Thanks to everyone who joined us on Friday for our first Elementary Recitation of the year. Students enjoyed presenting snippets of what they are memorizing and learning, and everyone did a nice job of being on stage. If you missed it, we’ve posted clips of each presentation on our Vimeo channel to watch and share. Don’t forget to join us for our first Secondary Recitation on Thursday, October 25, from 11:45-12:15 p.m. Pack a lunch and eat with students after!
(This is the second of two posts from 3rd grade teacher Sabrina Moody. Read part one.)
The Opportunity to Grow
This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:8
As we re-experience 3rd, 5th, 8th or whatever the grade may be, we have the unique opportunity to grow alongside our children. Chances are most of us did not have a classical Christian education. We may remember a grade level, but not always positively. By getting involved with projects, classroom and school activities, and homework, we positively reshape our loves and experience. The challenges and joys we experience will grow us, and as adults modeling a love for growth and learning, we couldn’t show our children a better example.
Questions like: “How can the Lord help you grow through this challenge in math?” or “How can I help you as we move past this frustration with homework?” are invaluable assets to your parenting experience. You will “grow much fruit” in your relationship with Christ and your child as you come alongside.
The Opportunity to Love and Understand More Deeply
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. “ Romans 15:5-6
As a learning community that places Christ at its center, Petra offers families and students the chance to build a network of support in the Body of Christ and supplement the local church. This does not mean we seek to do the work that local churches do, but rather that we support each other in the body of Christ in an educational way. What does this mean?
We integrate our subjects with biblical, Christian teachings. We teach Bible as a class at the elementary and secondary levels, but we don’t limit understandings of other subjects (particularly math and science) as exclusive of our Christian ethos.
We give you the opportunity to pray with us (Moms in Prayer, Dads who Dare prayer groups) and the opportunity to receive prayer support (faculty prayer).
Finally, our Humanities (secondary) and Literature studies (elementary) are connected to our faith by teaching students to interpret God at work in the creation of characters, themes, and philosophies shown in classical and secular literature.
Your child’s studies may be the most challenging he/she has yet experienced, but the opportunity this gives you to encourage and persevere is rich with potential. Embrace the opportunities at Petra! And may it be a wonderful year of joy, exploration, and support for you and your children!
Maybe you’re at Petra Academy because you want a community in which your children can learn and grow. Maybe you’re here because you’ve grown to love classical Christian education, or have become excited about its promise for your children and family.
Maybe you’re here because you sense, on some level, opportunities at Petra that you and your kids have never had before. What are some of these opportunities?
The Opportunity to Share
And we pray this that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” Colossians 1:10
At Petra, parents and families share in the classroom and school endeavors in unique and indispensable ways. Rather than turning you away at the door as you “drop off” in anonymity, we delight at seeing you in our hallways, hugging your child, delivering some extra words of encouragement, letting us know of requests or upcoming needs, supporting sports games and plays, or asking how you can volunteer in our classrooms or school.
At Petra, the premise of “in loco parentis” meaning “in the place of parents” (paraphrased as “being responsible for the child’s parents while the parents are absent”), guides our role as adults in your child’s life. We don’t replace you or supersede your role; instead, we partner with you to ensure that your authority and vision for your child is held throughout the time he or she is stewarded by us during the school day. This philosophy supports you as parents in a time when cultural norms can undermine and confuse your beliefs and vision where your children are concerned.
The Opportunity to Build Up in Christ
But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.” Jude:20
Our community encourages and embraces the expression of love and fellowship through our Lord Jesus Christ. As our mission states, “recognizing our need for God’s grace, Petra Academy strives to awaken love and wonder in our students by teaching them to observe with humility, think with reason, and articulate with charity for the flourishing of humanity and the renown of Jesus the Christ.”
The school year here at Petra gives you the chance to build up your child, your family, your child’s teachers, administration, and families within your child’s class and school. You can build up by your words, your time, and yes, your smile. Reaching out for help when you need it (i.e., “recognizing the need for God’s grace”) gives you the opportunity to be joyous on this journey. Reach out to teachers whenever you have a concern about your child – that is why we are here! – to support and help you and your children.
