Discover the secrets to fostering wisdom and eloquence in the next generation as we engage with Dr. Robert Littlejohn, whose book “Wisdom and Eloquence” remains a cornerstone in educational leadership after 17 years. Prepare to be enlightened by Dr. Littlejohn’s profound insights on how we can raise compassionate thinkers in a world that’s rapidly changing. This thought-provoking episode peels back the layers on what it really takes to instill enduring values in our youth, blending the timeless with the contemporary to meet the challenges of our practical, fast-paced age. Through our conversation, you’ll gain an appreciation for the nuances of ancient future education, and the crucial role it plays in shaping well-rounded individuals.
Amidst the evolving complexities of parenting and education in the digital era, we tackle pressing issues head-on. You’ll learn the importance of parental presence in developing a child’s spiritual and moral framework, and why partnering with educational institutions is key to navigating cultural shifts. We also dissect the fine line between stress that stimulates growth and stress that hinders it, and the rising trend of overprotective parenting. The episode emphasizes the necessity for nurturing spiritual resilience in students, encouraging an environment where they can safely explore and solidify their faith. Join us for a session filled with actionable wisdom that will empower parents and educators to guide the youth towards a future where wisdom and eloquence not only survive but thrive.
Biography: Robert Littlejohn
Robert Littlejohn, Ph.D. has served as the head of The Covenant School in Dallas since 2018. Previously he served as the head of Trinity Academy of Raleigh, NC.
Littlejohn’s career spans decades in K-12 and higher education, during which he has served in a variety of teaching and administrative capacities, including academic vice president at Covenant College. He was founding headmaster for New Covenant Schools in Virginia, founding executive director for the Society for Classical Learning and a founding board member for the American School of Lyon, France. He is a consultant to colleges and schools across the nation. As a Ph.D. Biologist, he has authored two college biology laboratory texts and has published 26 reports of original research in the fields of Ecology, Plant Physiology, Biochemistry and Science Educational Theory.
00:09 – Davies Owens (Host)
17 years ago, Robert Littlejohn and Chuck Evans wrote the book Wisdom and Eloquence, which was widely read and formative for many school leaders and parents alike. But nearly two decades later, is the goal of raising up a generation to have wisdom and eloquence still our most important job as parents and educators? Shouldn’t something more practical be the goal in our modern world? Well, actually no. There’s never been a time we need these traits more in our children. So join us for this episode of Base Camp Live.
00:38 – Tim Dernlan (Announcement)
Mountains. We all face them as we seek to influence the next generation. Get equipped to conquer the challenges, some at the peak, and shape exceptionally thoughtful, compassionate and flourishing human beings. We call it ancient future education for raising the next generation. Welcome to Base Camp Live Now your host, davies Owens.
00:59 – Davies Owens (Host)
Welcome to yet another episode of Base Camp Live. Davies Owens, your host here, thanks for taking time in the midst of your busy day to join us for this podcast. I am genuinely grateful you’re listening and I’m humbled by the comments that I so often receive from school leaders expressing appreciation for just a particular podcast that encouraged them, or a parent talking about a podcast episode that was a real help to them as a family, and I just love that. That’s what I’m here for. So believe in what we’re doing raising up the next generation and so thank you again. Out of many choices, you’re here In fact. I was humbled yet again. I was having a conversation this week with Jeremy Tate, the CEO, over at the Classic Learning Test. He said, davies, you do realize that Base Camp Live is in the top 1.5% of all podcasts. And I thought what do you mean, jeremy? All? He said, no, no, all podcasts. I got a 3.5 million podcast that are happening today in the world. Base Camp Live is in the top 1.5%. And I thought, oh, my goodness. Well, thank you, lord, for just blessing us over these many seven years and for all of you who continue to tell the story, encourage others to listen and derive encouragement from the podcast. So thanks for listening and thanks for shouting out letting me know where you are when you are listening. Info at Base Camp Live is a great way just to drop me a quick email. I want to say thank you and shout out to Alyssa Madden, who wrote this week and said I’m the founder of a startup classical school in Central Valley of California called the Trinity Knox Classical Academy. She says I’ve listened consistently to the podcast since it first began and I cannot tell you how helpful it has been to me and how I often share episodes with our families at school. So thank you Well, alyssa, thank you for listening and thank you for sharing the podcast with others, and please do so. It is a great way just to encourage others to join us on this journey of what feels like climbing Mount Everest, sometimes up to the top of these mountains, as we raise the next generation. So reach out info at Base Camp Livecom. Keith McCurdy and I are excited to be doing this roadshow in 2024. I’ve keep mentioning it. There’s a website coming on it. You can also go to the Base Camp Live website and click on speaking and training. There’s some information there about the speaking that I do when I’m out by myself, and then there are times when I go in partnership, as I’m going to do with Keith, and we both will be speaking and presenting. So a lot of exciting things coming in next year and really look forward to being there with you on your campus and just connecting with a broader community. By the way, transcripts are now available for upcoming episodes, so you’ll find these at the bottom of the show notes on our website. Just go again to Base Camp Livecom and thank you very much to those organizations that stand with us and sponsor Base Camp Live America’s Christian Credit Union, the Classic Learning Test and Gordon College for sponsoring us.
