At the annual faculty in-service at the beginning of the 2017 term, Headmaster Heaton addressed the faculty identifying several themes important to the long-term flourishing of our school and our families. This column is the second in a series of articles based on those lectures.At the annual faculty in-service at the beginning of the 2017 term, Headmaster Heaton addressed the faculty identifying several themes important to the long-term flourishing of our school and our families. This column is the second in a series of articles based on those lectures.
In his recent book, The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher makes the notable observation that Classical, Christian schools such as New Covenant may provide the widest forum for teaching, for spiritual formation, and for building community. His book looks for guidance to the practices of the medieval Benedictines and uses their rule as a kind of North Star. He seeks to discover the recipe for the glue that has held this order together in recognizable communities for more than 1,000 years. Maybe they have something worth imitating in our own lives. Dreher offers us a place to start with the disciplines of order, prayer, work, stability, and community.
Order is not simply a matter of maintaining rules. At its deepest level order is a way of living in harmony with the transcendent order of God’s world. A century ago it was common for ministers and teachers to refer to affections as either ordered or disordered; desires and loves that are contrary to nature, and contrary to God’s law fall into the latter category. In the classical, Christian view, the law itself depends upon this deeper conception of how ultimate reality is constructed. This order may be unseen, but it is believed and internalized by those living with a community that professes it.
Here’s a way to understand: whenever we drive, we enter a highly ordered environment. We line up behind other cars, we drive within prescribed boundaries, our speed is regulated, and we stop and go in accordance with electronic and static controllers. Moreover, in the private world of our vehicles, we have instruments that we use to communicate our intentions to others: blinkers, horns, brake lights and such. This highly ordered environment is relatively strict and very rigid, but remarkably, it yields the highest level of freedom, safety and enjoyment for the most people. When traffic is dis-ordered, it usually results in harm. Analogously, young children, middle and high schoolers each need order, although the limitations should recede as they gain self government over their impulses.
As children grow the world around them places demands and pressures upon them. They are confronted with the heavy traffic of cultural messages, many of which are designed to feed disordered feelings, desires, and behaviors. On very critical issues the culture of “liquid modernity” increasingly endorses bad things as good things, and disordered loves as normal. Children absorb these liquid messages as easily as the water they drinking, effortlessly. What’s a parent to do?
Provide Predictability. You’ve chosen a school that strengthens your child by providing an ordered environment. From the moment your child gets out of the car each morning, his routine is already established, his boundaries are clear, his moment-to-moment activities are predictable. This is comforting and liberating to a youngster who might otherwise be overwhelmed by the sheer size of this new and exciting world of school. Did you know that research from Independent School Management (ISM) has demonstrated that one of the strongest single drivers of sustained academic performance is a predictable environment? A classroom that is disordered in its appearance, schedule, or student behavior will inhibit learning; an ordered environment will tend toward an ordered mind and behavior.
Avoid Over-Scheduling. The need for order does not mean your child should never have unstructured time. Children benefit greatly when they have down time in school and out, in which they have no expectation placed on them except to entertain themselves. Playing outside, climbing trees, wading creeks, riding bicycles, playing with dolls and jumping rope, are incubators of the imagination. A child who has a full school schedule need not be loaded with ballet, soccer, gymnastics and swimming after hours. New Covenant intentionally schedules regular breaks and breathers, for just this reason. Again, ISM research shows that academic performance is sustained when students take regular, short breaks from their work.
Offer Limited Choice. The digital world we inhabit provides us with “nick-of-time” info and thousands of choices about thousands of things. Children actually do not need, and should not be offered a wide array of choices. Children who are indulged with endless options in their lives learn to see themselves not only as in control, but also as judges of what is good for them or not. They tend to see themselves as entitled beneficiaries of choice. They bring to school a subtle inclination to view the teacher and the information she offers as just one more choice. I notice increasingly that young people tend to see their choices and opinions of subject matter as equally valid with the educated and skilled instructors their parents pay so much money to obtain.
When I go into Rivermont Pizza, I have a few choices, but I’m only there for the pizza. I might have three options on a beverage. However, when I go to a high-end restaurant in a big city, I might have 100 choices on the wine list alone. After I’ve ordered I get this uncomfortable feeling that maybe I could have chosen better – too late! I only got one choice and now I’m worried. Having choices is good, but having too many choices can create restlessness which undermines the virtue of contentment.
Ordering one’s actions is about training one’s heart to love and to desire the right things, the things that are real, without having to think about it. It is acquiring virtue as a habit. New Covenant encourages this virtue by providing predictable structure, a reasonable schedule, and appropriate choices to students throughout their school experience. New Covenant becomes a strong partner with families in the formation of their children.