Climbing the Second Mountain at TCA

Climbing the Second Mountain at TCA

by Sara Breetzke

This spring I heard an interview with David Brooks discussing his new book, The Second Mountain. Brooks’ premise is that most of us begin our life journey climbing a mountain of ego and self-definition. He calls this the first mountain. The first mountain must be conquered: you identify the summit, and you crawl your way toward it.

In contrast, he presents a vision for a Second Mountain, a second way to journey through life. This mountain can’t be climbed the way we might the first. He explains, “You are conquered by your second mountain. You surrender to some summons, and you do everything necessary to answer the call and address [what’s] in front of you … on the second mountain you tend to be relational, intimate, and relentless.”

At TCA, we are a community of adults seeking to climb a Second Mountain. We have been conquered by the weight of Deuteronomy 6:5-7 and its call to parents: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

TCA’s goal is to partner with parents in living out Deuteronomy 6. On this educational journey we want to be, as Brooks says, “relational, intimate, and relentless” in seeking God’s glory as we teach our children.

Here are a few ways the TCA community is going on a “second mountain journey” during the next school year.

As a classical school, we are surpassing the First Mountain of Merit, and scaling the Second Mountain of Virtue.

Children have eternal souls. We don’t have time to be concerned with rankings and the percentage points between As and Bs.

Instead, let’s see each other and see each student’s unique soul. Let’s ask questions of our students’ hearts even as we complete academic tasks. Let’s talk to each other about faithfulness, diligence, honestly, patience, kindness, and self-control, forgiving one another and encouraging one another in the Holy Spirit.

If virtue is present and flourishing, merit will come. But if we ignore the heart, virtue will be lost.

As a Christian school, we are surpassing the First Mountain of Selfishness, and climbing the Second Mountain of Sacrifice.

The First Mountain climb pursues a life of ease and comfort. But adults at TCA are signing up to selflessly give their days away as they teach their children character and academics. This kind of selflessness, Brooks says, is where virtue is born: “Good character is a by-product of giving yourself away.”

This is what Jesus did: it’s sacrificing for others.

And as we climb the second mountain, our children are also learning to give themselves away to good work and to sacrifice for each other. Through our example and our guidance, through God’s grace, they’re learning selflessness.

Finally, as a Collaborative School, we are leaving the First Mountain of Individuality for the Second Mountain of Relationship and Community.

David Brooks says this: “The rampant individualism of our current culture is a catastrophe … living a good life requires … the relational mindset of the second mountain.”

At TCA, we seek to live in community that is enriching and satisfying. Where isolation and the ensuing despair is normal for children today, we pray TCA is a place where adults and students operate as a gracious team, so students can learn and live without fear.

As we join the Holy Spirit in shaping souls this next year - our own and our students’ - we are doing eternal work. And we can’t do that alone. We need each other.

And so we pray that God makes TCA into a team of Holy Spirit empowered people, leaving behind ego and selfishness to make God’s name great. And we pray that the students and adults at TCA would become increasingly more like Christ on our Second Mountain Journey.

Teaching at TCA: God Moves in Mysterious Ways

Teaching at TCA: God Moves in Mysterious Ways

by Kara Farewell, TCA Humanities Instructor

As I finish my first year of teaching at TCA, our quarter three hymn, “God Moves in Mysterious Ways,” is a fitting description. I reflect on my life, and I can see the ways God led me to TCA. I knew as a young girl that I wanted to be a teacher, and my love for reading helped me realize that I wanted to teach English. I grew up in small town in Nebraska, attending a local public school. While I had a great experience, I felt there had to be something different. I had no idea what that looked like, but I believe God was already planting seeds for what He had in store for my future teaching career.

As I learned about different styles of education during college, I would daydream about starting some sort of “experimental school.” There had to be a way to combine quality curriculum and solid teaching strategies with the overall goal of teaching the whole child. The desire for something different continued to grow, and when a recruiter for International Schools of China came to one of my classes, I was curious. I’m not naturally adventurous, but God does move in mysterious ways: I did my student teaching in Wuhan, China and accepted a job there after graduation.

Wuhan Yangtze International School (WYIS) was technically a Christian school, though due to government restrictions, we were not allowed to say so publicly. My years at WYIS showed me what it looked like to build a school community that cared about educating the whole child while still setting high expectations for academic excellence. WYIS was a family, and that experience showed me how important school culture is to helping students grow and learn.