Well, this is a privilege to get to interview Dr Robert Littlejohn. He has served as a head of the Covenant School in Dallas since 2018. He was previously the head of school at the Trinity Academy and Raleigh, north Carolina. His career spans decades in K-12 and higher education, during which he has served a variety of teaching and administrative capacities, including the academic vice president at Covenant College. He was the founding headmaster of the new Covenant schools in Virginia, the founding executive director for the Society for Classical Learning and a founding board member of the American School of Leon France. He is a consultant to colleges and schools all across the nation. He’s a PhD in biologist. He’s also authored two college biology laboratory text and he’s published 26 reports of original research in the fields of ecology, plant physiology, biochemistry and science educational theory.
We’ll have to have him back just to talk science, but this episode on his classic book Wisdom and Elegance is one that I know you’ll find encouraging. So, without further ado, let’s jump into this conversation with Dr Robert Littlejohn. Robert Littlejohn, welcome to Basecamp Live. Thank you, dave. You’re so glad to be here. It is so good to be with you, robert. You know, for folks that have not had the privilege of meeting you or knowing about you, you have been in this classical Christian world for a good while. Is it fair to say three decades?
05:16 – Robert Littlejohn (Guest)
Yes, 32 years, as a matter of fact.
05:19 – Davies Owens (Host)
Wow. Well, you were an early adopter then, and I guess that makes you an elder statesman these days. Is that right?
05:25 – Robert Littlejohn (Guest)
Something like that perhaps.
05:27 – Davies Owens (Host)
So look at that Well, you wrote this book so Wisdom and Elegance. I suspect for many listening is sitting somewhere on their bookshelf 2006,. It came out, you and Chuck Evans came together and wrote this book. Many school leaders and many parents have read the book. I want to just jump in. Take us back to 2006 for a minute. Back then, what were you doing? Why was the book written originally?
05:50 – Robert Littlejohn (Guest)
Right, well, good question. So well, really, I should talk about the early days of the Society for Classical Learning, because when I was hosting that event at Covenant College okay, my brain’s going to have to work for me, but so the editor of one of the series that Crossway Books was publishing was a feature speaker at our meetings they’re coming to college, the Society for Classical Learning meetings and he invited Chuck and me to write a book which he basically viewed as a follow up to Douglas Wilson’s book, obviously recovering the loss to his learning. We were about 15 years down the road at that time and here we find ourselves, another 15 years or so down the road. But yeah, he liked what he saw going on at SCL and he asked the two of us to write that book as an update on the movement.
06:48 – Davies Owens (Host)
Basically, so there was 2006,. Again, the early adoption of this growing movement. And so why the term wisdom and eloquence? What are those terms mean? And I know obviously part of what we’re talking about is sort of you’re revising this book, in particular to speak to parents. I guess the original book was maybe more for practitioners in the movement, but yeah, for educators right For educators yeah. So what’s the man eloquence all about? Why that title no?
07:15 – Robert Littlejohn (Guest)
that’s an important question. So we drew that title really from St Augustine and his notion of our living and serving well in two worlds or in two kingdoms at once, the heavenly kingdom and the earthly kingdom. And of course in our movement we often hear of the goal of education being wisdom and virtue, and that certainly is the case. But Augustine would would have argued that those two are inseparable, that true wisdom is not possible apart from virtue. It really emanates from wisdom, or wisdom is gained through practicing virtue. But we would say that wisdom comes from long term exposure to life shaping ideas, expressed in well, for one thing in great books and also through life experiences. And Augustine wrote that it requires gaining a deep knowledge of the Bible and essentially everything else.
But our thought is that these ideas are best internalized through discussing them with others who are also engaged in this life of life shaping ideas, sort of an iron sharpens iron, which, interestingly when when Chuck Evans and I began our process with this book Wisdom and Elegance Back, that was published in 2006, we began it probably in 2003. It was a long process but it really was an iron sharpening iron. We both came with our experiences in the classical Christian school movement and in our different schools. But we came to this project with we realized very different ideas about what classical education really was and through writing of the book we both grew at understanding of how to best educate classically through a long and deep exchange between us and we both believe that that book, wisdom and Elegance, is a far better book and a much greater resource to our movement than either of us could have written.
09:23 – Davies Owens (Host)
Well, it certainly had, you know, it certainly stood the test of time and it continues to be a kind of a cornerstone book for many in the movement. And so I’m just kind of focusing on that title, especially thinking about parents, because I think, you know, the preeminent question that young parents need to think about is well, what’s the goal of your coming to this school? What’s the goal, ultimately, when that child walks across the podium at age 18 and gets this degree? You know, the world would obviously offer a lot of pragmatic answers, like getting ready for college or go get a job or whatever. And we’ve said no. I think it’s deeper, it’s more significant.
And yet I wonder, robert, like wisdom and Elegance I mean wisdom, I think of like I don’t know, maybe I’ve watched too much when he the poo growing up, but it’s like the owl, you know, like we’re in a culture of tiggers, you know that seems a lot more exciting. The owl seems kind of boring, mr Wisdom. And then eloquence maybe sounds a little bit again. It’s kind of an antiquated word that maybe people today think. You know, I want eloquence. Is that the highest goal for my child? So what would you say to that parent? He said gosh, those are really nice terms, but is that really what young people need today? Right well and dancers yes, it is.
10:32 – Robert Littlejohn (Guest)
Oh goodness, you know. We could talk about these two things wisdom and eloquence, and the fact that they really are separate. I said a moment ago that wisdom and virtue are not separate, they’re really inseparable. But you can be, you can have wisdom and not be able to eloquently communicate the wisdom that you have to others, and, conversely, you could be eloquent but not at all wise, right, and the internet’s filled with those people, by the way.
Well, yes, it is, but I think we’re still is what we really do see today, and that is a complete absence of both of these things. Not only are people not wise, they’re not eloquent.
11:15 – Davies Owens (Host)
11:16 – Robert Littlejohn (Guest)
Right, yeah. So what we see are we see people ranting about their ideologies and yet with no real understanding of the ideology or the ability to communicate with others about them. Yeah Well, but back to Augustine’s notion it’s one thing to have wisdom, as I said a while ago, but without eloquence, without the ability, as believers, to communicate with others in a winsome and gracious way, a way in which that they will pause and listen and perhaps seek to understand. With, without eloquence in our communication, then our wisdom falls short. It’s helpful to us, of course, it’s helpful to those who are very close to us in our tight circle of friends, family and acquaintances what have you? But without eloquence we really can’t have the impact on society. We can’t bring the characteristics, the principles of the heavenly kingdom to this earthly kingdom of family. So we think both of these things are.
12:25 – Davies Owens (Host)
Well, and I love how you’ve said that, because I think often the term kind of real world ready and I think you actually use that phrase in your revised version of the book in places just time and this is again we’re not talking about a throwback education.
This is actually the very education that you want your child to have if they’re going to actually survive in an increasingly crazy, ai driven, you know, contentious, barbaric world, and so I love that.
I just want to really hit that point home because I think it’d be easy for somebody to look at that and go, yeah, those are just kind of, those are polite terms and those are good ideas, but no, my kid needs filling the blank and you’d say, no, this is, I mean, I think you’ve said it well, robert, I think that’s exactly what we need for today. You also talk in the book about just in chapter seven you talk about you know, parenting is harder than it used to be, and you say the simple days of Ozzie and Harriet are so far gone that you know many even reading it’s not even who Ozzie and Harriet are. I mean, we’re not in Mayberry anymore, we’re in a totally different world. What do you see in the 17 years since the book was original book was written, has changed. You know, in our world that’s really impacting our parents and our schools, oh my goodness.
13:33 – Robert Littlejohn (Guest)
Well, the constant barrage of information, again of ideologies that are foreign to us as Christian believers, certainly aren’t things that we would embrace or agree with. And yet our kids really can’t escape them. We as parents can’t escape them, but at least as parents we have the maturity, we have the you know, adequate brain development to process that and not just succumb to it. So that’s a huge part of the change, I think. But yeah, I mean, I make the point that you know, when I was a kid, you know having a black and white TV in your own bedroom and watching really wholesome programs like you mentioned, ozzy and Herot Father Knows Best, but you know Gunsmoke even. But if anything, that experience alone in your bedroom was a character builder. But today, you know, being alone, a young person being alone in a bedroom with a smart device builds anything but character.
We just we really need to get a grip on these kinds of experiences and you know I use the term, we use the term in our book we need to be the parent. You know. This is why God gives us parents. We’re not there to be friends. Our children will have many friends, maybe hundreds of friends over the course of a lifetime, but they’ll only have two parents. So we need to take advantage of that God-given responsibility to effectively parent our kiddos?
15:19 – Davies Owens (Host)
Yeah, it is. I think about, was it the I Love Lucy show, maybe 60 years ago? And there’s all this contention because she was pregnant and they, you know I think, used the word pregnant but they couldn’t really use that word because it was really an inappropriate word. And you know, of course we look back at the what world. Yeah, and they were sleeping in two twin beds. I mean all these things that are just unimaginable 60 years later.
15:39 – Robert Littlejohn (Guest)
Yeah, we’ve come such a long way, it’s just. Yeah, it’s just rather crazy.
15:45 – Davies Owens (Host)
It is rather crazy, but and yet wisdom and eloquence is still the right direction to head into. Well, I wanna we’re gonna take a quick break. I wanna come back and unpack some of these not only shifts that you’ve seen in the last 17 years, but just why this idea of training our children in wisdom and eloquence is the actual, optimal antidote to these cultural changes in our midst. So we’ll be right back with Robert Littlejohn. As schools and families, we engage with businesses every day and, unfortunately, many of them are increasingly embracing more progressive ideologies and practices. That’s why, basecamp Live, we’re proud to partner with America’s Christian Credit Union, a banking institution that only serves and invest in kingdom causes. So, whether you’re managing a school, a home, a small business, accu can meet your banking needs while upholding biblical values.
Find out why tens of thousands of families and ministries across the country, including Base Camp Live, have chosen to bank with ACCU by going today to americacristiancucom. So, robert, a lot has happened in 17 years since the first iteration of the book and you’re going back in, rewritten it, presenting that to parents today. What are some of the highlights that you, when you think about the points you’ve made in the book, we’ve determined that wisdom and eloquence is, in fact, the best and highest goal we should be aiming towards. But what are some of the things that we could maybe do better as parents? To collaborate and to be better partners with schools, and vice versa.
