Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Big Picture

The classical virtues of temperance, prudence,
fortitude and justice
These are my remarks to faculty at our first Wednesday morning faculty meeting to begin the 2013-2014 school year. 

Perhaps it’s a “guy thing,” but I pride myself in learning how to get around in a city, and will often take back-roads to get to common locations just to improve my understanding. It drives my wife crazy.

But I was recently humbled when I flew into the Nashville airport.  From the vantage point of 1,000 feet looking down, I was completely lost as to what part of the city we were flying over, unable to discern the familiar landmarks that helped me maneuver on the ground. It was a whole different perspective.

Pat Bassett, the outgoing president of National Association of Independent Schools, was recently asked what advice he’d give parents raising children today.

He was very direct: “The bottom line,” he said, “is that too many parents are both over-protecting their kids on the one hand, and putting immense performance pressure on them on the other. …. The daily message from parents to their kids should not be “I want you to be happy,” nor “I just want you to be successful,” but rather “I want you to be good.”  It turns out our hyper-parenting and obsession with “happiness” and “success” produce kids who are unhappy and stress-riddled."

"But kids who are “good” (morally good, possessing the classical virtues) are much more likely to be successful and happy adults than kids who become adults obsessed with being happy all the time or being driven to distraction about some unobtainable, perfectionist definition of success. “

I think Bassett nails it.  And I think it’s instructive for us, as we begin the year, to remember that our success as a school--as proud as we are of AP scores, college scholarships, national merit finalist data—is not measured by these things, but by this simple question:

Are we producing good kids? Are we producing faithful kids?

Following Aristotle, who said that something was “good” if it fulfills its end (a good hammer is one that drives in nails well), an important part of being “good” is to fulfill that one function that separates us from the animals, the ability to think and to reason. So schools that challenge kids to think logically, to read and to write well, to contemplate truth, are helping their kids become “good.”

But education in itself isn’t enough to make us good. CS Lewis once quipped, “It may just make us “more clever devils.”

Similarly, John Henry Neuman, in his tract “The Idea of the University,” says eloquently:

Quarry the granite rock with razors, or moor the vessel with a thread of silk; then may you hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and the pride of man.

Being educated alone doesn't make us virtuous. We need God's grace for that. 

We are privileged to work in a school that understands that creating good kids— the heart of our mission—is a combination of challenging the mind through study so that we may think well and reason well, but also a matter of grace, of conversion of hearts and minds to the Lord. If we're successful in creating a culture where both of these things are happening, then we'll make a big difference in this world, and literally an eternal difference in the lives of our kids. 

Even as we are immersed in the details as we begin this year, let’s keep our eyes on the big picture. 

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