My Why

Dear Annapolis Friends and Families (and other concerned citizens),

I recently returned from a head of school retreat hosted by the Society for Classical Learning. We were a motley crew of 40 battle-hardened, classical Christian heads of school with plenty of stories to share and scars to show. There was lots of coffee drinking, khaki pants and loafer wearing, and lamenting the general decline of Western Civilization brought on by the ubiquitous presence of hand-held, soul-destroying digital devices. We were a sight to behold; but it was a truly wonderful time of fellowship and renewal of vision as we were challenged to think through the big “why.”   Why do our schools exist?  Why in the world did we ever choose to subject ourselves to careers in Classical Christian school leadership?  Stuff like that.

So, maybe out of a self-flagellating compulsion to confess, or maybe even out of a repressed desire to simply say “I’m sorry,” for better or worse, I leave to posterity my personal confession, my why:

I blame my parents for giving me a classical Christian education in high school and in college.  It totally ruined me. I basically became a misfit in the modern world. I learned to think, speak, and act in ways that were hopelessly out of touch with my contemporaries and friends in public school. It trained me to evaluate everything in culture and life using unfashionable and politically incorrect categories and ideas derived from ancient dead white men like Homer, Plato, Aristotle, and Marcus Aurelius as well as religious fanatics like St. John the Evangelist, St. Paul the Apostle, Augustine of Hippo, Dante, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and even John Paul II!  To this day, I sometimes fantasize about how cool it would be to have been born in the Dark Ages! Castles, jousts and melees with chain mail and broad swords, courtly damsels in corsets, lords and peasants and cathedrals and … I think you get the picture.

My classical Christian education also made me hopelessly argumentative and totally ruined my ability to simply enjoy the logical fallacies employed everyday in marketing advertisements and political speeches.  Instead, I wasted my school years debating pointless questions like “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” or “Can God make a rock so big he can’t pick it up?” Seriously, how does debating the metaphysics of spiritual substance help one get a job?  My journey into nerd-dom culminated in my study of “dead languages,” especially Latin with all those worthless phrases like “Cogito ergo sum,” “Tabula Rasa,” and “et cetera.”  (Click here to view the most important Latin words and phrases that every man should know). And this was just high school!

My Classical Christian education in high school basically confused me so much that I had a complete existential crisis by the time I was 18!  I was asking questions that had no answers like “Who am I?”  “What am I living for?”  “Does my life have a purpose or significance?”  “Does God exist and what does he require of me?”  I was clearly “not right in the head.”  Kids that age should be worried about prom and who’s dating who and going to the mall and Friday night lights … not morbidly wrestling with the deep questions of life’s meaning and purpose!  That can’t be healthy.

To find answers, I set out on a comical quest for the meaning of life that took me to sunny California and into the very Belly of the Beast: The University of California at Santa Cruz. I was the only Christian on campus as far as I could tell (though pot-smoking, dreadlocked hippies were plentiful) and I stuck out like a sore thumb.  In her opening lecture, my freshman literature professor asked if there were any evangelical Christians in the class.  I raised my hand and looked around the room.  Hundreds of students stared back at me like I had two heads.  I was the only one raising my hand.  The professor then told me in no uncertain terms that it would be in my best interest to drop her class as Christians were hateful, close-minded homophobes and not welcome in her class.  She informed me that while her class was classified as literature, we would be focusing on texts relating to politics and society and she warned me that I was going to get eaten alive.  I chose to stay and I eventually earned her respect and an A in the class. She wrote me a note I will never forget on my last paper.  She thanked me for sticking it out in the class and commended me for using logic and reason to defend my point of view rather than just quoting the Bible.  I realized then that I owed a debt of gratitude to my classical Christian education and all the lessons in logic, rhetoric, and apologetics my mom forced me to take.  Thanks mom!

I decided then that, rather than going to a massive secular state university and partying like a Greek, I wanted to study at a small, private liberal arts college in Hillsdale, Michigan and then another in Annapolis, Maryland and learn to think like a Greek.  Rather than gender studies or business and marketing, I studied really, really old books on philosophy, theology, history, literature, science, and math (You really haven’t lived until you’ve had a Socratic discussion on Euclid’s fifth postulate!)  with professors who wore tweed jackets, smoked pipes in their classrooms, and actually made me talk in class – a lot!  I ended up with multiple, totally impractical degrees in philosophy, religion, and the liberal arts.  When I finished, I figured I was basically doomed to one of two careers: living in a van down by the river or school leadership. I chose the latter.

I’m glad I did!  Astonishingly, Classical Christian schooling turned out to be a deeply fulfilling career as well as education.  Frederick Buechner defines calling as “The place where your deepest gladness and the world’s deepest hunger meet.” I discovered my deepest passion for education as a teenager enrolled in a classical Christian school. The experience of reading Great Books and engaging in conversation and logical debate about important ideas enlightened my mind and fired me with a passion for deeper knowledge, scholarship, and a budding intellectual faith. I cared about ideas and their consequences. As my faith matured, so did my growing conviction and passion for Jesus’ magnificent commission to his disciples in Matthew 28:16-20:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Everything clicked into place like a key turning in a lock. I realized that the world’s greatest needs were discipleship and Christian teaching.  These were my deepest passions!  I didn’t need polling statistics to tell me that all my supposedly Christian friends were abandoning their faith in college.  I didn’t need the nightly news to remind me just how little influence Christian ideas have in an increasingly secularized and godless culture.  I didn’t need studies to document the loss of our Christian cultural heritage and the sheer biblical and historical illiteracy of my generation.  I could see plain as day the almost complete erosion of manners and morals in an increasingly crass and corrupt culture.  I could see the intellectual apathy and ignorance of students subjected to mind-numbing secular progressive educational indoctrination and standardized testing in public schools.  I could see the breakdown of families, the ever increasing encroachment of the welfare state, and the erosion of our political, moral, and religious freedom in America.  It was all happening right in front of my face!  Something had to be done.

In all of this, what I came to see most of all is that the world’s greatest needs and deepest hungers created an urgent demand for Christian education and discipleship of a particular classical variety.”

I became convicted that the world was in desperate need of a generation of youth that were properly equipped intellectually, spiritually, morally, and artistically to infiltrate the cultural institutions of power and compete with secular and progressive arguments and agendas that dominate our public square.  Students must be taught to defend their faith and offer solutions to the world’s problems that are informed by a vibrant Christian worldview.  They have to know their cultural history, value their Christian heritage, and protect it against the onslaught of secularism, feminism, historical revisionism, relativism, atheism, and every other vain “ism” that exalts itself above the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:5).  They have to b trained to think and live according to a biblical worldview, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ and find their meaning purpose in serving Christ and advancing His kingdom.  They must be taught how to write and speak winsomely and how to argue and debate using logic, reason, and rhetoric.

This passion became my conviction which became my life’s mission.  I believe in this mission.  It’s more relevant today than when I was in high school and college.  It’s the mission that I promote to the teachers, students, and parents at Annapolis every day. It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.  It’s my why.