Pop Culture and Classical, Christian Education: New Wine In Old Wineskins?
Where Are We Now?
I can rather confidently tell you that the revival of classical, Christian-based education is now seeing its second generation of students arising. At Logos School in Moscow, Idaho, the oldest school based on this approach to teaching, we started our 37th year this fall. We have close to 100 alum children as students. Rebekah Merkle, Doug Wilson’s daughter – who was the catalyst for Logos beginning, just saw her oldest child, Knox, graduate from Logos High School. To my knowledge he is the first of his kind: a k-12 classical Christian school graduate with a parent who is also a K-12 graduate of a classical Christian school.
Knox has many peers around the country who will, in the next decade, be joining him in that rarified status.
Now comes the real test of the validity and lasting strength of this classical ‘thing’; will the next generation adopt it, value it, improve upon it and yet keep its core distinctives, while remaining faithful to Christ and His Word?
Or, considering all the social and evangelical norms that we have come to take for granted which are crumbling around us, like a scene out of London Has Fallen, will classical, Christian education share the fate of disco music, hippie communes, 8 tracks, Daniel Boone caps, beta video players, Easy Bake ovens, Atari s, Howdy Doody, pet rocks, mullets, Nehru jackets, Rocky & Bullwinkle, the Cold War, and America On Line? Will the new wave of popular culture find us wanting and move on to glitzier, technologically sexier, seeker friendly, educational movements?
Are we seeing new wine in our culture, in our new young families and students, and are we offering only old wineskins to hold it? According to our Lord, bad things happen when old wineskins attempt to keep new wine under control – bursting bags and ruined wine can be the result. Is that our destiny?
A working definition of “Pop Culture”
“Popular culture or pop culture is the entirety of attitudes, ideas, images, perspectives, and other phenomena within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid-20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the late 20th and early 21st century. Heavily influenced by mass media, this collection of ideas permeates the everyday lives of the society. The most common pop culture categories are: entertainment (movies, music, television, games), sports, news (as in people/places in the news), politics, fashion/clothes, technology, and slang. Popular culture has a way of influencing an individual’s attitudes towards certain topics.” (From What is Pop Culture by Gary West)
What else does this sound like? What is the biblical equivalent for such an all-embracing way of thinking about the world, thinking that goes beyond the bounds of formal education? I offer a term you probably already know: “Paideia.” Paideia is the almost unseen enculturation we experience daily. When Paul directs fathers in Ephesians 6:4 to ‘bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,’ he isn’t just talking about formal Christian education, although that is certainly part of his directive; he uses the Greek word paideia. Put another way, Paul is commanding dads to ensure their children see everything they experience or are taught as subject to the Lord. (For a much more thorough discussion of this idea, I recommend Doug Wilson’s book – The Paideia of God.)
Another term that may have occurred to you is ‘worldview’. That certainly is part of paideia, but falls a bit short, in that worldview is somewhat limited to what we think and believe. Paideia covers those things in our culture that affect us even unconsciously, often just through our senses. I love the smell of a barbeque wafting through the air. What is more American than that? Without even thinking, no matter how hungry I am, I begin to salivate, like Pavlov’s dogs, knowing someone, somewhere is going to eat meat cooked slowly over charcoal and I sure want some, too! Even my senses have been enculturated!
So the paideia of the Lord, the enculturation of the Lord, as Paul is addressing it, lines up with his other admonitions to ‘examine everything and hold fast to that which is good’, as well as taking ‘very thought captive to Christ.’ Why should we do that? Aren’t some things and thoughts just neutral or even meaningless? NO! In the great commission, Christ didn’t just send out His disciples with the Gospel; He claimed absolute and complete authority over all creation, making His paideia preeminent!
We’ve compared pop culture to the biblical idea of paideia, but how does pop culture contrast with paideia?
Again a quote from Gary West:
“Popular culture is constantly evolving and occurs uniquely in place and time. It forms currents and eddies, and represents a complex of mutually interdependent perspectives and values that influence society and its institutions in various ways. For example, certain currents of pop culture may originate from, (or diverge into) a subculture, representing perspectives with which the mainstream popular culture has only limited familiarity. Items of popular culture most typically appeal to a broad spectrum of the public.”
