Category Archives: Why CLS?

Why Jesus?

The gospel of Jesus Christ is a part of every class at Columbia, and the highlight of every day’s schedule. There is simply nothing more important for anyone to learn than the certain truth that in spite of your imperfections and sins against Him,

  1. God forgives every single last one of your sins and cleanses you from all unrighteousness.
  2. He invites you to be His child,
  3. He comforts you in every sorrow of your life,
  4. and He promises to deliver you from this world into eternal life in heaven.

The other things we teach at Columbia are important, each in its own way. The ability to read or do arithmetic, an understanding of language and the skill of using it to speak or write, a rich vocabulary, a beginning mastery of practical logic and the rules of crafting a well-reasoned argument, a basic understanding of world history and the founding of our own country: these and other things will be a great help for our students as they continue in their lives. Equally important is a desire to learn and a satisfaction in seeing oneself grow in knowledge and skill.

But none of those wonderful gifts can see a person through death. They will help to the point of death, but not past it. And a life lived in service to God and others as a debt of thanksgiving for God’s rich mercies is so much better than any life lived as a doomed attempt to please God and “earn” our way into His good graces. The Holy Spirit made it clear in the inspired words to the Romans, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (There’s no hope left for any of us to reach paradise! But the words continue.) “[All] are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24, ESV).

Now that Jesus has won eternal salvation for every sinner in the world, the most wicked thing we could do would be to disregard it either through ignorance or bad intent. But our sins against God’s Ten Commandments? (You shall have no other Gods, … Honor your father and your mother, … etc.) Those sins have all been paid for in exactly one way: the eternal Son of God entered the world, became a man, lived a perfect life, then suffered the due punishment for the world’s guilt. If Jesus had been a mere creature suffering on the cross, He would have suffered for eternity. He would never have risen to life again. But His resurrection was God’s proof to us that…

  1. Jesus is God’s Son and essentially one with the Father, as He said.
  2. Our sins are truly forgiven even our deepest shame can be cleansed.
  3. We will also rise to live eternally.

That’s the kind of faith that redefines a sinner’s life. Now every breath, every meal, every word, every care, and every sorrow has been redeemed from empty despair or fruitless striving. Now the believing sinner is a saint in God’s sight. Now each day is an opportunity to show our thanksgiving to God, and to glorify Him by serving one another.

By keeping Jesus at the center of what we do, CLS fulfills its mission as a parochial school of Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church.

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Why Parochial?

All parents want the best for their children. Most people think of things like safety, nutrition, exercise, and opportunities. Some people also include a quality education. All of these are important, but they are all blessings of earthly life. Is that all that school is about? What happens after this life? Can school prepare for that, too? Parents of faith may consider the blessings that last forever to be more important than the ones that will perish. That’s the point of a parochial school.

A parochial school is not always the best choice for people who cannot abide its religious principles, but families find that they appreciate the consistency of perspective in a parochial school, whether or not they agree with the faith of the school. A parochial school is a mission extension of a Christian church, so the parish defines the dominant perspective in every class and activity. Other points of view will be expressed, but the teaching of the school will address them from one particular viewpoint.

The Alternative of Public Schools

The other end of the spectrum may be seen as the public school environment, where ideally no particular faith is favored. Teachers are discouraged from expressing their own personal faith, and often required to conform their teaching to a non-religious standard. In practice, the public school environment tends to support “minority” religious viewpoints, while suppressing “majority” viewpoints. Students with a minority opinion are given a greater administrative blessing to express it and live by it. Sometimes the teachers are forced to promote them, while both teachers and students who hold the “majority” opinions are coerced not to express them. Unfortunately, this power struggle is central to the philosophy strategically promoted to our nation’s youth, and the public school system is a chief battleground.

