The Classical Parent

 

CCE Corner – Thoughtful Readers: Playing with and Talking About Good Stories

March 9th, 2023

Trinitas recently hosted two annual highlights: Book Character Day and Thoughtful Reader Book Club. Each year, students and staff look forward to leaving their uniforms home and coming dressed like a favorite Biblical, historical, or book character. Last Wednesday was a delightful day for the likes of Fantastic Mr. Fox, Ebenezer Scrooge, Anne of Green Gables, King Arthur, and St. Paul to be greeted at the door by Principal Gandalf and to do their math lessons with Grandmother West Wind and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, literature with Athena and Laura Ingalls Wilder, Latin with the golden fleece, history with the Cat in the Hat, and logic with Tweedle Dee (or Dum, we’re not sure which). Students return home excited to read new books or re-read an old favorite. Some even begin planning next year’s costume.

During Friday Focus time the previous week, we enjoyed activities and discussions related to our Thoughtful Reader Book Club selections. This year, our shared reading for the younger grades included fables by Aesop and Arnold Lobel. Students in grades 3/4 talked about how stories that feature animals and their particular characteristics (e.g., monkeys are inquisitive, beavers are industrious) can communicate truths about human strengths and weaknesses. The morals at the end of the fables continue to instruct over 2,000 years later!

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CCE Corner – Where the Air Is Clear

February 23rd, 2023

We continue our series of reflections inspired by the recent Calvin Worship Symposium. This week, Mrs. Tellinghuisen shares about a faith practices workshop she attended.

A few weeks ago, the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire recorded overnight wind gusts of over 100 miles per hour and a temperature of −47 °F. This produced a new US record low windchill temperature of −108 °F. These conditions are comparable to what airplanes experience at cruising altitude. I was told by my brother (a biologist and weather fact enthusiast, who lives in South Dakota, where they know a lot about cold and wind), that it wasn’t the cold and wind that led to such extreme conditions, but an interesting atmospheric phenomenon. In effect, the top of Mount Washington became part of the stratosphere. Talk about a mountaintop experience! But not one anyone would want.

Mountaintop experiences usually involve moments of clarity, conviction, or renewal. From a spiritual—and Christian—perspective, it might be descriptive of a moment when someone felt especially close to God or felt the moving of the Holy Spirit in a very tangible way. For me, any visit to mountains can lead to a mountaintop experience. The landscape inspires awe and draws my eyes upward and inclines my heart toward praise and wonder.

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1–2)

The psalmist was saying more than just mountains are pretty. High places were locations for pagan rituals and sacrifices (e.g., Ahab and prophets of Baal as told in I Kings 18). But the psalmist is saying that when he looks to hills, it is not to seek answers in the idols of man. He trusts in the one true God, maker of heaven and earth. In the gospel accounts, Jesus goes to a mountain to find solitude and to commune with his father in prayer on several occasions. One of the most memorable accounts is the Transfiguration, where Jesus appears radiant in his glory to Peter, James, and John. And, more than that, Moses and Elijah appear alongside him (Matthew 17:1–13; Mark 9:2–13; Luke 9:28–36). Now that was a mountaintop experience! Isn’t it remarkable then that those same three disciples were the ones who fell asleep, ran, and even denied? How could they have seen that and not stood firm? Or maybe, if we are honest, we know all too well what it means to see and yet forget.

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CCE Corner – What We’re Learning: Worship Symposium

February 9th, 2023

It was just over a year ago that Mrs. Poortenga and Mrs. Tellinghuisen submitted their application for a Vital Worship Grant from the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship. This week brought them to the CICW Worship Symposium where they continue to learn and plan for the remainder of our grant year. We wish there was a simple “download” button that would allow us to share everything they’ve experienced, but we will share summaries and resources you can use in the coming weeks. Watch for CCEC posts that will discuss the following workshops: Performing the Bible: Exploring the Performance Genres of Scripture; Discerning Leadership with Students; Faith Practices for All Ages. This week, we want to share from the panel presentation, “Fruits of the Spirit, Mental Health Crises, and Our Practices of Christian Worship.”

This workshop covered a number of the same themes we covered in recent CCEC posts. Angela Williams Gorrell and John Swinton began the presentation by drawing attention to the crisis of psychological distress that is intensifying across all age groups–stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and trouble sleeping all continue to rise at alarming rates. They pointed to both the lack of a coherent moral story and the dangers of many of our digital habits. If we see ourselves as mere individuals in this wide universe, as creators of our own identities, and as part of a world that is interminably in conflict, the natural result is a sense of meaninglessness, anxiety, depression, and loneliness. The pandemic showed us how much we need to be connected to others, but it may also have shown us how much we have come apart.

