I have been writing on distance learning, and how, while it provides some important things, like information, it is utterly incapable of providing other things, like how to deal with people. In a learning community, in a school or college, your fellow students are people, your teachers are people, the administration is made up of people, and, as it turns out, so is the board. And just to make things more interesting, we have to reckon with the fact that all these people are sinful people, who have not yet attained to the perfections they will display on the day of resurrection. And, more’s the pity, neither have we attained to that blessed state.
But living in believing community is one of the central instruments that a loving God has given to us to prepare us for that great day. Living among fellow sinners, learning how to deal with it properly, is the principal form of industrial grade sandpaper that the Holy Spirit uses on us. But many pietists, including many educational perfectionists, withdraw from that treatment, shrinking from it, and all in the name of maintaining their smooth surfaces. But hiding the rough cut lumber in an unlit shed is not the same thing as sanding.
Allow me to come at this from another angle, and address for a moment what I consider to have been one of the top blessings that our family benefited from as our three children wound their way through their many years at Logos School and New St. Andrews College. It was the blessing of countless micro-battles with their classmates; it was the blessing of learning how to stand up against unhelpful peer pressure, as well as the flip side of this, which is the lesson of learning how to exert godly peer pressure.
It is important to note that these are micro-battles with Christian kids in superb Christian schools, and with other kids who will grow up to be fine communicant members of orthodox Christian churches. These are micro-battles in learning leadership, not macro-battles with orcs.
One time after he graduated, my son was talking with some boys at Logos, and he asked them what the current hot movie was among their peers. They told him, and naturally it was some atrocious thing or other, I forget which one. He then asked them what this told them. The answer was that “their standards are not very good.” Nate replied that what it really said was these boys who were disapproving of those standards weren’t the leaders in their class. If they were leaders, some of the kids would still go off and watch Screen Gunk, but they would be ashamed to bring it up to their class — because of all the hooting that would follow.
Over the years, I have observed class after class at Logos, and — with regard to this issue — you can put a bell curve on every class. Every class has a bunch of kids who “get it” and bunch of kids who “don’t get it.” Now remember that a bell curve is a relative thing — the kids who “don’t get it” at Logos are not in the same class with the kids who “don’t get it” in some inner city school where the teacher has to teach from behind a cage.
The character of each class as a whole is determined by which half of the bell curve the leaders are in. The kids with some force of personality or charisma will fall on one side or the other. If the leaders are among the kids who don’t get it, the kids who get it don’t evaporate, but they do keep their heads down. If the leaders are among the kids who get it, the kids who don’t get it don’t evaporate either, but they do keep their heads down.
This is how classes determine their class character. The leadership may be formal, and it may not be. Sometimes the class president, the one who organizes the parties, is the spiritual thermostat for the class, but not necessarily.
Now, at Logos, there are classes where the kids don’t take full opportunity to learn what it means to lead, shape, and direct in the way they ought to learn it. The lesson is available to learn, and is right there on the surface, every day. Nancy and I spent years debriefing the kids at the dinner table, talking about what to do on the playground when this happened, and what to say in the classroom when that happened. This included dealing with biblical failings in teachers sometimes, as well as among fellow students, and it meant dealing with failings in our own kids. “Next time something like this happens . . .”
In order for this to work, the parents have to have a genuinely open relationship with the kids, and in order to have that, the parents have to have the full and complete loyalty of their kids. We are in this as a family, and we deal with it as a family.
Like I said, the fact that this profoundly important lesson can be learned in a good Christian school doesn’t mean that it will be learned. It sometimes isn’t, and the opportunity flies past. But when a student gets his education from books and an online tutor, the opportunity is never there. This lesson is not in the curriculum at all. There is a difference between a missed opportunity and a non-existent one.
As I have mentioned before, NSA is a college that is friendly to and supportive of applicants who have not come to us from a traditional school. Many have come to us from distance learning situations, and we are the first place they have been in where the student next to them physically has a winsome face, and after class suggests that they go and do something perfectly idiotic. Now a number of these students who have come to us have been superb students, and have done quite well. But there have been more than a few who don’t have any earthly idea about the biblical way to stand up to someone, about anything.
This would not have been fixed if their parents just enrolled them in a good school. It might not have been. But it would have been fixed if their parents “enrolled in the school with them,” if you know what I mean, and the dinner table every night was a jolly place for roast beef, mashed potatoes, friendship, laughter, casuistry, ice cream, and all followed with Narnia readings.
Let me finish with one illustration of the kind of thing you should be looking to create. One time when our youngest daughter Rachel was in junior high, we let her go to a youth group event at another church with a friend from school. In the course of the meeting, one of the songs was “Spring Up, O Well,” containing the verse about the blood of Christ, along with all the splish-splash hand motions. Our kids knew that, as far as our family was concerned, that kind of thing was, as my girls would put it, “not okay.” The youth leader noticed that Rachel was not participating, and so he called her out — Rachel needed to get into it more, and so they were all going to sing it again, with Rachel leading in all the hand motions. And so Rachel refused, the youth leader pressed it, and she said that she couldn’t do it because it was disrespectful. This is the kind of thing you are after, and I can’t remember the number of times our kids had the occasion to exhibit this kind of backbone.
Many would say that our kids must be full of beans anyhow, and so the whole thing must be dependent on the luck of the draw. Yes, our kids are full of beans, and that means they know how to throw down. But what we are talking about here is one of the principal glories of education, which is that learning how to throw down with biblical standards and in biblical ways. And that is found, not in the luck of the draw, but in the words, “That was good, son. Next time . . .” If you want a sample of that kind of inspired dinner table conversation, look to the book of Proverbs.
If we had been in a situation where our kids were doing distance learning (which parents who are in that kind of situation should do), a central part of their education would still have gone missing.