All motion is not progress. Neither is increased choice. For example, as our independence becomes more boundless, our loneliness grows. Our schools have changed a lot in the last fifty years. They are different, but they are not better. In fact, by many metrics they are far worse. Why?

Is it because they are underfunded? Per capita spending by school districts is not correlated to student outcomes nationally. Sasse discusses the example of Kansas City and how over a twelve year period it became the highest funded school district in the country, spending over $2 billion on 60 new schools with amenities such as Olympic size swimming pools, a robotics lab, a recording and television studio, a planetarium, an arboretum, a zoo, and even a 25 acre wildlife sanctuary. What was the result? There was no real change or improvement. Over the past 30 years there has been a quintupling of federal spending on education that has produced nothing quantifiably better. Inflation-adjusted spending per pupil increased from $440 at the end of the First World War to more than $8,000 at the end of the 20th century, an increase over 1700%. That is an average yearly growth of nearly 6%. Are our schools improving by 6% every year? Our four-year universities, despite having lowered standards for freshman year performance, now place one-third of their incoming students in remedial reading and mathematics courses. In all, about half of incoming college students require some degree of remediation. This is a nice way of saying that half the students that are admitted to college are not qualified to attend.

At the same time our schools began to replace the family and became the center of adolescent life, they also moved away from their traditional role of transmitting and conserving knowledge. John Dewey, our most influential thinker on education, was skeptical of the obsessive need to teach children reading. He called it a "perversion." Instead, he wanted the school to focus on how it could be an instrument of social progress. As a result of moving away from traditional goals and methods of education our children spend more hours in the classroom than ever before and yet they leave high school for college or the workforce less prepared and less able to cope with the next stage of their lives.

Sasse believes we must have a discussion about the role of the school so that we can tailor our reforms to improve what we can and ought to improve. Schools can't solve every social problem, so we need to ask: what do we want for our children? Once we answer this question we can decide whether school or another institution is the best way to inculcate a given value or skill. If we want our students to be ready for work, why not internships? If want them to be more civic-minded, why not community service?

It is essential that we think this through because neither our current system nor our attempts to reform our schools are working. If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre schools that exist today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. This is true for the rich and poor alike. Our young are indifferent to almost everything except the diversion of toys and violence. Rich and poor alike cannot concentrate on anything for very long and they all have a poor sense of time passed and time to come.

Liberal and Conservative; Republican and Democrat: we all want good schools for our children. But to do this we must first answer the underlying question: what is the purpose of education? Once we answer that we can decide what portion of that purpose can be reasonably accomplished by formalized school. But instead of debating and discussing this issue, we have assumed the school can and should do everything. This approach is empirically not working.

Sasse believes our nation would be served if we had a broad marketplace of schools. We should have family schools, religious schools, entrepreneurial schools, craft schools, and farm schools (Editor's note: I would Gospel-Centered, University-Model, Classical schools that utilize Charlotte Mason's thought to promote Joyful Discovery :) These schools, in competition with one another, would raise the level of education and lead to a number of new ideas.

One thing that Ben Sasse strongly opposes is the P-16 initiative. This is the idea that students should routinely go through grade 16; that a college degree should be the new norm. He asks the question: if grade 12 isn't working why should we pursue grade 13? Instead of admitting that the one-size-fits-all model is extending the period of adolescence rather than producing active learners, we are deciding, without open and honest debate, to invest even more power and authority in the same one-size-fits-all model. Unfortunately, centralized education bureaucrats tend to see every failure as a proof of still not enough centralized bureaucracy. We are still trying to spoon feed young adults who we should instead nudge to travel and to read, and to work to become the kind of students who ask questions before being handed a three point formulaic answer. Sasse believe we already over-manage the lives of our young adults and the P-16 initiative will only further this trend. In Nebraska, Sasse’s home state, the percentage of graduating seniors enrolling in college has increased by roughly 25% over the last 15 years. This is incredibly encouraging! However, the college graduation rate has remained completely even, as one third of Nebraska’s students drop out without graduating (this is also the national average).

What is more, this increased time in a bureaucratic setting means less family life, less time in the community, and less effort invested in thinking about what coming-of-age work experience could and should look like.

In sum, Sasse worries that it is foolish to invest more time and resources in an education system when we don't even of a clear idea of what education should produce.

I want to take a week off from my Vanishing American Adult message series to share a few thoughts about how we can respond and talk to our kids about the Coronavirus.

1) First off, we need not fear. This is may be the most repeated command in the Bible. Yet it does not mean that our lives will be easy or safe. But if our lives may be difficult and trying, why should we not fear?

God is sovereign. This disease will go no further and last no longer than God allows.

Our hope is in the resurrection. Our lives will be marred with sickness and pain and, if Christ does not return in our lifetimes, we will die. Our hope is not in living forever on this earth, but rather living with Christ forever in Heaven. If our hope is in the resurrection we can face even death without fear. This is an opportunity to grow in faith! To the extent our trust is in our health or our youth we will feel fear and anxiety. We all feel this to some degree (at least I do!) because none of us completely trusts in Christ (at least I don’t). But that fear is a gift from God to turn you towards Him. When you feel anxious, turn to Christ and seek to deepen your faith in Him.

God is with us. Always. Everywhere. Even when we don’t “feel” Him. Nothing can separate us from His love. Nothing. Ever. In the storm Christ’s disciples were overcome with fear, but He rebuked them—why fear when I am present? Christ is just as present with us as He was with His disciples two-thousand years ago.

2) This is an opportunity to love others.

We can slow the spread of this disease (even if the risk is low to us personally) by foregoing things we love.

There will be more opportunities for us to serve. We can get groceries for the elderly. We can comfort and encourage those caring for the sick. And we ourselves may have the opportunity to care for the sick. Christianity spread rapidly in the ancient world largely because when plagues came through and pagans abandoned their families and neighbors, Christians stayed behind and cared for the sick—they even cared for those that had been brutally persecuting them. Christians lowered the mortality rate by 20%, but many of them died as a result. They rejoiced at this because it gave them the opportunity to show their hope was in the resurrection. Lord willing we will not lose our lives in great numbers during this pandemic, but we may have the opportunity to sacrifice our comfort and even our health to love and serve others.

3) This is a great opportunity for us to reevaluate the things we love.

When we love things we can lose they never bring us happiness because they can be taken. When we lose them, they bring us pain, but even the fear of losing them brings us pain. Right now we are losing a number of things: safety, health, entertainment, freedom, money, our ability to be productive at our jobs, and some are even losing their lives. This is bringing real pain. But that pain is a gift from God to drive our hearts towards things we can’t lose: Christ, Godly virtue, wisdom, the joy of our salvation, the hope of our resurrection, etc. Don’t use this time to up your Netflix intake; use it to evaluate what you really love and then repent of your idolatrous loves and seek to know and love Christ more!

