Mission, History & Values
“A log, a cedar tree for shade, a sheep-shed for a home, a dream, a vision, a resistless urge.”
“You have come here to seek freedom, not from the kind of slavery your parents endured, but from a slavery of ignorance of mind and awkwardness of body. You have come to educate your head, heart, and your hands.”
-- Laurence Clifton Jones
The mission of The Piney Woods School is to provide excellence in education within a Christian community through creation of an exceptional academic model which supports the tenet that all students can learn, develop a strong work ethic, and lead extraordinary lives through academic achievement and responsible citizenship, but may not have the opportunity to do so for financial or other reasons.
Love and Legacy
Piney Woods cannot exist without love, and without a clear understanding of the ways, it binds us all together. It is love—for oneself, for one another, and then, eventually, for one’s own unique learning journey – that undergirds all of our efforts to help young people find their footing, their calling, and their voice. And it is the legacy of that love that keeps us connected to one another across the generations – and expands our community to literally stretch across the world.
As a residential community of adults and young people, and as a vibrant alumni network of scholar-activists, we are more than a school. We are a family. And so whether our students come to us from the protective cocoon of a loving family, or the chaotic swirl of an unsafe environment, our primary job is to create a campus culture in which all people feel that they have voice, value and visibility, and where everyone’s daily experiences are rich with ritualistic reminders of why this is the place they belong.
This foundation has always been part of who we have been at Piney Woods. It will remain central to who we become.
Freedom and Responsibility
Understanding what it means to be free is the amount the greatest riddles any of us will face in our lives. Yet rarely in school settings do we all allow and equip young people to experience freedom in any meaningful way. The schedule is packed. The bell is about to ring. The campus is largely off limits. Equally important, however, is how rarely we ask that any freedom and responsibility, our task as adults is not merely to give young people more autonomy – although that’s apart of it. Instead, we must create a culture in which conscience is the central objective of all learning experiences.
For us, freedom cannot mean merely granting young people the space to say whatever they want to say, or go wherever they want to go. For us, the task is ensuring that our graduates have the space to consider, “Of all the things I can say and do, what must I say? What must I do?” This is the primary journey our school must provide for its students: the journey within.
This is what we are intentionally designing to make room for. This is the indelible mark of a successful Piney Woods graduate.
Rigor and Vigor
Currently, Piney Woods has a campus of nearly 2,000 acres, most of which don’t factor into the daily experiences of our students.
In the future, we have a different vision – one in which the entire campus is our classroom, and one where the rigor of our intellectual pursuits is augmented by the vigor of our physical exploration.
We believe, as Maria Montessori did, that “the human hand allows the mind to reveal itself.”And so we envision a future in which our students’ hands are doing much more than holding a pencil, or taking notes; they are digging, testing, sculpting, building, and revealing. And we envision a campus-wide culture in which the boundary between class and campus, student and adult, and inside and outside is not on of division, but exploration.
At Piney Woods, we’re not merely students of the past. We’re also scientists of the future – and the lands will be our labs.
Self and Society
To fulfill our goal of helping young people learn what it means to pursue lives of purpose, we must orient them not merely to the journey within; to a deep understanding of ones’ self, one’s passion, and one’s purpose - but also to the journey without: to the world beyond these piney woods, and to the task of using one’s talents in the service of creating a more just and equitable world.
This is why everything we do here must have an eye towards justice: socially, in order to commit to ensuring equality among people: environmentally, in order to commit to protecting the needs of the natural world; and spiritually, in order to commit to honoring each person’s liberty of faith.
This, too, is what it means to educate for the head, the heart and the hands. This, too, is what the world will come to recognize as a “Piney Woods graduate.”
Enlightenment and Epiphany
What is the contemporary calling of a Christian school that is committed to preparing young people for a complex, multiracial world? And what is the result of a long-term vision in which a core set of design drivers shape every decision at Piney Woods – from residential buildings to staff recruitment to course curricula?
We believe that it will be an enduring culture of enlightenment, and a community in which all structures and systems are intentionally designed in order to facilitate both individual fulfillment, Christian charity, and collective harmony. To get there, we must be systemic in the way we understand the interplay between several unlikely pairs: School and Community. Individual and group. Inside and outside. Think and do. Push and Project.
Here, we are taught to love ourselves and one another. Here, we are given the freedom to name what drives us, and what we wish to commit our life’s work towards achieving. Here, we are taught about God’s great power, and shown how to channel the great power that resides within each of us. Here, we are put in a position to discover the “resistless urge” that will guide each of us throughout our adult lives.
This is what it means to be a part of the Piney Woods School. This is the vision that will animate our next one hundred years.