On this day 96 years ago, the Stony Brook School opened its doors for the first time. At an inauguration ceremony held in Carson Auditorium, founding headmaster Frank E. Gaebelein gave the following address.
Plan and Scope of Stony Brook School for Boys
In his able volume on the American Secondary School, Prof. Julius Sachs, of Columbia University, remarks that one of the chief services of the private school has been its ability to point the way toward newer and finer usages in education, to experiment along sensible lines.
Such a statement is particularly descriptive of the Stony Brook School for Boys. Except for the fact that we like to think of Stony Brook as something more definite than an experiment, Professor Sach’s words might be said to apply precisely to this school. The word experiment has acquired a rather unfortunate connotation, a connotation suggestive of uncertainty. And Stony Brook is more than an experiment as experiments are popularly conceived. It is an enterprise built upon the foundational truths of Christianity. These are the great and abiding things—the eternal verities. Our contemporary philosophy, a large part of our religious thought, is colored by the idea of relativism, the endless ebb and flow of things. Yet the great truths remain. They are immutable, abiding—as much more firmly fixed than the mountains as the infinite transcends the finite. They cannot be shaken; they constitute “the everlasting yea.”
It is upon this rock that the Stony Brook School for Boys rests. And it is upon this rock that its future growth will be built.
There is a word that has been used extensively in the printed announcements of this school. It is a word happily chosen because it summarizes the essentials of the Stony Brook plan. That word is “correlate.” The central aim of this school is to correlate Christian principles, the great and eternal verities, with education of a type high enough to merit intimacy with such exalted ideals.
In a sense, this aim, this correlation, involves the thought of reconciliation. Our American public schools have tended toward the divorce of religion from education. This is a tendency in many ways unfortunate, but it is a tendency the basis of which is traceable to a great principle of our democracy—the separation of church and state. The gap between religion and common education spreads ever wider. In many respects, the two are now absolutely separate. Only in the Sabbath-school and in some private schools does the child receive definite religious training. And how slight this is! And how perfunctory it often is! And how few, comparatively, are the children who profit by it!
Education without character is a dangerous thing. For character, not intellectual agility, is the source of right living. But character itself has a source. It springs not from moral maxims, rules of conduct, proverbs, or thou-shalt-nots. Its derivation is higher. It grows out of religious experience that is the result of the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This gospel is the only gospel that brings to the heart of him who accepts it that mysteriously beautiful change called regeneration—that mystic process that nurtures good deeds and godly character as certainly as the warm sunlight sprouts the seed in spring. Many schools boast that they build character. Diverse indeed are the methods which they employ to this end. We know that we are right in our emphasis upon the Christian gospel. We know that we have stricken at the root of character-building.
We find, then, these facts: education without character is worthless. Character is the well-spring of moral conduct. And character itself depends upon inspirational force. That inspirational force is found in religious experience, and that experience, in turn, is derived from the Christian gospel.
The preparatory school standing, as it so often does, in loco parentis, is all-powerful in molding character. During the critical years of adolescence, it creates the environment of the boy for three-fourths of each year. If the environment which the school creates is non-committal on the vital matters of religion and of faith, the boys whom it turns out will also be non-committal on these essentials. If the school is perverse in religious teaching, the morals of the boys will be warped. But if the school holds forth as the great objective human effort, a fuller knowledge of God and an obedient realization of his plan for individual life, it will send out boys anchored in a faith bearing the true source of right living. To achieve such an environment is the task of the Stony Brook School for Boys.
A word about specific details. How are we going to make actual our ideals? How give them a real and a dominant place in the life of the school?
As many of you know, the Stony Brook Assembly is founded upon seven principles that constitute a great reaffirmation of essential Christian truth. In its five principles for the Christian school, the Stony Brook Schools for Boys affords an analogy to the Assembly.
These are the principles for the Stony Brook School for Boys:
- The Christian school must be comparatively small, with a correspondingly large staff of teachers.
- The teachers in the Christian school must qualify as masters of their subjects.
- The Christian school must maintain an atmosphere that is consistent with its aim.
- Spiritual things must have their rightful place in the Christian school—and that place is the first place.
- The Christian school must ever preserve a nice balance between the religious, scholastic, and recreative phases of its work.
Let us consider each of these principles very briefly.
