I grew up in Hot Springs, MT, attending public school from Kindergarten through graduation. I knew I wanted to be a music teacher, just like my favorite teacher, and so I attended Montana State University after graduation, enrolling in and graduating from the Bachelor of Music Education program. I did my student-teaching in the Polson public schools. When I began applying for jobs, of course I first checked the job listings posted on the Office of Public Instruction website. Throughout all of these years, I was a Christian, and (at least compared to the other Christians I hung out with) a pretty serious one. At the time, it did not seem odd that the only kind of school I had ever known was the kind where God was systematically avoided. In fact, I did not think of it that way. It was simply all I had ever known; school was a place to learn facts – not Truth. Unwittingly, I had accepted the notion that it is inappropriate for one’s identity in one sphere of life to affect his identity in another – a notion I have since come to call the “Doctrine of Fractured Identity.”
It was only through a friend that I discovered an opening for a music teaching position at Stillwater Christian School. (At the time, I was vaguely aware of the school. I had known it as Flathead Valley Christian School from the days when the Colts played the Hot Springs Savages in basketball.) I decided to add SCS to the list of schools to which I would apply. As I began looking through the application materials, I began to realize that SCS was more than nominally “Christian.” “So much the better,” I thought. “It might be nice to teach in a place where my faith isn’t off-limits.” I filled out the applications, wrote the essays, and sent them in. I had no particular expectation.
After going through several interviews and being offered several jobs, I decided that Stillwater is where I wanted to be. It seemed to have the most stable program and the clearest expectations, and my job would be teaching music only; without an added math class or sports team to coach. All in all, it was the best fit for me. I would be teaching elementary music and choir, just like I was trained to do; the fact that it was a Christian school was an added bonus. It would be nice to have a bible class in the curriculum and chapel once a week.
Once, when Ravi Zacharias was asked “Isn’t it true that Christianity is fundamentally the same as all the other major world religions? Aren’t they only superficially different?” He answered very astutely: “No! They are fundamentally different. At best, they are superficially similar.” Immediately after being hired, I began to reevaluate my philosophy of education, philosophy of music, practice of music, etc. in light of the question that I had recently encountered: “How do I teach music in a fundamentally Christian way? How can I keep it from being merely superficially different than it would be at a public high school?” The answer has come out in many different ways, most of which you have heard by now at concerts, in promotional videos, radio spots, or just by observing rehearsals. I won’t give it all to you now. But I will tell you that thanks to this school, my students, their families, my colleagues, and the accountability they provide me, I would answer a similar question about our school in much the same way as Dr. Zacharias: “Isn’t it true that Stillwater is fundamentally the same as any other high school? You still teach math, science, history, literature, art, music, and athletics. The only difference is that you offer some unique classes like Bible and chapel. That’s not much of a difference – it’s just superficial.”
Ten years ago, I might have at least been sympathetic to this point of view, but no more. I would now answer that question emphatically: “No. The subjects we teach as math, science, history, literature, art, music, and athletics contain the same facts as the facts that are taught at other schools, but they are not the same classes. The foundation of the content is different. We answer the “who, what, when, and where” questions in the same ways, but not the “why” questions, and it is the “why” questions and answers that convince us of the importance of the rest. Think about it. Who was Johann Sebastian Bach? What did he do? When and where did he live and work? The answers to those questions will be the same no matter the school. But… Why did he work so feverishly? Why is he worth our time to study? These questions have different answers at Stillwater than they do at Flathead or Glacier. And by the way, these are the questions that high school students are more likely to ask; the others just show up on tests…
The accountability that the Stillwater community has provided me has helped to keep me from becoming a man of fractured identity. I know when I step into a classroom to teach, that my students and their families are expecting a man of faith, character, integrity, and content expertise. That means that I feel very keenly the need to be a good man while I teach. When I go home at night, I know that my students and their families are free to contact me with questions or concerns. I know that my commitment to them does not stop at the edge of campus. I feel very keenly the need to be a good teacher even when I’m not at school. Stillwater’s identity is not superficial; it is fundamental, and it has made me not only a better teacher, but a better man, than I otherwise would have been. In fact, this is such a fundamental aspect of the Stillwater identity, that the man and the teacher are one and the same.