CiRCE has the best readers

Last week we began the pre-launch of our 2009 fund-raising campaign, in which you can receive seven free downloads for any amount of financial support for the CiRCE Institute. I’m going to try really hard to avoid posting about it too often so this doesn’t turn into an NPR station.

But I have to tell you some wonderful news. Our goal for this year’s campaign is a conservatively ambitious $50,000, which would enable us to conduct the 2010 conference and direct the needed resources at the development of key resources.

Already, before even officially launcing the campaign, you have made over 20 donations totalling over $1000. How can we thank you enough?

We’re trying to do so by giving you access to the free MP3’s of some key conference talks – something we’ve never attempted in the past.

If you already know you would like to help us continue our service to the Christian classical community, please go to this page and partner with us.

If you’d like more information, please visit this page or read my updated presiden’ts report.

Also, the CiRCE board is working on a more detailed letter that you can look forward to reading either on line or in the mail.

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.

A few notes on dealing with economic hard times

In these economically trying times, we can see that our value proposition has never been more important. People who come only because the school is cheaper won’t come back. There’s always a cheaper one.

But people who come because you have better teachers, a better curriuclum, and better vision will continue to invest to the limit of their abilities.

“Cut costs, but not the one’s that make you what you are.”

James Daniels reminded me yesterday that teaching your parents is one of the most important duties for a Christian classical school. Those who have done so will reap the rewards when those parents have hard decisions to make. Those who have not, it probably isn’t too late. Yet. 

  • Make sure they have the vision. 
  • Make sure your teachers have the vision and training they need to separate your school from the pack.
  • Make sure you have a distinctive curriculum that makes the blood flow.
  • Nourish the energy of your teachers and staff – in fact, of the whole community.
  • Build and protect the goodwill of everybody you depend on, especially, if I may say so, your Lord and Provider.
  • Guard your cash flow by tending the “goose” that lays the golden egg. Don’t kill the goose to get the egg. And know what the golden egg is, too.

If we can help, please contact us. It’s what we’re here for.

Can you be Market Driven and Please God at the same time?

And having asked that, can you please God if you don’t attend to your market?

In Galatians 1:10 Paul writes, “If I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.”

It is easy for the more individualistic to take this verse to mean they should be indifferent to “men,” speaking aggressively and assertively the gospel as they perceive it regardless of how they communicate it. They interpret the phrase “pleased men” to mean “showed consideration for the feelings of men” or even “loved men.” Regrettably, not a few Christian leaders have taken this attitude over the centuries and quite a few do it now.

On the other hand, even more Christian leaders over the centuries and even right now take an attitude that what they say should be directed, not to the needs of men, but to their appetites and passions. This is the market driven church or school.

Things get complicated on this side. In the 60’s and 70’s conservative Christians, reacting to the growth of socialistic dogma in American politics (but failing to set themselves outside the paradigm that gave rise to that growth) adopted the libertarian doctrine of the unfettered, free market. For many conservatives, to argue against the free market came to mean to argue for socialism or other forms of tyranny – or worse, against Christianity.

In that context, the market came to be the center of people’s affections and ambitions. People cannot imagine any other way to survive financially apart from selling things to the free market or working for a company (increasingly gigantic) that sells things to the market.

And what is the market? It used to be the agora – a public place where people gathered to buy and sell. But the publicness of the market has diminished. First of all, the public became the masses and they were efficiently gathered into impersonal malls where the sellers were exchanged frequently and where well-being depended on masses of impersonal sales. Unlike “the old days”, which still survive in some urban and rural areas, nobody knows his butcher anymore.

Our material comforts have grown wildly, like a strong addiction. We wonder how people survived before air conditioning, supersized value meals, and electronic superstores.

But our eyes are closed to the costs of our prosperity precisely because those costs are not directly obvious. For example, we’re a fat, lazy people with a few superperformers leading us by persuading us they can keep the costs of our obesity down (whether it be the price of chocolate or the price of health care). In 1980 Time Magazine described Americans as “an unloved child with ice cream: fat, full of pimples, and screaming for more.”

Even worse, I think, is the social cost. Because we no longer need our neighbors we don’t know them. The market, unfettered and severed from higher purposes, has proven that it will find the weaknesses of the masses and service them. It has become one gigantic pimp, providing the means for all of us to indulge our gluttony, our cowardice, our lusts, our pride. I could have believed in the free market at one time, but that was before the internet showed what people will spend their money on when they are in the privacy of their own heads. The Brave New World is no longer around the corner; we’ve entered it.

We could never have reached this point without an inordinate worship of the market. It cannot solve our problems. It cannot save our souls. It does not merit the worship of our hearts.

Of course, a significant number of readers is asking whether I have become a socialist. God forbid. I am a Christian. I reject every form of economic and philosophical materialism. That is precisely where the argument for the free market went astray. It is a materialist position, one into which the 20th century conservative was maneuvered by falling into a dread of socialism apart from a faith in a God who transcends the market.

We see this false dilemma played out in our schools continually. If God has called a group of people to build a Christian classical school, then they are bound to build a Christian classical school. If it succeeds, that is good. If not, He has only asked for faithful stewardship.

But stewardship is the issue. And you can’t be a faithful steward without trying to succeed and that means people coming to your school. And those people are the market. Right?

Well, it depends on what you mean by “market.” If you are using the term loosely to describe everybody with whom your school comes in contact and communicates with, sure, they’re the “market.” But if you are using the term to describe the people on whose pleasure the success of your school depends, no, they’re not the “market.”

In the end, only God can be that market.

The market, in other words, cannot be given the authority to determine what kind of an institution you are, the kind of curriculum you will teach, the philosophy you will live and die by.

I prefer to think of them, not as the market (which means their pleasure is your object – i.e. they are the boss), but as the beneficiaries of your service. They are the recipients of your Christian love. Stewardship demands authority. You can’t hand that over to the people you serve, and then blame them when you lose your way.

Besides, even if you hold to a market driven model, what the market is looking for in education is leadership. It’s confused. To listen to it is to betray it.

Now we’re back to the issue of hard-heartedness. Surely I don’t really mean you shouldn’t listen to the market – to the beneficiaries of your service.

No, I don’t mean that. I was using a sort of hyperbole. They can’t be your guide on the direction you’re moving. But they can’t be ignored either. If you are out hiking and somebody falls into a ditch, Christian love doesn’t ignore that person so you can reach the goal. They’re the ones you are leading, for goodness’ sake. You should spend endless time listening to them and their needs and their capacities. Mostly face to face.

But when they try to redirect you to from your path, you can’t compromise your stewardship. You aren’t working to please men but to please God. In the end, that’s the only way to please the men that matter most.