In our first year, we at The Academy of Classical Christian Studies have made as many strides toward developing a very intentional culture for our students as in our curriculum development. This has come in at least two different forms, what for the moment we will call institutional culture and relational culture. The reason for this is simple: academics do not, in and of themselves, provide all of the necessary components to culture-building, since they usually represent the training of but one piece of our humanity—a piece which heavily relies upon other parts for its reinforcement and mutual encouragement.
A cultural conviction, then, must come from a conviction regarding whole human persons—a conviction which says that they have a nature which responds well to some things and which doesn’t respond well to others. In a country which prides itself on either its anti-culture or its contrived mall culture, we desire The Academy to be counter-culture in so much of what we think, do, and say. It is difficult to limit the scope of all that factors into the rather arbitrary classification of institutional culture—composed of all that we say together, all that we wear together, all that we feast in celebration of together—all of which shapes what we value together, what we honor together, and ultimately what we love together as a particular people.
Because we think great thoughts to be worth thinking, we deck the body in such a way to command the soul and discipline the mind. Uniforms are central to our culture. Because we think great thoughts are all the result of God’s immeasurable grace upon mankind, we pronounce the articles of our faith each morning as written in the Apostles Creed. Doctrine, especially doctrine rehearsed collectively, is central to our educational culture. Everything from our House System to the Church Calendar to the resulting crests and naming of our end-of-year awards is either a direct participation in or result of what I am calling institutional culture.
Relational culture, while not as exciting, is every bit as noticeable and shows up at all of the events we have labeled above. Perhaps it would better be named “protocol,” but either way it is integral to the establishment of a culture—it is the “how to” of the institutional culture. How do we say what we say together? How do we wear what we together wear? How do we properly feast in celebration? How should value be expressed? How should honor be shown? How should love be conveyed?
Perhaps the most obvious of our cultural symbols in this category is that of our Grammar school lines—constantly in need of revision and careful attention, but something that nevertheless lives in the understanding of our students; that is, that there is a way in which self-respecting scholars should conduct themselves in group fashion. Order is central to our culture.
Another of these enduring cultural symbols is the conscious deference to the young ladies in our midst on the part of our young men; or similarly, the deference and respect due to all in authority as rendered by our student body. Because we think the learning of great thoughts to be the product of academic humility, our students greet teachers, staff members, and other adults with eye contact, surname, and a smile. Respect is central to our culture.
When I still worked at Starbucks, the authors of the barista training manuals had at least a vague notion of what a conscious community participation toward a common endeavor could do for store sales, and they trained employees accordingly. We “called” drinks in a particular way; we “decked” the stores in very specific ways; and we governed our coffee tastings with certain rituals and behaviors specific to the universal Starbucks culture. Of course, the elective features of constructing your Starbucks drink were intriguing, but the way in which those choices were then systematized into the particular speech and calling patterns of Starbucks gave our patrons a certain cultural excitement.
Thankfully, Starbucks doesn’t hold a candle to the life patterns being cultivated in our children at The Academy of Classical Christian Studies. Thoughtful and intentional Christian culture has both a synthesis and eternality to it that cannot be matched with all of the bureaucratic power of an international corporation. The images, behaviors, and patterns of life in which our children daily participate order their lives in ways not only meaningful, but in ways which daily reveal to them the very lineaments of Christ Himself.