Math, Truth, and Wonder

Dr. Gaelan Gilbert, Headmaster

It is one of the axioms of classical education that mathematics provides a solid basis for recognizing the reality of objective truth. In a world of competing social and moral perspectives, mathematics offers stability in its reliance on consistent laws and logical principles. Math suggests that there is an inherent order to the created universe which human reason can access and, to an extent, comprehend. Mathematics is the language human beings use to understand that rational order embedded within the created world. 

The ancient Greek mathematicians, like Euclid, Pythagoras, and Archimedes, thought so, too. Like all sciences, mathematics has a history. It is a discipline of knowledge whose advancements can be studied and understood as developments that cumulatively build on the achievements of thinkers in the past. While it is true to say that mathematicians discover truth, rather than inventing it, at the same time there is an undeniable process in the improvement of the linguistic and symbolic tools and methods used in the mathematical discovery of truth. This improvement is part of the adventure of history – and knowledge.

The Math curriculum at Christ the Savior Academy – Singapore Math – is among the most advanced and successful in the modern world. Yet Singapore Math also fits nicely into a framework for teaching math within a classical educational approach. This is no accident: among the seven liberal arts disciplines, two are directly mathematical – arithmetic and geometry – and two others rely on math for the accuracy of observation (astronomy) and composition (music). From a classical perspective, the teaching of math should emphasize four related principles: 

  1. Concrete to Abstract
  2. Part to Whole
  3. Historical development 
  4. The place of wonder and beauty 

A classical/Singapore math approach also recognizes that a robust sense of numeracy is gained through analytic and narrative techniques, which supplement memorized math facts. If students grasp the concrete/spatial aspect and partial aspect of an integer, they are all the more enabled to think in multiple, agile ways about how to calculate and problem-solve. Sheer memorization is vital – but it’s not enough. 

Mathematics provides a solid basis for not only a wide variety of careers, but for an understanding of the created world and its inherent, if mysterious, order. For the ancients, the discipline of mathematics was a preparation for being initiated into deeper levels of wonder and understanding about the beauty of creation. For Christians, who put their faith in Jesus Christ the Logos, mathematics can be a way of not only learning with our God-given reason to use the created world responsibly for improving human lives, but also of searching for and finding the Creator in His works. Nature itself is, as St Maximos the Confessor taught, one of the two “books of God” – the other being Scripture. The better we learn mathematics, the better we shall be able to read “nature” as a book of God, and see in both its complex intricacy and also its colossal immensity, the hand of Him through Whom all things were made (John 1:3; Colossians 1:15-17).

Welcome to a new school year at Christ the Savior Academy – and blessed Feast!

Reverend Fathers, Families, Teachers, and Students, 

It is a beautiful day to begin our new school year. As many of you know, August 15th in the Orthodox Church is the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. Theotokos is the Greek name for the Mother of God. This feast is known in the West as the Assumption. It commemorates the death or falling asleep the Ever-Virgin Mary, likely in or near Ephesus, where she was living with the Apostle John the Theologian, whom Christ had designated as her caretaker (John 19:26-27). 

But as the paragon of humility that Mary was, this was not her first death, so to speak. She was someone who throughout her life consistently put to death her own self-will through obedience and openness to God’s economy of salvation. “Let it be unto me according to Thy word” – these are her words of assent to Archangel Gabriel. 

These words of Mary’s echo the creating words “Let it be” in Genesis, and they open the way for the birth of the Creator in mortal flesh; but they are also an expression of trusting assent and self-surrender, and thus a sort of death. Yet death, paradoxically, gives life: “if a seed fall in the ground and die, it brings forth much fruit” (John 12:24). The same is true here.

Mary’s words “Let it be unto me” represent and embody the free cooperation of humanity in God’s saving work. But they also enable Mary’s specific participation in that work in a unique way, and the Church honors her as being not just the Mother of the Incarnate Lord, but the first partaker in the fruits of her Son’s rising. This feast celebrates Christ’s raising of His Mother as a joyous witness to and result of Christ’s own resurrection, giving her the eternal life that we also look forward to in hope. 

This movement from death to life, from hardship to joy, in the life of the Theotokos is reflected in this year’s Verse of the Year at CSA, which is Romans 5:3-5. Read carefully and see how the order of one thing leads to another:

            And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

We are led, St Paul writes, from tribulations to perseverance, and then to character, and then to hope – and then to the love of God! Is there any better model for the sorts of milestones that an Orthodox Christian classical education should provide? This verse sets before us the path that we will be taking at CSA, through the grace of God.

Our 2019-20 Charge for the Year at CSA echoes and distills this same idea of a journey, a procession we could say, from tribulation and hard work through perseverance to character and hope and ultimately to the love of God.

