! I’ve got several days to finish the blog, and then I can move on to other things.” However, my 8-month old, Micah, did not receive the memo about my to-do list. Neither did he seem to appreciate all of the things for which I was responsible. Instead, he was diagnosed with pink eye, was heavily congested, had difficulty breathing, and therefore needed to be held most of the time. With that, my plan went out the window. My sad, sick, little baby needed me, which in turn meant my time was spent caring for him: rocking him, singing to him, holding him while he slept (and inevitably getting sick from him). All of my time that I had planned out was gone.

With no control, and no plan anymore, I sat rocking and praying Micah to sleep. As I rocked, I sang -

Jesus
Name above all names
Beautiful Savior
Glorious Lord
Emmanuel
God is with us
Blessed Redeemer
Living Word

Initially, my desire to sing songs like this to Micah was so he would hear Truth at an early age. Additionally, short and repetitive songs calm him best, so Jesus, Name Above All Names, has been a perfect fit. Even if he doesn’t understand the words yet, he will hear the Truth every day. However, the Lord showed me this week that while it may be beneficial for Micah, it is also beneficial for my heart. And in some of those quiet moments of rocking and singing, in between the fits of screaming and crying, the Lord quietly showed me the nature of my heart, and drew me back to His plan and His goodness.

The Lord began this process of drawing me back through this song by focusing on the different names and attributes of God. How many times had I sung this to Micah? Was I truly focused on the words, or was it a means to get him to sleep so I could return to “my plan”? Since Micah refused to be put down, I rocked him and sang it. A lot. Every time I sang, I thought more about who God is, what He gives us, and what He promises us. The longer I dwelled on this, the more I began to enjoy singing in God’s presence. My mind was no longer focused on my plan. Then I thought, “How often do I just sit and enjoy being in the presence of God?” This question brought to mind one of our Bible Truth Sound-Offs:

What is the chief end of man?
Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

I was convicted thinking about how often my agenda had prevented me from glorifying and enjoying God. Then I wondered about how my struggle with selfish desires and plans could impact my students. As teachers, we have an amazing opportunity to show our students a love for Jesus, a love of God’s Word, and a love for His creation. If I can’t stop to glorify God and enjoy being in His presence, how will I model that for my students?

Just last week, during our morning Bible time, we were discussing Isaiah 55. Since this is the chapter the students have been memorizing during morning assembly, they were engaged with it in a deeper way and wanted to talk more about it. Our conversation of the scripture ran long, which meant we were behind schedule the rest of the day. Not finishing all our work was initially frustrating, but it was a result of a meaningful conversation the Lord had orchestrated. It was His leading, and His plan, that opened the door for good conversation. Not mine. There are times where my teaching is driven by accomplishing goals and completing tasks. However, in that approach, there is little room to stop and appreciate what the content reveals about our God, or discover what He is trying to teach us through our studies. How much more of an impact could I make, if I was willing to set aside my agenda, seek the Lord and what He is doing, and help the students do the same? The Lord graciously reminded me that having a plan and being prepared for my day, and for my students, is good. But it is more important for me to be focused on the Lord, to seek His will and desires for our day, and to pray for Him to reveal Himself through our learning.

I’m grateful my plan for this blog post didn’t work out. I’m thankful for how the Lord used the quiet and chaotic moments of life to draw me back to Him. I’m blessed that I serve a God who lovingly and gently pursues me when I’ve gone astray. I hope I will be able to set aside my plan, enjoy Him fully, and therefore demonstrate to my students that we serve a God who deserves our praise and worship. My prayer is that the Lord will continue to mold me, grow me, and equip me to teach and lead in a way that glorifies Him always.

 
Jillian Sullivan
On Being Bookish
 

It’s that time of year at Valley Classical School when we find ourselves in the delightful and exciting season of book parties. Decorations, costumes, crafts, games, and snacks consume one whole class period for each grade while the students live out the book they’ve been listening to for weeks. Stepping into the world of a book sounds like a dream for most, but the parents of VCS make it a reality. Their own love for books shines through their efforts along with the wonder and enthusiasm their children bring to the party.

Indeed, I don’t know many families that love the classical model of education and yet don’t have an enthusiastic love for books. Erasmus famously said, “When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.” This certainly rings true for my own family along with many other homeschooling families I know. Book tables, bookstores, Amazon, thrift stores, and libraries have consumed more of our family income than I care to admit. (Yes, technically libraries are free, but only if you are the kind of person that actually brings the books back on time. Our family’s New Year’s resolution every year is, “No Library Fines.” We sometimes make it to February.) Stacks of books are always filling the corners of our little house. And honestly, I like it that way.

