David Hicks on School Leadership

The administration of the modern school replaces the headmaster of the old and brings iwth it a whole trainload of technical baggage for finding out what can be done–graphs, charts, statistics, feasibility studies–but precious little imagination of the sort that knows what ought to be done.

David Hicks

Here Mr. Hicks identifies what may be the core problem of conventional school governance. Just as classical teachers tend to fall back on old habits in the classroom, so classical heads of school and boards tend to fall back on old habits in the office and board room.

This is not a minor matter for the classical renewal.

Grammar: An Ode (sort of)

The only feeling I get from this article is concern. 

And of course, my concern is for the children. But not as children, please understand. Children as children have people to care for them. But when those children grow up and haven’t learned how to function, the fear and the loneliness and the despair that they will feel will make the worst insult a child has ever heard feel like a feather under the chin.

Like everything else in life, the matter is complicated. But like everything else in education, the irreducible bloating of the structures have made solutions impossible. I get the impression from this article that Otis Mathis is truly a good man, honorable, and even worth following. I praise Otis Mathis for his diligence and persistance in attaining such a high position.

That moral excellence, however, doesn’t qualify him to be the head of the Detroit Public Schools. If, when he was a child, he had not been educated on the false assumptions of Progressive theory, he could probably have become a great school leader, a model of academic excellence.

I have to be careful. I don’t want to say more than the evidence warrants. I don’t want to be a bull seeing red. Here is my simple contention (and no more than this):

The failure to teach the current DPS president correct English grammar when he was a child has undercut his ability to lead the Detroit Public Schools as an adult.

Contained in that contention are subordinate beliefs, such as the importance of grammar, the ability of almost every child to learn it when properly taught, the need to teach young children formal grammar (though not necessarily to teach it formally – the difference is significant), and the value of every language skill in the minds of those who lead.

When he was in third and fourth grade, I have no doubt that teachers were asking, “How is grammar relevent to his life?”

Now, perhaps, they know.

But I am not going to draw any conclusions. I wish Mr (Dr?) Mathes well and I hope he is able to reform the Detroit schools in such a way that teachers are 1. set free to teach, 2. equipped to teach, 3. required to teach, and that students are 1. required to learn, 2. equipped to learn, and 3. set free to learn.

God bless you Otis Mathes. You have overcome much. Please see that Detroit’s students have less to overcome, at least when it comes to writing.

Created Creator

At the end of each of the second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth days of creation, God looked upon the work which He had made and our author tells us with rhythmic regularity:

and God saw that it was good; and there was evening and there was morning, the second day…

God saw that it was good. So evening and morning were the third day…

God saw that it was good. So evening and morning were the fourth day…

God blesssed them, saying, “Be fruitful and mulitply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on earth.” So evening and morning were the fifth day…

Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed, it was very good. So evening and morning were the sixth day.

I love that fifth day on which God blessed the crops. On the sixth day He blessed the animals and placed man above them to “fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…” This was paradise, the state of nature, in which all things were ordered to their own blessedness.

And God saw that it was good.

What does that mean? Does it mean that He was pleased with His work? I cannot imagine that He was not. But then why does the author not simply say, “God saw that His work was pleasing?”

I think the answer might be rather simple. It was indeed pleasing to Him, but why? Because it was good! And why was it good? Because it embodied His intentions.

To take an anthropomorphic stance for a moment (and after all, that is what Genesis one does), we could easily say, first God planned out His work. He gave it time and space within which He would do it. He developed ideas for what He wanted done. He even delegated His tasks, certainly to His Son, probably also to angels.

Then, for a week, He worked. At the end of each day He assessed His work . At the end of the week, He assessed His week’s work. He said it was good. It came out the way He wanted it to. He had an idea, a plan, and a process. It worked!

He wove the matter of His task out of His words. Then He modified the matter to move His ideas from His infinite mind into the finite matter before Him. The earth, which was formless and empty at the end of the first day (it had no shape and took up no space!), was now a gathering of forms filling the emptiness.

Both the process of creation and the product of creation were structured and rhythmic and beautiful.

They were utterly flawless. He had executed His task perfectly. He had even created, miracle of miracles, a physical being that bore the image of God – clay breathing the breath of God, living the mysteries of reason and will.

