Because life is a series of edits

Archive for the ‘Veritas’ Category

Three Years: A Hard and Happy Time

In Calling, Church, Family, Friends, Marriage, Oklahoma City, Places & Spaces, Students, Teachers, The Academy, Veritas on June 9, 2014 at 7:45 am

City Pres Particularization

Reflecting on the fact that, as of this week, we’ve lived in Oklahoma City for three years. Here’s a video tour (or more accurately, a tour of videos) to commemorate the milestone.

We’ve had a hand in creating a new mascot

…a new school

…and a new church.

We’ve fostered and become advocates for foster care…

…mourned loss…

…reminisced and remembered…

…partied…

…had fun at another’s expense (quite justified)…

…had fun at our own expense (quite amusing)…

…and periodically had a little too much time on our hands (quite disturbing).

By God’s grace and providence, it’s been a hard and happy time – rarely one or the other; more frequently, one and the same. There’s more to say than anyone would read, and still more to do that too much nostalgic navel-gazing would allow.

Perhaps we should just let Psalm 16 have the last word:

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”

As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.

The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names on my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.

The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.

I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

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The Unexamined Summer?

In Books, Parents, Students, Veritas on May 17, 2013 at 7:37 pm

I’ve been reading an excellent book entitled, When Athens Met Jerusalem: An Introduction to Classical and Christian Thought, by John Mark Reynolds, Provost at Houston Baptist University. Reynolds’ thesis is that reason and faith need to remain good neighbors within the City/Kingdom of God, for this pairing of the two is what true classical Christian education is.

But (and here’s the rub), it’s difficult and takes work. He writes:

“Thinking may be hard at first, but it is addictive with practice. People created in God’s image will ask questions, and questions demand answers. Answers seem to be what questions are for, but the Greeks soon realized that the first answers are not the end of the process. Good answers lead to better questions, and these questions keep the process of learning alive. It is possible to find a single truth, but one truth has a tendency to lead to the search for another, just as eating one honest-to-goodness potato chip generally demands a second. People began to question the old answers, sometimes finding them satisfying, sometimes not.”

As we’re one week away from school ending and summer beginning, it might be a good idea – both for us and for our students – to think about how we might continue the question-asking and answer-seeking to keep the process of learning alive.

While we all are ready for a respite, classical Christian education calls us to make sure it’s only that – a respite. There are too many questions ask, too many answers to seek!

What book(s) are we thinking of reading this summer? What documentaries are we thinking of watching? What journaling are we thinking of doing? What field trips are we planning? What museums are we visiting? What parts of nature are we exploring? What conversations are we hoping to have? What subjects are we wanting to study? And who might be able and willing to help us with any of this?

I realize that next week is probably not the week to get all this down on paper…but the week after might be! And I’m not advocating a schedule that resembles the school year, but I’m not advocating a vacation to Slug Island either. Many of us have as much to do across summer as the rest of the year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t fight for some time to ask ourselves what answers we’re finding satisfying, and what answers we aren’t.

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Let’s make sure this can’t be said about our upcoming summer, either for our student(s) or for ourselves.

Out of the Bag for the Good of Oklahoma City

In Educators, Veritas, Web/Tech on April 10, 2013 at 2:08 pm

This week is a significant one for classical Christian education in Oklahoma City.

Four months ago, Providence Hall Head of School Nathan Carr and I (on behalf of our boards) launched via video and website what were then the public beginnings (at least to our respective schools) of The Academy of Classical Christian Studies.

This week – tonight, actually – we announce the new school to the Oklahoma City metro via a three-minute news story on Fox 25's "Tell Me Something Good" feature with news anchor Mike Brooks. Here's the link.

But before we do that, today we'd like to roll out the brand new crest for our new school. Many thanks to Todd Milligan at Dust Bowl Artistry for helping create what we hope our families will embrace as a wonderful and symbolic visual that represents who we are as The Academy. (Note: For an excellent interpretation of our crest, read Nathan’s explanation of each of the elements.)


Academy Crest (300 dpi, Color)

In addition to the new crest, we're also rolling out our new public Facebook page and Twitter feed for The Academy, so go like/follow us if you would. Finally, if you haven't already (or haven't in a while), be sure to visit the official website for The Academy, where we cast our vision and continue to detail the creation of our new school.

Easter Sunday Slogan or Real-World Reality?

In Parents, Pedagogy, Students, Veritas on March 30, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Tomb-21

If you’ve been alive the past seven days, you know it’s been quite a week for our nation. I won’t rehash the events of the Supreme Court hearings in this email (though you’re welcome to read my personal thoughts here), but it’s ironic (or perhaps not) that so much of the vitriol of the debate has coincided with Holy Week. If anything, the events of this week have reminded me that we – that I – need Good Friday and Easter as much as ever.

In our 8th grade New Testament class this week, we began our study of the book of Romans. I had asked students to have read the book before our discussion, and they came with questions not just about the text, but in light of the pink equal signs and crosses found across Facebook, about what Paul’s most systematic doctrinal treatise (and the latter half of its first chapter in particular) means for us today.

If you know some of our 8th graders, you know it was a spirited debate, not so much about right and wrong, but about the nuances of how Christians respond concerning both. We talked about how easy it is to make Romans 1 only about the topic of homosexuality, when what Paul is more fully describing is the process that leads to practicing such sin (as well as many others – see Romans 1:29-31) when God is not honored or given thanks.

These are the kinds of discussions that happen everyday at Veritas. Our goal is to teach students to respond, not just react; to appeal to cohesive biblical doctrines and virtues, not just decontextualized verses and proof texts; to think in solid logic, not just sound bytes. We want to help students learn to discuss and debate the nuances that come with the huge issues of our day, not for the sake of winning arguments, but for gently restoring a fallen world, for which Paul, in the first few chapters of Romans, reminds us that we are responsible and inhabit.

