A parent recently sent me this link to an article by columnist Walter Williams written in response to the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress, sometimes referred to as the National Report Card. In it, Williams reveals and then comments on some startling statistics concerning the state of public education in our nation. The parent who sent the article said this is “good motivation to keep doing what we are doing.” I agree wholeheartedly.
The classical school approach offers a fundamentally different vision of education that families fed up with a factory approach to learning find compelling.
Sarah Eeckhoff Zylstra recently wrote of the exponential growth of the classical Christian school movement. Similarly, John J. Miller, writing for National Review, calls the classical and classical Christian school movements “a small revolution in K-12 education.” What accounts for the growing popularity of these classical and classical Christian schools? Why are so many families opting for a return to an older way of educating their children? Strange as it may seem, I believe a popular Chipotle video helps explain the reasons for the rapid spread of these schools.
Sometime around the end of the nineteenth century, American colleges and universities began to use a form of grading students that resembles what most high schools, colleges, and universities still use today: A, B, C, D, and F. The grades are intended to be a way of measuring and reporting a student’s performance on a given assignment or within a given subject over a period of time. They are useful for that task, but far from perfect. At Trinitas we also grade students using a variation of the aforementioned marks.
We should all be familiar with Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew chapter 6 to seek the kingdom of God rather than chase after the things we think we need. He doesn’t say we should forget about the things we think we need—food, clothes, the important stuff—but that those things will be added to us if we will seek first the kingdom of God. The idea seems to be that seeking after food and clothing (and fill in the blank) is something akin to getting so blinded by individual trees that we become unable to see the forest. Or worse: Jesus seems to be cautioning us against a form of idolatry, against letting our material needs (and wants) take the place of God as the focus of our worship and devotion.
For about a decade now in the education world, stem has been the most frequently uttered word by politicians, bureaucrats, curriculum marketers, administrators, and teachers. Not “stem” as in the stem of a flower, but “STEM” as in the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Students are being pushed to pursue those fields for several reasons, not the least of which is that the job market is good in those broad categories. Even though the job outlook is good in those fields, US students are lagging dismally behind students from some other nations in math and science proficiency, a fact that translates directly into economic terms on a global scale, which is another reason educators are emphasizing STEM in recent years and targeting it as an area of focus in K-12 education. The bottom line, though, is that our national deficiency in math and science is more than that: it is a deficiency in education. Math and science are merely symptoms of that much larger problem, and they are front and center these days for the aforementioned reasons.
A quality that is disappearing from the world is the ability to see and understand what lies beneath the surface of an issue. People seem increasingly content to swallow headlines hook, line, and sinker as if the story could be no deeper than the tallest letters in bold print. This sort of naivety is the very thing that makes a people easily manipulated or even oppressed.
G.K. Chesterton is responsible for one of my favorite quotes about education. He wrote,
“Education is not a subject and does not deal in subjects. It is instead a transfer of a way of life.” What we are trying to do at Trinitas is transfer a way of life to our students, a paideia, a way of being distinctly Christian in a world that seems increasingly hostile to that."
“Is not the great defect of our education today … that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils ‘subjects,’ we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything except the art of learning.” –Dorothy Sayers
Upon going to school, children are expected to take up certain “subjects,” to apply themselves to these subjects, and to eventually become masters of them. We as parents and teachers are not wrong to push our children and students to master those subjects; however, one of the drawbacks of focusing on mastering subjects is that we can develop tunnel vision in the process; we run the risk of focusing on the subjects and mastering what to think at the expense of learning how to think. We—and I mean everyone involved in the education of a child: parents, teachers, administrators, and the child—run the risk of just wanting to know what is going to be on the test.