Words like “I really would like to hear more about ________( your studies in a subject, class, enrichment),” or “This learning must be such a delight. I wonder how we could live into this teaching at home?” or “What you did today sounds like fun. Can I do an activity with you to experience or learn more about this?” can go a long way with your student.
(Petra’s Spell-a-thon is our annual elementary fundraiser in which families and friends of Petra sponsor student spelling words. Click here for sponsorship information for Spell-a-thon.)
There is a common misconception in this day and age of autofill, autocorrect, and spell check that spelling is not as important as it used to be. But that’s not the case at Petra Academy.
Spelling is an integral part of our elementary curriculum from Kindergarten to 6th grade, and we want to keep it that way. We know that spelling is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to communicating big ideas and timeless truths. So how do we prepare students to learn the big ideas of classical literature? By teaching them the big ideas behind spelling. Here are a couple of examples of how spelling instruction takes place in our classrooms.
Within the first two weeks of our integrated 6th grade Latin vocabulary and spelling curriculum, students were already discovering the relationship between Latin root words and English derivatives. As elementary Latin teacher Elizabeth Wickland explains, “The English word “sylvan” came from the Latin word “silva,” meaning forest or woods. One student made the observation that “sylvan” was in “Pennsylvania” and I was able to explain that the state’s name means “Penn’s woods.”
This story seems the type you would hear about at the end of the year, but students are already grasping the concepts presented. Spearheaded by Mrs. Wickland and 6th grade teacher Sarah McClaflin, our curriculum makes students’ understanding of spelling and knowledge of Latin even more accessible and applicable. Students learn Latin vocabulary alongside English derivatives and practice and learn how to spell the English words for spelling tests.
For example, terra is one of their Latin vocab words meaning earth; an English derivative of terra is the spelling word terrestrial, an adjective describing something earthly. “The English language is not our own,” Mrs. McClaflin says. “We’ve borrowed a lot from Latin.” She mentions the fact that students have an easier time with spelling when they can see the connections between words rather than simply memorizing “the way it is.”
On the other end of the hallway, Mrs. Miller has been teaching Kindergarten students letters and phonograms for 9 years at Petra. “Reading is like a magic code they get to break,” she says with a smile. “Students start in our Pre-K and Kindergarten classes learning all the different sounds that the letters can make and by the end of the year they’re sounding out words on the signs all over the school.”
As for the method, students begin by learning phonograms and spelling rules. At the outset it seems a lot to learn for a little kindergartener, but by the end of the year they know all 70 basic phonograms and take that foundation all the way through elementary. This specific and focused introduction of phonograms and spelling rules is built upon in each grade, with the end goal being that students know how to learn to spell all words, not just specific words.
The spelling skills that students are learning in grammar school are vital for becoming more confident readers both in class and on their own. It also makes them more capable of tackling the big ideas in the classical texts that they read in their secondary years.
Mrs. McClaflin and Mrs. Wickland both point out that any modern student’s vocabulary would be stretched by classical literature, but here at Petra, they are gaining the tools they need to be able to learn, understand, and use any new word they come across. We’re not just teaching students what to learn; we’re teaching them how to learn (and how to rightly spell what they learn).
The benefits of this spelling instruction are evident: during last year’s Spell-a-thon, the average score across all grades was 93 out of 100 words spelled correctly; the year before, it was 92. Not only are the scores good, but our students learn to love spelling and reading and want to do both well.
Spell-a-thon is one of the many ways that we get our students excited about learning, and it’s also one of the many ways families can be involved in our school. Thanks for being a vital part of awakening the love and wonder of spelling and reading in your students…and helping us cover the costs to do so!
I spend my days with young people who are thoughtful, engaged, and funny. And, because I teach 12th grade students at a classical Christian school, my students also possess extraordinarily well-trained minds. They are the product of a different educational system than I was, and I never cease to be impressed with them, as individuals and as a group.