When I returned to the US, I taught for two years at a public school before discovering TCA. I had excellent co-workers who really cared about the whole student as well, but I really struggled with how curriculum, systems, and goals were not based on Truth. Throughout those years at WYIS and the public school, I had seen glimpses of things that worked really well and ways that education was done effectively, but it still did not feel like it all fit together.

Then God led me to TCA. I have discovered that classical education is the way I had always wanted to teach. Beyond the classical model, TCA’s unique collaborative, Christian approach fulfilled my desire to teach the whole child because everything we do is grounded in biblical Truth. Here I not only get to share my love for humanities content, but I can start the day with my students focused on Christ.

We have studied a number of different historical figures throughout the year, and one of my favorite moments was when stopped to discuss how one of the men, Amos Fortune, prayed and relied on God to direct him every time he had a difficult decision in life. He even went so far as to isolate himself on a mountain to pray until he was certain he knew what God wanted his next step to be. Studying people of character and deep faith not only challenges my students, but it challenges me as well.

From the short time I have taught here, grace is what characterizes my experience. When I first started, I was nervous about collaborating with other teachers and communicating with co-teachers because that was not integral to my previous teaching experience. People are messy, communication breaks, and we are not all on the same page 100% of the time. However, when I realize we serve a sovereign God who lavishly covers us in grace, I see Him empowering us to extend that grace to others in those times of challenge.

This experience of God’s grace and provision is really what makes TCA so unique in my mind. It amazes me to see how God led me through each teaching experience to a place where I can reach my full potential as a teacher and still be at home with my daughter. Reflecting on all the ways He’s worked in my life continually affirms that surrendering to Him is best. Though it did not all make sense at the time, nor was it easy, His mysterious ways were ultimately for my good.

Classical Education at TCA: Desiring Christ's Beauty

Classical Education at TCA: Desiring Christ's Beauty

by Sara Breetzke, TCA Head of School

A classical education is often described as the pursuit of the true, the good, and the beautiful.

As classical students, we gaze on truth, goodness, and beauty as we study perfectly formed cells, symmetry in art, inspiring stories in history, and the satisfaction of a well-turned phrase of Shakespeare.

But we don’t stop at mere contemplation: these things change us. They spark our desires, order our lives, and express praise and worship to the giver of every good and perfect gift.

We understand this progression in the pursuits of truth and goodness. Classical students meditate on scripture and God’s world, seeking right ideas about God and self that change our hearts. Similarly, we take in goodness through reflection on God’s character and through stories about virtue. We expect our students to grow in truth and goodness as the Spirit works in them.

But what does it mean to gaze on beauty and to live beautiful lives?

First, we must get rid of the idea that beauty is purely subjective. A study by architect Christopher Alexander found that when shown two pictures, students consistently chose the same one when asked these questions:

“Which one of these objects better represents your whole self?”

“If you had a choice, which would you spend eternity with?”

“Which of these would you be happier to offer to God?”

Beauty has to do with the whole self, not just the outer appearance.

Beauty has to do with what we most desire: the eternal and the spiritual.

The pursuit of eternal and spiritual beauty leads us to God.

I could find few satisfying resources on beauty in classical education, but one idea I found from James Cain struck me: Beauty is distance.

This resonated with me. Stars are beautiful; the heavens are beautiful; rolling cornfields under the blue sky are beautiful. Even things so small as to be distant are beautiful: cells under a microscope, tiny flowers, snowflakes.

It’s true: there is beauty in distance.

But the distances we’re looking are not far enough.

True beauty is found in the life of Christ. There is an unfathomable distance between us and God. As Isaiah 55 says, “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so are my thoughts higher than your thoughts, and my ways that your ways.”

In the gospel, though, we can gaze on the beauty of Christ. We see that He crossed the immeasurable distance between his holiness and our sinfulness. He is our Emmanuel, our God with us. He took on the ugliness of our sin in exchange for His beauty.

Union with Christ is claiming His beauty in our lives. They beauty Christ invites us to claim isn’t an outward beauty. It’s the beauty of humility, of submission, and of love. The cross is beautiful because it’s the epitome of His love displayed for us.

As we put on this beauty in union with Christ, we are empowered to create beauty in the world. We believe this pattern when we think about Truth and Goodness: As we gaze on the Truth and goodness of Christ, we ask Him to help us live those traits. Can we do the same with beauty?

In Christ, we are freed to create beauty through our work and our leisure. We are not evaluated by the beauty of our products. Rather, we know that as we trust in Christ, our faithful efforts are made perfect in him.

