On November 18, 2021, Trinitas Christian School and its parents celebrated three new inductees into The National Honors Society (NHS). While being inducted into NHS is no simple academic feat, remember that NHS and many other academically prestigious awards are not exclusively Christian by any means. As a matter of fact, in many educational settings, when students pursue the type of academic success that qualifies them for the NHS, merit scholarships, and the like, their pursuits are often carried out in fierce competition with their classmates, producing academic pride, and result in an exaltation of self. However, in a Christ-centered education like that which is offered at Trinitas Christian School, we endeavor to pursue academic excellence in the following ways:
On a morning not too many years ago, while standing out front opening doors and greeting the grammar children getting out of their cars, I opened the door for a boy who was navigating his book bag and lunchbox through the door of the car while at the same time trying to get a large and elaborately-colored poster through as well while attempting not to damage it. In taking the poster from him so he could get out of his mom’s car safely, I was able to see how much detail and care had been taken to make this poster dynamic.
In the process of transferring possession of his project back to him, I told him, “Nice poster, you put a lot of work into that.” To which he quickly, and honestly replied: “Thank my mom, she did most of it.” I felt a bit perplexed, but not surprised, as I watched him hustle the rest of the way into the front doors of the grammar building to turn in “his” poster to his teacher.
We’ve spent the last two weeks thinking about the dominant form of grades used in schools today, the history and effects of that system, and why they are not the ideal for a classical Christian school.
Bear with me one more time as I recall our pitching metaphor. A coach who tells a young pitcher that they threw a “C+” pitch is not providing much help. And the young pitcher who interrupts a coach’s instruction to ask, “Yeah, but did I pass?” might be riding the bench for a while. Why? Because we understand intuitively that constructive feedback is about more than a graded evaluation.
As we saw last week, the modern grade scale is a fairly recent development in education and not one that has a long history of success or stability. This week we will look at how grades are perceived to function which has important implications for a Christian classical school.
The purpose of grades in a classroom, under the A–F system, is to pass judgment through a numerical evaluation. This gives the notion of impartiality and objectivity while mitigating the force of the judgment. We pass judgment every day, of course, regarding what shoes to wear, what route to take to work, and even what to say to our boss. Judgment is an inescapable part of the human experience. But there is no denying: we do not like feeling “judged.”
Imagine you are a young pitcher, standing on the mound of your first Varsity baseball practice. You throw the ball to the catcher, and your coach proceeds to tell you that it was a “C+” pitch. What would you think? The example seems ludicrous to us because we know what the young man needs: pointed, specific guidance so that he can improve the pitch. We know intuitively that the letter, in this case, is unhelpful.
Now imagine the same scenario from a slightly different angle. You are the coach. As you approach the mound and begin explaining to the student how to use their shoulders as they throw, you are suddenly interrupted. “Yeah, but did I pass, Coach?” You can imagine the frustration in this similarly absurd example. “A student would never say that!” you think to yourself. And you’re right; they would not. Again, this is intuitive; there doesn’t even seem a need to explain it. Similar scenarios could be played out ad nauseum, with different actors substituted in to show that applying a percentage system of grading to life is unhelpful at best and downright dehumanizing at worst. So why does this same proposal meet with such hesitancy when applied to the classroom?
Rather than a random group of dots, the various facets of education should connect like a column of ants traversing a picnic blanket. Last Friday, I had the privilege of watching junior kindergartners retelling four classic fairytales using student narration and finger puppets. Later that evening, I listened to three students present and defend their senior thesis projects. Contemplating these examples drawn from the beginning and end of a Trinitas education is worthwhile for thoughtful parents serious about the kind of education they want for their children.
The topic of discussion for Parent Traditio this evening will be “Raising Readers: Cultivating a Love of Literature in the Home.” One facet of this conversation will be the importance of good literature in the forming of a child’s moral imagination. To illustrate this point, consider the scene from C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair (from the Chronicles of Narnia), where one of my favorite Narnian characters – a marshwiggle – bolding declares his commitment to the truth.
As a father of five, I am greatly concerned with the cultivation of virtue in the hearts of my children. Frequent thought and active parenting has been invested in training my children in honesty, diligence, self-control, and respect. The lack of these virtues is tough to disguise. When children are disrespectful and lazy, succumbing to every desire of their flesh, they create what my mother would refer to as “a scene.” Yet behind the more common virtues, lies one that receives precious little airtime – Piety.