The Vilesidious Letters: On Christian Schools

screwt.jpegAs C.S. Lewis (apologies, sir) said, it is not difficult to come into this kind of correspondence, once one knows the trick. This “letter” appears to be about Christian schools. Hmmmmm….You can leave Vilesidious a comment, but I don’t think he’ll answer.

Dear Slimebeetle,

It is with mixed amusement and amazement that I read your report of 1.31, a report full of weeping and gnashing of teeth that the patient’s children have been enrolled in what the enemy refers to as a “Christian School.” Obviously, you have found a way to be absent from the most recent seminar on our overall strategy for evangelicalism, a seminar that gloriously reflects the substantial progress we have made at the important level of popular expectations.

I cannot believe you were unaware that our influence within institutions such as this Christian school has created results that are far beyond anyone’s projections. In the particular school your patient has chosen, more than 80% of the graduates have rejected the Christian faith within three years of graduation. Even with a small rate of remission- often quite temporary- we can expect magnificent harvests from within this particular segment of the enemy’s camp. Impressive, by any standard.

Evangelicals have become great believers in their various systems, institutions and programs. It is a mark of the contemporary church that its illusions of external prosperity have almost completely blinded it to its poverty of actual spiritual power. Our agents move almost at will within many evangelical institutions, and it is almost a joke at the lowest levels of hell to see what abandonments and compromises are possible in the name of such absurd concepts as “relevance.” I have to admit that occasionally I have to pinch myself to see these evangelicals tossing aside every weapon and treasure they have on such grounds as “avoiding boredom” or “church growth.”

The Christian school is based upon sound enough intentions and we always run a certain amount of risk when inquiry, truth and prayer are in play, but the astounding fact is that we have seen evangelicals over the past 200 years again and again assign to their various institutions and programs the power to affect actual, spiritual change. The more impressive an institution is, using the usual culturally controlled measurements supplied by our agents, the more confidence evangelicals place in its ability to create spiritual growth. This has made for marvelous results in prosperous cultures and, really, some breath-taking examples of irony.

No one can say these people weren’t warned. That unfortunate section of the enemy’s propaganda manual called Revelation chapters 2 and 3 contain several warnings regarding precisely this phenomenon. Someone suggested we adopt the name “The Laodecian Project,” but I’m not for that kind of strutting.

Remember the nature of the whole enterprise. Education, at every level, is an exercise in considerable amounts of conformity, yet those who are involved in it seem quite oblivious to that fact, preferring to addict themselves to large doses of narcissism and foolish optimism about human nature. In other words, educators and parents want to feel good about what they are doing, a perfect invitation for our involvement. Nothing seems to stir the middle-class, suburban evangelical quite so much as hearing his/her child recite Latin or parrot some platitude from a civics textbook two grades ahead of their age. There are almost no boundaries of realism allowed in the pursuit of feeling good about all “our children” are capable of learning. Humans can be intelligent and creative, but in their fallen condition they are more likely to be in love with themselves and completely unaware of the true nature of what the enemy calls “wisdom.”

The revered Slobweiner has made an immense contribution to this field of research by his brilliant proposal to villanize public schools in the Christian mind. While it is true that certain aspects of public school culture have come to resemble hell in a rather charming way, this has led to excesses that, at first, seemed rather pointless. But Slobweiner’s theory was that the wretched condition of public schools would provide just the right platform for the excessive hubris and narcissism we wanted in “Christian” schools. The outcome of this plan has amazed all of us, and we now have a situation where any Christian school is deemed the best place for a child, no matter what a shallow culture of conformity it allows or what actual evils- such as materialism or racism- lie festering at its very heart.

Some in the Bureau have taken to immense amounts of laughter about all of this, but I find it to be somewhat awe inspiring.

The fetish of academic excellence is easy enough to promote in this school, but I find that to be of little use for seriously infernal purposes. What has impressed me is the way in which the overall culture of these institutions can produce, when pursued with the right guidance, a kind of evangelicalism that vaporizes in the presence of the actual secular culture it is meant to conquer much like a vampire in sunlight. All that talk of “excellence” and “leadership” really is quite a lot of fizz, as these institutions produce followers, conformists and prattling repeaters of propaganda at a rate so high that we hardly know what to do with them once we have them on board.

