a stature of George Washington

Stop Being Polite! How Civility Can Save Our Country

Can Education Save Civility?

“A refugee from the federal government,” Alexandra grew up in a home that prioritized politeness and viewed education as a lifestyle. Yet when she began working for the U.S. Department of Education, Alexandra soon discovered that her coworkers used politeness for corruption and also didn’t care about education. How can civility save our nation?

Politeness vs. Civility

In this conversation, Alexandra Hudson, award-winning journalist, speaker, and author discusses:

  • her disillusionment with the Department of Education
  • how to respect someone while sharing hard truths
  • the difference between politeness and civility
  • why we need less politeness and more civility in the world
  • why the left and right don’t share the same vision
  • not living a boxed life
  • how incivility hurts both others and ourselves
  • how one individual can start a quiet revolution that can change the world
  • how the classical model of education can be used to teach future generations the art of being civil.
Alexandra Hudson, author of The Soul of Civility: Timeless Principles to Heal Society and Ourselves, originally aired on Dec 13, 2023. You can find a discount code for Alexandra’s book in the podcast’s show notes. Check out other freedom-loving episodes of Refining Rhetoric.

Robert Bortins is the CEO of Classical Conversations® and the host of Refining RhetoricThe company has grown from supporting homeschoolers in about 40 states to supporting homeschoolers in over 50 countries and has become the world’s largest classical homeschooling organization under his guidance.

a dark silhouette of the back of a person watching a blazing fire

Swamp Fire: A Reflection

By Paul Bright

You Know It’s Hot When the Swamp is On Fire

Driving to a vacation spot this summer for our annual sabbatical at the beach, my wife and I were on Interstate 12 near Stennis at the border between Louisiana and Mississippi. Like much of southern Louisiana and Mississippi, this area is filled with wetlands, bayous, creeks, cricks, rivers, and overgrowth that rivals any dystopian, apocalyptic movie. And it was on fire. A burn ban had been in place for quite some time, but the extended heat of the summer and the lack of rain had turned the vegetation into a tinderbox. The flames had jumped from the westbound lanes, through the median, and onto the eastbound lanes. Thick smoke filled the whole area, making visibility impossible and covering everything with soot and charred smell. In my characteristic deadpan humor, I turned to my wife and said, “You know it’s hot when the swamp is on fire.”

A Quick Laugh and Further Reflection

Only my wife can chuckle at such dry humor. However, the conditions for a fire in a swamp were clear and longstanding due to the combination of neglect, rebellion, and environment. The surprise of driving through a swamp fire was humorous and ironic, in that it illustrates the swamp fire of Western Culture. But what are some of the conditions that lead to the blazing chaos that is burning through our culture, and why are there so few Christians who seem unaware or willing to do anything?

The Putrid Soil of Idealism

Idealism, philosophically defined, is the theory of epistemology that teaches that the mind forms reality. Historically, idealism arose from pursuing rationalism during the Enlightenment in thinkers such as Hegel, Leibnitz, and, to a lesser extent, Kant. In the proponents that followed the Enlightenment, pure subjective idealism became not merely Optimism but also a teaching that the mind does not create the idea but the thing itself. Thus, pure subjective idealism results in the creation of the thing directly. Through the power of the mind, man creates the very thing imagined by thought. The subject creates through noumena (from the Greek word, nous, “mind”). “The duality of the matter and mind,” as Bavinck surmised, has been “denied, and the thing and the representation of the thing, being and thinking, are viewed essentially as one.” 1

The Voracious Weeds in the Swamp

Pure subjective idealism infected Christianity directly through the charlatans of the Word-Faith movement and continues in a more mass-appealing form in the hucksters peddling the prosperity gospel, where the conjoined sins of self-worship and greed increasingly breed ever-blasphemous pronouncements in the name of Christ. The recent history of Western Christianity is dominated by these popular teraphim (from the ancient Hebrew, “false idols”) that are adored and emulated. There is a headlong rush toward any living savior who can speak of money, fame, and celebrity as a blessing. Their numbers are only limited to how quickly followers can heap on teachers. Their influence is only limited by their opportunity to jump from a smaller idolatrous family to a whole tribe (Judges 17-18). They are weeds, all. Truly, truly, they are cursed directly by our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount (Luke 6:24-26).