A charge is a word of challenge and yet inspiration that we as a school will remember each day as we embark afresh in another year. It is the imperative placed before each of us, students and teachers. That charge this year is: Excelsior! In Latin, this means, ‘Ever higher!’ The best Greek translation would probably be ston ourano! (To the heavens!) It sees learning and the Christian life as an ascent, a climb to the peaks where heaven and earth come nearer together. From the peak of a mountain, much can be seen that is not evident from below. And knowledge is a sort of sight.

This charge to go “ever higher” is meant to be an encouragement, yes, for seeking to fulfill our God-given potential, but also a challenge. It is a message that at the simplest level suggests the place of work before play; of labor before rest, and fellowship; of fasting, and then feasting. And the feast is all the more sweet because of the fast that comes before it, the hard work of preparation that is done in love and anticipation.  

So let us embrace the climb this year, just as St Eustathius did on his hunt for the golden stag. Christ leaps on ahead of us, like the stag through which He revealed Himself to the saint, leading us further up and further in. But take heart, for – in the words of one recently reposed Athonite elder, Archimandrite Aimilianos – Christ never gets too far out of sight. Our Lord always strengthens us and, at times, He even leans down beside us as we catch our breath. If we listen we can hear Him saying, “Come, take hold of me; can’t you see how near I am? And how far I have come to find you? Let us go together.” 

And so today we begin our climb together; with each other and also with Him. Excelsior! I wish you all a beautiful feast today.

Change and Growth, Tradition and Truth

By Dr Gaelan Gilbert, Headmaster of CSA

Did You Notice?

This has been a year of transition and change at CSA. New carpet and paint, new parts of the curriculum, new Headmaster, two new teachers, and the largest group of new incoming students thus far in the history of the school. While good, change can be unsettling. It takes work, endurance, and patience to adapt to change. It takes time.

Change is only possible, or noticeable, because most things stay the same. This is admittedly a philosophical point, but it is also a felt reality. We notice someone’s haircut – a change in appearance – because it’s the most noticeable change in a given moment where other things have mostly stayed the same. If an earthquake is occurring or our own lives are undergoing a significant amount of change, however, someone’s haircut takes a cognitive backseat to the major shifts (literal or figurative) in the environment around us, and may not get noticed.

Change, in other words, is also about attention and perception. There is much that does change that we don’t notice – especially in ourselves – and much that doesn’t change which we take for granted. What we notice and focus on shapes our thoughts, and “our thoughts determine our lives,” as Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica says.

Story, Tradition, Truth

Seeing the change in our own lives in the framework of a larger continuous or coherent narrative is how human beings make sense of what happens to them. It gives our thoughts a solid basis. This fact is fundamental to all disciplines of knowledge, which have a history of development. Our culture and society also has a history, and history, as the word itself implies, is a story or narrative.

Every story has underlying themes, important characters, and a directed movement from a beginning to an end. As ancient philosophy, Christian theology, and contemporary psychology all attest, human beings think in a narrative fashion. We often see our own lives as stories within a larger story. For Christians who understand their identity to be found in Jesus Christ, that larger story is set forth in what is called Tradition.

The biblical Scriptures, Church history, sacramental worship, and the essential doctrines of the Faith are all parts of Tradition. Each offers a different angle on the same larger Story. A true story, of course; in fact, the story of Truth Himself, Jesus Christ. In being faithful to Tradition, we learn anew who we are and whence we have come. This is a lifelong process, but thankfully our Lord is with us “to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Tradition implies a certain relationship between change and continuity, between the new and the enduring, especially when it comes to communities like school or church. In the Church, much emphasis is placed on the importance of tradition as a guide and support to our faith in the midst of personal and social change. Christ referred to himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), and St Paul talks about his own act of sharing the Good News of the Resurrection using a verb form of the Greek word for tradition, paradosis (1 Corinthians 15:3).

Yet we all have smaller traditions, too. In our families, for example, we may have a tradition of daily meals together or a yearly camping trip. These times are important for carving out space for what is most important. This same principle extends to something even as mundane as the organization of time each day, such as those basic routines that make waking up, cleaning up, or catching up with one another (and our children) both easier and more consistent.

Repetition and Consistency, Routines and Habits

In thinking about it this way, we see that repetition and consistency form the background against which whatever is new or different is engaged and understood. In a practical sense, at CSA our consistent background or foundation is comprised of routines and daily activities that instill good habits: praying together, singing together, thinking together, reciting together, reading together, calculating together, talking together, at certain times and in certain ways.

