“He who aims at nothing will hit it every time.”
Let’s talk end results. Many discussions in much of modern education begin and end with test scores and college/job readiness as markers of success; on the the other hand, classical education invokes virtue and an arrival at a particular moral end as its measures of accomplishment.
The difference between these two visions of education is stark and, while there are exceptions, can generally be illustrated by the following two videos (each just three minutes long):
Consider the metaphors in the videos: in the first, the staircase is sterile and decontextualized, whereas in the second, the tree is alive and part of a forest; in the first, the mechanical arm moves students disconnectedly through their development, whereas in the second, parents carefully plant and water the seeds of their child’s education; in the first, education is portrayed as something gained to conquer the world, whereas in the second, the tree thrives and generously gives life to those around it.
There are plenty more elements we could unpack – the factory versus garden setting; the individualistic approach versus a more communal one; the end goal (or “telos”) of job security versus discipleship – but the point is clear: these are two very different approaches to educating children.
At Petra, our vision is to prepare students to live purposeful, godly lives. To these ends, we have recently created a draft of our “Petra portrait,” an aspirational list of characteristics that we desire a Petra student to possess upon graduating. They are:
Virtue and mature character – Through the grace of Christ, the prayerful study of Scripture and of the great books of western civilization teaches our students to love the right things in the right way – the classical, Christian definition of virtue. Rightly ordered loves enable our graduates to live always in the presence of God, to honor Him, to serve their neighbor, and to labor for the growth and glory of His Kingdom.
Solid faith and sound reason – Our graduates have a unified Christian worldview, with Scripture as the measure of Truth. Their faith in the revealed Word of God corrects and guides their thinking and reasoning, enabling them to wisely sort through complex issues and to discern the consequences of ideas.
Masterful eloquence – Language is foundational to all knowledge. Without a strong command of language, we cannot think, know, act, or even love rightly. As the people of the Incarnate Word, Christians must be masters of language. Our graduates learn to eloquently employ vocabulary, grammar, usage, style, and persuasion through the study of English, Latin, Spanish, and rhetoric.
Vision and skills of a competent and passionate culture-maker – The goal of Christian education is not to make myopic, narrow-field specialists, but to create well-rounded culture-makers with a broad field of competence. Our graduates develop this competence through their study of humanities, math, logic, science, drama, music, fine arts, physical education, and athletics. Our graduates are therefore equipped to image God and Christ in whatever vocation God gives them.
Literacy through broad and deep reading – Educated people are well-read and able to discuss competently and compellingly the central works of literature, history, theology, philosophy, science, and art. Our graduates are well-versed in the important literature and ideas of Christian theology and western civilization.
Aesthetic wisdom – Educated people have good taste. They are sensitive to beauty without being cultural snobs; they protect and preserve beauty without becoming antiquarian. They understand that Truth, Beauty, and Goodness are interrelated and interdependent. Our students develop aesthetic wisdom as they experience, analyze, and imitate great masterpieces of visual, verbal, and auditory art.”
Will these attributes prepare our students for college, the military, or their first real job? By and large, they have so far, but that’s not the point. Our students will know how to live well because:
– they’ve not only studied but been asked to emulate the character of great leaders
– they’ll know how to think because they have been taught how to do so logically, not just emotionally
– they’ll know how to speak because they have rehearsed the purpose and skills of rhetoric
– they’ll know how to contribute to culture rather than just be a consumer of it
– they’ll know the big ideas of the past and be able to recognize what they sound like in today’s world
– and they’ll have the wisdom to make choices – true choices, good choices, beautiful choices – because they’ve been called and equipped to do so in their interactions with others.
By pursuing virtue (rather than only college/job readiness), our students will be ready for whatever comes next, living (by God’s grace) virtuous lives to boot.