The Impenetrable Undergrowth

Growing unchecked out of this idealism is the regurgitated anthropological teaching that the affections are granted a substance and an epistemological and moral priority. Feelings are given a “soul” with an unyielding, undiminishable, and immutable authority. Feelings are an abiding revelation, a self-originating, self-authenticating, self-interpreting impetus, as base and necessary to existence as breathing air. Thus, feelings are presented as a prius (from Latin, “a prior thing”), not a posterius (from Latin, “a following thing”). Feelings internal and subjective are the ousia (from Greek, “substance”) and hyparchis (from Greek, “abiding presence”) and are, similarly, necessarily detached from phenomena (Greek from phenoo, “I observe”). The new category is aesthemena (Greek from aesthima, “feeling”).  

Swamp Undergrowth is Not a Garden

This affectional ratio ad vitam (Latin for ‘meaning for life’) corrupted historic Christian theology by a deceptively disastrous mutation in the skewed recharacterization of God’s love as eros (from Greek, “sensual love”), not agape (from Greek, “love by choice”). Popularized by multiple, respected, well-studied, philosophical, historical, and exegetical preachers and teachers, the apex of Christian virtue became “Glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” Feelings as motive, as drive, as the substance was drunk in, as living water. Passion and pleasure were put forward in man and God as the only true achievement, embodiment, and reciprocation of glory. Anything of will and duty is of works and baseless and useless. Rather than growing a well-tended garden, the result was an entangling, unstable, impenetrable overgrowth of affectional mass. Undergrowth is not beautiful, and it was part of the curse (Genesis 3:18). Man was never designed by God to be led by affections.

The Match Was Thrown

Is it any wonder that the current cultural climate is one where the mind exhibits and engages in pure subjective irrationality from the prius of the feelings? This is why debates based on phenomena and logic are rejected immediately, comprehensively, and violently based on feelings. The person who believes that the mind is an organ of feelings that stimulate the creation of reality is irrationally enslaved. These persons will go to great lengths to subjugate their thoughts and the observable world around them to conform to their feelings. These persons must create from the inside out, from the affections as the source, through the mind as means, to the outside, as the transformative object. These have made themselves as Deity in their feelings, to which any, and eventually all, must prostrate in obedience.

The Fire Consumes and Is Healthy?

However, in order to create, these persons must first destroy. They will destroy all norms, whether individual or societal, amoral or moral, religious or civil. Worse still, this destruction and recreation is repackaged as a necessary mental health crisis for these individuals when the world outside of them does not immediately conform to their idealism. This explains why their verbal and material reactions include radical outbursts of violence and, contradictorily, simultaneously and exclusively, claim themselves to be recipients of violence. You have, in their reality, assaulted their most complete and necessary substance and being.  

Where there is Fire, there is Smoke

The pursuit of this idolatry will destroy them internally as well as raze relationships, morals, institutions, and societies. The consequences of idealism are already observed and experienced in the institutions of society through education, government, employment, military, health services, the family, and religion. The planned destruction through idealism is combined with the blatant realignment of the historic political foundation of our country. Marxism, at its roots, views man as tolpa (Russian for “herd”). The target of Marxism has always been and will be the most innocent and vulnerable…children. Familial, ecclesiastical, educational, technological, governmental, and societal fumes will billow from the smoldering miasma of this Idealism and Marxism.  

Putting out the Fire Through the Promise of Repentance

The only recourse for change is direct confrontation. Exposure of the insane irrationality comes through the proclamation of the objective revelation written in the Scriptures. There is hope that the convicting work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11) will shatter the illusion of self-deification. The promises of God to work for regeneration seen in true repentance have never been revoked.

