Foundational Documents

Foundational Documents

Parents considering Mars Hill Academy are strongly encouraged to read these documents:

  • The MHA Mission Statement explains our central purpose as a school.
  • The MHA Vision Statement outlines our goals for MHA students, staff, and parents.
  • The MHA Educational Foundations below are the convictions, ideas, and beliefs that we have about education. They provide the foundation for many of the ideas, values, and emphases that make Mars Hill unique.
  • The MHA World & Life Assumptions below are ideas, opinions, and judgments that we assume to be true about basic and fundamental issues of life.

 

Mars Hill Academy Educational Foundations

  • Education Defined
  • Classical and Christian Methods
  • Classical and Christian Content
  • Classical and Christian Results
  • Students
  • Teachers
  • School Board
  • School
  • Life Together

Learning takes place each time a person experiences something new. Education, however, is more than the sum total of facts, people, processes, skills, and experiences imparted in the classroom. Fundamentally, education involves the transmission of a manner of thinking about the most important and inescapable ideas that would result in changed behavior. Historically speaking, one distinguished the education that took place through the study of the Liberal Arts (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Astronomy, Arithmetic, Music, and Geometry) from the varied vocational training programs that taught a student a skill or task in order to be a productive member of society. The ancient Greeks would have reasoned that the former was the only suitable form of education for a free man (hence, the derivation of “liberal” education), while the latter was appropriate for the slave, who didn’t have to think, but merely obey and execute. We wish to maintain this important distinction between education and vocational training at MHA, believing that we are called as a classical and Christian school to do the former. It is important to note that while a well-educated man could easily learn the skills of the slave, it is unreasonable to believe that the slave could do the reverse. Historically, a school like MHA (and most certainly the universities and colleges) dealt in education, not in vocational training, which was best suited for apprenticeships and trade schools. The fact that many (if not most) have abandoned a liberal education for a vocational one provides an even greater impetus and rationale for the existence of genuinely classical and Christian secondary schools and colleges.

While no pedagogy is inspired, the method of educating children initiated in classical Greece, developed in Rome, and brought to its fullest and brightest expression in the Middle Ages (the Trivium) is the best human system for developing the intellectual capabilities of children and young adults. Our Grammar School will teach students to memorize and observe, in addition to providing each student with basic proficiency in writing, reading, and arithmetic. Our younger Rhetoric School students will be taught dialectic – or logic – and how to reason from a logical and explicitly Christian perspective. The ordered relationships between ideas, events, and data will form the backbone of their study. Finally, our older Rhetoric School students will be given ample opportunity for self-expression, creativity, and the evaluation of seminal ideas in man’s dealings with God and His creation. A multi-year study of classical rhetoric will provide the students with the necessary tools to do this well. The MHA Board, Administration, and Faculty are whole-heartedly committed to this model of education, which aims to teach students to think and learn for themselves. We will strive to grow in our understanding and implementation of what a classical education involved in the past and what it will look like at MHA for future generations seeking to “recover the lost tools of learning.” Dorothy Sayers’ lecture, The Lost Tools of Learning, and John Milton Gregory’s book, The Seven Laws of Teaching, will be the primary instruments we use to judge whether we are successful in doing this.

The philosophical, literary, scientific, and theological heritage of the Christian West is a rich one. It is our intention to make our students very familiar with it. We do this for two reasons: First, in order to know where one should go in the future, it is imperative that one understands where he has been. We must have context. The content of our students’ study at MHA is designed to equip them to know, understand and critically evaluate their heritage that forms the foundation for nearly everything they see around them. Second, we believe that because Christianity has seen its deepest roots in the West, its cultural “artifacts” are the most deeply Christian (with important counter-examples noted) and, therefore, most lovely. Since the Scripture commands us to meditate on these things, we do so without apology.

Mars Hill Academy students will gain the ability to learn independently from teachers. They will be well-equipped to learn a new language, read and understand primary source documents, reason inductively and deductively as the situation demands and they will (by God’s grace) find biblical principles at their disposal as they consider the important issues of the day. They will also be avid readers and interdisciplinary thinkers. They will be poised and persuasive when speaking publicly. Their writing will be elegant and forceful; creative and purposeful. In short, they will have been prepared with the tools of learning. College professors, employers, and friends will find MHA graduates to think from principle, write and speak in measured and well-reasoned thoughts, and be diligent in seeing a job or task through to its completion. They will also find them unapologetically Christian in their convictions and desires.

Students come to Mars Hill Academy ready to work for a time and at a level commensurate with their physical and mental abilities. MHA is a student’s workplace. The social interaction and spiritual training that takes place during school hours are subordinate goals for a school. They are better taught in the context of church and home. Work is a gift from God, given before the Fall, which should be relished and enjoyed, not despised. Thus, a sense of responsibility and diligence, not to mention joy, should characterize MHA classrooms. Students in the Rhetoric School will evidence an increasing social maturity, intellectual curiosity and independence, and Spirit-given fruit that will cause them to love the true things, the good things, and the beautiful things. In general, MHA students will perform at a level equal to or higher than most of their peers. Finally, we also desire to see appropriate expressions of God-given masculinity and femininity throughout the life of the school. Our social interaction, dress, speech, and programming will all attempt to adorn, rather than destroy, the fact that God created two beautiful and complementary persons when he made man “male and female.”