Quite importantly, all these repeated activities make delayed gratification into second nature. This has lasting benefits. The struggles of adolescent and adult life will be far less formidable with such a skills as “eat growing food before sweet food” and “work before play” firmly in place.

The traditions of thought, speech, and action within individuals and institutions – whether family, church, or school – can be what sustain it and also reorient it back toward the core of its calling and purpose. In being reoriented by its original mission and story, a person and also a school can not only survive times of change, but also thrive in the midst of the necessary changes that are a part of growth and maturation.

After all, the other part of daily life at school is encountering the new. New ideas, new facts, new knowledge – every day! The little traditions of repeated structure and activity at CSA function as a setting within which the new can be encountered by students with both confidence and humility. Our students, faced continually with change through being exposed to new ideas and facts, learn to rely on their good habits and practiced patterns of thought and effort to understand, remember, imagine, and converse. Such patterns are formative. They shape us, both teachers and students, and empower us to cultivate virtue and focus our attention on the work before us.

Change and the Unchanging One

As students advance in knowledge and competency, they are continually drawing on the past in order to better meet what the future brings. The material they are learning changes each year, and they are themselves changing – almost daily. But all this change is happening within a stable framework, a setting in which intellectual, moral, and spiritual formation unfolds along a clear trajectory of Orthodox Christianity and classical education.

Within this educational trajectory, the purpose and aim is the formation of true human persons, made in the image of God, bearing faculties for inquiry, virtue, wisdom, faith, and self-knowledge. In the midst of a changing world, our high calling of living up to the divine image in which we were made is not only exemplified by Our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our example, but He is much more than that: He is the “author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), and is with us “until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He is not distant – He is closer to us than we are to ourselves, interior intimo meo, as St Augustine says.

It is Christ who helps us along in the journey, extending His hand to us when we are caught in vales of uncertainty or fear, and pulling us up from them, if only we remember to reach out our hand. While this world is full of change, Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). My prayer for the students of Christ the Savior Academy, both during the school year and throughout the summer, is this: may they grow each day to become more like Him – more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more sure in the true source of their strength – and may they do so in the loving heart of family, church, and school.

Such change is good – it is growth. This sort of change is what we should embrace with courage and faith, taking the risk of trust and effort so that we gain both strength and faith. This is the sort of change that St. Paul speaks of in his First Epistle to the Corinthians: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (1 Corinthians 13:11-12).

To know as we are known: this is the hope that we nourish at CSA.

Imitation is an Art – Part I: Originality, History, and “Chronological Snobbery”

Imitation is a fundamental principle to all human activity, with a special place in education, the arts, and moral philosophy. In an age that emphasizes originality, however, imitation is often discouraged. Children and adults alike are urged at every turn to seek individuality, or originality, and to blaze their own trail in distinguishing themselves from everyone else they know. This is admittedly an attractive pitch: who wouldn’t want to stand out from the crowd? Who wouldn’t want to be recognized for being different?

And yet there is a lurking irony here. One need only tweak the emphasis on that rhetorical question to see that in fact one of the things we fear is standing out too much, or standing out in a way we are not comfortable with, or which may be misunderstood. There is risk in being original, therefore. iI the modern world, our originality can’t be too original, lest it be misconstrued and become a source of derision. For it is actually recognition and affirmation that we seek; originality is more often than not a means to this end, but in a way that also enables us to see the unique value (at a surface level) which we supposedly bring, distinguishing ourselves from others in an age obsessed with difference, diversity, and – perhaps more basically – value-added productivity. Are we making our mark in the global marketplace of individuality? In our world of digital news and social media, the paradoxical quest for the perfect balance of individual originality and social acceptance drives many to the heights of anxiety.

And anxiety is precisely the right word to use here; angst, in German. Literary critic Harold Bloom has studied and written about the emergence of this uniquely modern phenomenon of anxiety. He notes how European and American novelists and poets during the late 18th and early 19th c. period of Romanticism suffered from what he called the “anxiety of influence,” that is, the fear of their work being perceived as deriving not from their own original creative genius, but from the influence of earlier works of art or other artists. In these turbulent times of burgeoning emphasis on individual uniqueness – the adolescence of the modern age – to have one’s creative work deemed “derivative” or “unoriginal” was a significant insult.

Bloom’s work illuminates what was a new phenomenon on the landscape of the modern “social imaginary,” to use Charles Taylor’s term for the collective worldview of a cultural period. For what characterizes the mindset of earlier historical periods in the West would be, in fact, precisely the opposite, something we could call “the anxiety of originality.” In the classical and medieval worlds, artistic and intellectual productions were careful to ground themselves in a larger, longstanding tradition or history of expression or thought that would guarantee the worthiness and acceptance of new works and writings. But this was in part because in those earlier periods people placed a high value on the past and its achievements, and on what had been cumulatively tested and enshrined in tradition.