4) Enjoy this time!

We can’t control what happens to us (and this is most of life(!), though technology gives us the illusion of control), but we can always control how we respond. We’re going to be shut in with our families over the next few weeks. Use this time to read together, play together, pray together. Tell stories, do puzzles, go on walks, visit parks, cook together, bake together—this can be a truly blessed time.

May God be with you all. May he keep you all safe and healthy. May this pandemic quickly pass over us all.

Adulthood is not an age. It is something to be earned after going through various milestones that mark a mature, autonomous human being. There used to be structures in place and a predictable set of steps one could take. One would finish school, get a job, get married, buy a house, have children, etc. We have lost that.

What is more, the idea of what it means to be a kid has significantly changed. Prior to 1800 most people didn't know precisely when they were born. Children were not treated as "precious", but as little workers who were just not very good at their work. Our ancestors viewed childhood not as a time for indulgence, but rather as a training ground. Children worked as soon as they could and they were encouraged to contribute more and more to the good of their communities as they got older. As late as the 1870s children between the ages of 10 and 19 were providing at least one third of their families' income. Parents thought it was good for their kids to learn to work. They believed that children are naturally self-centered and needed to be shepherded towards self-discipline and self-control. They believed that the resilience that people need to flourish didn't come naturally; it had to be cultivated and work was a good way to cultivate it. Our child-centered, nurturing approach would have been quite foreign to these earlier generations.

According to Sasse, some of the ways we now view childhood are better and our children are better off as a result. However, there are a number of ways in which our children have changed for the worse.

1) Medication. A 2015 report says that ADHD medications have grown 8% per year since 2010. They topped $12.9 billion in 2015 and are expected to exceed $17.5 billion by 2020. This is not to say that some children don’t need medication, they do. But we are overmedicating our children (and ourselves!) often in order to avoid difficulties that should be faced head on and overcome.

2) Screens. Even more damaging has been the screens that our children use. American teenagers average about nine hours of entertainment media use each day. Tweens use an average of about six hours. On average kids over 13 are spending nearly 2/3 of their waking hours with her eyes tied down and their body stationary. According to Nielsen Research, the average adult has increased his or her time on smart phone applications by 63% in just the last two years. According to other studies that Sasse cites, the relatively average young American male has played more than 14,000 hours of video games by the time he turns 21. That's 583 days, or 1.6 years. This translates to half of all waking hours for 280 weeks (more than five years). Just one month after the release of “Call of Duty: Black Ops” in 2010, the game had been collectively played for 68,000 years. Among our low-skilled young men, a substantial share play upwards of 30 hours of video games per week.

3) Refusing to leave the nest. For the first time in more than 130 years, 18- to 34-year-olds in the United States are more likely to be living in their parents’ home than with a spouse or partner in their own household.

4) Marriage avoidance. The failure to leave home has a lot to do with the fact that our young people are avoiding marriage. They do not see it as important for them individually or for our society collectively.

5) Church avoidance. The young are also avoiding church. This in turn makes it difficult for them to see their communal responsibilities and leads them to a highly individualistic understanding of right and wrong.

6) Loss of patriotism. Our young have lost an understanding of our country and what makes it great, which has led to a resurgence of interest in socialism (which is something Sasse regrets). Although only 16% of millennials can define what socialism is, nearly half of them conclude that is preferable to capitalism. Among our young, nearly half have no preference for democracy over other forms of government.

7) Intellectual fragility. Trigger warnings marginalize honest discussion of big and important topics, insulating people not only from exposure to new ideas, but also from the intellectual and character development that comes from being forced to articulate, defend, and potentially revise one's opinions and positions

8) Helicopter parenting. Parenting has become more time-consuming and ever present and yet simultaneously less goal oriented. In our quest to ensure our children's educational and financial futures, we undermine both.

How and when did this change? The family and parenting underwent significant changes beginning in the 1950s. By the 1950s adolescence decreasingly became a period of moral development under parental authority and increasingly a period in which unchaperoned peers shaped the sensibilities of those coming-of-age. As teenagers began to spend the better part of their days with their peers, they learned to look to one another and not adults for advice, information, and approval.

At the same time, given the baby boom, teenagers made up a significant portion of the market and a “youth culture” was born as advertisers sought to sell to them directly. As a result, instead of adolescence being conceived of as an apprentice stage in route to adult life and responsibilities, increasingly teen culture became the model or ideal American life.

Simultaneously parenting "experts" encouraged American parents to spend quality time as a family, to reassure their children of their love for them, and to make children the center of adult attention. Simultaneously adolescents were encouraged to explore and develop their own unique identities. Parents were told they did not need to direct this exploration, but rather to simply assure children of their love.

Let me be clear, some of these developments are really good—it is good that families spend more quality time together and that parents reassure their children of their love for them. But taken together many of these other developments, from ubiquitous screens to the idea that children should be encouraged to create and live by their own values, have negatively impacted our children’s ability to develop mature character and embrace responsibility. What we can do about this will be a main focus moving forward in these messages.

It is inhuman to live only in the present. And yet that is where many people live. Sasse wants our children to be intentional about everything—to reject mindless consumption and to embrace an ethos of action, of productivity, of meaningful work, and of genuine lifelong learning. But many things in our society work against this type of maturation and growth.

Traditionally there was a clear sequence of events that one went through to grow up. And there was a new set of obligations associated with each new phase of life. Certain rites of passage were hard, but not with the goal of making kids miserable. Rather they were intended to prepare kids for the inevitable tribulations that come with adulthood and to instill in them the work ethic and perseverance necessary to survive upon leaving home. Many of our kids no longer see the reason for embracing adult responsibilities. As a result they embrace a broad range of time killers that keep them perpetually immature.

How did we get to this point?

1) Material surplus. Following World War II we became the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. As a result the immediate need to work in order to survive has become less apparent.

2) Age segregation. Kids no longer see their parents work and spend most of their time in age segregated environments. Although kids live under their parents’ roofs for longer than past generations did, they are far more separated from the social and moral universe of their elders.

3) Family breakdown. Because of divorce and cohabitation, the nuclear family is in peril.

4) School is overemphasized. We have so come to identify our obligations to teenagers with the institution of secondary schooling that we've lost the collective memory of folks who came of age without schooling as the defining formative institution. One problem has been that institutionalized schooling has displaced work in multigenerational environments. What is more, as school has become more important, it has paradoxically become shallower. When we removed prayer and religious study from school we also removed the great existential questions about how the individual fits into the bigger cosmic picture; we removed questions about life's purpose.

5) Likewise, as high school has become overemphasized the importance of high school has diminished. As college became more popular, the value of a high school diploma waned. A diploma is no longer a predictable ticket to full-time, middle-class work; as a result, high schools are fraying. Many students were faced with the question: why try to do well in high school if the only point of high school is to get into a college and I don’t plan on going to college?