At Trinity Classical Academy, we are seeking Christ’s beauty in our lives. We believe that as we are united with Him, we will see His beauty expressed in our school work, in our relationships, and in our actions. We trust that as we gaze on Him, we might be freed to desire and create beauty that honors Him.

The Necessary Intangibles of the Collaborative Model

The Necessary Intangibles of the Collaborative Model

by Katie Arbataitis, TCA Co-Teacher

Intangibles. By definition they are incapable of perception by touch, not definite/clear to the mind and understood solely through a connection with something else. Therein lies the problem for me. I like black and white, evidence, and data. But there it is, right in the definition, this “thing” that I cannot hold and is not quantifiable. Yet I know it there.

Intangible is a one-word summary of why the collaborative model has changed our life.

Teaching your children both informally and formally is all consuming. It is how you spend your days as a parent, especially a homeschool parent. Teaching moments abound from the moment little eyes open until the last eyelid flutter at the end of the day. Sometimes God even provides us extra opportunities to teach in the middle of the night when pajama clad bodies show up by our beds at 2 AM. And so we do. Over, and over again. Sometimes we repeat lessons what feels like countless times. This repetition can be simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting.

But then, every now and again, time decelerates. Life feels like living a slow-motion moment. You perceive a shift and you know an imprint was left in your and your child’s brain and heart. Sometimes your child recognizes this moment too and you share a deep and profound connection that would not have been possible if you were not their teacher in that moment.

And how did your child end up in your presence in that moment? Because you chose to take the opportunity to participate in a collaborative model of education for your family.

Much to my dismay, there is no tally sheet to track the “intangibles” and prove to you that they matter. However, I believe they do.

Homeschool days are filled with countless touches of reassurance during difficult math problems, shoulder to shoulder moments fingerspelling new words, smiles of encouragement while practicing presentations, epiphanies during science as a chemical change unfolds, and tender moments of gratitude during history, reading about those who blazed the trail before us.

These things - the touches, smiles and shared struggles - should not be underestimated or viewed as secondary to the academic content which I get to explore with my child. These “intangibles” are altering my children’s trajectory and my own. They support the development of character traits in us that will be the basis for how we live the rest of our lives. They connect us together in a deep and meaningful way.

I have had the privilege of watching diligence and perseverance unfold in my sweet babies over a Logic of English textbook, steadfastness grow while practicing math facts, and compassion abound as siblings work together to grasp a concept. These intangibles are just the beginning of the list of the gifts we’ve experienced in the collaborative model.

I am still working on the equation so I can prove to you exactly how this matters. Until then, the significance of the “intangibles” will have to stay in that gray area that seems to be plentiful in the human experience.

On Teaching and the Formation of Virtue

On Teaching and the Formation of Virtue

by Robert Laramey, founder of The Classical Dad

We often consider our children to be little cups that need to be filled up. They start out empty, and we pour into them. We input on end to fill the vessel as much as possible. We do our best to ensure that we give only what is good and filter out the bad. It seems that there is little to argue with in that brief description of parenting. This is a content centered view: if I put in the good, good will come out.

Is that all there is to the bringing up of a virtuous human being? Perhaps not.

Socrates believed that all knowledge was recollection, that our infinite souls had all the information and that education was a process of rediscovery. As odd of a statement as that sounds, it was understood that there is a unity between the soul and knowledge. This served as the basis for Socrates’ teaching method of asking questions (dialectic) rather than simply telling facts.

The inaugural text read by the TCA Men’s Book Club this year was Plato’s Meno. In this short text, Socrates and a prominent young visitor named Meno attempt to figure out whether Virtue is something that can be taught. Frustratingly, this question is never explicitly answered. Instead, readers are encouraged to muddle through this difficult topic as a means to enlightenment. In other words, the answer is revealed in the labor of pursuit. Socrates asks questions on end as the reader delves further into his own soul to discover the truth.

Socrates is saying that the pursuit of truth is not an issue of content per se, because truth is already present, written into the heart. Teaching is a matter of forming the individual to discover what is true, good and beautiful. Not that those things themselves are inherently within, but that the knowledge of them is intertwined with the soul.

What does this look like practically? Take, for example, music. We might think the end goal of our child’s musical education is to be able to play great classical works with excellence. On the one hand this is true. However, it is in the learning that we are formed. It is not the same person who picked up a violin on their first day of practice that plays in the concert hall. We only need a record player to hear great music. We need a musician to make it.

