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Your child’s school is in the business of training students in virtue. But virtue doesn’t come in a single swallow or a wallop at a certain age. It is cultivated over a long period of time; nurtured in the home, church, and school; and fed with the good soil, clean water, and bright sunshine of the Holy Spirit, as we weed the vices that crop up all around the virtues. I hope you didn’t lose me in my flights of metaphor. I am trying to say that Regents Academy is interested in much more than the gray matter between your child’s ears and the numbers that appear on their test results bar graphs. We are working toward shaping their character, their souls, their vision, their worldview. And in this work, tucked-in shirts matter. Classical teacher Joshua Gibbs over at the Circe Institute blog has done us all a great favor by writing an article called “The Little Rules: Heaven, Hell, & Untucked Shirts.” Gibbs shines a light on the shaping of virtue by observing the little rules. Please read it and discuss it with your family – it’s well worth your time.

My students break the little rules. They do not like to tuck in their shirts. They are like pack-a-day smokers in class, their hands itching to untuck those shirts. They rush outside for lunch, untucking their shirts and sighing deeply as that untucked nicotine hits their blood. They try to get away with untucking their shirts in class, in the halls. When I tell them their shirts are untucked, they feign looks of surprise as they slowly crane their necks down towards their flapping hems, and say, “Oh, I didn’t know. How did that happen?” They then become detectives, replaying the last hour of their lives, trying to figure out how their shirts could have possibly become untucked. In brief, my students break the little rules and then lie about it. I do this, too. At times I do not believe Jesus is the actual hope of mankind. The real hope of mankind is this: I am going to break the rules and no one is going to notice. This is the maxim most people live by.

Convincing people they ought not break the little rules is very difficult because nothing really happens when you break the little rules. No one dies. No one is pregnant. No one goes to jail. When I tell students it is important to keep the little rules, some explanation is necessary. “It is important to keep the little rules” is not a truism. The student hears this and thinks, “You are mistaken. I regularly break the little rules and I am not caught. Nothing bad happens. We are all sinners from birth. Breaking little rules is what humans do. It does not matter. I am not a saint, neither do I have ambitions to become a saint. Breaking little rules is simply the cost of doing business. Breaking little rules keeps me sane.”

Most students are under the impression that something magical happens when a person turns eighteen and moves out on his own. Reading Scripture becomes suddenly interesting. Prayer begins to yield genuine results and is thus worth doing. Work becomes enjoyable. Telling the truth becomes easy. All of the juvenile tastes (Adam Sandler, Lil Wayne, Halo) which characterize youth are suddenly replaced by more mature tastes which the opposite sex finds attractive. The belief that responsibility comes easy in adulthood is not unique to our era. The New England Primer (1687) concludes with a short play entitled “Dialog between Christ, Youth, and the Devil” wherein Old Scratch is successfully employing the same lies he uses today:

Thou may be drunk,
and swear and curse,
And sinners think thee none the worse ;
At any time thou may’st repent,
‘Twill do when all thy days are spent.

As usual, the Devil is mostly right. You can sin all you want while young and repent on your deathbed, having enjoyed all the wine, women, and song as your miserable animated corpse can sustain. Teachers can fight the young man’s desire to be so miserable with the memento mori (“reminder of death”), as Christ does in the “Dialog,” and remind students that there is no guarantee of a tomorrow. When I preach to myself, the memento mori works wonders, but this is because I already suffer sundry physical maladies. The young do not fear the Reaper, though, and I am not content I have ever actually prevailed against their bravado.

The great problem with the idea that a man can sin now and repent later, though, is the assumption that after devoting his life to vice a man will even want to repent. Most people enjoy things they are good at. If a young man becomes good at lying to his mother, he will take the skill of deceiving women into his marriage. If a young man develops the ability to escape responsibility in work at school, such prowess will serve him equally when he is employed as an adult. Classical music does not magically become interesting once you are old enough to vote. I never forced myself to listen to classical music when I was young, and now I must force myself to do it, for I am rarely willing to do it of my own accord. A man will not likely read more chapters of Scripture in the second half of his life than he read in the first half. “Every chapter of Scripture you read as an adult must be paid for. It must be paid for by reading a chapter of Scripture as a young man,” I tell students. “If you don’t read the Scriptures now, you won’t be able to read them when you’re older.”

The teacher of virtue needs to break through the student’s ingrained doubt that pursuing virtue while young is worthwhile. Teachers must dispel the satanic lie that goodness comes easy to the aged. On the one hand, tucking in your shirt doesn’t matter. If it is untucked, who cares? However, not untucking your shirt when you could get away with it is an investment into caring about petty rules. Obeying petty rules is an investment in obeying life-or-death rules. A man does not go to Heaven or Hell all at once, but bit by bit by bit.