In his blog post, Why Christians Love Books, Tony Reinke writes, “Christianity is bookish. Books, letters, and literacy form an ancient bond between the publishing in digital media, and the co-opted social media in the earliest days of Christianity (letters). We are still a people of the Book. We are readers. We are writers. We are forward-looking people, bookish people, and we will not stop writing and publishing until the earth is submerged under a second global flood — a tsunami of truth (Habakkuk 2:14; Isaiah 11:9).” Yes, we are truly bookish people.

With book party season in full swing, I’ve been thinking a lot about the books that God has used to encourage me as I falteringly attempt to remember, believe, and live out the gospel. I’ve compiled them here into a top 10 list with short descriptions and favorite quotes from each. Much like our VCS parents make stories come alive with beautiful book parties, these authors have brought Scripture to life with their words, showing me what it looks like to live out God’s one true story.

1. My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers - This devotional was given to me when I was 16 after I first believed in Christ. For 25 years, Oswald Chambers has relentlessly pointed me to the goodness and holiness of God.

“If we are ever going to be made into wine, we will have to be crushed - you cannot drink grapes. Grapes become wine only when they have been squeezed.”

2. Attitudes of a Transformed Heart by Martha Peace - This book opened my eyes to all the ways that I excuse sin in my life. When I asked the author which of her books she recommended, she said that she believes this is her most important work. I agree.

“We are here to serve and glorify God, not ourselves.”

3. Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp - There have been many great parenting books published since this one came out, but this was a like a breath of fresh air when my oldest was tiny. It showed me the difference between behavior modification and reaching the heart.

“You must teach your children that for them, as for all of mankind, life is found in knowing and serving the true and living God.”

4. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis - I admit, I didn’t read these as a child. As an adult, I fell in love with them and the artful way that Lewis could tell a beautiful adventure story and “steal past watchful dragons” with truth.

“‘Child,’ said the Voice, ‘I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.’” - from The Horse and His Boy

5. Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist by John Piper - I heard about how life-changing this book was from other students while my husband was in seminary. I reluctantly picked it up just to see what all the fuss was about. That’s when I experienced an entire paradigm shift. Piper was the first person to explain to me what man’s chief end is.

“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

6. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs - Originally published in 1648, this book is still amazingly applicable today. His definition of contentment is worth the price of the whole book.

“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposal in every condition."

7. Because He Loves Me by Elyse Fitzpatrick - “Preaching the gospel to yourself” became a sort of catchphrase at my church several years ago. This book helped me understand that the gospel is not just for unbelievers, but for believers too. When we forget the gospel, “spiritual amnesia” is crouching at the door.

“Every sin we commit, either by omission or commission, is a failure to love as we’ve been loved. Every transgression of the law finds its genesis in a stinginess of soul, a belief that we’ve got to protect our interests, fight for our rights, build our kingdom.”

8. A Praying Life by Paul Miller - This author, along with Charles Spurgeon, changed the way I pray. They both have helped me see myself as a child coming to a good Father within the context of His story.

“Often when you think everything has gone wrong, it’s just that you’re in the middle of a story. If you watch the stories God is weaving in your life, you, like Joseph, will begin to see the patterns. You’ll become a poet, sensitive to your Father’s voice.”

9. Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett - Part prayer book and part poetry, this book is a constant companion to my Bible, devotional, and journal. It’s beautiful, rich, and deep.

“May his shed blood make me more thankful for thy mercies, more humble under thy correction, more zealous in thy service, more watchful against temptation, more contented in my circumstances, more useful to others.”

10. Show Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids by Jack Klumpenhower - After reading this book, I couldn’t sleep. His emphasis on showing kids what grace looks like and teaching them why the gospel really is “good news” rocked my whole world. It changed how I teach and relate to children.

“The cross is where Jesus frees us from the crushing, impossible pressure of having to serve God well enough.”

Of course, this list is not exhaustive. I wish I could have included more fiction and more impressive scholarly works, but in truth, these are the books that always rise to the top. It’s an enormous privilege to have God’s Word (even multiple copies!) in our own language at home, let alone stacks of good books to help us along. May I never forget, in my love for books, to recognize and be thankful for such bookish abundance.