In true gospel (“good news”) fashion, there are 14 chapters after these first two, throughout which “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This hope is what we celebrate this Easter weekend, what we as Christians need, what the world in its fallenness requires to flourish, and with which we desire to educate our students.

“He is risen; he is risen indeed.” May this be less Easter Sunday slogan and more real-world reality for us and for our kids.

Spring Bling Masquerade Ball

In Students, Veritas on March 13, 2013 at 8:20 am

Spring Bling

"Say, what abridgement have you for this evening?
What masque? What music? How shall we beguile
The lazy time, if not with some delight?"

from A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

Pretty excited for our 9th-12th graders next month…

Three Trust-Building Tales

In Parents, Students, Teachers, Veritas on March 1, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Trust
Story #1:
A Central Campus mom investigating other possible Christian school
options told me that, when she took her children in for that school's
admissions testing, she picked up on some "homeschool hesitancy" from
the admissions coordinator. Apparently, before the students had even
taken their tests, the admissions coordinator was already assuming that
they would most likely need some remediation over the summer. The
children, however, tested off the charts, so much so that the mom told
me the admissions coordinator told her afterward (and I quote), "I don't
know what they're teaching at Veritas, but our school may need to make a
phone call to find out."

Story #2: WISE Council Chair, Catherine Brown, called me to say she had been in a meeting with a producer at the local Fox affiliate here in OKC and mentioned our merger with Providence Hall as part of The Academy of Classical Christian Studies.
He thought it might make a good 3-minute studio interview and had one
of his program directors call me to set it up, which she did. Two hours
after that phone call, she called me back to say that she thought the
story of our two classical Christian schools coming together would be
better told if Fox 25 came to both campuses and interviewed students,
parents, and teachers as part of a full story instead. No argument here! They're calling me back in a couple of weeks to set up a date to film.

Story #3: Just
yesterday, I received a call from one of our office staff to tell me
there was a woman downstairs wanting to talk with me about hosting our
Grammar School next year. Confused, I asked if the woman happened to
mention if she had an appointment, because I wasn't aware I had one.
Indeed, the woman hadn't made an appointment, but had heard about our
need for a site for our Grammar School and had sought permission from
her church leadership to inquire about our need. Her church is just ten
minutes from First Baptist Moore, where our Upper School will be, and we met today to walk through the facility, bringing our number of total viable sites to three.

God is writing stories like these in and through the life of our school – we love hearing and sharing them and, despite the trust they often require, we want to be a part of them as God ordains. What story is God telling in and through your family?

On Being “Gifted”

In Parents, Pedagogy, Students, Veritas on February 18, 2013 at 9:48 am

Gifted

Whenever
parents describe their student as "highly gifted" (either because the
student has been identified as such by a school or because his parents
just think he is), their field of vision for that student's overall
development can narrow
tremendously, with the student's gifting (rather than his person)
becoming the lens through which all decisions (academic or otherwise)
get made.


The
same thing often happens if/when a student is particularly talented in a
sport or other extracurricular – that activity can become the prime
driver for all else at all costs, a mentality often reinforced by the
well-meaning words of coaches and instructors who understandably (at
least for their activity) demand this kind of narrow commitment.


At
Veritas, one of our goals as a school is to help students (and their
families) remember that they are not their gifts, academically or otherwise.
Yes, while our school is (and is considered) an educational institution
primarily, our vision for that education is a broad – not a narrow – one
in the tradition of a what a true classical liberal arts education is
and should be.


Make
no mistake, none of us (myself included) is perfect in our pursuit of
this kind of education as we're all more influenced by our culture's
call to "specialize or else" to get ahead, but if we rightly understand
classical Christian education, this is what we desire (or should).


To
that end, we offer a few electives (and plan to offer more), but they
aren't random ones just for the sake of offering them; they serve our
broader (not narrower) goal of exposing (not focusing) students in their
study of the world (our 9th grade Aesthetics course comes to mind). For instance, we provide training in faith defense and evangelism, just not in a
decontextualized or isolated "how-to" course (talk to my eighth graders
about what we just covered in Acts 17 in New Testament class).


Our
goal for Kindergarten is not to help students "get a jump on the
system" with an over-programmed, hyper-workload curriculum; rather, in
the context of whole of our trivium education (grammar, logic,
rhetoric), we want to establish and develop basic foundations of order,
discipline, and relational skills upon which each grade can build. We
will never have what some may desire to be a "rigorous" Kindergarten
curriculum because that's not what the whole of the child needs at that
stage.


All
that to say, in answer to the question of whether Veritas (and soon The
Academy
) will challenge and engage "gifted" kids in the upper grades, I believe
we do, can, and will, but defining what the ultimate purpose for that
challenge is is the better question. If it's to help students
Christianly grow in their humanity through God's Word doing His work in
His world (which includes the challenging glories of mathematics,
science, literature, history, theology, etc.), then I think we might fit
the bill.

If the goal is purely academic for the purpose of "getting
ahead" in whatever system they're wanting to beat, then I would
encourage parents to look elsewhere.

Continuing the Conversation (Campus Coffees)

In Parents, Veritas on January 31, 2013 at 12:38 pm


With re-enrollment starting last week, I've fielded several questions via email, on Facebook, and face-to-face pertaining to our future plans. Most of these concerns have come from our more southernly-located families, particularly with regard to Phase II of The Academy, the phase the board and I anticipated would be the most difficult for our southern families in our attempt to merge Providence Hall and Veritas.

CoffeetalkIn an effort to continue the discussion about The Academy,
I'd like to invite parents to attend one of four Campus Coffees in the
next two weeks. Dates, times, and locations are posted, so let us know you'll be coming.

