The Accidental Educator

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Through various accidents of time and other forces bigger than me, I have been involved in five educational enterprises. The first was Logos School, which we were involved in starting so our kids could have a place to attend school. The second was New St. Andrews College. The third was serving as an editor for the Omnibus textbook series (six texts total). The fourth, related to the first, has been Logos School Online, now open for registration regardless of where you happen to live. The fifth, underlying all of it, has been my own education (sorry, no link for that).

Let’s get that last one out of the way. I have sometimes seen people refer to me as an autodidact, and the point is not always raised with the intention of making me look good. But that is all right — the shot is a fair one. One of the results of all the reading I have done is that I have read many books written by men who were properly educated, and the phrase from that Paul Simon song comes to mind — “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.”

One of the central reasons I have been involved in education as much as I have been is so that my children and grandchildren will not have done to them what was done to me. I have been formally educated, up through an MA, but apart from the discipline of having to do whatever the tasks were, the value of that education has not been great. At the same time, as a stimulus to pursuing the issues raised in it from a biblical perspective, it was wonderful. As Mark Twain put it, “I’ve never let my school interfere with my education.” All that said, I know enough to know what true schools are capable of doing. I don’t have that, but I want to be an ancestor of people who do.

We started talking about starting a school when Bekah was a toddler. One day in the late seventies Nancy said something like this to me. “Doug, I can’t see taking Bekah and handing her over to someone we don’t know, someone who doesn’t know God, and saying, ‘Here she is. Educate her. Teach her about life.'” I didn’t know much about education — as in, virtually nothing — but I did know that I agreed with that. And so I assured Nancy that we would have a Christian school started by the time Bekah hit kindergarten. By the grace of God, Logos opened her kindergarten year.

Our fundamental commitment was to Christian education. That was the non-negotiable. But as we started to work through the issues, we came to the conviction that there were two kinds of private Christian academies we did not want. We didn’t want a fundamentalist reactionary academy, on the one hand, and we didn’t want a nominally Christian prep school on the other, so we came up with the motto “a classical and Christ-centered education.” Classical meant that it wasn’t going to be the reactionary academy, and Christ-centered meant that it wasn’t going to be some Judeo-Christian thing.

Somewhere around that time, I remembered that when I was in the Navy I had read an article in National Review called “The Lost Tools of Learning” by Dorothy Sayers. We knew what we were not going to do, which is not the same thing as knowing what you are going to do, and so we decided that we were going to try to implement what Sayers was talking about. That was the beginning of the resurgence of classical Christian education.

As we went, we learned more and more about it. But the big thing, the thing I can’t emphasize too much, is that even though we were educational pioneers, visionaries, entrepreneurs, and so forth, we didn’t trust ourselves. It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. The apostle Paul says this:

“For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Cor. 10:12).

We took this to heart, and applied external tests and standards to what we were attempting from the beginning. Daniel wouldn’t eat the king’s food, but he did let the king’s man test him (Dan. 1:12). We did not want to be found in the position of saying that what we were doing was wonderful because we were the ones doing it. We did not want to say that our educational theory was great, for the compelling reason that we had thought of it ourselves. We did not want to categorize ourselves as being pedagogically stalwart when actually we were being pedagogically pig-headed. We wanted to subject what we were doing to the authentication of actual results. This is another way of saying that we wanted our approach to be falsifiable. If it didn’t accomplish what we were shooting for, we wanted to be prepared to change.

By the sheer grace of God, we walked into an educational approach — what I have elsewhere called the Sayers Insight — that has produced remarkable results. These results are carefully monitored year by year, and as a consequence we are in a position to tell you exactly where our students rank in the larger scheme of things. We are not just playing baseball in an empty lot — we have a statistician in the dugout with us. And over all, in all the major categories, our students excel. At the same time — and this should surprise no one who lives in the real world — we are also aware of those places where we need to tighten up and improve. We always need to improve, and doing so is always a brisk walk uphill. We have discovered a great pedagogical method, not a magic place where entropy doesn’t exist.

It shouldn’t have worked out this way, because the blessing we received was a blessing unsought, but my kids received a first-rate education. And because generational blessings are the kind that compound, my grandkids are receiving a better one than what their parents received.

We are living in a time of educational foment, similar in many respects to the way it was back when we first got involved in this whole process. We were part of the first wave, and because of the digital revolution, there is now a second wave going on. But a gold rush is always a gold rush, and despite the difference in years, they have certain things in common. The point I am pressing here is that we must compare theories to theories and actual gold to actual gold. Never compare a theory of gold to actual gold. As far as we are concerned at Logos, the resultant competition has only brought us additional blessings. One of those blessings has been the ongoing need to make the case for what you are doing.

For those parents who are involved in making their educational choices, this is the essential thing. First, what is the big idea, what is the pedagogical concept? And secondly, how will you know if this is actually being accomplished? If you gave a bundle of cash to an investment broker, you should know, first, what he was going to do with it. You should also know, secondly, what means you were going to use to determine whether or not his prospectus had delivered on the promises made. And if this is the way it is with mere cash, how much more with your kids?

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9 years ago

As a parent – rather than a school principal, who would have different responsibilities – how do I compare my children’s performance with what it would have been if I’d sent them to public school?  Is there a place for setting your own goals and timing, depending what you’ve decided under God is important and also on your children – not need I add as an excuse to watch tv all day.  My child may be able to memorise great chunks of poetry and understand Shakespeare, despite learning to read late after years of phonics and be ‘behind’ in spelling.… Read more »

Ben Bowman
9 years ago

Doug, my wife and I have three children all under 4 and we are still undecided when it comes to home schooling vs public. Sending our kids to a public school would allow my wife to return to work which would add extra income, but I don’t want to sacrifice my children’s education on the alter of financial comfort. Any advice on how to pray or what to do?

9 years ago

I am a homeschool mom, and I agree.  It is so stressful selecting curriculum as well as how to assess.  Also, what do you mean by fundamentalist reactionaries?

Jeff Singletary
9 years ago

Ben, Tell the principal you are Christians. Then ask the principal if he sees it his task to help you raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The deer in the headlight reaction should tell you all you need to know. We could have done what you are contemplating. If Linda had gone back to work, we probably would have enjoyed $750k or better in income over those years. The nest is empty and she has re-started a career. And we would do it all over again. My employment during most of those years was as… Read more »

9 years ago

One history book that I enjoyed was The OLnly woman In the Room. Her parents had arranged tutors where she learned to speak severa languages as a young child. She was the only woman translator in the Japan Surrender

9 years ago

Good advice Jeff! And Amen. 

Joey E
8 years ago

We have homeschooled our kids since they were in kindergarten, for various reasons. However, some great Christian families we have known & respected have chosen other education options. I don’t think that Christian families MUST choose home or private school (which many would say), and often those decisions are made for the wrong reasons.
I interviewed some of these families. Here’s a summary of the posts: