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No mountain is undemanding or painless to mountaineer. I remember many times while backpacking how often as a child, I would ask if we yet were close to the base camp. The trails were rocky, the terrain rough, and the packs getting heavier with each step—I was exhausted. My father would repeat the same answer he always gave, “Just over the next mountain and we’ll be there.” No matter how many mountains we climbed, the answer was always the same until in the last dying moment when I could not possibly take another step, he announced that we had at long last arrived at Spider Lake or any of the other breathtaking destinations in the Uintah Mountains. All the effort was worth it–the peaceful and secluded sites with plenty of rocks to climb and streams to play and fish.
As I have grown older, I have correlated life’s experiences to the frequent backpacking trips—beautiful yet strenuous and long. One such experience that of founding a leadership charter school in Idaho, has commenced …but up ahead I see only switchbacks on the forthcoming extensive and arduous journey up and over many rocky, but impressive ridges.
This past September 13th and 14th Brian and I met up with James Ure and Pete Jensen in Boise at the Department of Education. Jana Capps came later in the day. The DOE hosted a 2-day Charter Start-up Workshop and we were going. I was excited to begin and learn, however, having worked for the government before, Brian’s expectations were low. In hindsight, I should have followed suit and lowered my expectations too in order to quell my disappointment and despair.
I was expecting about 10-20% lecture-time, but that the balance of the time would be set aside for working together as a committee in coming up with solutions for our questions and concerns as intimated in the format of a workshop. Unlike the name workshop implies, each hour presented us with lecture after boring lecture about rules and regulations promoting not only equal opportunity but also the mediocre-producing equal outcome. Much of the material targeted the function of a brick-and-mortar charter school such as school lunch programs and building maintenance, etc. The language was only partially English with a dialect of acronyms that only the public institutional elite could understand. I sat there hour after depressing hour feeling like the DOE was making it impossible to write a charter that defies the status quo.
The mountain of concerns began to weigh down on me: How would we hire Idaho Certified teachers who would buy into the leadership model? How do we deal with the “equal-outcome” mentality when working with the gifted and special education students? What would we need to do to find the right kind of Administrator who believed as we do about the classics and statesmanship? Where could we possibly find a good financial secretary that could work with the state and the leadership-style charter school? Where would the testing areas be and who would man them and how much time would all this take to create? Would I lessen my duty as a mother and cheat my children out of a good up-bringing because of the undue burden of founding a school? How do you get around the regulations that stunt the freedoms to truly educate, rather than “school” the youth of Idaho?
Brian seemed to think that it would not be impossible; James Ure seemed to think that it would not be impossible; Pete Jensen did not think that it would be impossible. Jana Capps and I sat at the end of the table with doubts. She, doubting anything the DOE said by merely being a public school teacher and experiencing the ugly entangled mess of regulatory ropes and webbing over the years and I, doubting that I could have the stamina to carry my heavy backpack filled with the purpose of “educational leadership” up that rugged mountain of status quo. My father was not there to encourage me and I admit that I lost hope.
I went away after the second day with despair and doubt, but with a tiny glimmer of hope that I wished would not be extinguished, but would not have been surprised if it had been. As I wrote above, I should have set my sights low and maybe I would have felt less of defeat. As it was I would not bring myself to think of the charter for a couple of weeks and even then I felt like I was about to open the door of a dungeon filled with evil villains and dominating leviathans. And even worse, I did not feel like the heroine who courageously unlatches and swings open the dungeonous door, defying all odds with superpower. No, I was afraid of that door! But then reason began to dawn on me and I imagined that maybe, just maybe angels instead of demons awaited me on the other side of that daunting door and that I need only curb my fears with faith.
James and Pete had given me the name of Valerie Blake from Nevada who was further on up the same mountain trail as I desired to hike. She and her founding group had been working several months on a charter and would be able to help me lift my sights, look forward and avoid some of the rough rock of the trail…if only I could find the courage to call…
Finally, I did. Valerie was helpful and encouraging. She told me how they had been guided to work on the charter in the order that was most efficient and that whenever a roadblock presented itself, there was always a way around it. She said things that made me realize that God in his wisdom and desire to bless His children will always help us reach our goals, even goals that defy all odds. With God, nothing is impossible.
I see the trail. The mountain range is present still with all of its towering peaks, but all the time, I will recognize an Heavenly Father that will continue to repeat, “Just over the next mountain and we’ll be there.”
Blaise Pascal inspired me the other day as I devoured his Pensées, “All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavour, then to think well, this is the principle of morality.” Thinking well…this is the best advice for me at this time of life as I feel my call to mission.
What is the mission, you ask? Well, as you know I began a liberal arts education four years ago and it has opened the doors wide for re-thinking my life. Just a few changes include recognizing my role as a wife and mother and reaching out to all the truth I can grasp to help me become better as David’s wife and my children’s mother; recognizing the incredible responsibility of educating my own children and helping them to visualize their life’s mission; recognizing the worth of souls in my neighborhood, community and world and my role in serving them, gleaning wisdom from them and discussing the truths of life with them.
Yes, Julie, but what is your mission? Well, my mission, while it includes educating myself through the great books and educating my family and serving my fellow man, in large part it includes helping others educate themselves liberally through the words and art of the Great Masters. In a way, to help others to, as Pascal writes, to “elevate ourselves [and] think well.” For several months now I have been pondering upon how I can bring a liberal arts education to the youth of Idaho and it has occurred to me that by writing a charter and getting it approved by the Idaho State Commission of Charter Schools, I can help our state’s young men and women to learn “the principle of morality” by elevating themselves and learning to think well.
I envision an America, a United States teaming with leaders who know their roles as parents and neighbors, who know the principles that keep and maintain liberties in a free nation. I envision youth who have the gumption to work hard, who respect and venerate their elders, who include all in their circles and who lead with virtuous passion. I envision that their learning will come through their own hard work by studying the great men and women who have contributed the ideas from ancient to modern times.
I envision a nation in which the Great Ideas empower each individual life in each ordinary day. Pascal says that, “the strength of a man’s virtue must not be measured by his efforts, but by his ordinary life.” The Great Ideas, when infused into the minds and hearts of our youth, have significant power to lead each to do what Aristotle might call virtuous kalon, or to do the very things they were created to do and do them beautifully. Adding to the discussion, John Dewey said, “The world in which most of us live is a world in which everyone has a calling and occupation, something to do, Some are managers and others are subordinates. But the great thing for one as for the other is that each shall have had the education which enables him to see within his daily work all there is in it of large and human significance.”
Dewey emphasized that our places of education ought to teach the student habits of learning through everyday experiences. He wrote, “The inclination to learn from life itself and to make the conditions of life such that all will learn in the process of living is the finest product of schooling.” The inclination to learn from life is best learned in a liberal arts curriculum and the key is to help the student acquire an appetite for continual learning.
Learning while in the process of living is the deepest form of freedom and the purpose for which I write this blog and for which I pursue my desire to write a charter. This blog is not limited to the reason and logic of education or starting a charter, but will include many spiritual aspects that build the bridge between reason and faith. Without God, I can do nothing, and I refuse to deny his miracles in my life as I go on this and all my journeys toward truth.
I invite you to travel with me as I learn to “think well” by planting and nourishing my educational seeds.