“All studies, philosophy, rhetoric are followed for this one object, that we may know Christ and honor Him. This is the end of all learning and eloquence.” – Erasmus, 1530
As I enter my final months serving as Head of School for WDCS, the Psalmist’s prayer “Teach us to number our days” takes on fresh meaning and urgency. What are the things left undone? Are my relationships here in proper order? What does it mean to finish well?
Numbering my days prompts a daily stream of questions that I seek to turn into prayers, chasing after a “heart of wisdom” for the challenges of each new day. As I sit down to write I ask, “What have I not said that I feel needs to be communicated, or perhaps, what bears repeating?
Pondering these questions, I keep coming back to the uniqueness of this place. We are unabashedly Christ-centered. We are missional and urban. West Dallas Community School was founded in 1995 to serve the families of West Dallas, offering a college preparatory Christian education for children in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade to an area that for decades had been an underserved and forgotten part of the city. Truly, we are a rare breed of school, both in our city and across this nation and I pray that no matter the challenges or financial pressures we might face in the future, WDCS remains true to its original vision and mission. There were several factors that attracted me to this school (its expression of God’s heart for justice, our curriculum which is a classical education model guided by the philosophy of educator Charlotte Mason., the enrollment and size of the student body—to name a few) but what mattered most was our Christ-centered commitment.
Some of you might be unclear about the difference in, or perhaps unconvinced about the value of, a Christ-centered education. Few express this more forcefully than Charlotte Mason herself:
“This idea of all education springs from and rests upon our relation to Almighty God-we do not merely give a religious education because that would seem to imply the possibility of some other education, a secular education, for example. But we hold that all education is divine, that every good gift of knowledge and insight comes from above, that the Lord, the Holy Spirit, is the supreme educator of mankind, and that the culmination of all education…is that personal knowledge of and intimacy with God in which our being finds its fullest perfection.”
Mason was British and much of her work was done in the latter part of 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century; her six volumes on education can be challenging to read as her prose is a bit dense and antiquated, but it is well worth the effort. In the quote above she makes two important points. First, she argues that there is no such thing as a “secular education.” Mason’s perspective comes from the “common grace” concept in theology, the grace of God that extends to all mankind. In her understanding, all knowledge and wisdom “discovered” across the centuries is a gift from God above and thereby education is “religious” because its source is divine. I would add, that over the last century so-called “secular” education is in truth a “religious” education, albeit in a different way: while some argue for its neutrality on things religious, our contemporary model of education has its own set of creeds and dogmas. One of my mentors used to say, “No education is value neutral – it unfolds in either obedience or disobedience to the Lord of creation.” What I ask you to consider is Mason’s assertion that all education is “religious” in nature.
Mason’s second point is what I want to emphasize most, that the desired “telos” or end of education is this: that each student would gain “personal knowledge of and intimacy with God.” This is what gets me out of bed each day. I enjoy the privilege of observing our amazing teachers at work as they reflect the love of God to our students and acquaint them Jesus. It is a textured, multi-layered and incarnate process which I wrote about in past blogs back in the spring of 2015, here and here. But in brief, we seek to provide them with knowledge of God through the study of scripture and the singing of hymns. In our curriculum we set out a banquet of riches, those things which are Good, True, and Beautiful. And while we aim to nurture our students’ affections towards this classical trinity, our ultimate hope is that they would come to love the Author of all that is Good, True, and Beautiful. But a good curriculum and school culture can only take you so far: ultimately, education is an incarnational enterprise.
Rabbi Abraham Heschel captures this best:
“Everything depends on the person who stands in the front of the classroom. The teacher is not an automatic fountain from whom intellectual beverages may be obtained. He is either a witness or a stranger. To guide a pupil to the promised land, he must have been there himself. When asking himself: Do I stand for what I teach? Do I believe what I say? He must be able to answer in the affirmative. What we need more than anything is textpeople not textbooks. The teacher is the text the pupils read; the text that they will never forget.”
Our teachers are sincere, dedicated followers of Jesus; they serve as a witness to the goodness and love of God as expressed in Christ Jesus. It is the daily interaction, the “life on life discipleship”, the relationship between student and teacher that is so profoundly powerful. Ultimately, it comes down to our students being known. Imagine the impact of being in a small school like WDCS for 10 years where you and your family are known by name, loved, and cared for. When our students leave at the end of 8th grade, we don’t hold a graduation, rather, we have our “Ceremony of Blessing” where each student is called to stage one by one and “blessed” by one of their teachers. The blessing is not a generic prayer but a concrete expression of their being known and loved. As I’ve said before, these things are hard to describe adequately, you just have to come and see. Please consider joining us this year on Friday, May 19th, 7PM at the West Dallas Community Church sanctuary and witness this remarkable event first hand.
When our 8th graders were asked to reflect on their journey with God, here are a few of their comments:
“My relationship with Jesus has become stronger over the years at WDCS.”
“God has changed my life for the better at WDCS, and I know I’m on the path He wants me to be on.”
“God, to me, means forgiveness, love and faith. God means the world to me.”
“I’m thankful. I believe. I love. I listen. I pray.”
“Jesus is my God, my Lord, my Salvation …my Shepherd. He’s always there by my side. He’s a friend I can turn to.”
“This school helped me learn more about God. To me, He is like a refuge and He gives me strength.”
“Jesus loves me unconditionally.”
In a very real sense, WDCS is hallowed ground. I’ve wondered as times if I should remove my shoes before entering the school as conscious, visible act of recognition that God’s spirit is at work among us. Broken and stumbling pilgrims as we are, lives are being changed in our midst. What an honor to be a part of the West Dallas Community School story these past five years and see our students come to know Jesus and understand their position, their core identity, as a children of God. As Erasmus said, “This is the end of all learning, that they may know Christ.”
Head of School
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