Because life is a series of edits

Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page

Naming Our Idols (Reading)

In Books on December 29, 2011 at 11:04 am

As has been my (Craig's) tradition for the past five or so years, I recently posted my year-end booklist at Second Drafts. I'll save you the rehash here, but suffice it to say, it was not a good year. A couple things came to mind after the fact that I thought might play well here at Docendo Discimus, so here we go.

First, I need to remember Solomon's words: "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1). This year was not a particularly good season for reading for a lot of legitimate reasons, but rather than feeling sorry for myself and nursing my wounded pride (more on that in a minute), I need to let it go. Spending the first half of February interviewing for a new role that, between March and June, would then require our family to pack, move, unpack, and begin to figure out our new lives in Oklahoma took a toll (especially on top of teaching and coaching along the way). It wasn't sin; it was just a season that I didn't read a lot of books.

But let's talk about sin. Reading can be an idol for me. Walk into my study and you'll see my trophy cases; check out any end table in our house and you'll see my Asherah poles of books to read. Sure, I post my annual reading list to help others who might be looking for a book, but as I've never had a pure motive in my life, I confess I want people to see not only what I read, but also that I read. I'm not saying I'm proud of that; I'm just saying my motives are mixed (as they are with just about everything I think, say, or do – welcome to my humanity).

Emotionally speaking, and as much as it has therapeutic properties, reading can be a drug – one sold over the counter (or the Internet) and peddled by a variety of dealers (family, friends, teachers, librarians, etc.). Sometimes I need a little literary hit and can get worked up and seriously grumpy if I don't get it. These reading "shakes" may seem as foreign to a non-reader as craving alcohol is to a non-alcoholic, but I swear it's real (my wife and daughters do, too). My name is Craig, and I have a reading problem.

What else complicates all this? Since I seem to have less and less time for picking up a good book, picking up a good book becomes all the more important. The problem? Reading can be like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates: you never know what you're gonna get. Another reality is that, in the name of reading ever-broadly, my wants can overwhelm my needs. Do I want to read the popular biography of a modern visionary whose time partially overlapped my own (Steve Jobs) or a 2000+ year-old set of histories of foreign lands and peoples of which I've rarely heard (Herodotus' Histories)? I can choose the candy as quickly as anyone…and this year it seems I did.

A friend of mine once told me in a discussion on reading that, physically speaking, one can live a long time on junk food, but eventually the body needs a change of diet to a more balanced meal to run optimally. The same is true literarily, and why I feel the way I do about the lack of meat, potatoes, and veggies in my reading diet this past year.

Why lament any of this? Because by offering to God what I feel to be a failure in need of redemption, there's a lesson for others, I think. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, I had lunch with one of our Veritas dads. As often happens in these parental conversations about education, I picked up on his insecurity in talking with me by way of questions and comments like, "I haven't read/studied like you" and "I'm no scholar like you," etc.

These words, of course, played to my pride, but letting them do so only evoked a hollow feeling of fraud in my heart. Yes, I've read, but there's so much to read that I haven't. Yes, I've studied, but what of my studies have I already forgotten? Yes, I want to be a scholar (and want to be thought of as a scholar), but I'm not. I'm a guy in a role with a title that can lead parents, teachers, and students to think (or hope) I am or might be.

All these mental gymnastics were going on in my head during our conversation and I immediately tried to explain some of it to my friend. I'm not sure he fully understood or believed me, but the important thing was my attempt to disbelieve what I knew to be a lie. I wish I could convince all our parents, staff, and students of how much I still have to read, study, and learn as their classical Christian Head of School. Too many of them may think too highly of me in this area, so perhaps this year's posted reading list will pull back the curtain and reveal more of who's really trying to run Oz.

In the meantime, there are good books to be read with more redeemed motives. Maybe I won't post a booklist next year; maybe I won't even keep track of what I read at all. As silly as I feel for making an idol out of something so seemingly benign as reading, taking what God created as good and using it otherwise has always been my problem.

