My Thoughts on the Good Soil Report
Over the past 7 months, it has been a great joy to get to know many of you and your children. As I think of the future and what our children will be facing in the days ahead, I like you want them to be equipped and prepared to meet these challenges. During my time in the military, there was a saying "Under pressure, you don't rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. That's why we train so hard." This is true with how we train our children to engage the culture around them and to discern fact from opinion. In a study conducted by the University of Notre Dame’s Sociology Department, Christian, Public, Private, and classical schools were assessed on topics of life-choices, preparation, attitudes, values, opinions, and practices. In all areas students who attended classical schools scored higher than their counterparts. This reinforces the importance of preparation.
In Matthew 13:1-8 it states, "That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still, other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown." In the passage, Jesus emphasizes the importance of having good soil in which to plant seeds. Good soil doesn't just come naturally but it must be worked and cultivated in order to be ready to receive the seed that will take root and then produce. This is why the study mentioned above is known as the Good Soilreport. It shows that the classical educational process works.
As one begins the classical educational journey, it is easy to get discouraged by processes that are intended to shepherd the heart, cultivate the mind, and develop the body. In a culture of instant gratification, I have to continue to remind myself that goals I want to attain take time. The culture has so permeated our psyche that we believe the process takes too long or is too difficult so we give up or never start at all. But if we have ever completed the process in its entirety, we know that it is well worth the effort. A recent example of this is Sam Hinkie and the 76ers basketball team.
Hinkie saw that in order to be a great basketball club, one needed to be patient and to build the program with young players. In order to get the most viable young players, one needed to be a terrible team—the worst teams get the best draft pick opportunities. The process was implemented in 2013 and only now are the fruits being seen. People got impatient with the process and have since fired Hinkie, but now many see the brilliance in Hinkie’s words and actions. Most 76ers fans love Hinkie and his willingness to do what was necessary to make the team great. All too often we are like the owners who get impatient and don’t trust the process. However, we must remember that we are making an investment in our children that will preserve that which is true, good, and beautiful.
In an educational environment, the process is lengthy. In order to shepherd the heart, cultivate the mind, and develop the body, foundations must be laid and it takes time. Learning reading, writing, and arithmetic is a process and well worth the mastery. Sometimes we may not see the fruits right away. This foundation gives students in both logical and rhetorical stages, the benefits of having the right tools in their arsenal. This makes them more effective in discernment, communication, and persuasion. This report should serve to reinforce and motivate us to complete the process. Liberty envisions a future in which each generation of Christians is more prepared than the previous one to defend and advance the historic Christian faith taught in the Scriptures. Liberty desires to be a school that is instrumental in developing generations of godly leaders for our homes, our communities, and our world in need of Christ. We understand that this is a process, and as partners in education with you we ask you to “trust the process.”
March 23, 2021
The Great Book Search...
As a parent, I am continually challenged to find books that are balanced—both captivating and having ethical themes. One such series that meets both of these qualifications with ease is “The Green Ember.” “The Green Ember” was the original book written by S.D. Smith. After this first novel, he wrote a prequel much like C.S. Lewis did with “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” and “The Magician’s Nephew.” Instead of purchasing “The Green Ember” (the first book written in this series), I elected to start with the prequel, called “The Black-star of Kingston.” This is a relatively short book and I hoped it would give me a good sense of the quality of writing and storytelling in the series. My daughter and I found it well worth the read.
I discovered this series through an online search targeting my oldest child’s reading level. I desired to have summer reading sessions with her and was looking for a book that might spark her interests. I wanted something that would not be considered drudgery but rather an eagerly anticipated daily event. I can tell you that this series did not disappoint. C.S. Lewis once said, “Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” The “Green Ember” series has all these elements plus more that make up great stories— courage, fear, uncertainty, love, betrayal, devotion, loyalty, patience, perseverance, etc. S. D. Smith makes his characters accessible to young children (age 7+) groups while also appealing to an older audience.
There are two mantras that Smith uses in describing his books—“rabbits with swords” and “new stories with an old soul.” This is precisely what we encountered upon reading this series. My eldest daughter and I enjoyed our time reading all three books in this series. In fact, we could not rest until we had finished them! What you will find in these books are characters adjusting from the narrow perspective of their place in the world to a much bigger one. In “The Hobbit,” Gandalf spoke to Bilbo saying, “You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!” This is a nice summation of the realization that the characters discover during this series. The prequel lays the foundation for the royal line that will be alluded to in the subsequent books—that of Winston Mariner who brings the rabbits to a land called Natalia. This book also introduces the reader to the main foes, which are the birds of prey that harass and attempt to subdue this thriving rabbit population seeking to establish itself as a community. From the prequel, there is an oath that will continue to be referenced throughout the series, “My place beside you, My blood for yours, Till the Green Ember rises, Or the end of the world.”