 
Tonia Strange
Liturgy in Our Learning
 

My husband and I are members of an Anglican church, and one of my favorite parts of our tradition is the worship liturgy. It is repetitive, in the sense that we follow the same rhythms more or less every Sunday. We say the same prayers, acclamations, confessions,and creeds according to the church calendar. It is participatory, in the sense that we physically move and speak and embody the Gospel throughout the service. Who ever reads the Scripture passages will walk down off the stage and stand in the middle of the congregation for Gospel readings, to represent how Christ came and dwelt among us. We walk to the communion table every week, and put out our hands to receive—not to take—the elements, because we remember grace is a received gift.  

The word liturgy means “the work of the people,” and the liturgy of our worship service has changed my life. I never knew how much I needed to experience an embodied worship. I am moved to humility as I put my body in a posture of kneeling. My heart opens to receive grace when I hold my hands open to receive the bread. My soul moves to the physical responses of this participatory worship; down in humility, up and forgiven, forward to receive. Liturgy has shaped me as I respond in this constant, repetitive, physical form of worship.

All rhythms, like church liturgy, shape us in one way or another. My worship liturgy changes the way I respond to God and receive grace. My habits shape my time and the way I live. My routines shape the way I spend my days and nights. Liturgies in their repetition and participation form and shape us. School is not meant to be the church, but one of the things I love about our culture of education at VCS is the beautiful liturgy of our campus days. The work of the people, the work of the teachers, the work of the students—it’s a participatory act. What I am called to do as a Godly teacher is create a rhythm to the day, and a liturgy of learning that my students can fall into that will shape them into the image of Christ, and help form them into the people God wants them to be. What does a liturgy of learning look like in the classroom? I think there are two key elements: there is repetition in order to remember, and there is a physical participation. Both work together to form and shape the hearts, habits, and minds of our students.

First, we need a repetitive rhythm because as humans, we are forgetful. We have to constantly recall what we know, and we have to remember before we can take in more knowledge. In my class, the students practice math facts before learning a new concept. They rattle off their phonograms before learning how to put them into new spelling words. We recite parts of speech and capitalization rules before learning how they work in grammatically correct sentences. How can our students truly learn if they cannot remember? We have a beautiful rhythm of repetition in that every subject begins with some form of memory work so that knowledge is truly ingrained in the students’ minds. We have to repeat in order to remember.

The second aspect to our liturgical learning is participation. There is a lot of recitation, but the beauty of it is how the students are called to participate, and therefore their learning is all the more formational. They are responding to what is asked of them, not just sitting passively and absorbing the material. In our sound-off recitations, they speak the answers aloud and all together as a class. They stand to read Scripture. They clap and use hand motions. As they recite in unison, they are actively participating in something bigger than themselves. I always say to them, “All of you together makes one single voice.” It’s a reminder that as they participate, each of them belongs to the class as a whole. Not only that, but because they so actively participate, it helps them taste the whole of their knowledge. In that moment when they realize they just remembered every word of the long poem, or every single preposition, they taste the fruit of their labor and start to grasp the big-picture.

As a part of our liturgical rhythms at VCS, we start the day with an all-school morning assembly during which we recite the same things, repeatedly. We participate as we stand and speak aloud. Every campus day, over and over, the students stand up and declare who made them and speak aloud truths of God. Together we sing hymns that have echoed through generations, and we repeat verses of Scripture until we remember. One of the sweetest parts of my day is listening to the catechism of morning assembly. I’m surrounded by students who are in the process of learning these words for the first time, and they are remembering it more each day. But it is truly a wonderful experience to listen to the students who remember these words from learning them last year. After repeating these words day after day, they do not just recite, but declare. “Who made you?” and they answer, “God!”  They remember truth because they repeat it. They know the truth because they remember it. They are formed in this truth, and shaped by God more and more every time.

We don’t repeat the morning assembly material each day to be redundant, or because there is nothing “new.” I don’t start each new subject with some form of recitation work because it helps me govern my class well. We have a liturgy to our education because it is a formational practice, it is a life-giving rhythm. We recite repeatedly to remember. We participate because we belong to this work. We say truth aloud, each day, year in and year out, so our students will never forget. Repetition shapes us, liturgy forms us, and we pray God uses these rhythms of education to shape His children into the men and women He wants them to be.

