An Education They Will Not Forget

An Education They Will Not Forget

by Eli West, TCA Grade 7 Humanities Instructor

What do you remember from your seventh-grade education?

That’s a question I asked myself recently. It’s especially relevant to me because today I am a seventh-grade humanities teacher at TCA. As such, I’m around seventh-graders on a weekly basis; however, what I can recall from my own seventh-grade is rather slim and disappointing!

I’m then led to ask, “Was my seventh-grade education useless?”  The short answer, I think, is, “No. Not entirely.” But my extremely sparse recollection from an entire year’s worth of schooling is telling.

The issue—unknown to twelve-year-old Mr. West—was that his education was dependent upon conventional pedagogical methods that most adults today don’t question because to them, “That’s just how you do school.” It’s “normal” to have a multiple-choice reading test or a cumulative history exam that includes matching dates and important events.

I could score A after A on these “normal” tests by cramming whatever necessary information was needed for them the day before. But that would soon be followed by a quick memory loss of all that knowledge in just a few weeks’ time! The cycle was: “cram in, then dump out.” Or to use a more visual analogy: “binge wisdom, purge wisdom.” 

I submit to you that a classical education can break this cycle.

To do so, we need to go back to the drawing board. 

We need to think afresh how humans memorize and what we choose to memorize.

 In his inspiring little book, Something They Will Not Forget, author and teacher Joshua Gibbs argues that there are at least two consistent features to the way human beings naturally memorize.

First, Gibbs says that we naturally recall information from communal experiences

Think to yourself: Have you ever taken a test on the Pledge of Allegiance? The answer is most assuredly, “No.” Then why are most of us so readily prepared to rattle off these words without assistance? 

Think again: Have you ever taken a quiz on the first verse of John Newton’s “Amazing Grace”? Why, then, are you already finishing the rest of first line, “how sweet the sound,” in your head?

The reason is—if you’re like me—that you grew up in an American school or you attend an English-speaking church regularly, and you’ve recited these words countless times in a ceremonial fashion. In short, you’ve memorized them via a communal experience. You didn’t have to take a test so that you would remember these important words. In fact, you remember them better than most things you’ve been tested on!

My own humanities class begins each day with an intentional communal experience. For the first 10 minutes of class, we read and recite our Seventh-Grade Recitations together. This is a collection of famous prayers, quotations, definitions, and dates from our history era. Essentially, it's a summary of the most important features of their entire seventh-grade education. By the end of the year, without ever being tested on it, my entire class will be able to retell all this information from memory. How I wish this would have been part of my own seventh-grade experience! 

 Second, as Gibbs puts simply, “People memorize things they need to know.” That is, we naturally remember things we consider essential.

I took a poll of my class last week. When I asked them, “Who knows the phone number to your parents?” every single hand went up. When I asked, “Who knows your house’s mailing address?” again, every hand was raised.

Why do they remember these specific numbers so well? As one student put it, “Because I’ve heard them repeatedly. And if I was ever lost, I would know who to call or where to go.”

In other words, students know this information because, to them, it’s essential! 

At TCA, we believe that all the content in our classrooms is essential. A classical education is not primarily preparation for a job or for the ACT (such small things!), but rather, preparation for living life well. In short, our primary goal is not to teach students “how to be successful,” but rather, to love God and to love their neighbors. What could be more urgent, or essential than this?

And because we believe this about our content, we think it should be repeated often. At TCA, students repeat each cycle in history four times from Grade 1-12. Within these cycles, students revisit the great works of great thinkers in Literature, Science, Mathematics, and more. It is a cycle not of “cram once, dump once,” but rather, “learn, recall, and apply.”

 Finally, we need to think not just about how we memorize, but what we memorize. 

I’m not writing to fool you. Forgetting is—to some extent—an unavoidable element of the human condition. And given this fact, it begs the questions, “Why memorize at all and if we try to memorize anything, what should we?”

To use an analogy, we memorize good things for the same reason that we feed our bodies good food. If you don’t remember exactly what you ate a year ago for lunch (or even a week ago), does that make the food useless? Certainly not. That food has nourished you to be the person you are today. Likewise, even though my students might not remember their recitations perfectly forever, they have indulged on a feast of quality knowledge that is forming their minds and hearts to be mature men and women for life. 

This is the difference between mere information delivery (“cram and dump”) and character formation (“learn, recall, apply”). This is the difference between a conventional education and a classical one!

Would you join us at our next information meeting on October 4 to hear more about a classical education at TCA? We invite you to visit our school and see firsthand how we are giving our students an education that they will not forget. You can find out more information about this meeting and RSVP here.

Answers Beyond the Key

Answers Beyond the Key

by Abby Anderson, TCA Latin Instructor

This summer, while helping my mom sort through my grandmother’s books and papers, I came across her handwritten correspondences with Eugene Peterson and other notable writers and thinkers. As I paged through, a brief passage struck me, and it has stayed in the front of my mind as the school year begins:

“Soren Kierkegaard once observed that Christians are tempted to be like schoolboys who are given a math assignment, and who look up the answers to the problems in the back of the book before working out the problems. God has answers to all of our questions, and, I might add, very practical ones at that. But they must come at the end of having worked out the problem. If we seek them before or instead of working out the problem, we don’t really learn, and the answers take on the air of unreality.”

I felt the sting of this truth; how quickly I want the simple and straightforward answer to the questions I ask God. How deeply I want to know the end, and to be right. How easy it is for me to miss what the Lord is doing in the problems of my life, in the mundane moments that seem to lack clarity and purpose. I thought how often my prayers reveal my desire for the Lord to hurry up and reveal his purposes, to show me what he’s up to, to give me the answers! 

I felt the analogy to schoolboys particularly helpful as we seek to educate our children and provide them a more robust conception of learning than merely getting that answer right. We long for them to be adults who seek the Lord in each problem, in the hard work, in the formation of our character that comes through perseverance and discipline. 

In introductory Latin, there is ample temptation to flip to the answer key when difficulties arise. Simple tasks feel anything but easy as our brains carve out uncharted neural pathways to learn a new (and yet old!) language. We want to just see the answer, to look at the correct conjugation chart, to gaze on the perfectly aligned structure of the sentence diagramming in the key rather than muddle through the eraser smudges of our own efforts. 

However, I am encouraged that as we walk down this challenging road of learning Latin together, God is at work in our daily efforts. The reality for most of us is that learning Latin hasn’t been a part of our educational journey thus far. What a humbling gift it is for us to ask the Lord for strength to persevere when the work is hard, and to ask Him to do this in our students as well.

And so we ask for His presence as we chant, make vocab cards, repeat grammar questions and review verb endings alongside our students again and again and again. We ask that he would form our hearts as well as our minds. We ask that he would give us much more than the right answers - that He would give us hearts that more fully image Christ’s. And instead of our answers copied from the back of the book which carry an “air of unreality,” might our labor and diligence bear the beauty of authenticity found in God’s eternal truth.

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.