The Goal at Greyfriars: More Than Mere Teaching

[The following post was published previously elsewhere by GCA faculty member, Nathan Johnson, and is used here by his permission. Nathan teaches 9th-grade Literature and History, along with 11th-grade Rhetoric and the Senior Thesis course. He has been teaching at Greyfriars since 2014.]


The new school year is upon us, and with each new year we parents and teachers need fresh encouragement about why we’re doing what we’re doing. Educating can often feel like a cyclical vocation, an exercise in repetition leading only to a starting point. We can become so focused on the immanent details and deadlines and expectations for yet another year that we can’t see where we are actually trying to lead our students. And so within this wondrous and weary world we call teaching, we need a vision, a telos that calls us beyond the materials and grading and disciplinary cases. In short, we need a name. An identity wrapped in a vision for who we are, who our students are, and what we are called to do. For as we approach this new year, we come not merely as instructors teaching truth, but as shepherds shepherding souls.

Often, when people think about the task of teachers, they think in terms of someone who molds minds—a person who imparts facts into students’ brains. But within the classical tradition, education is understood entirely differently. Classical education integrates spheres of truth not merely because Truth is an integrated ideal, but because we are integrated beings. Our minds are not distinct from our hearts. As Plato says, we think with our whole soul. But as we know, our soul—our unified essential being—is broken. When Adam chose the knowledge of good and evil over the knowledge of God, the human soul became fragmented; our mind, body, and spirit were separated from each other. So we do not teach mere minds, just as we do not teach isolated truth. We shepherd souls.

Scripture tells us that we all, like sheep, have gone astray. We have each turned to our own way. God has laid the way of Wisdom, but in our folly we’ve travelled down errant roads. Do you love me? asks the Shepherd. Feed my sheep. For they have been feeding themselves counterfeit food. In our misguided love, we, like Adam, have fed ourselves false knowledge. It is little wonder then that Christ came as both Shepherd and Rabbi—for the two are linked. In order for loves to be rightly ordered and goodness to be rightly attained, truth needs to be rightly taught. And lived. I am the way, the truth, and the life, our Shepherd says, for these are three ways of saying the same thing. Christ came to shepherd by leading his sheep to the Truth, by feeding his sheep with his own body—a sacrifice given in love, for truth without love is nothing. Love binds the true and good together by its common root. And having grown up together, truth, goodness and love become a Tree of Life for all who take and eat.

As teachers, Christ has given us the glorious task of being shepherds who feed our students with the Truth that rightly orders our students’ loves. This is our vocation. We are called to shepherd our students’ souls by guiding them toward the Good, by helping them apprehend the True, and by creating a yearning in them for the Beauty of God’s love. In other words, we are called to be a vessel God uses to make our students whole: to make them men and women of integrity. To be someone of integrity isn’t merely to be someone who is just or ethical—these things flow from a heart of integrity, one that is, in Latin, an integer: whole, complete. To be someone of integrity means that our soul is integrated—unified by the bonds of love, vivified by the light of truth, moving toward the path of goodness. As Sertillanges says, “How will you manage to think rightly with a sick soul, a heart ravaged by vice, pulled this way and that by passion, dragged astray by violent or guilty love?” As teachers, we tend to those sick souls, those ravaged hearts, those sheep dragged down errant paths by violent and guilty love. We tend to them by teaching them the way of Truth that leads them back to their Tree of Life. We feed Christ’s sheep.

Thus, everything we do as teachers—as shepherds—is guided by our love for Christ and our love for our students’ souls. Love is imitation—to love our Shepherd we must imitate him. What a glorious task this is! This is our telos. This is our guiding star. When we speak, we speak in love to bring life—for our Shepherd came that we might have life. When we grade, we grade in the spirit of service and love—in the spirit of our Shepherd who washed his disciples’ feet. When we act—inside and outside the classroom—we act ethically, for Christ did all things well. In all that we do, we keep our students’ souls in mind, fragmented souls in need of repair—in need of integration.

And this is our guide when things do not go according to our plans. Every tangent and unanticipated question is a shortcut into our students’ hearts. While in our lesson plans we may try to make paths that penetrate their hearts, often Christ—the Way—creates different paths to lead us there. They are not a hindrance to our task, but a God-given aid. Often the rabbit hole leads to wonderland. Like the road less travelled, divergent paths often make all the difference.

