Because life is a series of edits

Archive for the ‘Veritas’ Category

Encouragement by Association

In Educators, Veritas on June 22, 2012 at 10:35 pm

ACCS Crowd

I love association conferences. Back in the day, I cut my teeth on what were then the Christian Camping International (CCI) – now Christian Camp and Conference Association (3CA) – annual gatherings in cities like Seattle, Denver, St. Louis, San Diego. These past three days, I've been at the Association of Classical & Christian Schools conference in Dallas (I attended and wrote about last year's ACCS conference in Atlanta here), but this time I've brought 42 of our Veritas staff and parents to keep me company (34 of them are pictured below).

ACCS

Annual association conferences are helpful for a variety of reasons, but here are some specific thoughts with regard to my role and context:

1) Coming on the heels of my first year at Veritas, the timing and location of this year's conference being in Dallas has been especially helpful. A year ago would have been too early, as I didn't know what I didn't know; next year would have been too late as I might have missed some urgency of key foundational aspects of my tenure as Head of School.

2) At every association conference – regardless of context – I'm always reminded of how much relational dysfunction can still exist within Christian organizations. Thankfully, in my years in Christian camping/conferencing and now in Christian schooling, I've been privileged to be at both a camp/conference center and school that, while not having yet arrived in terms of all the nuts and bolts of our work, were much further down the road in terms of interpersonal practice and relational maturity. This didn't/doesn't mean we didn't/don't have issues, but we did/do have processes to work through them.

3) Being an affirmation junkie, I'm always looking for encouragement that I/we just might be thinking about the right things and moving in the right directions, at least as far as more experienced and established leaders/schools are concerned. I haven't spent all my time comparing and constrasting every move we have or haven't made, but there have been occasions – many this week – when I've heard a story or point of fact and felt affirmed that we're really doing okay in more areas than I often let myself believe.

4) That said, I've experienced more than one paradigm nudge/shift as a result of being here. Douglas Wilson challenged me to avoid the extremes of both ends of the Founding Fathers' Christianity debate (complete and total Christians/complete and total Deists); Tom Garfield raised some flags on my idealism that we as a school can somehow make up for parents' lack of desire/diligence in carrying out their God-given responsibility to educate their kids; and our Veritas staff and parents inspired and convicted me that I want to work harder to become more of what they need as a clear-thinking, passionate-loving shepherd for them.

5) I'm also newly aware of just how far I have to go to be more classical and Christian in how I live and lead as a Head of School; neither comes naturally (the former due to a lack of experience; the latter due to a lack of sanctification), and it can be intimidating listening to Wilson and others, for whom both seem much more hand-in-glove. I'm humbled by the way God has gifted and blessed these men academically and theologically, and long to see Him do similarly in me.

It's been a good several days – made better (and only a little more complicated) by having Megan and the girls with me. Megan has attended and enjoyed the conference very much, while the girls have had the run of the InterContinental Hotel while we've been in meetings. We've had lunches together in our room and eaten out dinners before swimming in the hotel pool in the evenings. They've read some books, watched some cartoons, and seemed to have fun (most of the time) hanging out as sisters.

As Douglas Wilson reminded us, "The goal of a leader is to have thick skin and a tender heart, not tender skin and a thick heart." This year's conference has helped me with both, and I'm grateful to our Veritas community for their generosity in providing the funds for us to come, as well as to ACCS for providing something good to come to.

To Whom Shall Educators Go?

In Educators, Parents, Students, Veritas on April 26, 2012 at 9:55 am

Wednesday was a bad news day.

From the morning edition of The Oklahoman to that night's national and local newscasts, there was a lot I (Craig) found myself sighing over: a middle schooler in Enid gets beaten unconscious at school; a teacher aide (who actually worked with a friend of mine) at Southmoore high school is caught sexting photos of herself to sophomores.

To top it off, I got an email from a colleague at my former school telling me about a senior prank gone wrong. Apparently, the Head of School's email was hacked and the following message sent to the entire parent community:

"We would like to inform you of some small changes that will take place, this year, regarding Junior/Senior Banquet. As servants of God, we strive to protect our community. For this reason, we have arranged for condoms to be available at this event. Every male student attending will have the option of taking a complementary condom at the door. This is to encourage our students to practice safe sex. We hope that by doing this, we can set a positive example, so that other schools may recognize our efforts and take action against sexually transmitted diseases. Thank you, and have a blessed day."

