Graduation Charge

Graduation 2013

(In case you missed graduation last night, here’s Academic Dean Todd Wedel’s charge to our 2013 graduates. Well done and congratulations!)

“A little learning is a dangerous thing.” A commonplace often repeated, first written by the 18th Century poet Alexander Pope.

As you sit here today, have you learned merely “little?” From the grammar of facts and dates, trends and ideas, to the logic of connections and developments, insights and speculations, to the rhetoric of compelling and clear prose and speech to varied audiences in vast settings, you have mastered much, and beyond, have mastered learning itself.

It would seem Pope’s words need not apply. They are, like so many other words, easily understood, categorized, and internalized, a poetic conceit. In the process of even understanding his meaning, you are safe from the danger of this “little learning.”

Yet Pope’s caution seems incongruous when we come to the book of Ecclesiastes, the wisdom of Solomon.

Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.

I believe none of us would accuse Solomon of “a little learning.” Ecclesiastes is not simply a warning of the vanity of the world but the story of Solomon’s unending quest to find satisfaction and fulfillment, turning from work to learning, pleasure to pain, knowledge, money, power, building, destruction, life, death, hope, joy, peace, war. He found that for all, there is a time and a purpose, a phrase oft repeated, its repetition, too, one of Solomon’s vanities.

As you pass from here, and indeed as you have sought and striven here, you cannot escape the world as Solomon envisions it. You will find, you must find, and you have found, at times, a dullness and drudgery to life. You will find that as much as you hope, perhaps, to have cast off the shackles of this time of tutelage, you must carry them with you. You will find them awaiting you in job or station or classroom, college or career or marriage or family, children or expedition or adventure.

It may seems strange to spend time at graduation ruminating on vanity. Is this not a celebration of what you have done? A celebration of a passing from this to another stage of life? Indeed it is.

Yet so often, we formulate this event as your graduation from one form of life to another, from education to, as is popularly said, “the real world.”  The contrast we draw, then, is between some realm of ideas and ideals and this “real world,” the world in which events and people operate with a different standard, a different set of motives and ends and goals. To survive in the real world must involve, then, even as we have discussed in class, some leaving behind or leaving off of what we thought that we knew or what is appropriate to an academic discussion.

The dichotomy framed thus is between this world where we speak of transcendence, of inhabiting ideas, forming visions, and the real world of work, effort, effectiveness and efficiency driving and drawing all things to themselves in endless repetition and redundancy. In this “real world,” to seek the new and the exciting is to find ultimately that all has been done, experienced, thought, written, said, and all found wanting.

And your reality is that as you learn more, more this you will find to be true. Whether through formal education or evaluated experience, you will find the sun rising and also setting, returning to its place. Research shows indeed, the more education one has, the less happy one may be, an inverse correlation between knowledge and contentment. So why have you learned so much, and what should you hope to learn from here? What, then, is the point of learning if all it brings is but misery, and greater learning but greater misery, yet another in the “real world” cycle Solomon sought and soliloquized?

Perhaps G.K. Chesterton considered Solomon when he posed his answer. He writes

“The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. “

But the sun?

“His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead.

For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. “

How can learning, though, keep us young, in the image of our eternally young Father?

Perhaps Pope provides the answer. For in his poem, learning is an advancement, a conquering, but one with a curious victory.

“So pleased at first the towering Alps we try,
Mount o’er the vales, and seem to tread the sky;
The eternal snows appear already past,
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last;
But those attained, we tremble to survey
The growing labors of the lengthened way;
The increasing prospect tires our wandering eyes,
Hill peep o’er hills, and Alps on Alps arise!”

The vision he offers is that each new thing sought or learned or found should but lead us to see the greater land before us, the inestimable wealth of wonder untold. We are to learn that all learning is but a little; it is only when we believe that we have learned all that we grow old; as young children, we will always seek what lies beyond.

So the charge to you as you go forth is to remember. Remember all learning is but a little. Remember there are no masters in the realm of those who have comprehensive knowledge, insight, or skill. The master is simply the journeyman on another path, having mastered a level relative to others, but knowing always the utter poverty of what he possesses relative to the surpassing greatness of the wealth before him.