Consider your favorite book. Would your love for that particular book be provoked if you only read the synopsis online? The act of reading and being immersed in the author’s creation has formative effects beyond the mere narrative, theme, tone and character profiles. A measure of a great book is not only the work itself but the work it does in us.

Formative change is hard work, and it is through this hard work that Virtues are cultivated in the individual. Weight training is not just about lifting heavy objects, it’s about strengthening the body. Why do the hard work of studying this ancient language, Latin? It’s not that it is inherently useful, but rather it has been used for two millennia to strengthen the mind.

Ultimately, when we talk about raising our children to become Virtuous human beings, we need to see that the hard work of education is about forming them, not inputting data as if we could make them like a computer. After all, it is humanity which can strive toward Virtue. A computer is simply an ingenious tool for storing data. We want so much more for our children! Let us see education as the task of a lifetime, as a journey in which our children can join us as we seek after the Good, the True and the Beautiful.

Learning, Education, and School at TCA

Learning, Education, and School at TCA

by Sara Breetzke, TCA Head of School

In his recent book You, Your Child, and School, Dr. Ken Robinson provides information for parents to consider when making decisions about their children's schooling. Even in a mid-size city like Omaha, educational options continue to expand. Robinson’s book is a practical guide, giving parents new categories and vocabulary to navigate decisions about school.

Early in the book, Dr. Robinson offers definitions for three key terms: learning, education, and school. Each of these terms has a distinct definition as it relates to Trinity Classical Academy.

Because Dr. Robinson didn’t mention classical, collaborative, or Christian schools with any specificity or depth in his book, I’d like to provide an overview of TCA in light of these categories.

I hope this addendum to Dr. Robinson’s thought-provoking work will help readers understand what is distinctive about TCA and decide if our school fits your family’s needs.

LEARNING AT TCA

Dr. Robinson defines learning as “acquiring new skills and understanding.” Learning is natural for children, and it will happen before they go to school and regardless of if they go to school.

TCA’s collaborative approach capitalizes on this definition of learning by creating contexts for students to learn both in the classroom and at home. Students complete more than half of their lessons in the kitchen, in the car, outside, or at a coffee shop. Their lifestyle proves that learning can happen anywhere.

At TCA, we acknowledge that book learning isn’t the only kind of skill or understanding necessary to live life fully. At school and at home, our children are learning how to work with others, navigate relationships, and grow in self-understanding.

Dr. Robinson also notes that no matter our age, we continue to learn. This journey should be even more intentional for Christians. To be a disciple is to be a learner. As Proverbs 4:13 exhorts us, let us “keep hold of instruction; do not let go.” The quest for wisdom is continual, and TCA’s model encourages a life where learning doesn’t end at the end of a school day.

EDUCATION AT TCA

Unlike learning, which can happen anywhere and at any time, Dr. Robinson defines education as “an organized program of learning.”  

At TCA, we believe an orderly plan for learning reflects the orderly God who created an orderly world. A classical education also teaches students to order the information they take in. Students learn how to read deeply, to organize information systematically, and to communicate it effectively.

This process is described in the classical concept of the trivium. In the trivium, learning is organized into the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages. These stages align with the way God designed our brains to work at each age of development.

Finally, the curriculum at TCA extends to decorum and character. Students receive direct instruction on being diligent, maintaining friendships, and speaking with adults. We believe it is as important for students to have a plan to learn these skills as it is for them to learn math or reading.

SCHOOL AT TCA

Without a school, “a community of learners,” learning and education are just formless ideas. Unlike other schools, parents are the foundation of the TCA school community. Parents are a student’s primary educators, and their leadership, influence, and investment drive our school as they teach their students at home and volunteer in the school community.

Additionally, at TCA our parents and teachers are learning almost as much history, Latin, literature and science as our students. As adults and students learn simultaneously our community is bound together by common experience and content.

If TCA is ultimately a community of people, that means that the “feel” of the school matters. As we teach decorum and character, we hope that our school culture honors God, inspires excellence, and overflows with welcoming kindness.

 

Educational Pilgrims: Lessons Learned from The Canterbury Tales

Educational Pilgrims: Lessons Learned from The Canterbury Tales

by Sara Breetzke, TCA Head of School

At Trinity Classical Academy, we want to think differently about education. To this end, we’ve been renarrating our experience of education through the story of a pilgrimage. You can read more about this big idea here.

This year, as we began our journey anew, I sought to gain insight from another group of pilgrims:  those found in The Canterbury Tales. Although their journey is fictional, Chaucer’s collection of travel stories offers both wisdom and warning for anyone setting out on a pilgrimage.

