Mammon Academy

So let us continue a bit more on the funding of classical Christian schools. We are moving into the second generation of ACCS schools and, believe it or not, our biggest challenge in that second generation is going to be Mammon.

This might be hard to believe because we are living in the seventh year of Obama’s skinny cow, and no Joseph in sight. In addition, many of our schools are still in the start-up throes, and the pending obligation of each payroll is yet another adventure in faith. So where do I get off saying that our next biggest challenge is going to be the temptation to turn your school into Mammon Academy?

First, this is the way the devil works. He tries to destroy you first with failure, and if that doesn’t work, he pulls out his big gun, which is to destroy you with success. So every school that survives past the presence of their founders will face this challenge — because this is how the world works. The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who had seen the great works of the Lord (Judg. 2:7).

Second, living in community it is always easy to see what other people ought to be doing. Do parents need to “buy in” to the idea of Christian education, to the point of sacrifice? Yes, they do. But the way to motivate people to sacrifice is not to demand that they do so, but rather to show them how. The school itself should be a standing model of that sacrifice.

If you jack tuition up for the sake of showing parents how to sacrifice, what you will actually get is a bunch of parents for whom high tuition payments are not a sacrifice, and you will have turned your school into a rich kids’ academy. You will have a glorious building, and it will attract parents whose first priority is a toney building, and whose fifth priority, when it can be found, is a rigorous Christian worldview for their kids.

Third, it takes great wisdom — more than we usually have — to grasp the lesson of unintended consequences. We have our intended consequences, and so we raise tuition in order to raise revenue. We do so, and revenue goes down because we have started to price ourselves out of the market. But almost never will those who suggested raising tuition to raise revenue propose lowering tuition in order to raise revenue. This is the Laffer curve applied in the private sector. If the tax rate were raised to one hundred percent, tax revenue would be zero. Lowering the tax rate would therefore cause an increase in revenue. In the private sector, would you rather sell a thousand units with a three dollar profit on each one, or one unit with a five thousand dollar profit on that sale, provided you sell it, which you probably won’t?

And last, a godly education costs a certain amount — objectively — to deliver. That cost for most schools is covered from three sources — the parents, the teachers, and the patrons. The parents pay tuition, the teachers accept a lower salary than what they could get in the government school, and the patrons write checks and buy things at annual auctions.

When a school goes to the one hundred percent tuition model, then the cost is moved from three sources to one — it will now be borne by the parents. But if you move the costs from three sources to one, I don’t believe that would be possible to do without changing the nature of the entire enterprise. Not only will you get a different class of parents, you will also get a different caliber of teacher, motivated differently. You will get a different kind of patron, as in nonexistent.

So if I were in a position to dispense millions, and I was thinking of endowing a school, I would not give a gift that would take the tuition down to zero. That would create a parental culture of entitlement and freeloading. The parents need to pay tuition as a pay of taking ownership and responsibility. But neither would I endow the teachers’ fund to an extent that would tempt them to start teaching for different reasons. The entitlement mentality is slippery, and can creep in anywhere.

If I were in a position to support classical Christian education with millions, I would certainly do so. But when God gives us Mammon — unrighteous Mammon, as Jesus called it — He prints His instructions for us on the side of it. Unfortunately, it is on the side of a lit stick of dynamite, which makes it hard for us to concentrate on our reading.

The gift would have to be given in all wisdom, which means that it would have to be configured in such a way as not to lead to the destructiveness of success.

Theology That Bites Back



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  • david mullen

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  • carole

    At Logos and other ACCS schools, is the parental sacrifice solely financial? Do you require parental time and labor at the school at all or is it completely a drop off program? 

  • Douglas Wilson

    Carole, we don’t require a certain amount of time from the parents, but we invite it — and get a great deal of it.

  • Darrin Schmidt

    Doug thank you for these posts they been very enlightening for parent with three kids at The Oaks.

  • Jill Smith

    In my early twenties, I spent two years teaching in a Catholic high school which teetered on the brink of financial ruin.  The physical plant was Spartan, there were seldom enough books to go round, equipment was a blackboard and a limited supply of chalk, and PE was by necessity limited to a jog around the perimeter of the parking lot.  Yet the teaching was the best I have ever seen.  When I look back and wonder why I was willing to accept starvation wages to work there, it was because of the sense that we were bringing to life a noble ideal of intellectual and spiritual education.  The commonality was that everyone involved in the endeavor–parents, students, teachers–believed they were blessed to be a part of it.  It was difficult.  It was sacrificial.  And it was fun.  There was a joy in reading Shelley under the oak trees on a hot day, with students huddled two to a book, that I never found again in well equipped, affluent classrooms.  Part of it was the fact that, as long as we were faithful to the teachings of the church, we as teachers were given enormous liberty to develop curriculum and decide how it should be taught.  Many teachers today may be paid very well but they are in the role of parrots following scripted lessons, and this must be soul destroying to someone whose passion is to teach.//I think another factor is that most of us were young and single.  We worked maniacally and put in the kind of hours that would not be possible for anyone who had domestic responsibilities.  I could not have kept up that kind of white-hot intensity for a lifetime, and I often wonder if teaching could sometimes be seen as a temporary commitment to which one devotes one’s entire life at a time when one is free from other duties.  That school receives government funding now, and I wonder what has been lost as well as gained.

