Whence? What? Wither? - Linny Dey

The following address was given at the March 2017 Imago School Benefit Dinner.

I’ve taken the title for this talk from the title of a painting by Gaugin which I will talk about later. Where do we come from? What are we doing? Where are we going? How does one make sense of the past, the present, and the future? The answers to these questions help us do that, but the answers depend on one’s starting point.

Before I address this deeper theme, let’s look back at where Imago came from and forward to where we are going. Whence Imago? Two single women recently returned from working at L’Abri in Europe are having dinner with Pastor John and Betty Crighton and their five children and talking about what they might do next. I had trained to teach high school English and was saying I might go back to teaching to which John responded, “Why don’t you start a school?” It seemed like an outrageous idea to me, but the seed was planted and over the next year and a half Joodi and I read lots, talked to people in Christian education, formed a board, held meetings with interested parents, and in September 1981 welcomed thirteen students in grades 1 – 6 into our three rented classrooms in Acton. God had sent us “Miss A”; she and I were the teachers, and Joodi, the super Factotum, did everything else. (When his mother asked one of the 1st graders what Miss Ward did, he answered, “She sweeps the floor after lunch.”)

What? What is Imago? What are we doing? We are doing education, but “doing education” means different things based on one’s answers to “Where do we come from?” and “Where are we going?” The second half of this talk will say more about this. Here I want to give one important answer to this question. We are a school operating on a set of founding principles about what education is and what it’s for which have not changed over 36 years. We’ve certainly learned more about how to implement these principles, and we’ve refined them and learned new ways to talk about them, but they have essentially remained the same. We have not been “tossed to and fro” by every wind of educational doctrine.

Whither Imago? Where are we going? We are going forward with new leadership. Once again God sent us the right person at exactly the right time. Danny Burbeck cares deeply about where we’ve come from, and he’s committed to the “what” which defines us. Danny, Joodi, and I have something important in common. All of us spent time studying, living, and working in L’Abri, and this time shaped for each of us our understanding of Christianity as the Truth about reality, all of reality. This truth undergirds our view of education, and it’s this view which we’ll look into more deeply.

What do we want for our students? We see education as more than information transfer and socialization. We start with the truth of students being made in the imago dei, the image of God, and of their being made by God for a purpose which fits into God’s plotline for the Story which began in Eden and ends in the New Eden. We impart knowledge and skills toward the end of helping them become what God made them to be. We want them to be able to answer the big questions about life and its meaning based on an understanding of the truth about who they are, and we want them to understand as much as they can about the world in which they live, the world which is the setting for the unfolding of God’s story. In other words, we want to give them answers to “Whence? What? Whither?” from a Christian perspective to help them understand their part in the Story.

Paul Gaugin- "What? Whence? Whither?"


The painting entitled “Whence? What? Whither?” is by the modern French painter Paul Gaugin, and it was painted in the late 1800’s. The questions are written right on the painting. Gaugin thought he could find the answers to these questions by leaving behind the civilized world and all its corrupting influences and going to live among the natives in the unspoiled, pristine world of Tahiti. He, like others in this time, was following the thinking of the philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau who saw the civilized world as the locus of evil and those living outside of it as “noble savages.” Gaugin did not find what he was looking for in Tahiti because our biggest problems are not outside of us, and so we see in this painting that the innocent baby pictured on the right grows up and eats the fruit in Paradise, but grows into an old, unhappy woman and dies. This was Gaugin’s explanation of Whence? What? Whither? There was something which hinted at the truth in Gaugin’s search for meaning amid the beauty of a tropical Paradise, but Tahiti wasn’t Eden. Gaugin had accepted a different story. At Imago we teach answers to Whence? What? Whither? based on the Story God has given us in His Word.

Thomas Cole- "The Garden of Eden"


Whence? We are Eden’s children. Our story begins with God creating two people in His own image who were, in His words, “very good” and placing them in Eden to care for His Creation. We were made by a loving God for a purpose - to love, to think, to imagine, to create – as creatures dependent on Him but like Him.


What? We’re not in Eden anymore; we now live in a spoiled, fallen world because those two chose not to accept God’s description of reality. But, God has not abandoned His creatures or the world He made. He’s provided a way to recover what was lost through His Son, the perfect imago dei, the 2nd Adam. And He has left hints of His glory in His world which beckon us to seek Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. In the words of our school hymn: “The Power and print of Paradise meet your eyes in all things good and beautiful and true.” The fallen world still reflects its Creator.

