How Can We Teach Students to Be Free?

How Can We Teach Students to Be Free?

by Sara Breetzke, TCA Head of School

We’ve forgotten what it means to be free.

Yet a true understanding of freedom is the foundation for a classical education. An education in the liberal arts is, after all, an education predicated on liberty.

In a world where liberty has lost its meaning, it’s no surprise that modern education systems often produce students with no clear understanding of who they are, what it means to be free, or what a life of freedom would require. If we are confused about the goal, it’s no wonder that we don’t know how to get there.

Classical education, on the other hand, is clear about its foundations, its methods, and its ends. These can only be understood, though, through a clear definition of liberty.

 

PREMODERN LIBERTY: VIRTUE

In the premodern sense, liberalism - far from the progressive political views that this term may invoke - is the pursuit of self-control and rightly ordered desires that leads to increased virtue and, therefore, freedom.

A classical education - a liberal education - was one in which students learned how to live in the world God created. They saw the world as good and ordered. With a posture of humility before their Creator, they observed the truth, received inherited tradition and culture, and passed those truths on to the next generation.

A classically educated person could see the world rightly and live virtuously for the glory of God and the good of others. This was freedom.

Author Patrick Deneen explains: “To be free - liberal - was an art, something learned, not by nature or instinct but by refinement and education.”

 

MODERN LIBERTY: POWER

In the last 2,000 years, we have overthrown the idea of a good and ordered world that provides a template for rightly ordered desires, and replaced it with a godless, chaotic material world which presents no guide for how to live. Instead, nature is either a violent and alienating force, or a resource to be harnessed for individual power and ease. Thus begins the pursuit of a new kind of freedom.

This modern view of liberty is a life free from any undesirable constraint, including government, family, history, and nature. The relationships, traditions, and communities that served as a training ground for growing virtue are now obstacles in the way of a person’s ever expanding personal freedom.

The good life is no longer conceived of as the exercise self-control and virtue, but as self-transformation that gives increased power. This change in ideal is reflected in how we think about education today. Graduates hope for money, status, and intellect. We enter into the adult world believing our ability to control our surroundings will set us free.

Ironically, pre-modern thinkers would have considered this condition slavery, “in which we are driven by our basest appetites to act against our better nature.”* Our conscience may show us what is right and honoring to God, but a modern freedom suggests we are free to choose what will bring us glory: ambition, consumption, and power.

Instead of worshiping God, we end up worshiping ourselves. As one ancient thinker puts it:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools,and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”

 

WHAT LIBERTY WILL WE CHOOSE?

As good as these modern goals sound, ancient classicists knew that “such liberation from all obstacles is finally illusory for two simple reasons: the human appetite is insatiable, and the world is limited. For both of these reasons, we cannot be truly free in the modern sense.”*

And so, before we become slaves to our appetites or despairing of a world that seems limited, perhaps it is worthwhile to consider the freedom found for our students in teaching them the wisdom and the self-control to order their desires rightly - and to recognize these irrevocable and permanent outcomes of education as a better kind of freedom.

In our current political moment, many feel the loss of a certain kind of freedom. And it may be true that liberalism is failing as a political project. But for those of us educating in a Christian and classical school, we have hope for a better future. Here’s why:

  1. We have Christ in us. His Spirit teaches us self-control and challenges our notions of liberty again and again. We pray he guides us in a vision of the world that honors who He is and who He’s made us to be. We pray this vision will allow His Kingdom to be increasingly realized on earth.

  2. We aren’t forgetting the past. A classical education gives our students familiarity with great thinkers. They will learn how their society developed, and they’ll have the knowledge, creativity, and self-control to devise new political and societal structures.

  3. We are growing in virtue. In an era of consumerism and power-grabbing, we hope our students will have rightly ordered desires. This means they will be grounded in their communities and aware of their cultural heritage so that they might be culture creators, building communities that honor the humanity of others and glorify God.

 

*Deneen, Patrick. Why Liberalism Failed. Yale University Press, 2018.

Reimagining Education:  School as a Pilgrimage

Reimagining Education: School as a Pilgrimage

by Sara Breetzke, TCA Head of School

I become increasingly convinced that to educate our children effectively, we must reimagine the task of education. The modern progressive school - the only schooling environment most adults today have ever known - has been widely imagined in form and function as a factory.

The metaphor of the factory is so pervasive in our school experience that we may be surprised by it at first. Consider that most modern schools are constructed of cinder block with few windows. But why? Why is a windowed classroom or a beautiful piece of art a surprise if found in a classroom? “Extras” like these are not efficient elements in a building that is meant for the production of an economic resource:  skilled workers.