Growing Anew

Corporately, Christians should pursue the position of illuminator and preserver (light and salt) through soberness, prayerfulness, engagement, and, as is customary in the course of Christian history, a willingness to suffer. It behooves Christians to live circumspectly, pure, clean, and with holy wisdom that comes down from the Father of Lights. Also, Christians should actively prune the undergrowth of this idealism and live worshipfully with the rich communities established on the Reformed doctrines of grace, which oppose idealism. Finally, Christian parents need to understand that the current culture fire is specifically designed to disintegrate their God-given position and responsibility as moral teachers and examples in the minds, hearts, and souls of their children in all respects. So, parents must make a choice and act. What will you choose to do?

Paul Bright currently works in the field of Biotechnology. He is a native of Evansville, IN, and an alumnus of Purdue University and The Master’s Seminary. He was a Systematic Theology and Ancient Hebrew professor in Samara, Russia. He and his wife, Jennifer, homeschooled their daughter all the way through high school and currently reside in Covington, Louisiana.

  1. Herman Bavink, Reformed Dogmatics. Vol. 1. (MI: Baker Academic, 2003), p. 216. ↩︎
a boy concentrates on his homework, studying the design of airplanes

What are Our Schools “Really” Teaching?

By Jennifer Bright

As contentious school board meetings were publicized in Virginia, I pondered about what was happening in my local area and what the schools were ‘really’ teaching. I started watching my local board meetings online to see the hot topics like library books, new curricula, charter schools, etc. For background, my community is one of the wealthier, conservative parishes with some of the best public schools. With the top schools, my area also has the largest number of homeschoolers in the state.

In addition to this, I wasn’t surprised to see inconspicuous, redefined language regarding social-emotional learning in the curriculum. So, I took a closer look at a few curriculum companies that my local school district uses:

Amplify Science

In early 2023, the local school board adopted a new science curriculum, Amplify Science. I did a quick search online to learn more about the company. From their website:

“Our goal is to make education, and thereby the world, more equitable and accessible… To do this, we hire and develop people with the broadest range of talents, life stories and experiences, and together we build a diverse and inclusive culture”.1

There are a few words that stick out: equitable, accessible, diverse, and inclusive. This is, on the surface DEI curriculum.

FranklinCovey Company: Leader in Me

Another curriculum company adopted this year by my local public schools is Leader in Me by the FranklinCovey company. Here is what the company says about itself:

“Inclusion is a core value at FranklinCovey. We know that building an inclusive work culture in which everyone is valued and respected contributes to our success. Our content and solutions encourage inclusion and embracing and celebrating different backgrounds, perspectives, and identities.

As a company, we prohibit discrimination as it relates to race, national or ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression, education, disability status, socioeconomic status, religion, or any other characteristic… We are committed to serving our customers with respect and helping them improve their individual, team, and organizational performance to achieve extraordinary results and lasting change.” 2… FranklinCovey works with clients every day to steward diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives bolstered by our learning programs… Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are in strong alignment with FranklinCovey’s core mission and values.”3

Do we not see those same words of diversity, inclusion, and equity (DEI) here as well? And the FranklinCovey company is committed to stewarding DEI in its learning programs, like Leader in Me.4

FranklinCovey company is very clear that they are proudly proclaiming DEI, CRT, and the alphabet mess.

Great Minds: Eureka Math

As a final test case, a popular math curriculum used by many schools around the country, as well as in my local public schools, is Eureka Math2; This math program states in its overview, “designed to advance equity in the math classroom.”5

In the Friday, Oct. 4, 2019 press release from Great Minds, they share “how its math and English language arts curricula integrate social and emotional learning into their core instruction.”

“Eureka Math® (PK–12) and Wit & Wisdom® (K–8) each foster the development of the five core competencies from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL): self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. The analyses explain how each curriculum aligns with the competencies and research, showing why the competencies are important to student development and academic learning.”6

This company was not as easy to identify if they were using CRT or committed to DEI. It is like a blip on a radar screen that is warning us that something is coming but not sure if it is a friend or foe. So, as a classically educated person, let’s define the terms:

What is Social Emotional Learning?