MHA teachers will be bright, highly motivated, industrious, and humble. They will love each student in their classroom, viewing each child as a gift from God and teaching as an opportunity to sow seeds of grace and truth deep within the students’ hearts. They will also evidence a strong desire to grow intellectually and spiritually throughout their lives and be eager to discover and implement classical teaching methods, knowing that "recovering the lost tools of learning" begins with them. Most importantly, they will possess a radically God-centered worldview that informs all they set their hands to do. They will not be perfect, but competent and teachable. They will not assume to know their students better than the children’s parents, but offer encouragement and helpful criticism as appropriate.

Our School Board consists of Christians who have demonstrated themselves to be spiritually mature and gifted for school leadership. Board members possess a love for and a commitment to classical education, never believing they fully understand all that it encompasses but always seeking to grow and learn. They will provide institutional vision, leadership, and serve as spiritual examples to the school community, resisting the influences and biases of the prevailing culture, where appropriate, to boldly direct the school in pursuit of its mission, vision, and goals.

MHA aims to assist parents in fulfilling their God-ordained duties to “bring up a child in the fear and nurture of the LORD.” As such, MHA operates as a servant to its parent constituency. We have obviously chosen a particular means of doing this: classical and Christian education. Parents may, or may not, agree with MHA’s approach to the training and education of children and yet, choosing to join the MHA community, signal their intention to joyfully submit to the school’s stated philosophies, policies, programs, etc. While believing very strongly in the uniqueness and efficacy of the classical method, we wish to affirm the legitimacy of other approaches to education, provided they are intentionally Christian.

We desire that MHA would support both the family and the church in their respective missions under God’s providential hand, neither assuming too much nor doing too little for either. Parents will be encouraged to remain vitally engaged in their child’s education. In addition, we pray that God would grant us an atmosphere of love, forbearance, hard work, joy, and intellectual curiosity that would inspire and edify us while honoring Him. We will resist the temptation to gossip, think ill of one another, or to presume the worst, making sure to obey God’s word with regards to our personal relationships. Parents, not teachers, will bear the primary responsibility for remaining informed about their child’s progress at MHA. The staff will attempt to help parents in this endeavor through regular and helpful communication. Our school culture, academic and co-curricular programs, and personal relationships should imitate, as God gives us grace, the examples and teaching laid down in Holy Scripture and in the most truthful, good, and beautiful traditions of the Christian West.

Mars Hill Academy World & Life Assumptions

  • Sovereignty
  • Creation
  • Holy Scripture
  • Antithesis
  • Worldview
  • Christian Aesthetic
  • History
  • Children
  • Family
  • Personal Holiness

God alone is sovereign and non-contingent. He possesses absolute authority over all things. He has created all things, sustains all things, and governs all things. He is the fountain of all being and truth. He works all things together for His own glory, which is the ground and the goal of all creation, providence, and redemption.

The Scriptures tells us unequivocally that God created everything and it was good. The author of Hebrews tells us that we understand this truth “by faith.” We repudiate, therefore, the modern tendency to accommodate the Creation account (Genesis 1 and 2) to modern scientific discoveries and theories, believing that the goal of Christian scientists is to teach a humble science – one that is ultimately governed by the truths of the Scriptures. Because the origin of all created matter has intrinsic unity, the Christian scientist finds meaning and purpose in scientific inquiry, seeing it as an essential component of the command to have dominion over the physical creation. The fruit of man’s labors, provided it proceeds from a heart of faith and not sin or selfish ambition, is good, as well. We rejoice that God was pleased to create flesh, not merely spirits, and assume that God desires us to use our bodies and the entire earthly and heavenly creation around us for His glory. Man was created male and female, that is, he created man differently. We reject the modern notion that we should, for all practical purposes, ignore this distinction and treat men and women (and boys and girls) the same.

The LORD has revealed Himself to us authoritatively, perfectly, and therefore sufficiently, although not exhaustively, in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in His written expression of his wisdom, the Bible. It is the only infallible rule of faith and life for the Church and as such, should be treasured, studied, believed, and humbly acted upon by all who call themselves Christian. As one theologian put it, “The Scriptures speak authoritatively in all that they address and they address everything.” We would agree, with the caveat that they do not address everything in the same manner, or with the same degree of specificity. We reject any attempt to pit a thoughtful, contextually sensitive, and theologically astute reading of Scripture against a warm, heartfelt, devotional reading. We must not leave “interpretation” to the scholars and “application” to the pastors. Every Christian should do both. As Christians, we confess our need to study, meditate, pray, and obey more than we commonly do, believing that in the Scriptures we will find real life.

