Friday, October 20, 2017

Why Classical Education? (subtitle, "What is wrong with modern education?")

"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education" - Mark Twain

Like anything else these days, it is important that we examine education in light of reality and truth to see what exactly our kids are getting, or not getting.  Our culture pushes the term "education" on us so hard, that we cannot help but be influenced by the movement in a major way.  We are told that education will be the solution to hatred and prejudice.  We are told that education will be the solution to economic hardships.  We are told that education will be the gateway to all kinds of bliss and joy.  The message is clear: Education will produce happiness, peace, and contentment for individuals and society as a whole.  How's that working?

The fact is that America is the most educated is has ever been, and the most educated nation on earth, at least in spending.  The federal government spends $650 Billion on education each year, or about $12,500 per public school student.  Those numbers do not reflect additional state funding to boost the amounts even higher.  In other words, the cost to put a child through public school each year is significantly higher than the cost of most private schools.  And yet, the mantra from Washington and state capitals across the nation is a call to increase spending on education.  In order to get the results you want in the classroom, all we need is more money.  Is that really a true statement?  A 2016 Harris poll revealed that only 31% of Americans would say they are "happy".  How can this be, when we are so educated, and constantly promised that education will be our savior?

Similarly, the federal government, and other large organizations, have dictated how we measure success in our classrooms.  Standardized testing has become our end-all-be-all across the board.  Someone in Washington DC (or Raleigh, etc.) makes a decision on what is essential for a child in Hickory to learn at a certain age, and creates a test to determine the level of learning success.  Teachers are pushed to teach to that test, as their success and reputation, as well as the reputation of the school, directly depend on the scores.  The 185 days of interaction with the teacher, and his/her determination of whether a student has successfully traversed the 3rd grade are rendered meaningless in light of that standardized test score.  It is no wonder teachers are frustrated. 

Every spring, I interact with teachers, students, and parents, who are overly stressed out about these tests, and rightfully so.  A teacher's professional standing is on the line.  A student's progression to the next grade is in question.  A parent's bragging rights with the neighbors about their child's intellect is in the balance.  And, as the children age, the pressure gets greater.  We move from, "how does my child measure up to other 3rd graders?" to "Is my child going to be accepted into college?".  And after all, a college acceptance to the preferred school is the pinnacle of all parenting, right? (that was sarcasm). 

In reality, when our kids take End of Grade Tests, or the SAT, or the ACT, what are we really learning about our child's education and ability?  And do those results match our priorities of what is really important in the development of young people?  Before going there, I will reluctantly admit that we are stuck.  The state government of North Carolina requires every student in the state to take standardized tests in certain grades.  Virtually every college in America requires an SAT or ACT (or both) score for admission, which makes sense on some level, because it is the only consistent number they can measure across thousands of schools.  But, the structure of the questioning of these tests is problematic to say the least.  At the end of the day, we determine whether our kids can memorize facts and spout them out on a ABCD bubble sheet, but can they reason and think on their own?  Can they hold an intelligent conversation?  Can they examine a situation to determine right or wrong, without being caught up in the emotion of the moment?  Can they write intelligibly?  We are producing Trivial Pursuit champions who cannot effectively debate a difficult topic with someone, form an opinion on their own, or present themselves before a group of people, or even in a job interview. 

This is why HCA has chosen Classical Christian education as our modus operandi (Latin pun intended).  Classical education is time honored, and proven through the great historical figures of western civilization.  From Aristotle to Martin Luther to Thomas Jefferson to CS Lewis to your child, classical education has successfully formed young minds into great thinkers for thousands of years.  This is not because it is necessarily harder, but because it is simply more effective.  The chanting and memorization of the Grammar Stage, followed by the debate and analysis of the Logic Stage, leading into the eloquence, presentation, and beauty of the Rhetoric Stage produces a well-rounded thinker with potential to contribute to society, far beyond the basic Jeopardy questions for college acceptance.  Coupled with a Christian Biblical Worldview, we hope to produce eternity changers with much higher aspirations than report card grades. 

Topics like Latin, Logic, Rhetoric, Western Civilization, and Apologetics stand out in this genre of education at the surface, but deep in the core of a classical education is a heart that is not satisfied with modern educational bubble sheets as its standard of success.  God expects so much more when asks us to love Him with all of our minds (Luke 10:27).

So, as a parent, I must question myself daily.  What do I desire in the life of my child?  If I am being honest, I would choose righteousness, holiness, character, integrity, common sense, diligence, and joy well before high test scores and degrees.  But, do my actions match that priority list?  I am not saying that some of those things are not important.  They certainly can be, and HCA students consistently score significantly higher than other schools on college entry exams, and typically perform at a higher level than their peers in college classes.  But, sacrificing the eternal for the temporal is always foolish, regardless of what the culture around me says.  And a quest for truth should always supersede the satisfaction of memorizing the answers long enough to pass Friday's quiz.  Wouldn't it be great if we could hold students to a high spiritual standard, character standard, and academic standard simultaneously? 

In the next few months, I hope to highlight some key aspects of a Classical Christian Education with the goal of making sure we are all on the same page, and appreciative of the opportunity our kids have to experience this unique form of education in modern America.  From a mile away, HCA can look very much like every other school.  We have long dropoff and pickup lines.  We host multiple sports teams.  We give homework assignments.  We learn math, read books, and make science projects.  But, there is a difference that I hope you will clearly see as the years go by, because it gets clearer as students get older.  My own three children who graduated from HCA have all reported that they were amazed at how much more prepared they were for post high school life than the vast majority of their college peers.  Some of that has to do with the way we parent, some with their own unique personalities, but I attribute a great deal of that preparedness to Classical Christian Education.  They were ready, not only for college, but for life.  There is a difference. 

Stay Tuned... 

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