Whither? The Story does not end in death. There will be a new Eden; Eden will “bloom again.” In the new Eden there will be no more sorrow and no more dying for all followers of the resurrected King who have come to Him through Christ.

El Greco- "The Burial of the Count of Orgaz"


The painter El Greco painted an amazing picture which covers the whole wall of a chapel in the Church of San Tomasso in Toledo, Spain. The painting is called The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, and right below the painting is the Count’s tomb. This painting shows a different ending to life on this earth than Gaugin’s painting suggests. There are two worlds shown here, this world and, above it, the world to come. Time and eternity are intermingled here; the saints Thomas and Augustine have come from the world to come and are lowering the Count into his tomb. Simultaneously an angel is lifting a newborn up to Heaven where Christ awaits his arrival with open arms surrounded by saints and angels. The newborn represents the Count newly born to eternal life. Here the supernatural world is shown to be just as real as this world. We as Eden’s children have a future and a hope.

Imago students aren’t just given skills and a certain amount of unrelated bits of information about life in different cultures and different times so that they can create their own identity and figure out who they are for themselves. Imago students are taught that they were created by God for a purpose which He has ordained and will help them discover so that each in his own unique way can live in this broken world as a representative of Eden, the lost Paradise, and of the world to come where all things will once again live in harmony. They are part of the Story which began in Eden and ends in the New Jerusalem, the New Eden.

This understanding of Whence? What? Whither? was central to Imago’s vision in 1981, and it will continue to be our vision as long as God wills for the school to exist.

Child Centered Education or Reality Centered Education?


Many people would find the phrase  "Child Centered Education" to be a lovely high minded ideal.  After all, education is all about children, is it not? 

While giving a tour of the school to a prospective family recently, the couple told me of a perfect example of this kind of educational thought.  While touring a local public kindergarten classroom they had seen a list of "class rules."  Nothing new there, but the interesting part was that the rules had been written by the children.  This is the child centered education of our age. 

In his article "Literature, Literacy and Morality,"  R. V. Young, a professor of literature at North Carolina State University, makes a sharp observation when he says that this idea actually...

"....inverts the normal course of education.  Etymologically as well as logically [education comes from the Latin: "ducare"] this word means to lead out, to bring forth. Its goal is to make the child responsive to the world around him, not to his own whims and desires.  Children who are subjected to "child-centered" education are likely to become self-centered, self-indulgent adults."

At Imago we are attentive to the children. We pay attention to their unique skills and needs but we are striving to "lead them out," to see and know that which is beyond them.  We are calling them to standards of behavior that do not come naturally to fallen beings, to learn that which they would not figure out on their own, and to create works of such quality and beauty that, without instruction and example, would rarely be attained.

This is the "reality centered" education found at Imago, welcoming children to the banquet.

2016 Upper School Trip: Day 4

The forth and final day of the Upper School trip to New York City featured a visit to The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), a picnic lunch in Central Park and a tour of the U.S.S. Intrepid.

The Met boasts an incredible collection of paintings, sculpture, installed facades and ancient artifacts from all over the world. Spanning nearly four city blocks, one could easily spend a week working through its several hundred rooms. Before sending the kids off to explore on their own, Miss Dey walked us through several sections, highlighting and relating particular pieces to their studies. Her knowledge and passion for history and art is invaluable in these moments.

We were fortunate to be visiting NYC during Fleet Week, a time when many active military vessels dock in the harbor. We saw dozens of service men and women throughout our four-day visit. Several students sought out opportunities to thank them for their service as they passed, an important tradition being passed down to this generation.

The U.S.S. Intrepid is a retired Vietnam war era aircraft carrier that has been transformed into a permanent sea, air and space museum. It has over a dozen military aircraft on the flight deck, including a special exhibit that features the Space Shuttle "Enterprise", a prototype that was used for atmospheric testing. The hangar deck is filled with interactive exhibits and history. Lots of really cool stuff.

We had a great time in New York City, traveling all over the place to keep everyone engaged in a productive and healthy use of their time. While we enjoyed lots of laughter together, the upper school trips are designed to gain tangible experience with some of the beautiful things God has enabled people to create and produce. It also provides an opportunity for growth through limited independence and responsibility. Everyone was always on time. Most of them rose early and finished breakfast before the adults. Some of the boys even ironed their clothes without being asked. That's part of the culture of Imago.

