A good friend (who also leads a classical Christian school) once vented his frustration that everything his school offered was nothing families wanted. Time-tested method and content? Okay (as long as it’s fun). Christ-centered curriculum? Nice, but not crucial (we go to church once a month). Academic rigor? Sounds good (as long as it doesn’t negatively impact our evenings or weekends). It can be frustrating for a classical Christian educator.
In Wisdom and Eloquence: A Christian Paradigm for Classical Learning, Robert Littlejohn and Charles Evans write:
Our experience has taught us that the real issue in admissions is not whether families personally confess what a Christian liberal arts school confesses, but whether they understand and want the benefits of this education for their children. This is the heart of the idea of ‘like-mindedness’ in a school and is among the things that distinguish schools from families and churches.”
Here are three reasons why I believe families want what we offer at Petra Academy:
First, our classical Christian education emphasizes a great canon of literature and history – time-tested original source material that goes well beyond the scope and sequence of the vast majority of grammar, elementary, and secondary schools (private or public). Anthony Esolen, Professor of English at Providence College, is an advocate for classical Christian education and laments the lack of classical canon in schools today:
My college freshmen are nice kids, born with considerable brains (we now accept only ten percent of our applicants). Unless they have studied Latin, they know no grammar. They cannot write. Only one or two of them will have studied British literature at all, or American literature before 1900. They have never heard the names of Milton, Tennyson, Browning, Keats, Pope, and so on. They have never heard of Yeats or T. S. Eliot, either. It’s a coin toss whether those from New England have read any poetry by Robert Frost. If they have, it’s one poem or two at most, and that’s it. They know no geography. They know nothing of world history. They cannot explain ordinary features of the natural world, such as why the sun appears to us in the USA in the southern part of the sky. They have been coached to accept various political or social positions, but those do not make them kinder and sweeter people. And it’s down the staircase from there.”
Esolen’s observations are shared by many instructors I know in so-called “higher education,” as well as documented in various YouTube clips filmed on college campuses (Texas Tech, George Mason) in which the most disturbing aspect of these students’ obliviousness is that their ignorance seems so funny.
Second, and in full agreement with 19th century educator Endicott Peabody, we teach with the goal of students being “able to take up successfully any subject owing to [their] early training.” We do this by teaching them via the Trivium to “observe with humility, reason with logic, and articulate with charity,” as our mission states. Take the following student paragraph on the problem of evil from a recent assignment given by Gregg Valeriano, Humanities/Logic teacher at Petra and an adjunct Philosophy professor at Montana State University:
A logically possible world is any logically consistent state of affairs. It is possible to have a both logically possible and physically possible world, as well as a physically impossible but logically possible world…both are logically conceivable, though not always physically possible. All logically possible worlds contain necessarily true things, which are elements which all logically possible worlds must contain. All logically possible worlds do not contain necessarily false things, elements which are contradictory and must not exist in any logically possible world. The problem of evil places the existence of both God and evil in a necessarily false world, claiming that since the existence of evil and God are contradictory, there is no logically possible world which can contain both of them. Since evil does exist in the world, the logical problem of evil states that therefore a God with such great making properties must therefore not exist out of logical necessity.”
The author of the paragraph is a 9th grader – a 9th grader! – at Petra and, according to Mr. V., “No freshman in the history of freshmen has written anything this good.” But such power of reasoning does not happen overnight; it takes years of teaching students to learn, work with, and write words that conjure, capture, and communicate meaning.
Third (and ever as important as the first two), we strive to create a student culture that supports (rather than sabotages) a collective love of learning. Once more from Littlejohn and Evans:
“From the moment a student is enrolled in the school until he departs, the ethos of the community of faith and learning colors the entirety of his experience as a student. From classroom to locker room, from chapel to recess – every circumstance has an enculturating effect on our students. Every personal sensory and relational encounter leaves a lasting impression. Some are major, others minor, but they all define our students’ experiences, and each will contribute something to the result that our students will call their education.”
Through our dynamic faculty and staff, expanding electives and co-curricular activities, and the contagious enthusiasm for all things done with excellence, we “strive to awaken love and wonder in our students…for the flourishing of humanity and the renown of Jesus the Christ.” It really is a beautiful vision to watch unfold.
Which brings me back to the original question: As a parent, do you understand and want the benefits of classical Christian education for your children? If you consider the canon, training, and culture at Petra and are serious about content and curriculum, rigor and reason, wonder and worldview, there really is no better choice in the Gallatin Valley.
We hope to see you at Petra Academy in 2016-17.