Many of our seniors have been at our school for 6, 8, or 10+ years. Many have spent most, if not all, of their time in school learning classically by reading great books and discussing big ideas for the purpose of searching out the transcendentals of truth, beauty, and goodness. They have studied Latin, maths and sciences, as well as logic and rhetoric.
By the time these students get to their final year of high school, they have learned a great deal about the world and their place in it. They are inquisitive, analytical, and have a solid foundation on which to build, as they have been shaped by a Christian worldview and classical methodology. As a result, even as I introduce them to a new subject, they already have many of the tools they need to master it.
This became very apparent earlier this spring when seven seniors and I traveled to Helena to participate in the Montana Economics Challenge, a competition open to all high school students in Montana (this year approximately 100 students participated). Montana high school teachers are invited to incorporate economic learning in their classrooms and assemble teams to compete in a challenging array of tests covering concepts, issues, and reasoning.
Teams were comprised of three or four students who competed individually and as a team. Participants took a 15-question, multiple choice test in each of the following three areas: microeconomics, macroeconomics, and international trade and economics. The top two teams from each division after the first three rounds compete against each other in a buzzer round on general economics and current events to determine overall division winners.
Out of 26 teams from public and independent schools across Montana, Petra’s two squads made it to the final and faced off in the championship match, taking first and second place. In addition to their team wins, Petra had the top three individual performances out of 65 students in their division, with Hannah Palmer coming in first, Mackenzie Miller second, and Abby Laird third.
In April, the Petra team of Brianna Anderson, Hannah Palmer, Mac Miller and Elsa Bentz tested well enough to advance to the national semi-finals, where they finished 16th out of 35 teams from across the country – the highest finish ever for a Montana team.
Of course, economics is made up of a lot more than just numbers; it involves consideration of resources, distribution, trade, employment, supply and demand, and the populations involved in all of them. In short, economics is about people and behavior, which is why our students did so well in the competition. Our students had had just over a semester of formal economics education before the competition, yet because of the quality of their mathematics courses (combined with all they had previously read and written about in their literature and history studies in humanities), they were able to easily master economic concepts.
I’m eager for graduation and the beginning of a new chapter in the lives of these graduates. I am confident that no matter what trajectory their lives take, or what fields they choose to study, they have been wonderfully prepared to pursue whatever vocation to which the Lord calls them.
When I was a young Captain stationed at RAF Lakenheath in England in 2003, I remember having a conversation with my squadron commander about our lack of work-life balance. “Why do we have to go out and waste so much time and fuel practicing Basic Fighter Maneuvers (close-in dogfighting) when everyone is already working 60-80 hour weeks? If I ever end up in a close-in dogfight with the enemy, something has gone horribly wrong for the Air Force!”
What should have been obvious that I didn’t understand at the time was that BFM is a fundamental building block of all combat aviation. It was there not just so we would win a dogfight; it was an exercise that developed certain cognitive pathways in our brains. We were being taught how to observe rapidly changing sensory inputs, categorize them appropriately, and respond correctly at both a conscious and subconscious level – all while experiencing the most physiological stress the airplane could dish out.
As I think about the futures of my kids, they’re getting old enough that I’m starting to worry about their work-life balance. Do I have enough time with them at home? Are we giving them all the athletic opportunities we should? Are they doing too much homework? Will they get into the colleges we want them to?
To help answer these questions, I decided to observe Mr. Koenen’s 11th grade Humanities class last week. I was quite frankly dumbfounded by the transcendent level of all-around excellence I witnessed from start to finish. First, it was the light-hearted teenage banter, not about who did what to who or what so-and-so was wearing but about…Dante…and Beatrice…and bacon and the meaning of Mr. Koenen’s bumper sticker (and all this before Mr. Koenen even entered the room).
