Open House Speech
Monday, March 9, 2015
“Why We Need A Christian School in West Wichita”
by Mike Witherspoon
I’m a career educator, starting at Derby Senior High in 1978, spending memorable years at Christian Center Academy here in Wichita, being a part of that first wonderful faculty at Trinity Academy out on East 21st Street, then developing and launching Christian schools in Vermont and Texas, returning to Wichita in 2003 to co-found Classical School of Wichita – from which I retired last August. Having spent my childhood in west Wichita (I moved here in 1959), riding my bicycle on all the sand roads now clogged with suburban traffic, having a father among that group of dads who organized Westurban baseball, being a member of the state’s largest Boy Scout Troop 704, and so forth, I could only say an enthusiastic “yes” to Deanna Agpoon’s invitation last fall to become a part of Faith Academy.
My burden for Christian schooling began in 1988 when my middle son brought home from an area school a Pumsy-the-Dragon curriculum unit on “getting out of his mud mind and into his clean mind.” (It was Buddhism-for-kids that a young teacher, just state-certified, had brought to her first classroom.) The children were taken out of public schools and continued their educations in Christian schools, eventually graduating from religious-affiliated colleges.
When we started Classical School in 2005 here in this building, our hearts were for it be a west-side ministry. Money and public interest dictated otherwise and so it moved east, but ten years later sentiment and perception are clearly changing in our part of the metro area. Even our churches are cracking open the door of interest. And those whom God has joined to Deanna’s vision have that missionary mindset, that sacrificial resolve, and the giftedness and/or experience to make strong contributions in the classroom. You will meet the teachers on board to-date before we conclude this evening.
As long as I have been speaking about the benefits and merits of Christian schooling, state legislatures have been hand-wringing and soul-searching to find more public funds to raise scores and future citizens. You may be, or know, one of the well-intentioned who want their children to be a light in the spiritual dimness of secular schooling, who want to counter the values of the national education monopoly. However, my calculus says that for every churched child who prospers and advances in the obedience of faith while in public schools, there are many more who falter. It is the rare, exceptional child whose influence on the public school is as significant as the school’s influence on him or her. If we empty a curricula of the spiritual and moral nutrients that the young need for emotional health, how could we expect otherwise. Yet, we continue to send children to schools whose teachers and leaders must keep theology out of an increasingly frail, prescribed curricula – even though Jesus Christ is penultimate in nothing.
He is the leading historical interpreter, literary guide, lifestyle counselor, bio-ethicist, logician, engineer, problem solver, creative artist. Is there a philosopher with a more certain epistemology? Anyone whose ethical standards would create a better school, neighborhood, city, nation, world?
Children need all the help they can get. They need to know what God has to say in all the subjects and to freely weigh that in classrooms with teachers whose lives reveal an integration of His truths. Yet, we are a nation that keeps trying to dig up its roots and snatch the seed of God’s Word from the minds of children: seed sown at home and church, snatched at school.
On one occasion Jesus was teaching his disciples and called forth a child who came to where the Lord directed. He commended the child’s humility, then warned the adults: “Whoever puts a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for him if a great millstone were fastened around his neck and he be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18.6) Jesus did not speak in parables when He wanted graphic clarity. Education is serious business.
We do not believe that the responsibility for training up/educating the child is that of the state government, or even primarily that of the church. God has given that duty to parents, especially the father, to raise up a child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but not our children.
And if the parents decide that the child is to receive part of his or her schooling away from home, we need schools that teach the same message as the home. “In Jesus Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Getting at treasure takes a little digging. They are not digging for Christian perspective in the public schools. My generation wonders what has happened to theological understanding at church within our lifetimes. Where is the depth in adult Sunday school? Where are the great teaching pulpits? We think it’s as Ravi Zacharias notes: the propositional has been replaced by images, images that do not require much digging, that charm us, that pacify us, that rob us of the rigorous pursuit of truth.
This postmodern culture has “man elevated, and alone” (Allan Bloom). The individual is autonomous, a law unto himself; in this pot, melding does not occur; truth is a personal matter, and tolerance is the greatest good; government is the Great Equalizer of disparity in individual talent; education is ethnic and individual cheerleading; morality is the fantasy of those in charge; and everything (cultures, religions, worldviews, ethical systems) is equal – because there is no Evaluator.
Schools have agendas. Every school. “Whatsoever things are true” is the guiding principle of Faith Academy.
And truth is not taught if you teach:
- History without an appreciation for the influence of Christians on cultures. Start with Rome.
- Western Civilization without the transforming role of the Reformation.
- American History without Great Awakenings.
