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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Do You Know the Difference Between School and Education?

Do You Know the Difference Between School and Education?

Reflections on Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult
by Sara Breetzke, TCA Head of School

In chapter three of his recent book, The Vanishing American Adult, Ben Sasse explains how the US education system has changed over the past 150 years, and he elucidates the goals of a modern progressive education - the education offered in most American schools today.

Below I’ve summarized some key ideas from that chapter, and I end with a question for the reader: is your child being educated? Or just going to school?

Before the Civil War, American schools were small, unregulated communities of learners. Between 1870-1940, public schools expanded exponentially to give young adults something to do in a newly urban America and immigrants a way to enter American culture.

While these sentiments behind school growth seem harmless, the growing American schools took on aspects of the era in which they flourished: The Industrial Era. With bell schedules and statistics reigning, American schools took on the characteristics of the factory.

Additionally, John Dewey, the “Chief Prophet of Progressive Education,” was key in shaping the modern school. Here are some of the radical views he advocated:

The school’s primary content should be what is discoverable by students. Dewey was skeptical of academic content handed down from experts.

The school’s primary vehicle of instruction should be the image. Dewey called an early interest in teaching children to read a “perversion” and was skeptical of the school’s dependence on book knowledge.

The school need not focus on a child’s individual flourishing. Dewey believed a student’s actions within modern society were a separate – and far more important – matter than his soul. Ultimately, students must be prepared for effective participation in the “social consciousness of the race” and its flourishing.

Dewey believed all of a child’s life was “nurtured in and only in the school. There are no other institutions … everything about the child’s life centers on the modern school.” No family. No church. School is ultimate.

Dewey was an atheist. He believed that religion and all other forms of dogma – including the idea of an absolute truth or morality – are dead and buried and have no place in school.

These philosophies were subtly woven into the culture of our American schools and are still present today. Objective truth is questioned. The image trumps the written word. The school has taken over family life. God has no place at school.

But are these schools working? America’s academic performance consistently ranks near the bottom among industrialized nations in subjects like math, science, general literacy, and cognitive skills.

Sasse suggests our hope for educational reform begins in a new understanding that school and education are not the same thing. If we ever hope to change education in this country, we have to remember our primary goals. We must consistently ask, “What is the role of the schools? Are they fulfilling that role effectively?”

School is a large scale cultural institution. It teaches a way of living and being. “Going to school” results in young adults who have learned the habits and routines of success within a particular system – but not necessarily the routines of a life well lived.

The school system is flourishing. Our students are not.

In contrast, education is the practice of growing an individual child in character and knowledge. As English author Dorothy Sayers writes, education “is inherently about the goals of life well lived; it is about the good, the true, and the beautiful. It is not the private domain of experts. It belongs to all of humanity.”

A reminder that education doesn’t only happen at school offers hope that the task of education need not only be carried out by “experts” within the school system.

All parents can help direct their children toward a life well lived, and the classical model of schooling provides a guide for parents to follow. This model teaches students differently according to how they learn best at each stage of their development, and it encourages wonder, a love of the classics, and reflection.

At Trinity Classical Academy, we’re are recovering this family-centered, humanity-honoring model of teaching and learning together. We long to educate students, not just "do school." We long to educate in ways that don’t imitate a factory, teach students passivity, or ignore the God who made all things.

It is a joy to see the children at TCA flourish as we return to teaching the good, the true, and the beautiful. We hope you’ll consider joining us in this pursuit.

 

The Robots Are Coming... Are Your Kids Ready?

The Robots Are Coming... Are Your Kids Ready?

by Sara Breetzke, TCA Head of School

 

In 2015, while still a 10th grade English teacher, I went to a citywide teacher training. The speaker showed several minutes of a video with this message: robots are replacing the low skill jobs that provide a livelihood for many Americans. In 10-20 years those low-skill jobs will be gone, leaving a large percentage of adults unemployed.

Despite all of the content distributed that day, I only remember this: as a teacher, it was my job to shape students into workers capable of doing jobs that robots can’t. Students must be able to solve complex problems in unique ways, create and innovate in the face of roadblocks, and interact with others in thoughtful and productive ways. 

The certainty of the prophecy was alarming. The weight of the responsibility for teachers was crushing.