Meanwhile this idea of teaching without any particular religious foundation proves as unreliable as building a house with no foundation. It leaves a major hole in the education of students by artificially separating matters of faith from the subjects being taught. This creates a false impression that they are secular subjects, unrelated to matters of faith. It has continued for so long that even many Christians assume that the natural way to present math facts is without any reference to the Creator who invented math. Or, that a subject like astronomy should be taught to flatly contradict the Biblical worldview, despite the truth expressed in Psalm 19 (ESV): “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.”

There is a good reason why public schools must omit religious teaching in all of their classes. Since they are supposed to serve all students in America, and they are implemented as a government institution, schools must abide by the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This amendment expresses several rights embodied in the founding principles of the United States, including the freedom of religion. The protections of this freedom are twofold. First, the government is not allowed to establish a religion by law, and secondly, it is not allowed to prohibit the free exercise of any religion. This is interpreted to mean that public schools are prohibited from including any “religious” teaching in their classes. It sounds like a reasonable compromise, and many students receive a useful education. But something of great importance is left out.

In practice “minority” religions or those considered irrelevant are taught side-by-side, and the perspective that all knowledge and reason is a gift from God is suppressed and forgotten. This happens despite having Christian teachers in public school. Their hands are tied by the system.

The Alternative of Private Schools

Another type of school is a private school. It can also be operated by a church, but in that case, it doesn’t function as part of the parish the same way a parochial school does. Its regular teachers may belong to contradictory faiths, and its focus is less on the church’s mission than on providing an educational service for its students. While the teachings of the parish may have a strong influence if the school happens to be owned by a church, a private school either teaches from a wider variety of religious viewpoints than a parochial school, or it might subscribe to the problematic public-school idea of separating religious content from subjects considered to be secular.

While a public school is ideally prohibited from espousing religious elements in its teaching, private schools are free to do so. This can help the school avoid the awkward and incorrect assumption that some kinds of knowledge are entirely separate from religious faith. However, if a private school does teach the content of religious faith, the question ought to be asked: what is the religious point of view that is used for that teaching?

This may sound like a question that seeks to divide people, but it really only recognizes the religious landscape of our nation. When people try to find a religious common denominator, they often discover that there are fundamentally different viewpoints at play.

Sometimes the religious disagreement is addressed by compromise. Teachers at a private school who have different religious beliefs may have the freedom to teach according to their own points of view, but students need to understand how each teacher’s perspective affects the things taught by that teacher. This is a good and healthy thing for students to consider. It’s probably ideal for college level. But when students don’t have the experience, maturity, discipline, and depth of understanding to do this on their own, then a parochial school may be a better choice.

The Alternative of a Private Parochial School

A parochial school is unique in that every subject is taught from the religious perspective of the church that operates it. The grammar of languages like English and Latin reflect the special gift that God provided to mankind in Creation, while also revealing the truth He reveals in Genesis chapter 11. Mathematics and science show the glory of God with hints of truths revealed fully in Holy Scripture. The religious components of every class, devotions, chapel, and even discipline are ideally unified under a single religious point of view. Every regular teacher must be a member of the church body that operates the school.

Some churches don’t bother much with the idea of right (biblical) teaching, and their schools will follow suit. Other churches consider right teaching to be of the highest importance. In that case, it’s easy for someone outside that church to learn the religious perspective of the school, and it will apply to every teacher and every class. In the case of a confessional Lutheran church like Bethany, its school’s religious position is summarized in the Small and Large Catechisms of Martin Luther, the Augsburg Confession, and the other documents collected in the Book of Concord from the year 1580. More contemporary issues of teaching are addressed in publications of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Many can be found at www.els.org.

Families who agree with the confessional Lutheran teachings of Bethany Lutheran Church will find that its school reinforces what they teach at home. Families who have disagreements with the teachings will find that the school consistently teaches a well-defined perspective on spiritual matters that they can address with their children at home. Even that is much easier than addressing a moving target and much less dangerous than building an education with no religious foundation at all.

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Why a School?

Bethany Lutheran Church is a Christian congregation. Members gather regularly around the preached and taught word of God to hear the gospel message of God’s forgiveness won for the world by Jesus Christ. This is the primary activity of any Christian congregation, found in weekly divine service.

