Humanities: The Equipping of Hearts
By Krtisten Zuccola
I would like to offer you a peek into the Humanities classroom. The detective in Umberto Eco’s mystery novel, The Name of the Rose, William, considers the entire crime scene, a monastery in 14th century Europe, to be a speculum mundi–a microcosm of the world. It features the largest library of books in the known world guarded by two monks, a head librarian and his assistant. In it there are texts from antiquity including, but not limited to Arabic texts, manuscripts on divination, books on theology, history, and philosophy, and one specific text–a one-of-a-kind by Aristotle–that perpetuates the deaths of multiple monks, all of which appear to align with the seven trumpets of Revelation chapters 8, 9, and 10 cuing apocalyptic events.
The library is structured as a labyrinth into which books are systematically shelved, but the system of organizing the texts remains a mystery to all but the precious few who guard them. I would argue that Classical Christian education has a wonderful response to the microcosm of protected and censored knowledge. During one questioning activity, a Humanities student asked, “What should we seek to know, and to what extent should we seek to know it?” First, we know that Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us that “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” The Lord has revealed much to us, and we are to use that knowledge to better understand Him. The world in which we live systematically assigns value to knowledge, yet we, like William, must navigate the contents with caution and purpose, to best seek the Truth. Second, we must discern how to navigate a world that preaches access to all knowledge–no matter how distracting, how dark, or how mindless. As we have read The Name of the Rose, we have begun to examine the concept of knowledge, how we are to acquire it, and to what ends we should use it.
In Humanities, students most certainly learn the plot development of novels and consider the implications of historical events, but most importantly, they THINK. They think about God, His Kingdom, His Word, His Purpose, and His Will. Through the vehicle of primary texts, Humanities students delve into the marketplace of ideas–exploring them, examining them from various angles, looking at their origins and consequences, and most importantly checking to see how they line up with God’s Truth. Colossians 2:8 says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” Our Humanities curriculum seeks to provide the knowledge of the philosophies of man so that our students will not be duped by them when they are wrapped up pretty packages or sung to delightful melodies.
Upper school Humanities not only educates the students’ ability to recall facts, but more importantly it tends to their hearts. You see, we may send our sons and daughters to Westside Christian Academy thinking that it is a great place to shelter from the political and moral storm raging in the public sector, that reading the Bible is a nice thing to be able to do, or that the way the teachers love the kids is really important, and those are all great reasons to attend this school; however, I would challenge any parent sitting in this room to consider the most important reason we send our kids to WCA–that they may stand one day as men and women who have not fallen prey to the lies that this world tells them, that they would not be devoured by the enemy. I would imagine that we send our children here because we want them to know the Truth of God’s holy, infallible word, stand on it, and measure everything else up against it. Humanities combines history, literature, and Bible, through the use of primary texts instruct our Upper School students to that end: equipping them to measure all that the world has to say–even 14th century monks–and navigate the labyrinth of ideas of this world.
The Perils of the Man Made in The Two Towers
By Beatrice Shackelford (8th grade)
In the novel The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien, Treebeard claims that “Saruman has a mind of metal and wheels, and he does not care for growing things.” Saruman is intent on acquiring complete power, and he is using man-made creations such as orcs to gain it. In the process, he is destroying Treebeard’s forest for fuel and is corrupting the creatures in his influence such as Wormtongue. Through the forces of nature and those intent on protecting it like the Ents and Elves who fight to bring Saruman’s destruction, Tolkien displays his disdain for technology when it comes at too high a price for the created world.
Saruman gains power through deception and man-made creations, but in the end, he is destroyed by the misled faith in his creations. Treebeard comes to the realization that Saruman is doing something unnatural to the orcs: he is changing them for his own selfish purposes. One sees this when Treebeard proclaims, “Brm,hoom! Worse than that he has been doing something to them; something dangerous” (462). With this revelation, Treebeard begins to plan to fight Saruman and his creations. Saruman has dangerously created orcs for his own purposes and is using them to destroy. Treebeard reacts by choosing to fight even though he previously claims to have no side. This is proof that Saruman has been horribly corrupted and doing things seen as pure evil in Middle Earth. Saruman’s downfall comes when he puts his faith in his creations such as orcs and fortresses as can be seen when Gandalf begs him to come from his tower. This misled faith is highlighted when Gandalf points out Saruman’s fears saying, “Isengard has proved less strong than your hope and fancy would have made it. So many other things in which you’ve put your hope and trust” (568). Because of Saruman’s haughty beliefs that he alone can control all using his own creations, he is brought horribly low when he is trapped in his own tower because he proudly overlooks the possibility of failure.
