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.


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.


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.


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.

Imagining the Kingdom at TCA

Imagining the Kingdom at TCA

by Sara Breetzke, TCA Head of School

James K.A. Smith will be visiting Trinity Classical Academy this fall. This event is open to the public for a limited number of guests. If you are not a part of the TCA community, click here to find out more and RSVP for this event.


In Imagining the Kingdom, James K.A. Smith posits that the Christian school has two aims: to teach students information and to form students’ souls in love for God and His kingdom.

Smith suggests that if we long for our children to serve the Lord with their hearts, souls, and minds, we must begin by forming their loves, not just filling their brains with facts.*

He says, “The end (telos) of Christian education is action: the Christian [school] is a place from which students are sent as ambassadors of the coming kingdom of God. They are commissioned to undertake labor that is redemptive and reconciling, reflecting Christ’s work of reconciliation.”

At Trinity Classical Academy, we are working out the implications of this quote through our daily routines. We hope to form habits of mind and body in our students that result in love and service for God. Far from being mundane or stifling, these habits free our children to learn well and grow in maturity.

Here are a few ways we apply this concept concretely in our school day.


“They are commissioned to undertake labor ...”

We were made to glorify God through joyful, creative, honorable work. In preparing our students for Christian labor, we want them to be active, persistent, and diligent. Our curriculum at TCA requires that students work hard, think deeply, and engage their whole being in the task of learning. Therefore, the curriculum is intense and rich.. Training students in habits of intellectual tenacity provides a foundation for perverence in all their undertakings, especially in service to God.

Additionally, we want students’ labor to produce excellent results. If we have union with Christ, the work we do says something about His Spirit in us. As students are encouraged and equipped to do excellent work, they learn habits of excellence that influence all of their labors for God’s glory.

Finally, we hope our students learn to offer their labor - at school and in all areas of life - as worship to God. As we examine, manipulate, explore the things God has made, we learn more about our good Creator. As we make, imagine, and build, we rejoice in the creative capacities He has endowed us with. These are acts of worship which honor God as we delight in his many gifts to us.


“...labor that is redemptive and reconciling, reflecting Christ’s work of reconciliation”

At TCA, we recognize the reality, power, and pervasiveness of sin. When asked if they sin, students and faculty clearly and unreservedly answer, “Yes!” Yet this affirmation comes with the understanding that when the Holy Spirit is in us, he gives us power to put our sin to death and live for God. When we sin at school, we apologize to God and to others. These habits of recognizing sin reveal its presence and point to Christ’s provision for our individual suffering and sin.

Knowing Christ’s salvation for us personally gives us increased reliance on Christ as the answer to all sin and suffering. During the school week, you’ll hear us talk about injustice, especially in history and in countries where Christians are presently persecuted. We’re not afraid to confront this brokenness because it increases our longing for God to bring justice to the world. Students see that only Christ can resolve the nations’ suffering and sin.

We hope our students will see Christ both as their Great Redeemer and their guide as they spread the good news of the gospel. We hope this works out practically for students in lives and careers that introduce people to a reconciling God and redeem communities through His truth and presence.


“The Christian school is a place from which students are sent as ambassadors of the coming kingdom of God.”

At the beginning of each school year, TCA students point to the crest on their uniform. We discuss how each part of this crest represents God, and they wear this crest because they are his ambassadors. An ambassador’s role is to represent another country, and we want our students to know that when they become one with Christ, they represent God’s heavenly kingdom and point to the future that is secure in Him.

Through the stories we tell at TCA, the goal of living for God is always before us. We remind students again and again that someday we will not just represent God’s kingdom, we will live in it. Our King will come one day to reign fully in power and glory! Until then, we seek to create habits of body and mind that bring this truth before us, shaping our souls toward this awesome end.

*This argument is from Smith’s book You Are What You Love.

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.



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.”



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.”



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.