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I recently came across an article by homeschooling mom and Circe Institute Blog contributor Jessica Burke called “Not Everything Good Is Measurable.” I found that when I reached the end of the piece I let out a hearty “Amen.” Truly, not everything good – and most everything besides – is measurable. Forming students into lifelong learners skilled in the tools of learning can’t be reduced to a percentage, a stanine, a score, or an average. Our school is built on that premise. I hope Mrs. Burke’s words provoke a hearty, concurring “Amen” from you also.

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One day, when my husband got home from work, he joined me at the kitchen window to watch our children. “What are they doing?” he asked.

“Digging, of course.”

While searching for a new house, my children had had one request: a place to dig.

“What do they want with a hole? When will they know to stop?”

I looked at him and shrugged, unknowing.

After a few months, we had a hole that the Burke children were quite proud of. “It’s a great hole,” they tell their friends. “We have the best hole!” they exclaim. It isn’t terribly deep, probably just over two feet, but it has a diameter of about four feet. Lots of small children can hide in it if they ball up.

What intrigues me the most about the dig hole, as we affectionately know it around here, is what the kids do with it. Sometimes they use it to accomplish more tasks that I don’t understand. They almost filled it up with acorns this fall. They discovered that slipping around on thousands of acorns in a hole is great fun. After they emptied out the acorns, they filled it up with leaves. This made for a perfect place to bury themselves.

If we define our children’s education solely by measurements then our children may think that there is a point where education is finished.

They play countless imaginary games in it. It has been the hideout for good guys to tunnel to other worlds, a storeroom for their secret treasures, a trap for bad guys (and they were delighted when they watched an actual trespasser almost fall in the hole one day).

The work of a child is fascinating. What seems like meaningless work or just child’s-play to adults is really a powerful way for them discover this world and to think about other worlds.

As a home educator, feeling the weight of the responsibility of my children’s education, I can get concerned about doing enough. I hear my friends’ anxiety when we discuss choosing the right curricula that will teach the children everything they need to know. We stress over the number of books we’ve read and the scores on standardized tests, and as we measure the children, we measure ourselves. We determine to do better, to do more, to finish ahead of everyone.

In North Carolina, where I live, third grade is the first year for high stakes tests in public school. Friends tell me about their eight-year-olds crying every day before school. They tell me about the weekly practice tests, the threats of retention and summer school, the concern from the teachers over their own professional evaluations influenced heavily by the test results.

When I was a public school teacher, I was expected to have every minute of instruction time accounted for, and everything that was part of the scope and sequence had to be covered in 180 days. There was no time left for idleness or invention, for the students nor for me. My job description was to keep my students’ minds engaged, to fill up their mind with everything they need to know based on the state’s standards. I worked hard to ask them the right questions that would lead to the right answers. The most important thing, we were told, was that the students must do well on their tests, that everything important to a child’s education can be measured.

But how do you measure what a child does in a hole? How do you measure the stretching of their imagination? How do I measure the growth of virtue and the roots of truth in a child’s heart? Do I need to?

Education is not about passing a test. Education is not about achievement. If we reduce it to measurements, we discredit the importance of beauty, of truth, and of virtue. In Teaching from Rest, Sarah Mackenzie says, “Remember how far we progress in a book does not matter nearly as much as what happens in the mind and heart of our student, and for that matter, in ourselves.”

When we share laughter and conversation at the dinner table, we can’t see how our family is growing in love for each other. When we read aloud to our children, we cannot see what is happening in their imaginations. When we study Latin, we cannot see the growth in character that comes from hard work. When we memorize poetry, we cannot see a love of beautiful words developing. Much of our job does not generate measurements. Much of the work of a child cannot be measured.

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Conservative author and thinker Russell Kirk (1918-1994) understood well that the purpose of education is not to provide career training but to form students in virtue and “to teach what it is to be a true human being.” In the following excerpt called “The Conservative Purpose of a Liberal Education,” from his book Redeeming the Time, Kirk articulates a number of fundamental principles of a classical Christian education. We do well to take them to heart.

Our term “liberal education” is far older than the use of the word “liberal” as a term of politics. What we now call “liberal studies” go back to classical times, while political liberalism commences only in the first decade of the nineteenth century. By “liberal education” we mean an ordering and integrating of knowledge for the benefit of the free person—as contrasted with technical or professional schooling, now somewhat vaingloriously called “career education.”