Next, I was personally edified by the diagram Mr. Koenen put up on the white board illustrating why I do the things I do and how it relates to the reading the students had been assigned in Dante’s Purgatorio:
Our senses perceive an object, our imagination projects what it might be like to relate to that object, desire is born and grows into love. But love in this world is broken and so I must use reason and will to shepherd my desires and loves and…”
“Mr. Koenen, stop,” I thought. “My mind can’t keep up with all of the different areas of my life this touches and informs. I’ve got to sit a minute and reflect and let my brain catch up!”
But it didn’t stop. At this point, a student in the class put his hand up and said, “Mr. Koenen, how is it possible to be a celibate gay Christian?” Without missing a beat, he somehow tied the writings of someone 700 years removed from our culture of shameless TV and Disney boycotts to his diagram of our loves on the board. He then proceeded to walk methodically, humbly, and charitably through the traditional Christian view of same-sex attraction.
For the entire hour that I sat in the corner listening (on a chair that was carried in from another room by a student who noticed I needed a place to sit), the students were engaged and articulate. They were thoughtful and amazed at the symbolism of Dante’s story. They asked difficult questions about relationships, human nature, and community. It was absolutely breath-taking.
As my mind drifted back to my tuition bill and all of my questions about my fears for my own kids, two things struck me: first, is a Petra education difficult? Undoubtedly, but if someone is to be a culture-making Christian leader in postmodern America – whether it be as an inventor, an artist, a homemaker, a programmer, a CEO, an entrepreneur or an electrician – they will have to wrestle with difficult ideologies and resource constraints every year of their lives.
Second, are the repetitive, mundane building blocks of classical education executed perfectly all the time? Probably not, but the Petra community is one in which we can ask each other the questions like the ones I’m asking above. We can share these fears with each other and constructively help each other find answers to those fears so both we and our kids can all grow in grace and cultural impact.
Like BFM produces quick-thinking combat aviators, Petra Academy’s cultivation alongside loving families is producing bold thinkers in an era and in a culture that needs them like never before. Observing the class of 2019, I witnessed spiritual warriors who will walk into the world, see what needs to be done, and do it with a spirit of humility and winsomeness unlike few others. Petra might not be doing everything right all of the time, but if whatever they’re doing produces what I saw in the classroom last week, I want my kids here.
Jim Stumbo is a 1995 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, a retired Lieutenant Colonel, and a financial planner with Edward Jones. He and his wife, Jen, have three students (8th, 6th, and 1st grades) at Petra, with a fourth beginning in Kindergarten next year. This is the family’s third year at Petra Academy.
Interested in observing a class at Petra? Contact our office at 582-8165 for options.
“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.
Newsflash: we live in uncivil times (and I’m not even talking about war or terrorism). Consider the opening monologue at last night’s Golden Globes, or how a mention of Star Wars: The Last Jedi in a crowd might actually require The Force to make it out alive.
We live in uncivil times, and our kids take note of our reasoning, perspective, and tone in navigating them. This is the opportunity we have to shape their virtues and help them find their voices by way of all that is true, good, and beautiful. And now, more than ever, classical Christian education offers help in the midst of the milieu.
On the Friday before Christmas Break, I gave a 30-minute address to our 7th-12th graders on “Magnanimity” as the solution to our problem of incivility.
And on January 20, we look forward to co-sponsoring with our friends at Americans for Prosperity Foundation and Bridge to Wellbeing, actor Fred Morsell’s one-man performance of “Presenting Frederick Douglass.” Morsell, as Douglass, shows how he learned to read and write, making it clear that learning these skills were his keys to becoming free. I hope you and your family will join us.