Sometimes it's hard to see God at work, particularly in our schools and especially despite our human capability to really mess things up. And yet I read a quote on Wednesday from United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon that was particularly helpful in the midst of trying to do some good in the midst of that bad news day. Willimon wrote: "Scripture teaches that time and again, God refuses to be stumped by our inadequacies. Therein is our hope."

Indeed, therein is our hope. "Whom have I in heaven but you?," wrote the psalmist, "And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you" (Psalm 73:25). John records that, "Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).

With four weeks to go, I take comfort that any hope we have cannot be in ourselves – which of us this time of year has anything left to hope in? In the face of what's ahead, let's confess to God, each other, and ourselves where our true and only hope is: in Christ, his love, and his grace. Pray this for yourself, your students, and our families.

This is what I'm praying for all of us these next four weeks.

Who Knew I Married Such a Party Girl?

In Oklahoma City, Veritas on April 23, 2012 at 10:40 am

We were a part of history (in more ways than one) at our first-ever 40's-themed Veritas Classical Academy Spring Swing. Our students had a great time, and Megan and I even got into the act (she perhaps more than me, as seen below). Who knew I married such a party girl?

(Thanks to Holly Martin at HJM Images for the great shots! Click here for more.)

Veritas Video Goodness

In Parents, Pedagogy, Students, Veritas on April 3, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Really proud of these videos produced for our Constructing the Vision banquet in March. Thanks to Veritas parent Jody Wickersham and all our parents, faculty, staff, and students for their good thoughts and inspiring examples.

Best Angry Email Ever

In Education, Veritas on February 20, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Just to give you an idea of some of the characters within our Veritas Classical Academy community, I have to share this email that one of our Veritas moms sent me as a joke on the front end of her actual email, which was a very nice thank you note.

Mr. Dunham,

I would like to meet with you discussing restructuring the curriculum at Veritas. In my vast motherhood experience I feel I know much more what is best from an academic standpoint. I would like you to cancel all your meetings tomorrow as I have a 78-page Power Point presentation to present to you, along with visual aids and child participation for examples.

I also contacted a food distributor as I have decided to campaign for fried school lunches as part of the North campus. In addition, I plan to bring in many professors of different religions to help shape worldview. After that, I plan to let public high schoolers come in and teach electives, as, after all, they know more about our culture then we do.

And lastly, I have rounded up a posse of very angry mothers who would also like some face time.

Get back to me yesterday,

A Veritas Mom

When a parent feels comfortable enough to joke around like this, that's a really healthy thing in my book.

Fun people, our parents. Fun people.

(Note: Identity has been kept anonymous to protect the guilty.)

A Dispatch from January

In Books, Calling, Church, Education, Family, Movies, Oklahoma City, Places, Pop Culture, Sports, Television, TV, Veritas, Young Ones on January 21, 2012 at 8:03 am

I have over 150 "have-to-answer" emails in my inbox, so it would seem a good time to work on the blog. (I'll just think of this as a warm-up rather than a put-off. Note: If you're waiting on an email from me, it will come today). Some items of late to mark the days:

I just finished two books, both with a financial theme: The Price of Everything, a parable of economic emergent order, by Russell Roberts, and The Third Conversion, a "novelette" by R. Scott Rodin about fundraising as ministry and not just money. The first book is a very readable text that our seniors are reading in Economics; the second is a more semi-hokey series of conversations between a seasoned fundraiser and his up-and-coming protege.

While recovering from my first kidney stone surgery, I found myself with some time to actually watch a few things on Netflix via the iPad. I'd heard of Joss Whedon's Firefly series (only one season of 15 episodes, capped off for resolution by the movie, Serenity) and enjoyed this "space western" well enough. I also had time for a few Shakespeare films (Kenneth Branaugh's Henry V and Patrick Stewart in Macbeth were excellent), which were fun and novel to watch.

There's been a lot of "launching" going on this January. A week ago, City Pres got off the ground with our first official worship service (I helped serve the Lord's Supper) and our Tuesday night CityGroup started back up; this past week, we kicked off our Veritas capital campaign and website, which we hope will come to first fruition in early March; and I've  enjoyed getting back in the classroom twice a week teaching the second semester of our senior American History course (two very different but engaging texts: A Patriot's History of the United States by Larry Schwiekart and Michaell Allen and A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn).