6) The counter-cultural movement. In the 1960s we had a lot of conflict about what America means. Instead of deliberately coming together and forging a new consensus, we have allowed polarization to hollow out much of our discourse. Instead of a new national consensus, we have permitted popular culture and the trivial to substitute as the basis of our shared experience.

When discussing the current state of our schools, Sasse believes that our predicament can be traced back to John Dewey.

For centuries there has been a controversy between realists and romantics.

Realists recognize that much of man's lot in this life is to bear the burden of suffering and to do his best in the moral quest to turn away from self-centeredness. A book that embodies this is Augustine's Confessions.

Romantics on the other hand reject the idea of original sin. Instead of trying to overcome the sin within us, romantics believe people are naturally good and that if government and education are rearranged the right way, they will allow man’s natural goodness to flow out of him. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Emile is a typical work in this school.

In the midst of this debate John Dewey asserted that there should be no debate—we should simply embrace pragmatism and do what “works”. Dewey is very difficult to argue against because he wanted to, in effect, stop all argument. His legacy is huge, but few of the steps that he advocated and American schools adopted were ever formally debated and accepted.

What is his legacy? We no longer see school as a tool, as a means to an end and not an end in itself. For Dewey the school would become everything, the literal center of the world. The school ceased to be an instrument supporting parents and became instead a substitute for parents.

On the other hand, Sasse believes that great teachers shouldn't try to be the exclusive center of life, but rather instrumental servants of a larger life. Great school administrators should know and honor the limits of their institutions and not try to displace families in the deeper and wider institutions of life that they are based in.

According to Sasse, it is important that we think through these questions and come up with good answers soon as we are currently living through what is surely the greatest economic disruption since the Industrial Revolution and what might end up being the largest economic disruption since nomadic hunter gatherers first settled down to plant crops. In this new economy work instability will become an even more regular feature of future experience. Only about 150 years ago did people first begin to develop the concept of picking a job. And at that time it tended to be a one-time decision as a teenager that defined one's life until death or retirement. We now live in an age in which the average duration of a job is about four years. We live in a world where technology has eroded the need for human hands on farms and factory lines. What is more, even the “knowledge economy” is in danger from automation. Sasse quotes estimates that predict that in the near future automation tools, systems, and machines will be able to equal the output of 110 million to 140 million full-time "knowledge" workers. To flourish in this new economy our children will need to be nimble and entrepreneurial workers. And they won’t become this if we rely exclusively on schools to form them.

Have any of you ever heard of the term “adulting”? According to the Oxford dictionary, it is “The practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks. 'It feels really good to take a step back from adulting and have someone else cook dinner for me.’ ” There are number of memes and even books about this because, for a growing number of young Americans, acting like a grown-up is a kind of role-playing that can be thought of as a joke.

In the past there was clarity about what coming of age into adulthood meant. This is no longer the case. Ours is now a nation of both delayed grown-ups and adult children who create words to mock the idea that we can ever become responsible, civic-minded leaders.

According to Senator Ben Sasse, our entire nation is in the midst of a collective coming-of-age crisis without parallel in our history as America is becoming a place of perpetual adolescence. Our kids simply don't know what an adult is anymore—or how to become one. Many don't see a reason even to try. Perhaps more problematic, the older generations have forgotten that we need to make an effort ourselves to teach them.

This would be a big problem in any society, but it is even more significant for us given the fact that we live in a republic. Our nation is premised on the idea that the government exists not to define and secure the good, the true, and the beautiful, but rather to maintain a framework for ordered liberty so that free people can pursue their happiness in the diverse ways that they see fit.

This is all from the introduction to Ben Sasse’s book The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance. Over the next three weeks I will write about the next three chapters in Sasse’s book. You won’t need to read along in his book to understand these messages, but you are obviously welcome to do so.

Chapters 1-3 discuss the problem of passivity that is becoming more and more apparent in our young people. After these three messages I will spend the next five weeks discussing five concrete steps that Sasse recommends we as parents take with our children to help them mature, things like breaking the monopoly of peer groups and connecting them with people of different ages, encouraging our kids to embrace hard work and consume less, as well as to read well and read more and travel.

In these messages I am not going to give you my opinions, but rather I’m going to do my best to summarize and pass on the main ideas of Ben Sasse’s book. That being said, please don’t assume that I endorse everything in these messages. There are places wherein I disagree with Senator Sasse, but I’m not going to clog up these messages with my commentary.

Finally, as many of you know, Ben Sasse is a Republican. He is generally ranked as one of the more conservative members of Congress and he has been one of the more outspoken opponents of President Trump. Nonetheless, while Senator Sasse has a number of very strong political opinions, this is not a book about politics; it is not even a book about policy. Senator Sasse believes that the key to fixing our politics is to fix the underlying factors that drive our politics, one of which is the way we raise our kids. It is to that end that he has written this book.

Hopefully you find these messages edifying and helpful.

Over the next couple of months I am going to be doing a series on how we can help to lead our children into fuller maturity. In next week’s message I will frame this series and introduce the specifics, but before doing that I want to take a moment and explain why I focus on what I do and why I take the approach I do.

I have had a few great conversations over the past few weeks and I always appreciate your feedback!!! Some of you have noticed that I talk a lot about building character and forging virtue. Why is that?

First, when I came of age my understanding of the Gospel was one “cheap grace”. That is, I thought ‘God loves me no matter what, so I may as well do what I want.’ I had no burden or desire to become a man of character or virtue. As a result I had good intentions, but nothing more and I often made a mess of my life and the lives of others. Because of this fairly gaping hole in my youth I tend to focus more on what I lacked.

Second, over the past decade I have spent far more time with teenagers than with adults. And a lot of them are in rough shape. There are a substantial amount of young men that play more than forty hours of video games a week and a substantial amount of young women who spend that much time on social media. I’ve seen dozens of young men and women burning with a desire to change things, thirsting for justice, but incapable of committing themselves to any type of group or organization that could effect any real change. I know far too many young people that desire to get married, but they lack the wisdom, self-control, and selflessness to take even the first steps towards marriage. In response, I tend to focus on the things that I see undermining their growth in godliness—the things that make us into shallow, vapid, weak people that lack character.

However, in the midst of this it is important to remember that behavior modification is not the goal—Jesus Christ is. Christ did not die to make us better, but to save us from sin and death and remake us in His image so that we can enjoy Him forever. While we need to understand what we are moving from in order to grow and overcome, our focus is not on what we are rejecting, but Who we are pursuing.