 
Kate Orton
Laboring for Christ
 

I had an intriguing Labor Day weekend. My husband was out of town for a few days traveling. I was feeling pretty overwhelmed and discouraged about all that needed to get done in regards to the ministry we work for and at home, but God gave me such a sweet, personal surprise! A missionary who many, including myself, have deep respect for, happened to be passing through the area and made a last minute request to visit our students and staff.  In the time I got to spend listening to him with our team, many things he said struck a chord with me. One comment, however, got me thinking about my children, their education, and how it relates to God’s future plans for their life. The missionary passionately shared of the need for laborers in world missions who know how to labor. Not only is there a shortage of missionaries on the field today, but those who do come struggle to properly labor for Christ. He said the new and young missionaries being sent to the field do not know how to work hard. They are shocked by the many hours missionaries toil for Christ, and only 3% of them make it past a year or two. Commitment, hard work, and longevity are all at risk with the up and coming generations headed to reach the unreached with the gospel.

I left the time with our friend feeling challenged and simultaneously encouraged. Challenged to pray and continue to ask God to send laborers to reach the unreached all over the world with the gospel.  Challenged in my willingness to come alongside future generations to prepare and disciple them into all that God is calling them to be in their character, commitment, and competency for their future vocation, including those who will be called into full-time missions. Yet, I was also encouraged, specifically in my heart and mind, for the precious opportunity to homeschool, as I know it is not always possible for families to do so. I am thankful that I have been given this window of time and opportunity, these carpe diem hours, minutes, moments, and years to participate with the grace of God and the work of the Spirit in the lives of my children—leading them, teaching them, training them, and speaking truth over them in their character and calling. Furthermore, I was also particularly encouraged for the opportunity to partake in a collaborative/classical approach to homeschooling. I am grateful that we are learning to work hard and play hard.

I know homeschooling and the classical approach is not the only way God can build a work ethic in our children and us, but it is certainly something He will use, and is using, as we partake in this great endeavor that is this year. And do it He must, because we need more missionaries on the field—great men and women of God who can understand languages quickly and excellently from their years of classical training in Latin, who will work long hours because they learned to study hard and work hard for 15 years in school, and who have been trained in the art of rhetoric; communicating with boldness, persuasion, and creative power. We need great men and women of God who have learned how to think and apply apologetics and theology to all of life, not compartmentalizing the sacred and the secular. We need young men and women of God who will bring the gospel to the lost peoples of the world in every sect of society and culture. We need educators, scientists, doctors, lawyers, coaches, leaders, and most importantly, a generation of parents, who will be set apart in the days to come, not merely by what they know, but by who they are!

To all of us today, my encouragement is to keep that big picture in mind. Think often upon what God laid on your heart when you were led to homeschool, and especially when you were led to use the classical method. For me, this is the big picture I keep returning to. I believe God is raising up a generation of leaders who will be like Daniel of the Bible, spiritual in our secularized world.  They will have a spirit of excellence on them, goodwill with men, be hard working, hard praying, and full of the Spirit. Daniels do not come from fluff or suddenly appear. God used Daniel's past, his background, his home, and his character to be one of the most influential figures of the Bible, whose prophecies and life continue to impact us today and tomorrow. God shapes our children by His profound call of grace, yes, but we would be foolish not to think He is using the majority hours of the week, the mundane, and many minutes a day to shape their destiny.

Let us walk with this in mind; our children will be the next generation of leaders in our world, and potentially the tip of the spear for the gospel going forth to the nations.

Lastly, my final encouragement is to continue to move through this year with joy in your heart and celebrate small wins often. Many of us may not be sensing much of either of those just yet, maybe experiencing some anxiety, doubt, fear, but I want to encourage us in the fruit of the spirit of joy and in the discipline of celebration.  As this year continues, and we want to keep the stamina and momentum we are working to build right now on our home days and school days, we will need joy and to celebrate small wins often.  Remember, joy makes us strong. The Bible says the joy of the Lord is our strength[1]. One author writes, “Without a joyful spirit of festivity the disciplines become dull, death breathing tools in the hands of modern Pharisees. Every discipline should be characterized by a carefree gaiety and a sense of thanksgiving!”[2] So how do we cooperate to experience the joy that the Lord promises can and should be ours?  Through a thankful heart, an obedient life, and an eternal perspective. We need to remember to wrap this entire year in joy, and its close cousin, gratitude, as well as celebrate often. This makes the difference of the day and the year. “The root of joy is gratefulness…It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”[3] Let us keep this before our hearts and minds as we go onward.