- The Christian school must be comparatively small, with a correspondingly large staff of teachers. True Christianity is contagious. It is caught more easily than it is imparted. More than any other faith, it is mirrored in the life of the believer. And in a school it must obviously be caught from the teachers, for they are the patterns for the students. The contact between the boy and his masters must be unusually close, closer even than in the usual private schools. This is why the Stony Brook School has a faculty of eight for a student body of thirty-nine.
- The teachers in the Christian school must qualify as masters of their subjects. If this is true, the teaching will be of the kind that makes a genuinely deep impression. The boy who graduates from the Christian school must have full respect for the scholarship of his masters. Nothing is more dangerous to the faith of the youth than for him to make the disconcerting discovery that the men who have advocated his faith are men of mediocre ability. It was with this, among other things, in mind that the faculty of the Stony Brook School was selected.
- The Christian school must maintain an atmosphere that is consistent with its aim. “Atmosphere” is a term often vaguely used. Yet atmosphere is one of the chief requisites for the successful school. Religious observances, prayer hours, chapel services, Sabbath-school, all contribute to the creation of the Christian atmosphere. Yet they are but the outward signs. Taken alone, they are apt to become merely perfunctory. Far more vital is the effect of personality. In the Christian school, every teacher, every employee, must be Christian. The combined personalities of school staff and student body must unite to create a spirit that is wholesome in its religion. Happiness, manliness, courtesy, sincerity—these are the characteristics that must be sought. Pietism, the “holier than thou” attitude, should have no place in an institution where boys are trained. For this reason, only men of dynamic Christian personality have been given places on the faculty of the Stony Brook School. And the student body has been drawn almost entirely from distinctly Christian homes.
- Spiritual things must have their rightful place in the Christian school—and that place is the first place. The Bible must be at the center of the curriculum. Stony Brook has a special department of the Bible, supervised by an ordained minister. The course in Bible is a subject required throughout the five years of the curriculum. No student will be graduated unless he has earned a satisfactory rating in this course. And consequently no Stony Brook boy will be left ignorant of things essential to faith. Theology for theology’s sake will not be taught. The inspirational value of the department will never be engulfed by the pedagogical point of view. Yet the influence of the Department of Bible must dominate; it must reach out and embrace all other courses. The masters in languages, in history, in sciences, must co-operate with the master in Bible. The pupil must be made to realize that his faith is an ancient faith. Through the thrilling story of the martyrs of the early centuries he can learn this. History can continue to show him such things as the strategic value of Wycliffe’s work, the world changes attendant on the Reformation, and the fundamental bearing on the founding in America of the religious ideals of the colonists. Study of English literature will reveal the transcendent beauty of the Bible and its tremendous influence on writers of all classes, from Chaucer through Shakespeare, down to Stevenson and Kipling. Work in modern languages will reveal the fact that the Scriptures are wondrously beautiful in all tongues. The ancient versions will be made an interesting part of the supplementary reading in Latin and in Greek. Science, taught from the Christian point of view, is a fascinating revelation of God. In this way, the whole curriculum can be made to revolve around the Bible with no sacrifice of proportion.
- The Christian school must ever preserve a nice balance between the religious, scholastic and recreative phases of its work. Religious observances and class room work must never encroach upon the hours of recreation. Athletics and wholesome fun are essential. Just as much as any other boy, the Christian youth needs a sound body. The Christian school must have an experienced director of athletics. Participation in some form of outdoor sport must be required of every boy.
In order to put these principles into practice in the most efficient way possible, the Christian school must be humanistic in the best sense of the word. For the Christian point of view is itself in essence humanistic. The fatal misconception of the scholastics of the middle ages, that Christianity is incompatible with liberal education, ought never to be revived. The greatest injury that the Christian institution can render to its faith is to fall at this late day into obscurantism. A humanism that would have every essential study taught in the most efficient way possible, that would never yield one jot in the field of scholarship; a humanism that, in its broad application, would help each individual student to solve his own unique intellectual and spiritual problems—this will guide the faculty of the Stony Brook School in their glorious adventure in Christian education—an adventure that will serve the church of Jesus Christ by conserving the faith of her youth, an adventure that will serve the nation by giving to it, year by year, a body of young men of stalwart character, well-taught and nurtured in faith.