I’ve seen some outstanding examples of vaporizing evangelicalism from the “stars” of every graduating class at the very school you’re shining about. For the sake of all that’s evil, Slimebeetle, have you forgotten that these institutions depend on caricatures, propaganda, distortions and deceptions to such an extend that once the little darlings encounter a real atheist, or a thoughtful Buddhist or someone having sex who’s not insane, they are already questioning everything they’ve ever heard? Then, if you skillfully utilize the various tools at your disposal, especially the natural interest in sexual relationships, social recognition, entertainment (which evangelicalism has already baptized as the very purpose of life), materialism and especially “normality,” you will find the reasons to continue within evangelicalism to be almost non-existent when the external props are removed. (Just keep them away from some of those troublesome campus ministries. See the files. The situation is an embarrassment.)

Old habits die hard, you say? Not in most of them. They are quite eager to reinvent themselves.You’ll be surprised that one of the habits acquired at their beloved Christian school was a kind of hostility toward the church and a fondness, again in the ironic cause of growth, to prefer the secular and the profane over the sacred and the holy in the basis that it’s more “authentic.” “Habits” like actually reading the Bible are generally flimsy in these students. Conformity has made them mostly show, and especially for parents. Christian “fellowship” wasn’t any kind of actual spiritual formation, but the usual social/sexual dance steps to keep them around the church. “Ministry” was more fun disguised as “concern” for others. It’s all quite amusing. The work done in youth and young adult ministry is a marvel, even to me.

In other words, you can actually use this brand of Christianity to turn them away from the enemy’s true Kingdom. This generation, in contrast to their “Baby Boomer” elders, shows a potentially troublesome desire for authenticity, but, if handled rightly, they can be taught to despise themselves and their religion quite easily. (Remember the Brad Pitt interview where he credited the “honest” Methodist girl with his own collapse of faith? Once the structure is tottering, they almost never rebuild it. They prefer anything that smells “new” to what they’ve just found to be flawed. As to the tendency to return to faith later, that is another letter.)

So might I make several suggestions? All in the manuals, if you would take time to consult them.

-Encourage conformity at every turn. Be sure that the family submerges themselves in everything the school offers. We want them to be certain that they’ve invested sufficiently to expect the complete return. I know of no limits to what can be accomplished with this among wealthy evangelicals in a megachurch, but don’t get ridiculous.

-See if Tittlewart has any plans for chapel services at that school. If not, we have a list of available youth ministers that are simply wonderful. Some of these characters would make good speakers at our annual Tempter’s Awards.

-Can you insert someone- perhaps a senior boy- with a proven record in sexual corruption into the mix at the school? It’s always good to have a second channel operating in contrast to the dominant rhetoric from the adults. I realize there’s always risk in that strategy, but I’m a great believer in having someone nearby to verify that the last abstinence talk was clearly unrealistic, lightning doesn’t strike and so on.

-If you can, keep some kind of notable scandal on hand. Adultery and financial impropriety make for a nice counterpoint to all the ads and brochures. Students these days have a superb sense of hypocrisy. Keep that sense tracking something.

-Of course, do whatever you can to insure that success breeds pride, and then keep that love of pride for useful bouts of doubts and self-loathing. I find the best approach is cyclical, with the final abandonment of the whole thing the result of years of back and forth.

-As much “Contemporary Christian Music” as possible please, It’s the soundtrack of apostasy, as far as I can tell. Nothing smells quite as inauthentic, juvenile, manufactured and phony. In fact, we need some down here for the more despairing and tortured areas. Is it on iTunes?

-Moving from one Christian school to another, or even to homeschooling, has the same useful potential, but requires more oversight on your part. The key is sending the finished product out into the world with what the family thinks is substance, but is, in fact, next to nothing. There’s nothing quite so much fun as watching years of assumed Christianity burning up in the first encounter with a Sam Harris book or, even better, a freshman psychology class. If they don’t plan on going into the world, but are staying home under the parent’s control, it’s an entirely different situation.

