2 Keys to Preparing a Prudent Pupil

"At my old school, we could talk about any religion, except Christianity." This was what I heard from student sharing what she enjoyed about Hillcrest. Socrates would not be happy.

The unexamined life is not worth living. That's what Socrates pushed on Plato and Aristotle as he challenged the thinking of the time. Socrates fell victim to a culture that could not stretch to answer his questions on value and life. 

The result of Socrates' big questions is Plato and Aristotle's thoughts on virtue. Through debate the three philosophers identified four cardinal virtues needed for whole living - courage, prudence, temperance, and justice. Aristotle worked to simplify the list to one eminent trait - prudence. 

Prudence is the heartbeat of living with love for humans. It works to unify knowledge with justice, to give a tempered approach to living with mankind. Prudence, to Aristotle, was defined as wisdom that informed a virtuous life. 

Many students are preparing for school in the coming weeks. Hillcrest students already have a week under their belt, and it is easy to see the difference it is making on the students. Many have had their ideas challenged. They are working out how to live in a tight-knit community of people who make mistakes. They need wisdom. They need prudence. And Hillcrest's program is used by God to build the four cardinal virtues. Today, I show you two steps to prepare a prudent pupil.

Build Belief

In the 1960's, a group of scientists set out to quantify the steps to change someone's firmly held belief. They found a group of college students, broke them into four equal groups, and prepared a fabricated scientific study. The study reported that teeth brushing was unhealthy because it wore away enamel.

The first group entered the room and received no preparation on what they were reading. After reading the document the group left their chairs and returned to the college life. The second group sat down to hear a brief encouragement that teeth brushing is healthy. After the reinforcing words, the group read the study and returned to college. The third group was given a brief warning about the study. They were told that the study contained some information about teeth brushing and that brushing teeth is bad. They then read the study and returned to the classroom. The fourth group sat down for a longer period of time. They heard a planned out speech that went point-by-point in refuting the document the students hadn't read that sat before them. The students then read the document, pushed in their chairs, and walked back to college.

The researchers followed the students to see what the result of the reading was. They found that students who simply had their belief reinforced, group 2, changed their behavior in greater numbers. The researchers were surprised that reinforcing a belief is more detrimental than offering no preparation at all. 

The study also revealed that refuting an argument is the best way to build belief. This is what happens in a number of Hillcrest classrooms. It is very common to hear a teacher say, "a communist may view this topic from this point of view." Other classrooms echo with words, "your textbook says mankind started this way. Here are a few other perspectives. What do you think is true?"

That issue of truth is sharpened every day in Hillcrest classrooms. We believe that in order for something to be true it needs to be consistent with reality, coherent, and complete. In many classrooms, teachers will pull out the Bible during this time. They will look to show the difference in perspective between the secular teaching and the Biblical model. From this, some teachers turn to the book of John. John is Jesus beloved, and Jesus loved truth.

John records an encounter between Jesus and a Roman official named Pilate. Jesus makes the statement that he came down and entered the world to testify to the truth. From here, students begin their exploration of truth. Teachers as questions related to the Bible's presentation of reality. Is it really consistent with what we see. Social science supports God's design for marriage and the family. Scientific discovery is proving there was a global flood. Hillcrest has held special chapel services with men who served in Afghanistan who have taken pictures of historic sites from Ancient Babylon. The Bible is consistent with reality.

Students then wrestle with the coherency of the Scripture. This year's theme, FreeDone, is a recent example floating in Hillcrest's hallways. Mr. Garvin opened the chapel service this year by simply stating that God's love, displayed on the cross, made complete fulfillment for the sins of mankind. Trust in this work is displayed by believing that there is nothing else mankind can do to earn God's favor. It was a simple message. But the road in the simple message revealed other doors of consistency that Mr. Garvin looks forward to exploring. One that will be unpacked this month is the issue of truth. There is nothing we can do to make something more true. It simply is true. But understanding the truth, testing to see if it is coherent, is an illumination. Truth is free. Truth is done. In Christ is grace and truth, and his work testifying to the truth is completely coherent.

Students then get a chance to hear how salvation is complete. Friends from Norway lift their hands in worship, as students from Asia gently open their Bibles to meditate on God's word. American students walk with confidence to the stage to communicate the salvation and peace they find in Jesus Christ. There is a completeness at Hillcrest where students see that Jesus doesn't only save one culture. Salvation, and truth, is offered to all people. And at Hillcrest students see that their belief holds a completeness because it is true. Students need to build a framework for belief in school. This happens by having room to question, raise doubts, and hear answers from people who believe with conviction. Knowing why others believe what they do offers wisdom. Classes that do this prepare students with prudence.

Hone History

In may I took my sons to see the gravestone of their great grandfather. They never met my grandpa. I have less to explain because they didn't. Grandpa was a firecracker.

As we walked between the rows of headstones at the Fort Snelling cemetery my sons asked me about the crosses that stood over the names on the head stones. They asked because the row was filled with crosses, stars, and other symbols that marked religious preference. I told my kids that those marks were what the people fighting for freedom believed about God. It was a chilling moment as I watched the words leave my mouth. Chesterton says that tradition is the democracy of the dead. They have voted with an X that is seen on their tombstone. Freedom is important to all faiths.

As I unwrapped our blanked in the cemetery before Grandpa's headstone I started into stories about my grandpa. What came out was a conviction for history. While many lay buried in that cemetery fighting for freedom I thought to the belief systems that held the fighters captive. In no other belief system does God enter earth and offer atonement, simply out of love. In every religious structure there is some type of action that is done to call God's attention to act. In Christianity, God acts.

I found myself giving a worldview lesson to my kids as we packed up our blanket and walked back to the car. My three year old watched intently as I spoke. He's going to be a dentist. He loves to see my teeth. The 8 and 9 year old were asking questions, though. As they buckled into the car I felt like I had honed history for them. History is the study of what man does with the question of God. At least that is what we think at Hillcrest.

All of mankind needs to wrestle with the issue of where the world came from and what is mankind's role in the world. In dealing with this question, nations rise and fall as they practice their belief system. Some think it is the ultimate good to seek the benefit of others. No one should be more profitable than anyone else. As this belief is carried out there is a snubbing of noses to God that happens in history. History is man working to either live in God's design, or conducting a trial and error process of groping in the dark to develop policies and practices that end up writing failures for students to read.

Many think that history is the study of finding out what didn't work in the past, to redirect the paths of the future. At Hillcrest, history is the study of understanding what happens when a nation bows knees to God, and what happens when a nation doesn't. The French Revolution has a specific outcome as they tried to write codes for mankind using popular thinking. The American Revolution takes a different approach, especially after Benjamin Franklin calls the Constitutional Convention to prayer. For some reason, nations that bow their knees to God have influence. Honing history to understand this develops a wisdom that propels prudence. 

Aristotle believed that virtues are developed, not inherited. At Hillcrest, students hear many perspectives in the course of the day. Friends from around the world carry belief systems that stretch the midwestern mind. But a belief system that is build using a coherent structure, mixed with a view of history that focuses attention on the most important questions nations answer in their actions, allows students to walk with a training prudence. The mentor atmosphere in the Castle challenges students to use these two formational training bits in their daily life. The muscles of prudence may be weak in some students, but Hillcrest offers a training program to fortify a life chasing wisdom and practicing prudence.


Wayne StenderComment