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CCE Corner – Screen-free Community at Trinitas

January 26th, 2023

I was going to title this post “Screen-free Learning at Trinitas,” but our decision to be a screen-free* environment is about more than helping kids build their attention spans for academic achievement. It’s also, and more importantly, about helping them build their ability to pay attention to others, to engage the person next to them or across the table, to “be present” in community. We founded Trinitas in 2006, the year before the first iPhone was introduced. Already many schools were jumping on the screen-learning bandwagon. We resisted that temptation, not primarily for budget stewardship reasons but rather for the sake of the students (and their teachers and families). We suspected that benefits of screens in schools might turn out to be something like the emperor’s new clothes. What we had not anticipated was how screens at school and at home and in cars and in pockets and nearly perpetually in hands could be worse than the naked emperor.

We’d like to highlight two articles recently linked by Protect Young Eyes. (If you do not receive their emails, we recommend you sign up for them.) The first article is very short, it’s on social media and brain development. The second is longer, but worth the read; it’s a call by Doug Lemov for phone-free schools and for re-wiring (or de-wiring) the learning environment for attention, achievement, and belonging. As Lemov points out, it’s not good enough for schools just to say “be responsible with your phones.” I remember waiting to pick up one of my high schoolers for an appointment during lunch. It was a lovely day, and a group of girls was eating together outside. I should say “together.” In the ten or more minutes that I waited, not one of them looked up from her cell phone. Well, that’s not entirely accurate, one did look up briefly. To take a selfie. I’m not exaggerating when I say my heart broke a little when I witnessed that snapshot of what we are losing. Simply put, in light of the overwhelming data on attention, anxiety, loneliness, and depression, a best practice for school and home is carving out long periods of time free of screens.

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CCE Corner – In the Beginning: World(view) Formation

January 12th, 2023

At the beginning of the new year, we turn our attention to The Beginning by looking briefly at two creation accounts. One thing a good Christian education should do is provide a keen awareness of both the familiarity and foreignness of Christianity (as G.K. Chesterton put it, both the “welcome and the wonder” of it). As we are prone to take Christian teachings for granted, they can lose their power in our lives, so it is an important act of the spiritual imagination to occasionally stop to appreciate the strangeness of it all. * A brief comparison of the Babylonian creation story, the Enuma Elish, with the account in Genesis can do this for us.

Before we compare those accounts, there is another reason for this exercise. There is an expression that “ideas have legs” and this is certainly true of origin stories—they have an impact not only on our thinking about how the cosmos came into being but also about its present and future states, as well as our place and purpose in it. In other words, creation accounts are not only about a world but also a worldview. As we’ve noted before, Trinitas students in the logic stage (grades 5-8), learn to ask “Ultimate Questions.” As they engage history, scripture, literature, and popular culture, they are encouraged to ask what is being said about God, Humanity, and Nature, and what are being identified as problems and proposed as remedies. In this post, we conduct something like a logic-stage exercise, looking at the two creation accounts to see what answers they give to such questions.

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CCE Corner – Faith Formation: The Importance of Inter-age Relationships

November 30th, 2022

Faith is central to our mission at Trinitas, and so we take seriously the task of cultivating an environment in which faith can grow. In addition to striving to maintain high standards in the context of warmth and demonstrating that we are “all in,” we also intentionally foster inter-age relationships as part of faith formation.* In the study mentioned in our previous posts, the authors focus on the important role of grandparents and great grandparents as moral and religious models for children. Their findings suggest that strengthening intergenerational bonds strengthens faith.

In addition to family, church is the place where children are most likely to engage with those who are generations removed from them. Our own family has been deeply blessed by witnessing the faithfulness of older congregants and hearing their stories. And our children have been blessed by opportunities to share their own stories as well. One Sunday, a nearly ninety-year-old gentleman asked our sixth grader if she had read any good books lately and if she would be willing to write a review for the church newspaper. As soon as we arrived home, she eagerly ran to the computer and quickly produced a piece on The Narnia Chronicles. The older man’s interest in her and her ideas eventually led our daughter to become a regular contributor of poetry for the church paper. This prompted others of his generation to warmly express their appreciation for her work. These and similar experiences, like singing in the Holiday Choir next to choristers five to six times her age, have given her a deep feeling of belonging to this intergenerational family of God.

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CCE Corner – Faith Formation: Parents Who Are “All In”

October 27th, 2022

We continue our series on faith formation looking at three characteristics of families who successfully pass on their faith: 1) high standards combined with warmth, 2) strong intergenerational relationships, and 3) parents who are “all in.” * Our previous two posts focused on high standards and warmth. In this post, we’ll focus on what it means to be “all in,” saving intergenerational relationships for a later post. If we want to pass our faith on to our children, they should be able to see our own commitment to and delight in the ways of God.