Clay able to imitate its maker.

He saw that it was very good. Delighting in it, He willed it to flourish, so He blessed it. Part of that blessing was the appointment of a wise and just lord who shared His desire for it to flourish.

It was good, therefore, because each part was a successful embodiment of the idea He had intended. It was very good, because all the parts were ordered to a formal harmony, an order of soul-wrenching beauty. It had a lord, and every subject knew its place and delighted in it.

He had made the lord of the creation in His Own image, fit to rule with love and blessing. The lord was fit to rule, beginning with the act of naming. He was fit to exercise a just and wise dominion because he was given all the faculties of a just and wise ruler. He could see and know and act on the creation for its own good and flourishing. Made by a creator, he was creative himself.

And it was very good.

But if he failed in his duties, everything would change.

Authority and the Voice of God

The book of Genesis is filled with stories of the first order of importance. Every one of them is meant to be contemplated for at least a full lifetime. Everything in existence is expressed if not explained in these 50 chapters – and not in easily understandable ways.

Two stories have dominated my attention for some time now: the story of the temptation of Eve and the story of Abraham offering up his son Isaac.

In the Abraham story, the father of many peoples is instructed by God as follows:

Take now your son, your only Isaac, whom you love,
And go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering
Upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.

If anybody wants to reject the God of the Old Covenant, this is the story to gloam on to. Here it is. Take it. Throw away this God and never have to deal with Him again. He gives you that option right here. You can even claim the ethical high ground.

All my life I have wondered about this story, though I am sure there are commentaries that explain away all the difficulties it contains.

I don’t read that sort of commentary any more.

How did Abraham know it was the voice of God? He couldn’t draw on ethics. This command is contrary to everything Abraham had learned about good and evil up to this point.

He couldn’t draw on experience – not even the mystical sort. God had promised Abraham that this child Isaac would be the seed through whom Abraham would realize the fulness of the covenant.

He couldn’t draw on any sort of Cartesian rationalism. I’m not sure it would have had anything at all to say about the matter, unless it would be to draw back to ethics and say, “This is wrong.”

He certainly couldn’t draw on the advice of others. Are we to believe that Sarah would have been confident that Abraham was sound of mind? What would Hagar and Ishmael have said? Who could have advised him?

Nor were the pop philosophers any use to him, those who insist that all you need is love. He was about to do something that could not be done, to sing something that could not be sung, to do something without learning how to play the game.

Abraham was alone before God and he possessed no faculty by which he could understand or justify what God required of him.

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; and he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.

And then there’s Eve.

Here’s another easy out from believing in the God of the Bible. She who was called Woman, not yet Eve, because she was taken out of man, was naked and unashamed. How utterly unlike us.

Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?”

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.

Then the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked;

How very like us.

What, I wonder, did Satan have to say to Abraham as he was travailing to the region of Moriah?

“Did God say…?”

“He wouldn’t say something like that…”

What attracts my attention as I read is the rather simplistic thought that God and Satan communicate differently. Even when He asks questions, as in the words of our Lord to the Pharisees or the dialogues with the prophet Elijah, God always speaks with Authority.

It is natural and fitting that He would do so, for all Authority is His and nobody else has Authority that is not delegated from Him.

On the other hand, Satan has no Authority at all, for God has given him none. He cannot, therefore, speak with Authority. So far as I can tell, that leaves him with two options: he can seduce or he can threaten. On the one hand, he can draw on intimidation and tyranny. On the other, he can draw on seduction and sympathy.

For this reason, he labors continually to form minds that are either sentimental or cynical.

The sentimental mind is easily seduced and is therefore a play-thing for a demon.

The cynical mind trusts nobody and is willing to acknowledge no authority as legitimate. It is a great Satanic achievement.

When people stop believing that Authority comes from God, they go through a period of liberation because they are freed from those who, like them, are cynics – who use the doctrine of Divine Authority for their own power-plays.

The temptation to do so is irresistable, so history is the story of cynics rising and falling to replace each other.

But the man who believes that Authority is a Divine Property delegated to man is properly bound to submit to the Divine Authority. Such a person serves as the only foundation for a just and free society and such a society can endure only so long as the wisdom of such a person nourishes it.