On the subject of the dangers lurking at this Christian school, I’ll respond after a thorough inventory. That 20% lost to our cause is nothing to overlook. There’s plenty of work to be done. I have the utmost confidence in you. Let’s see a better attitude. Our Father’s house below is full of graduates of Christian schools, and there is no reason you can’t contribute several hundred more.

Your affectionate uncle,

Vilesidious

P.S. I’m well aware of your tendency to blog everything at your web site. Restrain yourself, please.

33 thoughts on “The Vilesidious Letters: On Christian Schools

  1. Michael,
    A friend emailed me the link to this post. When I replied it was the first time I had looked at your site. After perusing it a bit, I’m quite encouraged by what I see. I also noticed that you have Doug Wilson on your blogroll, so you are certainly familiar with the Classical Christian education movement.

    One other note:
    Vilesidious’ comment regarding “those troublesome campus ministries” does not resonate with me. I worked in support-based campus ministries for more than a decade, and my critique of them is much the same as your critique of Christian schools. My experience with the ad hoc theology I encountered, as well as the gnostic duality that exalted “evangelism” and largely ignored the cultural mandate, were the impetus for me going into Christian education in the first place.

    Interesting that we both seem to have similar concerns regarding Christian institutions, but have come at those concerns from seemingly opposite corners.

    God bless you,
    Dan

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  2. I would like to omit my second sentence above (“From what I can tell, most of them are baptized humanist curriculum with a Bible class added.”) It sounds a bit caustic now that it’s posted.
    I have no lack of love for my brothers and sisters in Christ who are doing their best to love young people by educating them in a Christian environment. I should simply say that I believe the current understanding of Christian education could use some honest self-assessment.

    Dan

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  3. I cannot speak for Christian schools in general. From what I can tell, most of them are baptized humanist curriculum with a Bible class added. However, I teach at a classical Christian school, and these are a much different animal. The classical method dates back to ancient Greece and is based on the 7 liberal arts. It was reintroduced most recently through Dorothy Sayers (an Inkling herself) who made the case (at Oxford) that our schools must return to the medieval classical model (which inherently includes Theology as the Queen of the Sciences). This classical Christian method uses Socratic dialogue. It does not believe in indoctrination, but in learning how to think critically and Christianly. It teaches students not WHAT to think, but HOW to think. At my school, we don’t shy away from the difficulties of the faith. In fact, we bring them to the students’ attention. I just gave a lecture to a seventh grade English class about how fiction is often more truthful that “non”-fiction, and how there is no such thing as a bare fact – everything goes through some kind of interpretation.
    Our administration makes the point that our primary job is NOT evangelism (in the truncated Evangelical sense). Our primary job is to educate from a Christian worldview (we need a better word, this one is losing its meaning). In our chapel, we warn the students of the dangers of hypocrisy and that we have no desire for them to go through the motions with cold heart. However, we do tell them that if they don’t believe what we’re telling them, to not be content in their unbelief. We encourage them to actively doubt – that is, ask questions regarding their faith or lack thereof. We do not want outward conformity for the sake of “looking like a Christian.” We don’t presume to know how many of our students are saved. When I give lectures I speak to those students who are Christians and those who may not be. I constantly remind the students that just because they go to a Classical Christian school, they are not any better than students at the public school. The difference is that they (my students) have the responsibility to carry out the cultural mandate in a world that is groaning for redemption. And they must do that with wisdom, eloquence, and above all, humble love. And the only way they can do that is if they truly understand Plato and Emerson, Shakespeare and Camus, Sylvia Plath and Langston Hughes. And they will only understand them if they read them with humility and discernment. Humility, because we are all made in the image of God – so even Nietzsche has something of the Imago Dei and we can learn from him, and discernment, because we are all fallen and nobody has escaped the noetic effects of sin – not even Lewis.

    Thank you for your provocative post. But keep in mind that generalizations are dangerous and imprecise by nature.

