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Education | 6 Minutes

Seasons of Life and Education

Marlin Detweiler Written by Marlin Detweiler
Seasons of Life and Education

As the classical and Christian education movement continues to grow and develop, one of the things we should notice is that this occurs over time. And if enough time goes by, you should notice that time means generations. If we have learned how to think covenantally, this means that we have learned how to think generationally. This is crucial, because education is all about the next generation—as is covenant faithfulness. That’s the whole point, is it not?

But one generation does not replace another in some kind of herky jerky motion. It is not that one generation remains just where it was, in control, until poof, it is gone. One generation flows, reaches high tide, and then ebbs. This happens gradually, and this is where the limits of the metaphor become evident. On the beach, you never see one tide ebb while another is coming in at the same time. You can’t have low tide and high tide at the same time. But in the realm of generational succession, you can see one generation coming of age at the same time that another is retiring.

An important part of educational reform consists of learning how to do this gracefully.

There will come a time when the senior statesmen in a school community will be someone who, at one time, was a kindergartner in that same school. He will be board chairman emeritus, and he, in his eighties, was in kindergarten when the visionary founder of the school was still alive. If the school is still faithful in that day, it will be because the lessons of generational succession were internalized by the leadership of the school. The structures surrounding this are obviously different in a home school setting, but all the essential principles remain the same. Charles de Gaulle once famously said that graveyards are full of indispensible men.

All of us are proceeding toward the end of our time on earth, and we are doing so on a conveyor belt that is moving toward that day at an inexorable rate of 24 hours every day. The writer of the book of Acts tells us that David was a man who was faithful in his own generation. He “had served the purpose of God in his own generation” (Acts 13: 36).

The problem of succession is one that confronts everyone everywhere. Augustine in The City of God said that in this life the dead are replaced by the dying. It is a fact so evident that it is astonishing that anyone forgets it. But it is particularly astonishing that educators forget. Our whole business is dedicated to raising up the next generation—and it is hard to do this while forgetting that the next generation’s ranks of surgeons, and attorneys, and pilots, and soldiers, will come from the ranks of these third grade faces looking up at you.

At Logos School, when we started, we were all for the most part in our mid-twenties. That we survived is testimony to the fact that the age of miracles is not over. Now our board consists of men in their forties and fifties, with the center of gravity tilting toward the elder. This is not bad in itself, because the Bible says good things about the wisdom and experience to be found in gray heads.

But the Bible also teaches that the glory of young men is their strength (1 Jn. 2:14). Fathers know the past—they know the one who was from the beginning (1 Jn. 2:14). But if the fathers know the past, one of the things they should recall is that they were once young men, and the fathers they looked up to at that time are now gone. They should then be able to swivel in their seats, and take a look at the future—who will replace them when they are gone, and will they be doing this all of sudden, or will someone prepare them for it?

Our board began discussing this challenge of generational succession a few years ago, and decided to do something about it. We brought a few young men onto the board as ex officio members—non-voting participants. This way they were able to see how the business of the board was conducted. They got to know us, and we got to know them. We wanted to train board members for the future, which is different than having the future board members trying to figure everything out after we had our heart attacks. The striking thing is that this illustrated the difference in perspective that a few decades can make. As I mentioned, we built the school when we were in our twenties. Seemed like the most reasonable thing in the world to undertake. But when one of those (previously crazy) board members, now in his mid-fifties, looks at some young men in their early thirties, with a decade more experience than he had, all he can think of is a basket of puppies. The wrong kind of caution can take over. The wrong kind of risk-averse conservatism can set in, and the leadership of the school begins to drift. Perhaps the drift is not into some kind of deep educational apostasy, but it is drifting nonetheless.

Educators should therefore know the difference between the time for planting and the time for harvesting. They should know when tremendous energy is called for, when steady leadership is necessary, and when solemn remembrance is the one thing needful.

Seasons of life matter. I am a board member of Logos School, just as I was twenty-five years ago. But the difference between being a father of three elementary school children enrolled and a grandfather of ten elementary school children enrolled is vast. I had one vote then and one vote now, but there is no way for me to function in the same way. My outlook is different, and of necessity needs to be. But if all of us progress into that different zone together, and nobody calls attention to it, it is too easy for us to assume that because nothing happened to startle us, everything is the same.

The thing that everyone needs to remember, as they evaluate their own particular “season,” is that in each time, your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness. When you are young and strong, being bulletproof is your greatest strength . . . and also, because you are not quite bulletproof, your greatest weakness. When you are in the middle years, and you have settled into the routine of managing and running the school, this is good. Routine is necessary. It is also the very thing that makes people forget why they started doing what they are doing in the first place. And the grandfathers on the board—it is a great strength to be able to recount many of the adventure stories that lie behind many of your current policies. In short, the policies are there for a reason, and the reason remains, even after the reason is forgotten. But the old-timers remember. This too can be a weakness—when memories turn into brittle conservatism, one that never wants to risk anything whatever. It never wants to change anything, regardless. “We closed that barn door, by means of that policy,” he says, “because of the horse that got away. Don’t want that to happen ever again.” “But,” one of the young men replies, “we stopped keeping horses fifteen years ago. We don’t have that program anymore, and I don’t see why we can’t sell the barn.”

To everything there is a season (Eccl. 3:1). And to every school.

~ Douglas Wilson

Douglas Wilson is a Reformed and evangelical theologian, prolific author and speaker, pastor at Christ Church in Moscow, Id., and faculty member at New Saint Andrews College. Many credit him as the key person in reestablishing the interest in and importance of classical Christian education. Included among the many works he has written are Recovering the Lost Tools of LearningReforming Marriage, To a Thousand Generations, and Standing on the PromisesAdditionally, he is the general editor of the Omnibus curriculum, a Great Books curriculum published by Veritas Press.