The gospel is the reason Bethany exists, and it’s also the reason Bethany has a school. God gave a commission to His Church when Jesus spoke to His disciples in Matthew 28:18-20. Part of this commission is to keep teaching the gospel.

Columbia Lutheran School is simply part of Bethany’s mission to teach the gospel. When students attend CLS who are not members of Bethany, they experience exactly the same things as Bethany members. All class lessons are taught in the light of God’s word, as knowledge and skills that are gifts of God. Brief chapel services are conducted daily. Every student has a hymnal and learns how to use it. Students memorize Scripture passages, hymn verses, and the text of Luther’s Small Catechism. Students experience daily examples and models of prayer and have daily opportunities to pray. They are encouraged to participate in the daily worship life of a Christian as they live out their godly vocation as students. Even discipline is taught in light of God’s forgiveness.

Individual members of Bethany Lutheran Church each have their own reasons for supporting the congregation’s parochial school. Some simply want to reach out with the gospel. Others want to sprinkle the fallen world with the spice and preservative of faith, to make our earthly homeland a better place. Others want a haven for Christian families where they don’t have to face the wicked spirit of this age in every class curriculum. Others consider the classical education provided at Columbia to be a better preparation of young minds than elsewhere. Others want to make connections to the community and cultivate new church members. For some, it’s a combination of these and other factors.

Bethany doesn’t have a hidden agenda for its school. Columbia is a gospel ministry of the church, with the mission “To provide a quality classical Christian education for the families of the Mid-Columbia area, preparing students for their current and future God-given roles and supporting parents in their vocation to educate and nurture their children.”

Church members and our Christian neighbors should consider Bethany’s school to be an important activity of the congregation in fulfillment of our Lord’s Great Commission. Through this work, He is blessing both our community and the congregation itself.

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Why Teacher Instruction?

There is a variety of ways that students can learn. Schools may choose one or more of these, and the choice matters.

The traditional arrangement assumes that teachers have a greater mastery of the material, and a way to impart that knowledge or skill as students work to learn it. The subject matter is considered beneficial to all students, often by helping them learn even more beneficial things later. Teachers bring students into contact with a body of knowledge that exists outside themselves, knowledge that has proven to be a blessing for generations of people, and will certainly help young scholars today. The manner of learning can vary, but the teachers are in charge of bringing each group of students into contact with the material, and even deciding which parts of the material should receive the greatest emphasis.

A more recently developed arrangement puts students in the driver’s seat, while teachers assume the role of a guide or coach. Direct instruction is discouraged. Students decide which courses and subjects are best for themselves based on their own interests, and have freedom to do or study as they see the need. This arrangement prioritizes the interests and inclinations of students above all else, even when they are biased against something as a result of knowing little about it.

A third arrangement puts teachers in the role of managers, while a universal curriculum assumes the role of the teacher. Students progress independently through a sequence of materials that takes them incrementally from the beginning of their education to the end. Teachers don’t need subject mastery and they can handle a much larger group of students, because they only need to help students maintain their momentum through the prearranged curriculum. It makes a school less expensive to operate, and can be an advantage for busy parents in a homeschool setting. While it does impart the knowledge contained in the program, this arrangement loses the personal touch that students will miss without a teacher actively sharing the knowledge and skills that students may need, and actively differentiating based on students’ prior experience, personalities, and gifts. It’s not easy to add or remove things from the curriculum.

Of these three teaching arrangements, Columbia uses the first. It’s not the easiest for our teachers or the least expensive, but with small class sizes it provides the best learning opportunities for the widest variety of students.


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Why Uniforms?

A uniform is a strict dress code. Sometimes it’s so strict that everyone must wear exactly identical articles of clothing. The dress code is not so strict at Columbia, but it allows the student body to dress in a uniform way, so that they have a consistent, comparable, and pleasing appearance.