We have a saying in our house, ‘we say “no” to some things so that we can say “yes” to others.’ For example, we say “no” to lots of junk food so that we can say “yes” to better health. I want my children (and God commands them) to say “no” to laziness and greed so that they can say “yes” to industriousness and generosity. Because we can’t have things on our terms—we can’t eat what we want and be fit; we can’t have complete and radical independence and autonomy and have friendship or community. I think it is absolutely necessary to say “no” to bad things in order to pursue good things and we must talk about and understand what we are rejecting. Yet our ultimate focus, the central desire of our heart, must be in the thing we are saying yes to. The merchant that sold everything he had to buy the Pearl of Great Price found in that Pearl ‘more than he could ask for or imagine.’ But he had to sell everything to get it! As I write and speak against things that hold our children back from virtue, please remember that my goal is to help them to overcome sin and infirmity not so they can become better people, but so that they will be freed from the things that hold them back from knowing, loving, and becoming more like Christ.

The goal of classical education is virtue. To gain this Charlotte Mason believed we should rely on “Living Books” to educate the whole child. However, it is not enough to read the right books, books must also be read the right way.

There are two different ways one can approach a book: analytically or synthetically. Analysis takes things apart. It breaks them down into smaller and smaller and more discrete pieces and examines them separately. Synthesis combines things into a whole. It considers each new piece of knowledge as one piece of a larger puzzle and seeks to find its place within that ever more complete “big picture”.

On paper it seems like both approaches can help us to understand a book. But the differences between approaches are like the differences between eating a vitamin and a meal—meals taste good and create an appetite for more. Given mere information without context, we choke on it. But given knowledge in context it is more easily understood and we assimilate it joyfully. We connect with it and it ultimately becomes a part of us.

According to Charlotte Mason, one of the best ways to develop connections between what we learn and ourselves is to write narrations. Narration is the retelling in one’s own words of what one has learned. As the student progresses in this, he will begin to add his own impressions and opinions to his narrations. This connects him directly to the things that he is reading. It also promotes active learning, which helps the student to retain and to be formed by the things learned.

In our exams and essays, especially as students get older, our hope is to foster a synthetic understanding. We don’t want our students to know disconnected facts, we want them to have a view of the connected whole and their place in that whole. As you can imagine this is a difficult task! But by going through repeated historical and literature cycles (ancient, medieval, modern) and by keeping Christ at the center of all we learn and do we ground our students in a bigger picture, in the greater whole.

“We owe it to every child to put him in communication with great minds that he may get at great thoughts; with the minds, that is, of those who have left us great works; and the only vital method of education appears to be that children should read worthy books, many worthy books.” -Charlotte Mason

To carry out the classical project of inculcating virtue and educating the whole person Charlotte Mason believed that students ought to read “Living Books.” What is a living book? Simply put, a living book is one that conveys living ideas and one that can be narrated by the student.

Books should be of the highest literary quality and should engage both the mind and the heart of the reader. This is important because our students do not read books for the mere acquisition of information. Instead, they read to be connected with heroes, ideas, and examples of truth, goodness, and beauty. These great works fire the moral imagination and show students that virtue is not only right, but it is also beautiful and praiseworthy, something worth seeking, something worth sacrificing to obtain and protect.

Charlotte Mason worried that divorcing ideas from their context causes them to lose their vitality and makes education boring. Education must be vital if they are to shape and form the entire person. Students should not read books merely to check off a list or to be able to say they have read them. They ought to read to grow as persons, to know more that they may understand more, and ultimately to act according to their greater wisdom. For this reason Charlotte Mason rejected any book wherein living ideas have been reduced to mere information, as well as compilations of facts which contain no life in the first place.

As children read living books they will not only be exposed to virtuous examples, but also be exposed to noble language that will naturally help them to learn to communicate clearly, persuasively, and winsomely. As Erasmus of Rotterdam, a famous classical educator put it, “It is not by learning rules that we acquire the power of speaking a language, but by daily intercourse with those accustomed to express themselves with exactness and refinement, and by the copious reading of the best authors.” While our students do learn grammatical rules, they don’t merely learn rules. They are also exposed to great works wherein they see good writing in context.

Finally, living books are valuable in their breadth. Because the goal of education is the formation of a wise and just person, an education that simply focuses on the “Three Rs” is inadequate. Charlotte Mason believed that children should be exposed to a wide range of ideas and interests, for the wider the ranger, “the more intelligent is the apprehension of each.” Living books always contain a wide range of ideas and interests.

This is again a place where we follow Charlotte Mason. We select living books that are broad in their scope, well-written, and that encourage and motivate our students to grow in goodness and virtue.

“The entire object of true education is to make people not merely do the right things, but enjoy the right things—not merely industrious, but to love industry—not merely learned, but to love knowledge—not merely pure, but to love purity—not merely just, but to hunger and thirst after justice.” -John Ruskin

While we moderns are often prone to see education as only molding and training the intellect, classical educators like Charlotte Mason believed that the education of our intellect serves the greater purpose of informing our conduct. We learn to know in order that we may know how to act rightly, not merely to perform well on tests.

The Greeks believed that the goal of education was to pass on a Paideia, a culture. To use contemporary language, the Greeks would say that education creates a meta-narrative (or worldview) for children which helps them understand the world and live rightly within it.

This worldview, this Paideia, must touch on every aspect of their lives. How should we use our free time? (This was actually the focal point of education for Aristotle.) How should we spend our money? What does the wise care of our bodies look like? How does one act as a good friend? We don’t think of schools being built around answering these types of questions, but our ancestors did. They thought that schools must pass on a comprehensive view of the world that helps children find their places in it and gives them guidance as to how they ought to act in any and every situation that they find themselves. This is how they would have viewed educating the “whole child.”

Before Christ, teachers used to look to “ideal” men and women, people like Achilles and Socrates. These teachers all agreed that we should be shaping our children in the mode of ideal people, but they couldn’t agree as to what that ideal looked like. It wasn’t until Christ came that the ideal was realized and schools (as they Christianized) began to set Him up as their model.

The key virtue of Christ that all students must have, according to Charlotte Mason, is humility. It is a valuable thing to be able to approach every person or object or book with the view of learning something from them. What might be learned from an infant? Or from a tree? What does a worm have to teach us, or a homeless man in the street? This we will never find out, unless we place ourselves in that attitude of teachableness which makes learning possible.

At Charis we desire that our children grow in knowledge—we want them to score well on exams and gain admittance to selective colleges. But we also know that they are more than their intellect and that there is more to education than teaching them to understand, analyze, and reproduce information. More than knowledge we want them to grow in wisdom and virtue. The books we select, the essays they write, the discussions they have—in all of these we want to help them to grow in wisdom and apply wisdom in all areas of their lives. The end goal is a student educated in the whole of life, a student that knows how to apply wisdom and live virtuously no matter what situation or challenge he finds himself in.

As you all know Charlotte Mason is a significant influence on our school. However, her ideas are not widely understood. Over the next four weeks I plan to write about a few of Charlotte Mason’s ideas and how we incorporate them.