    In the pursuit of Christ’s Kingdom,
    Dan Daugherty

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  4. Good post. That said, I went to a Christian school that was originally formed under very old-school principles. I think most of the kids I graduated with are still Christians. However, it began to change before my eyes when I was in high school (new administration), and now it’s exactly the sort of place you describe.

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  5. Wow! As the parent of a high school student (boy) who has attend private, Christian school since 1st grade – I had to admit I loved this post!

    We elected private, Christian school for several reasons – and while our son has remained in a private school setting – we definately re-evaluated this decision EVERY year. We have even given him the option every year of attending public high school. His choice is to remain in a smaller environment. He enjoys the relationships with his teachers – which would be very difficult to maintain in a public school setting. He will also be one of the first ones to tell you that the private, Christian school is as much a mission field for the unsaved as the public schools are – if not more so! Our experience has been that families are placing their children in private, Christian schools not for the “Christian” aspect – but, because it is a smaller school. Alot of these families don’t even attend church and are really not interested in attending a church.

    When someone asks for my advice about sending their child to a “private, Christian school” – I always ask them: Why are you wanting to send them? Is is academics? Is it a safer environment? Will your child learn better in a smaller classroom?

    There are alot of things to consider (and re-consider) when making this decision. I have friends who have 3 kids, in 3 different schools – and not all of them are private, Christian schools. They have sought out what works best for each child – which is what every parent should strive to do!

    Final thought – private, Christian school is not much different than most public schools – the kids have the same temptations, problems, etc. that the kids attending public school have – it’s just that in a smaller environment they are often caught and identified quicker – and the kids are most often encouraged to seek a God-honoring approach to solving the problem.

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  6. Hey, gang, my name is Bernard. Anybody what calls me Mister Shuford has mistaken me for someone else 🙂

    Thanks for the interaction. I admit to many of the problems that are mentioned.

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  7. Mr. Spencer, that was the best thing you’ve written that I have read.

    I believe that Christian schools are public schools with a thin layer of Christian frosting.

    The modern model of the school enforces conformity and discourages critical thinking. A series of random adults teaches the students a collection of unrelated facts — regardless of interest or aptitude. Nothing is connected to anything else, or when it is, it is usually by accident.

    Teachers tell the students when to think, what to think, and when to stop thinking about it. And then the students’ free time is eaten up with homework — more busywork to no discernible end. Just do whatever task is assigned next and don’t complain about it. Regurgitate some times tables, now let’s talk about Mesopotamia. Oh, were you interested in that? Too bad, now we’re going to diagram some sentences and then run next door and dissect a frog.

    12 years of this and even the brightest people wait for someone to tell them what to think and what to do. They will conform to the strongest voice in the room (and I submit that this is most often the TV). This is antithetical to Christianity.

    Peer-pressure is enormous. We tend to think that becoming dependent on peer-approval is a natural stage of adolescence, but I think it’s an unnatural state produced by spending the majority of your time with a herd of people the same age you are.

    A person oriented to his peers cannot be oriented to God. Man can only serve one master. You cannot have other people dictating to you your life’s purpose, your beliefs, your priorities, and your very thoughts and remain Christian for long.

    So are the Christian schools better or worse at fostering belief when their very model is designed to destroy it? I’ll say that Christian schools are worse at producing Christians for the simple reason that no child in public school looks to his teachers as Christian models. Unless a teacher in a Christian school maintains a high standard of morals, students tend to view the teacher as a hypocrite. Less than holy teachers will become stumbling blocks — and what group of 30 or so adults doesn’t contain at least one obviously morally impaired individual? In public schools, a teacher’s sinfulness and pride is not generally taken as an indication that Christianity is ineffective.

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  8. Speculations as to whether Christians do better in secular schools or Christian are always tainted and can never be conclusive,

    I haven’t a clue what the author’s stance on this is…I am only speaking as a homeschooler who found this entry quite relevant and insightful. I do not think children fare better in public school…I think all evidence points to the contrary.