17:10 – Robert Littlejohn (Guest)
Well, right, when I meet with prospective parents which I do regularly, of course I really like to make the point that from the time that our children began all day school, they will spend more waking hours at school and at school related activities than they will spend with their parents and at church activities combined. In fact, I love a quote we have in the book by John Westroff, who is an emeritus professor of theology and Christian nurtured at Duke Divinity School. He says it would take 75 years of attending church and Sunday school to equal the school’s influence between kindergarten and twelfth grade, through these most formative years of a child’s life. So the really important question, I think, is for parents well, who do you want influencing your children? The fact is, parents need a lot of help in shaping the spirits, in particular, and the worldviews of their children. And there’s another Westroff quote that I like so well. He says this when it comes to spiritual formation, it’s not what we do for or to our children, it’s what we do with them that counts.
And I think, just in general, that’s such an important message for parents about being purposeful. You know, I remember my own mother loved to get me to weed the flower beds. Well, I hated weeding the flower beds, right. But if she would join me, if she would come out and say let’s weed the flower beds together, then it was a glorious experience, right, it completely changed it because she was doing it with me. And the truth is that character and you know this comment, I’m preaching to the choir with you, davies but character and worldview are caught more than they are taught, and they are caught from the people we spend the most time with.
Again, the exciting news, encouraging news for parents, is that through the entirety of the early years until your child graduates and goes off to college, parents remain the single greatest influence in the life of their child. And that’s so important because let’s take advantage of that as parents, let’s be purposeful in how we influence our children While we’re at it. Let’s also be purposeful and with whom we partner. Who else do we want to be engaged in the lives of our child? The second greatest influence for a grammar school student is the teacher, and the second greatest influence for a middle or high school student after the parent is, in fact, peers. So using carefully and guarding those influencers in our children’s lives is going to be so important.
20:11 – Davies Owens (Host)
You know it’s. It’s interesting, you don’t? So I had the privilege of actually sitting under West for Hoffett Duke for a couple classes and what I loved about him to your point was he was he was that willing to color outside the bounds professor that would get you up out of your desk and maybe even take you outside, and it was very much like let’s go and experience and talk about what we’re learning, and I think that that Idea for a lot of parents that school equals curriculum and it does to a large extent. But what you hear you saying which is really Important is it’s not just the classrooms, it’s the hallways, it’s the entire Experience of the day that’s constantly forming your student to for better or worse. And that’s the beautiful thing is that you’re not just getting classical curriculum, you’re getting Teachers that engage deeply in peers and house programs, these other things that are, you know, fully forming oh right.
21:00 – Robert Littlejohn (Guest)
well, in fact, this, I think, one of the most important educational principles is it’s not it’s not necessarily just the paideia, the curriculum, right, but it’s the, the face of the taking advantage of teachable moments. Sometimes it’s when a child Really messes up that we have the best possible opportunity to educate that child and make a lasting difference in the life of the child. So there again, that’s yeah, it boils down to time spent together, time spent with the child as a parent, time spent with the child as an educated. Well, that’s another again.
21:37 – Davies Owens (Host)
You bring that up in the book. Just, you know the idea of there are going to be points of stress and challenge me anytime you put humans together over thirteen years, something’s probably going to go wrong or be difficult along the way. And part of that idea of you know, even biblically, of pruning and discipling, I mean we want to Become better people and sometimes that requires difficult it. Maybe it’s too much homework or, you know, bad, bad decision in relationships and so on, and so I mean what I love is the school becomes kind of a refining fire and along the way we’ve got to take advantage to your point. Talk a little bit more about that, because I think that some is hard when parents are not in the same physical space and you know there’s a gap between they were kids, were school day and they come home. And how do we partner well together, especially when things are difficult and stressful? Well, right, I think.
22:28 – Robert Littlejohn (Guest)
First, of all, listening to your children, but also listening to your children In such a way that shows that you understand that they are programmed to tell their story in ways that Are to their best advantage, if you will. So you often hear the expression from educators to parents that, hey, we won’t believe everything your kids say about us if you don’t believe everything your kids say about. Yeah, wait, did I do that? Right? We won’t believe everything that your kids say about you if you won’t believe everything that they say about us.