Liberal education is conservative in this way: it defends order against disorder. In its practical effects, liberal education works for order in the soul and order in the republic. Liberal learning enables those who benefit from its discipline to achieve some degree of harmony within themselves. As John Henry Newman put it, in Discourse V of his Idea of a University, by a liberal intellectual discipline, “a habit of mind is formed which lasts through life, of which the attributes are freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom; of what… I have ventured to call the philosophical habit of mind.”

The primary purpose of a liberal education, then, is the cultivation of the person’s own intellect and imagination, for the person’s own sake. It ought not to be forgotten, in this mass-age when the state aspires to be all-in-all, that genuine education is something higher than an instrument of public policy. True education is meant to develop the individual human being, the person, rather than to serve the state. We tend to ignore the fact that schooling was not originated by the modern nation-state. Formal schooling actually commenced as an endeavor to acquaint the rising generation with religious knowledge: with awareness of the transcendent and with moral truths. Its purpose was not to indoctrinate a young person in civics, but rather to teach what it is to be a true human being, living within a moral order. The person has primacy in liberal education.

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You love your children. That means you provide for them, nurture them, and care for them. And you shelter them. You literally shelter your children by providing a home for them to live in. But you also shelter them from hardship and privation. Sometimes, though, “sheltering your children” is brought up as a criticism for parents who place their children in a private school or don’t allow their children to go to certain places or join in certain activities. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I shelter my children. I also feed and clothe them: why don’t you criticize me for doing that, too?

On the other hand, the same impulse that prompts us to shelter our children from the beating that the world is always threatening to give them can have the opposite effect of actually exposing them to more of the world’s onslaught. When we attempt to shield our children from pain, failure, or frustration, we are, ironically, (and, no doubt, unintentionally) preparing them for pain, failure, and frustration in their future because they missed the opportunity to gain the independence and toughness they need to succeed as adults. Parents who attempt to patch up their children’s friendships that get off track, do their children’s homework, pay their children’s debts, or any number of other over-involved, misguided efforts can be denying their children much-needed character traits and skills that are absolutely essential for adult life.

God has called parents to love their children, but our love is to imitate God’s Fatherly love and care for us. Our Heavenly Father allows us to experience pain, futility, confusion, and adversity because He knows it is good for us. He cares much more for our holiness – an eternally valuable likeness to Christ – than He does for our happiness – a passing emotional experience. Likewise, it’s our job to lift our children up, paradoxically, by letting them fail or struggle or hurt. It’s that pain and struggle, when mixed with trust in God, that will develop into fortitude, purpose, wisdom, and “grit,” traits essential for navigating the world as adults. It hurts us when our children hurt, but when we try at all costs to minimize the pain they experience, we should ask, whose pain is this really about – theirs or mine?

With these thoughts in mind, allow me to suggest a few things parents can do to help their children, even if sometimes it feels like the opposite of sheltering them.

Let your children do their homework. I read about a recent survey in the UK that found one in four parents admitting to completing at least some of their children’s homework for them. I have a hunch this goes on far more than we imagine. If our children’s homework is stressing them out, taking some of it off their plate may seem at the time like a good solution. We should help our children when they have questions or need a study partner, but parents should resist the urge to do the work for them. It’s their struggle to learn from. Since when was learning supposed to be easy?

Let your children fail a test. Should we remind them about the test the next day? Should we prompt them to study? Should we mention that they need to practice their instrument for the upcoming recital? Of course. However, there comes a point when our children need to learn the consequences of their own choices, especially as they enter the teenage years. We are not actually raising children; we are raising adults. We are not doing them any favors when we closely manage our children’s studying for them, cutting the root of their training in independence. There’s no one looking over my shoulder reminding me to pay bills, mow the lawn, or speak kind words to my wife. Our children need to gain the maturity they need for mature independence now, not later.

Let your children clean up their own messes. Children make mistakes and messes. They need to learn to take responsibility for what they do, and our role as parents is to hold them accountable, not to clean the mess up for them. So imagine that you have told your child to clean up his room (probably not that hard to imagine), and he doesn’t do so. The clothes are on the floor, the bed is unmade, the trash is overflowing. What does it teach your son if you pick up the clothes, make the bed, and empty the trash – after you’ve asked him to do it himself? The message is clear: irresponsibility and disobedience don’t lead to bad consequences; there will always be someone there to wrap my bad decisions in bubble wrap. That’s a set-up for a hard lesson later in life. Instead, we should hold our children accountable now so that they become men and women who understand accountability and responsibility.

