Beautiful Things That Keep Teaching Me

A Young Father Makes Some Changes

One Sunday as a young father of four children, I found myself doing what I had done for many years—watching sports for pleasure and relaxation. My wife Linda, who was busy in the kitchen making dinner, said something that startled me and shifted my free-time paradigm.

“Do we have to always have our Sundays built around sports and the droning of the announcers interrupting our meal and peace?” A few weeks before, an inspired ecclesiastical leader had suggested the importance of teaching good habits to my children with a timely reminder that they were only going to be small and teachable for a few years. Once that window passed, it would be gone forever.

At the time, I also happened to be listening to some family experts’ soundtracks about setting traditions in my home. These combined reflections came into sharp focus with Linda’s question that day. I thought to myself, watching those games would never change the outcome of those contests—but spending time with my children and making memories with them might change both their lives and mine forever!

That is not to say I never watched or took them to another sporting event. But it was a moment where I knew that building memories and traditions with them had the power to affect their long-term outcome and mine. That was a moment of beauty and of learning to better understand priority. It was the moment I learned this truth: quantum change requires a new paradigm.

A Grandad Knows He Can Still Make a Change

Just prior to getting married I met Linda’s grandfather. Everyone affectionately called him Grandad. It was easy for me to see why he was so beloved in the family. He had the natural gifts of unconditional love and service and would do anything for anyone. The first day I met him he had his friend “Bud” helping him with a project. Bud had his own set of challenges. But it was clear that Grandad saw strangers as friends he hadn’t met yet, and friends as family. This made everyone in Grandad’s life “family” and I was glad to be brought under that umbrella.

Despite my near instant affection for Grandad, I could tell there was some reluctance by Linda’s mother to introduce me so early in our relatively fast courtship. (We met on a Thursday, I proposed to her the following Thursday and we were married two months later!) Grandad, it turned out, had a challenge with alcohol addiction. Transparency of familial challenges to others is a delicate thing, right? But Grandad was one of those people who gave love unconditionally. I recall thinking at the time what a great grandad he would be for me too!

Grandad had lost his wife after not even 20 years of marriage, leaving him to raise four children alone. Life had not been easy for him. As I met the family, now grown, I admired what a beautiful life he had built for everyone from such difficult circumstances.

Then one day something unexpected happened. Grandad told us of a choice he made to go into a substance abuse facility. I remember him showing us around the place and telling us of his desire to never touch alcohol again. I recall thinking at the time what a courageous choice he made and how he humbly brought us all into his circle of hope and healing. I was fervently rooting and praying for his success. A few weeks later he exited the facility, never to touch alcohol again. I marveled that if a 70+ year old man could do that, nothing is impossible. I will ever be grateful for his example of change, love and determination. The lesson learned: I too can improve and change at any age and anytime.

Young Scholars Learn How to Change Hearts… Including Their Own

Last week, I spent a morning visiting a few classes at John Adams Academy with some visitors. I have never been disappointed by the learning, wonder and beauty that is always happening there. The last class we visited was our performing choir Virtus, which means valor, courage, and excellence of character.

Virtus are led by Greg Blankenbehler, who is one of the most inspirational teachers and conductors I have ever met. “Mr. B,” as the youth affectionately refer to him, is loved and admired immensely—and his students show it with their passion for excellence. He is an expert mentor and guide at helping them use music to confront the human side of life and see themselves in a purposeful light.

Recently, Virtus had a concert that centered on Civil War themes such as slavery, war, love, honor, virtue, integrity, and faith. Vocal music allows the vocalist to inject themselves into the lives and lyrics of the struggles of another. It is healing, especially when experienced with other youth and peers who too are growing up and are also figuring out the path of happiness. That morning was one of those Providential moments that occasionally comes together during great learning—and the visitors and I were lucky enough to have chanced upon a beautiful moment in the making.

We observed the choir as they explored the motifs of the music: finding hope, peace, and endurance. They started with the song “Down to the River to Pray.”

Virtus then sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” with such expression as I have rarely witnessed in a choir. I was listening to a heavenly choir of youthful angels. After three of the pieces were sung with great expression, emotion, and passion one of the visitors asked the scholars, “Is this your favorite class?”—to which almost all in unison said, “YES!”

The visitor then asked why and the scholars eagerly started telling their own stories of how that class, their friends, and teacher had changed them forever. For many, participation in the choir had unexpectedly and beautifully brought them through the difficulties of being teens and had led to the discovery of their personal excellence. Many were visibly moved and weeping, as was I.

Before the visitors and I departed, the scholars asked if they could sing one more song for us. We were like, “Are you kidding?! Of course, you can!”

We were thrilled with the encore. The song is highlighted with an emotional solo from the musical Civil War about a son asking someone to “Tell My Father” about his death on the battlefield.

