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A Poet in Your Pocket: Why Parents (and Students) Need to Read
“Once upon a time in the dead of winter in the Dakota territory,” writes historian David McCullough, “Theodore Roosevelt took off in a makeshift boat downstream on the Little Missouri River in chase of thieves who had stolen his prized rowboat.” McCullough goes on to relate that Roosevelt, after several days, caught up and “got the draw on them with his trusty Winchester, at which point they surrendered.” It’s a great story that gets even better as Roosevelt proceeds to load the thieves into a wagon and the party sets off across the Badlands in pursuit of justice for them. But here, McCullough notes, is the thing he finds most intriguing: young Roosevelt ─ walking 40 snowy miles behind the wagon ─ “rifle at the ready … managed to read Anna Karenina.”
Like McCullough, my mind goes right to this story when I hear people say they don’t have time to read. It’s a jarring contrast to statistics citing that the majority of American male college graduates read ─ at most ─ just one book between college graduation and death, while more than 60 percent of all Americans have never read a single book in their adult life. Alvin Kernan, in The Death of Literature, observes that reading books is no longer regarded as the primary way to gain knowledge in our society. But is a lack of time really to blame?
After all, the average American watches TV about four hours per day, along with spending untold hours each week on social media. The American people are not known as a people who value ideas ─ curious about the world and eager to learn ─ but instead as focused on entertainment-driven, mind-numbing temporary images that are readily available on whatever screen might be handy at the moment. It is not a stretch to say that we live in a culture that values entertainment over knowledge and goodness, politically correct distortions over truth, and filth over righteousness. Those of us in the Christian community often think we are immune to such, but subtle changes have occurred over the past couple of generations and eroded our values, gradually removing us from biblical principles in subtle (or glaring) ways that we seem too busy to notice.
For the sake of entertainment and self-esteem, we have become satisfied with mediocrity and self-centeredness, yet still demand the rewards that hard work, sacrifice, and the search for truth provide. Students and parents often complain about homework loads, yet many of these same students can often recall with vivid detail hours of TV shows they’ve watched during the week, and I hear of the hours spent texting, Snapchatting, and Instagramming friends. We seem paralyzed without these kinds of external stimulation and find life without entertainment unbearable. Entertainment, writes A.W. Tozer in his 1955 work The Root of the Righteous, is not evil in and of itself; the problem arises from “all-out devotion to entertainment as a major activity for which and by which men live,” noting, “The abuse of a harmless thing is the essence of sin.” Whereas, as Tozer notes, the Church once took a stand against worldly entertainment as “a device for wasting time, a refuge from the disturbing vice of conscience, a scheme to divert attention from moral accountability,” it seems she has more recently given up that fight against the unwieldy god of Entertainment, even joining forces with it in an attempt to manufacture a form of holier entertainment that is nevertheless dangerous in its unintended consequence of “crowding out the serious things of God.”
American libraries are in crisis as the god of Entertainment, electronically omnipresent, robs books of their purpose and value. It murders academic skills and eats away at positive character traits, even compromising family relationships; consider how many families have a TV in every room, which makes it easier for us to avoid interacting with each other. In fact, our obsession as a technology-dependent society pushes us away from all relationships, including our most important one, the one with our Heavenly Father. Let us model for our children and our students by relying on God to “turn [our] eyes from looking at worthless things” to give us life in His ways (Psalm 199:37).
To carry a book with us wherever we go is an old practice that we would do well to adopt. David McCullough reminds us that President John Adams urged his son John Quincy to carry a volume of poetry: “You will never be alone,” he said, “with a poet in your pocket.”
Head of School
At Caldwell Academy, we believe that students rise to expectations. The sinful flesh drifts to the quick and easy; as Alexis de Tocqueville observed in America even in the 1830s, “[W]hat is generally sought in the production of mind is easy pleasure and information without labor” (Democracy in America, Volume II). But as you and I would agree, scarcely anything of great value is achieved without hard work, which means resisting instant gratification ─ a skill that requires discipline to master. The young, who are not always in a position to know what is in their best interest, wrestle against such far-reaching goals and discipline.
By Sam Cox
The classical education tradition has survived dramatic changes in human notions of wisdom and knowledge. The twentieth century saw theology, once considered Queen of the Sciences ─ the discipline that unified all other forms of knowledge by establishing their foundation and meaning ─ dethroned by modernist thinkers enamored of technology and the physical and social sciences.
By Samuel P. Cox
Sometimes our children exasperate us, and for many parents, the middle-school years are the most trying of all. So far I have worked with middle-schoolers for 26 years, and now as the father of two in the Dialectic School (with a third just 15 months away), I understand even more vividly the trials and tribulations of children of all ages, and particularly of that age.
By Samuel P. Cox
A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.
As we approach the North Carolina presidential primary election, I have been reflecting on our nation’s future course. I have great hope in what we are doing here at Caldwell Academy, and yet I am concerned about the society we are preparing our students to enter. In his important 1976 work How Should We Then Live? Francis Schaeffer writes, “I believe the majority of the silent majority…will sustain the loss of liberties without raising their voices as long as their own life-styles are not threatened.”
By Samuel P. Cox
The pursuit of truth is something we hold dear at Caldwell Academy. In that quest, the parallel pursuit of wisdom and virtue becomes vital. We constantly strive for a proper balance between achieving academic excellence and spiritual formation, intellectual inquiry and examination of God’s Truth, intellectual growth and spiritual growth, a classical approach to learning and Christ-centeredness in that approach, college preparation and Kingdom preparation.