In recent communication, a long-time Veritas parent mentioned that her Norman family had been through five changes of administration and that the promise of a Norman school had been communicated. Indeed, when Veritas started in 2004, the board's vision was for only Norman (hence the legally incorporated name of Veritas Classical Academy of Norman).

However, from 2008-2010, Veritas outgrew Trinity Baptist in Norman after year four of the school. Crossroads was a big church that could host us and, by being close to I-35, was still accessible to Norman families. At the time, the board saw the move as temporary until we could afford to build our own place somewhere on the far north edge of Norman, like near Hillsdale College.

Crossroads also made VCA more accessible to families who either were already coming or were interested in coming from the greater OKC metro. In time, the board saw the move as a great blessing, both because they saw how we could reach more families by being located closer to OKC and also preserve the long-term viability of the school by being able to draw from a greater people and financial pool. Still though, and especially with Providence Hall's location in north OKC, our board saw us as primarily a Norman/Moore/south OKC school, with talk of having grammar campuses embedded in those local communities, including Norman.

When I came to Veritas in June 2011, plans had already been in the works to start the North campus after families there expressed an interest in having something closer to home. North families raised up people and resources to make the campus happen, and the board saw the North campus as a way to extend the vision to incorporate more of the greater OKC metro, as well as to help fund the current Upper School, then even less populated than our current (and growing) 80 6th-12th graders today.

At the Constructing the Vision banquet last March, I first presented the idea of the learning cottage campus, mentioning that, if we were to only build a Grammar campus first, it would most likely be in the south to take some pressure off our Crossroads campus. If we built a full PreK-12th campus, I tried to be careful to explain that we hoped to land close to where we were in the Crossroads area, as our goal was to have north and south campuses, but neither in Edmond or Norman proper. Both of these scenarios, I reiterated, were just two of multiple possible starting points, depending on money raised, land found, and system-wide realities regarding growth.

Unfortunately, part of the current feeling of displacement for south/central families comes from Crossroads' timing in letting us know they would not be renewing our contract next year. While Phase II of the plan would still be a stumbling block for some, it might not have made as huge of an impact (at least initially) without the insecurity that some feel not yet having a location for next year. If anything, with The Academy rolling out and the only current known location being in far north OKC, I empathize that this probably felt like a double-whammy to Norman families, which was unfortunate for all of us.

I can see why a long-term-VCA family from Norman would feel like being expected to drive 30-40 minutes to a north OKC campus might seem dismissive of prior years of sacrifice and just another expectation to sacrifice for families in the north. Keep in mind, though, that Upper School North families will be doing the same thing the other direction – possibly for multiple years – beginning with Phase III and the establishment of our south learning cottage campus, which we are working to do everything we can to ensure that that happens.

While the board and I strongly believe in the idea of The Academy, we are still working out many of the implementation particulars as we look closely at the details. We think we have a good vision and a plan to fulfill it, but definitely feel we can have additional dialogue about how we stay true to the overall mission while still providing for our south families. As mentioned, while we have thought through dozens of scenarios, none of us has the perspective that we have exhausted them all. We want to take seriously every possible idea that has a real chance of making sense for all involved, so please continue to think with us as we work toward the best solutions.

It’s Town Hall Week

In Parents, Veritas on January 15, 2013 at 2:01 pm


Town HallThis is Town Hall week – one week each quarter that we invite parents to come out and meet as part of our WISE (Walking in Step Educationally) parent group.

As you might imagine, in light of last week's announcement about The Academy, RSVPs for January's Town Halls are through the roof (for more information or to RSVP, please go here). In anticipation of the crowd and subject matter, here are a couple of guidelines for our time that will help things go smoothly.

Emcees for the evening will be our respective WISE Council Chairs, Catherine Brown (Central Campus) and Jennifer Lafferty (North Campus). Catherine and Jennifer will pray, welcome everyone, and make a few introductions. They then have several things to cover up front, the list of which includes:

As most parents have taken the opportunity to read up on The Academy, I do not feel the need to revisit the proposal in full, but after a few opening remarks, will move quickly into an open forum of question and answer in which parents will be welcome to freely ask whatever questions you would like to ask.

However, in the spirit of trying to be as open with the conversation as possible, here are a few parameters to help us make the most of the evening (as well as avoid the stereotypical school meetings seen on television and in the movies):

  1. Come with a list of prepared questions and be brief in asking them. This will allow for more of an answer to be given, as well as for more questions to be asked on the whole.
  2. Make sure your questions apply to more than just you. The best questions for a forum such as this are ones that everyone's wondering about but nobody has asked yet.
  3. Be courteous and respectful of each other, keeping in mind our relational covenant to believe the best, stand shoulder to shoulder, and talk to and not about one another. We're all after God's best here, and we want to pursue it together.


We will start on time and our emcess will close in prayer and end on time. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone and hope it will be a good step into a great future together.

Introducing: The Academy

In Colleges & Universities, Educators, Parents, Pedagogy, Students, Teachers, Veritas on January 11, 2013 at 3:51 pm




Excited for what's ahead in 2013…and, by God's grace, beyond. Watch, then go here.

Giving & the Classical Christian School

In Veritas on December 2, 2012 at 6:18 am


Giving-charity

I just mailed our second annual Veritas Classical Academy year-end letter, asking our families to prayerfully consider again raising $24,000 for our Scholarship Fund. Last year was the first year Veritas had ever done something like this, and through the generosity of our community, we hit our goal after a frenetic last-minute giving rush on New Year's Eve, along with a few extra gifts in January that pushed us over the top.