Remember. Remember, with all the biblical depth and symbolism captured in that word. To know, to remember, is not to give mental assent or propositional acceptance. It is to believe beyond the intellect to the joint and marrow, to internalize to such a degree that action, movement, habit, motivation, goal, end, desire, the greatest degree of self, the entirety of being, is inhabited, imbibed, transformed.

Remember. The world out there is not “real” and this “false.” Neither is the “real world.” The “real world” is the world as Christ has created it, redeemed it, and is making it new. “Behold, I am making all things new,” he says, and Paul asserts “if [we] are in Christ, we are new creation.”

So the question is not whether you pass from one world, a false one, to another, the real one. The charge is less to know more, but to desire more, and for your knowledge, your learning, to be learning to desire ever more the right things. Do you see the world as Christ does, and thus see the world really as it is real? Do you see this time here, the time you have endured, at times enjoyed, as the world as it is now, the real world marred and hidden by the Fall? Do you see your future as moving from one place in the new world to another, carrying within yourself the seed, the promise, the advent of the real world coming to be? Do you look for the new world in the old, in what you learn, in those with whom you relate? Do you yearn for redemption, hating what is evil, loving what is good?  Do you see both in others? In yourself? Do you seek not to replace the evil with the good, but to follow Christ, the creator and redeemer of the real world-enter into the evil and shatter it with life incorruptible?

Such we hope to have taught and you to have learned. Such we hope as you go from here. Such is the charge we can offer, for it is the charge that Christ gives.


A Reflection and an Opportunity

Catherine Brown

Catherine Brown has served this past year as our Central Campus WISE Chair and has been involved with Veritas since its beginning.

We are in the final weeks of finishing fourth grade and seventh grades in my house, and I’m enjoying the final countdown with last minute projects!  I am praying that the Browns would finish the semester well, especially with our attitudes. I am also trying to remember what we talked about back with the WISE Parent Conference in August. There are basic building blocks of things to remember to “doing” school well at Veritas and they still hold true at the end of the year: get enough sleep, don’t be over-committed in extracurriculars that wear out the whole family, be cheerful about repenting when you and your children hurt each other, and keep a short list of offenses with your kids before you ask forgiveness. I hope it helps to review these ideas, just as we are reviewing them at our house.

As I look toward what else the Lord has in store for our family, we are turning our eyes to an educational initiative that excites me: I am building a team of people (I need 40!) to partner with Jubilee Partners’ 2nd Annual Summer Camp in June and July in downtown OKC. The Academy community, along with several location churches, can participate in assisting young elementary children who lives in downtown OKC to begin to lean to read. Presently, I am recruiting to build 5 teams of people who will commit to four afternoons a week for at least a week at a time – from Monday-Thursday, between June 17-July 19th. (The kids have field trips on Fridays, so our “week” would be Monday to Thursday.) Our time slot for reading help is 1–2:30 p.m. each day.

The goal is to work with students entering K-2nd grade in Oklahoma City’s downtown public schools. At this point, we anticipate about 10 children in this age group to participate in the camp in this age group. Most of these students have little parental support in learning to read, so we need volunteers to do letter/sound-related crafts and to use the SWR flashcard system to read with and to the students 1-on-1. If you will be an Academy family, a new registrant for next year, or a Providence Hall family who may not know this flashcard system, don’t worry! We will provide training over the reading training material from is 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on Saturday, June 15th at the First Indian Church of the Nazarene Youth Center in Oklahoma City.

Older children (suggested age 10 and up) can help with reading, leading crafts around the letter sounds, and overall “floating” help during our time slot each afternoon. There is not specific child care for infants and toddlers, so I’m hoping families can partner together if they want to participate and share babysitters, but there is not space at the church for infant and toddler care.

See our Sign Up Genius or email me with specific questions at Finish well!

Page for a Week

Veritas sophomore Megan Portwood (on right) with State Representative Emily Virgin.

Veritas sophomore Megan Portwood (right) with Representative Emily Virgin.