Other highlights so far this month: 70-degree weather, my four capitalist daughters selling three (and counting) enormous boxes worth of chocolate for their homeschool band program, Megan clearing off and cleaning my desk (she loves me), NFL football playoffs (which is really the only time I'm interested enough to watch), the daily newspaper in my driveway, cold milk on hand, and people who call me "friend".

Okay. Guess it's time to deal with email, to which I say (in my best British accent): "Do your worst!" Thanks for reading.

Blended Model Education (in a Perfect World)

In Education, Family, Movies, Veritas, Young Ones on October 18, 2011 at 7:11 am

Our Veritas Online Home Day Film Festival launches today. Here’s the intro video Megan, the girls, and I put together this past weekend to officially kick it off. Enjoy.

Some Blessings…No Turning Back

In Calling, Church, Education, Family, Friends, Marriage, Places, Veritas, Young Ones on September 20, 2011 at 9:46 pm

A couple weeks ago, I lamented that I had Some Regrets…No Doubts about our move to Oklahoma. As promised at the end of that entry, it's time to write the follow-up post.

Today marks 100 days on the job as Head of School of Veritas Classical Academy. In making it this far, I've been so grateful for the kindness, care, and friendship shown to my family, and the many prayers and expressions of support for my leadership at Veritas. During the past 100 days, I’ve listened – to parents and students, to faculty and staff, to our Board of Directors and the Lord – to learn what of the past seven years has made the school who we are now, all while planning and positioning us for the next seven (and beyond). It's been incredibly challenging, but as personally fulfilling as anything I've done.

I love getting to see my kids during their school days, but strangely, this has been more awkward for me than for them. During the first week, I felt really embarrassed for them when they saw me and ran up and hugged me during the day. I wonder how long their enthusiasm for Dad will last, but since they don't seem to mind or feel pressure to behave differently, I'm happy to let it continue as long as it will (I just need to get used to it).

DSC_0117

In addition to my own kids, I'm enjoying the other 243 students enrolled at our two campuses. While I'm still learning names and trying desperately to keep up with everything required to run a school, the kids have been kind and open with me, as have many of their parents. One particularly enjoyable bunch of students is my Headmaster's Conclave, a lunch group of juniors and seniors. We meet every other week to talk about their studies, their lives, and their perspectives on how we can improve Veritas. It's been enlightening to hear from them (and they've been more than willing to provide "the new guy" with their honest thoughts).

Craig with VCA Students (72 dpi)

I could go on – about our teaching staff (all of whom I love); about our administrative team (all of whom are so committed to the school); about our board of directors (all of whom I feel safe with); and about classical Christian education (all of which I am learning so much, but still have so much to learn). It's been great – really exhausting, but great.

On the non-school front, I'm encouraged with the relationships we're beginning to cultivate in our neighborhood, which has thankfully turned out to be much more socially and ethnically diverse than I imagined. Over Labor Day weekend, we organized a cul-de-sac party and over 30 people turned out, many of whom had lived here for years and were re-introducing themselves to each other as they had just not kept up over time. The girls have made friends in the neighborhood and the weather has finally cooled off to make being outside an option (though actually being home remains my biggest challenge).

Cul-de-sac

As you may know, one of the other reasons we moved to OKC was to help my college roommate/co-author, Doug Serven, plant City Presbyterian, the first PCA church in the Oklahoma City limits. Here's a picture from one of our first leadership meetings in June:

Church Plant Couples

And here's a picture from our first "preview" worship service this past Sunday evening:

As you can see, our chairs runneth over. Granted, not all of these people are going to stick around as part of City Pres (several were simply well-wishers from other churches while others were there to see one of the nine baptisms that took place), but it was fun to pull everything together and provide an opportunity for folks to hear the Scriptures proclaimed, to partake in the sacraments of communion and baptism, and to visualize the future of Oklahoma City with a Reformed church in its downtown.

As we don't anticipate formally launching a weekly service until perhaps the spring, we'll be meeting in City Groups (ours meets on Tuesday evenings) and in Sunday night vision rallies until then. However, it was especially fun for me to see Megan enjoy offering of her behind-the-scenes gifts of service and hospitality (not to mention picture-taking), as well as see our girls jump in and help set up, pull off, and pick up after the service. Having been dragged along to so many of the leadership meetings over the summer, they felt real ownership for the service and the church, which was hugely exciting.

In thinking through all of this – school, neighborhood, church, family – I keep coming back to Psalm 16, which has, for the past six years or so, become one of my fortunate favorites:

    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.
(Psalm 16 ESV)

Some blessings…no turning back. Grateful to God for who he is and all he is doing.