As a result of last year's giving, we were able to help ten families – most with multiple children – attend Veritas who wouldn't have been able to otherwise. That was pretty neat for all involved, not for only the families who benefitted, but for the families who weren't sure we could do it but gave anyway.

Though my dual role as Upper School Principal complicates things, as Head of School, I need to be fundraising more than I currently am. Why? Because in addition to our scholarship fund, we have literally millions of dollars to raise for our planned Learning Cottage Campus(es), start-up funds to provide for the Athletic and Arts we're trying to launch, and developmental monies to come up with for more Staff Resources (training conferences, classroom items, etc.). We also have a nine-years-accumulated deficit (not a debt – we don't owe anyone but ourselves) that we'd like to put to bed soon.

Thus, as with any endeavor like ours, we need money. But in saying this, our board and I remain committed to two things: 1) We're not going to force tuition to cover any capital plans (no one could afford what that would cost annually); and 2) We're not going to resort to just any and every fundraising "opportunity" that comes along (believe me when I tell you there
are plenty of things we could sell in the name of fundraising for
Veritas; here's a list if you're interested).

To do either can be tempting, particularly at this time of year as we make plans and finalize budgets for next year. Our process begins in September (just after we get the current school year up and going), and takes several months at multiple levels (board, Head of School, administrative team) to get our heads and hands around all that goes into what is now a 1.1 million dollar operation. I don't say this pridefully but desperately – we want to do right by our families and by God in how we think about the funds they provide for us to steward.

As part of this goal, we do all we can to consider our community when it comes to the frequency and means by which we raise money. I'm probably more conservative than some Heads of School on this (and may be holding us back a bit as a result), but I am hesitant to subject our families to multiple fundraising campaigns in which it seems we're always "selling something" for the good of the cause. It's not that I don't believe in our cause enough to do it; it's that I don't want to cheapen our cause by doing it.

While we raised a total of $120,000 in gifts and pledges last year for our new scholarship, staff development, and Constructing the Vision capital campaign funds, the critique is valid that I've done next to nothing to initiate smaller, ongoing community fundraisers throughout our school; in fact, the only two that I can think of (our WISE T-shirt sales at the beginning of the school year and our monthly Cafe Days) existed previous to my arrival at Veritas in 2011. Both seem to be things our families enjoy, so there's no need to change them (though I do think we've improved them a bit).

Instead, my philosophy (and what I think our families appreciate) is to provide a clear identification of what we need, an upfront presentation of what it's going to take to get it, and an unapologetic ask to prayerfully consider giving. Biblically speaking, that's really all I can and am willing to do; the rest is up to God and our families (and other donors we're communicating with) as to their response.

The challenge, of course, is getting all three aspects of said philosophy to happen in a timely and coordinated manner. We may have a need and create a good presentation for it, but I can't control if or how people give. Likewise, there are probably some folks (inside and outside of our community) who would give to what we need, but we have not figured out how to present those needs to them yet, or (just as likely) we have not figured out who they actually are.

Make no mistake: we do have needs and we do need people to give, but, as Mark 8:36 (applied here to the area of fundraising) reminds us, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" Jesus is clear: the return on that kind of investment is not good. Giving to Veritas Classical Academy, however, should be.

(Another goal we have is to make giving as simple as possible. To that end, we've just launched our new online donation page. Check out how easy it is, and thanks for prayerfully considering giving a gift while you're there.)

Thanksgiving (or “How to Make Upper Schoolers Squirm”)

In Students, Teachers, Veritas on November 21, 2012 at 5:12 am

Tuesday was our last day of school at Veritas before Thanksgiving break, and as I was scheduled to lead our morning assembly called RISE, I thought it might be a good opportunity to do something appropriate to the day. Our students and staff seemed in a pretty good mood (as they usually are on the last day before a break), so what did I have to lose?

I started out by talking about the fact that Thursday was Thanksgiving and that most of us are told to think about what we're thankful for this time of year. Then I told the students and staff that I wanted to turn the tables on the what thinking, and instead offer some thanks for (and to) whom I was thankful. I then proceeded to work my way around the room, calling each of the 80+ 6th-12 grade students and staff by name, and taking 10-20 seconds each to tell them why I was thankful for them.

You've never seen a more quiet group of Upper Schoolers squirm. It was great.

I had some fears in doing this. First, while I know the names of all of our Upper School students and staff, I was a little nervous that my rapid-fire approach would backfire and, for some reason, I might momentarily blank out and forget somebody, embarrassing him/her (and me) along the way. I had a few milli-second lapses, but nothing too huge…until I came to one of my daughter's best friends, whose name I could not for the life of me recall. (I had already gone through about two-thirds of the room with no major snafus so far, but this one was unfortunate; thankfully, she was very gracious – it was my daughter who was later less forgiving).

Second, while I knew this would take a little time, I didn't know it would take as much time as it did (about 20 minutes, which was double what it should have been within our normal parameters for RISE). When I finished the first half of the room and it was 8:30 already, I knew I was in trouble and I internally lamented that I was taking time from our first-hour teachers (particuarly since I still had half a room to go and it wasn't going to be until 8:45 until everyone finally made it to class). Thankfully, our teachers were their normal flexible selves, and several of them came up to me afterward to express appreciation for doing what I did even as they scurried to their classrooms.

Third, I was just afraid that this whole idea would come off as obligatory or trite, as if I wasn't really thankful for every student or staff member in the room but had to be because I said I was, or that it would seem like I was just making stuff and keeping it general enough because I really didn't know any of those I was thanking. If I would have had the idea earlier (and the time to do something with it), I might (and probably should) have printed a formal list and prepared a more solid sentence or two of appreciation for each person. Unfortunately, not all of my best ideas (very few of them, actually) come with prep time built in, so I just prayed and went with it on the fly.