Tell my father that his son

Didn’t run or surrender

That I bore his name with pride

As I tried to remember

You are judged by what you do

While passing through

As I rest ‘neath fields of green

Let him lean on your shoulder

Tell him how I spent my youth

So the truth could grow older

Tell my father, when you can

I was a man

Tell him we will meet again

Where the angels learn to fly

Tell him we will meet as men

For with honour did I die

Tell him I wore the blue

Proud and true, through the fire

Tell my father so he’ll know

I love him so

Tell him how I wore the blue

Just the way that he taught me

Tell my father not to cry

Then say goodbye

As the boys in the choir sang, the girls sat on the bleachers in small groups holding each other and silently weeping together. I would have loved to capture those moments on video, but it will have to suffice that this indelible memory will feed my soul and theirs for the rest of our lives. It was a lesson in beauty never to be forgotten.

Thanks, Virtus and Mr. B, you are changing a generation. We can change for the better at any age.

The Anatomy of Peace

“Our fate is shaped from within ourselves outward, never from without inward.”   Jacques Lusseyran

I learned one of the most beautiful lessons of life while on a flight to Hawaii reading The Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute.

Part of living life involves interacting with other people. People in communities often, perhaps inevitably, produce conflict. The knee-jerk solution in most cases is to tell others they need to change. But what the book suggested was needed to change. While reading, I reflected that the heart of personal conflict was this—I was allowing others to put me into a box where, once confined, I had few options for change from either them or me.

The Anatomy of Peace invited me to ask myself some questions. Was I seeing people as people—or people as objects? Was I betraying myself and my principles by the way I react to conflict? Was I honoring my desire to help my neighbor? Is my heart at war or at peace? Was I at peace with myself and others? As I read the book and pondered these questions I realized the only person I could control was me. As I contemplated, the thought came to me that self-governance, personal responsibility, and accountability were my path out of these boxes of conflict. That statement ultimately became the 10th Core Value at John Adams Academy. As a core value, self-governance, personal responsibility, and accountability suggest that the ideal outcome of an American Classical Education™ is to create such citizens and souls.

Some 30 years ago my sister moved to Maui with her family of eight children. The first week at school her small and wiry twins were first into the line to get on the bus home. They soon found themselves facing down much larger and stronger Hawaiian girls who pushed them out of line and took their place. The twins’ older brother, seeing the injustice, quickly came to their rescue and was promptly pummeled and pushed down by the stronger girls as well. On the way home the native girls taunted and threatened them to not get on the bus the next morning. Upon arriving home, they shared this all with their mother. My sister made some calls to a few neighbors and friends who told her these girls were known neighborhood bullies and should be avoided. They counseled her to call the school and the police.

My sister, who has a cheery and charitable temperament, decided instead to bake some bread and cinnamon rolls. She then visited the homes of the Hawaiian girls and offered the baked goods. This gesture immediately disarmed them. She next asked them if they had ever done gymnastics? My sister was an elite gymnast in her day. She taught them a few gymnastic moves and the native girls quickly became good friends to the family.

I learned much from this example at the time, and in the years that followed I had the challenge of trying this out on my own! In Proverbs we read, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” (KJV Bible Online, Proverbs 15:1) My sister had put those words into loving action and proved them true.

A few years ago, I had a difficult conversation with a neighbor of mine. She had called to tell me our dogs had gotten loose that day and were a nuisance to the community. She continued that on previous occasions the dogs had attacked a fawn and even charged at a 4-year-old child. She forcefully questioned, “What are you going to do about it?”

I assured her I shared her concern. We were doing all we could with two fences, tags and even tracking devices. She then repeated the same accusations. I told her the dogs would never harm a child and that our own grandchildren were never threatened by them. I told her they would, however, go after a wild animal like a deer. That is what dogs do. She continued lecturing me and finally, feeling exasperated, I said, “Are you finished?”

She quickly shot back, “You are being condescending to me Mr. Big Shot CEO!” and proceeded to call me a number of colorful names and expletives. I told her that she was now stooping to the level of personal attacks. She said I had caused her to do that and retorted, “What are you some sort of liberal snowflake?” I have never had anyone refer to me as a liberal snowflake before! She spouted next, “I’ve seen you before and know who you are. If those dogs get out again, don’t be surprised if they disappear!” I replied, “Are you threatening me or my dogs?” She then called me some more derogatory names. I again asked if she was finished and we terminated the call. Wow! Looking at my watch I saw this was 15 minutes of torturous conversation!

I thought afterward, she knows nothing about me and had judged me solely based on where we live and perceptions around her observations. Seeking a remedy, the next morning I got a bouquet of flowers and took them to her. Her husband answered the door. He didn’t know who I was and invited me right in. As she entered the foyer she looked at me and said, “I think I know you.” I said, “Yes you do, you called me last night. I am Dean Forman, your neighbor.”

She came up and hugged me and said, “I am so sorry, I have felt terrible about this ever since I hung up the phone.” I told her that I wanted to reset and start over. I explained that it did not offend me that she called animal control as the dogs were not street savvy. I reiterated they were not vicious, and we owned them for the purpose of keeping deer off our property. I added that the rains had softened the ground and they found a way out. I told her I was a caring neighbor and a Christian and that I try to be a good person. I asked her forgiveness.

She said, “Can I hug you again? The flowers are lovely.” I said, of course and I gave her my cell number and told her to call anytime there was a problem. I assured her that she really did not know us and that we are good neighbors.

