Westside Rhetoric

Shall We Divide or Multiply?

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.


Why Would a Software Engineer Choose a Classical Christian School?

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!


WCA – Past, Present & Future

by Jim Whiteman

The following is a rendition of the address given by Jim Whiteman during the Twentieth Anniversary Celebration on March 18, 2017

God’s goodness and faithfulness is so evident at WCA.  Much has changed at our little school over twenty years, yet there are plenty of attributes our alumni families would still recognize. (BTW, by alumni, we mean any student who has ever attended WCA)
As an institution, we have grown from infancy, through early childhood. We now find ourselves at the cusp of adolescence, beginning to plan our adult future. Just as each of us ages, we change, yet part of us stays the same. So it is with WCA.

  • We now offer a pre-Kindergarten and in two years we will send off our first high school graduating class. We are still classical, and increasingly so as we develop the rhetoric phase.
  • God brought to us 166 students this year and we expect over 190 when school starts in August.  There are now two divisions:  Grammar School (preK to 6) and upper school (7-12), each soon to be led by its own principal. God is faithful in providing.
  • Our children still take many field trips to places like City Hall, Mapleside Farms, Playhouse Square, Cleveland’s excellent museums and even Washington, DC.  But now we also take older students to The March for Life in Washington, Christian apologetics conferences and college visits.  In two years we plan for our first trip to Europe with our juniors and seniors.
  • We still have Field Day, but also have family groups.
  • We still have Wednesday chapel – one for Grammar School, one for Upper School and sometimes combined.
  • We still daily teach respect for each other, honor for parents and teachers, courtesy and manners.  Students still memorize scripture, a history time-line and much more. We have speech meet, adopt-a-leader and engage with residents of Harbor Court assisted living.
  • Students still see each other as family; the olders help out with the youngers; students still set up classrooms for Sundays, empty trash, vacuum classrooms, and shovel snow.
  • We currently have 95 amazing families, representing over 25 churches. Our prayer is that we will grow in diversity – ethnically, economically and in giftedness.  Yet, we are still solidly a discipleship school,
    with a commitment to come alongside Christ-following parents who are committed to the word of God.
  • As our school grows, so does our budget, now at 1.1 million. This year our Be the One annual campaign goal is $145,000 to provide assistance for those who could never afford full tuition, but have the same burning desire to raise their children in the classical and Christian tradition. God has allowed us to operate in the black the past six years and begin to plan for the future. God is faithful.
  •  We are solidly committed to our original mission: to train up leaders who will impact the world for Jesus Christ. Leaders in the family, in business, medicine, science, education, government, law and in ministry.  No matter where our students go we want them to make a difference.  Jesus said we are to be in the world and not of it.  Thus, this greenhouse and training ground we call WCA is to come alongside believing parents that our children would not be conformed to this world, as Paul says in Romans 12, but to be transformed by the renewal of their minds.  May we be obedient to this calling! Blessing comes through obedience.

So where do we believe God is taking us as we begin our next decade?

We believe he has called us to build on the foundation of our founding families, finish the classical model by completing the high school, and grow to a total of up to 450 students in the next ten years. We wish to deepen our classical program while strengthening the arts and sciences, keeping class size small and further build our family partnerships. We want to equip our students to think Christianly in a post-Christian society, to walk in Truth while residing in a post-truth culture, to recognize true beauty in a world that glorifies the flesh, and to know God’s goodness even through the toughest of times.

We want young people not to be duped into chasing after lucrative careers for false happiness, but to steadfastly pursue their God-given purpose no matter where that takes them. We want them to be able to focus in this world of distractions, work hard in a generation that avoids responsibility, think in a culture that does what it feels, know and live the love of Christ in a civilization that increasingly acts like there is no God. We want them to embrace the sanctity of God-given life in our emerging culture of death.

The WCA vision is for our graduates to live out God’s design for men, women and marriage and be used of God to pull their neighbor out of the slime of a warped worldview that distorts what it means to be human.  This vision includes young people and their families who know what it means to pray as Jesus did, surrender as the apostle Paul did, stand firm in the faith like Daniel and rise up with grace and boldness as did Queen Esther, for such a time as this.