Though there were plenty to mention (and I mentioned plenty), I tried not to focus on obvious outward things like talents and abilities, but instead concentrated more on character virtues in our students and staff for which I was thankful. This was hard, of course, as we are so conditioned by our culture to thank people for what they do rather than who they are, but I wanted to try to help our students and staff understand that, though they have many, they are not their gifts.

A few general observations:

  • Whether students or adults, none seemed comfortable with genuine public appreciation. I noticed two different main responses: 1) forced eye contact, in which they were bound and determined to look at me because I was speaking to/about them in public; or 2) the avoidance of eye contact at all costs, as it was just too intimate of a moment to share in front of others.
  • While I don't think it was too obvious externally, I
    recognized internally that I knew some students (and even staff)
    better than others, which mentally worked against me if I let myself go
    too far down the road of evaluating real-time every ten-second attempt
    at thankfulness. I had to let this go (at least for the time being) so
    as to not sabotage the attempt, but it was a good reason and reminder to
    work harder at getting to know all of our people better.
  • The twenty minutes it took to work through everyone was the easiest period of full attention I've ever requested from a room full of 6th-12th graders. Students were fascinated (appalled?) by the fact that, not only were they being singled out in front of their peers, but they were being singled out for positive and personal reasons. While there were plenty of laughs and lots of smiles, there seemed a subtle insecurity running through the room that I might come to one of them, not have anything nice to say, and just skip over someone to someone else as a result. Thankfully, that was not the case.

What was the case was a renewed appreciation in my own heart for whom these students and staff are as people, as well as a really nice start to a really nice last day before Thanksgiving break. We forget – I forget – how desperate all of us are for validation. We're affirmation junkies! My little attempt at something different for RISE was a big reminder personally that gratitude must be communicated (and not just stored up) to fully harness its helpful (and often healing) power.

"We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right,
because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of
you for one another is increasing." 2 Thessalonians 1:3


Sacramental Science

In Educators, Pedagogy, Teachers, Veritas on October 18, 2012 at 9:06 pm


Bill Smiling


Bill Fix is a retired science teacher who taught 26 years at Norman High. But it wasn't until he attended our Constructing the Vision banquet this past March that he finally had the language to name his classical education tendencies.

"A Veritas staff member invited me to attend the banquet and I was so glad I did," he recalls. "I was blown away listening to Susan Wise Bauer describe classical education's grammar, logic, and rhetoric progression, as it was exactly the way I always tried to think about and teach science. I was inspired."


Janet and Bill

So inspired, in fact, that he agreed to sit in with me (Craig) in the spring as I interviewed applicants for our vacant Upper School science positions. We also got together periodically during the summer to discuss longer-term plans for more solidly developing our entire school science curriculum in conjunction with Academic Dean Todd Wedel and our curriculum mapping team.

A member at Wildwood Community Church in Norman, Bill gets what we're trying to do through classical Christian education, and he has the expertise and experience to help us do it across the sciences.


Bill Explaining

"The way to learn science is to do science," says Bill. "The experiment
is the focus at the beginning, not the tag-along at the end. If we're
going to get students talking about science, they have to have
content to talk about. The experiments are the database from which they
can draw."

This lines up well with our desire at Veritas to do what one of our board members has called "sacramental science" – a hands-on approach to the study of the general, physical, and earth sciences, as well as to our biology, chemistry, and physics courses.


To that end, just yesterday Bill stopped by to drop off nine boxes – nine boxes! – of
scientific instruments and glassware he had rounded up free of charge
for Veritas. He also sat in on two of our science classes before joining
our juniors and co-teaching Chemistry. I'm honestly not sure who had
more fun – our Veritas students or Bill.


Science Toys 1


Science Toys 2

In a conversation about deeper goals for our Pre-K through 12th grade curriculum, I asked Bill for his perspective as to what a student and teacher of the sciences should look like. As he is wont to do, he paused before answering, then offered this:

"I want to see students learn and demonstrate good
observational skills and ways of going about, sorting, and synthesizing
data and systems. The science teacher's job is not to be the source
of information, but the guide through the unknown."

Which is why I've asked Bill to serve as a mentor for us in the area of the sciences. I'm excited to see where he guides our students and teachers as they explore God's world.

Desiring the Kingdom (First Quarter Review)

In Books, Educators, Teachers, Veritas on October 10, 2012 at 9:19 am

A former teaching colleague (and current friend) of mine is using Desiring the Kingdom as a key text for his Christian educational ministries degree. He asked if he could send me a few questions detailing my experience with James K.A. Smith's book and its impact on our first quarter of school (to revisit my favorite quotations from each chapter of Desiring the Kingdom, visit one of these summer posts: Intro, 1.1, 1.2, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.). Here's what I wrote back:

Can
you briefly explain the format that you went about discussing Desiring the
Kingdom together?

We used Desiring the Kingdom as a framework to
work through discussions on classical education in theory and practice, as well
as across schools (i.e. Grammar and Upper). Through this lens, we processed
together thoughts and perspectives from the ACCS conference in Dallas, updated and
continued work on our Curriculum Mapping initiative, interacted over and
continued working out our trans-denominational perspective, reviewed and
renewed our commitment to each other through the relational covenant,
implemented new and creative ways to blend our classical Christian model of
education, engaged in planning first day habits and liturgies, learned about
and practiced teaching to different learning styles, discussed important
educational mechanics like workload evaluation, grading standards, lesson
planning, and school systems, and helped prepare staff for their part of our
WISE (Walking in Step Educationally) Parent Training Conferences in August.

After
discussing DTK, what did you sense was the overall response of the faculty to
what James K. A. Smith is proposing? What
aspects of Smith’s argument were most popular with the faculty? What
were the critiques and did you have any significant pushback?