The first thing to recognize about Charlotte Mason is that she is not separate from the classical tradition. Charlotte Mason was a classical educator and reformer. She believed that classical education had strayed from its roots and she wanted to restore it to its original scheme and goals.

How had classical education strayed in her lifetime?

Schools were no longer seeking to inculcate virtue in their students.

Classical educators have always believed that right understanding should lead to right action. As the student’s mind learns what is good and right the student’s will should be trained to do and even to love what is good and right. Classical educators believe that the goal of knowledge, the goal of education, is virtue.

Schools in Charlotte Mason’s time had lost sight of this goal. They retained classical rigor without retaining the purpose and goal of classical education. This made them miserable places that children hated.

A lot of us played sports when we were young. If you played sports you remember the long days of practice and conditioning—the sprinting, weight-lifting, the repetitive drills, etc. You didn’t do these things for their sake, you did them to prepare for games. Imagine signing up to play basketball or soccer and doing sprints, pushups, squats, and ball handling drills and never playing a game, never even having a scrimmage. As miserable as those drills are, they would be even more miserable without the goal of a game. This is basically what schools had become in Charlotte Mason’s day: wind sprints without games. The difficult and rigorous aspects of classical education were retained, but without anything that makes school enjoyable and the pain worthwhile.

A related problem, according to Charlotte Mason, was that these schools relied too much on reason. Reasons has two functions: to provide logical demonstrations of mathematical truths (in which case it may be trusted) and to provide logical reasons for ideas which we have already chosen to accept. Charlotte Mason worried that a reliance on reason in the second sense deceives us. Once we admit an idea our minds naturally look for, and find, reasons to support that idea. For that reason we cannot trust our reason to determine what is right and wrong. In Charlotte Mason’s words “For this reason it is well that we should make children perceive at a very early age that a man's reason is the servant of his own will, and is not necessarily an independent authority within him in the service of truth. This is one of the by-lessons of history which quite a young child is able to understand,—how a good man can, as we say, persuade himself that wrong opinions and wrong actions are reasonable and right. Not that he does persuade himself, but that his reason appears to act in an independent way, and brings forward arguments in favor of a conclusion which he has already unconsciously accepted.” According to Charlotte Mason, we must judge things by some other, higher standard.

Charlotte Mason’s reforms were extensive, but they had this in common: she believed classical education had gone off track and she wanted to restore it. She believed that schools need not be places of misery and that difficulty should serve a higher end, virtue. She also believed that pursuing virtue requires us to humbly distrust our reason as the final answer and instead consult a higher authority.

These are two conclusions that we as a school accept. We have rejected the “eat your gruel and learn to like it” approach that dominated the schools of Charlotte Mason’s time (and is still found in some schools today). We want school to be enjoyable—that is why we have classes like Joyful Discovery! To the extent that education is difficult we want it to be a necessary means to our students’ growth in virtue; we reject rigor for its own sake. While we teach formal logic and want our students to be able to think clearly, we too do not believe that man’s intellect is the judge of what is right and wrong. These beliefs, taken together, lead to us to want to education the “whole child”, which I will write about next week.

Of all the Liberal Arts music seems to be the oddest inclusion. Educated people should be able to read, calculate, and communicate effectively . . . but do they really need to know how to play the lyre? Why did ancient and medieval educators put a premium on music?

First off, music is beautiful! Ancient and medieval men and women valued beauty far more than we do. Visit any museum and you will see mosaics and pottery that graced the homes of regular families; go into any gothic cathedral and you will be able to view masterworks of art made by common folk. By contrast, we moderns tend to be more utilitarian in the way we make things. Consider, for example, our interstate highway system. We designed it to help us travel quickly and efficiently, not to please the eye. While there is a place for utilitarian calculation, this way of thinking has arguably contaminated our thinking about education. Whereas our forbearers would have said: is it true, good, or beautiful? If so, pursue it! We ask: what can you do with that and what type of pay do you think you can make with that degree? We often do not see the value of music because we view it in strictly economic terms; our ancestors would have said that they studied it because it is beautiful and no further justification is needed.

Our ancestors also studied music because music is, for most of us, the most transcendent art form. Music, more than painting or sculpture, has the ability to impact our moods and emotions and take us out of ourselves and into something higher and greater. For that reason music has long been used to worship God.

Lastly, our ancestor believed that an education that trains the mind alone is no education at all. For them moral education constituted a huge part of a student’s training. But what does moral training have to do with music? Classical educators would have said, in a word, everything. A key component of music is harmony. Harmony, balance, and proportion help in mathematical training, but more than that, classical educators believed that harmony can help to train the soul. As Damon of Athens, wrote, “let me write the songs of a nation, and I care not who writes its laws.” Music, because it is beautiful, helps a person to learn how to recognize beauty, which will hopefully lead them to come to love it. Men like Aristotle thought that a child trained to love aesthetic beauty would more easily come to love moral beauty and that men and women who loved moral beauty would naturally build families, communities, and nations of beauty—places of justice, courage, and kindness.

We teach music for similar reasons. Yes, we want our students to learn how to read music and sing on key, but more than that we want to expose them to beautiful music! We are committed to partnering with you to inculcate Godly character in your sons and daughters. Music is a way, albeit a small way, of training them to recognize what is beautiful and to love it. We are under no illusions that every child who hears Bach will see how it reflects God’s beauty and come to love Him, but neither can we deny that there will be a fundamental difference in character between the child that is trained to know and love Bach and the child that is trained to know and love Black Sabbath.

This concludes my messages on the Seven Liberal Arts; next week I will begin a short series on Charlotte Mason.

At first glance it seems odd that astronomy makes the seven Liberal Arts. Science makes sense, by why just astronomy? Why not chemistry or physics?

The short answer is that astronomy was the only mature science in the pre-modern world. The study of physics was limited to mechanics and knowledge necessary for engineering—it was not a speculative science in its own right. In similar fashion, the study of chemistry was completely non-scientific in the ancient and medieval worlds. To the extent that our ancestors had anything resembling chemistry it was what we would call to alchemy and it was often infused with magic. While the experiments of alchemists did yield results that were used by later scientists, their pursuits and study were by no means scientific.

Still, what about other sciences? What about biology, botany, zoology, and human anatomy? Plants and animals were indeed studied, but these pursuits were not considered scientific. The study of plants and animals requires the close observation of the physical world and for this reason it was lumped in with philosophy—those that studied the natural world were called natural philosophers. Philosophy as a separate, speculative pursuit detached from the physical world is a modern development. Human anatomy was not studied in scientific fashion until the modern era because both Christians and pagans alike had an aversion to dissecting dead human beings. It was only within the past few centuries that people overcame this taboo and we grew in our knowledge of the body.