My choice to meet anger with humility and an outreached hand was inspired by my sister’s example all those years ago when she chose to meet an act of bullying with a sweet treat and a sweeter greeting of love. Thanks to her I thought, why not take some flowers and at least you can know that you did all you could to mend relations? It worked like a charm! Love conquered hate, harsh words were replaced by understanding and friendship. I left feeling such a comfort and inward peace. Thus, the anatomy of peace. That is one of the most beautiful lessons of life I have ever learned.

What is the most beautiful thing you have learned? How did you know it?

The Most Beautiful Thing I Learned as a Father

Years ago, my daughter fell in love with a young man whom she met during her summer break from college. I remember their relationship moving rather quickly and her talking about marriage. I counseled her at the time that she was not ready for that step, which did not go over too well. But in considering the ways I could counsel my daughter, I went deep into thought and discovered the most beautiful word in any language, LOVE.

Over the next few months my future son-in-law became a regular around our home in the evenings for our spiritual devotionals. During one of those evenings, I remember asking him if he had ever considered serving a mission for The Lord? He replied that when he was younger he participated in a religion-sponsored Scout troop, and he always heard the other boys talk about missions and thought he too would serve one someday. I told them both I knew they had been discussing marriage but I felt they needed both time and the blessings a mission would bring to their future union. I then said this to him: “You think you love my daughter. But you don’t know what love yet means.” I went on, “If you go on a mission you will learn to put God first and love Him with all your heart, might, mind and strength. You will also learn to love, sacrifice, and put others before self. Then when you faithfully return, I will know you learned to love God and others more than you love yourself. I will also know that you have the capacity and understanding to love my daughter, your children, and my grandchildren more than you love yourself.”

Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. This commandment is most often cited from the Gospel and epistles of John, but the commandment is also found in Leviticus and in the teachings of Christ and His apostles. We do need to love ourselves and others. Love can only reach the pinnacle of its purpose when employed in the beautiful triangle of self, neighbor, and God.

But what is love? We use this word a lot in America. As a teen there was a new sitcom on television called “Love, American Style.” It was a romantic comedy that suggested that “love” was rarely more than a passing passion, lust, or romantic attraction to another person that often found its highest expression in a quick liaison in the bedroom. It was a very shallow definition of love. In lasting relationships friendship is frequently at the heart of the emotion. It is where utility or transaction give place to excellence in love.

Websters 1828 Dictionary defines a friend this way: “One who is attached to another by affection; one who entertains for another sentiments of esteem, respect, and affection, which lead him to desire his company, and to seek to promote his happiness and prosperity; opposed to foe or enemy.” Amor and amicita come from amare, to love. The word for friend in Spanish is amigo and is also derived from the Latin root am.

In Greek, four words are used to describe what we use for one. (See C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves)

Storge: Storge is the love of enjoying someone or something. It is frequently expressed as a fondness, familiarity as with a brother, sister, or family member. Storge may also be expressed as in liking a movie or play and can be a type of this love. With people, it can be the enjoyment of their company. Both ice cream and being with good friends and family can be examples of storge. This kind of love is the covering that clothes the other loves. Its foundation seems to be pleasure and transactional.

Philia: Filial love or friendship builds to a more noble state of honor and virtue when two discover that they have ideas in common and beliefs that build on those ideas. This friendship is pointing somewhere, usually toward a mutual aspiration. It is beautifully illustrated when friends would do anything for the other, thus going beyond business or pleasure.

Eros: Romantic love. This is also the love that creates the hottest of fires in our emotions. This is the love that is most frequently confused with the other three and can too easily be subsumed by lust and risks transforming another person to an object for momentary gratification. Yet it can also be the beautiful sacrament of commitment, covenant and trust that demonstrates ultimate loyalty, fidelity, and devotion.

Agape: Divine love. This is the highest and most unselfish of the loves. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 called it charity. For many it is not natural and at times it goes against human nature. It loves the unlovable, the undeserving, and selfish individuals. It gives all and asks for nothing in return. It is the one that takes the greatest chances. It is also that love which experiences the most loss. It puts others above self. It elevates the other three loves to their highest virtue. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth:….” Its apex may be found where two people would lay down their life for the other.

When you put all four of these loves together, they will never fail you. They make an unbreakable bond of being and becoming. They will inform, guide, and nurture a true love and your real existence of happiness and pure joy above any other momentary pleasures. This is what I most wished for my daughter and her future husband as they stood before me in their younger years—a future full of the truest and most complete love. I am pleased to say the invitation was heeded with a beautiful outcome.

What is the most beautiful thing you have ever learned?

The Most Beautiful Thing Ever Learned

What is the most beautiful thing you have ever learned? How did you know it?

I have found that few, if anyone, can answer this question without reflection and a long pause. Contemplation is in order for this one as the outcome can lead you to a highly-desired destination—happiness.

At Revolution in Education, our thirst is for cultivating learning, understanding, and wisdom. As such, I would like to ask you to ponder these questions as we explore our responses during the month of March.

What is the most beautiful thing you have ever learned? How did you know it?

Every Thursday I meet with members of the senior class at John Adams Academy. Last week, I posed these questions and I got some great responses.