We have run out of room. Thus, we are now in the process of purchasing the church building we have been renting for the past 17 years. This will allow us to renovate and expand our campus, making the most of the 7.5 acres.  Grace Baptist Church will then rent from us and we will work all the more closely with them to the benefit of both ministries. We want Grace to flourish in this change and they desire the same for us.

The purchase of the facility is for 1.5 million and renovations are in the neighborhood of $500,000.  This will create four new classrooms, two new offices, upgrade the aging infrastructure and give several areas a needed facelift. God’s work will never lack God’s provision and He normally provides through His people. Please let us know if you wish to be part of this through a financial commitment.

We are considering a multi-phase building expansion over the next several years. By fall we should have more exactness to what the next ten years might bring and hope to then launch a capital campaign to fulfill this vision.

Let me close with this.  I recently began reading the newly published book, The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher.  I recommend it to stimulate your thinking.

In the first chapter the author writes:
“We are facing our own 1000 year flood…. The light of Christianity is flickering out all over the West.  There are people alive today who may live to see the effective death of Christianity within our civilization. By God’s mercy, the faith may continue to flourish in the Global South and China, but barring a dramatic reversal of current trends, it will all but disappear entirely from Europe and North America… For a long time we have downplayed or ignored the signs.  Now the floodwaters are upon us and we are not ready. Don’t be fooled by the large number of churches…”

Dreher goes on to give statistics many of us know to be reality, that the majority of Christian students attending both Christian and non-Christian universities are biblically illiterate and unprepared for what will come their way.   The majority of those being raised in Christian households will leave the faith and many are creating their own spirituality, that of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, whereby by one’s idol is personal happiness and God’s role is to provide that.

As part of our needed way forward, Dreher writes on education in chapter seven:
“Today, across the Christian community, there is a growing movement called classical Christian education.  It is counter-cultural in both form and content. …  Doing it right requires a level of effort and commitment that contemporary Americans are not accustomed to – but what alternative do we have?

If you want to know how critical education is to cultural and religious survival, ask the Jews… Christians have not been nearly as alert to the importance of education, and it’s time to change that.

To that end, one of the most important pieces of the benedict Option movement is the spread of classical Christian schools. Rather than letting their children spend forty hours a week learning “facts” with a few hours of worldview education slapped on, parents need to… provide them with an education that is rightly ordered – that is, one based on the premise that there is a God-given, unified structure to reality and that it is discoverable.  They need to teach them scripture and history. And they should not stop after twelfth grade.

Building schools that can educate properly will require churches, parents, peer groups and fellow traveler Christians to work together.  It will be costly, but what choice is there?”

Thank you for being part of a God-honoring endeavor as he builds WCA. It is hard work, but a joyful enterprise.  May God alone be praised for bringing His people together for his purposes.  While we do not know for sure just what the future will bring, we do know Who holds the future and He is faithful.

Care to join us as we step into the next decade? Please commit to prayer, financial support and/or volunteering of time and talent. As with our founding families, God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

Why Classical Christian Education? Bringing Order Out of Chaos

comic02By:  Emily Billings

C.S. Lewis eloquently summarizes my love for great literature in his book An Experiment in Criticism, “The best safeguard against bad literature is a full experience of good; just as a real and affectionate acquaintance with honest people gives a better protection against rogues than a habitual distrust of everyone.”  This is what a classical Christian education gave me: the tools to safeguard against the lies that the world offers, and an opportunity to participate in the Great Conversation. The Great Conversation is the ongoing process of writers and thinkers referencing, building on, and refining the work of their predecessors.

Some parents may think, after understanding what a classical Christian education is, why is it so beneficial? Isn’t a Christian education sufficient for the welfare of the child? I will argue an emphatic “no” in this article and seek to explain so through the academic benefits, spiritual benefits, and personal benefits I have received from a classical Christian education.

First, the trivium in classical Christian education is multifaceted. It can be used for several different purposes in education. Etymologically, the Latin word trivium means “the place where three roads meet”. These three “roads” are grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Grammar is the “ABC’s” of a subject, logic is the “why” behind the subject as well as a defense of, and rhetoric is the capstone in which a subject is fully understood and articulated winsomely.  The trivium can be used in an individual concept, within a subject as a whole, and also for the understanding of child development.

