By D. Matthew Allen
On the wall in the front office of Paideia Classical Christian School is hung a plaque that lists the members of the founding board and founding families. My wife Konnie and I are the last ones standing. We are the last founding family still involved at the school. Since 2006, I have served as a director (and then director emeritus) of the school, along with teaching upper school Bible classes on a volunteer basis.
In 2006, when Paideia opened its doors for the first time, I wrote an article entitled “Why Choose Paideia.” You can read it here. At the time, my daughters were in sixth and third grade, and the article described why my wife and I chose to send them to Paideia Classical Christian School. We had seen Classical Christian education work at a prior school, and we believed it would continue to work at Paideia. At that time, however, we recognized that Paideia was a brand-new school with no track record. The article looked forward with a great deal of promise.
Seven years later, in March 2013, as my oldest daughter prepared to graduate high school from Paideia, and my youngest daughter was a high school freshman, I wrote a second article, a retrospective, called “Why Choose Paideia? Seven Years Later.” You can read it here. This article looked back at what we had learned over the last seven years. Having gone through the entire process from kindergarten through twelfth grade with at least one child, I could say with far deeper emphasis that Classical Christian education works. Our family had experienced it. Paideia had created (and was continuing to create) in my girls, as our school slogan says, disciples, scholars, and citizens.
Now it is 2022. Over the intervening years, my oldest daughter graduated college from Southeastern University (with honors), got married, taught Latin at Paideia for three years, bought a house, gave us our first granddaughter (who is now two), and is expecting her second baby. My youngest daughter graduated college from Palm Beach Atlantic University (with honors), spent a year working at the New York Post for its editorial board, and is now a first-year law student at Georgetown in Washington, D.C. It seems like only yesterday that Konnie and I were forcing our sixth and third-grade daughters to pose in front of the Paideia sign outside the office for the first of many annual back-to-school pictures. Time flies, it really does. Once again, thanks to the passage of time, we have a greater perspective than we did way back in 2006.
So it’s time for another look at the question: Why Choose Paideia? Indeed, now I can look at the question from the perspective of a man with grandchildren, my oldest of whom will enter the school world in only a short three years.
Does Paideia work? Does it really create disciples, scholars, and citizens?
Well, yes and no.
Wait a minute, you might think. Not an unequivocal yes? I had better explain.
Does Paideia Create Disciples?
Yes and no.
First, enrolling your child at Paideia will not ensure he or she is saved. As a parent and long-time upper school Bible teacher at Paideia, I have seen many students come and go. I am grateful that both my children and many other graduates of the school have credible professions of faith. But I also have seen some who looked to be on fire for Christ when they left Paideia end up appearing to shipwreck their faith (one hopes, temporarily?) as they entered college and adulthood. Of course, the converse is also true. I have seen some graduates who looked like they were as lost as a golf ball in weeds when they left here turn out to be solid Christians as they matured.
Paideia will not save your child. That is God’s work.
That said, Paideia will equip your saved child for discipleship. One of my favorite Bible passages is Psalm 127. Verses 3-4 say that children are a heritage from the Lord. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. I love this imagery because it signifies that our children go beyond us. They advance the kingdom of God in ways we cannot.
Paideia trains children to do this. Paideia challenges students to take their faith seriously. Paideia gives students a thorough education in Scripture, theology, worldview, and apologetics. Paideia challenges students to love God by thinking deeply, discerningly, and truthfully about God’s Word and his world. Paideia intentionally integrates a Christian worldview into every subject at every grade level. We integrate God into our math and science courses, as well as English and history because God is sovereign over every square inch of the universe.
Paideia also trains your children to make moral judgments. We nourish the soul on goodness and beauty. The notion of goodness means that we make moral judgments. The world says, “Don’t judge,” meaning “don’t have discernment, don’t call good what God calls good, and don’t call evil what God calls evil.” But the virtuous person makes judgments. We are unafraid to call good what the Bible calls good and to call evil what the Bible calls sin. We want your children to know good and eschew evil.
And we want them to appreciate beauty. We teach students that beauty is not simply in the eye of the beholder, as the world argues, but that there is an objective standard for beauty, just as there is for truth and goodness.
