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.

Write here...

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.