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) “is a systemic approach that emphasizes the importance of establishing equitable learning environments and coordinating practices across key settings of classrooms, schools, families, and communities to enhance all students’ social, emotional, and academic learning.”7

“Inequities based on race, ethnicity, class, language, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other factors are deeply ingrained in the vast majority of these systems and impact student and adult social, emotional, and academic learning. While SEL alone will not solve longstanding and deep-seated inequities in the education system, it can create the conditions needed for individuals and schools to examine and interrupt inequitable policies and practices, create more inclusive learning environments, and reveal and nurture the interests and assets of all individuals.”8

Is SEL a Trojan Horse for Critical Race Theory?

From a 2021 article, the Washington Examiner said social-emotional learning is a “Trojan horse” for both critical race theory and transgender advocacy being introduced and propagated in public schools. It is also being referred to as a “new variant of the “CRT-virus,” and “SEL education pipeline.”

Critical Race Theory (CRT) has evolved into a Social and Emotional Learning curriculum (SEL) known as Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).  This has crept into our public school systems through its school curricula via teacher training programs. Words like “equity,” “social justice,” “diversity and inclusion,” and “culturally responsive teaching” sound harmless and pleasing, but their actual definitions are different than what they commonly mean.9

My local school district banned Critical Race theory from being taught in public schools. I am not so sure. So what are your local schools ‘really’ teaching?

Engage and Educate

We can’t just do internet searches on DEI and CRT and expect to find everything anymore. The enemy always appears as an angel of light, shifting its language to accomplish its goals. This is just scratching the surface of the cultural battle raging around us. Parents, we need to be sober and attentive to what curriculum providers are promoting. Do they align with our Christian values and beliefs?

We need to engage the culture, stand firm, and choose to educate in the Truth!

Classical Conversations has created a new math curriculum that is classical in pedagogy, with a Christian worldview, to teach and disciple our children in the Truth.  Check it out!

To learn more about the difference between equality and equity, read our recent blog.

Jennifer Bright is the Communication Manager for Research and Quality Assurance for Classical Conversations. Jennifer’s passions are classical Christian education and discipling the next generation to live for Christ. She supports homeschool families by tutoring their students with the classical tools of learning. Jennifer and her husband began their homeschool journey almost 20 years ago in Russia while serving as missionaries, and currently, they reside in Covington, Louisiana.

  1. DEIA Statement”. Amplify. Retrieved 18th December 2023 ↩︎
  2. Commitment to Diversity”. Franklin Covey. Retrieved 18th December 2023 ↩︎
  3. Commitment to Diversity”. Franklin Covey. Retrieved 18th December 2023 ↩︎
  4. Commitment to Diversity”. Franklin Covey. Retrieved 18th December 2023 ↩︎
  5. Eureka Math Squared”. Great Minds. Retrieved 18th December 2023 ↩︎
  6. Colby, Chad. “Great Minds Curricula Integrate Social Emotional Learning with Instruction”. Great Minds. October 4, 2019. Retrieved 18th December 2023 ↩︎
  7. Fundamentals of SEL—What is the Casel Framework”. CASEL. Retrieved 18th December 2023 ↩︎
  8. Fundamentals of SEL—What is the Casel Framework”. CASEL. Retrieved 18th December 2023 ↩︎
  9. Letter: The Failing Acronyms of CRT DEI and SEL”. Orange Town News. September 28, 2023. Retrieved 18th December 2023 ↩︎
a window view of a Christmas store, with Christmas trees, wreaths, and presents on display

Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas

By Lauren Gideon

There is something special about childhood. Overlay the beauty and simplicity of childhood with the sacred spectacular atmosphere of the holidays, and that intersection seems nothing short of magical. This wedge, where those two events overlap, is so powerful that grown adults constantly search for ways to replicate that experience and those sentiments. Our song lyrics and storylines are strong indicators of this reality. What changes as we age? Why can’t we always (only) experience that perceived magical atmosphere? Why does everything feel so complicated? 