Why do we emphasize truth, goodness, and beauty as the basic building blocks of the curriculum? Because we want the wise and virtuous graduate to glorify God with his or her life and enjoy him forever. This is how we will leave a legacy, by raising up virtuous and wise men and women who themselves impact the world for Christ long after we are gone.
Paideia will not stop your lost child from being what C.S. Lewis called a “clever devil.” But we will pray for and love your child and ensure that your child understands the gospel. And we will equip your saved child for a lifetime of service to Christ.
Does Paideia Create Scholars?
Does Paideia create scholars? Again, the answer is yes and no. Yes, our students learn biblical Greek, Latin, logic, rhetoric, and debate. Yes, they receive and use the 60 volume Great Books of the Western World as textbooks in the rhetoric school. Yes, they read great works such as The Iliad, The Odyssey, and Aeneid – and that is just in seventh grade! I pointed out in my retrospective article that my then ninth grade daughter had read more works of great literature than I had at age 48. That is so much truer now.
But creating scholars goes beyond simply exposing students to sound content. There are some classical schools that read the Great Books, but they insist that students read those books and discuss them in class only from the perspective of the author. So if students are reading Karl Marx or Charles Darwin, they can’t bring to bear their own Christian worldview onto the analysis of the reading. That’s not the way we do it. Our students also read Marx and Freud and Darwin and Derrida. We don’t shy away from the great and yet terrible ideas that so animated the 19th and 20th centuries. And we want to be respectful of the authors and understand why they wrote what they did on their own terms. But we don’t stop there. We read the Great Books of Science and Philosophy and Literature through the lens of Scripture. Why? Because we are not attempting to impart knowledge. We are attempting to impart wisdom and virtue.
Now let’s be real. Some students are B or C students. They won’t get straight As. Are you OK with that? I hope so. To be sure, Paideia gives the brightest students the opportunity to go far in the world of academics. We have had our share of National Merit Scholars or Finalists, and many of our students get generous college scholarships.
But Paideia isn’t just for the brightest. It also gives the average and below-average students the ability to become the best they can be as well. That was me growing up, by the way. I was a C student at best in high school, and it wasn’t until college that I finally learned how to study and succeed academically. And as George Grant says, I was robbed; I didn’t have a Classical Christian education.
The point is, Paideia is not just for the naturally gifted scholars. It is for all who desire that their child glorify God by doing his or her best to become the best student he or she can be, whatever level that turns out to be.
After all, many students don’t have the aptitude or desire to become career academics. After they graduate, they may not remember their Latin or Greek (although they will retain the sharpness of thinking that learning these languages creates). With apologies to Mrs. Kendrick, they may not love Moby Dick or Paradise Lost as adults (although they will be able to talk about them and understand cultural references to them). They may even sell their Great Books. Are you OK with that? I hope so. God made some children to become teachers and scientists and lawyers and writers (and some of our students have become or are becoming these things). Others are nurses and mechanics and artists and actors and businessmen and stay-at-home moms. All these vocations are honorable. In other words, God made our children with unique aptitudes and gifts. They are fearfully and wonderfully – and individually – made. Your child’s vocation may not be what you predict; God doesn’t paint in straight lines. What Paideia gives them is the ability to think, the tools to learn, in whatever vocations they choose.
As I told our graduates a few years ago, no matter where they go, they take Paideia with them. That is a precious pearl of great price.
Does Paideia Create Citizens?
Does Paideia create citizens? Again, yes, and no.
First, Paideia unapologetically teaches American history. We teach our students to value Western Civilization, American values, and the American Constitution, all of which are constructed in large part on Christian virtues. In a recent issue of National Review (December 27, 2021), Stanley Kurtz points out that the nation’s public schools, including the vaunted AP World History standards, have sold our precious birthright for a superficial globalism stew that rejects both American patriotism and any sense of indebtedness to our Western heritage of liberty. We at Paideia are purposefully countercultural; we seek to recover an appreciation of our Western heritage in the context of a robust liberal arts education.
Paideia also teaches formal Logic, which allows students to spot fallacies and see through the political and commercial machinery of manipulation that so pervades our society.