The first response was from a young man who said, “I know this may sound or seem weird to you all, but I really love my parents. I like talking to them. If I have a question or problem, I like discussing it with them. It’s amazing, but they usually know the answers. If they don’t, they help me find the solution. That’s one of the most beautiful things I have learned.”

Another young lady had an epiphany as we were discussing economics and, in particular, a statement by philosopher and economist Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations. He said, “Wealth is not gold and silver but the essentials of life—food, clothes, houses, transportation, communications, schools, good roads, factories, and well-cultivated farms…..that if you want an increased standard of living and prosperity, goods and services should be abundant and cheap.” (Smith, Adam. The Wealth of Nations. Wordsworth Editions, 2012.)  She then piped up and said, “My mother keeps telling me to get a good education so I will be financially successful. But for me wealth is found in helping others because of the way it makes me feel. I helped some younger scholars here at the school this past week, and I loved how I felt while I was doing it.”

The exchange reminded me of a brief clip of Dr. Victor Frankl as he spoke to some college students who had “make a lot of money” as their goal. Watch Dr. Frankl fervidly teach the students how to search for meaning and find a will, instead of money, in their lives.

Deeper into the discussion, another scholar surmised that being able to look at a formula in calculus and prove it was beautiful. Another mentioned the beauty of the number 3 and its repetition in the world: three primary colors, the triangle—which is the strongest geometric form, three special dimensions in geometry, the Godhead in the Bible, three wise men, three days in the tomb, three days in the belly of the whale, three denials of Christ by Peter, three core principles in Islam, the Three Jewels that Buddhists take refuge in, etc. The symmetry of this was a great beauty to this scholar. Another loved the connection of the Bible to others and to serving them. Another talked about joy and its definition of contentment. For another it was finding a missing puzzle piece and how it completed the art. For another it was rereading The Chosen a year later from the first reading and how so many new understandings came to light.

I was present at the birth of each one of my children. With Linda, I witnessed each one take their first breath. I recalled thinking each time that creating life was a great miracle. Then came my own epiphany: I discovered that God had shared his greatest gift—giving life—with me. At each of those births I was a key player in the beauty of creating life with Linda and God. There is that beautiful number three again, forming a solid triangle of husband, wife and God and wife, husband and child. I then remember singing these words from the hymn “How Great Thou Art” quietly to myself as I wept for joy.

Oh Lord, my God

When I, in awesome wonder

Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made

I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder

Thy power throughout the universe displayed

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee

How great Thou art, how great Thou art

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee

How great Thou art, how great Thou art

That was the most beautiful thing I have learned. What is yours? How did you know it?

Abigail Adams and Linda

“Posterity! You will never know, how much it cost the present Generation, to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good Use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 26 April 1777. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Each day as I come in from my morning routine, I find Linda in our library studying. She understands well the principle of “you, not them.” As we change self, we inspire others to remodel their lives as well. 

It has been suggested that John Adams without Abigail would likely never have reached the pinnacle of public or personal success, nor happiness, he ultimately achieved—nor would she without him. Like John and Abigail, Linda and I know that education is the great liberator. Linda’s passion for education lit my own zeal for it. Education bestows greater freedom, equality, and joy on whomever it touches. 

John and Abigail knew this price well when they exchanged these words in letters they shared. 

 “It feels as though we have spent a far greater portion of our marriage apart, than together. Strange how the sun rises and sets whether you be at my side or not. But in this cause we build a future—it is our legacy—freedom is the best gift we can impart to our children.” (Trotter, Brian P. The Miracle of America: Birth of a Nation. Captured Miracles Productions, 2010.)

Many months and years passed with only modest time together during the war as John served in Europe as a diplomat and Abigail took care of the farm, home economy and their children’s educations. John noted in a letter: 

“It is indeed hard to be apart. The price we pay is dear—I marvel that our family remains intact and strong despite this grievous distance, and we both know the dire consequence we will face if unsuccessful in our endeavors—but this good work is ours to do—for in our sacrifice we lay the foundation of a nation that will endow all men with an equality and the ability to reach their greatest potential—and fill the measure of their creation!” (Trotter)

This exchange between Abigail and John Adams reflects the cost of building something greater and more noble than self. The prize today is the same as then—it is the secure and free futures of our children and grandchildren. Public virtue, or service for others, is hard. It is rarely convenient and there is a personal price paid to offer it. This is foundational to America, our communities, and to our freedom.

In December of 1779 John took his son Quincy at age 12 with him to France. Can you imagine leaving Boston for Europe in the dead of winter? Not only that but the ship sprung a leak and all were required to take shifts bailing water, including the passengers. They were told if the ship were found by the British they could not outrun, nor outgun, a challenge. They then travailed a few weeks to reach Spain. Was it worth it? Time and Providence proved it so. It was time to further Quincy’s education and be mentored in other ways by his father. Yet, note the beauty of this letter written by his mother, Abigail, and sent shortly after their departure encouraging her young son to greater virtue.