Chaucer wrote in the 1300’s. This medieval era was marked by the plague, political corruption, and the struggle to survive each day. Our current moment is not so different. In 2018 we still experience illness, political disillusionment, and the malaise of everyday life. Yet while we have our smart phones and Netflix to offer us a virtual escape, medieval pilgrims undertook real adventures away from home.

Each spring, pilgrims in the medieval times embarked on journeys that would give them a new view of the world. Men and women who had likely never  left their small villages would see towering cathedrals and ancient relics, offering them an experience of transcendence and awe.

Similarly, as teachers and students, our journey of education begins with hope and excitement: in the next school year, we will experience new worlds, new stories, and, hopefully, a greater knowledge of God’s character, power, and love. In learning, we seek something beyond ourselves and our current moment. We, too, are pilgrims.

Chaucer’s story begins with this sense of anticipation. Spring is bursting forth, and 29 diverse and remarkable pilgrims gather together at an inn to begin their journey to Canterbury. Their destination is the Shrine of St. Thomas Becket, the martyr known for helping those who are sick and in need.

The pilgrims setting off on this grand gesture of faith are remarkable in the breadth of classes, experiences, and personalities they represent. Despite their differences, during their first evening together they bond though their common destination. They quickly identify themselves as a company, literally meaning “breaking bread together,” aligning themselves in purpose and shared humanity.

Ideally, this idea of a company would define any group of educational pilgrims as well. At TCA, we are indeed a group of diverse people with a common need for grace and truth. This starting place of humility and shared destination transforms a school, and what begins as a random group of learners grows into a community.

Here is where Chaucer’s roadmap ends and his warning begins. When the Host of the inn observes this intimate and joyful group of pilgrims, he takes a liking to them, and he offers to guide the company on their way. Before they begin, though, he casts their journey in a different light, subtly suggesting that perhaps the martyr, St. Thomas, owes them something for their sacrifices in travel.

Furthermore, anticipating that the road ahead may be arduous, the Host introduces the idea of a little competition. Each pilgrim will tell two stories on the way to the shrine and two on the way back. The Host will choose the best story, and the reward will be a meal, purchased by the pilgrims at the Host’s inn upon their return. In his system, everyone wins. The pilgrims are entertained on and rewarded for their journey, and the host has guaranteed 29 customers at his inn.

The Host’s enterprising idea, readily accepted by the pilgrims, changes the whole course of Chaucer’s story. No longer do we hear of the bountiful spring or the pilgrim’s holy destination. Everything now pivots around the pilgrim’s tales and their battling egos. Indeed, the pilgrims are increasingly at odds with each other as each tells his tale. Their tales belittle the vocations of other pilgrims, compete in theme, and devolve into bickering. What began as a journey toward transcendence becomes a competition for power and status.

Chaucer never finished his ambitious Tales. The final narrative would have included 120 tales: 4 from each of the pilgrims. The stories we have, though, show no sign that the pilgrims will return to the hopefulness with which they started their journey.

Unfortunately, the change Chaucer describes in the Canterbury pilgrims is all too often the change that occurs in us as educational pilgrims. What begins as a journey toward God and Truth in August can quickly become an exhausting competition of test scores, comparison, and ego-boosting by May. After all, shouldn’t we have a measurable reward for all of our work? Instead of seeing our journey as an act of worship, it becomes an act of self-glorification.

As we begin the school year, then, we want God to keep us on the path toward Him this year. Specifically, we can learn three truths from the Canterbury pilgrims.

1. Choose a Guide Wisely

Just as the Host distracted the pilgrims with talk of rewards and competition, much of the literature about education encourages us to think of it in economic terms: class rank, scores, GPA. Instead, we want Christ to be our guide and encourager. We are measured by his faithfulness, not by our achievements.

2. Remember the Destination

The pilgrims’ Host caught them up into a competition that caused them to forget the true purpose of their journey. He thought this would keep them entertained, but instead their own glory and power became the focal point. This is a temptation on the journey of education, too, so we must ask God to keep us on the path toward Christ. Knowledge about Him and likeness to Him are our goals - for His glory and power.

3. Maintain the Company

At TCA we have the privilege of journeying together and reminding each other of our destination. We don’t travel together so that we can use each other as measuring sticks to see who is the best; rather, we travel together for encouragement toward Christ, appreciation of the unique souls God has created, and enjoyment of the good work God has given us to do as educators.