23:09 – Davies Owens (Host)
Right, we got to get that we need to get that t-shirt printed by. I think it’s fantastic cuz it’s always during the especially grammar school, during the kid during prayer request, and the kids say the most amazing things about happening in their home. For so, yes, we oh yes, we have more insights on each other than we care to realize that. You’re right that that is both and maybe a little anxiety producing, but it’s a great way to lean in and partner better.
23:37 – Robert Littlejohn (Guest)
Well, and then I think, beyond that, it’s it’s understanding that every child really is also program to need this opportunity to Well, to vent, if you will, to to express their frustrations with things that may have happened during the school day. And then, as parents, we’re wired, we’re programmed. You fix it for them and the important thing to know is that that’s not the way to achieve the best outcome. In other words, they really just need that space they need, they need a safe place where they can talk about Literally anything and parents will listen and they will empathize and then they will coach, but that they won’t take it upon themselves to solve that problem. You know, calling the teacher to say, hey, there’s way too much homework, is it gonna address the problem? It’s not going to relieve the stress that the student feels. It’s gonna increase the stress the teacher feels and might increase the stress that the parent feels. But yeah, I use an illustration in the book of something called stress would.
My own background is in the life sciences and biology and plant science and I love this about trees and a stand of trees the trees that are at the periphery, that are being whipped by the wind. They literally produce a different kind of wood than the trees that are on the interior. It’s called stress what? And it’s a stronger wood. It’s it’s stronger for the tree itself, as a tree is living in a salsa stronger Building material once the tree is harvested.
But I find that to be a great illustration of how we tend to behave as parents. We want to circle around our kids and protect them from the winds of life, whereas by giving them some exposure to the winds of life, to the stresses that they might feel at school and outside of school, then we really are contributing to their becoming stronger young men and women. So it’s it’s good for them. The other thing about stress we say in the book that there’s like cholesterol, there’s good stress and there’s bad stress. And good stress actually helps with our education because, in fact, if you just stop and think about it, what do you remember most about? You know I call it a vacation gone wrong. You know that camping experience where it rained the whole time, or there are all kinds of life experiences that we have that because they were stressful, we remember the best. So stress really is a contributor and an enhancer of learning.
26:25 – Davies Owens (Host)
And so we shouldn’t we just we shouldn’t feel like that we have to be rid of all stress at all times, and if you plotted just general cultural changes in 17 years since the first book, I mean it seems like there’s more of. You know, whether it’s the helicopter, the snow plow, parent, or the bubble wrap or whatever. I mean there is, and I think covid certainly created some real Understandable anxieties and fears, have only made people, and made parents in particular, think even more sensitive to. I need to rescue my child right now from this adversity which, right to your point, is so. We got a lot of soft balsa wood there in the middle of the forest.
27:03 – Robert Littlejohn (Guest)
Yeah, I don’t even remember those kinds of parents existing 15. You’re so right. I think that’s become part of the emerging culture over the last, well, certainly over the last two decades.
27:17 – Davies Owens (Host)
Yeah, yeah, it makes sense. Well, we’re gonna. Why don’t we take another quick break and come back when? I want to hear a couple more just observations and recommendations that you have, for how do we collaborate as parents in school to ultimately achieve this amazing goal of establishing wisdom and eloquence in our children? Be right back with Robert, little John.
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28:22 – Davies Owens (Host)
So, Robert, as we kind of wrap things up here, we began by talking about wisdom, and eloquence is absolutely the right goal for our current generation. And yet the world is more complicated than ever and we want our students to walk out not only quoting the great books and the great ideas, but really having an examined life, a life that’s well, not only intellectually sound but spiritually sound. So talk a little bit about just again some best practices for school and home to make sure our graduates are ready.