The two subsequent books in the series (“The Green Ember” and “Ember Falls”) follow a pair of rabbits named Picket and Heather through discouragement, trials, jealousies, and triumphs. These two rabbits begin to realize that they are part of a much bigger story than just their immediate struggles and joys. They begin to see their whole world for what it truly is—a “broken wood.” Throughout both books, they are on a journey to mend their world, to return it to the status before falling to the birds of prey. The birds of prey are assisted in these novels not only by wolves but also a rabbit who betrayed his own kind, thus initiating the fall of peace for the rabbits. So, in the midst of this betrayal, Picket and Heather must find the courage to fight for the hope of a “mended wood,” overcoming their enemies which seems to be an overwhelming and fool-hardy endeavor.
This book series is filled with a grand treasure trove of exciting adventures, chivalric themes, and accessible characters. Much of the book is comprised of internal struggles providing a great foundation for character growth and maturity throughout the series. Overall, S. D. Smith gives the reader a fresh perspective of human emotion while also providing depth and scope to conflict using rabbits, which make it more accessible to children of young ages. Even though some may object to using animals to portray such themes, there are priceless gems to be discovered within the pages of this series. These gems will give them an appreciation for the will and determination the characters display within the story. I would highly recommend this series for families looking for books that engage the imagination while promoting truth, goodness, and beauty.
Need a copy? Stop by my office, I'd be happy to loan it to you!
March 2, 2021
This month I wanted to begin our conversation with a question, “how do we change culture?” Many of our peers may offer suggestions like politics and other such avenues. However, I would like to offer the proposition that one does it by narrative. Narrative shapes our opinions and beliefs. My friend and author S.D. Smith says, “I sincerely believe in the power of stories to shape our affections in a way nothing else can.” I was reminded of this when I was reading that beloved book by C.S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader. For those of you that may not have read this book yet, I hope this is not a spoiler. However, one character in the book named Eustace, has had a hard time adjusting to his adventures in Narnia. In the first part of the book, the reader actually becomes annoyed with Eustace’s selfishness and pride. These vices lead to a drastic change in Eustace’s appearance—he turns into a dragon. When Eustace realizes what has happened, he longs to be a boy again. He meets the great lion Aslan who tells Eustace to peel off the dragon skin. Eustace attempts this peeling for several tries only to realize that even though some skin comes off, a new skin is underneath and his condition remains unchanged. At this point, the reader comes across a beautiful paragraph describing how Eustace had to willingly let the Lion use his painful tool to get to the heart of Eustace’s problem and strip him of his hard, dragon scales. This excerpt shapes my thinking as a Christian. Knowing whom Aslan represents in the Narnia series, it presents a beautiful picture of how God works in our lives. His work penetrates to the deepest part of our hearts and it produces permanent change as opposed to that which is superficial.
There are many such examples in literature. In the book Cry, The Beloved Country, the reader meets Reverend Stephen Kumalo, who is on a journey to not only help his sister but find his son. Throughout the story, Reverend Kumalo is faced with suffering and much of this suffering is due to seeing the results of poor decisions on the part of both his sister and son. He takes comfort in God, stating, “I have never thought that a Christian would be free of suffering, Umfundisi. For our Lord suffered. And I come to believe that he suffered, not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear suffering. For he knew that there is no life without suffering.” Another example is in Old Yeller where the dad explains an important life lesson to his son Travis saying, “What I mean is, things like that happen. They may seem might cruel and unfair, but that's how life is a part of the time. But that isn't the only way life is. A part of the time, it's mighty good. And a man can't afford to waste all the good parts, worrying about the bad parts. That makes it all bad.” Unfortunately, narratives such as these are being removed from education and we are recipients of the result. Yet these are the very narratives that speak to our hearts showing us time-tested truths. Truths such as change often are painful, life will have suffering, and grief should not overshadow the blessings in life. These stories are teaching children through tangible examples enabling them to vicariously experience these things while also seeing how others respond to them. Conserving these truth narratives for our children hopefully will be the catalyst for the future preservation and in the process create a new hunger in our culture for what is true, good, and beautiful.
Changing our culture is not going to be an overnight process but it is something we can begin today. We need storytellers and narrative promoters. Let us encourage our children to be the creators of the next generation. Let them, through their imagination, logic and rhetoric, shape the hearts and minds of their peers and their children. In the words of N.D. Wilson, “The world is rated R, and no one is checking IDs. Do not try to make it G by imagining the shadows away. Do not try to hide your children from the world forever, but do not try to pretend there is no danger. Train them. Give them sharp eyes and bellies full of laughter. Make them dangerous. Make them yeast, and when they’ve grown, they will pollute the shadows.”