This, too, is our guide when things become difficult, when we feel like we are in a daily battle, for the shepherd is called to fight. Christ came not to bring peace, but a sword. Our Shepherd came to fight, and so do we. We fight for our sheep’s souls against the wolves of deceit and error and sin. We fight for our students in prayer. We fight for our students by attacking with Truth the Father of Lies. We sometimes fight for our students by fighting with their own souls at war within them. We are watchmen in the night—attentive to every sign of danger. In all circumstances, both inside and outside the classroom, we are not merely teachers. We are shepherds.

So as we approach this new year, we come as men and women anointed for a sacred task, to walk in the way of the Shepherd by feeding his sheep the Truth that binds their broken souls back together, so that they might walk with God as integrated souls singing together in a liturgy of love the song once sung in the Garden, when all creation was unified in a cosmic chorus. And we take comfort on this difficult journey, for as we lead our sheep back to Eden, we are guided by “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.” And in this task, we too are made whole.


Senior Thesis Presentations

The public is invited to observe as this year’s eight graduating seniors present their senior thesis projects Monday and Tuesday evenings, May 8 & 9, starting at 6:30 p.m. in the main building of Matthews Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2701 Rice. Rd., Matthews, NC.  A light reception will follow the presentations both evenings. The schedule of students and their thesis statements can be found at the bottom of this post.

The twelfth-grade senior thesis project at Greyfriars represents the culminating effort of the classical education process, building upon the artistic and literary foundation of earlier years while using the skills of logic and rhetoric. This intensive assignment requires each student, with all needed guidance given, to select, research, write, and defend a thesis statement. To accomplish this task, students work not only with their teacher, Mr. Nathan Johnson, but also with an advisor who helps the student to discuss, organize, and broaden arguments.  However, the paper and defense is an individual effort that requires much more work than the average writing assignment.

The senior thesis class at Greyfriars has in the view the following objectives for students, among other aims:

  1. To gain experience in academic research methods (note taking, outlining, citations, etc)
  2. To gain experience in the skills of composition (drafting, revising, editing, etc)
  3. To gain the skill of effective refutation in any given argument
  4. To successfully defend an extensive thesis in front of an audience, with poise and confidence

Monday, May 8

Charlie King
UAV Warfare: Obama’s Misuse of UAV in the Middle East

Thesis: The CIA and Obama Administration’s use of UAV in targeted strikes falls outside the bounds of both ethical and legal constraints, as shown by their attempts to redefine legal and ethical terms.

Mary Hudson King
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie: The Encroaching Power of the Supreme Court on American Liberties

Thesis: The Supreme Court, originally designed to protect the Constitutional rights of American citizens, namely life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, now hampers those individual citizens’ liberties, as well as the rights of the states, by exercising far more power than the Constitution originally approved it to wield in our trifold government system.

Paul Lawing
From the Industrial Revolution to the Robot Revolution: The Impact of Robots on Jobs in the United States

Thesis: With the rising number of robots and machines, the reality is that robots will take away many jobs in the near future. It is important to understand what jobs will be taken away and when, so that we prepare our workforce through education for jobs that will be irreplaceable.

Allie Trice
“Legion, For We Are Many”: Why Christians Lack a Healthy Awareness of and Strategy against Demons

Thesis: Modern, Western Christians as a whole and even Protestant and Reformed Christians today, as a whole, do not think, talk, or pray about the demonic forces in a way consistent with a Biblical worldview because they are entrenched in Enlightenment thought hidden by Reformed convictions.

Tuesday, May 9

Scott Milvain
Watching with 10,000 Eyes: A Reasoned Argument Against the Adoption of Self- Driving Cars

Thesis: Self-driving cars enable surveillance in the same way that our phones compromise our privacy and they impact our lives negatively so they should be completely disallowed.

Rebekah Vaughn
What Will Your Food Do To You?

Thesis: While most diseases are declining in the number of diagnoses, food and brain allergies continue to rise, without a successful treatment. The FDA should, therefore, eliminate processed foods in order to stop the rise of food and brain allergies.

Erin Cheney
Contagion: An Essay Addressing the Dangers of Americans Rejecting Vaccines and Why It Is Inconsiderate to Third World Countries

Thesis: The citizens of the United States should not reject vaccines because to do so is both immoral and consequential; moreover, choosing vaccination becomes imperative when third-world citizens, suffering acutely from a lack of developed healthcare, are considered.

Lydia Mead
The Line Between Us: An Argument for What Makes Us Human

Thesis: While science can tell us a great deal about whether or not a species should be considered Homo, the ultimate determination of humanity must be informed by a consideration of the image of God from Scripture.

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