When God spoke to Abraham, He spoke with Authority – an Authority inherent in the Person speaking. When Abraham heard his voice, He did not need to speculate about it. He knew. 

When God spoke the sermon on the mount, we read that

When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had Authority.

This isn’t as hard to understand as it might seem. A father who speaks to his child has Authority delegated directly from the God of heaven, an Authority that carries a natural honor and dignity that every child in the history of the human race has sensed.

Lose sight of this as a father and you become disoriented and uncertain in your duties to and relationship with your children.

When a father compromises Authority by sloth or aggression, he breaks the very hierarchy of reality and brings disorder into his soul, through his soul into his home, and through his home into the soul of his child.

The well-being of the soul of the child and the order of civilized society is rooted in the relationship of honor between father and son, which in turn is manifested in the relationship of Father and Son.

Our souls know Authority when they encounter it and they rejoice in it.

But when the father or the mother or teacher or pastor or ruler either shirks the delegated Authority or seeks more than is fitting, our souls fall into anxiety.

We fail in our Authority when we use threats and seductions instead of simply speaking with authority.

We also fail in our Authority when we assume an authority that is not legitimate.

In our godless age, we are convinced behaviorists. We don’t believe in the great mystery of the will, only in appetites. So we stimulate behavior in our students through rewards and punishments and figure that’s all we have to offer.

This is, of all psychological doctrines, perhaps the most Satanic, for it forces us to imitate the Great Manipulator in the way we govern the souls of our children.

If you are a father, simply act on your Authority. Speak from within your Authority.

If your child rebels, then of course you should punish your child. If he obeys, then perhaps you should reward him.

But the great reward that every child seeks is a well ordered world that orders his soul to match it.

In other words, what your child wants of you is that you be a Father.

Then you can be like the God who spoke to Adam and Eve and Abraham with Authority and His voice was known, and not like the serpent who seduces through flattery and anxiety.

If you are a mother, beware of sentimentalism. Your duty is to raise a man or a lady with a soul of steel and a heart of flesh.

If you are a teacher, do not fear your students. They are created to honor you. They want to. Speak with Authority and they will hear your voice as deep calls to deep. If they do not, and some won’t and many will close their ears when they do, then enforce your delegated Authority. But do not reduce your students to mere appetites and fears.

They have a will, though it is underfed and neglected. It cannot be controlled, for it is free. But it can be awakened and beckoned.

Will you beckon with the Authority of God or the vanity of the Enemy?

Let me try to simplify:

  • Humans have appetites and wills.
  • The appetites respond to stimuli.
  • The will responds to Authority.
  • Our age believes in neither the Will nor Authority.
  • Christians believe in the Will and Authority.
  • Teachers and parents and others who have delegated Authority tend to distrust Authority and to fall back on management of the appetites through stimuli, such as threats and seductions.
  • When we do so, we are abandoning our faith in that act.
  • We don’t have the right to so treat children, for it is manipulative and driven by personal convenience and the lust for power (be it never so petty).
  • If Authority is not delegated to us, we must not atempt to enforce it.
  • If it is delegated to us, then our fundamental duty is to act on and fulfill it.
  • When we act on delegated Authority, we must trust it and the God who gave it.
  • The first clue that we do not trust it and Him is when we fall into behavioral manipulation of our children, charges, or students.

What is a Decision?

A decision is a short-term compromise between a vision and the available resources. Failure to know either of these variables – the vision or the available resources – leads to poor decisions.

Surrender to compromise is a surrender of vision. But refusal to compromise is a refusal to submit to reality.

Build a strategy.

More on Nature and Practicality

Sometimes (always) our circumstances and needs blind us to the reality of the things with which we are working.

Every school has a budget and salaries to pay. Students are gathered in classes sometimes as large as 30 or more students. Facilities are inadequate. Problems are endless.

These represent real problems for a Christian classical school. Indeed, the 20th century imposed these problems on the Christian classical school. So the circumstances within which we seek our vision are very incongruous with that vision.

Having spent 16 years seeking that vision “uncompromisingly” I can assure you, I understand the conflict.

The board, the headmaster, and the administrator are charged with establishing a Christian classical school in that context and its a challenging task with which they are charged.

But if they take the “practical” approach, it’s an impossible task.