Because We Apparently Need More to Do

In Calling, Education, Family, Internet, Technology, Veritas, Young Ones on August 23, 2011 at 7:12 pm

You may or may not have heard, but Megan and I have started writing a new blog together about our journey (past and present) through the world of classical education. The blog's called Docendo Discimus. Here's our angle on the name and idea:

Seneca "The philosopher Seneca (c. 4 BC-65 AD) offers us his counsel: 'Docendo discimus.' Translation: 'By teaching, we learn.' As we seek to provide our children with a classical Christian education, we hope to gain that which we did not experience in our own. Granted, it is probably more difficult now at our current stages of life due to slipping memories, full-time jobs, and possible mid-life plateaus, but it is not impossible, nor do we have to do it alone; hence this blog."

For more on our rationale, you can click here to get an idea of where we're going with it (and why). We're planning to write every Tuesday and Friday and, while what's up there now (a short series on what makes education Christian) is mine, Megan's planning to launch her first series from the homefront next week, so you won't want to miss that.

In addition to the new blog, we've also created a Twitter account to go with it. You'll find us tweeting about most things classical education at @PagingSeneca, so retweet us every now and then if what we write resonates with you.

Rest assured, we'll still continue writing individually at Second Drafts and Half-Pint House, but we're excited to be able to contribute to this new one together. So, check out the site and/or follow us on Twitter. Hope they help.

On Team

In Calling, Education, Oklahoma City, Theologians, Veritas on July 26, 2011 at 4:22 am

(insert cheesy picture of "get a hand in" motivational poster here)

I recently received an email from one of our staff that made me smile. Fresh out of a curriculum meeting with a couple other teachers, he wrote: "Our meeting today was phenomenal. I want to go teach the snot out of my students now!"

Team. You've heard the cliches (not to mention that there's no "I" in it), but have you experienced what it feels like to be part of one? If you have, you know why team matters; if you haven't, here are a couple things to think about:

Team matters because none of us are omni-competent…or omniscient…or omni-present…or omni-anything else. Team matters because God – in the form of the Trinity – is a team made up of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Oh, and team matters because it's fun. Even for the introverts among us, we need to feel the joy of something bigger – of a team, of a community – as the Body of Christ.

Last week, 30 or so staff and family members gathered at our house here in north OKC to meet each other, enjoy some eats, ask a few questions, and dream a little bit about the future of Veritas Classical Academy. I was reminded of Psalm 133:1, where David writes, "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!" The ESV gets it right by including "behold" – unity is indeed something that should draw our eye and captivate our thoughts, if for its rarity alone.

I recently came across this quote from C.S. Lewis: "It is not your business to succeed, but to do right; when you have done so, the rest lies with God." Unity and functioning as a team are "right" in God's eyes (think Trinity, think Psalm 133:1), and I can't help but be excited by what God might do in and through us as we go/grow together into the coming school year.

The next day, I wrote our staff about all this, encouraging them – even as we head into this last week of July – to meet with, work with, pray with, or just be with one other person as they thought about and prepared for this fall. If the examples and promises from the Scriptures aren't enough motivation, I said, maybe a little positive peer pressure will work: everybody's doing it (or will be) at Veritas!

(Note: Some books I might recommend on functioning as a team and in community: Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer; TrueFaced by Bill Thrall, John Lynch, and Bruce McNichol; and Connecting by Paul Stanley and Bobby Clinton.)

Listening for God’s “Rock” Voice

In Calling, Education, Family, Veritas, Young Ones on July 1, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Just sent this out to our Veritas families and staff and wondered if anyone here might like/want/need to read it as well:

This morning I was reading the prophet Zephaniah's book when I came across 3:17, which says,

"The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing."

Israel (now split into northern and southern kingdoms) continues to avoid returning to God and His covenant because of their sin, but God, through Zephaniah, clarifies their reality: they are in trouble, but He is in their midst and is able and willing to save them from themselves.

Does this reality describe your house as much as it does ours? As Megan and I parent, it seems we're often having to point out to our four girls when they are in trouble and remind them that we're here to help before they make things worse for themselves. (Truth be told, Megan and I sometimes have a similar version of this conversation with each other, but that's for another email…).

So we get discouraged. And we wonder if we know what we're doing. And we begin to convince each other that we don't. But since they're ours, well, we've got to figure it out. So what does figuring it out look like?