2016 Upper School Trip: Day 3

Ellis Island

Wednesday night's performance of Fiddler On the Roof was a great prelude to our visit to Ellis Island National Park. Many of the immigrants that came through Ellis Island shared a common story with the characters in Fiddler: Russian Jews suffering under the pogroms fled to America. The Ellis exhibit picks up where Fiddler ends so it was a great way to contextualize what we were seeing. We learned there were also lots of Italians that came through Ellis Island. One of our students looked up his family's name and found that his relatives might have come through. Pretty neat!

Lower Manhattan

Our afternoon was spent in lower Manhattan island. Many of us know this area as one of the great financial centers of the world, Wall Street. What was new to me was lower Manhattan's key role in U.S. government. As we stood on the corner of Wall St. and Broad these worlds intersect, seeing both the New York Stock Exchange and Federal Hall. Federal Hall is our first capital building, the site of Washington's inauguration and the centerpiece of many other important events in our early history.

9/11 Memorial

This is the first upper school trip to NYC where most of the kids were born after 9/11. It was good to pause and reflect on this important event. In addition to visiting the waterfall memorials of the two towers, we included a walk through nearby Trinity Church, a refuge for the rescue and cleanup workers.

Brooklyn Bridge

Before dinner at Buca di Beppo we walked part of the Brooklyn Bridge to get some spectacular views of the East river and the city.

2016 Upper School Trip: Day 2

Day two of the upper school trip to New York was hot, packed full of experiences.

Thomas Edison National Historic Park

We started with a wonderful tour of the Thomas Edison National Historic Park in Orange, NJ. Seeing firsthand how Edison worked was inspirational. Learning about the rise and fall of Edison's phonograph technology was a valuable lesson in economics, technology and marketing.


Lessons Learned

Our tour guide, Carrie, provided a lot of great context as we toured the city. We learned many silly and practical things:

  • the economics of taxi cab medallions, the difference between yellow and green cabs and the economic impact of Uber.
  • that not just anyone can perform music on the street.
  • how dog owners tend to look like their pets.
  • how to spot a movie shoot in New York City.
  • how to park cars in tight spaces by stacking them four high.
  • the "proper" way to jaywalk and the importance of staying together.
  • how to enter a turnstile and not get hurt.
  • that you need to pay for your food at the deli BEFORE you eat it.
  • that some people make a living letting you hold their pet snakes and taking a picture of it and that it's probably NOT the best career choice.

As we walked we stopped periodically to perfect our count-off system to make sure we didn't loose anyone.

Central Park

We had a nice walk through Central Park, providing a bit of shade from the heat. We watched someone try to row a boat backwards, listened to a family "busking" under the bridge and watched Mrs. McKee handle a python around her neck. Just a normal day in NYC. 

Fiddler On the Roof

The second day finished with a classic Broadway show, Fiddler On the Roof. The production was spare and thoroughly engaging.

2016 Upper School Trip: Day 1

The bi-annual upper school trip to New York is a highlight of the Imago experience. Miss Dey has led this trip every other year, alternating with Washington, D.C., for 35 years. Her passion for providing educational and fun experiences outside of the classroom shines through the carefully selected itinerary and interactions with the students.

Cloisters Museum

Day One of the trip included a stop to The Met Cloisters museum, a lesser-known treasure. It is a collection of four monastic cloisters, assembled from Europe, that showcases medieval architecture and works of art, including tapestries, frescos and unusual artifacts. Miss Dey connected with the students on their historical architecture classroom studies. The gardens with over 250 medieval medicinal plants is beautiful.

Times Square

Not all of the first day was serious and educational. After a walk through Times Square we enjoyed dinner at Ellen's Startdust Diner. All of the wait staff at Stardust are professional actors aspiring to land work in Broadway productions. Each take turns singing musical numbers to the guests for a very interactive and fun experience. One of the students thought it would be funny to pretend it was her birthday. When this was discovered by the emcee, he took time to make a show of it. The whole restaurant had a great time.

West Point

Our visit to the Army's West Point military academy was the spiritual highlight of the first day. The main chapel is beautiful, featuring the largest pipe organ in North America in a place of worship. Many of us were struck by how a sense of character is embedded in the place. As we walked the campus along the Hudson river even the benches provide reminders of character, each inscribed with a trait: responsibility, leadership, courage, integrity, compassion, loyalty, dedication.

Evening devotions for both the girls and boys drew from the Cadet Prayer, which is posted in the main chapel:

Strengthen and increase our admiration for honest dealing and clean thinking, and suffer not our hatred of hypocrisy and pretence ever to diminish. Encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won.