By Sam Cox
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
’Tis the season . . . for busyness, rush, overscheduling, stress, and anxiety. I know that in the Cox family, a steady stream of school events, board meetings, church functions, and Christmas parties and concerts has booked my calendar into about six nights per week for three consecutive weeks, each after a full day at work. And while I am grateful for the Internet and next-day delivery, when will I find time for any kind of Christmas shopping? I cannot wait until vacation!
By Dr. Robert Faub
Throughout the history of music, composers and performers have collaborated to create new musical expressions. Whether through friendship, patronage, or commissions, relationship is at the core of some of music history’s greatest creations. Johann Sebastian Bach wrote new music each week for his musicians at Thomaskirche, Leipzig; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed his famous clarinet concerto for clarinet virtuoso and friend Anton Stadler; in the 20th century Aaron Copland dedicated his clarinet concerto to Benny Goodman; and many of Stravinsky’s greatest works were ballets written for the Ballets Russes, founded by admirer and friend Serge Diaghilev.
I have had the privilege of having composers write music for me over my 30-year performance career, including works by Arthur Frackenpohl, David Heinick, Andrew Earle Simpson, and Thomas Massella, along with a current work being composed by Greensboro resident Nathan Daughtrey, which I will premiere at a national saxophone conference in Texas next March. In the two years I played with New Century Saxophone Quartet we commissioned more than 20 works, including a whole album of new arrangements on our recording A New Century Christmas (2000, Channel Classics Records).
One of the greatest collaborations of my playing career has been with the Greensboro-based ensemble Red Clay Saxophone Quartet. Currently in our twelfth season, RCSQ has performed dozens of new works, collaborating with student and professional composers and performing throughout the United States. Earlier in November we had the honor of performing at the 50th national conference of the Society of Composers, Inc., an organization dedicated to giving living composers a forum for presenting new works. In 2000, SCI began sponsoring a commission competition for student composers, with the winners receiving a cash prize and a premiere performance at the following year’s national SCI conference. This year Red Clay Saxophone Quartet was chosen as the special featured ensemble for the competition. Beginning last spring, the two student winners corresponded with us as they composed their winning pieces, and on November 13 at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Red Clay gave the premiere performance of these two works, in a concert that included three additional pieces by established SCI composers. The concert was a rousing success, a highlight of a conference filled with new music and exciting performances.
As is the secondary purpose of many academic gatherings, in hallways and around dinner tables, many conversations took place between performers and composers, planting seeds for future collaborations and educational exchanges. For a performer participating in a living art form, the opportunity to hear new music, speak with composers, and meet new friends from around the country — all dedicated to the same goal of creating new and vital art — is an invaluable and life-giving experience. Thank you to the students and administration of Caldwell Academy for giving me the opportunity to participate in this event. May it bear much fruit as I continue to collaborate with some of the best young musicians in Greensboro, my Caldwell Academy students!
** If you would like to hear Red Clay Saxophone Quartet, you are invited to a special Advent concert at First Presbyterian Church, Greensboro, this Sunday, November 29, at 5 o’clock p.m. The concert will be performed in the sanctuary and is free.
by Sam cox
“Come, all of you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.”
As November has suddenly descended upon us, my thoughts turn to Thanksgiving. I associate Thanksgiving with many things, not the least of which is feasting. I must admit, I like to eat. Eating brings me great pleasure, and I tend to overeat to satisfy my pleasure. I am a hungry person. I find myself filled with deep longings. Often at these times, I turn to various diversions. All too frequently the answer to the longing seems to be to go for a long, hard run, or take a trip to an exotic locale (be it Europe or High Point), get on the Internet, go for a hike, or reach for a good book to read. T.S. Eliot wrote that we are “distracted from distraction by distraction.” Centuries earlier, Pascal had observed that “the only thing which consoles us for our miseries is diversion, and yet it is the greatest of miseries. For that is what prevents us principally from thinking about ourselves, and which, without being aware of it, brings about our ruin. . . . Diversion amuses us, and permits us insensibly to reach the end of life’s journey.”
We live in a smorgasbord society offering us entertainment, amusement, busyness, pleasure, importance, activity, status—but many of us are still hungry or malnourished at best. Stuffed from the world’s banquet table, we find ourselves surprisingly empty and bored. We are spiritually hungry and mistakenly look to distraction and entertainment as our nourishment. As theologian Eugene Peterson remarks, “We keep looking for ways to improve our lives without dealing with God. But we can’t do it.”
These things that fill our lives are not necessarily bad in and of themselves. In fact, often they are good, very good. But will these passions and diversions ultimately satisfy? Will they quench our deepest thirst? Will they truly nourish our souls? Will my running or my reading bring me unending joy or answers to life’s nagging questions? Borrowing from the great Southern writer Walker Percy, we might speculate that the main emotion of every adult American who has had all the advantages of wealth, education, and culture is disappointment. Our nation, the wealthiest and best educated of any in the history of the world, is also arguably the most disappointed. What a bleak prospect this can be.
But there is one who keeps His promise; there is one who will not disappoint. In John 6:35, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jesus, the Bread of Life, offers to feed us. He satisfies our thirst. St. Augustine captured our longing and need for the true Bread when he wrote, “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”
It is my prayer that we can model and inspire this kind of fulfillment at Caldwell Academy as we recognize the innermost needs of us all and the deep yearnings of our hearts. Please pray with us daily for all of our children and their teachers as we go about Kingdom work here at this exciting place. And may your Thanksgiving feast begin with the Bread of Life.