I have been absent from the pages of The Imaginative Conservative these last several weeks, a place that I consider to be my literary home. The diversity of topics that The Imaginative Conservative publishes helped to foster a growing place of residence in my mind, a residence forged by the character of this journal and its contributors. I began long ago to spend many hours every day in this abode of good souls contemplating the organization and development of the essays I planned to write. I would be inclined to say something silly like “wild horses could not drag me away” from daily writing, but it was actually something with a little more horsepower. My family and I have gone on an amazing road trip.
I have taken many road trips in my life, most of them solo, and most of those foolish. I spent three months in Brazil traveling and surfing the east coast between Rio and Bahia. I returned with nearly flawless Portuguese and a healthy fear of the social chaos that results from the kind of ideology that spawns a motto like “ORDEM E PROGRESSO.” I went to Tokyo for a month and learned what it is like to be a stranger in a strange land. I took a bicycle, tent, and sleeping bag to Europe and biked around France, Spain, and Italy for five months. I mastered French and Italian, then finally, homesickness and longing for a bed catapulted me back to the States. I abandoned my solo road trips when my wife Faith and I eloped to Costa Rica twenty years ago where we got married on the beach. There have been many remarkable road trips in the last twenty years with the family, but today, we find ourselves on a profound road trip with a starkly permanent character.
Ah, but where to begin. I have been a public school teacher in California for twenty-three years. I have had deep and torturous issues with public education since I was in kindergarten. I knew something was wrong from the very beginning. I spent my youth loathing school and trying to figure out what was so terribly wrong with it, but that is a bit like asking an inmate what is wrong with the asylum. In an ironic twist of fate, my first job out of university, and a direct result of sloth and dormant motivation, was as a public school teacher. I reviled the system but easily came to care for my students and their families who came to me primarily from the migrant farm communities.
As a teacher, and much to the consternation of my superiors, I invested my time in building relationships with my students through the myths and other enduring tales, trying at the same time to acquire an authentic education, not the “education” fraudulently conferred by my diploma. All the while I was observing, studying, and learning what was wrong with the public schools. It all came to me slowly over the years and after two decades of public school employment I was ready to put pen to paper and describe the ills that befall our children at the behest of the increasingly pathological state. My indictment of the public schools is scathing but accurate. Now that I have been publicly decrying the schools for more than a year, it is apparent that a conflict of interest has bloomed. It was becoming clear that I ought to seek employment anywhere but in the public schools.
To resolve the dissonance, my wife and I had been looking for employment over the last year in the private sector, but without a hint of a prospect, all doors were mysteriously shut to us. Out of nowhere, about six weeks ago, my friend Mike Verlander, a theology teacher at Holy Spirit in Atlanta, sent me a missive asking if I might be interested in a job teaching at Holy Spirit, a private Catholic school. My first impression was that of impossibility, but I thought I might at least hear out the offer. I told Mike that if they could hire my wife as a second-grade teacher and allow my two high-school-age daughters to attend the upper school that I would do it. They immediately responded in the affirmative and within a week my wife and I had done phone interviews with principals. A week later they invited us to fly out to Atlanta for tours and face-to-face interviews. It went well, and a few days later they made us an offer we could not refuse.
We have since packed up everything we own, crammed it into a twenty-six-foot truck, and hit the road for six days from central California to Atlanta, Georgia. My daughter Kenya, who has appeared in these pages, drove my pickup, my wife Faith drove our other car, and I drove the moving van as we embarked on a road trip of a lifetime that took us from one coast to the other, less than six weeks total from first contact to our arrival in Atlanta.
When we headed east out of California, I was struck by the stark beauty of the desert. Cacti and Joshua trees dotted the arid landscape punctuated by tumbleweeds on a slate of hot dirt. It was serene and quiet and at automated speeds, quite pleasant. That admiration would surely turn to anguish and despair if we would have been stranded there. But it occurred to me that the sterile landscape was an apt metaphor for the jobs we were leaving in California, and the lush green of Georgia an apt metaphor for the jobs to which we were heading that portended much potential for growth.
At the end of a long first day of slow driving, we parked our moving van at a hotel in Williams, Arizona. We took our other car up the road another seventy-five miles to the Grand Canyon and had our first breathtaking view of that awesome natural architecture of rock chiseled by water over countless millennia. We got to watch the sunset there over that gaping chasm and the thought occurred to me that we had just uprooted our lives to go from the unfaithful, immoral, and intellectually sterile public schools on one side of the canyon to the opposite end of the spectrum at Holy Spirit on the other. Here at this fantastic school the Catholic Identity is up front and center. They put the child as the Image of God at the forefront of all considerations and in their mission statement they say clearly that their aim is to give each child a faithful, Catholic, classical, and complete education, truly a Grand Canyon away from the California Public Schools.
In California I taught in an elementary school. I am to teach high school at Holy Spirit. In California I was expected to teach the Common Core. At Holy Spirit I will be teaching two sections of Church History and three sections of a senior philosophy/theology class called “The Good Life,” the very antithesis of Common Core. In California I was supposed to use a dreadful and vacuous textbook. At Holy Spirit we are using the great enduring works from the great philosophers and theologians to develop an understanding of what it means for a human soul to live The Good Life. Our primary source is the Bible, but we will derive support from Plato, Aristotle, Boethius, St. Augustine, Confucius, St. Thomas Aquinas, Cicero, St. Benedict, and many, many more brilliant sources. The differences could not be starker. There could not be a greater moral distance between them.
As our road trip came to an end, we embarked on another kind of trip that signaled the death of a life in the public schools to a new life in a faithful Catholic school. The difference between the two is a great as the distance from the west coast to the east coast. It is as great for us as the breadth across the Grand Canyon is to an ant. In a certain way, this road trip is like the cross, as my wife and I re-learn what it means to be teachers. Though we are sad about all the dear ones we have left behind, we know that what follows the cross is consolation and now that we are here, we know that as we cultivate this new life, that in time it will bear fruit–abundant fruit if we take to our new lives with the requisite humility and arduous labor.
I am so grateful to return to these pages after this road trip that has taken me so far away from many loved ones and all the familiar things I have grown up with. For as I have said, The Imaginative Conservative is a home in my mind which now resides in my heart. It still holds within it the places I have been and will hold the places I will go. So for now I bid all in the west a fond farewell and I greet my new brethren in the east on this new day as I squint into the rising sun that had set on the west coast of my life the night before. I am very grateful for the good wishes and prayers offered by my many friends out there. May the peace of Christ be with you all and with all men of goodwill.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.