I returned to my classroom the next day with this charge fresh in my mind. But each year my lesson plans were built around required assessments – districtwide tests with scores posted and evaluated, benchmarks of student success. In the next weeks I would take extensive time to prepare students for a writing assessment that held no value for them and did little to improve their writing. I was a part of a system teaching students to work in ways that suppressed their individual beliefs and limited their skills.

I was teaching them to be robots. 

The concerns represented in the training seminar are not the only indicator that our students' careers are in jeopardy. A recent study by McKinsey Global Institute looked at seven categories of high-end knowledge workers – doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, teachers, etcetera – and found large portions of their roles susceptible to replacement by machines.

As educators and parents preparing the next generation for viable employment, we indeed have a lofty charge – especially from within a system of limiting assessments and practices.

That is why we must educate our children in a way that recaptures their humanity. We must instruct them in the types of thinking that only humans can achieve.

In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport describes two qualities of workers increasingly in demand:

  1. Those with the ability to master difficult things quickly.
  2. Those with the ability to produce at an elite level in terms of quality or speed.

These two skills make humans competitive in a tech-heavy workforce. And luckily, these two skills are natural outcomes of a classical education.

Classically educated students are taught how to learn, giving them the ability to master things quickly. They are consistently repeating the cycles of grammar, logic, and rhetoric in each subject: learning a new vocabulary, making connections between terms, and expressing their learning effectively. This is the process of learning.

Classically educated students are taught to master content. To do this, the student must have virtue, what Aristotle defined at the ability to act in accordance to what one knows to be right even when it runs against his baser inclinations. Classical education asks a student to work against his desires in order to reach a goal – mastery of a subject – until he learns to desire this end on his own.

When I left that teacher training years ago, I was discouraged about the future of young adults entering the workforce – even those who came from my classroom. How could they compete in a world of ideas? The constraints of my public school classroom felt binding.

By the grace of God, the work being done toward learning and mastery at Trinity Classical Academy provides hope. Here, students are learning to embrace their humanity as they study God and His World. They are learning to pursue ideas and engage their imagination. They are learning to be much, much more than robots.

 

Reflections on Teaching at a Classical, Christian, Collaborative School

Reflections on Teaching at a Classical, Christian, Collaborative School

1. “Things don’t have to be perfect for learning to take place.”  –Louise Rasmussen, TCA Kindergarten Instructor

At the beginning of the year, I was worried about my sweet little kindergarteners learning cursive. This seemed an enormous tasks for five and six-year-olds. How could I do everything just right as an instructor to help them?

As the year ends, though, I see how repeated practice led students to write in beautiful cursive. I realized the alignment of efforts between school and home brought about learning. Their parents and I weren’t perfect as instructors. But we all learned that diligence and teamwork can grow us immeasurably as students and humans.

2. “Students must memorize information while they’re young.”  –Amy Anderson, TCA 3rd Grade Instructor

This year I learned elementary students’ brains really are like sponges. When they are young, we need to take advantage of this unique ability.

In my previous eight years teaching elementary school, no one ever challenged me to have my students memorize. When I first arrived at TCA, I never thought my students could memorize all the poems, facts, and songs in the curriculum this year – but just like that, they were reciting, so proud of all they had in their brains.

3. “Kids love to be challenged.”  –Jess Boscarino, TCA 4th Grade Instructor

This year I learned that when we give our students adequate tools and a safe environment, they are willing to try difficult things even if they don’t get them perfect the first time.

Educating classically meant that I had a curriculum that was inherently challenging. Teaching in a Christian environment encouraged us to esteem each other and humbly admit when we needed help. The result was a class of students that wanted to work as a team and enjoyed the excitement that came as we learned together.

4. “Content is a vehicle to teach virtue.”  –Sara Breetzke, TCA Head of School

All education is character education. As a teacher and administrator, it would be easy to focus more on my students’ test scores than their virtue. After all, test scores are much more easily measured. However, when test scores are the only measure of success, students can too easily hide behind content.

This year I realized more fully that in a classical, Christian school, the content and activity of TCA’s school day are windows that reveal our need for Jesus. It is as students work with others, submit to academic truth, and wrestle with the learning process that they must honestly deal with their fears, insecurities, pride, sloth, and selfishness. In these moments students can work through these heart idols and grow in virtue.