Figuring it out looks a lot like God's promised response to a repentant Israel: a rejoicing one; a loving and quieting one; an exultant one, complete with loud singing over them (this is not a lullaby; this is God's "rock" voice).

Megan and I are good at recognizing trouble, offering help, and warning our kids about their own sinful natures. But we have miles to go in celebrating their repentance, even more so in truly "rocking out" at their return to what's right.

Summers are a great time to re-evaluate a lot of things; parenting should be on that list. Let me encourage you to give thought to how you correct and train your kids…AND how you love and rejoice over them when they respond, too.

A Primer on Conferencing

In Books, Calling, Church, Education, Places, Thought, Veritas on June 16, 2011 at 9:38 pm

  Repairing the Ruins

I'm here in Atlanta with 944 other folks for the 17th annual Association of Classical and Christian Schools conference. It's quite a gathering, with some neat folks from all over the country in attendance, and I'm grateful for the chance to join them.

The schedule is pretty straightforward: morning plenary, two morning workshops, afternoon plenary, two afternoon workshops. Evenings are free to process or collapse, depending on your temperament. The stage is sparse and the visuals non-existent (two critiques I have of a conference with a workshop titled "The Imperative of Beauty and the Aesthetic Call"), but the facility is terrific, the content is great, and there's always plenty of people to watch and wonder about (like the guy who is the spitting image of Richard Dreyfuss as a young Glenn Holland in the film, Mr. Holland's Opus – weird).

Because I used to periodically attend conferences when I was with The Navigators (not to mention design and run them at Glen Eyrie), I've developed my own set of conference-going habits for taking part in these kinds of gatherings. Granted, this event is more professional than personal, but some guidelines still apply. For instance:

  • With regard to speaker notes, I don't bother filling in blanks or capturing every point speakers make; instead, I listen for quotables that strike me and capture them on paper or online, as those are what I'm more apt to remember and want to revisit (to follow my quotable tweets from this conference, go to Veritas' Twitter page).
  • Because conference-attending is a huge commitment not only of money but of time, I give myself permission to work on other tasks while listening. This doesn't work for everybody, but I'm primarily an auditory learner, so the plenary pedagogy works well enough for me (plus, I get some things done, and there's a lot of those things to do now that I'm one week into the role).
  • I also give myself permission to skip sessions I'm not interested in, switch workshops from ones that aren't well-prepared to others that are, and take needed naps to stay fresh because, let's face it, most conferences are overprogrammed with little time built in to process and play around with ideas otherwise.
  • I always try to identify 3-4 people – presenters, fellow conferees, people who just look interesting, etc. – with whom I can schedule individual meals and breaks before, during, and after sessions. While there are a couple of moderated group lunch discussions I plan to attend with an eye to content, I don't find those nearly as engaging as sitting down with someone eyeball-to-eyeball to ask questions, to listen, and to try to learn something specific.
  • Rarely do I stop and visit the vendor booths unless 1) there's something very, very specific I'm interested in, and 2) the vendors aren't there (this is the best time to pick up free promotional material without having to endure the spiels). Yes, I know this seems both non-curious and cruel, but they're getting their material into my hands…I'm just controlling the delivery system a bit.
  • Finally, I pray for Megan and the girls and keep in touch so they know that just because I'm away doesn't mean they're forgotten. I know from experience how hard it can be on a spouse holding down the fort while the other is traveling, enjoying some schedule autonomy, and experiencing new intellectual stimulation. This is probably why Megan and I talked tonight about her attending the ACCS conference in Dallas with me next June.

I thought about listing the sessions and workshops I'm planning to attend, but it might be more interesting to give you an idea of how weird (but wonderful) a world this whole classical Christian education is by listing a few of the more intriguing workshop titles:

  • Terque Quarterque Beati: Unpacking Virgil's Tripartite Soul
  • Everybody's Reading Boni Libri
  • Bring It (Don't Dumb It) Down: How to Teach a 12-Year-Old a Classic
  • I See Dead Lines: Cultivating Students' Sixth Sense Through Poetry
  • Progymnasmata in the Classroom

To quote presenter Douglas Wilson: "Books are the original distance-learning packets, but the Bible assumes true education within a godly community of others."

It's good to be here talking about Christian ideas from the classic books, and doing so in the context of others. Perhaps the greatest benefit of a classical Christian education can be summed up in this realization: I have much to learn.

And I do.