Smith’s perspective on ritual and liturgy
were huge for our staff, particularly for those who had not considered either
as being more everyday than every week (i.e. Sunday at church). This emphasis
and language was important for our school as it gave the teachers both
rationale and words for why we try to do what we do, whether it be Grammar
school students walking in lines or Upper school students sitting meditatively
in RISE (our morning assembly).

The most
significant pushback had more to do with staff (particularly in the Grammar
school) feeling it was a tough read. Some of these same staff felt Smith
negatively overreacted to the ideas of capitalism, patriotism, and our nation’s Christian
heritage.


Smith’s
writing is pretty philosophical, heady. How did you go about putting hands and
feet on his proposals?

One key to this was
the assembly of a study guide by our theology/philosophy teacher. Another was allotting
plenty of time during orientation (and in more informal conversations) during
which the book and its contents were the main topic of discussion. We spent a
good amount of time in the book’s introduction (which is really sufficient in
many ways as a summary of the book).

What
parts of the book did you think spoke directly to the VCA community?

Again, the ritual
and liturgy emphasis was important, as was the Smith’s succinct statement that
true Christian education should be about shaping what students love more than
what they know. Historically, this has been the desire of the board for the
school, but I wouldn’t say the language for this was as clear in the minds and
hearts of the staff as Smith’s brief statement; however, once unleashed, there
seemed to be quite an “a-ha” moment across all grades as to what we were after
(and what we weren’t).


Which
parts were particularly meaningful or important for you as the Head of School?

For me, Smith’s book was a powerful validation of much of
what I have always believed about Christian education (classical or otherwise),
summarized with great depth. The fact that our theology/philosophy teacher
recommended the book to me with the words, “I think you’ll like this because
it’s what I hear you saying” meant a lot and unintentionally loaned me some
borrowed credibility in the eyes of the staff. As a second-year Head of School,
this has been immeasurably helpful in at least giving me confidence that, while
I’m continuing to solidify my educational philosophies and perspective, I’m
perhaps not just making this stuff up out of thin air.


In
this first quarter of the school year, where have you seen evidence of your
discussion bearing fruit in the lives/work of your faculty, parents, and
students?

As we have a good amount of new staff (some brand new to
teaching), I feel our time in Desiring
the Kingdom
has been particularly helpful in getting them off on the right
foot. While the majority of our teachers (new or veteran) wrestle on a weekly
basis with what classical Christian education looks like in their classes, I
think we’re newly aware of what it doesn’t look like as a result of our reading
the book.

This brings clarity to our efforts and bolsters confidence in our
attempts to train parents and students in a more character-focused,
virtues-driven education as opposed to one more competency-focused and
values-driven. Reading the book through the summer, training through its
presuppositions during staff orientation, and then implementing and applying
these ideas face-to-face by utilizing our teachers as the main presenters at
our two-day parent orientations got all of us off to as good a start as I would
have hoped. Still, there’s plenty of opportunity to revisit and review Desiring the Kingdom, as old educational
habits for all involved tend to die hard.

On Myths, Symbols & Mascots

In Veritas on September 22, 2012 at 4:37 pm

We've just launched our second annual Veritas Online Film Festival. This year's challenge is to create, film, and tell some aspect of the backstory of our new mascot, Griff the Griffin. Here's the official movie trailer:



For some, a symbol like a griffin may seem purely and simply a pagan symbol that stands for
a religious tradition in opposition to Christ. Although the griffin has been used as a pagan symbol
by some, no symbol has but one, inherent meaning. Our Board of Directors and I recognize this and have attempted to put words to our perspective concerning it.

Symbols mean what people think they mean –
that’s what makes them symbols. Perhaps the best example of this assertion is the cross itself, the
central symbol of Christianity. What would a Roman or a Jew (or, for that matter, just about
anyone) at the time of Christ say the cross “meant” or “stood for”? The answer is undeniably that it
represented the power of the Roman Empire to force its will on the world, and to do so in what is
arguably the most inhumane method of execution that has ever been devised by the hearts of men:
crucifixion.

But is that what we think of when we put a cross around our necks or see a cross on
top of a church as we drive by? That certainly is not what the cross means or stands for to most
Christians, including us. It is a symbol of hope and grace, not inhumanity and torture, a symbol of
triumph, not defeat, for all who are in Christ. Its meaning, in other words, depends on the mind of
the beholder. What it once meant to some is not what it now means to others.

The griffin is no different in this regard, as with most symbols. Other examples that come to mind
are the Christmas tree and the Easter egg, both of which were originally pagan symbols that were
co-opted by the Church and, arguably, redeemed. Indeed, a number of orthodox Christian
theologians have noted that because pagans live in God’s world, many of their pagan rituals and
myths and symbols wind up unintentionally reflecting something real and true that comes from Him
(a common mythological theme, for instance, is resurrection, which inadvertently points to Christ,
who is The Resurrection). They don’t mean to, but they can’t help it because they live in His world.

Some Christians, of course, cannot bring themselves to see even symbols like the Christmas tree or
the Easter egg as anything but pagan, and thus they refuse to put up Christmas trees or to celebrate
Easter (which itself is the name of a pagan goddess). According to this reasoning, America should
also drop the eagle as our national symbol because the Roman Empire and Hitler’s Third Reich
used the eagle as their symbols.

Even the symbol of a seemingly more "biblical" animal – the ram, for instance – doesn’t inherently “mean” any
one thing, including “the Lord will provide.” That certainly isn’t what it means to the NFL football
team that adopted it, nor is that what all people associate with this symbol when they see it. Some see a symbol of brutality and aggression (as in, “to ram” something), and still others mistakenly see
it as a goat, a common symbol of Satan.