The trivium can be applied to a single subject. For example, my third graders memorize the ABC’s of their multiplication table (grammar), then they articulate that 3 x 2 means three groups of two, adding three two times (logic), and finally they can complete multiplication problems with two digits (12×15) and explain the process as they complete the problem (rhetoric).
The trivium can be applied to a larger subject area. Sticking with math, in the grammar stage students memorize addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts as the foundation of mathematics, along with basic math principles. In the logic stage, the students move on to more complicated math learning the “why” of math in algebra and syllogisms in geometry, and finally in the rhetoric stage all principles previously learned in math are applied.

Finally, the trivium is applied to child development. Children in the grammar stage (grades K-6) are excellent at memorization. They memorize math facts, timelines, grammar jingles, all with joy. Children in the logic stage (grades 7-9) become interested in the “why” questions behind what they have learned and learn how to present arguments intelligently. The rhetoric stage (grades 10-12) is the capstone of learning in which students speak and write on works of literature, history, apologetics, and so on. The trivium not only complements the academic development of a child, but also enhances spiritual development of the child.

Left alone, the trivium without Christianity is sorely lacking.  Without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, knowledge is futile. After all, our love of creation is a holy use of our intellect for God’s glory. Classical Christian education offers Biblical integration throughout all subject areas. At a classical Christian school Biblical integration is not simply Bible class and chapel, but teachers implement sacramental practices in their classrooms such as prayer, worship, service, and scripture memorization. Classical Christian teachers teach under the umbrella that “all truth is God’s truth”, and to study the creation that God redeems in the resurrection of His son Jesus Christ. Such Biblical integration in science, math, history, etc. develops intelligent men and women prepared to fulfill what Jesus prayed to his Father in John 17, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” Classical Christian education offers personal discipleship of the student by their teacher who prays for and exhorts them in the way they should go. The trivium, Biblical integration, and personal discipleship enable students to love the Lord with both their mind and soul as they go out into the world and seek the welfare of the city in which they live.

St. Augustine says in book two of his On Christian Teaching, “A person who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature.” Some parents look at me quizzically when I tell them that I teach Greek mythology in third grade. Why teach such pagan literature? The answer is that my students are to find truth, wherever it may be found. They learn to articulate the terms polytheism vs. monotheism and learn to pick out Christian virtues found in Greek mythology (there are many!).  Virtues in story, myth, and heroes are all found in such works, as well as much pagan literature of the Great Tradition. For example, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, is a just and good goddess who protects and respects those around her, whereas Ares, the god of war loves bloodshed and is portrayed as unintelligent and a crybaby. Naturally, my students would rather be an “Athena” than an “Ares”. Even though I don’t believe in Plato’s religious philosophy, his Allegory of the Cave portrays a Christian principle of salvation and coming out of darkness into light.

Learning the Great Tradition (primary texts in the canon of great literature) and participating in the Great Conversation taught me how to thoughtfully engage in culture, loving the Lord with my mind. I can now intelligently reflect on presidential debates, criticize arguments of pop culture, and weigh the theology presented by my pastor. Classical Christian education equips students to become lifelong learners who as adults seek the welfare of their cities, intelligently present and defend the gospel, and practice thoughtful criticism of the postmodern world in which they live. Classical Christian education reflects God’s character of bringing order out of chaos. In a world where virtue is called vice and vice virtue, students are given the academic, spiritual, and social tools to engage the world with the mind of Christ through completion of the trivium, Biblical integration, and personal discipleship.

What is Classical Christian Education?

classicaleducgraphimageBy Bernard J. Mauser, Ph.D.
With the increasing failure rates, violence, immorality, and attacks on God in public schools, many believers are looking for an alternative when it comes to educating their children. Those that look into classical Christian education wonder how it differs from other types of education. Education that is classical is admittedly old.  Some may fear that any appeal to an education that is classical must be inferior because it is not new. After all, isn’t real progress seen in the incredible technological advances we’ve been experiencing the last 150 years? This way of thinking is identified by the late British scholar C.S. Lewis as an example of ‘chronological snobbery.’ Those that reason this way say that what is new is good while what is old is bad. Both old and new things each need to be evaluated to see whether they are good or bad.

