[recently published in The Geneva School’s Courier newsletter]
My Grandmother was born in the late 19th century (1898). She died on her 70th birthday (living exactly that biblical “three score and ten”). Though I was only 12 years old at her death, I have a sense that she handed down to me in my younger years some of what I now hand down to your students. And this is how it has gone for thousands of years now. One generation passes on to another the valuable lessons of life, and in her case faith and Christian hope.
So think about this with me. Geneva students have just two degrees of separation (from my grandmother to me and from me to Geneva students) from someone who grew up without automobiles, indoor plumbing or electric light bulbs. She saw the very beginnings of recorded sound and the mass usage of electricity. For much of her life, she heard news on the radio and saw news reels of the World War II in the movie theater. But Geneva students have never known life without the internet, mp3 technology, and concepts like “global warming” – things foreign to me in my youth and which my grandmother never heard of or could possibly have imagined at her death in the late 1960s. I sometimes have to explain to students things like LPs and manual transmissions!
In the same way, I cannot imagine the changes that my present students will see by the time they are my age. Our culture is adept at predicting the future – though we did not get hoover boards by October 2015 as “Back to the Future” predicted in 1985, and I must admit, by the way, that I am somewhat disappointed by that! But we cannot imagine the changes that will happen over the next 50 years, nor can we predict the cultural challenges young people will face in their later lives.
I teach students the following: “Culture is the integrated system of learned patterns of behaviors, ideas, and products that characterize a society.” Whatever culture one might observe, one sees complex layers of thinking and acting that result in ideas that issue forth in behaviors which create certain products, and these together become characteristic of any particular society. Students quickly see that certain products in our culture (e.g., fast food, media, and football) characterize the American experience. But these are the result of profoundly influential ideas which form our behaviors. When we think more deeply about such things, students eventually (hopefully) see that ideas about life and afterlife are also profoundly influential in the way they live their lives.
But as much as things change, some things remain the same. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8)! Truth is truth – and it does not and will not change (despite our current cultural moment contending in many sectors that truth is subjective and created by communities). While the body of knowledge grows exponentially, some things will always be true despite any and all attempts to “restructure truth” to fit new cultural paradigms. Maimonides (1335-1204) said, “Truth does not become more true by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, nor less so even if the whole world disagrees with it.”
And this is what excites me about teaching at Geneva. At some point every year, I tell 7th grade “emerging adults” that I hope someday some of them will be teachers as well. And if/when they are and they reach my age, they will be teaching young students in their classrooms. Their students will be, eventually and by God’s grace, the leaders of the 22nd century! Do the math – it works out! This is “the long view” that I hold onto as I teach. My hope is that the truths we teach at Geneva will be passed on by our students to students fifty years from now who will grow up to lead our country (and the world!) in the 22nd century. That’s what gives me energy to do what I do most days of the week.
Let me give you a couple of examples. Students in 7th grade recently discussed Psalm 27 where we saw one verse that says,
“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.”
Many people adopt this as a “life verse.” They want their life to be characterized by seeking after God, gazing on his beauty, inquiring about his truth. In a way, this verse capsulizes our new idea that at Geneva we are about the big goal of “inspiring students to love beauty [“gazing on the beauty of the Lord”), think deeply [“to inquire in his temple”], and to pursue Christ’s calling on their lives” [“that will I seek after”]. A thousand years before Christ came, this was David’s desire. Now, two thousand years later, it is ours at Geneva.
Likewise, 8th grade students each semester contemplate Paul’s desire seen in Philippians 3:10, “that I may know him [Jesus Christ] and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Almost two thousand years after Paul articulated this life-long striving, this should also be our goal as well. And we remember, with Paul, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
May God give us the grace to hold this “long view” in mind each day at The Geneva School.