Of course, what I mean by the “practical” approach is really the pragmatic approach. The pragmatist says, “I don’t have time to worry about the philosophy behind this thing. I have to pay the bills. Reality is what reality is and we have to live in reality. Our parents want our students to get into good colleges. Our students need to test well. Our teachers need to teach tomorrow’s class.”

All of which is quite true. Only, I argue, such heads and administrators and boards spend to little time looking at one rather important reality: the reality of Christian classical education. Contained in that reality, of course, is the reality of the child’s soul. And contrary to those realities are the structures and methods and approaches of the modernist educator.

The unexpressed and maybe unthought assumption behind many school leaders seems to be that if they really pursue a Christian classical education, then they will lose their student body, parent support, etc.

The unexpressed and maybe unthought assumption behind many teachers seems to be that if they take the time to deeply understand Christian classical education, they will not be able to do their job effectively or it will demand changes in the way they do their work that they don’t want to make.

If those unexpressed and maybe unthought assumptions really occupy the subconscious minds of classical school leaders and teachers, the game is over before it begins.

Think about it. All these schools get excited and build web sites and promote themselves as classical schools. Then they explain what classical education is using ideas and concepts that no classical educator would have understood, much less conceived of.

But to take the time to truly understand classical education is impractical. We don’t have the time. We don’t have the money. We have to fill our school with students and get them into the good colleges where they can live in the dorm brothels.

Fine. But then why call yourselves a classical school?

One is forced to conclude that at least some schools do so because “classical” is a hot word, an effective marketing term, at least in some quarters.

I know that some people have determined to stop using the term classical for that very reason.

It has been taken over by Christian Darwinists or Christian Utilitarians who have found that using words as codes to generate interest is much more effective than using words to carry meaning, in this case a meaning that has grown over the centuries to contain a richness and profundity that the Utilitarian mind is incapable of discovering.

In short, having adopted the Pragmatic approach of the age, many who use the term classical and Christian for marketing purposes will make “practical” use of it but will not examine the nature of classical and Christian education. They fear that it would make demands on them that they do not want to meet.

I thoroughly understand that. It’s just that they sin against language, against the Christian classical tradition, and against those who want to build Christian classical schools when they do so. Thus their practicality is doing what I believe to be deep and lasting harm by perpetuating the confusion of these leaders, misrepresenting classical and Christian education to the wider community, and lying in their promotional materials.

Once again, the problem with Pragmatism is that it doesn’t work.

I’m not meaning to write an attack piece, however. This is an appeal to those of you who may have fallen into this trap by virtue of habit and necessity. I appeal to you to remove yourself. That Pragmatic cheese isn’t as good as it looked and the spring was not as strong as you feared. You can release yourself. The trap is only in your mind.

What can you do? Here are some simple suggestions:

  • Screw your courage to the sticking post (if the meaning isn’t clear, read MacBeth)
  • Think and take the trouble to ask about the meaning of the words you use
  • Ask: How do children learn, by nature?
  • Ask: How should we assess, by nature?
  • Do not look to the way things are as the way things must be.
    • Do not look to the “experts” who base their theories on industrial assumptions for confirmation and standards
    • Look to the God-given standards that arise from the God-given nature of things
  • When you don’t understand something, don’t say, “I don’t understand. Next!” Say, “I need to understand if I am going to fulfill my duty. I’ll take the time to do so.”
  • Take your time, but do it honestly and strategically.
  • Compromise, but only for the short term. Compromise strategically. Take the next hill. Reinforce. Then go to the next one. Don’t take the next hill and settle there!

It is extraordinarily difficult to honor nature in the school setting. It always has been, but never more so than now. But if you aren’t consciously trying to move in the direction of nature, than you will certainly be carried along in the direction of Materialism and Naturalism instead.

You will find yourself using conventional modes of instruction, assessment, and management. These modes are social constructions. And here’s how you will perpetuate the problem:

When your students graduate and go on to be teachers and attend teachers college, they will learn under the constructivist theories that dominate and control the modern mind. And because you had been modeling that theory for them all through childhood in the way you governed your school and taught and assessed your students, they will take it as a matter of course.

And their capacity to perceive truth will atrophy.