The story of school is a story of production, of numbers, of quality control and efficiency. The measure of a school’s success is its graduation rate, just as a factory might measure its success on the number of cars it has produced. Students are funneled down the conveyor belt of the “common core” in a linear fashion. To return to an earlier point or to linger for a while would be counterproductive to the purpose of the factory: the production of graduates.

But at Trinity Classical Academy, we believe students are image-bearers, not objects; sojourners, not mere producers. Our educational forms and methods should reflect these truths. So this year TCA, parents and teachers sought to re-narrate the practices of education through the lens of a pilgrimage. We challenged the understanding of school as test scores and box-checking with the idea that educating our children is a spiritual journey.

This metaphor for education changes our conception of learning in many ways. I’ll explain three.

First, a pilgrimage is circular. “To be a pilgrim is not just to move forward in a straight line, but also to enter into a circular motion of journeying forth and returning home, perhaps multiple times.”* Like pilgrims, TCA teachers and students set forth on their study intending to revisit material, whether that’s once on the return journey or many times over weeks and years.

This intentional spiraling encounter with information sets it deep within our brains, accessible to ponder in quiet moments or to apply to new situations as we continue on our journey. The pilgrim’s promise of returning to the same spot also takes off the pressure: this is not our only chance to absorb what we learn, so we don’t have to cram. We can keep our eyes and hands open to enjoy and experience all God has for us as we learn together.

Second, if education is a pilgrimage, it is best done in community. Pilgrims in medieval times didn’t have the luxury of GPS or TripAdvisor. Instead, they had guides to lead them to food, lodging, and destination. The quality of a pilgrim’s guide determined the quality of his travel, and the quality of instructor plays no smaller role for educational travellers today. TCA teachers are learners and lovers of Jesus and of Truth. As they lead their students through history, literature, science, or math, they long for students to join them in traveling to their final destination: wisdom and worship of Jesus.

A guide was not a pilgrim’s only companion as he traveled to his destination. Generally pilgrims travelled in groups for safety, and the members of these groups varied widely in wealth, station, morality, and purpose. This complicated the journey at points, as pilgrims had to bear with each other’s oddities and quirks. And this is a picture of education. If we hope it will change us - as pilgrimages are meant to do - education must be done in community. As we interact with those who move at different paces and see the world differently, we grow in humility - arguably a foundational virtue as we seek to learn and change.

Finally, if education is a pilgrimage, we must change how we think about our destination. A pilgrim left home to encounter the holy: a church, a shrine, a relic. Many pilgrims had never seen a city before, let alone a towering cathedral, and they would most certainly be changed by the sight of such grandeur. In the same way, the great ideas students encounter in their education will change them. Because we live in an age of cynicism, our task is to re-enchant: to open our children’s eyes to the wonder, beauty, and glory shining though all God has made. 

And yet, even for the pilgrim, this destination isn’t final. There is always the journey home. We are reminded in Hebrews that we are “strangers and exiles on the earth . . . seeking a homeland” Our ultimate aim is not knowledge of Latin or Egyptian history or the periodic table: it’s to whet our student’s appetites for “a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”

At TCA, we hope that our students grow in awe and wisdom each year they travel with us. Yet in faith, we trust God to keep his promises to us and to our children, that ultimately we may reach the city God has prepared for us.

*from Smith, David. Teaching and Christian Imagination. Eerdmans, 2016.

Galatians 4 and C.S. Lewis in the TCA Lunchroom

Galatians 4 and C.S. Lewis in the TCA Lunchroom

by Sara Breetzke, TCA Head of School

This week at Trinity Classical Academy, grammar school students will finish listening to C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and his Boy. The protagonist in this story is Shasta, an orphan brought up by the poor fisherman Arsheesh. Seeking refuge from his cruel guardian, Shasta takes his first opportunity to run away on a talking horse, traveling across the desert to the happy lands of Archenland and Narnia.

On his journey, Shasta is joined by the Princess Aravis. As they travel together, Shasta feels sharply the effects of his impoverished childhood. He can tell he is not as worldly or mannered as his traveling partner, and he withdraws from her in embarrassment.

What a surprise, then, when at the end of the story King Lune of Archenland claims Shasta as his long lost son, Prince Cor! Shasta hasn’t changed outwardly at all, and yet in that moment he becomes a new person with a new identity: he is royalty.