Let your children wrestle with their own relationship struggles. It’s not our job as parents to make all hurt feelings go away. Hurt feelings that result from getting crossways with friends or being mistreated by peers really do hurt. Parents who intervene again and again to try to make it go away can actually be doing more harm than good, though. Instead, parents can help their children walk through the hurt feelings, seek resolutions for themselves, and learn to ask forgiveness of those they’ve hurt. We can give them tools to communicate and resolve conflicts, and support them with comfort and wisdom. But that’s something far different from doing it for them.

Let your children be pressure-free in their activities. Take the pressure off their extracurriculars. Face it, your child will most likely not be a concert violinist or a major league baseball player or a major recording star. These activities are places for your child to develop their interests, learn new skills, have fun, and make friends. Their character is honed as they commit themselves to these activities and follow through, working through challenges and hardships, and learning discipline. But parents who hover and criticize and constantly problem-solve can unknowingly undermine the benefit of these activities.

There’s more that we can do. We can give our children the chance to earn money so that they learn to manage it. We can encourage our children to take risks (the right kind of risks) and then live with the consequences. We can be honest with our children about their strengths and weaknesses. And the list goes on.

Behind all these things is really a mindset: it’s my job as a parent to support and love my children by letting them fail and struggle and hurt so that they develop the kind of character that will serve them well in adulthood. We feed, clothe, and shelter our children. And we can – and should – nurture our children toward independence and perseverance, with God’s help.

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Dec
19

Read This on Christmas Morning

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Here, in an article called “Read This On Christmas Morning,” is a great Christ-centered suggestion from Paul David Tripp for your Christmas celebration. I hope it’s an encouragement to you!

I don’t know what your family traditions are, but I would hope that the reading of the Word of God is included on the agenda for Christmas Day. If it’s not, make this year the year to start a new tradition!

The Scripture passage that you’re about to read doesn’t immediately come to mind as a Christmas passage, but it’s one that should be included in every gathering. I’ll explain why, but for now, take a moment and let the words sink in:

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-39).

Why should you read this passage to your family on Christmas? Because Romans 8 reminds us what the Christmas story is all about, by defining the glorious result of the birth of Jesus.

What was the glorious result of Jesus’ birth? In a word – love. Think about it:

Jesus deserved to be loved, but he was rejected so that we, who deserve to be rejected, would be eternally loved by the Father.

Jesus subjected himself to the fickle and failing love of his followers so that we will know the faithful and unfailing love of the father.

Jesus experienced separation from the Father so that nothing could ever separate us from the Father’s love.

This Christmas, remind yourself and your family that hope is only found in how much you’ve been loved by Jesus. It will be tempting to look for hope in the gifts that you receive or in the gifts that you give or in the people that you celebrate Christmas with, but those gifts will get old, your generosity will wrestle with your selfishness, and the people who say they love you will find a way to disappoint you once again.

The only hope that you have this Christmas is in the love that God has for you. Husbands, you won’t love your wife like you’re supposed to. Wives, you won’t love your husbands like you’re supposed to. Brothers and sisters, you won’t love your siblings like you’re supposed to. Parents, you won’t love your kids like you’re supposed to. Kids, you won’t love your parents like you’re supposed to. But God will always love you perfectly.

Christmas Day is a celebration of how much God loves us. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to share that Good News. Remind yourself and your family to fix your eyes on Jesus and celebrate that there’s eternal, life-changing hope for you!

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Dec
02

According to Neil Postman

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A few penetrating and insightful quotes from Neil Postman (1931-2003) relating to education:

At its best, schooling can be about how to make a life, which is quite different from how to make a living.

When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.

There was a time when educators became famous for providing reasons for learning; now they become famous for inventing a method.

Thomas Jefferson. . . knew what schools were for–to ensure that citizens would know when and how to protect their liberty. . . It would not have come easily to the mind of such a man, as it does to political leaders today, that the young should be taught to read exclusively for the purpose of increasing their economic productivity.

Free human dialogue, wandering wherever the agility of the mind allows, lies at the heart of education. If teachers do not have the time, the incentive, or the wit to produce that; if students are too demoralized, bored, or distracted to muster the attention their teachers need of them, then THAT is the educational problem which has to be solved. . . That problem . . . is metaphysical in nature, not technical.

[A great] reason for schooling: to provide our youth with the knowledge and will to participate in the great experiment; to teach them how to argue, and to help them discover what questions are worth arguing about.