Recommended Resources:

  • Norms and Nobility by David Hicks
  • For teachers: CiRCE Apprenticeship (two seats remain as I write)
  • For heads of school and administrators: CiRCE Headmaster coaching (contact me if interested: akern at circeinstitute.org)
  • For boards: CiRCE Board Development and Strategic Planning
  • For faculty: CiRCE Teacher Training
  • For everybody involved in the school: CiRCE 2009 conference CD’s
  • For you: C.S. Lewis: The Abolition of Man (please read and meditate on this book if you haven’t already)

President Obama, Stem Cells, Science, and Ideology

We all sympathized with our President the other night during his press conference when that mean man from the Washington Times asked him about the morality of stem cell research adn he described the agony of the decision he was compelled to make.

Of course, I don’t mean that we sympathized with his agony, which, I’m sure, he got over pretty quickly when the accolades from his sycophants and users started pouring in (or even when the certainty that they would entered his soul).

No, it wasn’t that false sympathy we felt for him, but the much deeper sympathy one feels for another when that other is trapped in a moral position from which he cannot escape so he uses it to his advantage. The escape, of course, is always available, but it involves what Socrates called “metanoia,” turning around, repentance.

Yet President Obama, for all his brilliance, was led into this trap by a very simple ploy. He went to school where his teachers reinforced the inclinations toward self-indulgence that his culture sees as a super-high value by performing a metaphysical lobotomy.

Let me explain, because this is not meant to be a slam on President Obama for whom I feel great respect and even more pity. He used the right term to describe his position: it’s “above my pay grade.” And he demonstrated that very clearly on Tuesday night.

The issue was whether embryo’s that would otherwise be disposed of should be used for stem cell research. President Bush disallowed it by executive order and now President Obama has allowed it by the same executive order.

The contention seems to be, based on what he said, that this should be permitted because the stem cells are just going to be disposed of anyway, so why not use them to find cures for Parkinson’s and other diseases. Now, if science were to find a better answer to this issue, that would change the discussion, but he can’t make this decision based on ideology.

I have no great problem with the formal logic of his argument.

I have serious problems with the material logic of his argument. In other words, his categories are altogether inadequate to the task he has given them.

And what are the categories he used to make this decision, or at least that he used to defend it before the nation he leads?

Science and ideology.

I’ll have a great deal more to say about this in future posts, but I have to run right now. Between now and then, think about the categories he’s using. Do you think they’re adequate? Do you know what he means by them? Has he framed the argument in a manner that corresponds to reality? (remember that the primary function of a politician in our democracy is to frame the argument)

Two Underestimated Factors in Schooling (Part One)

The more schools I visit, the more I become aware of a pattern that causes me serious concern. 

There are two items that beginning and adolescent schools tend to woefully underestimate: one, the vast economic demand that the vision of classical and Christian education requires for our schools and, two, the need for parent education. I will expound on the economic piece today as part one and the parent piece a little later as part two.

It is easy for Classical and Christian schools to

(1) underestimate costs (I am convinced that it requires around $10,000 per student to run a typical and healthy institute – yes, even a classical and Christian one…even more so a classical and Christian school),
(2) fail to charge parents what it costs,
(3) lack an economic development and entrepreneurial spirit, and
(4) plan poorly for the financial model of their schools.

These are serious problems that are causing more than one school to shut-down in our work. In addition, our lack of financial stability leads to the making of concessions in the admissions office because of the temptation to admit students who are not a fit in order to fill spots and increase revenue. Finally, we are susceptible to big donors giving money with strings attached.

These circumstances and occasions can lead a school to shut down or to forget its mission. Only a sound economic model can sustain a sound education model.

It’s not Time to Quit

I wasn’t going to add something so quickly but in reviewing a post, I ran across this one and had to add it here:

The lesson is this: Don’t tell me the future. I’ve learned, unquestionably, that resilience—not prophecy—is the greatest gift.

That’s from Leading Blog, cut from a speech by Ralph W. Shrader of Booz, Allen, Hamilton. I’ve come to agree with this over the years, even though I’m a hyper anxious seeker of omens. The one thing that separates every successful person or institution from all the rest is resilience, adaptability, perseverence. I’ve never known the future, but I’ve always found it arrives the next day. But you just can’t quit.

So don’t.