It is fitting that TCA students hear the redemptive end of this story as they finish memorizing Galatians 4:1-7, verses that remind Christians of our true identity as sons and daughters of the King of Kings. We are in the same narrative as Shasta, moving from enslavement to sonship as God moves toward us. I hope that in years to come TCA students will claim this narrative of redemption in their own lives in three ways.

First, I pray they will know their true identity. Shasta was a slave to Arsheesh, but when his true father saw him, he gave Shasta a new name and a new identity. Shasta - or Cor, I should say - didn’t feel very royal at first. In fact, he looks rather ridiculous in his prince’s clothing. Regardless, though, Cor’s identity is objective and secure: he is royalty. And so are TCA students. As they join God’s family, they are given an objectively new identity as kings, queens, and priests in God’s kingdom - even on days when they don’t yet feel that transformation is real.

Second, I pray they will know the joy of their Father. King Lune is delighted to reclaim his son into his family. Although Shasta arrives in Archenland exhausted and bedraggled, the King claims him without reservation. So does our Heavenly Father rejoice in the hearts of students at TCA as they turn to him, crying, “Abba, Father” I hope that these words from Galatians will be written on their hearts and come to life in their own lives, just as they did in Shasta’s life after he met his true father.

Finally, I pray that TCA students will accept the higher calling that comes with being heirs to the King. After Shasta is recognized as Prince Cor, he takes the place of his younger twin brother as heir. Cor is embarrassed, thinking he’s stolen the title, but his twin is delighted. Now he can do as he pleases while Cor does the hard work of preparing to rule. And so it is with the students and families of TCA. We work with diligence in our studies and pursue excellence in our behavior because we are representatives of God’s Kingdom on earth; and we are seeking to bring glimpses of that kingdom to bear now until we are rulers with Christ forever.

Reading The Horse and His Boy is a reminder that at TCA we are doing more than preparing students for college. We are preparing our students to live lives of honor, virtue, and diligence that point to and honor King Jesus. We are preparing them to receive a new identity as heirs and to honor their Father as they live out their sonship before him.

Why We Celebrate

Why We Celebrate

by Sara Breetzke, TCA Head of School

At most elementary schools, friends and family gather each semester for a school program. At Trinity Classical Academy, instead of inviting our community to passively watch a performance, we invite them to actively join us in celebrating our students’ achievements and God’s goodness to our school. This is the goal of Trinity Classical Academy’s Semester Celebration which took place last weekend.

Throughout Scripture, God’s people repeatedly gather to celebrate God’s provision and blessings. Why should we not do the same as a school family? And halfway through year two of our school’s life, we find there is much to celebrate.

Because we are a classical school, we celebrate the diligence of our students. At our celebration they shared scripture, poems, and songs they’d memorized over the past 5 months - and this is just a fraction of all the truth, goodness, and beauty they’ve memorized and internalized as they completed their lessons.

Formal recitations, let alone a celebration, may not be what many of us expect from an elementary program, but this skill is key to the classical model: students are learning to focus their attention on language, to store precise, beautiful, and sophisticated language in their brains, and to ponder God’s word in their heart. These words are the foundation, the grammar, for their later education in logic and in rhetoric school, when they will learn to connect these pieces and reorganize them in unique and meaningful ways.

Because we are a collaborative school, we celebrate the diligence of our teachers and parents. Without their sacrifice, vision, and care, TCA would not exist and our students would not be growing in academic excellence and love of the Lord.

Because we are a school for children, we celebrate the souls of each of the 132 students represented at TCA. They are God’s gift to our families and our communities, and we treasure their presence at TCA.

Finally, and above all these things, we are a Christian school. Even if nothing of our efforts stand, even if our legacy lasts no further than this moment, even if our lessons are imperfect and our poem recitation flops, we still have every reason to celebrate:  God humbled himself to come to earth, to live a human life, and to die on a cross - for us in all of our meager efforts. And so we celebrate that Truth with great joy as we reflect on TCA’s first semester. It cannot be taken away by circumstances or cheapened by grades or removed based on our performance. And in the face of anything that may try to convince us otherwise, at TCA we pray that God would be glorified as we remember his provision for us in Christ.

At our most recent faculty meeting, one of our newer teachers made an observation. She said, “The students of TCA are always thanking God for this school, not in a prideful way, but they seem genuinely thankful that God provided this school and that they get to attend.”

This attitude in our children is the work of the Holy Spirit. And this attitude is the natural outcome of a community of adults - parents and teachers - routinely praying and stating their gratitude to God for his work at Trinity Classical Academy.