(Veritas sophomore Megan Portwood recently served as part of the Oklahoma House of Representatives High School Program. We asked her for some thoughts about her experience. Here’s what she wrote.)

When I thought about what paging at the Capitol would be like, I imagined it would consist of me running small errands around the Capitol for the Representatives. I was correct; however, so much more occurred over those five days.

Amidst the countless coffee runs, a couple of things happened: one was that I learned a lot about the House of Representatives. We 27 pages participated in “Pageville,” in which we would run for different roles (governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, etc.) and then run a mock legislature debating real bills. This experience gave me insight into what exactly representatives do, and how they try to do it.

In addition, one out of three of our shifts required us to sit on the house floor and listen as the representatives proposed and debated bills and amendments. I found all of this to be both fun and interesting.

The sense of importance and power was very prevalent. Sure, I was around some very influential people, but it was more than just the people. Even running to deliver a piece of paper to a representative, I felt important because I was serving a bigger purpose. Through the week I got to see just how much everyone works together, and in my delivering that piece of paper, a representative remembered a point he could bring up in debate against a bill that he (and I) thought shouldn’t be passed. In his remembering the topic of debate, he made his persuasive speech and the bill was voted down!

There is a process to everything, and I appreciated the structure. All in all, I learned some lessons, made some acquaintances, and had some fun while helping get some work done. I highly recommend the page program at the Capitol for all sophomores through seniors!

Why We Test (and Why We Don’t)


“Not everything that can be counted counts,
and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Albert Einstein

As is true of many schools in our state and nation, Veritas is administering standardized tests this week. Our Grammar and Logic students (1st-through 8th grades) are taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, while our 9th and 10th graders are taking the PLAN Test. (We’re doing some other developmental things with PreK, Kindergarten, and 11th and 12th grades so they don’t feel left out.)

We test because we can, not because we have to; this is unfortunately not the case for a majority of American schools. Education in the United States has been preoccupied with standardized testing this past century, but especially so during the past decade. From President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” in 2001 to President Obama’s “Race to the Top” in 2009, we have not lacked for modernity’s attempts to measure educational success.

There’s little conceptually wrong with this; assessment is a good thing, which is why we at Veritas test our students every year. For us, good uses of testing include identifying general areas of instruction that need improvement as well as facilitating home/school interaction as to future specific differentiated instruction within our unique blended model. We take test results seriously, but not so seriously that they blind us to the bigger picture captured in our portrait of a graduate.

Over the past eight years, Veritas students have scored in the 90th percentile of the ITBS. In addition, over this same period of time, we’ve tracked a 10-point improvement over students’ own pre-admission assessment scores, which means students are improving while with us (for comparison, most public schools report only a 1-to-2-point improvement over the year).

In 2012, across the core subjects (defined by the ITBS as language skills, reading, and mathematics), our students’ national percentile rank for K through 8th grades was 84th and our school’s national percentile rank for K through 8th grade was 97th. This means that, on average, Veritas students scored higher than 83% of American students and we as a school scored higher than 96% of American schools taking the ITBS in these subjects. Also (and as in previous years), our students tested an average of three grade levels above their grade level.

Most of what you hear or read about testing is negative, and rightly so due to the unintended consequence of schools choosing to “teach to the test” for the sake of increased government funding. In addition, the modernist mentality of “all success must be measurable” is limiting in evaluating what a student has learned and not just what he or she can regurgitate. Test scores can be a helpful measure of past and/or current realities, but often are poor predictors of true success (especially a more biblically-informed definition of success currently missing from our Department of Education).

Here are just a few things that testing does not help us evaluate about a student’s experience across a school year:

  • Leadership potential and growth
  • Enjoyment of spontaneous creation
  • Value of actively engaging with community
  • Risk-taking and innovation
  • Empathy and compassion
  • Ability to ask deep questions
  • Reception of constructive criticism
  • Integrity and humility
  • Desire for truth, goodness, and beauty
  • Collaboration with others
  • Overall love of learning

The list could go on and on, but the point is this: testing provides some insight into a student’s academic achievement, but not all of it.