What is the standard by which to judge whether an education is good? To answer this one must answer what the point of an education is. After all, it makes no sense to say a particular thing, for example a knife, is good or not unless you know what its purpose is. If one looks at a functional explanation, things that fulfill their purpose are good; those that don’t are bad. A good knife is one that is sharp and cuts well. A bad knife is dull. Similarly, a good education is one that both causes and equips a person to become a better human being leading them to ultimate happiness, i.e., God. A bad education corrupts mankind and leads away from the highest attainable goods.

What are the elements of classical education that one can evaluate? There are several important marks that make an education classical, but three are evidently different from the public schools. These are the trivium, studying Latin, and reading primary texts.

First, schools identifying as classical emphasize teaching what is called the trivium, namely grammar, logic, and rhetoric. More is entailed in the trivium than is immediately understood. Many of us remember learning grammar in school, how to think about things, and being required to explain our work in different contexts. The work many of us did that overlapped with the trivium did so accidentally. It is simply because of the nature of communication that we learned patterns of speech and thought from our parents, teachers, and environment.  Classical schools intentionally work to improve these three areas as they are the foundation of the life of the mind. Philosopher Miriam Joseph explains:  The trivium is the organon, or instrument, of all education at all levels because the arts of logic, grammar, and rhetoric are the arts of communication itself in that they govern the means of communication—namely, reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Thinking is inherent in these four categories. Reading and listening, for example, although relatively passive, involve active thinking, for we agree or disagree with what we read or hear.

Reading, writing, and reckoning – though covered in both types of schools—are emphasized differently in Classical schools as they keep an intentional focus on the trivium.

Second, classical schools emphasize that students learn Latin. Although the importance of Latin cannot be overstated, there are five noteworthy reasons to have students learn Latin.

  1. People undertaking a detailed study of Latin truly understand English grammar. This overlaps with an explicit goal of the trivium.
  2. Leaders in our society retain portions of Latin to communicate with each other (e.g., in medicine, science, and law).
  3. Learning Latin and its forms allows a student to imbibe a rich cultural heritage that has been shared with some of the greatest minds for the past 2000 years.
  4. It helps students score extremely high on the Verbal section of standardized tests (162 points higher than the national average on the SAT) leading to more possible money for college. This is possibly explained due to the fact that 60% of English words are derived from Latin.
  5. For the Christian, the majority of Christian thought has been written using Latin for the last 1600 years.

These five reasons combine to provide a reasonable justification for (at the very least) teaching children Latin in school.

Third, classical schools emphasize students reading primary texts. Rather than reading about a book, a classical approach makes sure students are exposed to the great works of some of the greatest thinkers that have lived. This differs from most public schools and even undergraduate programs. Rather than having textbooks written by others that tell you the thoughts of great works, students get to enjoy the thoughts in each book first-hand. For those of us that love teaching primary texts, we see it as the difference between telling someone how great something is versus bringing a student along to experience it (imagine someone telling you how good something tastes compared with actually getting to enjoy it yourself).  This approach also means that of the scores of books in existence, students get to focus on only the greatest and most enduring. This shapes each student’s taste for quality work.

What about the Christian component? It doesn’t take long to notice that not every classical school is Christian (some may say not every school that calls itself Christian is either). The classical Christian school has an edge over others.  The reason is that there are certain things God has revealed about Himself (e.g., He is Triune, Jesus is God, God created the heavens and the earth, etc.) and the rest of reality that can help guide us as we evaluate different works. As believers there is the admonition to make right judgments and demolish arguments that are against the knowledge of God; there is also instruction to focus on the pure, excellent, and praiseworthy.  These can be implemented as an important grid to help guide both teacher and student. The teacher is a support when the student struggles with the material until the student also learns through instruction and example how to stand firm.

In sum, a classical Christian education emphasizes the trivium, Latin, and primary texts guiding students to understand all of reality through the lens of a Christian worldview.  Miriam Joseph refers to English poet Matthew Arnold on the goal of education:  The fruit of education is culture which is “the knowledge of ourselves and the world.” In the “sweetness and light” of Christian culture, which adds to the knowledge of the world and ourselves the knowledge of God and of other spirits, we are enabled truly to “see life steadily and see it whole.”

We see this classical Christian approach as providing a means to help us reach our chief end- to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.