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Nov
18

Take Care Never to Be Unthankful

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A quote by C.S. Lewis, from Mere Christianity:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and help others do the same.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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Nov
15

Take Up and Read

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Professor David Naugle from Dallas Baptist University tells the following story:

Once upon a time, but not that long ago, a there was a backwoodsman who lived and worked in a very isolated forest where he chopped down trees with an axe for a living. One day the woodsman bumped into a fellow from the city who took him into town to a hardware store and the city slicker showed him device that he said would increase his productivity and profit a 500%. He said if you normally chop down five trees in one day, with this new thing, you will chop down fifty. So he bought it.

The woodsman could hardly wait for the next day to arrive. As soon as the sun was up, he was out in the woods whittling away at his first tree. He worked and he worked, and he sweated and sweated. But by lunch time, he had only made it half way through one tree. He thought to himself, “this afternoon, things will go better.” By the end of the day, however, he had only chopped down two trees. Normally he could take care of five. Frustrated, disappointed and even angry, he resolved to work even harder the next day. But the results were pretty much the same. So were the emotions.

On the third day, he thumbed a ride into town, and went to the hardware store where he had gotten this new fangled device that was suppose to help him be so much more productive, and asked to speak to the manager. He told the manager that this thing he got from them didn’t work and that it wasn’t any good.

So the manager asked to see it, examined it carefully, checked its chain, made sure it fit snuggly on its guide, examined the fuel mixture and level, and its moving parts. Everything looked fine. Then manager said to the woodsman, “Stand back and I’ll test it.” The woodsman, unsure about what he meant, obeyed nonetheless. The manager pulled the starter cord with a jerk and the device made a loud, roaring noise: voovoom, voovoom! The woodsman, shocked at what he heard, yelled out in surprise: “What’s that noise?”

You see, the device was a chain saw, but woodsman didn’t know what it was or how it worked. He had a great new tool, but he didn’t know how to use it. Since he didn’t know anything about the tool or how to use it, all he experienced was frustration, difficulty and discouragement in his work at felling trees. Similarly, if a plumber doesn’t know how to use his wrenches and pliers, he’ll have a very hard time fixing a leaky faucet. If a carpenter doesn’t know how to wield his hammer and saw, he will find it very difficult to build a house. So it is for many students and school. If don’t know how to use their intellectual tools, it’s terribly hard to learn and get an education. As a result, education and schoolwork is nothing but difficult, frustrating, and discouraging. Because we have lost the tools of learning, going to school and trying to learn is just about as painful as a root canal.

Naugle then relates, “About 60 years ago, a woman named Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957) recognized this problem and in 1947 wrote one of the most important essays on education in the 20th century titled, ‘The Lost Tools of Learning.’”

One of the best things you can do for your child’s education is to read Mrs. Sayers’s essay. Just Google “The Lost Tools of Learning,” and it will be easy to find. Why does Regents Academy exist? The problem and solution Dorothy Sayers articulates in her essay gives the answer. What do you need to know to help your child succeed in his or her education? Again, I can’t urge you strongly enough to go get this essay and read it.

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Oct
12

Fundraising Is Real

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Fundraising is real. Sure, in a perfect world your tuition dollars would cover the whole budget. But the fact is that it doesn’t. Tuition funds 84.7% of our school’s budget. Most of the rest comes from fundraising and from generous donors. If we didn’t bring in funds from fundraising, the school would need to raise tuition by more than $1,000 per family. Every dollar in our budget is planned, prayed over, and directed to an intentional use. Most of it goes to our hardworking and underpaid teachers. Please don’t despise our fundraising efforts. They are essential for meeting the needs of our school.

Please join in and make them as effective as possible. Everyone profits from your contribution of time, creativity, effort, and money.

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Oct
11

No Matter the Price

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Many people think you are foolish for sending your children to a private school. A recent article in Slate highlighted just how foolish (and rotten) one author thinks you really are (see “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person: A Manifesto” by Allison Benedikt).

But I want to say that you are making the right choice – the courageous choice – and that you are doing the most good not only for your children but for our nation by doing so. You sacrifice to send your children to Regents. You take a shorter vacation than you could otherwise. You put off purchases that you might not otherwise. You are committed to spending time daily helping with your child’s academics. But by your sacrifice for and commitment to your child’s private school education, you are investing in something that has eternal consequences and that, not incidentally, is your single greatest duty before God – the raising of your children for Him. Cost is measured in different ways. The cost of private education might be high, but the cost of not giving your children a Christ-centered education is not one you want to bear. Stay the course, friends. You are doing the right thing, no matter the price.

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