Isaiah 55[4]:

 “For you shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
 and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
  instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;”

 

[1] Nehemiah 8:10, ESV
[2] Foster, Richard. Celebration of Discipline: the Path to Spiritual Growth. San Francisco: HaperOne, 1978. 191.
[3] Steindl-Rast, David. Gratefulness: The Heart of Prayer. New York: Paulist Press/Ramsey, 1984. 204.
[4] Isaiah 55:12-13, ESV

 

Michelle Saladino
What Classical Education Has Taught Me As A Parent
 

On my way home from VCS a few weeks back, my child casually said, “Mom, in class we were discussing with our teacher the Major and Minor Prophets and their roles.”

He went on to share more, but I began to think at that moment, Wow, I am so grateful my child has the opportunity to be instructed in the Word of God through the context of his educational experience. And yet simultaneously I thought, is my child really having this talk with me right now about the Major and Minor Prophets? He was ready for more comprehension and retention of God’s Word than I realized!  Thus far, Valley Classical School has helped me to see this in my son, giving me a stronger desire to foster this more at home. 

The flexibility, family closeness, parental involvement, and individually-curtailed instruction of homeschooling is unparalleled, but adding a community of teachers, excellent curriculum choices, administrators, and students a few days a week has truly enhanced my child’s joy in learning. While also lending an opportunity for insight into him that I may not have seen on my own, be it his character, spirit, or intellect. 

Furthermore, it has been amazing to see how much my child really is capable of when given the opportunity to grow and be stretched in certain areas that he is not necessarily gifted in. I have seen his spelling and writing make tremendous strides this year, and on the flip side, I had no idea he would love languages. He loves Latin, and I am seeing he is gifted in it! 

Classical education is not Disneyland, nor does it seek to give children an education directed by their wants and desires. It aims higher, producing the magic, if you will, and cultivating the natural gifts, talents, and passions of a child, through an education established in the tradition and firmly rooted beliefs that once were and are being re-birthed. Children have a mind that is tremendously capable of being trained by truth rather than culture, and a spirit that is tremendously receptive to grow in character, hunger for God, and ability to make sense of the world through His Word.

 
Michelle Saladino
The Grace of Recitation
 

I am not a gardener. Tending to living things requires a measure of awareness and patience that I struggle to attain. One look at the grass in my yard provides all the support that assertion needs.

Yet, more and more I have come to understand the call to educate (and to parent) as the call to cultivate or tend the minds of students. It is a gardener’s call, as it is the farmer’s. The mission statement of VCS includes the word “cultivation” deliberately. At numerous points in Scripture, the work of the believer is compared to that of the gardener, especially as it relates to the work of evangelism. We sow, water, weed, and reap.

And as we undertake these tasks, these tangible steps, we hopefully begin to realize the limits of our role in the process of another’s conversion, just as a farmer might realize his limited role in the growth of his crops. We are called to perform the tasks, not to accomplish the work. We do not create transformation. We do not make things grow. That is God’s part. As Colin from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden might have said, “That is the magic.”

I am thankful that we have the easier part, but that is not to say it is altogether easy. The work of gardeners and farmers is hard. It is hard, in part, because it is repetitive, constant, persistent, diligent, faithful, trusting, and longsuffering. In short, it requires depth of character, and character is not easy to come by.

As educators, we can learn much from the tone and rhythm of gardening and farming.  In many ways, educating requires the same character that is required of farming. The education of a child over an entire academic career represents the repetitive, constant, persistent, diligent, faithful, trusting, and longsuffering cultivation of the mind and heart of the student. When VCS uses words like “layered” and “spiraling” to describe the approach of classical education, this is what we mean. Education is a daily work of faithfulness, not a lurching, cramming shove across a finish line.

Those qualities are embodied within recitation. When I speak of recitation in the context of the VCS curriculum, I include the sound-offs (Grammar, Science, etc.), Morning Assembly scripture and hymns, history timeline, math terms, math flash cards, Latin grammar questions and flash cards, and poetry review. These are the items on the lesson plan that are not required to be turned in at the next class. They aren’t graded or evaluated in the same way as other work.

