Spooky Levels

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Remarks I gave for the Seattle Classical Christian School on March 7, 2013.

Thank you very much for the kind invitation to address you all. Nancy and I really enjoy coming to Seattle, and it is even better when we have a good reason for doing it.

It was well said by somebody, somewhere, that nothing significant was ever accomplished by a reasonable man. Or, to use my paraphrase, never underestimate the power of crazy people. You all are engaged in the challenging process of trying to establish a school based on a biblical worldview, a medieval pedagogical structure, and you are doing it in the midst of tall, shiny skyscrapers built on a high tech foundation of ones and zeros. I am saying this because I want you to know that I think you qualify.

But let’s not affirm the consequent. Great vision can be cast by crazy people, but not all crazy people cast great vision. Sometimes crazy is just plain nuts. So let’s do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

Over thirty years ago we started Logos School, and there have been many times since when we have stood on the banks of the Red Sea, water lapping at our toes, agitated Egyptians to the rear, and us wondering, with increasing concern, about this Moses guy. My concern was only heightened by the fact that I was this Moses guy. Everybody thinking, but one person not able to say, who’s idea was this?

But God is faithful, constantly, unremittingly faithful.

So what was this crazy notion?

Scripture teaches that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. The fear of the Lord is a box of kindergarten crayons, and not a gold cord around your neck at graduation. We are to start with the fear of God — we do not find any neutral patch of ground to set our ladder so that we may then climb the heights into some sort of faith commitment.

The Bible describes this in terms of a foundational antithesis. From the very beginning, antipathy was set (by God) between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. This is why, in classical and Christian schools, faith in Christ is not a condiment to be added to some neutral, odorless, tasteless body of knowledge. Our goal is to teach all subjects as parts of an integrated whole, with Scriptures at the center. The Bible is the axle, and all the subjects are the spokes. The Bible is not that extra shirt on the clothesline.

The greatest commandment in the Bible is found in Deuteronomy 6 — love the Lord your God with all your brains — and it is found in a passage that is all about the education of you children When you walk along the road, when you lie down, when you rise up.
But what about the Trivium? If you are going to go “all Bible” on us, why are you resurrecting some methodology that began with Plato’s Academy, and which grew into the seven liberal arts? In order to answer that question, let me begin by defining the Trivium, the first three of the seven liberal arts.

The Trivium consists of grammar, dialectic (logic), and rhetoric. Grammar consists of the body of facts a subject contains, logic has to do with the relationships between them, and rhetoric is concerned with assembling and presenting those facts in a compelling and winsome way. During the course of the Reformation, an educational reformer named Jon Amos Comenius developed the novel idea of graded education that depended upon the idea of prerequisites. And in the 1940s, Dorothy Sayers contribute what I call the Sayers Insight — treating grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric as matching three key stages of child development, what she called the poll parrot, the pert, and the poetic stages of development.

Now enter the crazy people. In her essay, Sayers actually says that she doesn’t think that anybody would ever actually try what she suggested, but she wasn’t counting on some folks in northern Idaho who were clueless enough, desperate enough, and crazy enough to give it a whirl.

But how does that make it biblical? Well, it doesn’t. But it doesn’t make it unbiblical either. It turns out we were kind of dragged through the hedge backwards. But when we were done, it turns out the landscape looked kind of familiar. We began discovering things. First, the seven liberal arts were worked out by the Christian monk Cassiodorus, wanting a form of education that had the seven pillars of the house of Lady Wisdom in Proverbs. And then a friend of mine, Randy Booth, noticed how the Trivium lined up nicely with the common words of the Old Testament — knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. And just recently, another friend — Steve Jeffreys — noticed how the Trivium lines up with the biblical/historical pattern of priest, king, and prophet.

In the meantime, we had also discovered that, as a pedagogical method, it worked. Not only did it work, as measured by the academic results, it worked at . . . to use a little education jargon . . . spooky levels.

One theologian once observed that teachers labor in the dawn of everlasting results. But in order to do this faithfully and well, it has to begin with Jesus, and end with Him. After all, He is the first letter on the little kids classroom wall, and he is the last letter there. He is the alpha and the omega.

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