A few years ago, I was in line at the grocery store, listening to the conversation between the cashier and a customer unfolding in front of me. As the customer prepares to depart, the cashier extends the farewell of “Happy Holidays.” In disgust, the customer replies with a harsh and sharp, “Merry Christmas!” 

Wait. What just happened?

My thoughts started taking inventory. “Did that customer just use a Christmas salutation as retaliation?” In true sports commentary fashion, let’s look at the replay. In this scenario, the cashier was perceived to have been using the “happy holidays” greeting as a way to deny the real “reason for the season.” But was she? Is there anything wrong with “happy holidays”? Was the cashier maliciously trying to cancel Christ? Was the offended customer claiming to be a Christian? The irony of the retort was amusing, to say the least. There was nothing merry about her tone or her intent. And I’m not very confident that Person, whose birth she thought she was defending, would have been pleased by her style. 

However, can we sympathize with both parties? The grown-up world is complicated. We struggle even to greet a stranger this time of year. You see, in addition to the holidays, we have learned there are conflicting worldviews. We have learned that the holders of these worldviews are frequently hostile to holders of other worldviews. As Christians, we know that in this world we will have trouble, but that Christ has overcome the world. (John 16:33) 

How many times have we met Christians who not only go looking for trouble but also for a chance to be this type of “overcomer.” This customer was clearly frustrated; hopefully, her misstep is a cautionary tale to other Christians. Still, we can understand that navigating a bold allegiance to Christ in a world full of people we are called to love is…complicated.  

A Free Society Will Bring Confusion, and That’s a Good Thing

This year, I was told another story about a workplace DEI book club. The week’s topic was how not to talk about Christmas in the workplace. Contrast this with those who insist that we must speak about Christmas all the more because it’s our “first-amendment right.”  

Highlighted here is the deep complexity of the free market, the civil sphere, limited congress, public-policy-governing employers, confusion over the origin of rights, the Constitution, natural law, and the Creator.  

We confuse spheres of governance vs. mechanisms of enforcement and fail to consider the consequences of misunderstanding and misusing these. Additional elements include mechanisms of the free market, obligations of citizens, obligations of consumers, and labor providers in a free market. Each one of these components is an inescapably complicated layer that adds to the weight of responsibility. This makes our simple childhood memories much more precious and explains why grown adults prefer discovering a path back to childhood than navigating a way forward. 

While it seems that Christians’ primary conflict is with those outside the faith, this is evidently false. Is there an answer to all this madness? 

How to Navigate With Romans 14

Romans 14:5-9 gives us a 3-part navigation process.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”

Part One: Be convinced. 

Convinced has nothing to do with opinion. Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines convinced as persuaded in mind; satisfied with evidence; convicted. Being blessed with freedom, both civilly and economically, comes with responsibility. Embrace it, steward it, protect it, and afford it to others. Gather and wrestle through the evidence, and put the evidence on trial until you reach a satisfactory verdict. And then, when new evidence presents itself, rinse and repeat.

Part Two: Be gracious with others. 

They bear the same responsibility, and they also will give an account. We know the stakes are high, and the task is heavy; therefore, we should not complicate what is already sufficiently complicated. If anything, we should model the diligence, sobriety, and reverence we have for this responsibility and the ability to stay out of our neighbor’s figurative courtroom. 

 Part Three: Chill out, be thankful, and live and die for an audience of One. 

The whole passage can be summed up with a single parallel text, Micah 6:8. 

He has told you, O man, what is good;

     and what does the Lord require of you

 but to do justice, and to love kindness,

     and to walk humbly with your God?

So, to my friends near and far who may read this: happy holiday, and Merry Christmas.  

Lauren Gideon is the Director of Public Relations for Classical Conversations. She co-leads and teaches through an organization committed to raising citizenship IQ on U.S. founding documents. She and her husband homeschool their seven children on their small acreage, where they are enjoying their new adventures in homesteading.