So if you’re a TCA family, keep it up. We owe all to our Lord Jesus. Your habits of gratitude are forming your children to be  grateful and joyful. And if you’re wondering what it’s like to be at TCA? We work hard to follow the Lord and learn about his world, but we know it’s ultimately God who is establishing our work - and we are ever so grateful.

 

Experiencing Depth in Classical Education

Experiencing Depth in Classical Education

By Tara Burkum, TCA Latin Teacher

I can recall a handful of teachers that impacted me in soul-changing ways. One in particular was a college professor who introduced me to the classics. I remember leaving that classroom convicted about sin in my life, in awe of the mercy and majesty of a mighty King, and seeing how God was at work in the world around me.

The number of pieces and authors that we covered in class was vast. We studied works written by Milton, Shakespeare, Homer, Virgil, all the way to the book of Job in the Bible. When I enrolled in this course, I didn’t anticipate how deeply I would be moved. I thought I would read some books, write some papers, and hopefully pass. Although my goal was to just “get by” in college, what I got was so much more.

I was challenged to think about these great works, how they related to the brokenness of man and the redeeming work of God throughout history. Considering the life of Job and how it relates to humanity’s relationship with God cultivated deep thought and wonder. It was as if I saw for the first time the depravity of man when reading Milton’s Paradise Lost.

We did all of this reading and studying in just one short semester. Thousands of pages later, I walked away from that classroom changed. I saw God’s work of creation, our fall, and His redemption played out in the pages of history. I saw how these truths continue to apply to our lives today.

My professor had cultivated a breadth of knowledge in me which fed a desire to go back to these same works to attain more depth. At TCA our goal resonates with what my college professor accomplished so well. We strive to reach the soul rather than achieve high test scores. We long to develop the character of our students and point them to God in all that they learn and see. To accomplish this, we understand that not only does depth of material matter, but breadth as well.

As educators in the classroom or at home, our job is to “kindle a fire” within our students. We can never exhaust what can be learned in our history, science, or math books - that’s part of what drives us to long for more. So we can spark wonder and curiosity and begin to see how God moves in the world around us and in us. There is a mystery and order to the created universe that we should always be seeking to discover and capture.

That’s why you’ll find TCA grammar school students memorizing a timeline of the world’s history from the beginning of time to now. They are memorizing significant moments in our history so that in the logic and rhetoric stages of learning they can place information back into that timeline. Then they can think more deeply about the implications of these moments in our past and how they point us back to the greatness of God.

Students also spend time each week in geography class mapping out the world. Through teaching this skill we are constructing a broad foundation for their future. They are beginning to see how big the world is and forging a breadth of knowledge about the planet on which they live. Someday this breadth of understanding could be experienced more deeply as they travel to new countries or read stories set in those places.

On any given day and any classroom at TCA you will find our students reciting all kinds of literature, from scripture to poetry. Students are cultivating a catalogue of truth and beauty as they drill these great works into their memory. TCA students are engulfed in a breadth of knowledge that is far too great to master. But that encourages them to hunger for more.

Since my college days nearly 10 years ago I have returned to the works I studied in my English class many times. I have referenced these works, thought about them in deep and moving ways, and often longed to return to those pages and have even deeper conversations about their implications on my life. As a TCA educator and parent, I hope our students and my children have this experience of wonder long before I did. I hope they desire to go back to what they have learned in their classes and studies, in awe of God, fueled by the breadth of all that they have learned, and longing to go deeper.

Renewing Our View of Work

Renewing Our View of Work

by Sara Breetzke, TCA Head of School

I have recently had the pleasure of participating in a book study with a group of Christian business professionals in Omaha. We are reading a book about the intersection of faith and work in our daily lives.

The purpose of our book study is to address this reality: many workers today don’t see a direct connection between their Christian faith and their day-to-day work. Our discussions have led us to see that a right understanding of work requires a reforming of the purposes and desires we have for work.

Each meeting of this group confirms to me the necessity of Christian education and provides vision for TCA graduates in the workplace. Our discussions have brought to light that the work we do is from and for God. Even if our work is seemingly in vain - punching the clock or pushing paper - it is forming us. Our work days are making us more like Jesus or less like him. Ultimately, the book study has discussed that all of our work is to be done alongside the Spirit, empowered and directed by Him. 

Here is a group of Christian professionals, serious about living out our faith in the world. And yet, in our 30s and 40s, we are just beginning to understand God’s sovereignty and grace in our work. Why is this kind of workplace dependence so unnatural for us?

I contend it is in part because in our first workplace, in school, many of us were taught that our relationship with God had nothing to do with our work. He was entirely separate from worksheets or math or group work or PE or a correctly written sentence. Nothing could be further from the truth. And if it shocks you that I even suggest such a connection, I’d invite you to consider: is that perhaps because you, too, were formed in a classroom where work was definitively removed from your faith?