Astronomy, then, was the only mature science in the ancient and medieval eras. This is not to say that our ideas of the cosmos have not changed, they have, though not as greatly as most people think. Why did astronomy develop first? Knowledge of the stars was essential for transportation, but also for accurate calendars. Accurate calendars were essential for knowing the right day to plant and harvest as well as the correct dates for religious festivals (and religious timing was very important for pagans). The development of astronomy was simply a matter of survival.

Outside of an introduction in grammar school, we at Charis don’t teach astronomy as an independent subject. Students do study some astronomy, but as a subset of physics. Our goal in teaching astronomy, physics, and science in general is that students would learn about God’s order and design in the universe. Science should be about understanding the world, but it should not end there. Someone that only sees patterns and structures and order and design sees things incompletely. God made all and so everything, in some way and to some degree, reflects God’s glory. Science is a great way to understand what God has made and, in so doing, recognize His power, wisdom, and glory.

Grammar, logic, and rhetoric are the foundations upon which all further learning is grounded. The three together constitute the trivium; the four subjects that traditionally followed the trivium were arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music—collectively they form the quadrivium.

The goal of arithmetic is to learn how to calculate. That is simple enough. But there are greater truths that arithmetic reveals: the world is ordered, objective, and intelligible. What is more, arithmetic teaches us that there is a stratum of truth that is impervious to our opinions and emotions—it doesn’t matter what we think or feel, 2 + 2 = 4. Truth pre-exists and supersedes us. If we are wise we will learn it and learn to live in harmony with it and not think we can ignore truth or bend it to our whims. This recognition is essential to the development of wisdom.

Geometry, like arithmetic, reveals to us a world of unchangeable truth. However, unlike arithmetic geometry involves more than simple calculation—it involves the rational deduction of conclusions from premises. In this way geometry has more in common with logic than arithmetic.

Indeed, traditionally geometry was the precursor to and partner of logic. “Let no man ignorant of geometry enter,” so said the sign above Plato’s Academy. Plato believed that a person untrained in geometry could not study philosophy. Likewise, later Christians believed that a grounding in geometry was essential to the study of theology.

The studies of arithmetic and geometry have changed far less than any of the other Liberal Arts. For example, a student would have an incomplete historical and literary education if they stopped in the 4th century BC, but a student could have a solid education in arithmetic and geometry if they stopped then. And yet, there have been changes. We now have two great tools that the ancients lacked—Calculus and the use of Arabic numerals. Classical as we may be, we heartily take advantage of both!

Rhetoric is “the art of a good man speaking well.”

Rhetoric forms the final part of the trivium of grammar, logic, rhetoric. Behind this progression was the understanding that one cannot teach a person how to think or communicate without material—students need something to think about before they can learn how to think. The grammar stage provides the raw material of facts, while in the logic stage students learn how to judge and evaluate. Only after learning facts and knowing how to think through them do students have anything worth saying. To put it another way, rhetoric relates to self-expression; the grammar and logic stages help students to develop a self-worth expressing.

Like grammar and logic, rhetoric is both a specialized subject and an approach in its own right.

Students take a couple of years of rhetoric at Charis. The ultimate goal of these classes is to train students to speak and write well. To that end they read selections from famous works to learn how to communicate clearly, persuasively, and winsomely. They also write and perform a number speeches and papers, culminating in their senior thesis.

Rhetoric is also brought into other classes, namely literature and history. What good is it to know facts about something and be able to think through their implications, but be unable to communicate those thoughts? Our students regularly write papers and speak in front of their peers. This trains them to get used to and comfortable with public communication so that they will be ready to speak and write confidently and winsomely whenever the need or opportunity arises.

Imagine an aspiring baker. This young lady knows every fact about baking: she knows how many ounces are in a cup and how many tablespoons are in a quart; she knows how long it takes her oven to heat to 300 degrees and can even repair its lining and wiring. She knows all this, yet she doesn’t know how to bake a cake, how to use spices, or how to thicken up a runny frosting. Is she fully educated? By all means no! It is not enough to know facts; we need to know how to combine and apply facts as well as how to judge them. That is the purpose of the logic stage.

In the grammar stage students learn facts; in the logic stage they learn how to evaluate and apply them. It does a student no good to be able to read the words of an argument if they can’t follow the argument or if they can’t judge a clear term from an ambiguous one or a false premise from a true one. It is of little good to be literate if one cannot judge a hero from a villain or a work of beauty and wisdom from a work of folly and obscenity.

Logic, like grammar, is both a subject in and of itself as well as an approach. As a subject, students study formal logic wherein they learn how to understand and evaluate arguments.

But the study of logic does not end in that class. As students enter their adolescent years they develop a penchant for argument. Instead of shutting them down, we try to work with the grain by teaching them how to argue well. One of the main ways we do this is by discussing moral questions. Consider Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon. “Was Caesar justified in crossing into Roman territory to defend his honor? When is it ok to defend our honor? Do we have a duty to defend the honor of another? Do we have a duty to defend God’s honor? If so, how and when? Was the senate right to resist Caesar? Should we compromise with a bad person to oppose a worse person like the Senate did when they allied themselves with Pompey? Is it better to die like Cato when facing overwhelming force or should we compromise and surrender?”

These questions bring learning to life. They also show students that what they are studying is not dead and arbitrary, but rather living and of great importance. Moreover, they help to teach our students to think clearly and morally.

Logic is essential to clear thinking and forming wise judgments. Think of how different our economy, government, churches, etc. would look if people thought clearly and morally! The ability to think clearly and logically is the single greatest distinction that I have noticed between students educated classically and those that have not been.

Grammar is the first of the Liberal Arts and the foundation of everything that comes after. Grammar is both an approach to teaching subjects and a subject in itself.

We all know that one must learn to walk before one may run. That is the idea behind learning the grammars of various subjects. The grammar of a subject is essentially its foundations, its basics. The grammar of literature is phonics; the grammar of writing is spelling and punctuation; and the grammar of math is numbers and symbols.

Not only does every subject have a grammar, but grammar itself is a subject. Traditionally grammar as a subject most resembled a modern literature class. The purpose of studying literature was twofold: in reading great works students would see good writing modeled while also seeing good, moral examples. In terms of what they read, they read both works of literature and historical works and did not divide the two as most modern schools do today. They also read works in the original language, which was generally Latin; this in turn required them to learn Latin.

How do we teach grammar today?

To begin with, we continue to teach grammar as an approach. Students need to begin the study of every subject by learning its grammar—by learning its basic facts, symbols, and terminology. For example, students need to learn letters and sounds before they learn to read; they need to master dates and facts to understand history, etc.

What is more, various areas of what traditionally constituted grammar now have their own subjects.

Literature. Like students of bygone eras our students continue to read works of literature that connect them to their cultural ancestors; they also read works that explore questions of fundamental and eternal importance.