Middle Earth loses its white wizard when Saruman is denied the rights of a wizard as his staff is snapped by Gandalf. This is brought upon him when he turns away from the protection of the wizard law and is corrupted by his search for his power through that which is man-made. Saruman’s fall actually happens when he leaves behind Saruman the White and replaces him with his schemes of power through technology. He ignores the dangers of technology, and in the end, they turn out to be pillars of sand. Gandalf reminds Saruman that he still has a chance to turn away when Saruman refuses and Gandalf warns him that he is “choosing to stay and gnaw on old plots” (568). Saruman is left unstable, grasping at impossible plans after being stripped of a power he never really controlled. In this way his own plots destroy Saruman.
The Lord of the Rings is filled with dangerous creations besides the orcs. Two major ones are the One Ring created by Sauron and the Palantír. Gandalf repeatedly states that the Palantír is dangerous. All through pages 580-581, it calls to Pippin and causes him to look into it enabling Sauron to questions him without actually being physically present. Afterward, Gandalf says that pulling away from the power would have been difficult for him if he had looked in. All through The Two Towers the dangers of technology that tempt and corrupt which which heroes desperately fight against.
Throughout The Two Towers, Tolkien displays his distaste for the creations of man, especially when it becomes a device for gaining power over the natural world which was created by God. In a way, the entire Lord of the Rings saga points to this. It is seen in the temptations through the Ring and in the pure evil of the Orcs. Treebeard, in Tolkien’s words, calls man’s inventions “black evil” (462) and proclaims that when combining man’s creation and twisting God’s it is then black evil. Tolkien does not directly put the almighty God in his books, but he treats humans with the respect that comes from being made in the image of God; furthermore, he shows the evil in the corruption of God’s creation. The Lord of the Rings points to the temptation of corrupted power through the One Ring. Sauron’s ring is built to corrupt, tempt, and give corrupted power; Tolkien shows the weight of temptation that comes when people try to rule their own world through the Ring. This is seen as a physical weight as Sam puts the ring around his neck and “his head was bowed to the ground” (716). When man attempts to make himself king instead of God, the world collapses. This is seen in Sauroman’s fall and in Tolkien’s worldview.
By Jim Whiteman
“If I have two pizzas, each cut into eight slices, and there are six hungry fourth graders, how many slices would each one get?” The answer could be 2 with 4 left over. Or perhaps 2 2/3. But in real life, questions need to be asked. Does it matter if the hungry students are in the hallway and the pizzas are in the staff room? What if a student is hungry but allergic to gluten or tomato? What if only 4 students paid for pizza? What if there are also starving fifth graders? The real world is always more complex than the textbook.
Divided. It seems there is a shouting match that is getting louder and uglier throughout the world. We witness it between nations, political parties, ethnicities and any two groups with differing perspectives. The shouting and blaming can be heard on social media, seen on television, experienced in neighborhoods and even creep into our own families. Proverbs 18:2 states: A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, only in expressing his own opinion. Fools abound! (Well, at least that is my opinion)
Good news! There is one large family spread throughout most of the world that has the answer to ugly division. Yet, even they often seem to glare at each other with distrust. “It is one of the most humiliating things in the present day to see how God’s family is divided up. If we love the Lord Jesus Christ the burden of our hearts will be that God may bring us closer together, so that we may love one another and rise above all party feeling. “ So wrote D.L Moody in 1941 in his book titled Prevailing Prayer. He goes on:
“Oh, may God make us of one heart and of one mind! Let our hearts be like drops of water flowing together. Unity among the people of God is a sort of foretaste of heaven. There we shall not find any Baptists, or Methodists, or Congregationalists, or Episcopalians;” We shall all be one in Christ. We leave all our party names behind us when we leave this earth. Oh, that the Spirit of God may speedily sweep away all these miserable walls that we have been building up! Did you ever notice that the last prayer Jesus Christ made on earth, before they led Him away to Calvary, was that His disciples might all be one? He could look down the stream of time, and see that divisions would come—how Satan would try to divide the flock of God. Nothing will silence infidels so quickly as Christians everywhere being united. Then our testimony will have weight with the ungodly and the careless. But when they see how Christians are divided, they will not believe their testimony. The Holy Spirit is grieved; and there is little power where there is no unity. If I thought I had one drop of sectarian blood in my veins, I would let it out before I went to bed; if I had one sectarian hair in my head, I would pull it out. Let us get right to the heart of Jesus Christ; then our prayers will be acceptable to God, and showers of blessings will descend.”
I am grateful that our students at WCA represent over 40 churches and are taught to listen, ask questions, reason together, and pray for one another. Differing ideas provide tools for growth, understanding, and the development of wisdom. The prophet writes: “Come let us reason together, says the Lord.” (Is 1:18a) While praying for his disciples, Jesus pleads: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21)
Multiplying. The key for expanding the family of the King and doing his intended work is unity among his children. Praying with and for one another, working side-by-side with common goals, seeking understanding. This is not a call for ecumenicalism whereby disparate doctrines are embraced, but striving for unity as loving siblings. Those of us in Christ all share a commitment to the central message of the Word of God and must not compromise on primary doctrinal positions. As we hold secondary doctrines that are specific to our particular church or denomination and which may differ from doctrines held by other churches or denominations, we are wise to adhere to the following statement by the seventeenth century German theologian Rupertus Meldenius: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things charity.”
