Colonel G. H. Bristol USMC (Retired)
As a protector of our great nation, I used to try to image a “bubble of safety and warmth” around those I served when in combat zones. Once, I found a baby deserted on a rock scree in Afghanistan. We brought her with us and made her safe and warm. She was in my bubble. She survived.
Our nation – the greatest nation in the world – is faced with many challenges and choices. The speed and wide range of “norms” facing our youth is staggering. My son and daughter are grown – but I still fear the world they live in. I had a challenging childhood – but I believe that it is harder to thrive in the world today as a young man or woman than in past generations.
When I was young, I worked at age eleven. I helped pay the bills at twelve. I left home two days after I graduated from High School when I enlisted in the Marine Corps. My overwhelming goal during my youth was to survive, take care of my mother and sisters, and then leave the place where I grew up. There was no “bubble,” and for years I believed that my tough, harrowing childhood made me a man.
I was wrong.
What makes a child progress into a successful, productive adult is the ability to be loved, to learn, and to grow proportionately in a “bubble,” but not a bubble of privilege and entitlement. No, the way to a functional adult in today’s world is the integration of love of God and family; the safety and warmth of a home and a community that offers opportunity for worship, sports, and pride in town and country; and an educational system that teaches how to think logically, decide resolutely, and act consistently. Those three elements – God and family; home and community; and education – construct a bubble that can protect, nurture, and challenge a young person throughout his or her youth and steer him/her on a straight path to adulthood.
I have been a part of the WCA Community since 2016. I did not really know much about Classical, Christian Education when I arrived. While still no scholar to be sure, I have seen with my own eyes all the elements that provide an educational experience unrivaled in the Flathead Valley. I watch in awe Dr. Hal Brunson teaching about the classics and weaving in God’s word to each student he encounters. He and fellow Ph. D. Matt Paulson anchor an upper-school curriculum that is informative, challenging, and force-functioning to trigger the learning process. Our Rhetoric students gather large amounts of material, logically arrange it, and advocate its merits or flaws in oral or written medium. Our Math leader, Mrs. Jones, is instituting a new math curriculum that will have our students learning math in a similarly innovative way.
At the other end of the spectrum, I see five- and six-year-olds learning to be respectful, well-spoken, and part of a team. They spend recess outside – closely supervised – they run, laugh, and play games they invent. They can explain their games to anyone – even me. Recently, I was regaled by three of our Lower School students who said, “Colonel Bristol, we are playing a game where we run, stop, say something funny – and then we all laugh.” I asked them, “Who is the winner?” They replied in unison, “Everyone!”
That is my kind of game.
An old adage states, “Throw them in the deep end and they will teach themselves to swim.” I shake my head now at that – for I was one of those kids. Oh, I learned a lot of things on my own – and mostly how to get into trouble. My teachers branded me a “troubled kid” and I spent a LOT of time in detention and eventually ended up in a reform school. It was there that I learned to read with vigor, and I am still a voracious reader to this day. Athletics gave me the will to win, and I was and remain a fierce competitor. I survived outside of the bubble. But I now see the flaw:
I paid a tough price.
I am sixty years old. I have done many things in my life. If I could do one thing differently, it would be to attend a school like WCA. I tell the parents of each child here what a tremendous sacrifice they are making and how “worth it” the sacrifice will be someday. I tell the children how fortunate they are to have our Lord and parents who love and cherish them enough to send them to WCA. Rather than getting tossed in the deep end, they learn to swim CORRECTLY. They learn about God. They learn about Beauty, Goodness, and Truth. They learn about how life is SUPPOSED to be, and are given the tools of learning to discern why things go wrong. When they emerge as adults from the bubble, they are ready. Chances are, they will become the same kind of parents who made the wise sacrifice to send them to an educational experience such as we have here.
To parents, I continue to stress, “LEARN about the Classical Christian educational.” Discover what your child is learning. Grasp the “wherefores and the whys” of the curriculum and teaching method. Participate with your children by asking them, “Why?”
You will walk away changed – of this I have no doubt.
When I first arrived, I thought one of my missions was to take kids out of the bubble and imbue them with toughness, perseverance, and hardiness. Though I will always believe I can make them more fit, I have changed the way I think regarding the bubble.
GOD and FAMILY. HOME and COMMUNITY. EDUCATION.
It is a three-legged stool upon which the bubble – containing your child – sits. It is firm, time-proven, and timeless.
One day, YOUR children will burst out of the bubble and stand on the stool. They will be Christian doers and thinkers; well-versed and polite; fit and functional; and ready to help transform the culture for Christ. They will look back at their teachers and this community and smile. Then they will look at you, thank you, spread their wings and fly, and a part of you will fly with them.
Semper Fidelis, Colonel Bristol