For the record, I read that in the best Book…or rather, it read that in the worst of me.

Booklist 2011

In Books, Writers on December 28, 2011 at 12:07 am

It was a pretty personally disappointing year of reading, both in terms of quantity (didn’t even average two/month) and quality (the least amount of theology and classics reading I've done in the past five years). In conducting the autopsy here, I realize that I simply tried to read too many books at once; as a result, I lost interest in several and found it hard to pick back up when and where I left off with a few.

New year, new rule: no more than three books (preferably of different genres) at a time.

Those qualifiers out of the way, it’s with great shame that I post my annual booklist, complete with notes and rankings (10 is highest) for each. In light of the thin offerings, perhaps a look through my previous years' lists (2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006) will aid in your search for a good book. Hope to do better in 2012 (please add your recs below).

January – June (0)

  • Started Atlas Shrugged and about a dozen other books during this six-month period, but we moved/started a new life in Oklahoma, which is my only semi-legitimate excuse.

July (3)

  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand – Absolutely dumbfounded by the fiscal prophecy of the first third of the book; the 1,000 pages dragged in the middle but still good. (7)
  • The Case for Classical Christian Education by Douglas Wilson – A primer for anyone involved in classical Christian education; could do without some of the attitude, but okay. (7)
  • The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo – Interesting read about Jobs and his role as innovator (not inventor) at Apple; some helpful strategy observations. (6)

August (4)

  • Repairing the Ruins edited by Douglas Wilson – Another of Wilson’s contributions, this one reads a little more moderately in terms of tone; good content. (8)
  • Histories (volumes 1 & 2) by Herodotus – First two books I read on the iPad. Skimmed much of it, but parts made it a fascinating look into the ancient world. (6)
  • Teacher by Mark Edmundson – Took 50 pages to get into memoir of Edmundson’s favorite teacher, but worth sticking it out; never get enough of these. (6)

September (2)

  • The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer – Skimmed through this once before, but had to read about/revisit more carefully the education I never received. (8)
  • The Great Expectations School by Dan Brown – File under “Everything you’ve heard about urban public schools is true.” Sad take from a first-year teacher. (8)

October (3)

  • The Secret of Terror Castle (The Three Investigators #1) by Robert Arthur – Revisited (with my second daughter) my youth w/ Alfred Hitchcock-involved series; Investigators better than the Hardys. (7)
  • Cardboard Gods by Josh Wilker – Nostalgic walk through 1970’s baseball cards with plenty of narcissism along the way; good idea, but could have been more. (4)
  • Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki – Simple (but not simplistic) book that gets so much right about how people are motivated and enchanted; highlight of the fall. (9)

November (2)

  • Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson – One of the saddest books I’ve read in terms of leadership and legacy. Jobs was a hero, but not for nearly as much as I thought. (8)
  • Wisdom and Eloquence by Robert Littlejohn and Charles T. Evans – Lucid expression of classical Christian education from two long-time practitioners; well-written pedagogical gold. (9) 

December (2)

  • Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson – Read it too disjointedly, but this “conversation in spiritual theology” also seemed to wander a fair amount; still, some insights/moments. (7)
  • Pastor by Eugene Peterson – Listened to this one and loved it. Peterson is both accurate and articulate in his description of his craft; best of the year for me. (10)

Josh Spears Dance Party

In Thought on December 14, 2011 at 10:20 pm

A few weeks ago, one of our teachers, Josh Spears, played a pretty good joke on our Veritas families and me, giving them the idea that I was the vocalist behind this.

"'Vengeance is mine,' says the Lord." And I just want to be about the Lord's business.

What We Learn from Tacky Christmas Sweaters

In Thought on December 9, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Sweaters

As I led RISE (our morning assembly) today, I looked out upon an outbreak (the word is appropriate) of tacky Christmas sweaters worn by our Veritas students. This was not a show of anti-dress code solidarity; we just thought it'd be fun for kids to show off the worst in their parents' closets. We were not disappointed.