“These are times in which a Genious would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. Would Cicero have shone so distinguished an orater, if he had not been roused, kindled and enflamed by the Tyranny of Catiline, Millo,2 Verres and Mark Anthony. The Habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. All History will convince you of this, and that wisdom and penetration are the fruits of experience, not the Lessons of retirement and leisure.

Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the Heart, then those qualities which would otherways lay dormant, wake into Life, and form the Character of the Hero and the Statesman.

War, Tyrrany and Desolation are the Scourges of the Almighty, and ought no doubt to be deprecated. Yet it is your Lot my Son to be an Eye witness of these Calimities in your own Native land, and at the same time to owe your existance among a people who have made a glorious defence of their invaded Liberties, and who, aided by a generous and powerfull Ally, with the blessing of heaven will transmit this inheritance to ages yet unborn.” The whole of the letter can be found here.

Such powerful words spoken so eloquently and beautifully by a noble wife, mother and heroine to youthful and impressionable Quincy. 

So as we conclude this month of reflection, improvement and stories of geraniums and classics I thank Linda for being my wife, best friend, confidant and inspiration. Her organizational and home-economic skills are extraordinary. She has motivated our own children, grandchildren, and many other youths in their love of learning. In short—no Linda, no John Adams Academy. She was classically educated and loves classical literature, music and art. She is the co-founder of John Adams Academy and a creator of beauty. When Linda creates something, it is done with elegance, style and grace. She was an active contributor to the John Adams Academy vision, mission, and core values. She alone had the inspiration for our model of teaching, our academy crest and the proper use of design in our schools. Much of the Academy artwork, its placement and hanging are her efforts. Her teacher introductions each year are insightful and legendary. She has been the mentor to me and many others in this classical journey. 

“You, not them” is an invitation to liberate your life with interminable learning. 


Image attribution: 1798 Watercolor of the Old House of John & Abigail Adams by E. Malcolm.

The Magic Geranium and Becoming Something New by guest writer Linda Forman

As a child I thought geraniums were magic. A simple story helped me maintain the wonder.  It is Jane Thayer’s “The Magic Geranium.”

Mrs. Smith lived in a drab little house with a drab little yard in the middle of a nice little street. Her house was the drabbest in the neighborhood, but she did not know what to do about it. One day, her friend Mrs. Allen came by with a geranium in a pot. “This is a magic geranium,” Mrs. Allen said. “It will make your whole house beautiful.”

So Mrs. Smith put the magic geranium on the drab little table in her drab little kitchen. The geranium was so bright, Mrs. Smith thought it was a shame it was on such a drab little table. “I’ll paint the table, so the geranium has a nice place to rest.” So she went to the paint store and bought some bright yellow paint.

Once the table was painted a nice bright yellow, Mrs. Smith looked at it and said, “It’s a shame that the chairs look so drab next to the table. I’ll paint them, too.” So she painted the chairs a nice bright red. When she was finished she stepped back and looked at what she had done. “My table and chairs are so bright, it’s a shame they’re in this drab kitchen.” So back to the paint store she went, and painted her kitchen a nice bright color, and bought nice bright curtains to hang in the windows.

The kitchen was so pretty, Mrs. Smith said, “The kitchen is so nice and bright, but the dining room is so drab next to it.” So back to the paint store she went and painted the dining room. When she was done she looked at the dining room and said, “The dining room is so nice and bright, but the living room is so drab next to it.”

Pretty soon, Mrs. Smith had painted all the rooms in her house a nice bright color. When she was finished, she said, “It’s a shame that the inside of my house is so pretty, but the house is drab. That’s not right.” So she painted the house a nice bright color. When she was done, she looked at what she had done and said, “Now the house is nice and bright, it’s a shame the yard is so drab.” So she planted pretty flowers in her yard and soon had the nicest house in the neighborhood.

Mrs. Allen came back for a visit and was amazed at the changes. “You’ve done a great job making your house so nice,” she said.

“I didn’t do anything,” Mrs. Smith said. “The magic geranium you gave me made my house beautiful.” (Retelling here.)

I always wanted to paint a table or sew new curtains, rearrange my bedroom on a regular basis and I thought it was my duty to order and beautify my surroundings.  I did this often because we moved somewhere new in the world every year or two with my engineer father. I always started with a pot of flowers.

“The Magic Geranium” taught me that one small thing can make my life better, and then one more, and then one more until huge change has happened. Additionally I learned that I am responsible for the change I seek in my life. (Remember the theme of this month: It is me, not them.) In my life, I am the change agent.

One idea can change the world. In the words of Kobi Yamada in What Do You Do With An Idea? 

“Then, one day, something amazing happened. My idea changed right before my very eyes.  It spread its wings, took flight, and burst into the sky…and then, I realized what you do with an idea…You change the world.” (Yamada, Kobi. (2013).What Do You Do With An Idea? Seattle: Compendium, Inc.)

If any of you were to come to our home you would notice potted red geraniums all around. More than once I have given these potted flowers to someone as Mrs. Allen did.

The great books and stories I have sought out and read have been indispensable in discovering who I am and who I want to be as well as in helping me develop my values and informing what choices I make. Somewhere between “Once upon a time” and “They lived happily ever after” I have found virtue, wisdom and redemption.