How might we think differently about our current workplaces if in elementary or high school our teachers had invited the class to pray for diligence before beginning a difficult assignment, recognizing that the knowledge we would need ultimately came from him? Or if we had considered seventh period science to be a time to learn about God’s creation and to image him in our schoolwork? Or if we had been courageous to take academic risks in the classroom, recognizing that our identity in Christ freed us from fear of failure? Or if when we encountered challenging peer relationships we were reminded of God’s sovereignty through prayer with a trusted adult at school?

If we never had these unifying experiences of faith and work as students, how much more difficult to believe that God cares about and is present in our work as adults. The habit of self-reliance and the forgetfulness of God’s presence at work became our natural response long ago - likely in elementary school.

The goal of a Christian school is not to keep Christian students in a bubble. The goal is to give them the spiritual resources, habits, and identity that allow them to continue operating from a God-awareness once they enter the secular workplace. The ideal TCA Graduates will be convinced that God’s word is true and it speaks to every area of life, empowering them to be a faithful presence in the workplace.

And so we pray that the Spirit will open the eyes of our children’s hearts to what is true of all of our work, from cleaning to lecturing: it is for the glory of God and the good of his people. This is a goal we cannot reach without daily dependence on him, both in the workplace and without.

How Do You Explain Classical Education?

How Do You Explain Classical Education?

by Sara Breetzke, TCA Head of School

 

One of the greatest difficulties from within the classical education world is explaining this educational philosophy to others.

On a visit to The Academy of Classical Christian Studies in Oklahoma City last fall, I heard a helpful metaphor.

Giving a student a classical education – teaching him grammar, logic, and rhetoric – is like teaching him how to use a compass instead of a GPS.

While a GPS is easier to use than a compass, this ease will ultimately limit the user. As the user begins his journey, a voice parrots instructions to him without explanation. A screen shows his location – and one inch on either side. But the driver probably isn’t looking at this screen. Because his device is doing the thinking for him, his mind can be far away.

In contrast, a compass user must first understand how to read the symbols of a compass. What do the letters - N, E, S, W – and that arrow mean? Then once he knows these terms, he must come to a practical knowledge of these directions. What is North of him? And what will he find if he goes to the West?

This compass user is gaining a deep understanding of his physical surroundings. Instead of passively receiving instructions, he is discovering, categorizing, and creating order. 

Similarly, in the first stage of classical learning - the grammar stage - students learn to name and navigate their world. What happened in times past? What are the parts of a math problem or a sentence or a flower? What is true about God and the world? Through this process of naming, the grammar student is cataloguing the world around him, learning to read the compass of life’s journey.

Once a traveler knows – both by name and by experience – the meaning of the cardinal directions, he learns how to follow the compass to actually go somewhere. He must understand and explore the distance between himself and his destination.

His first few journeys may be messy as he learns to navigate the roads. He will doubtless meet dead ends and unforeseen traffic: the compass doesn’t answer every question about what’s ahead. It is a tool, not the answer key. The traveler must be alert, making memories and personal connections to his surroundings if he hopes to trek new, better paths through the world.

This is the logic stage of learning: students connect their points of knowledge, and begin to move from point a to point b. They consider their place in their community, their world, and in human history. They begin to apply the named truths from the grammar stage to the real world.

Finally, a compass user is capable of plotting his own journey. He has explored a region enough to know the most scenic or expedient routes to a destination. He can even guide others through the terrain. Now he may not even need the compass to reach his most beloved destinations, for he has learned to use the sun, the landscape, and his own experience to guide him.

And for new journeys, the traveler with a compass doesn’t balk at the challenge of navigating new terrain. He has gained the confidence and the skill to find his own way in life.

In the same way, a classically educated student emerges from the rhetoric stage of learning as a confident traveler. Not only can is he secure in the knowledge he has gained, he can guide others to his conclusions effectively. He is not afraid of a personal or academic challenge. He has worn the roads of his thoughts enough to be confident and persuasive in his presence and speech.

And so teaching classically is much like teaching a student to use a compass – not a GPS. While a GPS requires only knowledge of the final address, compasses require time, skill, knowledge, logic, and experience.

Our goal is wisdom over mere knowledge; formation over mere information; character over self-esteem, and worship over self-realization. 

So if we desire the deep knowledge of ourselves, God, and his world, we must live life with our heads up.

We offer a different way to travel. Come join us.

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