At Petra, we seek to honor God in an academic program that recognizes the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all knowledge. As opposed to both vocational or mere adequacy as “college prep,” our goals are to equip students with what Dorothy Sayers called “the tools of learning.” Like the goal articulated by 19th century educator Endicott Peabody, we desire that our graduates are “able to take up successfully any subject owing to [their] early training.”
To this end, our academic program includes classes in language arts (literature in the secondary), mathematics, science, history, fine arts, and biblical studies. The study of Latin begins in the third grade and continues through the ninth. Tenth through twelfth grade take Spanish as well. Formal logic is taught in the eighth and ninth grades and rhetoric in the eleventh and twelfth. Additionally, physical education classes are offered K-12 as well.
Using the “three-way” methodology of the classical trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric), we desire that our students be well grounded in the fundamentals of the core curriculum, that they reason well, and that they articulate with precision and grace.
Contrary to our culture’s present dualistic assumptions, at Petra, we believe that all things are under the purview of Jesus Christ. All things were created and are preserved by him. Men and women were created in his image which bestows on them both an inherent dignity and an awesome responsibility, what C.S. Lewis called “the weight of glory.” Furthermore, the redeeming work of his death and resurrection reaffirms his original purpose for creation and his sovereign place over it, including a clear purpose and direction to all of history.
When it comes to education — or anything else, this faith has consequences. For one thing, it compels us to see the academic disciplines as parts of an integral whole rather than piecemeal divisions of essentially unrelated knowledge. It also gives primacy to the inspired Word of God as the final authority of all wisdom and consummately relevant in the pursuit of all knowledge and direction in how we live our lives. Finally, it compels us to “glean our Saviour,” as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it, in every field of learning: to see “Christ-figures” in literature, the movement of God in history, the beauty and order of God in the maths, sciences, and arts: in a word, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable…”
By “classical,” we refer to the educational pedagogy that has prevailed in Western civilization since “classical” times, that is, since the times of the Greeks and Romans. It was adapted and refined in Medieval Europe and prevailed into the modern era until the relatively recent advent of modern, experimental pedagogies. Classical methodology refers to a “three-way” approach to education, called by the Latin term, trivium. The “three ways” are grammar, logic, and rhetoric. These are considered to be the primary “tools” of education.
By “grammar,” we refer not only to the structure of language but to the structure of all disciplines, though language is certainly the most fundamental to all knowledge. Grammar refers to the body of facts that are basic to each discipline, for example, the multiplication “facts” of mathematics. Students are expected to learn and even memorize the structural facts of each discipline.
By “logic,” we refer to the clear organization of that body of factual knowledge. For example, having learned observable phenomena of the physical universe, students learn the “scientific method” as the way to logically use observation to point towards the most probable hypothesis.
By “rhetoric,” we stress the development of the student’s ability to see the inter-relatedness of the academic disciplines and express themselves with eloquence and clarity.
Although a student will simultaneously develop these three “tools,” a correlation is seen in this “trivium” with the student’s development, such that grammar becomes the focus of elementary education when children are most adept and intrigued by their ability to memorize. In the “junior high” stage, students tend to become more argumentative and demand more explanations. At this time, we teach formal logic so they know how to argue correctly and avoid fallacies, as well as looking at the internal “logic” of the various disciplines.
The secondary years are those in which youth become very conscious of how they look and what expression they use to convey themselves to the world around them. Again the classical methodology seeks to harness this predilection of youth to culminate their pre-collegiate education with their ability to solidify and integrate their “gains” in the grammar and logic phases by placing on these their own stamp of creative and organized expression. To this end, formal rhetoric is taught during these years.
Latin is taught in the third to ninth grades. As a very logical and inflected language, Latin serves as the ideal paradigm for classical methodology. The elementary grades use curricula that begin to expose children to the Latin language and culture using a wide variety of activities. Students begin the respected Wheelock’s Latin in grade five and complete it in grade nine. In grade ten, they begin Spanish.
The pursuit of academic excellence has come as a natural fit to Petra since its inception. Our teachers are highly-qualified and motivated. Families are supportive and appreciative of the quality of education offered at Petra. The classical pedagogy and use of great texts and serious subject matter of our curriculum further necessitate the enthusiastic entry of our students into the “great conversation” of ideas of our civilization past and present. Small teacher-student ratios and well-ordered classrooms that provide an atmosphere conducive to diligence add to the formula for success in this area. Finally, and most significantly, the desire to do all we do “heartily as to the Lord” calls for mirthful diligence from us all.
The fruit of these claims are well attested by the performance of our students in annual achievement tests, national recognition, and college acceptance.
Challenging classes in the Maths, Sciences, Humanities (including language arts, literature, history, and civics), and Arts form the basis of a Petra education. Petra’s classical pedagogy includes, as well, the teaching of Latin (grades 3-9), formal logic (grades 8-9), and rhetoric (grades 11-12). Consistent with Petra’s Christ-centered focus, Bible classes are taught at each level and constitute the integrating center of our curriculum.
Emphasis is placed on the great books of Western civilization and primary source material in an attempt to cultivate the sensibilities of our students with the best that has been written and not to prejudice the modern era over voices of the past.