After we snapped a few pictures and laughed together at the cheery awfulness of the attire, I told our students that Christmas is not the only time some of us wear tacky sweaters. In fact, all of us tend to wear tacky sweaters more than we think; in Bible times, these were called filthy rags of righteousness (Isaiah 64:6).

I suggested to our students that we often forget about the righteous robes God provided when we repented of sin and received Christ's atonement for our sins. Instead of resting in these robes of righteousness, we throw on our tacky sweaters of works and self-righteousness, somehow convincing ourselves that this is what God really wants to see instead.

How many of us, I asked, think that reading the Bible (more) or praying (more) or passing Bible class with an A (or hiding the fact that we only have a C) directly impacts how much more or less God loves us? Nothing is further from the truth, and yet we keep valuing those (and plenty of other) tacky sweaters as important to how we look to God.

The prophet Isaiah wrote:

"I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels." (Isaiah 61:10)

And the Apostle Paul encourages us in this way:

"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith." (Philippians 3:8-9)

This holiday season, we can go ahead and wear our tacky Christmas sweaters of wool and yarn if they (somehow) help us celebrate Christ's birth. But let's leave our tacky sweaters of works and self-righteousness in the closet of Christ's crucifixion, as they just don't match our new creation attire.

(Photo courtesy of Holly Martin)

The Best Teachers are the Best Learners

In Educators on December 7, 2011 at 10:01 am

These are just some of the people I get to work with each day at Veritas. So blessed.

New Kevin Durant Commercial Filmed in OKC

In Oklahoma City, Places, Sports on December 4, 2011 at 8:57 am

Pretty cool ad from Nike featuring OKC as the backdrop for Thunder superstar Kevin Durant. Thank you, KD, for being classy enough for Sam Cooke‘s “Good Times” tune.

Show Me the Money

In Educators on December 2, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Over the past several months, I (Craig) have had multiple meetings with my Administrative Team and our Veritas Board concerning income, expenses, and next year's tuition rates. I've also had a few parents ask me when we're going to post our rates for next year.

I've only got one answer: when we're sure they're right.

Back in October, as we began budgeting for next school year, I happened to mention via email our process to my former Head of School, Jim Marsh, at Westminster Christian Academy, a college prep Christian school of 900 students in St. Louis. A long-time administrator, Jim is both a hero and a mentor in my role as Head of School (because of our shared titles, he calls me his "peer," which is more than humorous – I'm no Jim Marsh). He wrote:

"The tuition/true cost of education issue is difficult to get one's head around. There are those (Bruce Lockerbie and Paideia and organizations like Independent School Management) who would say to determine what it costs to provide excellence in fulfilling your mission and set the tuition at that cost. Then, raise money to provide tuition relief for those who cannot afford the tuition.

However, the value proposition is of critical importance in an age when parents are asking the question: 'Is it worth it? Is it worth the financial sacrifice?' The brutal fact is that it costs money to provide an excellent Christian education, but establishing a tuition level at that per student cost might be more than the market will bear. So, we look around and assess the financial condition of our families and determine what the price point should be."

Jim's balanced perspective describes exactly where we are at Veritas Classical Academy. Over the past month-and-a-half, my Administrative Team (all of whom are Veritas parents) have tried to get a better handle on what it costs "to provide an exceptional classical Christian education to the Oklahoma City metro." It's been hard work, but I'm proud of the way our team has drilled down to depths of detail we've not operationally been at before.

At the same time (and with counsel from our Board, all of whom are also Veritas parents), we've wrestled with the realities of these costs and asked ourselves what seems reasonable to expect tuition to cover and what should we plan to cover through more intentional fundraising. In doing this, we're seeking God to lead us to the right numbers, and to provide for them as well.

We think we're almost there…but not yet. Rest assured, tuition rates are coming (and soon), but as Head of School, I want to make sure they're right (and not just out). We don't want to overcharge our families; at the same time, we don't want to be the best blended model school in Oklahoma to go out of business.