28:50 – Robert Littlejohn (Guest)
Well, exactly, and David, this is the thing that is truly most important to me, and that’s the spiritual well-being of our students. I spent many years as a young college professor seeing too many students who came from Christian homes, who had gone to church all their lives, maybe even graduated from a Christian school, take a spiritual and moral nosedive when they arrived at college, and it’s just, it grieved me. It wasn’t something that I wanted for my own children, but I really didn’t know how to what to do about that. I thought something’s wrong here, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong there. Obviously, it’s the Holy Spirit who does the work and the lives of a person, and we parents and educators, we are not the Holy Spirit. But I’ve asked over the years what can we do as parents and what can we do as educators to partner with the Holy Spirit in this process of spiritual development among our students? And I feel like the thing that I’ve landed on and the thing that we practice at the school where I currently serve is avoiding this pressure that we feel as Christian adults to put a stop to any crazy thing our kid might say or any question that they might have, not a question that they might have about the Bible. But we don’t want, we’re uncomfortable with them questioning the Bible, and yet this is exactly how God has made them. We know, and as part of the classical Christian pedagogy, that as a student reaches those middle school years and then rolls into the high school years, they just are, it’s in their DNA to question everything. But for so long we’ve been uncomfortable allowing them to question principles of spiritual matters or anything that we feel like we have nailed down as Christian adults.
But here’s the problem, and you reference this somewhat at the beginning of this segment. Socrates famously said that the unexamined life is not worth living, and I would say that the unexamined faith is not worth keeping. The problem is when a student heads off to college with a faith that really is mom and dad’s faith or pastor’s faith or Christian school teacher’s faith. It’s not their own faith, and a faith that is not my own is not a faith worth defending or even keeping. We have to help them internalize their faith, not just to know what they believe, but to know why they believe it, and that means that we as adults have to give them latitude and, again, a safe place to express their doubts, to test their faith, to wrestle with it, and, in fact, if they’re not doing it naturally, then we need to encourage it.
If you walked into one of our sophomore theology classes at my current school, as a parent, you might feel scandalized, because you’ll see the teacher playing the devil’s advocate, really pushing the students. Okay, you say you believe that as a Christian, so tell me why you believe it. Why should I believe what you say you believe? And you know what they’re going to get that in college. They’re going to get that through the remainder of their life. So the best time for them to be challenged in these ways is now, and what we find is that, far more often than not, they emerge not having just questioned, doubted and tested, but truly proving their faith, and they’re able to venture off into later life with a sticky faith, I like to call it, and they will persist in their faith well beyond their high school experience.
32:48 – Davies Owens (Host)
Well, and what I hear you saying which I is encouraging because I’m often challenging schools to think about this, which is we tend, especially in classical schools, to overpack our schedules.
And could we read the 89th grade book, you know, before they get to be a senior, like maybe 64 would be enough. Like I mean, at some point you’ve kind of you can’t read them all, so you’re going to have to make a decision to draw a line somewhere and then when you fill in with maybe some space, you create. I love the idea of building in margin to say, first of all, doubts are normal. I’m just giving permission to that that this is because I think it’s historically been a challenge in church world where if you ask a question, wait, you’re doubting and you don’t love God anymore. It’s like, well, that’s not the point. And I think you’re right, robert, we’ve got to allow questions and, for goodness sakes, we’ve taught our students, if all has gone well, to be logical thinkers and to have good rhetoric skills of speaking and having eloquence. And so therefore I think, yeah, we need to allow them some space to kind of test drive ideas and have to defend themselves a little bit before they wander off into the land of barbarians. Yep.
33:49 – Robert Littlejohn (Guest)
Well, and, dave, you said another thing. I think that’s so important. I always like to ask alumni when they come back so tell me, how did we prepare you well for your experience at college? And I get all kinds of great answers there. And then I also ask okay, and how did we not prepare you well? And I think that can be the very important thing that informs our improvement. The world keeps changing and the things that our kids are encountering when they go off to college aren’t the same things that they were. You said it before three years ago, certainly not 10 years ago. So how can we adapt with and to the culture? Not by succumbing to it, but by acknowledging it. It feels to me that there should be very, very few topics that we wouldn’t tackle through difficult conversations with our students, because otherwise we’re not particularly caring for the world.