My generation is referred to as Baby Boomers. We are the children of the generation that went through the Great Depression and then, as if things weren’t tough enough, they heard about Pearl Harbor being attacked on Dec 7, 1941, and their world turned upside down. Nothing would ever be the same again. For four long, grueling years, that generation of Americans fought, wept, rationed, and pulled together as a culture until victory was assured and the Japanese signed the surrender document on the USS Missouri, Sept 2, 1945. (Sorry, I’m a history teacher.) Almost 8 million soldiers and sailors returned from Europe and the Pacific at about the same time. Many had been away from home for a number of years.
And, as I like to tell my students, GI Joe came home to Suzy, the girl next door, got married, and well…then the awkward part. Their children, my generational peers, grew up in what is often perceived as the golden age of families, the 50s. The truth is we were spoiled pretty much to the point of rottenness – how do I know that? Consider: the US economy boomed after the war, houses couldn’t get built fast enough for the new vet families, technology burst out with the TV, washing machines, fast food, cars – great cars!, medical advancements like the polio vaccine and open heart surgery; in short the standard of living in the US was the highest in the history of the world! And Dr. Spock, the new child-rearing guru, supplied millions of young mothers with wisdom on dealing with diaper rash, but he frowned upon spanking as a means of discipline.
So 70 million of us grew up with virtually every toy, taste treat, entertainment and fashion we desired, with few serious or painful consequences for bad behavior! Oh yes, and just as we were getting along in elementary school, the Bible and prayer were booted out of the classrooms by the Supreme Court!
Then we became teenagers (a term unique to the US in the 20th century) and showed our true colors in the 60s. We were the counter-culture, we actually wore buttons that said, among other things, Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30! We were the immortals apparently. We rocked, smoked dope and called on the stars and planets to guide us as we dreamed of remaking American society in our own image. In a sense, we coined the term: Pop Culture. We were pretty sure the world had never seen a cooler generation!
But we aged, the Vietnam war ended and well, we had to get a job to live. We hadn’t remade the world; shoot, we hadn’t even remade the minimum wage. We cut our hair, grew older, made money, discovered it could buy more and bigger toys, and we had fewer kids than our parents did (we had the pill). We put them in institutional daycare by the millions and got on with our version of the American dream, which largely centered on our own pleasures. Our parents? We were too busy to spend much time with them so we also put them in institutions that would take care of them. All of this our children watched and learned. We thought Pop Culture was born, lived and died with us – no, we may have birthed it, but it wasn’t dead, not by a long shot…
The Apostles of the current Pop Culture – ‘Millennials’
Who? I did some research and here are some interesting facts:
*Boomers: Born from 1946-63, there are about 74.9 million of us
*The Millennials are largely our children: Born in 1981-1997 (one definition is those who were 18-34 in 2015), they now have surpassed the Boomers as the largest generation at 75.4 million!
(If you’re curious, Gen X are people born in 1965-1980.)
In other words, Millennials came to adulthood after the turn of the millennium. They are the first adults of the 21st century. What sort of apostles (‘sent ones’) are they?’
Surely you’ve heard many descriptions since, like the Boomers, this generation loves to either talk about itself or have others talk about it. Sort of like the conceited guy on a first-date: “Enough talk about me; let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?”
But in case you’ve been living in a cave, here are a few common descriptions:
*Entitled – they’ve grown up being given even more than their boomer parents, better tech = smart phones, FB, Amazon: they expect instant gratification.
*They’re self-centered and find it hard to form meaningful relationships with real people.
*They’re idealistic but are not able to sustain a tough job; oh, yes, and thety want rewards quickly.
*Many suffer from low self-esteem; they are dull (consider the typical cashier and customer service rep); in school they were given Participation awards for showing up – they know those are meaningless.
*They’ve been given cell phones and devices for entertainment – not books or conversation; similar to a Sesame St education.
*Many are social media addicts, but they have little idea of real community!
Again, remember who’s children are they? Is it all that surprising they are like this? More importantly, is there hope for them?
Where are they now?
They are young adults now. They are forming the new workforce, displacing the boomers who are largely at retirement age. They are the new popular culture – their likes, dislikes, fashions, and politics dominate. Their unchecked emotions, like their parents’, are being expressed with even more visibility due to social media (picture the recent Occupy movement, the 99 and 1%), with even less to counter them – when we boomers were whining and protesting at least our parents still held the ‘center’: the government, the justice system, work force, and the media. But boomers don’t have our parents’ gravitas, patriotism, sense of fair play or justice; some have said we live in a post-Christian culture. Sounds about right. The millennials are not the enemy – but they are a generation that, by and large, hasn’t been heard or seen the real Gospel or the Word of God. And they are forming the new center in our culture.