Because of man’s fall in Adam, Christians find themselves surrounded by ideas and actions that are squarely opposed to the way of thinking and living revealed in Holy Scripture. This notion is perhaps best captured by the word antithesis. Some of these ideas and actions are easily recognizable as pagan in origin, while others are extremely subtle, and as a consequence, require tremendous discernment. It is very likely that in order to provide a truly God-centered and Christian education (not to mention classical), it will be necessary to break completely free from the educational philosophy and policy around us. As Christians living in a fallen culture, we must be careful not to make unbiblical assumptions about any area of life, but commit ourselves to a diligent study of Holy Scripture and pray that God would give true discernment as we live in the midst of an unbelieving world seeking to take “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”

Christianity is more than a set of propositions supported by proof texts. It is rather an entire system of thought. A worldview shapes our perspective and interpretation of everything else in the world. Christianity must be viewed as a whole and not just as a collection of discrete elements. As the Dutch theologian, journalist, and statesman Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a single square inch of creation over which Jesus Christ does not shout, ‘Mine!’” The Christian’s worldview is the “lens” through which we see, understand, and teach all things. It is antithetical to all other worldviews and thus, requires that we present all ideas and concepts as part of a larger whole defined by Christian truth.

Perhaps nowhere is the absence of genuinely Christian thinking more evident than in the realm of aesthetics. Ethics and epistemology (the science of knowledge) have received ample evangelical attention, but not aesthetics. We are the worse for it. We believe that the infallible rule of Scripture and the historic witness of the Church call Christians to make judgments of “good-better-best” and “bad-worse-worst” in every area of life. Paul’s aesthetic manifesto is quickly summarized in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy -- meditate on these things.” God has called us to embrace a life of moral and aesthetic virtue, preferring cultural icons and artifacts that have enduring, classical power and grace.

Paul tells the Corinthians that the Israelites’ experience in the wilderness was recorded “for their instruction.” MHA affirms the legitimacy and necessity of cultivating a historically informed mind, so that we might follow our ancestors in their faithfulness and repudiate their sin. Every generation, every culture, and every age demonstrates the fallen character of man’s heart in unique and often subtle ways. To think that our own contemporary age is exempt from sin would be naïve. C.S. Lewis labeled this perspective “chronological snobbery.” We need our brothers and sisters from past decades, centuries, and millennia - a council affectionately known as the “democracy of the dead” – as well as contemporary voices to help us see the emptiness of our current perspective and situation. Even pagans know that those ignorant of the past are doomed to repeat it. Therefore, Christians individually and collectively should acknowledge our dependence on and need for an historical perspective. The LORD exhorts the people of God living in physical, moral, and spiritual exile to "Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls…” Christians should relinquish the modern evolutionary assumption that only what is “new” is worthwhile, preferring instead to walk on the ancient path of Christian faithfulness and mercy that stretches back to the garden of Eden.

Children, like all men and women, have been uniquely “knit together” by God in their mother’s womb and bear the image of God in their entire person, which means their lives have a dignity and significance that is unparalleled in the created world. At the same time, because of the Fall, children are now, by nature and experience, sinful, self-centered, and stand under God’s holy wrath, apart from the saving work of Christ. Even assuming God’s supernatural work in a child’s life, they remain, by definition, immature and need the loving training of parents, grandparents, pastors, teachers, and other adults to bring them to a mature status in Christ. Parents are fully responsible for this training, even when they have delegated a portion of it to another.

The family is the most central of divinely appointed, human societies, as it is the “training ground” for godly living in all others. Our homes are “little churches” and “little states.” Without biblically virtuous homes, the Church and the State are hopelessly lost. We believe God has called Christian parents into a personal and corporate covenant with Himself – through His body, the Church – and that when God blesses a man and woman with children, those children are holy because they are children of the covenant. These “covenant households” are led by covenant heads (fathers), to study, pray, worship, and live together in a spirit of love, respect, and peace that comes from the LORD. Fathers should set biblical priorities for themselves and their children and reject the unbiblical priorities of the culture around them. Mothers should assist the father in the training of covenant children, as the Scriptures indicate the inestimable role that mothers have in shaping the character and piety (and worldview) of their children. Family life should be shaped by a joyful, Word-centered intentionality. Families led by godly fathers should be deeply committed to Christian education as a duty and privilege, and desirous of growing in their understanding of what constitutes a classical and Christian education, taking advantage of all available opportunities (books, tapes, conferences, spending time at the school) to do so.

The Scriptures command and empower the Christian to be holy because God is holy. For this reason, we must strive to live lives that are above reproach, refusing to allow temptation and sin to rule our bodies, hearts, and minds. Stated positively, we are to “love the LORD our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves.” In doing this, we fulfill the Law of Christ and give evidence of the Spirit’s fruitful work within us. Christians must resist the inclinations of their own hearts and the deceptive activity of Satan. When Christians do sin, we should be quick to repent, ask forgiveness from God and any offended party, and offer restitution. Adult Christians should model these ideals to their children, in addition to teaching them “as they go along the way.”


 

Learn more about classical Christian education here.