34:57 – Davies Owens (Host)
I think sometimes we parent, educator, maybe older generation folks hear this and think, well, yeah, I think it’s important to discuss the problem of theodicy with our children and we’re going to have a theological discussion. It’s like, oh, that’s fine, they can argue the problem of evil. But I’m wondering if it’s more like no, let’s take the top five social media influencers that are out there that probably most of you know about and let’s kind of deconstruct some of their worldview or their attitude or their ideas or their assumptions. I mean, I guess there’s this fine line and I’m curious how you see this, because we don’t want to. This again reminds me flashback to 30 years ago doing youth ministry. It’s like we don’t have to take the kids to a bar to explain to them it’s not healthy to drink. It’s like, how far do you go in bringing not just the polite theological challenges of the world but now actual, real issues that are tempting and confusing, deconstructing media and movies. I mean, what are your thoughts on that? I mean, again, there’s only some that you can do.
35:55 – Robert Littlejohn (Guest)
Well, but I think this is the real strength of the classical Christian approach, and particularly in the upper grades. You know the Socratic Dialogue. Many schools engage students around a Harkness table or many just arrange the desks into a U-shape. But the fact that we’re engaging students and the topic might begin. The discussion might begin with the curricular topic. But when students are engaged in robust, healthy discussion, with the teacher serving as the facilitator, not the sage on the stage, not the talking head. The teacher isn’t lecturing, the teacher is engaging the students and driving healthy, robust conversation, these topics inevitably come up. And again, we don’t want to be afraid of them. We certainly don’t want to shut them down and say, whoops, that’s not in my syllabus. I think it’s those times that indeed, as I said earlier that Nefesia, we take advantage of those teaching moments and we actually engage the students in whatever it is that’s important to them and let’s talk it out now so that you’re not left to first talking it out when you’re off at college.
37:13 – Davies Owens (Host)
Right, or take an attitude that well, you know these children, they all have flip phones.
None of them are out there, as if they’re not aware of that, or even if it’s just modern movies, I mean. So again, it’s a fine like we can’t abandon our core curriculum, but I think it’s what I hear you talking about having margin in the school day, and certainly as parents, my goodness, we would want to be aware of what our students are reading and learning. So, robert, I appreciate just helping us think through this important reality that we’ve got to kind of be in the world, but not of it. And while our students are still in our classrooms and under our roofs, you know, we need to take on these kind of real world issues and not be afraid of them, because we are training them in wisdom and eloquence and therefore they should be ready for the challenges outside of door. Well, any final thoughts or words just in terms of there’s a lot in this great book and look forward to it coming out, just any kind of final words of encouragement to our parents and educators.
38:09 – Robert Littlejohn (Guest)
Well, I really so. Probably the subtitle to this book that’s coming out, I hope, in the spring, will have something to do with. Not only is classical Christian education great for your kid, but it’s great for society. And again, as we started off saying in the conversation, we want our graduates to be wise and we want them to be eloquent so that they can make a profound difference in their generation. You know, I realized a long time ago I can’t go into that next, or certainly you know two generations beyond me, I’m too old to do that. But it’s such a joy to work with young people who are being educated to be wise and to be eloquent, and they can indeed go into their generation and make that profound difference that I so want them to make.
39:03 – Davies Owens (Host)
I love that you’re putting a spotlight on that, because I think the goal is so much more noble than just oh, we got an education, so we’re ready to move into life. I often say I think this is the last best hope we have right now for our civilization. I mean, of course, jesus is the number one answer. But the reality is, if we could actually educate a generation, we might actually stand a chance of changing the culture and the society around us, which is pretty exciting. I think Amen. I think that’s a good point, because much needed, Much needed desperately needed, so thank you.
So your book will be out, hopefully in the spring, and I guess Amazon’s a good place to get find it. I think it will be, and so it’ll be wisdom and eloquence revised for parents. Okay.
39:45 – Robert Littlejohn (Guest)
Wisdom and eloquence for parents.
39:47 – Davies Owens (Host)
Sounds great. Robert, thanks so much for your time. Enjoy the, enjoy our conversation. I look forward to talking with you again.
39:52 – Robert Littlejohn (Guest)
All right, thanks, davies.
39:54 – Hannah Brusven (Announcement)
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