- Psychology without sin.
- Science without a Creator.
- Math without perfect Orderness
- Cultural studies without the pleasure and displeasure of God.
- Language without acknowledging the potential for clear propositions.
- Health without morals.
- Morals without God.
- That feelings best weigh the evidence.
- That contradictions can both be true.
- That laws are merely democratic norms.
- That the only absolute is that there are no other absolutes.
Yes, Faith Academy will have an agenda. Faith Academy will be a hot-house, a safe place, a shelter for children’s minds. We must see to it that no one takes them captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy. We will observe the pursuit of knowing what is true and false, right and wrong, wise and foolish, good and bad, beautiful and disgusting.
Recalling the sometimes misguided, Church-sponsored Crusades of the Middle Ages (ventures whose rationale and goals have suffered under revisionist historians from my generation), did you know there were two Children’s Crusades, one from France, one from Germany, around the year 1212. Their “innocence” and tenderness and good hearts would win the Muslims over. Most died of exposure, starvation, murder – and those who got there were enslaved – because a Crusade is not children’s work.
You might remember that line from Mary Pride’s book The Way Home: “She’d rather wait until the kids have the resolve and strength of Daniel before they go to Babylon.”
The LORD asked Jeremiah: “They (the Israelites) have rejected the Word of the Lord, so what wisdom do they have?” (8.9) Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh, the Divine Logos, the Reasoning Essence, the Sound Mind, the Final Discourse, the Master Teacher, the One who holds it all together, the Namer of Every Star; the Counter of every sparrow and head hair, who oversees all the information, the bits and bytes, the codes and blueprints, the imaginary numbers and quantum physics, the Final Word on Everything.
Lest you get the wrong idea: Christian school is not a retreat, but a training ground. We are not building a Christian ghetto; we are empowering students. We remind them that good works have been prepared for them; that they were designed for a purpose; that a spiritual DNA indwells them; that God establishes their steps; that His purposes will prevail. When the hunting dog gets to the woods, you don’t need to coax the dog to get excited. When the child senses destiny, the discipline of preparation becomes easy. “I’m not so bored anymore,” they think. Yes, a Christian education calls the young to a Great Adventure.
And so: We want students eager to learn because we have much to teach. We want students eager for a set of learning tools that will enable them to succeed life-long, students who can listen until it’s time to talk, who recognize strongholds and lofty falsehoods and high-sounding arguments, who are not to be taken lightly, having been cultivated by years of good questions: Do I have a clear understanding of what this person/author is saying? Have I sincerely inquired as to how I know a statement is true or false? –but also students who have an audience because they are not haughty and supercilious:
I must briefly describe the principle that governs our pedagogy: “tools, not subjects.” Faith Academy students will have a grammar of essential, foundational knowledge in many subjects, yet our emphasis will be tools needed for life-long learning, evaluating, problem solving, and decision making. Gathering information is not difficult in today’s world. However, sifting and weighing and distinguishing and separating information is difficult.
Attitudinally and practically, our students will know that the world is designed such that they can observe, hypothesize, test, conclude, develop, manage, rule. That is the essence of being made in God’s image. They can self-examine and self-discipline in light of whatsoever things are true. They can comprehend what they read, use the English language with considerable facility, transfer thoughts to tongue and paper, listen carefully, ask good questions, filter information through the grid of God’s Word, appreciate the contributions of others who have come before, defend truth against skillful manipulators and skeptics, and engage in honest inquiry.
These tools come out of our deep respect for Classical education. However, and relatedly, we will not cover the same content of some Classical school models. Our emphasis will not be on the Ancient Greeks and Romans or Medieval Europe, but on the more recent American experience, believing the latter not to be without flaw, but having a peculiar blessedness and world impact.
Our students will know much about Church history, believing that the Church is “the pillar and ground of the truth.” Truth is not built into a culture without the Church. A strong background in apologetics – a certainty that the Bible is a reliable historical document, that only Jesus’ resurrection explains the existence of the Church, that the world is intelligently designed – will be offered our students, students who will have a faith fortified against a host of skeptics they may encounter in this life.
Twenty years ago during a school chapel service, a Vermont pastor challenged our high-schoolers to formulate a personal mission statement that he would place on laminated cards for carrying in one’s wallet or purse. I was overseeing the room of students, when he turned to me and said, “You, too, Mr. Witherspoon.” Without hesitation, I wrote that which today maintains a highly visible placement in my home: “To prepare a vanguard of elite Christian teens who will move confidently and influentially into the larger culture, full of grace and truth.”
Please pray about how you are to be involved here in Faith Academy. Thank you.