The ‘Counter-Culture’ we offer: As classical, Christian teachers, admins, board members, home schoolers; how might we view this titanic shift?
Stability and vision have become the new renaissance:
It was interesting for me to discover that the same year, 1981, when the Millennials were first being born, Logos School was being formed by a bunch of boomers. We wanted something better for our children than what we’d been given, educationally.
So we planned and built a school, like many of you have, basing much of what we wanted, both academically and culturally in our schools, on what we had not received. And by and large, we got a lot of things right.
But then the wheels starting wobbling and falling off the surrounding culture. We learned in the 90s that a president doesn’t need to have a strong moral character as long as he just does his job well. Abortion on demand was here to stay, but we needed to protect the whales. Communism ended in Europe, but socialism was being welcomed in the U.S. The stories in the movies and TV and the songs in pop music still lauded love, but only as long as it felt good, and without any commitments. The boomers had rejected marriage, with its legal and sexual constraints. Our children learned that lesson and went much further than we could’ve imagined. And yet they long for the very thing they never knew – stability in a lasting relationship, grounded in the idea of ‘my life for yours’.
Live Lewis said in the Abolition of Man – “In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
Nothing long-term is valued; instant gratification is the expectation. So a vision for the future, for our grandchildren is radical and weird. So why has classical, Christian education become a movement of hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom are Millennials? I believe it is because it offer a true renaissance, a re-birth, that calls to our God-given, innate desire for stability and a vision for life beyond our time on stage.
Training ‘strangers in a strange land’ – our students and their inheritance
One of my favorite Psalms in 16, especially where David says this: “The Lord is the portion of inheritance and my cup; Thou dost support my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.” The Scriptures teach two seemingly opposing views of how we are to view our lives in this world. If we follow Christ, we will be hated by the world; we are to regard our sojourn here as brief and we are not to be part of this world. We are aliens and strangers in a strange land. But we are also taught that we will are to take dominion, that we will inherit the world, that we will see all things subjected to Christ and we will even rule with Him.
Many Christian schools take the former view and essentially try to teach with a hunker-down mode. Christian schools often seem to view themselves as godly compounds, with guard towers to keep out sin and the world. Then they are shocked with sin sneaks in and manifests itself in their halls and classes, or when their graduates seem to live lives no different than their government school peers.
So what are we to teach our students about the world? Matt Whitling, our principal, has said it well: We are preparing future kings and queens, so we must teach and treat them accordingly. We also are to expect them to act like kings and queens in training. If we believe Scripture, this world will be made new; we don’t love it as it is now, we trust what God says He is doing with it and that He will redeem it and make it new. We are royalty in Christ who will inherit a dominion for which we are being prepared to rule. How’s that for a vision and purpose?
Our children have a wonderful inheritance: their people are God’s people, their history is the history He has written, their future is noble, purposeful, and worth sacrificing for.
The unique blessings of cCe for Millennials and vice versa:
Please don’t misunderstand what I’ve said to this point; while there is nothing truly new, we are still to be wise as serpents and seek to discern the times, as our Lord said. Dorothy Sayers enjoined us to study the frames of our students – we need to study our new parents and seek to understand the culture in which they’ve grown, not to mention the culture that now exists.
How they may bless cCe: It won’t surprise you to hear that my three year-old granddaughter can navigate around my iphone faster than I can. Or that, when he was very young and Nintendo was the rage, my son figured out how to get to the fifth level while I was just trying to get a few coins, before dying. What’s with that? Do they have higher IQs than I do? Very likely, but that’s not the point.
Our parents thought they experienced some amazing innovations and inventions in their lifetimes, and they did! Consider that in less than one lifetime men went from flying a few hundred yards on the windy beach of Kitty Hawk to landing three men on the moon. Or that the average lifespan went from about 46 to 75 years over the 20th century, due largely to the advances in medical care God blessed us with. Wars went from being fought with rifles and cannons to nuclear weapons and drones that can hit anyone anywhere.
The boomers were amazed to get color TVs, CDs, vcrs, and micro-computers that became PCs. And then phones you could pack around! We grew up calling places, now we could call a person anywhere!