Together in Christ: One mind, one voice, one purpose. This is our theme for the year across the grades at WCA based on Paul’s exhortation in his letter to the Romans, May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward one another that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may give praise to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you in order to bring praise to God. (Rom 15:5-7 NIV).
Would you join us in praying to this end?
May our children not grow up demanding their portion of the pizza without seeking to understand the real problem.
By John-Mason Shackleford, WCA parent and board member
Many of my colleagues—most of whom are engineers—are surprised to learn that Sarah and I send our children to a school that emphasizes ancient languages and literature rather than science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). For many the Classical part of my explanation is easier for them to understand and see the value of than the Christian part—which for me is the primary motivation for the emphasis on Classical education.
In the nearly two millennia since the resurrection of Christ, the church has been through persecutions, times of rapid expansion, periods of great triumph and also of deep sufferings from self-inflicted wounds. In every era, Christians have used metaphors to make sense of their times. In some ages the poverty and the sufferings of Christ was embraced as an apt picture of Christian experience, in others the riches of Christ’s Kingdom. For the earliest settlers of our nation, the image of Christ’s call to be “a city on a hill” helped to clarify their mission and give meaning to the many difficulties and sufferings associated with leaving one’s homeland to start over in a new home across the sea—more distant for them than the moon is for us.
The metaphor I find most helpful in understanding my own times and what I must do as a follower of Christ, is the picture of Nehemiah’s rebuilding of Jerusalem. When I look at the havoc caused by the broken marriages in my own family, breakdown of civil discourse televised in so-called political “debates”; when I observe how little Bible-knowledge is in evidence among church-goers and how little exposure those outside the church have to even the most basic Christian beliefs, I just don’t see much left to conserve. I see rubble. And I think to myself that it is time to start the long, slow, multi-generational process of rebuilding, of re-learning what has been lost. Turning back the clock is not my intent. It is hard to be romantic about a prior age in which pregnancies ending in the death of mother, child or both were grieved by every small community, nor do I wish to return to a time in which hard liquor was the only pain relief available to a person suffering an invasive surgery or all-to-common amputation. I am grateful to God for advances which have allowed us to enjoy so much prosperity, but I am also eager to see that my children grow up asking what that prosperity is for and seeking joys that personal peace and affluence cannot provide.
The Classical Christian approach to education, particularly the upper-school disciplines of logic and rhetoric, emphasizes critical thinking and communication. While STEM subjects help us to better understand our physical world and to solve problems related to our physical well-being, the Classical Christian approach insists that we must not neglect the hard questions about what we ought to do and why. If we could grow human organs for transplant inside the body of a pig, should we? Rather than being a merely academic exercise or supplying us with needed skills for service in our workplaces, churches and communities, Mortimer J. Adler, chairman of the Encyclopædia Britannica’s Board of Editors from 1974 to 1995, argued that the skills involved in reasoning and wrestling with others about such matters are critical to the survival of our democracy.
The curricula of a Classical Christian School, particularly upper school logic and rhetoric, seek to ground students in their own history—especially the history of ideas—by giving them direct access to the writings of those who shaped it, so that they become skilled in interpreting evidence and weighing arguments. If my children are to grow up to be people of the Book, they must be skilled in the close reading of texts. As they evaluate what they hear inside and outside our churches, I want them to do so with the benefit of familiarity with centuries of Christian writings. If they are to be rebuilders, they must be able to reason with and persuade others. They must not be characterized by a party spirit, but persuaded to change their thinking in the face of sound arguments, evidence and principled appeals.
While many of my colleagues share my concerns about the deterioration of civil discourse and the value of an education which emphasizes critical thinking and communication, the bits about knowing our Creator and walking with our Savior and having our minds set on things above do not compute. For me they are inseparable. Without the foundation of God’s transcendent goodness, beauty and truth, even a Classical education will eventually lead back to where we are now, each of us living by our own lights as they are the only lights we have. We have no ultimate basis for appeal which allows us to reason toward a common understanding. On the other hand, pursuing a Christian education which lacks the rigor of the Classical leaves my children without the skills, perspective and humility they need to be rebuilders, and we risk talking well-intentioned but nevertheless misguided steps in the wrong direction.
Of course, neither I nor my children will be rebuilders without the work of the Holy Spirit, softening our hearts. Meekness and repentance must come before the boldness for Christ to which we are called. Our children need to see the love of Christ to build in them the desire to be connected to Christ and to his church, “living members of Christ’s body.” Sarah and I are grateful to God that our children spend their school-days among teachers whose love for Christ is exemplified and continually poured into our kids. What a blessing WCA has been to our family!