I had the opportunity to interview Jacob Russell, a 2015 graduate of School of the Ozarks, about the impact classical Christian education had on his life.
SM: What was the most impactful book, project, or paper that you experienced at school and why was that?
JR: In Christian Worldview II we read a book called Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton and wrote a series of ten essays over the course of our time spent with the book. So many things from that book have stayed with me since then, and I believe God laid a foundation in my heart for the themes that would go on to shape my life. We were given a series of 10 prompts that related to key themes within certain chapters and we were not given a specific page limit. I ended up writing a significant amount more than I ever would have if I had a limit – I think that was the point. In one piece I noted, “Chesterton says how ‘poets do not go mad; but chess players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom’ (p. 9). Focusing only on the reason within the world cages one’s mind by never allowing the freedom to dream past what someone thinks are the boundaries of logic.” This proved an important revelation for me, since I continued on to pursue a degree in mathematics and computer science. Since then, I have always sought a balance between cognitive rigor and creative freedom, with monotony and spontaneity, all while seeing the link between the two along the way. Chesterton asserts that God delights in the monotony of life. Maybe every daisy looks the same because God never gets tired of making them in such a way. Maybe every morning he tells the sun to “do it again!” while all we see is just another sunrise. That project helped me realize the desire for creative balance in my life, while providing me with a new outlook on monotony and the playful heart of the God I serve.
SM: When did you recognize that a classical Christian education was different than what other students were receiving? And what was it that you recognized as being different?
JR: I recognized the difference in my education during my freshman year in college during a general education course entitle Composition I. We had written our first essay and had the hour to peer review. After reading a few of my classmates essays I was surprised at what they had written. It wasn’t so much that the grammar was awful or their format was off, but no one had anything to say. In high school, I was taught no one should finish one of my papers and say, “So what?” I had to have a position. I had to challenge someone. I had to say something. If I read an article or book I wasn’t passionate about or thought was uninteresting I had to connect it to a theme I wanted to talk about. I wasn’t allowed to let someone else think for me. One of the most important decisions I ever made was in my sophomore literature class where I decided I would never write anything that I wouldn’t want to read if I found it on a coffee table. I stopped caring about my grade and started chasing my own mind and trying to captivate myself. I ended up developing my own voice, and I decided to let my grades take care of themselves.
SM: Do you feel your school has prepared you for the next step? If so how?
JR: I am prepared for the next step because I can ingest what the world so readily presents to me, strain it through a Christian worldview, and communicate my opinion through writing or a conversation – I found that always seems to be the next step, whatever the challenge may be.
SM: Would you recommend a classical Christian education to others?
JR: I would highly recommend a classical Christian education to others because I truly believe it is the best way we have found to blossom the souls of young men and women.
SM: What advice would you give a new student and or parents to a classical Christian education?
JR: To a student I would say not to worry about your grades and lean into the rigor. Be intentional with friendships because they will last you a lifetime. Seek counsel in your professors. Be vulnerable. Step out of your comfort zone. Then step out again. Strive to take your diploma with a brow full of sweat and heart full of Christ. Look over your graduating class with a head full of memories and no stone unturned. Let God grip you and grip Him right back.
To a parent I would say to understand that being a teenager in high school is one of the hardest things we will ever do. Always love, always support, always go to their basketball games and track meets if you can. Before I ran a race I would say a prayer, and my Father in heaven would comfort me through the presence of my dad who I saw just outside the gate. Every time.
SM: What was your greatest accomplishment during your high school years?
JR: My greatest accomplishments are the many speeches and presentations I gave throughout high school. Many of those speeches have served as anchors for me as I continued on to college and even professional life. Often I have found myself before a presentation or speech looking back to those anchors and saying to myself, “If God was so faithful in helping me through those times, why would he not help me now?”
SM: What is the most valuable lesson you learned in a failure that you encountered?
JR: In speech and debate I did one speech that was a complete failure. I was extremely nervous and I was trying to be someone I wasn’t. Throughout that class and through the plethora of different speeches I gave in high school, I learned that all anyone wants to see is who I am, and the closer I can get to expressing who I am through whatever I am doing will give me the best results.
SM: Has this type of education shaped the things that you love? And if so, how?
JR: Classical Christian education has instilled in me a desire for knowledge that I find truly invaluable. The only thing I remember from my high school commencement address was one statement given by my Patriotic Education professor Colonel Vicalvi, “There is only one way to eat a worm. Look it straight in the eyes, bite off his head, and swallow the rest.” He then promptly stated how that had nothing to do with the rest of his speech, and all I can remember is that it didn’t, but I strive to live my life like that every day. As Christians we have every reason to be excellent. Much is required of us, and I want to live my life with the same tenacity Colonel Vicalvi has toward eating worms. The world is made up of people who make up the body of Christ, and we have so many questions to ask, and so much to learn.
Steve Jobs gave a commencement address to Stanford in 2005 which has resonated with the influence Classical Christian education has had on my life ever since I first heard it.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
I would contest that the “somehow” Jobs speaks of is the gentle whisper of God prompting us to steward the gifts he has given us in order to best impact the world we live in. Classical Christian education is in the business of transforming children into producers and influencers for the Kingdom; a changed community will sometimes transform a child, but a transformed child will always change a community. Jobs goes on to charge the graduates with two statements: Stay hungry. Stay foolish. Classical Christian education has given me the hunger to achieve the impossible, and the foolishness to believe I can achieve it.