    But it cannot be denied that many of our Christian schools are little different from secular schools, except for the cross out front and some verse stuck in the books. Maybe not even that much. Look at some of the founding vision at Harvard and see how well a Christian institution can begin to look like the world.

    I think it is always important to evaluate what we are doing and know why we are doing it. Just because “Christian” is in the name does not make it anymore Christ-like.

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  9. I’m only saying that the logic which is used above to imply that Christian schools are more valuable to Satan than secular schools is, in my opinion, extremely flawed and highly misapplied.
    I understand what you are saying, Mr. Shuford, but consider this- what does Scripture record as Satan’s MO? Didn’t he quote Scripture- with a twist? Isn’t he seen hanging out with the rest of the sons of God? Doesn’t he disguise himself as an angel of light, a shepherd (albeit an ‘idol’ one), a wolf in sheep’s clothing, calls himself anointed, is described as a lion… all of which are descriptors that Jesus Christ had legitimate claim to?

    There is a sense of complacency that creeps in when one feels that one is in a ‘safe’ environment with like-minded people (such as a Christian school), creating an inordinate dependency on an institution instead of a relationship with God- and this lack of awareness is that open door that Satan walks right through without breaking a nail. Only the finely tuned senses of a good ‘sheepdog’ can perceive his presence, sound the alarm, and hopefully take a chunk out of his behind while he’s at it.;)

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  10. Commenters – I understand all your “points”, or whatever I should call them, but I really don’t have the spirit to debate this excessively at the moment. Thanks for your responses.

    I graduated Christian high school in fairly strong rebellion against the establishment, priding myself on being a “reprobate”. (Slang usage…) I also graduated Pensacola Christian College in very strong rebellion against that school’s intensive discipline and rules based approach. I am, indeed, a statistic of sorts. However, I have been fully and strongly pulled to God by Himself since that time. I suspect that my rebellion would have been stronger in a non-Christian environment. Speculations as to whether Christians do better in secular schools or Christian are always tainted and can never be conclusive, since an identical individual can never experience both methods simultaneously.

    I’m not disagreeing with the fact that there are some terrible things done in Christian schools or that there are unsaved kids who graduate them. I’m only saying that the logic which is used above to imply that Christian schools are more valuable to Satan than secular schools is, in my opinion, extremely flawed and highly misapplied. The value of teaching truths from God’s word as opposed to teaching the crap that is prattled in the name of science is important to me.

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  11. Loved it, Michael.

    Bernard, I’ve seen too many casualties caused by this mind set. People, inexperienced in the ways that other people think, act, and believe. Because their own faith hasn’t been tested, you think that it is strong. Only to find out that it isn’t strong at all.

    I came from a fairly sheltered background, and one of the best influences over me was a man, whom I met in graduate school. He was a post doc, and was very anti-Christian. It was under his influence that I looked at Christianity and found it sound.

    I hope, and very occasionally pray that he will come to know and to trust Jesus.

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  12. Well written, enjoyed it. Public schools, which I attended through college, were neither preventative or causal of my atheism. It just happened, well sort of, the SBC was pretty causal with their ‘milk and cookies’ Sunday schools (I’m convinced SSs are the BIGGEST mistake the church ever made) and continual Crossless preaching. And the problem lay not in public Vs. private schooling, the problem lay within Christian parents and associated “churches” evangelizing (via Christian schools or churches) their children with a moral component attached to “fruit of the spirit”.

    L

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  13. “…the implication that the institutions themselves are doing more harm than good is an absolute insult to the sovereignty and power of God and the Biblical guarantee that His word will not return void, even when taught by fallible men who make serious mistakes.”

    Bernard,
    When are we allowed to suggest that an institution may be doing more harm than good when the Bible and the sovereignty of God is involved? The fact that God consistently produces good things in the midst of evil, corruption and brokenness is no free ride. Let’s not hide systemic barrenness behind a proof-text. Is everything so exempted, or does someone get to choose? What about the institutions of fundamentalists/Catholics (choose your least favorite Christian group of choice)? Seventh-Day Adventists? Mormons? All include God’s sovereignty, the Bible and fallible people. Are we not allowed to discern which ones cause more harm than good?