And yet, recitation is the portion of our academic work that reveals, to the greatest extent, God’s faithfulness to the growth of our students. These repetitive tasks, these tangible steps, yield steady growth over time. Children’s bodies grow every minute of the day. We cannot perceive that growth at any instant, but the next time they stand against the wall or visit the doctor’s office to be measured, the truth of that growth becomes known. This is also the purpose of report cards--to perceive God’s faithfulness in that growth process.

The slow, constant nature of this growth provides lessons for how we go about doing recitation. While mastery is the ultimate goal, it is not the daily goal. Approach recitation as you would the task of watering plants. Each time you approach the plant, you might not see growth. Yet the watering produces the growth. And more water does not always produce faster growth; it can sometimes drown. Instead, focus on being faithful to that day’s recitation tasks. That is all that is required.

God works in similar ways. He asks of us only what he has for us that day. And he provides us with only what we need for that day. If we attempt to preserve and extend that blessing into the future, just as Israel did the manna that appeared each morning, it spoils. He wants us to trust Him, not our storehouses, for that is when our faith grows.

Like the dew that falls lightly each morning, the recitation nourishes the mind and heart just enough for the day. By God’s grace, what is produced, perhaps slowly over time, is the depth of character needed to undertake each day’s tasks and enjoy each day’s blessing.

 
Warren Rosborough
The Golden Spiral
 

I admit that I had never even heard of Fibonacci until our kids started listening to Jonathan Park Audio Adventures. I’ve always been a “word girl” leaning more toward grammar, poetry, music, and writing. Throughout my formal education, math, science, and history were just boring subjects to get through, disconnected from the real joy of the arts. I didn’t recognize their beauty until I started homeschooling.

The medieval mathematician known as Fibonacci re-discovered and applied a sequence of numbers in which the next number is found by adding the two numbers before it such as: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, and so on. This sequence has been called, “the golden ratio.” If you take those numbers and turn them into widths, you get a perfect swirl also known as, “the golden spiral.”

We see this spiral all over nature. In fact, it has been nicknamed, “the fingerprint of God.” From the center of sunflowers to pine cones to the tightly curled fiddlehead fern to nautilus shells to the very shape of our galaxy, the spiral is there pointing to a very ordered creation rather than a random chance of gas and dust.

For centuries, artists have used the golden ratio to create masterpieces that are pleasing to the eye. Look at the Mona Lisa, The Great Wave, The Parthenon, and the statue of David and you can see that the balance and focus of the art are in harmony with Fibonacci’s sequence. And here is where the magic happens for me: suddenly, math becomes art. The two are no longer separated into boring and interesting. They are intertwined, giving each other shape and meaning.

I see a lot of this magic in my kindergarten classroom. In fact, I revel in it. All of the facts we are learning come from the Creator Himself and point back to Him. What we call, “subjects,” aren’t divided as much as they are unified in an ebb and flow, making connections throughout our day. Our First Start Reading letter becomes the first letter of the new animal we are studying. Our literature book becomes a history lesson which then becomes art. Our new math concept flows into recess. Our morning assembly sound-off comes right out of our Bible story. Language is science. Literature is history. Math is fun. (I never thought I’d say that.) And that beautiful scarlet thread holding it all together is the theology of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As we were preparing the curricula for this school year, Fibonacci kept coming to mind because classical education has also been described as a spiral. As a student grows, the depth of their knowledge stretches in accord with their natural development. Facts are memorized, then revisited later in a broader context to be internalized, and then revisited again in an even broader context to be expressed effectively. The purpose of this method is to learn how to learn.

I’ve watched this process work its way out in my 9th grader. While my kindergartners are reading a picture book about Ben Franklin, my daughter is revisiting the facts through his autobiography and connecting that information to the American and French Revolutions, the Constitution, and the science of electricity. While I shouldn’t be surprised, I’m sometimes shocked that none of this is boring to her. That tiny spiral of information in her early years gave her sturdy, familiar pegs on which to hang this new depth of knowledge. She actually loves learning.

Part of the beauty here is that this process doesn’t end with a terminal degree. The Fibonacci sequence is infinite and so is learning for the classical student. You can never exhaust the golden spiral. And as man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever, neither can you exhaust the knowledge of God. We are forever going, “further up and further in,” as C.S. Lewis wrote in The Last Battle.

Make no mistake, learning is hard work. Teaching is also hard work. But as we spiral together in collaboration toward a better understanding of our Creator, our very lives, now intertwined, become a work of art as well.

 
Tonia Strange