The griffin has stood for a number of different things throughout history, and it does not belong to
any single culture. Since the middle ages, it has been used throughout western heraldry to symbolize
strength and wisdom. In a number of famous works of western literature (including Dante’s
Christian allegories), the griffin has even symbolized Christ Himself.

More recently, a secular
institution, the College of William and Mary, has adopted the griffin as its mascot because it
combines a “British symbol,” the lion, with an “American symbol,” the eagle, a combination that is
consonant with the history and tradition of that college. Thus, the College of William and Mary sees
in the griffin neither Greek mythology nor Christian allegory, but the nations of Great Britain and
the United States of America. Are they wrong to see this? Not at all. This symbol, like all others,
“means” to them whatever they think it means.

As Christians, when we look at the griffin, we don’t see the ancient pets of pagan gods or the
patriotic emblems of contemporary nations. Rather, we see the biblical symbols of the lion and the
eagle, which are used throughout Scripture to reference Christ Himself as the King (the lion) and as
the divine Son of God (the eagle), as well as to reference two of the four gospels (Matthew and
John) and certain virtues that have often been culturally associated with these animals (e.g.,
strength, virtue, wisdom).

These symbols also appear in prophetic visions about heavenly beings,
such as the book of Ezekiel (chapters 1 and 10), and the book of Revelation (chapter 4). A lion is
not always used in Scripture to refer to Christ, of course. In Daniel, for instance, a lion seems to be
used to refer to a particular ungodly kingdom (not to mention being the intended means of Daniel’s
own failed execution). But this simply underlines the point we made already, that a symbol’s
meaning is not fixed, but is relative, changing, subjective, and contextual. That’s what makes it a
symbol.

Part of our job as Christians is to take what has fallen and been distorted, including myths and
symbols, and to redeem it. Christmas, Easter, and even the griffin are examples of this, but the same
could also be said of classical education itself, which was “invented” by the Greeks but redeemed
and “made right” by the Christians. Likewise, when we look at this mascot, we see biblical imagery, not
pagan mythology (see Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians about the acceptability of meat offered
to pagan idols for a similar issue facing the early church).

The fact is, there is no mascot we will ever be able to choose for our school that, symbologically speaking, is without possible taint. However, as we have chosen the griffin – Griff the Griffin! – our hope is that our community and others recognize our mascot as one that symbolizes our
aspiration to pursue, to love, and to guard treasure and priceless possessions like Knowledge,
Wisdom, Goodness, and Beauty.

What Are You Learning?

In Educators, Veritas on September 5, 2012 at 2:55 pm


WiseowlYesterday, instead of the usual opening dialogue of "What's going well?" and "What's going wrong?" I asked our Admin Team a different question to kick off our weekly meeting: "What are you learning?" We took a few seconds to contemplate personally, then after a few semi-serious lessons shared, we got down to brass tacks. I won't speak for the team as to their insights, but I'm glad to let you in on what I shared.

Put simply, after what so many in our Veritas community (faculty, staff, parent, even student) have mentioned as being a very smooth start to our school year, I'm learning that, personally, I can run the risk of being too comfortable and content improving where we are rather than pushing us forward to where we want to go.

For instance, I really don't mind setting up chairs and tables each day when I know that doing so is part of a larger routine/system that will enable others to be able to do their jobs faithfully. And it's a joy checking the WISE Facebook page and quickly answering a question or providing an important link to our website that solves everything for a semi-desperate parent. And there are few greater thrills than just being available for a conversation with faculty and staff members about something they're trying to figure out and, after listening and trying to understand, asking a question or making a suggestion that seems to help.

I could do all of this all day long, but I'm learning that the good can quickly become the enemy of the best if I'm not careful. For me to plateau in chair-setting or Facebooking is not all that Veritas needs if we are to continue to move forward in our vision and mission. I need to be more focused on fundraising, more aggressive in finding new locations for more campuses, on the phone more with leaders in OKC getting the word out about our school, and more committed to spending time in prayer for the whole of our work.

Don't get me wrong: I'm grateful that I don't mind the ritual/liturgical aspects of my role, but while I don't mind them, I don't have the luxury of being able to default to them. I've asked our Admin Team to help me if/when they see me doing what's easy rather than what's necessary, as well as to say something when I'm doing too much of what others can or will do instead of what only I can do for the sake of our vision and mission.

That's what I'm learning, and I wanted to share it with you if/as you pray for me.

What are you learning?

At Last: The Beginning’s End

In Parents, Students, Veritas on August 31, 2012 at 3:29 pm


End AugustIt is with great joy that I declare August to
be officially over.

Perhaps you share my relief. It's not that I don't like
August as a month or think less of it than the others; nor do I have a silly
conviction (religious or otherwise) that bids me to boycott these 31 days
between end of July and beginning of September.

I'm just glad it's over. Do I have to have a reason? 

My friend, Bill
Petro
, has tracked down some history on this month of angst…er, August.
He writes:

"The name of this month wasn’t always August;
previously it was called Sextilis by the Romans. The Roman Senate, in 8
B.C., decided to honor their first Emperor, Augustus Caesar, by changing
the name of the month to Augustus. Now Augustus wasn’t his name; it was more of
a description of his importance. He was born as Gaius Octavius, though he is
known in the history books as Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, or
Octavius to his friends. The word augustus in Latin means 'venerable' or 'consecrated,' coming from the root augur which means to 'consecrate by
augury.' We use the term in English to describe someone auspicious, grand or
lordly…or with imperial qualities."