In addition, Paideia teaches students the true meaning of tolerance. They learn how to respect the dignity of all individuals as divine image bearers. They learn how to show Christian graciousness and charity to those who disagree with them. This is a far cry from elite society’s re-definition of “tolerance,” which is to say, tolerance for those who agree with their ideas of what society should look like, and intolerance for unfashionable Christian ideas. But again, formal Logic helps our students to understand the difference between the two.
But Paideia doesn’t teach students to think exactly the way we do. Parents, Paideia may not create adults who vote exactly the way you do. Are you OK with that? I have learned to be. Our children are arrows, not robots.
Part of teaching citizenship is teaching students to value absolute truth, no matter where it may lead. In our post-modern era, children are cynically taught that there is no truth or that truth is relativized to “my truth” and “your truth.” We reject this relativism and embrace the idea of absolute truth because Jesus preached that the truth, embodied in himself, will set you free. So we nourish the soul on truth.
When my youngest daughter was in college, she had the privilege of asking Sean Spicer, former press secretary for President Trump, a question at a public event. She asked him what the place was in the Trump White House for absolute truth. Spicer’s answer reflected an apparent lack of understanding that truth is absolute, not relative. Sign of the times.
This creation of true and faithful citizens is precious in our current climate. We have seen in the news how many public schools in our day teach their students to be anti-citizens, to hate what America stands for and disrespect our heritage. We also know that some Christian schools teach from an “America – love it or leave it” perspective that conflates America and Old Testament Israel and whitewashes over some uncomfortable aspects of our history. Here at Paideia, we do not shy away from showing students the sins of our country, including the ugly history of racism. But we do not elevate these sins to obscure the fundamental Christian heritage that makes up Western civilization and American’s founding. We teach children to respect what America stands for, even as we encourage them to work to create for their generation what the Declaration of Independence calls a “more perfect” union. And we teach them to recognize that America is not the same as Zion. Our ultimate citizenship as believers is in Christ’s kingdom, not America.
Paideia As Enculturation.
A lot of people have asked over the years why the founding board and headmaster chose the name “Paideia” for our Classical Christian School. Admittedly, it’s strange and hard to pronounce (technically, it’s “pie-dee-ah” but we in Florida have gravitated to “pie-day-ah”). Paideia is a Greek word. It is derived from the Greek pais or paidos, which refers to a child. We get our English words “pedagogy” and “pediatrics” from it. So in a narrow sense, paideia refers to the upbringing or raising of children. The word is used in Ephesians 6:4 to reference raising children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. This, of course, is the laudable goal of every Christian parent. But the word has broader implications. In a broader sense, paideia signifies the general learning or enculturation that we inspire to instill in all our children, not only as they grow into adulthood, but as they continue to mature and flourish as adult human beings. It is nothing less than the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty so that the student may glorify God and enjoy him forever. Don’t you want that for your child? And what would you sacrifice to get it?
This enculturation, this paideia, isn’t created in a child in a day. Nor is it created in a single year. (This is why you shouldn’t freak out if your child has one or two rough years along the way.) Rather, this paideia occurs over an accumulation of years as truth, goodness, and beauty are continually poured into the life of a child. It is a long-term process. Dare I say it is a lifelong process. There is no completion point, save death. But if your students are not yet enrolled at Paideia, there can be a beginning point, preferably kindergarten, but really, wherever your child is right now. It is never too late to begin.
Yes, Konnie and I are the last founders still around. But no matter. The work continues. Now it is your work. Continuing the legacy is your responsibility.
Indeed, why choose Paideia? Because work remains to be done. The good and hard work of creating paideia in children. Your children. For over fifteen years, loving and faithful teachers have poured paideia” into children at Paideia Classical Christian School. Lord willing, it will continue to be created in your children – and my grandchildren – for the next fifteen years, and beyond. To paraphrase Chris Tomlin, greater things are still to be done in this city.
G. K. Chesterton said that every revolution is a restoration—the recapturing and re-introduction of something that once guided and inspired people in the past. C.S. Lewis also said that when we have lost our way, the quickest way forward is usually to go home. So here at Paideia, we are part of a revolution against the crazy, mixed up, messed up education system that surrounds us. And we are doing so by seeking to restore the time-tested teaching methods of the past, the way children in the Western World were successfully taught up until the last hundred and fifty years or so. We seek to recover the lost tools of learning.
This is who we are. Here we stand. God help us. Amen