One of the biggest shocks of my parenting life came nearly two decades ago when a wise, gray-haired teacher confessed to me that she did not care about my son’s grade. The conversation was about his grade in some grammar school subject that was just low enough to prevent his earning an academic award if something did not change soon. I swooned at her remark. All I could think of was my child’s future. How would he get into a good college and then on to a good career if he couldn’t get all A’s in second grade?
This week we are continuing our series about the goals of classical Christian education and the pathway to reaching them. Last week we started talking in earnest about that pathway. I suggested there are four key elements in the classical Christian model that make up the pathway. This week we take up the third and fourth elements: a structured and orderly learning environment and a Christ-centered community of like-minded families.
We are continuing our series intended to remind what the goals of classical Christian education are, why those goals are good for the world, and how we pursue the goals of classical Christian education at Trinitas. I began this series with a metaphor about traveling and the questions one might ask oneself while traveling on a particular journey. Continuing that metaphor, now I set out to answer the question how do we get there? This is a big question, and it will take time to unpack even the merest tip of the iceberg.
Periodically on a journey it is good to pause and ask oneself a few questions, even if only briefly and in one’s own mind, to make sure of being on the right track: Where are we going? Why are we going there? How do we plan to get there? Is this the only route or is there a better path? Parents should ask those questions frequently regarding their vision for their children, and most especially regarding the role education plays in the fulfillment of that vision. We've prepared a video that speaks to the heart of this goal.
In my years associated with classical Christian education—as a parent, donor, school board member, teacher, and headmaster—I have had my share of conversations with folks who want to know why the standards for Christian character and academic diligence are so high, why our students read theology and philosophy and history and literature authored by people who have been dead for 1,000 years or more, and why we focus so intently on writing and speaking and debating. One good answer to such questions is that we do these things in classical Christian education in order to prepare students for just such a time as this.
I am often asked to describe the difference between classical education and what we might call a progressive or modern education. Elements of classical education can come across as impractical while modern education sometimes seems more, well, practical. Perhaps a story best explains the importance of the impractical. This story is based on one told at this year’s Trinitas Convocation ceremony.
This is the story of a fantastical social experiment. It all began with two young men, Johann and Ned. Johann was brought up in a royal palace and Ned in a lawless slum. Johann was cared for from his birth by a loving family. He was taught from an early age that he would someday rule the kingdom. In preparation for his rule, Johann was given an education that went beyond training for an occupation. He learned to paint, to sing, to play the violin. He read the Greek philosophers and studied geometry and calculus. He learned to speak and write well and to debate important issues. Johann learned etiquette, that is, he learned how to treat other people in a way that dignified their humanity and made them feel loved and respected. He was held to a high standard of character and integrity. His conduct was expected to be honorable, a model for others to aspire to, and it was.
I met the most amazing young woman last week. She is a graduate of Baylor’s Honors College, specifically the Great Texts program, and is two years into her teaching career at Live Oak Classical School in Waco, Texas. It is not uncommon for classical educators to meet at conferences in the summer, but coronavirus has cancelled any such opportunities for the summer of 2020. Fortunately, this young lady is the niece of a Trinitas parent and was present at a social gathering to which I had been invited.
(Trinitas faculty member Mr. Sean Johnson addressed these comments to the graduating class of 2020 at Commencement Exercises on May 29, 2020.)
You have been looking forward to graduation for some time, which means you have fairly well-formed ideas about what graduation is and what it will mean for your life. This is how anticipation works. If something is a complete mystery to us, it is very difficult to look forward to it with any great eagerness. Expectation grows with understanding; I have been in the classroom with you for the last 36 weeks (most of them, anyway) and I know how fervently you have been looking forward to this day and what you think it signifies.
And that’s my cue.
There is something you may not yet understand about graduation. In this season you have heard a great deal of talk about goodbyes, about “the last” this or that, “the end” of this or that, talk about where you will be next year and advice about what you should remember and do when get there… — and all this talk (I suspect,) has only served to confirm in your minds the belief that you are being graduated out of something. You are mistaken. While I cannot speak for the secret thoughts of your frustrated teachers on those dark days when you have been eating candy since 8:00 am, I can assure you it is generally true that graduating you out of Trinitas has never been our goal.