With a uniform dress code, families are better able to ensure that their students are prepared for school every day. It simplifies shopping for school clothes and also simplifies the process of getting ready for school each morning.

From the students’ point of view, wearing uniforms helps remind them of their vocation as students. Military and police uniforms do the same thing for the men and women in those vocations. It gives the group a deeper sense of community and identity, fostering cooperation and mutual support. Like a band dressed to play a concert or professionals dressed to work in a downtown office building, students dressed to learn will find it easier to do so, and will find that they perform at a higher level.

Instead of being distracted by comparisons between “haves” and “have nots,” and between the “ins” and the “outs,” students can spend more precious time focused on their studies. Even young children tend to worry about fitting in. These worries can detract greatly from their focus and their contentment. A uniform dress code helps to avoid those problems.

The requirement of wearing uniforms is an advantage for parents and students because it means less stress at home and better focus at school.

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Why Latin?

According to legend, the Latin language was adopted by the people of Rome around the time the city was founded (753 B.C.). It was named for the surrounding region. The people of that city went on to dominate the whole Italian peninsula and establish an empire on the three continents surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. The influence of this empire brought the Latin language to the the whole world. When the empire declined and disappeared by around A.D. 500, the Latin language was preserved by scholars and missionaries like the Irish monk Columba. They preserved the light of classical history and civilization through several centuries when it had crumbled and morphed into feudal kingdoms. Then in the Renaissance, students of history made a special effort to revive the learning that had been lost. Latin once again flourished, now used in schools, government, and religious settings. As in the Roman Empire, people in various places had their own languages and customs, but the Latin language was a way they could all communicate.

Classical schools teach Latin or sometimes Greek. They can also teach other languages. Languages like Spanish are taught as an elective to acquaint students with foreign culture and perhaps enable students to become fluent speakers, readers, and writers. When they are offered, those language courses are optional. They are a way that students can specialize their education, because so many languages are spoken in the world, and different students will want to pursue their particular interests. That’s entirely and completely different from the reason classical schools teach Latin or Greek.

When a classical school teaches Latin, students learn about the classical heritage of western civilization. They can join in the great conversation between some of the best minds in history. But more importantly, students learn the nuts and bolts of language itself. It’s easier to develop a mastery of language using Latin than using English or another modern language. English is a moving target, and its rules are chaotic in comparison to Latin. Students who are native English speakers have learned it naturally, and naturally presume to know it well without understanding how it works. Studying the stable grammar of Latin allows a scholar to set aside that presumption along with the frustration of constantly-changing inconsistencies.

Practically speaking, most English vocabulary comes from words borrowed originally from Latin, so familiarity with one Latin word produces a deeper understanding of many English words. Latin also helps with certain foreign languages of the present day, such as Spanish and French. Latin itself is still used worldwide for terminology in the fields of science, medicine, law, and theology.

When a student understands how language works in general, this understanding gives the ability to think in disciplined ways and communicate those thoughts effectively. It enhances the understanding of what is heard or read in the work of others. It helps to distinguish between sense and nonsense. Coupled with logic, an understanding of language allows the student to more easily and more beautifully express things worth saying. Even math and science are fundamentally based on an understanding of language.

The study of Latin or Greek is not considered a specialized option at a classical school. It’s part of the core curriculum. This is a great advantage and blessing for parents and students, even though many people may still misunderstand its purpose and underestimate its value.

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Why Logic?

Logic defines the way things relate to each other. In a classical school, students begin every subject by memorizing facts. The facts are the subject’s grammar. When a student has learned them well enough, the next thing is to learn the subject’s logic. How are the facts related? How can they be distinguished or combined?

Logic can also be generalized more abstractly. The rules that govern how things relate to each other may be described in a symbolic way, similar to mathematics. Logic is often learned this way in connection with subjects like geometry or computer programming. The more traditional way for classical schools is to study logic as a part of language. At Columbia, we can become acquainted with using logic in fifth and sixth grade through computer exercises and puzzles, but we begin to study categorical logic in earnest at the seventh and eighth grade levels by learning to recognize the forms of valid reasoning.