    Seems to me like looking, even satirically, at the actual fruit may be a Biblical approach. How that insults God is beyond me.

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  14. Michael,

    That was a hall of fame post. I consider it one of the best you’ve ever written. Sacred cows definitely make the best burgers!

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  15. Loved it! My husband transferred to a Christian school in grade 12 and became so disillusioned that it took a while for him to recover. Thank goodness my parents sent me to public.

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  16. Been there, done that, have the letter jacket. But home education is not the same species, or even in the same class (if you’ll pardon the pun). Some parents do attempt to recreate ‘school-at-home’, and this is a huge mistake. ‘School’ is what is wrong with America, and reproducing it in the home with all its attempts at control, manipulation, punishments and rewards isn’t going to produce children who can reason and make informed decisions consistent with Biblical principle.

    Anyway- nicely done, lotsa fun.

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  17. Having gone to a Christian high school I take issue with your 80% statistic, if only because it might even be too low.

    I THOUGHT they were all Christians because at our all-school retreats so many of them came forward every year. I just figured it meant everyone really wanted to live for God, or maybe it was just the keyboard playing in the background….

    Great post.

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  18. Like others have said, well done. Having gone to a Christian school for a few years and a Bible college for my undergrad, and having witnessed the products of other Christian schools, I have to agree with the accuracy of the contents of this “letter.”

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  19. Well done! Especially in light of the consultants that have done a long, protracted study in our area to discover what can be done to counter the enrollment decline in the *denomination deleted* schools. The conclusion? We need more and better marketing, because obviously people don’t know we are here, and more co-ordination of effort, more group purchasing,and the plan is to bring in a well paid “savior” to organize all this. Meanwhile, as Rome burns….

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  20. Good grief. Could we please have some commentary referencing the demon assigned to the womb, since every person born is a sinner.

    I’m rather sick of attacks on Christian culture. Satan does enough of it himself.

    You may be an absolute genius, Michael, but that doesn’t bind me to agree with everything – or even anything – that you say, although I do many times.

    While this is well written and has some very valid points – things that Christian educators and homeschoolers are well advised to be cautious of – the implication that the institutions themselves are doing more harm than good is an absolute insult to the sovereignty and power of God and the Biblical guarantee that His word will not return void, even when taught by fallible men who make serious mistakes.

    Every church in the world can be analyzed in the same fashion and I would bet that the statistics for “dropouts” who recently graduated high school – public or private – would be the same or worse. 19 year olds just don’t like church or Christianity, let’s face it. That’s not the fault of a private school. It’s the same human nature that causes a 40 year old pastor to stumble into sexual sin.

    I didn’t enjoy this. You raised my hackles. I don’t even think you’re right in this case, but I still respect you as a brother in Christ and honor your right to your opinion. I just want to say that being anti-evangelical doesn’t mean that you have a corner on being right.

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  21. Very well written, in a satire of Christian rheotic. I am total for a reformation of evangelicism in western civ. Especially when comes to education and schools that bare the name of Christ.
    Questions arise, how, when, where… does the change happen?
    Curious on your input for a young person that wants to teach in a ‘Christian enviroment’…

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  22. Good post! I taught in Christian schools for 23 years. Some of them were the type that stressed “if anyone graduates without being saved, you’re not doing your job”. Even those schools that had 100% “conversion” rates still had large percentages of kids who left the faith after going out into the real world.

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  23. Michael, a toast to one of your best posts ever!

    On the serious side, Ive been there – uncovered the financial mess myself, and in the end resigned from the board. The Christian school / homeschool is often another “black box approach” – you know, throw the illeterate, sinful johnny in on the one end, and out pops an academic, brilliant and saintly Johnathan from the other end…..

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  24. Most people can’t pull off the Screwtape format all that well, Michael, but you sure can. Very insightful.

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  25. “P.S. I’m well aware of your tendency to blog everything at your web site. Restrain yourself, please.”

    GENIUS!!!

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