  • John Heaton

    Hey, there…I’ve been lurking around here for years, reading, but mostly chuckling at how funny Douglas is…but now>>>
    Doug says: But if you move the costs from three sources to one, I don’t believe that would be possible to do without changing the nature of the entire enterprise. Not only will you get a different class of parents, you will also get a different caliber of teacher, motivated differently. You will get a different kind of patron, as in nonexistent.
    And I say…Maybe, maybe not.  We do make parents pay 100% of the freight and all operations are funded with “hard” money.  Frankly, it’s harder to raise money to cover shortfall expenses for other people’s children.  But the way we prevent mission drift to becoming the “rich kids” school is by giving away heaps of scholarships in an amount equal to 10% (tithe) of our operating budget.  This benefits 25% of our school families in tuition assistance.  As the for patrons – they are here in force.  They like paying for bricks; not the light bill.
    My $.02.
    John Heaton

  • Katie

    I have wondered about how low teachers’ salaries may contribute to a dearth of male teachers. My husband taught at a classical Christian school about 10 years ago – I can’t imagine raising our four boys now on his salary. But then, if we want those boys in such a school eventually, we’d like them to be around some godly male teachers – who can support their own families.

  • Robert

    Katie brings up a good point

  • Andrew Lohr

    Expensive schools can have patrons–McCallie School in Chattanooga, $20,000 or so per year?, was given $30,000,000 by alumnus Ted Turner, and Harvard does not lack endowment.  (Details subject to correction).  /  /  /  /  /  /  Re sex lines, “J” asked Doug the top three challenges for the church right now–sex lines being 1–and I didn’t see Doug answer?

  • Douglas Wilson

    John H, thanks for the comments. I would actually regard what you are doing as a hybrid, and hope to interact with that approach in a future installment. But like I said in the first post, this is all a matter of applied wisdom — and location and history matter to it.

  • Douglas Wilson

    Andrew, sorry. I meant to answer J’s question and got distracted. The issues are all intertwined, but the other two would be the suffocating state and the need for reformation in Christian worship.

  • David Douglas

    Doug, I am very much looking forward to this series but I’m a little puzzled by this comment:  “But neither would I endow the teachers’ fund to an extent that would tempt them to start teaching for different reasons. ”  It sounds like you don’t want them to be paid in accordance with their skills, their market value, and christian generousity…in order to provide the proper motivation and remove an occupational temptation// Similar logic, it seems to me, can be applied to pastors, some of whom, you have written, are attracted to a job with little heavy lifting.  You have written as well of underfundd pastors slogging it out who will be compensated aright in that final day.  Seems like the church board would simply applying the above logic to remove the temptation of improperly motivated pastors.  Yet, as I recall, you spoke of the pastor with aprobation, but the church board…not so much.//  It further seems to me that this would be a reason not to show christian generousity in any number of areas, something you faithfully write about and faithfully exhort us to be like our Father.//Doesn’t this possibility simply argue for hiring the best people with the best character, at a generous wage and exhorting them to excell still more and beware of temptation.  And possibly reviewing their contract, and motives, regularly?

  • David C Moody

    Pastor Wilson, I would still argue that our expectations nowadays are for a certain setup that desires prestigious buildings and a prestigious setup rather than a setup that ensures a good education.  For example, 200 years ago a one-room schoolhouse was not out of the ordinary, and very high quality education took place in that schoolhouse.  200 years ago Friedrich Froebels was educated in a system where the assistant pastor and the choirmaster taught all the classes for the school.  The church salaries (the tithe) covered the cost of the education.  But, nowadays, if you have a school in a one-room school building, if the assistant pastor ran the school (and charged a tuition price to increase his personal salary), *most* people would not want the school because (1) each grade didn’t have a different teacher, (2) there was no large soccer/baseball/football fields and no nice gymnasium, (3) there would be no science experiment classrooms, etc.  We are used to schools that look like the public schools, and we aren’t ready to exchange the appearance of schools now for the appearance of schools 200 years ago.  We want our Christian schools to be big like the public schools.  We want prestige.  But those prestigious looks have come by stealing from people through property tax.  A system based on legitimately making its money will never succeed financially the way a system based on stealing money will succeed.  The education going on inside the school is what is important, and finding ways to cut the costs from brick and mortar and funnel the extra money to save parents on tuition costs and to increase the salaries of the teachers would go a long way towards making the schools sustainable.  But we might have to give up the baseball field.  Or we might have to combine three grades into one class.  Or we might have to pay one person to teach history to the entire high school at the same time.  But, whatever we have to do, we can (1) provide a biblical education and (2) make it affordable and (3) make it possible for our teachers to support themselves and save money without barely skating by.  In the end, that is worth more than big buildings which let us *compete* in prestige with the public schools.