Great Books for Children~ part 1

Welcome! Over the next few weeks we will be publishing a series of book recommendations tailored to specific age groups. Today, in part 1, we are delighted to share a list of Picture Books, Story Books and Beginning Readers. Enjoy! Feel free to leave your additions to our tried and true list in the comments, we love to hear from you!

Picture Books, Story Books, Beginning Readers

Aesop’s Fables

Beauty and the Beast.  Retold and illustrated by Jan Brett.

Betsy-Tacy.  Maud Hart Lovelace.

Book of Greek Myths.  Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire.

Charlotte’s Web.  E.B.White.

The Children’s Homer: The Adventures of Odysseus and the Tale of Troy, Padriac Colum.

Clancy’s Coat.  Eve Bunting.

The Clown of God.  Tomie dePaola.

Dogger.  Shirley Hughes.

The Door in the Wall.  Marguerite De Angeli.

The Emperor and the Kite.  Jane Yolen.

How Many Days to America?: A Thanksgiving Story.  Eve Bunting.

John Henry, An American Legend.  Ezra Jack Keats.

Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie.  Peter and Connie Roop.

The Little Engine That Could.  Watty Piper.

Little House in the Big Woods.  Laura Ingalls Wilder.

The Little Match Girl.  Hans Christian Andersen.

Magical Hands.  Marjorie Barker.

Marta and the Nazis.  Frances Cavanah.

The Princess and the Goblin.  George MacDonald.

A Tale of Three Wishes.  Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Thy Friend, Obadiah.  Brinton Turkle.

When I Was Young in the Mountains.  Cynthia Rylant.

Yonder.  Tony Johnston.

Five Temptations for Classical, Christian Education

The reproduced article below is taken from a November, 2012 issue of First Things Magazine

The reproduced article below is taken from a November, 2012 issue of First Things Magazine

Having taught at a classical Christian school for five years and followed the classical Christian education movement for some years prior, I have come to believe that it is the best approach to K-12 education available today.

Due to its understanding of education as the reshaping of a child’s soul (in contrast to “discovery” models of education, for example), the method tends to develop thinkers defined by who they are instead of workers defined by what they do. Its focus on the Great Conversation gives students respect for history and helps them see themselves as contributors to that conversation. Unlike inward-facing fundamentalist approaches to education, this movement does not shy away from the world, but instead teaches students to interact thoughtfully with contemporary culture.

Classical Christian schools do these and many other things well, and consequently their numbers, acceptance, and influence are on the rise. However, as this form of education comes of age, it needs to be wary of certain temptations. Five specific cautions come to mind.

The first temptation is to overemphasize mistaken notions of success. The bigger our schools grow, the more respected a faculty we attract, the better we implement a Trivium-based curriculum, and the more accomplished our graduates become, the more we will be tempted to slip into something of a prep school mentality. Staff members and families begin to think of their school as an elite academic institution, one that produces a better “product” (by whatever measure) than others in the area.

In contrast to a more “successful” classical Christian school, less established schools may feel inferior because they lack the appearance or reputation of other schools. They might yearn for the facilities and programs that they see as their ticket to being an elite school: “If only we had . . . ” It is easy for any educator to mistake the trappings of education for education itself.

The history of the movement demonstrates that amazing things can be done despite want, but as our schools grow richer, the temptation grows to consider these things the keys to success. Buildings, labs, athletics, the best materials, and other tangible things are good and helpful (and probably even necessary), but they can become the same kind of covetous idolatry that Israel displayed when it asked God for a king. Our focus must always be on the one thing that actually determines our success—God’s power and promises.

Mistaken notions of success are best revealed by our attitude toward our graduates. When they are prominent and successful, we hold them up as evidence that our school is prominent and successful. We must be doing something right, the argument goes. But when graduates fall short of our expectations, we feel the need to explain them away: They failed because of family influences, they had spent years in public schools, they had a weak church background, etc.

The reality is that our students are like our own children. Parents know that even if they do everything in their power to bring their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, whether or not the children ultimately have genuine Christian faith is beyond our control. Likewise, teachers can guide students toward God, but only the work of the Holy Spirit in their souls can make them into the kind of Christ-honoring graduates that we would like to produce.

Instead of lifting up our best students as proof that we are doing things “the right way,” our response to their success should be gratitude. God be praised for his work in the lives of these students, in many cases despite our flaws. Rather than feeling ashamed of less successful students, we should pray that the seeds once planted would come to life by God’s grace. The idea that they are evidence of our failure reveals an errant and unhealthy understanding of success.