Of course, on the flip side of the testing question is the concern that kids shouldn’t be made to test for reasons of pressure creating or contributing to existing test anxiety. Some argue that standardized testing (and its results, particularly if they’re not what the parent – not always the student – hoped for) could work against a kid’s self-esteem and confidence and therefore should not be used.

We must not forget that the only real way students build confidence is to attempt, struggle through, and overcome challenging things. The lie is that education should be easy; learning (i.e. that which goes beyond mere regurgitation of information and crosses over into character formation) is difficult. When it comes to helping our students deal with testing anxieties, the key for us as parents is not to over-emphasize perfect test results, but to help students shoot for improved ones.

Our goal should be to help students lean into and learn to stand up under stress rather than run away or hide from it. Stress is both a part of life and an important formation tool God uses in the lives of people (think of all the stress He intentionally brought upon those in the Bible He chose to use!). We should help students respond with faithfulness as they take hold of the task at hand, for as James 1 speaks specifically to spiritual growth, the principle applies to growth that is of an educational nature as well.

So we test our Grammar and Logic School students and take seriously the results. But we want to help them understand that the ultimate goal of assessment is not to pass the test but then fail life. That just would not not be very smart at all.

Craig Dunham is Head of School at Veritas.

Out of the Bag for Oklahoma City

This week is a significant one for classical Christian education in Oklahoma City.

Four months ago, Providence Hall Head of School Nathan Carr and I (on behalf of our boards) launched via video and website what were then the public (at least to our respective school communities) beginnings of The Academy of Classical Christian Studies.

This week – tonight, actually – we announce the new school to the Oklahoma City metro via a two-minute news story on Fox 25‘s “Tell Me Something Good” feature with news anchor Mike Brooks. (We’ll include the link to his story here tomorrow.)

But before we do that, today we’d like to roll out the brand new crest for our new school. Many thanks to Todd Milligan at Dust Bowl Artistry for helping create what we hope our families will embrace as a wonderful and symbolic visual that represents who we are as The Academy. (Note: For an excellent interpretation of our crest, read Nathan’s explanation of each of the elements.)

TheAcademy ACAD_2C
In addition to the new crest, we’re also rolling out our new public Facebook page and Twitter feed for The Academy, so go like/follow us if you would. Finally, if you haven’t already (or haven’t in a while), be sure to visit the official website for The Academy, where we cast our vision and continue to detail the creation of our new school.

Teaching (P.E.) with Love & Logic

A student favorite, Mark Robinson teaches physical education at both our North and Central Campuses.

I recently read a statement from the book Teaching with Love and Logic and I want to share the idea with you, as it is one of the main tenants of my philosophy of education.

I believe, as the Bible tells us in Psalm 139, that we are uniquely and wonderfully made. This means each child is different. But whether as a parent or a teacher, it’s easy to forget the individual needs of a child as we go through our routines and day-to-day school rituals. It’s easy to fall into a routine of instructing and having the same expectation of each student while overlooking opportunities for each child to prosper.

Here’s the statement:

“We do not want kids to ignore what they need to work on, but if they do not learn what their strengths are, their weaknesses become defeats.”

In P.E. classes, it’s easy for weaknesses to become defeats. For instance:

  • If I always allowed students to  be team captains, there would be those one or two students who claim defeat because they would be picked last every time.
  • If we played baseball for six weeks, there would be strike out kings and lackluster performers running out to right field because they can’t throw or catch and feel safe since the ball seldom travels to that corner.
  • If we played dodgeball everyday, there would be students assuming that they are only in class as targets rather than as skilled players.
  • If we never played games involving strategy, I would have a number of analytical students feel like failures because I missed an opportunity for them to discover a strength.

So what should a P.E. class offer to the student? P.E. should not be a sports class, as there are plenty of opportunities for students to latch on to team sports. I don’t have a problem teaching basic concepts or skills involved with team sports, but I believe P.E. should be fun. It should be mixed with movement, exercise, high energy, and provide the student with all sorts of challenges.