The aim of learning logic in a classical school is to develop the ability to craft a coherent essay or present a speech for some purpose. This is the art of rhetoric, and the application of logic in such a presentation is called dialectic. More generally, the knowledge of logic gives scholars the ability to think correctly about their observations and what they read or hear from others. This has wide application to science and every kind of art.

It may seem that everyone already knows how to think correctly, but that’s not so. Logic allows the thinker to say something more useful than, “I disagree with what that person has said” or “I feel like the truth is….” Instead of simply expressing an opinion or a feeling, the logic student can express reasoning by giving statements that are supported in valid, objective ways. Instead of saying, “I disagree with that,” logic allows the student to say something like, “Your statement is based on an unsupported premise. You haven’t made the case for what you are saying.” Or, “Your reasoning is not valid, because your premises do not lead to the conclusion you are making.” Or on the other hand, “I accept your conclusion because you have supported it with true premises and valid reasoning.”

Parents and schools ought to teach the logic of every subject because it allows students to understand the relationship between basic facts. They ought to teach logic as its own subject when students are ready to think more abstractly, because the study of logic allows students to recognize the difference between a coherently-supported statement and an unsupported opinion or statement of feeling, and also to support their own statements when writing or speaking.

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Why Classical?

Classical schools teach the liberal arts, which developed in the early years of western history, in the civilizations that produced some of the oldest achievements still widely recognized and used today.

During the decline of Rome, the liberal arts were adopted and adapted by the great Christian teachers that shaped the civilization of the Middle Ages. Following the lead of the ancient masters, they emphasized lofty ideals that make humans the creatures that we are. Our minds were given to contemplate thoughts that transcend earthly life and inspire us to greatness in our character.

The transcendent ideals of goodness, truth, and beauty were recognized by Aristotle (330 B.C.), but also exemplified by Jesus Christ in fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures. These ideals are the constant aim of classical education, meant to give young scholars an opportunity to become the best human beings that their personal gifts allow.

To understand the word liberal, one must recall that slavery was a blotch on history throughout the world before the time of America. (That’s what made the Declaration of Independence so revolutionary. It declared the fact self-evident that “all men [i.e. people] are created equal.”) A liberal education in a slave world was an education for free people (līberī in Latin). Slaves were not allowed to receive it; they had a limited, servile education. It was understood that a free citizen should be able to think independently and be informed about a wide variety of things. Think of Maximus in Gladiator. His liberal arts education (among other things) set him apart from the other gladiators, and allowed him to quickly prove himself their superior. In most places before America, free women were second-class citizens. Free girls did not receive the same education as their male counterparts. But since the 19th Century, the liberal arts were improved here by the expectation that girls and boys both deserve a liberal education. Girls, boys, human beings of every age and race are līberī.

The term liberal arts is plural because there are seven. The first three are language-oriented, and the last four take in the study of Creation. At the elementary and middle-school level the emphasis is on the first three, called the trivium, meaning “triple way” or “threefold way.” Higher level education places greater emphasis on the last four, the quadrivium.

The trivium contains three areas of study that are subjects and also stages of learning within any subject. They are called grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Grammar is about memorizing the facts, the building blocks – the practice of young children. Logic teaches the relationships between them and nuances of meaning – the delight of middle-grade students. Rhetoric studies the art of self-expression – the intent of middle to high school students.

The quadrivium traditionally includes mathematics, geometry, astronomy, and music. Today these areas branch into all parts of science and technical artistry. While the trivium absorbs most of the effort for beginning scholars, the quadrivium takes the front seat at higher grade levels.

Parents and schools should use the classical approach to education because it provides an excellent way to prepare young minds to meet the widest variety of possible future circumstances, using God’s gifts to the fullest. Our whole community benefits from classical Lutheran education because Christian civilization must be taught, and that’s exactly what classical Lutheran education does.

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