We tend to do this more naturally with things like careers and hobbies. Children often follow in their parents’ footsteps, ending up with similar interests and pursuits. In our family, four of our children explored STEM but eventually chose humanities majors in college (and the fifth is headed that direction). They just couldn’t get away from the passion for philosophy, religion, politics, history, and literature that seems to be in the air of our home. And, we know Trinitas parents whose own passion for the sciences has been passed on to their children. Whatever one’s passion—football, golf, choral music, hiking, woodworking, cooking—the interest and excitement we show and the energy, time, and even money we spend in pursuit of it will be evident to the young eyes watching us and learning from us. In very many cases, children grow to love what we show them we love. That’s not to say that children always follow in their parents’ footsteps. Sometimes they surprise and delight us and expand our worlds with interests and loves that are unique to them. Still, we should be aware of the influence our own interests, commitments, and loves have on them.

As a school, we hope to help you help your children cultivate God-honoring loves, and we try to provide various ways for them to see that when it comes to the Christian faith, you are “all in.” We are almost through the first quarter. Much has happened since the first day of school. New people have been met. New things have been learned. New routines and habits have been formed. One of our daily routines is all-school Morning Prayer. This time isn’t just a way to start our day; it’s a way to center our hearts and minds. What do we do in Morning Prayer? We sing and pray and meditate on God’s word. We’d like to remind you that parents are always welcome to stay and join their children in worship! And we would also like to encourage you to follow along at home as well. You can use this link to The St. James Daily Devotional Guide for information on subscribing to the same materials we use at school.

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CCE Corner – Faith Formation: High Standards and Warmth, part II

October 6th, 2022

In our previous CCEC on faith formation, we referenced a comprehensive study on religion and family* which concluded that having high standards combined with warmth is crucial to passing on one’s faith. We observed that having high standards sometimes requires us to speak with vocabulary that differs from the world’s. In that post, we looked at the un-worldly word “holiness.” In this post, we look at “reverence.”

Reverence is not a commonly used word nor a commonly pursued posture. Various dictionaries define reverence as “a feeling of great respect or admiration for someone or something.” Some include “a gesture of respect (such as a bow).” The verb, revere, not surprisingly, is “to regard or treat with reverence.” An important part of faith formation is cultivating such habits and feelings of reverence where they are due.

Reverence is due first of all toward God, the holy creator and sustainer of all. Scripture is filled with examples. In the presence of the burning bush, Moses was told, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” Isaiah and John wrote of six-winged seraphim and ten thousand times ten thousand angels encircling the throne and unceasingly declaring “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come,” “the earth is full of his glory”, and “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” A life of faith involves this posture of reverence. As our former language arts teacher was fond of saying, true education begins with the recognition that there is a God, and you are not He.

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CCE Corner – Faith Formation: High Standards and Warmth, part I

September 15th, 2022

The beginning of the school year is a good time to reflect on faith formation. Take a minute to think about just how important this is. If we believe that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16), then passing on our faith is really important. In fact, neglecting to teach our children about our faith would be worse than neglecting to teach them to read. Think about that.

Just as we spend time at Trinitas learning how to teach reading well, we also spend time learning how to raise children in lives of faith. In Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations (Oxford University Press), the authors communicate the results of one of the largest studies of religion and family across generations.* Spanning nearly four decades, their research follows more than 3,500 people in over 350 families to determine how faith is passed on, or not. In this and upcoming posts, we’ll reflect on some of the characteristics of families who successfully pass on their faith. According to this research, such families have: 1) high standards combined with warmth, 2) strong intergenerational relationships, and 3) parents who are “all-in.” We’ll explore what these can look like both at Trinitas and at home.

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CCE Corner – Super Stories

April 28th, 2022

Chances are you’ve heard this story before. An ordinary citizen going about an ordinary day suddenly gains superhuman power (from a fancy suit, an insect bite, an experiment gone wrong). Maybe our hero is truly superhuman, like a surprisingly normal-looking alien masquerading behind a pair of glasses. (Seriously, could no one figure out that Clark Kent was Superman?) With this great new power comes great responsibility, as the saying goes. Our new hero (superhero!) might fight that responsibility at first, perhaps feeling unworthy or perhaps feeling the enormity of the task. But our hero eventually submits to duty, bringing justice to a corrupt city and saving it from a maniacal villain.

Superhero movies are popular to say the least. Consider this: there have been more than two dozen Marvel movies in just fifteen years. It’s no surprise that they generate interest—and revenue. They are full of action, adventure, and intrigue. Just about every emotion we are capable of feeling is on display at some point: love, fear, anger, regret, doubt, joy, grief, hope.

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