It is about becoming! Character has always been the chief goal of classical education, cultivating wise, virtuous men and women. And in the process of becoming, I can tell you that you and I both will be inspired to change the world around us, step by step and room by room, to be brighter and more beautiful.

Live Another Life Through Books: The Power of Literature by guest writer Linda Forman

“Books give a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” — Plato

The human race for thousands of years has been writing experiences, telling how it has met our everlasting problems, how it has struggled with darkness and rejoiced in light.  What fools we should be to try to live our lives without the guidance and inspiration of the generations that have gone before.

Books, particularly those classified as Classic Literature, are simply life selected and condensed into words. The expression of truth, the transmission of knowledge and emotions between man and man from generation to generation, these are the purposes of literature. Literature generally means light.  Light of any kind is important.  But the kind of mental, spiritual and moral light that can come from great literature can nourish our souls and give a tone to our lives that almost nothing else can.

The human mind itself is a possession of uncalculated value, but it needs to be lighted, charged and vitalized.  The mind can get balance, reason, foresight and understanding from the thoughts of others.  The right kind of ideas, properly introduced into the mind breeds initiative, moral courage, the will to grow, and a love of fairness.  When the mind is not properly pollinated and vitalized by the inspiration of stimulating thoughts and uplifting ideals, much of its power is wasted.  A chemist, a lawyer, or an inventor does not depend upon his own discoveries for his occupational success, he appropriates for his own use all of the tested methods and good ideas of all of the best men in his field.  What an opportunity we have to enlighten the mind, teach the heart, enrich the soul, and charge ambition with power.

Most of our education comes through the experiences of others, and the greatest education is the awakening of the heart, and the arousing of the spirit.  It is by these processes that we add to our own stature and increase the dimensions of our own lives.  As Oliver Wendell Holmes pointed out, “A mind once stretched to a new idea never returns to its original dimensions.”

I personally have been inspired by Cato’s devotion to republicanism in the face of tyranny. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave has become, for me, the symbol of understanding John Adams Academy and its mission as I strive to continually move out of the shadows and seek truth, turning my soul to reorient it to correct and proper loves. Plutarch gives me lessons, both good and bad from the great leaders of history. The Founders didn’t just look to the classical world for the structure of American government but they used the classics to inform them of the type of personal character necessary of the citizenry for this republican democracy to be a success. I have faced moral quandaries with Jane Eyre and learned obstacles are overcome by ordinary characters. Elie Wiesel showed me that evil exists but also that the human spirit can triumph. Bad things can happen to good people. I came to understand patriotism from George Washington in his Farewell Address. I have pondered my own country’s story reading Gibbons. I have experienced joy in the sheer beauty of the language of Hawthorne. And then there is Elizabeth Bennett, and Snowball, Jo March, Falstaff, Atticus Finch, Huck Finn, Hamlet, Hester Prynne, Pip, Jean Valjean, Frodo Baggins, Aeneas, The Wife of Bath, Ebenezer Scrooge, Eeyore and Mr. Toad!

I faced moral dilemmas impossible to actually experience in my own life, free from consequences and I was able to contemplate suffering without really suffering. The list of characters and lessons learned and wisdom found grew longer and longer as I started making a list.  Which is my favorite? It depends on the day and circumstance, which has been the most influential? Looking back 60 years, I don’t know.  But I do know that the great books that are part of my life have given me the wisdom to be better at each stage of my life, a better person, a better wife, a better mother and grandmother. The great books have taught me how to better deal with other people and adversity, to recognize right and to have the courage to defend it and to know when I should remain silent.

What authors have changed you from the inside out?

—Linda Forman, Co-Founder of John Adams Academies

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” —Frederick Douglass

You, Not Them: Why a Commitment to Your Own Education is Critical

It is perhaps a widely accepted idea that most people hope their children will “do better than they did.” What if I told you that in education, that isn’t likely to happen?

I don’t mean for this to discourage you. I mean for this to motivate you.

My mentor, author Oliver DeMille, wrote in his book A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-first Century that, “In our modern society, whenever education is the subject, we always want to talk about the kids. We care about them, and we know their education is important, but we also find that it’s easier to talk about their education than to improve our own. In reality, you are unlikely to pass on to your children a better education than you have earned yourself, no matter how much you push them or how good the teachers… Children tend to rise to the educational level of their parents…The most effective way to ensure the quality of their education is to consistently improve your own.” (Oliver Van DeMille, A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-first Century. Cedar City, UT, 2006.)

Or, in other words, education is about YOU, not them.

At this point you may be wondering what this has to do with our mutual journey into 2023 so far. In January we examined resolution and Providence. Now we’re ready to move onto the next step in our journey: the resolve to become.

I cannot help but share with you something I’ve learned through the blessings of my personal life experience as a founder of the John Adams Academies and through years of experience in the realm of education: becoming and learning are inextricably intertwined. In becoming your greatest self, you must resolve to improve your learning, to expand your knowledge, and add to your own education.

I’m not suggesting you enroll in a formal school but I am hoping that after a year of sharing my own journey, experiences, life-lessons and hard-won wisdom you will trust me to walk into the next steps.