The second temptation is to believe that academic rigor plus disciplined behavior equals a good education. It is easy for a classical Christian school to become known more for its uniforms, homework expectations, strictness, and the like, than for its gracious, loving environment. Yet we ought not treat education like a simple input-output situation, in which the right learning environment can program our students to be Christians. While students do need high expectations for their work and conduct, focusing on order becomes hazardous when it overtakes the joy of experiencing God’s grace. When this happens, students may learn to jump through the hoops, obey the rules, do the right things, but they do not learn to love God and others. That is moralism, the worst enemy of true Christianity.

Creating a truly gracious classroom is much harder than creating an orderly classroom. It is a challenge that requires spiritual preparation far beyond classroom management techniques. But the only Christian education is a thoroughly gracious education. It sounds so basic, but it remains true: Without God’s grace, we can only produce narcissists who are more focused on their own successes and failures than on the eternal reality of God’s love for his people.

The third temptation is to rely on ourselves rather than on God’s work in the hearts of students. It is easy for classical Christian schools to feel like we have the moral high ground in the midst of a fallen culture. After all, anyone who seeks out such a school believes it to be superior to other systems, especially secular ones. But the people of Israel are warned to not trust in their own goodness; it is not because of their own virtue that they will conquer the land.

The same is true for our schools. We will not successfully overhaul the education system just because we have the right methodology. Education cannot be reduced to a formula, even if the formula is a good one. Education is ultimately God’s work in the soul of a child, and forgetting that fact leads some educators to feel inadequate. We err frequently, do things for the wrong motives, misjudge students academically and spiritually, and fall short of the glory of God.

Focusing too much on our educational methods will lead us to despair. Self-assessment can easily leave us feeling either too strong or too weak. We praise our own accomplishments, and we feel inadequate based on what qualifications we lack. Whether our response is overconfidence or despair, anything but faith in God’s power and promises is idolatry. Our strength is from the Lord and not ourselves; He will accomplish his ends despite both our strengths and our weaknesses. We must remind ourselves, if God is not blessing our work as educators, then no measure of training, skill, or finances can overcome that. But if He is blessing our labors by changing our students’ lives, then nothing can overcome that either.

The fourth temptation is to neglect the Word of God. Although it may sound counter-intuitive, classical Christian schools need to integrate the Bible into our entire curriculum. Some in these education circles criticize other Christian schools for having what amounts to a secular curriculum with a Bible class on the side. The complaint is that this approach functionally teaches a secular-sacred divide that undermines real Christian faith and practice.

While this complaint has merit in many cases, we need to take care lest our schools fall into the same pit. Unless we carefully integrate biblical education throughout the entire curriculum, across every subject and grade, it would be very easy for our graduates to know more about Achilles and Dante than Abraham and David. The Word of God is our source for God’s wisdom; without it we only have the wisdom of man.

The final temptation is to assume that a classical Christian school will automatically influence a student more than the broader culture. We should pay careful attention to our students’ long-term goals, for they most clearly reveal the depth of the culture’s influence. Students tend toward materialistic goals because that is what they learn from the culture around them. Overcoming the intrusion of materialism into our schools is probably the biggest obstacle a Christian educator faces.

Students are humans, and humans are perpetual factories of idols. Every student brings some variety of idolatry into the classroom. The most common and most subversive idols are divine gifts that become valued above God himself: intelligence, finances, skills, moral goodness, even a good Christian education.

Although this kind of culture conflict is a problem for Christian education of every variety, it might be a more striking problem in classical schools because of the expectation that our graduates will be uniquely equipped to stand against the world and change the culture. That said, classical Christian education is perhaps also uniquely capable of addressing the conflict because it defines education in terms of the health of a student’s soul rather than the strength of a student’s skills.

The primary job of every Christian educator, regardless of grade level or subject matter, is to shape the heart. We should begin by warning students about the subtleties of pride in both its forms, arrogance and despair. We must teach them to think less of their own abilities and more of God’s. It will be difficult, but it is even more central to the goals of classical Christian teaching than the Trivium or the Great Books. The only way we can accomplish our task as educators is to demonstrate with our own lives that a truly successful life is one in which God is glorified for His faithfulness and love regardless of our personal performance.

Brian Douglas lives in Boise, Idaho, with his wife, son, and two daughters. He teaches at The Ambrose School (a classical Christian school), is an adjunct professor at Boise State University, and serves as an elder at All Saints Presbyterian Church (PCA).