History. People in the past didn’t learn history by reading stodgy old textbooks—they read primary sources, passionate eyewitness accounts written by the people that made and witnessed history. Here at Charis our students, especially as they grow in their ability to understand more complex works, read the great works of history. These works are inspiring, probing, and engaging and allow our students to see the rich cultural heritage that they have inherited. This is especially true for us as Christians. Christianity arose in the Greco-Roman world at the height of the Roman Empire. It is a historical fact that over the first eighteen centuries Christianity primarily spread north and west; only within the last century or two has it begun to retreat from the West and grow in the global south and Eastern Asia. Given this historical reality it is impossible to understand the growth and development of our faith without understanding Western Civilization.

History also helps student understand their culture heritage and how they fit into it. “The best way to create a generation of aimless know-nothings who feel no sense of obligation beyond themselves is to deprive them of the past.” Many argue that the centrality of history is the single most important facet of classical education.

Latin. Finally, as most great works of literature, history, theology, and philosophy were written in Latin, students in past ages had to learn Latin as a prerequisite to the study of any other subject matter. While we have good translations of all the great Latin works we continue to teach Latin because it helps students to learn the vocabulary and grammar of English while also teaching them to think logically and clearly about language. This helps them in their English studies and prepares them for the study of other foreign languages.

What is a “Liberal” education? What did an education in the “Liberal Arts” traditionally look like? What does it look like now? Because the Liberal Arts are at the core of classical education I thought I would take some time over the next few weeks to discuss them.

Let’s start with some background. When we hear liberal the first thing that comes to mind for most of us is politics—we think of Senator Warren or Senator Sanders or the Democratic Party. While that is one way of using the word liberal, when we talk about providing a Liberal education that is not at all what we have in mind.

The English word liberal is a derivative of the Latin word liber; the word liberty is also derived from this word. Liber means freedom—from that it follows that in its original sense liberal had something to do with freedom.

Politically speaking, classical liberals held positions that are, confusingly enough, often held by political conservatives today. For example, classical liberals wanted to be liberated from feudal customs and have instead a free market and free trade. Classical liberals also wanted to be liberated from censorship and old hereditary hierarchies—they thought ideas should be freely shared and talent should be free to rise to the top.

That may be interesting, but what does this have to do with the Liberal Arts? Composed of grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music a Liberal Arts education traditionally was thought to be the type of education that would free a man. A Liberal education may not destroy feudalism or censorship, but it could, it was thought, free people from ignorance, superstition, prejudice, etc., which would in turn free people to live as better Christians or citizens. Different eras and authors emphasized different goals of the Liberal Arts, but all agreed that education was fundamentally transformative and that a Liberal Arts education was essential to the formation of a mature and complete person.

Contrast this with the view of education advanced by most modern Americans. Democrats and Republicans alike see education primarily in terms of employment—better education will collectively keep our jobs from going overseas and individually education helps us to obtain better, higher-paying jobs.

Aristotle, Erasmus, and Thomas Jefferson, all proponents of a Liberal Arts education, would find this a very odd rationale for education. All would agree that yes, a man must work, but man was made for so much more than to work, make money, and buy things—an education that doesn’t take that into account is not a full, and therefore not a real, education. A Liberal Arts education understands that a man is not only a worker, but also a moral and spiritual being, a rational being, a being capable of recognizing truth and enjoying beauty. A Liberal education therefore seeks to train every faucet of man.

As a Liberal Arts school, our goal is to partner with you as parents to do just that—to help your children become fully formed, well-trained, “mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

“I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.”

The above quote is from Athena Chavarria, a former executive assistant at Facebook. For the last decade we’ve been told about all the benefits of smart phones—they will make us more efficient, they will connect us like never before, and they will help our children learn. It now appears that all of these claims are false.

Instead of making us more efficient, our phones distract us from our tasks so that we get less done; because they encourage us to multi-task, the things we do get done are often done poorly. Instead of connecting us, the various social media apps we access are increasing our hatred of one another (according to one recent poll that I can’t seem to track down now, partisan hatred has risen three hundred percent in the last fifteen years); others argue that our political divisions are the worst they have been in over a century. Finally, phones are destroying our children’s ability to maintain focus and to think linearly, which is inhibiting their ability to learn.

Instead of being tools to learn and to increase our productivity, our smart phones have become mini TVs and video game players. Don’t believe me? Watch a dozen phone commercials and pay attention to how they are marketed: every single commercial markets phones in terms of how fun and entertaining they are.

This isn’t even the worst part. Phones have contributed much to the pornographization of our culture. Consider recent statistics from just one website. "In 2017 alone, Pornhub hosted 28.5 billion visits, an average of 81 million per day, the overwhelming majority based in America. All told, visitors to Pornhub last year searched 50,000 times per minute and 800 times per second.” In the time it took you to read to this point in this message about 100,000 people searched for pornography on just one website. Take that in for a second.

These issues are leading the people who design phones for our children to keep them away from their children. Tim Cook, the C.E.O of Apple, said that he would not let his nephew join social media networks and Steve Jobs would not let his young children near iPads. Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired, founder of GeekDad.com, and chief executive of a robotics and drone company had this to say about the smart phone. “On a scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s closer to crack cocaine.” He went on. “We thought we could control it. And this is beyond our power to control. This is going straight to the pleasure centers of the developing brain. This is beyond our capacity as regular parents to understand.”

Within the last couple of years there has been a fleet of high-profile Silicon Valley defectors “sounding alarms in increasingly dire terms about what these gadgets do to the human brain.” They are creating no-tech homes, sending their children to no-tech schools, and going to incredible lengths to ensure that their nannies keep their kids away from screens.

Ok, so why am I saying all this?

I want to encourage you all to both limit your children’s access and monitor what they are accessing.

Screens distract us immensely and limit our ability to concentrate and think clearly. It is next to impossible to have sustained thought on a difficult topic without self-control and developed concentration. And yet self-control and developed concentration are exactly what constant screen exposure destroys. Without the ability to sustain thought, your kids won’t do well in school. Period. There is no getting around this. What is more, they will have a very hard time growing in their faith. Try reading Paul’s letter to the Romans without sustained thought. No matter how great a sermon your pastor preaches, without the ability to concentrate those words will fall on deaf ears. High screen exposure will stunt your child’s intellectual and spiritual development. So limit it.

It is also important to monitor what kids are looking at. Social media undermines our well-being. It has been argued convincingly that social media is in part behind the surge in teenage depression, anxiety, and suicides over the last decade; to the extent that we can measure it, it appears that happiness increases by an average of 45% in people that quit social media for as little as a week. This isn’t to say that all social media is harmful or wrong (full discloser, I am a member of a social media service), but we ought to be very cautious as to when and how much we let our children access social media.