Auspicious? Grand? Lordly? With imperial qualities? August didn't feel like
any of those. I was thinking more along the lines of daunting, relentless,
unforgiving, and hot, but that's me. Yet as we finish up this month of
many adjectives, maybe it wasn't so bad. Maybe I need to think a little more in
terms of positive degrees:

  • We have a better-oriented parent and staff
    community than we had a month ago due to our WISE
    conferences
  • We have an athletic
    team
    that didn't exist back in July, as well as a new
    mascot
    that our students really seem to like
  • We have a new Portrait of a
    Graduate
    poster and advising resources
    that weren't around until this month
  • We've gotten to know each other more than we did
    even 31 days ago, which has to count for something

Most importantly, we have students – 20% more than last
year, in fact! – which is something we never take for
granted. 

Perhaps like Augustus, the important thing about the month
of August isn't its name but its significance as the month that officially
starts our school year. With few exceptions, we've had a good one, and I want
to say thanks to all of our parents, students, and staff for your part in it.
In God's sovereignty and only by his preserving grace, we are a part of
something very special.

Bring on Labor
Day
!

The WISE Parent Training Conferences

In Books, Educators, Parents, Pedagogy, Veritas on August 15, 2012 at 12:10 pm

VCA WISE Logo (Low Res)As a former conference director, I know firsthand the value of taking a day or two (or longer) to focus with likeminded others and attempt to learn, think, talk, feel, and do differently and (hopefully) better. The time can be challenging, but is almost always encouraging as well.

This past summer, through the generous contribution of our school community, 42 of our Veritas staff and parents experienced this challenge and camaraderie at the Association of Classical & Christian Schools conference in Dallas. Coming home, we all wanted our Veritas community to have the opportunity to participate in what we had experienced. Through a lot of hard work by so many, now they can.

I'm thrilled to have parents join us for our first ever WISE (Walking in Step Educationally) Parent Training Conference – a gathering we hope will become an annual event to help our families and our school continue to improve our unique blended model of classical Christian education. It’s important for us to be together for two reasons:

  1. We all need renewed clarity (and help) regarding our roles in this partnership. As a school, we are “in loco parentis” – in the place of parents, but not in place of parents. We would be wrong to assume more responsibility than appropriate in teaching these kids, but this has implications for parents in our blended model that they not abdicate their responsibility either. We all have much to continue to learn about the big picture and details of a blended model of classical Christian education.
  2. We all need the opportunity to renew our covenant with each other in our relationship. This is why we’ve asked our staff to join our parents in this time together to re-affirm (or affirm for the first time for all our new families and staff) our relational covenant with each other. To learn, think, talk, feel, or do any of this well, we need to be present together to do it – not just in the same location or in the same building, but in our hearts as well.

The WISE Conferences are our best shot at meeting both of these goals before school starts later this month. We hosted the first one at our North Campus last weekend, and this coming weekend is all about our Central Campus. My hope is that our steps both weekends will be only the first of many as we seek God along our classical Christian education journey.

Sounding the Trumpet of Communication

In Parents, Veritas, Web/Tech on July 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Trumpet

There's an important (and favorite) passage of Scripture that illustrates and reminds me of the value of communication in leadership. In Nehemiah 4:15-18, Nehemiah records:

"When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work. From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me."

As Head of School, I love the value Nehemiah places on communicating with those he is leading. He makes no apologies, nor justifies his actions; he just keeps the man who sounds the trumpet with him to communicate with those building the wall.

Besides basic email, we have multiple digital venues through which we try to communicate and interact with our Veritas community. None of these are meant to replace human interaction, but they are helpful in the interim between meetings. And, as long as we're careful that the technology serves us (and not the other way around), why not use these amazing tools for the Kingdom?

Information

Interaction

 

To be sure, it's a lot of work to keep up with all of these, and thankfully, I don't have to do so alone. But Nehemiah's example speaks as much as any biblical leader's as to the importance of communication in leading others, so I do need to make sure it happens.

Sure, we still put out some printed mailings here and there, and we've also created and put some quality physical pieces into people's hands about who we are and what we do. But everything is designed to direct folks to our digital communication tools as much as possible. This is where we can most consistently, quickly, and personally (to a degree) connect with folks as we – or they – have need to do so.

We're not perfect at it, and we certainly don't get everything right or always in the timeliest of manners (my personal inbox is currently a sad reminder of this reality), but Nehemiah's example continues to challenge me as we build Veritas.

Learning from Our Mistakes

In Educators, Parents, Pedagogy, Veritas on July 10, 2012 at 11:32 am

Facepalm_statue

Six month ago, I spoke with a very disheartened returning Veritas mom about her family's fall semester experience. She confessed that both she and her husband felt disorganized and lacked clear routines for their homedays, that their kids were unable to focus for any length of time alone, and that they wished they had taken more seriously the orientation help at the beginning of the year.

As we processed together, it was obvious they felt like failures. But it was also obvious we could do better helping them do better.

School starts in five-and-a-half weeks. Between now and then, all parents new to Veritas will take part in our new 2-day WISE Parent Conferences (North: August 10-11; Central, August 17-18) designed to orient them in the ways and nuances of Veritas.

But this orientation is not just for new families. Returning parents are required to join us for at least the second day of each conference, and will be welcomed (and encouraged) to join us for the whole time as well.

We've given great consideration to parent and staff suggestions, expanded the allotted time to interact with each other about intricacies of the blended model, and are confident that the conferences will be worth your time. (We wouldn't ask you to be a part if we weren't.)

If you're a new parent, you already know you're going. However, if you're a returning parent, we need you to RSVP and let us know how much of the conference you plan to attend (at minimum, the Saturday that goes with your respective campus…or more). We've made the process simple and quick.

Returning families, don't make the mistake in thinking you've "got" this. Every year is different, and the more we can prepare each other for this reality, the better off we're all sure to be. Learn more about the WISE Conferences. See you in August!