  • carole

    David, I really appreciate your comments and strongly agree that both Christian schools and Homeschools/ church co-ops etc continue to model themselves after public schools.  This is seemingly  a hard habit to break, from grade levels,  to the start and end times of a school day which rarely fit schedules, summers off when there is persuasive evidence for not having kids out of school in the summer.    Even many Christian and Classical schools seem to be back sliding from the trivium into a more government school curriculum.   I just want to highlight this point of yours because I think it is tremendously important, and would love the pastor to discuss it.

  • Douglas Wilson

    David Douglas, fair point. I will try to address it coming up.

  • Mrs. Miller

    My father has been the science teacher at Logoa for 20 years.  He left career in the public schools, took a staggering pay cut, and took a step of faith with my mother and their then six (later eight) children.  For my father, this decision was not based on whether or not he would be getting a ‘competitive wage’ or being paid according to his education or skills.  Then, as he still does today, he viewed this calling as a ministry.
    His concern today is that paying a ‘competitive’ wage brings teachers for the wrong reasons as Doug said– people looking for a ‘good career’ and not people who view their work as ministry.  The idea of choosing to be a Christian school teacher because ‘you can make good money’ is something that he believes will not bring the kind of teachers the school needs.
    God has been very faithful to my parents and they have been richly blessed for their financial sacrifices.  My dad, still a teacher paid well below the salary he would be receiving had he stayed in the public school system, would be the last person to wish to heavily burden parents and exclude less the less privileged in order to increase his own salary.

  • Mrs. Miller

    That would be Logos, not Logoa :/.

  • carole

    I only just noticed the Logos Recitation program.  Has that always been there?  Do you plan to extend this program to the Logic stage and above?    This is the kind of program we would like to begin at our church.  There is a large “successful” co-op in my town, which while it has large numbers does not provide rigor, consistent Christian worldview and persistently falls into modeling itself after public school.

  • Melody

    Oh boy! I could write a lot about Christian schools, having spent three years teaching at a K-8 and five years at a prestigious 9-12 and another 19 years at three different pubic high schools.  My overall observation, however, is this:  what is happening at home will carry far more weight with the child than what is happening at school, whether Christian or public.  No matter where you go, there you are. The “…train up a child…” verse is a mandate to parents and is not to be put off on a school.

  • carole

    I have similar experience and agree Melody with the caveat that if a parent puts off the mandate to the school, and they put it on the public school, they can be sure that the results will not at all be what the mandate requires.  A welfare education will not raise a child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Plain and simple.

  • Robert

    Most of what is taught in any home is not academic in nature

  • carole

    Robert, it is when the children are homeschooled.

  • Melody

    Robert, my point is that the worldview of the parents is ingrained upon the children regardless of the academic instruction.  The parents accomplish this through both word and deed.  Children who receive mixed messages from their parents between these two will most likely choose the less Godly route for their life regardless of the source of academic instruction.  And Carole, as much as I support homeschooling, my observation of the many families I am intimately familiar with (both relatives and friends of mine) is that the same thing is true here as well.  I know a sad number of Christian homeschooled kids – now adults- who have turned their backs on the God that their parents worked so hard to instill in them.  The one thing we are so weak in letting our kids know is “…straight is the gate and narrow is the way, and few there be that find it…”.  In other words, God has no grandchildren. I know kids who were educated in public schools in the same time frame who, because of their Godly parents that prayed over them every night while they were sleeping, have become God-fearing, nurturing parents themselves.  Quite a conundrum.

  • carole

    How interesting, Melody.  I agree that children who receive mixed messages have a greater chance of falling out of the covenant, but my own experience with families has proven that the more time children spend with other Christian families, not receiving the world’s views and beliefs, the likelier they are to stay faithful.  They most certainly will be receiving mixed messages if they receive state assistance for education.

  • Robert

    Melody and Carole, my observation is that neighbor children are extremely influential as well. You don’t have to go to school with them to be influenced

  • carole

    And of course, God can save children no matter how they are brought up or where they are brought up, but if the discussion is how to best fulfill the mandate, I don’t believe a parent can in good conscience send a child to the government to be educated and still follow the duty of raising up his child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.