While social media has some good uses, pornography does not. Pornography is rewiring the brains of our young men and women, perverting how they view themselves and others, it is leading young people to delay marriage and have fewer children, and it is destroying and undermining a vast number of marriages. But, that can’t be our kids, right? These kids go to church and attend a Christian school! Consider the following anecdote from Rod Dreher:

A couple of years ago, I spoke with an older pastor who mentored young men at a conservative Evangelical college. The men in his particular group were undergraduates who planned to go to seminary after they finished their bachelor’s degrees. The older man told me that he had 16 undergraduate men in his group.

“How many of them do you think are addicted to porn?” he asked me.

I had no idea, but figured it couldn’t be many. Not from young Evangelical men who are so faith-filled that they believe they have a calling to ministry.

“Sixteen,” the older pastor said. Sixteen young men who want to quit using porn but could not find the inner strength to do so.

These are young men that are planning on being pastors and yet pornography is ripping them apart! We as parents can keep our children from exposure to smut now so that they don’t find themselves addicted and trapped in sin as adults.

Hopefully you all monitor and limit what your children have access to; if you don’t, now is great time to start! Start with one no screen night a week; start by uploading accountability software on your and their devices.

I am not against technology—it can be a blessing when used the right way. (And I see the irony of typing this message on a computer, posting it on our website and Facebook page, etc.) What does concern me is that many of us, myself included, use technology unwisely. If we don’t control technology, it will control us. Right now we as a society are failing to control our use of phones and it is destroying our children’s generation. I would encourage you all to begin to take steps to control it in your homes.

Søren Kierkegaard believed that there is nothing more lethal to the faith of a child than to have a parent that lives a moral and proper life and claims to believe in God, but doesn’t truly believe and in reality lives for the sake of appearances.

We live in a world of contradictions. On the one hand we have cut-throat competition to get into the best colleges, get the best internships, to excel in sports, etc. This can tempt our children to base their value on their performance.

On the other hand we often think our children are fragile little snowflakes that need protection from anything that could be challenging or dangerous so we helicopter around them. Keeping our children from challenging things weakens them and makes them incapable of standing up to the trials and difficulties they will inevitably face.

The solution to these opposing errors is the Gospel. We are justified and receive Christ’s new life because of God’s gracious gift, not because of anything we have done or could ever do. Believing this will keep us from falling into the error of finding our value in our performance.

However, though sin no longer reigns, it still remains. We have a sinful condition and we need correction and discipline to develop virtuous character. Consider the Apostle Peter’s words, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.” (II Peter 1:3-9). While we are saved by God’s unmerited and gracious gift and not our works, the acceptance of that gift, in cooperation with His continued grace, should lead to a fundamental change in our outlook and actions.

How do we apply this truth to our parenting?

In practice this means we need to love our children no matter how much they disappoint and hurt us (and they will do both!!!) in order to show them that their value and our love are not contingent on their performance. At the same time we need to challenge them and call them to better behavior, affirm that God’s Spirit empowers them to live the way He has called them to live, and show them that foolish and sinful choices have consequences.

In terms of our example, one of the best ways to show our children the Gospel is to trust Jesus completely—so completely that He informs all our choices, from how we parent to how we spend our money; from how we talk about others to how we spend our free time.

Having children is a frightful burden. As parents we are one of the greatest influences, if not the single greatest influence, in our children’s lives. We may wish this was not true, but it is; this may frighten us, but we need to embrace it.

Being a parent is a hard, demanding, and unappreciated calling. As parents we fail. All of us. All the time. As we give grace to our children we need to receive the grace that Christ offers us. He didn’t just die to take away all our purposeful sins; He also died to cover all the times we failed to live up to His calling. If you’ve made mistakes, if you’ve been a terrible parent, if you’ve never even attempted to parent . . . there is hope! There can be no greater example to your children than to accept Christ’s grace and follow Him, knowing full well you haven’t lived as you ought to have lived and that you don’t deserve His grace.

If you ever felt frustrated or condemned as you read some of these messages (as I felt at times as I wrote them!), don’t be dismayed. Instead, admit your failure as a parent and embrace it as an opportunity to accept God’s grace and use your mistakes as an opportunity to model to your children the power and beauty of the Gospel. The question isn’t: what have you done, but rather, what will you do? As long as you have breathe in your lungs there is hope for real growth and change.

During the first two weeks of college most students make key decisions about drinking and other high-risk behaviors. They also make decisions about whether or not to attend church or join a campus ministry. Many of these decisions are influenced by new friends and situations. Most young adults are unprepared for the intensity of those first days and weeks of college and have no strategy for making decisions during this critical time. It follows that many make poor decisions.

During the fall of freshman year only 40% of youth group alum were attending an on-campus fellowship once a week or more and only 57% were attending church once a week or more. It is incredibly difficult to sustain one’s faith apart from a community of believers. These low numbers help to explain the high numbers of young people that leave the faith.

While college is a long ways off for many of our children, there are things we can be doing right now to prepare them.

First, we can show our children the importance of church by committing to regularly and faithfully attend church and explaining why we make that commitment. We also need to guide them in what to look for in a church so that they are able to pick a good church when they move.

Second, we need to continue to encourage our kids to express their doubts and questions. Our children may seem solid and confident in their faith in high school, but college is a time of intense intellectual transition, which often leads to new or deeper questions and doubts. Hopefully by the time they go to college our children will be comfortable with asking difficult questions and also have a good idea as to where and how to find good answers. Nonetheless, we need to warn them of the intensity of the challenges they will face and stress that God is not afraid of our questions, that there are answers to their questions, and that our questions should drive us to God, not from Him.

The last of these, drawing towards God in the midst of doubt, is why Christian community is so essential. Seeking answers to questions in the midst of mature believers can deepen one’s faith, but looking to secular professors or agnostic friends for answers is foolish and often detrimental to one’s faith.

In addition to intellectual confusion, given the libertine ethos of our secular universities, college is also a time of intense temptation. Herein lies the importance of Christian friendships.

People, all people, need accountability. It is very hard to make good choices when all of your friends are feeding their flesh, seemingly enjoying themselves without consequences, and encouraging you to join in. Alternatively, good friends that encourage and hold you accountable help you to grow in your faith.

Constant temptation coupled with a philosophical justification of sin is often lethal to young people’s faith in college. Many colleges create a perfect storm by giving ample opportunity to sin, removing or hiding the consequences and shame of sin, undermining Christian community that holds us accountable when we do sin, while justifying sin with sophisticated explanations as to why it is good and moral to sin and unhealthy to resist sin. Without a Christian community and Christian friends, who can weather this storm?

Christian community and Christian friendships help us to overcome difficult environments, transitions, and temptations. We can help our children to stick with and grow in their faith by encouraging a commitment to a local church and the development of Christian friendships. Moreover, instead of merely telling our children about the importance of these things, we can show them the value of them by making Christian community and Christian friendships a priority in our lives.