5. “Grace changes everything.”  –Priscilla Braun, TCA Mom and 1st Grade Instructor

I’m a by-the-book person: I always have an idea of how things should be. But this year instead of trying to earn my worth in relationships or the success of our schooling, I experienced freedom to enjoy learning. The reality of God’s grace – his approval of us no matter our imperfection, failure, or stubbornness – completely changed the outlook of my year at home and in the classroom.

I’m learning that all change comes in God’s time as we lovingly call each other to more and offer room for each other to grow. And more than ever, I find that I’m thankful. I don’t have to try to be better as a teacher, mother or student; I’m already better because of Jesus.
 

You've Decided on a Classical Christian Education... Now What?

You've Decided on a Classical Christian Education... Now What?

by Sara Breetzke, TCA Head of School

 

It’s summer. You did your research, and you decided that a classical, Christian education will best guide your student toward virtue and academic excellence.

Now comes the hard part.

The word decision literally means “to cut away,” and this educational adventure – while hugely valuable – won’t come without difficulty. You may be cutting away from routine schooling situations, having a child at home full-time, or comfortable family rhythms. All of these changes will likely be painful.

So what next? What will you need to help you transition well into a new year of classical, Christian schooling?

This summer, as you feel the pressure of cutting away, here are three things you’ll need to stay the course on this journey.

 

1.     PERSPECTIVE: There is a story about two stonecutters. One was exasperated to have to chisel away at a stone all day. He focused only on the task in front of him, boring and seemingly endless.

His partner, though, chipped away with vigor. He saw not just the stone, but the cathedral that his stone would help form. This tale reminds us that “we who cut mere stones must always be envisioning cathedrals.”

I’ve heard this story before. But until reading David Macauley’s Cathedral this spring, I hadn’t considered that it took over 100 years to build a cathedral. Not only did that stoneworker see little progress on his stone, it was likely he would never see the completed work of his labor. By the time a cathedral was finished, the original visionaries and builders were dead. But the cathedral stood. Many of them still stand.

This long-term perspective is the one that classical, Christian educators must hold tightly. We want our children to become virtuous humans and Christ-worshippers. We hope these children will go on to educate another generation of people who love learning and do so to the glory of God. To prepare yourself for the school year ahead, take time this summer to reflect on what God is building in and through your family’s educational choice.

2.     PEOPLE:  Very little in our culture prepares us or encourages us to work for this sort of long term goal. The stonecutter in the story needed the man working beside him. He needed to be reminded that each hit of his hammer shaped a stone that would become a cathedral that would glorify God.        

When you decide on a classical, Christian education for your family, you’ll need other people. You’ll need them to remind you of your ultimate goals for your children. You’ll need them to remind you that you have a loving Father who will give you grace for each day of your child’s school.

Furthermore, we need each other’s gifts. To classically educate children well, we need people who have knowledge that we don’t: How can we teach our children Latin? How can we introduce them to the best art and music? How can we train our children in virtue?

This work cannot be done in isolation. This summer, I hope you’ll prepare for a year of classical, Christian education by pondering the role you’ll play in your educational community. How will you share your gifts with those who share the vision of a classical, Christian education? How will you invite others to share their gifts and further this vision?

3.     PRAYER:  Those of us classically educating our children from a Christ-centered viewpoint not only need perspective and people around us, we need the Holy Spirit. Our efforts are futile if God himself doesn’t establish them.

 Those of us deciding on this form of education must pray that God will be present in our homes and classrooms to bless our efforts. We must trust that God will establish our work, even when we experience the fear and pain of doing something new.

 

Each year that we make the decision for classical and Christian education, we have to “cut away” anew. So this summer, let’s ask God to prepare us and give us courage to follow through on our decision.

Let’s ask God for perspective. Let’s ask him to form a strong community of people around us. And let’s submit these requests to the Lord in prayer again and again. Because ultimately an education is just one of many decisions that will help us reach the true end of our lives: God’s glory.

Why Learn Latin?

Why Learn Latin?

by Sara Breetzke, TCA Head of School

  

More than just a means of communication, learning a foreign language has long been recognized as a valuable tool in educating children. Like schools in the classical tradition throughout history, at Trinity Classical Academy we believe Latin (yes, Latin!) is an essential part of any child's education.

Yet, the Omaha World-Herald recently reported that many metro-area schools are removing Latin from their world language curriculum.

