September Rapp Up

People ask me all the time, “How’s the school year going?”

This has been an amazing year so far, but I always find it hard to explain why. I have some concrete things that I love sharing: we had seven seniors recognized by National Merit this month, including three Semifinalists; our three new Career Explorations classes in Engineering, Education, and Law and Public Service are providing some powerful experiences for our kids and getting many outside community members connected to the school; our seniors have stepped up and run with their leadership this year, especially during House and Community times.

But none of that really encapsulates whether a school year is “good” or not.

Our mission of passing on the faith is not measurable in a concrete sense, nor is it ever really accomplished completely. Passing on the faith is a movement of the human heart, a journey (to quote C.S. Lewis) “further up and further in” to the heart of God over the course of this life and the next.

That’s what makes our job so hard, both as educators and as parents. The target is a moving one, a personal one, one that is not necessarily achieved when all seems well, nor that is necessarily lost when everything seems to be falling apart. It is a job of mentorship and accompaniment, trying to strike a balance of supporting without enabling, guiding without controlling, giving freedom without abandoning. We are blessed to work towards this as a community of faith committed to a common mission and path.

I read a book last month titled The Collapse of Parenting by Leonard Sax, and as parenting books often do, it had me whiplashing between feeling affirmed that I was doing a good job as a dad and despairing that I had caused my kids irreparable harm. As you can probably surmise from the title, he talked about drawing lines for kids and having consequences, taking the authoritative (but not authoritarian) role of decision-making parent at the head of the family, while still creating a loving environment for our children.

He also spoke about educating children, but in a surprising way. He talked about educating desire, so that our kids not only know what is good, and not only hopefully choose what is good, but that they actually grow to desire it.

This idea really struck me. We obviously talk a lot about forming children’s intellects. That’s why we have classes and projects and tests. We also educate wills by limiting kids’ options and/or imposing positive and negative consequences to help influence the kinds of choices our children will make.

But Sax said there is an equal responsibility to educate desire.

This has stayed with me for weeks. How do we educate desire? How do we help kids want to make better choices, to crave more fulfilling activities, to strive for greatness, whatever that may look like for them? This question is probably on many of our minds as we enter Homecoming Week and try to help our students respect themselves and each other in all the choices they make.

What Sax suggests, and which we probably already know, is that virtuous desire can’t just be learned in a book. Desire is educated in large part by example. It is why we hire the people we do. Why would anyone want to do an Ironman? Well, most people don’t, until they see Mr. Supalla’s excitement about his race. Why would anyone want to write poetry? Well, few do, until they hear Mr. Bradfield talk about his poems or sit next to Ms. Jordan in poetry club and try it themselves. Why would anyone want to live on a tight budget? It’s not natural for many (myself included!) until they learn the wisdom and stories of Mr. Wuebker and Mr. Consiglio.

There are a lot of things we don’t want to do at first that we actually end up wanting to do when we see the beauty of it lived in someone else. The faith is one of them. No one really wants to pray, until they pray with Mrs. Walters or Ms. Miller at GRACE or hear a witness from Mr. Lanza in class. No one wants to be vulnerable about their relationship with Jesus, until someone like Mr. Radke or Mrs. Charlton goes first. Then they experience the beauty and want it for themselves.

It’s hard for us to want to be this example, because we’re not perfect. None of us wants to put ourselves up as the example, because we know our own flaws and fear being hypocrites. Sax addresses this beautifully at the end of his book:

“You may not be a perfect model…Neither am I. There may be dark places in your own soul…I have them too. You may feel silly trying to preach to your child about virtue and character because you know how far astray you have gone in the past, including the recent past. I have often felt the same way.
“But too bad…There is no greater responsibility.”

Pretty challenging words. I am so grateful to be in a community where we can fight for our kids together, educating desire by drawing firm lines but also by sharing experiences that awaken an awareness of how much goodness is out there to be had. I am also thankful for a God who can work through mistakes, who says “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I think this school year has been great, and it will only keep getting better if we can continue our beautiful partnership in education, helping students “know Truth, choose Good, and live virtuously in the service of others.” Happy Homecoming Week!