This approach does not only provide physical fitness (which is what all student needs to work on), but also provides multiple opportunities to discover their individual giftedness. And that’s teaching (P.E.) with love and logic.

Thinking Critically About Critical Things

If you’ve watched, heard of, or even snubbed the likes of Fireproof and Courageous, then you are at least aware that there is a genre of family/faith-based films trying to break into the mainstream movie scene. For the Christians among us, we tend to fall into one of two camps here: either embrace EVERYTHING that has a Christian label on it simply because it’s stamped with a Christian endorsement, or completely turn our nose up at everything that has a Christian label on it because things aren’t Christians, only people are.

But as with so many things, there is a third way, though it tends to be the road less traveled.

Home Run
is the story of major league baseball player, Cory Brand, who, for all his great stardom in sports, struggles publicly and privately with alcoholism. His struggle leads him to a two-month suspension from the game, during which he ends up coaching little league ball in his home town and coming to terms with his past, present, and future. Is the film overtly Christian? Yes. Is it predictable? Yes. Is it unbearably corny? It has its moments. But is there still value to be found in a film like this? I believe so.

The movie officially releases in select theaters on April 19, but I was sent a pre-release copy and asked to show it to a group from my church to give our thoughts and feedback. For our little watch party, we dedicated our Wednesday night City Pres CityGroup to the cause. I rearranged the living room and Craig set up a screen and projector for a pretty sweet in-home theater set up, minus the surround sound.

Since the movie is baseball-themed, we hauled in our old Busch Stadium seats (from when St. Louis tore down Busch 2) to lend to the atmosphere.

We had a full house that night; most of the kids stayed in the back of the house where my oldest daughter taught them a catechism lesson and we had between 12-15 adults and teens watching the movie in our living room.

After the movie ended, we opened up the discussion to see what the group thought. It was kind of funny since many of us had lived in Oklahoma for a large portion of our lives, and much of the movie is set in our state. We all agreed that most of the baseball stuff was fairly well done in the film (Craig – a former high school baseball coach, major STL Cardinals baseball fan, and lover of baseball movies in general – even said as much, and he’s a pretty tough critic).

Most of the group felt the acting was pretty average, but better than previous attempts; Courageous was better than Fireproof, and Home Run was better than Courageous, so things are definitely improving. As for the theater appeal, we couldn’t decide if this film would make it on the big screen as it’s definitely aiming at a Christian audience. Many Christians will support it and see it in the theater, but we doubted skeptics would be convinced to go. The general critique was, though the struggle seemed real enough, the resolution was a little too perfectly tied up. I don’t want to give away too many details in case you are planning to see it (and don’t get me wrong, I think you should – I liked the movie), but the ending was a little too tidy to make it feel real.

In the movie, the main character attends a series of Celebrate Recovery classes. Interestingly enough, those of us in the group who have attended something similar to these (AA or the like) said these scenes were spot on – it felt awkward in the movie because it is awkward in real life, scary and hard and sometimes cheesy and really, really good.

The bottom line here is that in terms of artistry (particularly in some of the storytelling at the beginning), there is still work that needs to be done, but this is definitely progress. And the message of the story – that there is hope for the hopeless and that hope comes through the saving work of Jesus Christ alone – is clear.

But we felt it’s important to convey that Christians still struggle, still sin, and the road to redemption isn’t just as easy as praying a little prayer and poof! – everything is better. Yes, salvation comes through Christ alone, apart from anything we think we can do, as Ephesians 2:8-9 reminds us,”For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” But sanctification – the working out of our salvation with fear and trembling –  still needs to be considered – not as a requirement for salvation, but definitely as a fruit of it.

So, go see Home Run. If it comes to a theater near you, support it. If it doesn’t, then check out the Batting 1000 program to see if you can bring it to your town. To stay up to date on all the latest with Home Run, be sure to check them out at their website, follow Home Run on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, and check out the Home Run Store.

Megan Dunham is the mother of four Veritas students and a member of the Collective Bias®  Social Fabric® Community. This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias® and Home Run The Movie. #CBias #SocialFabric. Megan keeps a proper disclosure statement available here.