Our children, the Millennials, take all that for granted. And they seem to have a gene that enables them to text at five times the speed boomers could use a typewriter (a what?). Because they take the mind-blowing technology for granted, they are much more courageous to find creative ways of using it: Facebook was conceived of by a Millennial and, like it or not, it is THE social network today.
So can classical, Christian education be advanced by parents, staff members and teachers who aren’t afraid to push technological options? Absolutely! Could they come up with even better ways to do desk-top publishing? Or to help students take virtual trips through not only the Louvre, but Pompeii, as it may have been, or the surface of the moons of Jupiter, or the wonders in the Marianas Trench? Or including students living in remote regions of Idaho in virtual classrooms, where they interact with their peers and teachers in ways we can’t imagine today?
How cCe may bless them – As I mentioned earlier, classical, Christian education done well prepares and equips our students for assuming the noble role of servant kings and queens. For parents and students who have grown up being lied to by our post-modern culture, this reminds them of who they really are and why they were made. It points them to their Creator, their Savior. Through studies in their history, through clear thinking assisted by logic, rhetoric, lots of writing; through studies in science – the honest examination of what God has made; through be amazed at the gift and stability found in mathematics; through ancient languages that spoke with beauty and clarity like Latin, Greek and Hebrew; through the insistence on manners, treating one another as men and women with unique roles and attributes, putting others first in lines or in dances; through the beauty of the arts, as they glorify their Creator; and most of all through the diligent study of the unchanging Word of God – we not only counter the pop culture, we bring it to heel and redeem it. We remind our students and families that God is still on His throne, and that knowledge brings us peace.
Lessons from Ecclesiastes
The Preacher, King Solomon said this thousands of years ago:
“That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So, there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one might say “See this, it is new?” Already it has existed for ages which were before us.” This is actually a great comfort; we boomers truly thought we were the cutting edge – nothing like us had been seen before. We challenged all that had come before us, but, like the French revolutionaries, we had nothing to offer to replace what we wanted to destroy. And God continued to bring the dawn and sunset, the oceans rose and fell with their tides, farmers planted seed as had been done for millennia and God brought the increase. Nothing new touched or altered His laws for His creation.
And now our children, our culture, aren’t presenting anything new, either.
New Wine In Old Wineskins or Old Wine In New Wineskins?
Luke 5:36-39: “And He was also telling them a parable: No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins, otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, “The old is good enough.”
Classical, Christian education isn’t new wine – it’s not new at all. It’s no more new than the dust-covered, leather bound, thick old volume you might find in the reserved section of Library of Congress. It seems new to us because we didn’t know it existed. But once we find it, once we get to know what was once great and good wisdom, just like a well-aged wine, our lives are enriched and we want to share it with others.
We may be dealing with new wineskins – a generation which, like the boomers, has no sense of its heritage or meaning, and is stumbling blindly – but new wineskins can hold old wine very well. And, as our Lord said, which is often overlooked in this parable, old wine is better than new!
If this were merely the work of men, well, we’d be wasting our time. Discouragement would be constant. But it seems pretty apparent to me that only God could have taken the seed of an idea we call classical, Christian education and, from a tiny place like Moscow, Idaho, spread its branches, leaves and fruit to every point on the compass, and around the world. So, as long as we trust Him for our plans and outcomes, His blessing will be on our work for good. Our job is to follow Phil. 2:14,15: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; that you may prove yourselves blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.”
Remember our marching orders: ‘Every thought captive to Christ…”
Are we seeing something new in the pop culture around us, something no other believers have had to face? Should we fall back, recalibrate our vision, adapt it somehow to be more palatable to this new generation of Millennials? Should we become more seeker friendly, lighten up on archaic standards like honor, tough academic requirements, ancient languages and history, demonstrable respect for others, modesty in dress, diligence in all the work of our students, less emphasis on the Bible? Certainly not! If God is building this house, why on earth should we stop building just because there are those who question our purpose? Let’s take a page out of Nehemiah – build with a tool in one hand and a sword in the other! The tool is classical education, the sword is the Word of God, that withstands every challenge to it!
Our goal is nothing less than the biblical requirement to take every thought, every aspect of our pop culture, every philosophy that raises itself against the knowledge of God and bring it into submission, make it captive to Christ – He is already the Victor!