The article cites the following purposes for learning a foreign language:

  1. Practical Application
  2. Cultural Education
  3. "Brain Food"
  4. Opportunities for for a Bigger Life

Latin abundantly fulfills all of these purposes, making it more important than ever that we give our students the opportunity to learn the foundational language of western culture.

Consider these quotes about the advantages of learning Latin:

1. Latin Has Many Practical Applications

Even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labor and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least fifty percent. It is the key to the vocabulary and structure of all the Teutonic languages, as well as to the technical vocabulary of all the sciences and to the literature of the entire Mediterranean civilization, together with all its historical documents. –Dorothy Sayers

2. Latin Sets a Foundation for a Cultural Education

Why settle for just one language? Latin is the best preparation for learning a Romance language, or any language. Once you really understand how language works, the task of learning a new language will be more than cut in half. –Cheryl Lowe

3. Latin Enhances the Brain

Latin does for the language side of the curriculum what math does for science. It provides the mental discipline and structure that the humanities side of the curriculum desperately needs. –Cheryl Lowe

4. Latin Provides Opportunities for a Bigger Life

When taught to a master level, [Latin] take[s] perseverance, hard work, stamina, will, grit. It says, “Now that you have done it once, you can overcome any future challenge you may meet.” –Cheryl Lowe

Latin abundantly fulfills all of these purposes, making it more important than ever that we give our students the opportunity to learn the foundational language of western culture.

A commitment to teaching Latin is just one way that Trinity Classical Academy provides a unique educational experience for families. You are invited to come and hear more of TCA's distinctive vision for education at our last informational meeting of the season.

We'll gather on Friday, April 28, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at Grace Central Church. At this meeting, we'll give a full overview of Trinity Classical Academy, and you'll walk out with a folder full of content to help you make an informed choice about your child's future. RSVP here!

  

Our Best Technology

Our Best Technology

by Sara Breetzke
TCA Head of School

In his book Life Under Compulsion, English Professor Anthony Esolen states, “The book is the most sophisticated and human tool we have ever produced.” At Trinity Classical Academy, we agree. We believe books are the best classroom technology any school can have to offer.

Are you wondering how that can be true in a digital world? Here are four reasons that we believe more books and fewer gadgets will lead your children to the best educational experience.

COST

We are committed to running a lean, well-managed, fiscally responsible school. If we invest your tuition dollars in technology, we want to be sure that equipment will directly promote academic excellence.

Therefore, we take seriously studies like this one from 2015, completed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The study states,“[H]elping kids build strong conceptual skills in reading and math ‘will do more to create equal opportunities in the digital world’ than expanding or subsidizing access to high-tech tools.”

Focusing on basic skills and using paper texts allows TCA to offer effective education for less money – even in this digital age.

REFLECTION AND PROBLEM SOLVING

Successful people have the intellectual power to reflect deeply on information and to solve problems creatively. Reading books supports this kind of thinking. Technology writer Nicholas Carr explains, “the emergence of reading encouraged our brains to be focused and imaginative.”

In contrast, increased use of the Internet has created a reading environment where “distraction is the norm, consistent attention is impossible, imagination is unnecessary, and memory is inhibited.”[1]

We believe attention and imagination are key aspects of a child’s development, so we turn first to books, not screens, to educate.

EMBODIED LEARNING

Classical education is embodied learning, which means that the materials of learning matter as much as the content. Recent evidence and polls show that reading from a screen “fail[s] to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that … prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way.”

We want our children to consistently find the written word a satisfying experience, so we’ll stick with our physical books.

A UNIQUE TOOL

In a world of smartphones and laptops, we can forget that a book is a form of technology. But if we reflect on what this simple tool actually does, we realize its power. As Esolen says, in a book “I see drama portrayed in ink illustrations here and there. I have memories of words, memories that are visual, auditory, and tactile.”

Any tool with such abilities to focus and enhance our thinking is certainly a powerful technology. Esolen continues, “In [the] words [of a book] the mind of a man, his personality, his thoughts, his manner of expression, his view of the world, enter my own mind – not as a commercial battering against my ears but as a friend, with an arm around my shoulder.”

So at TCA, we teach first from books. They’re not flashy or new, but they are our faithful companions, transporting us to new worlds and introducing us to those wise men and women who have traveled this same road of learning before us.

 

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201212/how-technology-is-changing-the-way-children-think-and-focus