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.