By Cathy Windham
My husband and I witnessed something truly admirable on a recent trip to Washington, D.C. It was at the very end of our time in the nation’s capital. We arrived at Terminal A in Reagan Airport, where we saw several gates full of people standing – virtually all of the terminal within eyesight. In moments, these standing people started clapping and cheering for a special group of passengers who were exiting a plane. As far as we were able to tell, this special group of passengers were Vietnam veterans – several making a slow labored walk out of the gate and into the terminal, several others being wheeled in wheelchairs, but all adorned with the markings of today’s war heroes.
We quickly joined in on this impromptu celebration to honor this group of men who served our country during an intense conflict. Dozens and dozens of people stood on their feet for more than 20 minutes, clapping and cheering, as each veteran exited the plane. Among the sea of standing people, regrettably, sat two teenagers – screens in hand, earbuds in place. I did briefly wonder why their parents didn’t compel them to stand and participate in what seemed to me a great opportunity to teach reverence and empathy. What a great opportunity to teach these adults-in-training that there is something happening bigger than themselves and more important than whatever they are being entertained by on their devices.
Just to be clear, I have failed many times when given the opportunity to teach my own children and students the virtue of servanthood. Time and time again I have prioritized being happy and comfortable. Unfortunately, this way of thinking can communicate to our children that life is all about them. So how do we as parents and educators train young people to get past themselves? What will make our children different from the “It’s all about me” American culture? Can school play a role?
This will be my oldest son’s last year at Augustine; Noah has been a student at Augustine School since August 2006, and he will be graduating in May. Fourteen years ago, I did not fully understand how Augustine School would shape my little four-year-old guy. There are many reasons I could give for why we chose Augustine then and why we continue to choose Augustine now, but one of the greatest reasons is that I want my children to be different. I want my children to put down their preoccupations and stand and clap for something admirable and virtuous.
Augustine School has held Noah to high standards both academically and behaviorally. In each grade, his teachers have provided guidance and accountability in that which is virtuous. Being an Augustine teacher myself, I know that virtues are caught, not necessarily taught. I can look through Noah’s time at Augustine School and see evidence of this “catching.” The wonderful curriculum we use not only informs the student, but cultivates wisdom and virtue… but it is also the small moments, the struggles in the trenches, that have shaped my son.
During his lower school years, Noah’s teachers were continuously working to help him recognize that something bigger than his wants was happening around him. He had to learn that bringing his toys to school may be fun to show off to friends, but it distracts him and others from what was happening in the classroom. He was given a consequence when he foolishly wrote something rude in an attempt to get a laugh from his classmates. When he tried to blame his poor choice on a buddy who “did it too,” a teacher took the time to show him the truth of his choice and guided him to accept responsibility.
In recent years Noah has continued to be pushed outside of himself while at school. Several years ago, he knowingly began venturing away from the uniform standard by wearing colored T-shirts under his uniform shirt. A teacher talked to him about this choice of attire: something seemingly so insignificant. Yet, this teacher was reminding him that there is something bigger than his preferences – there is a “form” under which we live and with which we ought to bring our desires into alignment. In essence, his Augustine teachers have worked to shepherd his heart during his selfish moments. His teachers have communicated, “I love you dearly, but it’s not all about you!”
Community. Not Solitude.
My husband and I will freely admit we’ve struggled in many ways to know how to parent our three children; however, we feel very confident in guiding them to know the most important thing of all – Love God first, and then love your neighbor. How will they know God if they haven’t first heard God’s Word (Romans 10:14)? Each school day Augustine opens with voicing God’s Word, through scripture, psalm, and hymn. The goal of scripture memory is of course that God’s Word will be written on our children’s hearts (Jeremiah 31:33), not merely that they would receive an A as their grade for the quarter.
We’ve estimated that by the time Noah graduates, he will have had 56 quarters of scripture memory covering 16 passages of scripture, all of them multiple times. That surely will go a long way toward helping Noah hide God’s Word in his heart (Psalm 119:11)! And what an amazing experience it has been at quarterly recitations to hear dozens and dozens of children reciting God’s Word together in unison. We’re not only placing the primary emphasis on scripture, we’re also telling our children, “You are not alone; together with you, in community, we will love God with our entire being.”
And that is, in many ways, what Christian education should be ultimately about. May our children go out into the world, leaving Augustine School with a proper love for God and the capacity to care less about their momentary comfort and more about loving and honoring their neighbor.