On my blog and in my newsletters, we started in Plato’s Cave.

In my own life, I started in a world of unexacting education.

For much of my high school and college years I was nurtured on a “fast food” academic diet that was rich in textbook snippets of facts, figures and rote memorization for passing multiple choice tests. But to discuss or write a coherent paragraph on ideas was foreign to me. I was good at repetition of key words and concepts enough to pass the test. You know the routine; I call it the law of the school: pass the final exam, get the grade, move along on the conveyor belt.

Eventually, I aspired to have a classical education like my wife. Linda was educated in British schools around the world. Her grasp of American and British Literature was exemplary to me. However, to move to an education built on enormous amounts of reading, discussion and writing was a monumental decision and change for me.

When I invite you on a journey of resolve for better education, I understand exactly what I’m asking because I have journeyed the path myself—and indeed I’m still learning and traveling.

This month, Linda and I would like to share with you some inspiration to either begin, recommit, or resolve to expand your own education in 2023. The concept of “you, not them” is key to the mission of our academies and to our personal lives. We hope you will trust us to direct you and to inspire you… and, most of all, walk alongside you.

The Good Life and Happiness

I found it interesting that some of the most popular courses on college campuses these days are those about finding the good life or happiness. They have become the most sought-after lectures with class sizes exceeding 1,000 or more. This suggests a population of young adults and a culture that is in search of that elusive status of joy, abundance, and happiness.

I thought it timely to consider again what the status of abundance and happiness is and where it can be found. Our tutors in the effort will be Aristotle and Viktor Frankl to help us fuse the wisdom of the past with the perspective of modernity and of our future. Aristotle is the philosophical, while Frankl is the laboratory and practice of the ideals.

Aristotle suggested that happiness is the good at which all men aim. If we are to pursue it, as Thomas Jefferson suggested in the Declaration of Independence, it is an activity of discovery and passion. Good governments like people are most likely to succeed when they begin from a position of safety and security to conceive, ponder and broach happiness. How do we know when we have discovered the prize of joy in the pursuit?

“Most people, I should think, agree about what it is called, since both the masses and sophisticated people call it happiness, understanding being happy as equivalent to living well and acting well. They disagree about substantive conceptions of happiness, the masses giving and account which differs from that of the philosophers. For the masses think it is something straightforward and obvious, like pleasure, wealth, or honor, some thinking it to be one thing, others another.” (Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics, Chapter 4. Roger Crisp. St Anne’s College, Oxford.) Aristotle proceeds to lay out a way of becoming an individual of character through building moral habits that, when put into action, constitutes human excellence and allows us to flourish.

As we began this new year, we invited ourselves to find greater meaning in life by making and keeping commitments to ourselves and others. As Viktor Frankl points out in Man’s Search for Meaning, “The prisoner who had lost faith in the future—his future—was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay.” (Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy. 76. Boston, Beacon Press, 2006.) What is your desire for the future for self and others?

Several questions from the prior blog “Prudence and Excellence” on January 10th were asked to help you liberate your potential and elevate your thoughts. It may also be healthy to see yourself in a constant state of finding purpose and meaning. “…[T]he meaning of life always changes, but it never ceases to be. According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways:

(1) by creating a work or doing a deed;

(2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and

(3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.” (p. 111)

There is a need to be constantly finding meaning by doing one of these things every day.

My admiration for Dr. Frankl goes deep because of his development of and perspective through Logotherapy. Logos is a Greek word literally translated as “word,” but in Greek philosophy logos refers to divine reason or meaning. Logotherapy, he said, “is different from psychoanalysis in that its methods are less retrospective and less introspective.” (p. 98) Meaning Logotherapy focuses on the future aspects of our life, more specifically the meaning that one intends to fulfill, instead of dwelling on the unpleasantries of past failures.

Here is perhaps the greatest motivation for what we choose to do this year: it is to know the “why”! From Frankl’s writings, I bolded the “whys” found in his descriptions of his experience finding meaning while in a concentration camp.

“As we said before, any attempt to restore a man’s inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal. Nietzsche’s words, ‘He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how,’ could be the guiding motto for all psychotherapeutic and psychohygienic efforts regarding prisoners. Whenever there was an opportunity for it, one had to give them a why—an aim—for their lives, in order to strengthen them to bear the terrible how of their existence. Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost. The typical reply with which such a man rejected all encouraging arguments was, ‘I have nothing to expect from life any more. What sort of answer can one give to that?’” (p. 76)

“What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual. These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. ‘Life’ does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are also very real and concrete. They form man’s destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny. No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response. Sometimes the situation in which a man finds himself may require him to shape his own fate by action. At other times it is more advantageous for him to make use of an opportunity for contemplation and to realize assets in this way. Sometimes man may be required simply to accept fate, to bear his cross. Every situation is distinguished by its uniqueness, and there is always only one right answer to the problem posed by the situation at hand.” (p.77)

Create a work. Do a deed. Experience something new. Encounter someone new. Change your paradigm from What do I want? to What is expected of me?