But tradition was not a collection of fossilized artifacts; creative development and a dynamic process of dialogue renews, each generation, the content of tradition, simply by nature of the fact that time marches onward and new challenges have to be met, and problems addressed. But in the premodern age, the scales of value tipped the other way than they do today, toward a valuation of what came before, rather than on the “unending march of the new and improved.” By locating wisdom in the past, rather than the present, there is a humility to the classical and medieval perspective.

On the other hand, the modern approach – for all its technical and scientific progress – in assuming that anything prior to itself is therefore automatically of less value, tends toward the vice of pride, and all its retinue. Would we trade the whole world – material and mundane success and achievement – for our own soul? Past ages knew that wisdom outweighs convenience, and that moral integrity and spiritual purity outlives even death.

Past ages did not see themselves as the height of human glory; in turn, they sought genuinely to imitate ancient heroes. Our age prizes itself above all, guilty of what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery,” and thus tends to consider itself in need of no improvement, politically or otherwise. Hence we are less energetic in seeking out mentors, models, and exemplars of virtue.

As C.S. Lewis wrote in “On the reading of old books”, a preface to St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, “every age has its own outlook. It is especially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.” He later says that for the blindness of each age, including our own, to its own errors, “the only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only be reading old books.”

Lewis provides all the reason we need to take seriously the question of whether there might, in an age of originality, still be a place for imitation. He himself stands on the shoulders of giants in insisting that the best place for us – and our children – to start, is to learn from and imitate the best of what has come before us, hopeful that it will, in our particular present time, come to new life. If we don’t remember to bring into the present the wisdom of the past, by modeling our lives after the paradigms of virtue the past provides, we will almost certainly be subject to errors to which we will remain blind, and misconceptions that will remain hidden to us. The present is the future of the past – the least we can do is remember this, and imitate what it has given us that is of enduring value.

Classical Christian education looks to past, thrives today

Jenna Mullinix is only 11, but she can already translate common phrases from Latin.

Sitting around the table at Red Lobster waiting on their meals several months ago, she and her younger siblings occupied the time by reciting an Orthodox hymn from memory. When she and her brother are outside at night, they can identify a half-dozen different constellations, the result of a homework assignment to find particular stars in the night sky.

“There’s deeper purpose behind that,” said Jay Mullinix, Jenna’s father. “It inculcates in these kids a sense of wonder at the universe and particularly the universe as created by God and ordered by God and reflective of his beauty. I love that.”

To read more, visit the Wichita Eagle!

Matters of the Heart : A Return to Virtue in Education

I was stunned when I recently heard a teacher explain why virtues were not taught in her classroom. And yet, she is right: adults, sadly, have not gotten it right.  One scan of the newspaper or the evening news makes it painfully clear that adults could use a crash course in kindness and respect, which is precisely why we should return to teaching virtue in the classroom.

To read more, visit Wichita Moms Blog!

Six Easy Ways to Build Your Toddler’s Math Mind

Studies show that a child’s math skills when entering kindergarten are a better predictor of future academic success than reading skills, social skills or the ability to focus.

That’s why Katherine Earles, who holds degrees in engineering and mathematics, knew that preparing her Pre-K children to read was important, but developing their math mind was equally important.

To read more, visit Wichita Moms Blog!

Wings of the Wind Kites and Toys

Dear Parents,

Locally owned Wings of the Wind Kites and Toys has generously agreed to donate to Christ the Savior Academy a percentage of sales made on behalf of CSA during the holidays.  Just stop by their store before the end of the year and let them know when you are making your purchase that it is to benefit Christ the Savior Academy.  They are located at 550 N Rock Rd (NE corner of Rock and Central).  Their business hours are 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Saturday, and closed on Sunday.

Wings of the Wind sells quality educational, fun and unique gifts as well as an incredible assortment of kites and yard ornaments crafted by local artisans.  The proprietors, Susan and Mark, would love to help you find the perfect gifts for your loved ones this holiday season.  Check out their website:  http://wingsofthewindkites.com/

Thank you for supporting CSA!

Merry Christmas!

Mikell
CSA PTA

Divine Liturgy

We celebrated the Divine Liturgy for the feast day of St. John Chrysostom. Our 3rd, 4th and 5th graders helped with the chanting guided by Mrs. Jenny Farha, our 5th Grade and Music Teacher, her husband, Aaron Farha and Father Isaac Farha. Father Joshua Burnett, served the Liturgy. All are parents of students at the school. We are blessed to have parents and family as role models and setting example of the many ways we can serve Christ in our daily lives.