Amazing Grace

Many years ago, prior to conceiving John Adams Academy, I had an epiphany while handing out diplomas at a continuation high school. These are schools where those who have struggled behaviorally and academically are given a new chance at school and life. This senior class was small enough that graduates were given a few moments to share their journeys of challenges and triumphs as part of the commencement.

I love and live for these types of moments because they reflect the real human experience of imperfect life—and the grit and endurance it takes to overcome obstacles. One graduate arose and told her story of teen pregnancy, becoming a young mother, dropping out of school, and ultimately returning to her education to overcome. Her next words took us by surprise: “I want to express my journey in music with this song.”

She then sang the first verse of “Amazing Grace” a cappella.

“Amazing grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found,
Was blind, but now I see.”

I quietly dabbed the tears from my eyes. I was so proud of her determination, resilience, and courage to find herself, and then to put her emotions on display and accomplishments to words. WOW!

To this day, I never hear the music or lyrics of this hymn without thinking of her or the movie Amazing Grace that followed a few years later. The title of the movie is a reference to the 1772 hymn itself. The film highlighted the experiences of John Newton, who worked on a slave ship. The work dulled his humanity, bruised his spirit, and caused him great sorrow and regret. His conversion to Christianity inspired him to write the later poem and prose of the hymn. Newton eventually became a major influence on William Wilberforce, who was politically seeking the abolition of slavery.

Over the course of a few decades Wilberforce fought public indifference and the moneyed opposition determined to keep their economic interests safe. Nevertheless, Wilberforce finally found the inspiration to persevere in his family and, together with his friend John Newton, he would find and fight with new ideas that would lead to a great victory for the liberation of slaves and hope again for mankind.

DEFINITION: Grace is the favorable influence of God and His Divine influence in renewing our hearts that restrains us from sin. Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language 1828 

Did you know that there was an American itinerant preacher named John Woolman who also found the amazing grace to turn the hearts of the early Quaker communities on the east coast from slaveholders to abolitionists? He wrote a personal journal that is the second work after Benjamin Franklin’s in the first volume of The Harvard Classics. His story is also one of “amazing grace.”

He reflects, “Before I was seven years old I began to be acquainted with the operations of Divine love….to seek after that pure habitation which I then believed God had prepared for his servants.” He noted that, “In the bloom of youth no ornament is so lovely as that of virtue, nor any enjoyments equal to those which we partake of in fully resigning ourselves to the Divine will.” Later in life while on a journey with a friend he noted, “The difference in general betwixt a people used to labor moderately for their living, training up their children in frugality and business, and those who live on the labor of slavers, the former, in my view being the most happy life…..men having power too often misapplied it; that though we made slaves of the negroes, and the Turks made slaves of the Christians, I believed that liberty was the natural right of all men equally.” Woolman, J. (1794). A Journal of the life, Gospel Labours, and Christian experiences of that faithful minister of Jesus Christ. Printed by R.M. Jackson.

His reasoning and reflective questions were to ask the congregants at various hamlets and cities what slavery was “doing to their souls?” John was well-educated and as such he was frequently asked to use his gifts for others.

On one such occasion Woolman was asked to be the scribe of a will for a successful neighbor. “About this time an ancient man of good esteem in the neighborhood came to my house to get his will written. He had young negroes, and I asked him privately how he purposed to dispose of them. He told me; I then said, I cannot write thy will without breaking my own peace and respectfully gave my reasons for it. He signified that he had choice that I should have written it, but as I could not, consistently with my conscience, he did not desire it, and so be got it written by some other person. A few years after, there being great alterations in his family, he came again to get me to write his will. His negroes were yet young, and his son, to whom he intended to give them , was, since he first spoke to me, from a libertine become a sober young man, and he supposed that I would have been free on that account to write it. We had much friendly talk on the subject, and then deferred it. A few days after he came again and directed their freedom, and I then wrote his will.”

John Woolman’s subsequent actions and labors led him to become an itinerant preacher, visiting many Quaker communities up and down the east coast. This ultimately led to a complete abolition of slavery among Quakers before 1776. The power to change ourselves, our family, our community, and the world lies within each of us. It is frequently manifest in the deceptively simple  acts of how we conduct our lives.

As he neared the end of his life, he requested a friend record his emotions and feelings for him. “O Lord my God! the amazing horrors of darkness were gathered around me and covered me all over, and I saw not way to go forth; I felt the misery of my fellow-creatures separated from the Divine harmony, and I was heavier than I could bear, and I was crushed down under it; I lifted up my hand and stretched out my arm, but there was not to help me; I looked round about and was amazed. In the depth of misery, O Lord! I remembered that thou art omnipotent, that I had called thee Father, and I felt that I loved thee, and I was made quiet in thy will, and I waited for deliverance from thee; thou hadst pity upon me when to man could help me; I saw that meekness under suffering was showed to us in the most affecting example of thy Son, and though taught me to follow him, and I said, Thy will, o Father, be done.”

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears relieved.

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares

I have already come;

‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far

And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me

His word my hope secures;

He will my shield and portion be,

As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,

and mortal life shall cease,

I shall possess within the veil,

A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we’ve first begun.

Amazing Grace invites us all in music, word, and deed.