Anyone who says classical Christian education doesn’t prepare students for “the real world” isn’t being honest about what “the real world” requires. Consider these words from “The Future of Democracy,” as published by The National Endowment for the Humanities:
If this is the work of citizenship, what intellectual resources do we need to carry it out? To make judgments about the course of human events, and our government’s role in them, surely we need history, anthropology, cultural studies, economics, political science, sociology, and psychology, not to mention some of the tools of math (especially for the statistical reasoning necessary for probabilistic judgment) and science, because governmental policy does intersect with scientific questions. If we are to make judgments about the core principles or values that should orient our judgments about what will bring about our safety and happiness, surely we need philosophy, religion or the history of religion, and literature. Then, since the democratic citizen does not make his or her judgments alone, or proceed to execute them as a solitary Prince Valiant, we need the arts of conversation, eloquence, and prophetic speech. Preparing ourselves to exercise these arts surely takes us back again to literature, and also to the visual arts, art history, film, and even music. In other words, we need the liberal arts. They were called the free person’s arts for a reason.”
Barely a week into 2018 and almost halfway through the school year, let’s recommit ourselves to teaching and training our students all that God has provided for what “the real world” requires. As we work together on behalf of our kids, I believe they will not be found lacking.
This year’s fall show – Le Noir d’Arthur – is a film noir adaptation of the Arthurian legends – Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory and Idylls of the King by Alfred Lord Tennyson – our 11th grade students read. Humanities teacher Sam Koenen, having taught the story multiple times, observed that Arthurian legend would make great film noir, as all the thematic ingredients are there: an obsessive quest/case, femme fatales on both sides of the law, and a group of men who come together for a common cause but end up turning on each other. Someone just had to write it.
Enter Elsa Bentz, a current senior and a student in the class in which Mr. Koenen made his observation (not to mention an aficionado of all things 1940s). Over the summer, Elsa and I wrote the script for Le Noir d’Arthur, going through several drafts and revisions before submitting a finished copy to Mr. Dunham and Mr. Koenen for approval. Because the source material and thematic mood is very different from any other show that we have produced before, let me give you some background as you consider joining us for Le Noir d’Arthur.
Historically, film noir is considered an aesthetic type of film originally made in the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s. The term was coined by French film critics to describe a film that was bleak, dark, or cynical both in style and thematic mood. Many of the American-made films after World War II fit this description, capitalizing on the tension and distrust that followed the war. Source material included hard-boiled detective novels of the 1930s and ‘40s, with Raymond Chandler’s stories about Philip Marlowe becoming archetypes of the genre.
Cinematically, many of the films were influenced by German expressionism from the 1910s and ‘20s, including the use of gloomy gray colors, bleak city scapes, and dimly lit interiors. Stories typically revolved around a disillusioned male protagonist who is characterized by a pessimistic, gloomy, or melancholy disposition due to a past mistake, regret, or grudge. He would come into contact with a femme fatale, who would then lead him into a deepening web of deceit or trickery that would ultimately lead to their downfall. Thus, film noir was a counter-balance to the popular (but unrealistic) musical genre of films that solved every “problem like Maria” with a song.
The real question for us in writing the show was, how do we take a bleak, pessimistic film style from the ‘40s and a medieval legend about common human failures and turn it into a quality production? At Petra, our staff and students read books that point us toward truth – the truth of Christ and the truth of living in a fallen world – and our goal is to tell stories onstage that do the same thing for the audience and the actors. This play is no different, but the hard truth of Arthurian legend and film noir is that the unredeemed world is bleak and full of sin, no matter how hard we fight it. But that doesn’t make the fighting any easier or any less important; on the contrary, it makes it even more so!
In our plays, we don’t glorify sinful attitudes, behaviors, or actions onstage, so we do our best to balance the tension of maintaining integrity to the source material and play style with putting on a production Petra families will want to attend. Some aspects – like the presence of tobacco and alcohol (both of which are just props) or the death of several characters – may be off-putting to some, but to keep from glorifying these elements of the story, we’ve made specific directorial choices so the audience knows what is happening without exploiting it, much the way film noir masters Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles did. While these aspects of the show are hardly the primary focus of the play, we felt it important to make sure families are aware of them in order to make decisions about younger students attending.
Our drama program continues to grow with each passing year, and this show represents two big firsts:
1) It’s our first-ever fall play. By adding a second show to the school year, more students get to be a part of what we’re doing during a different time (and sports season) of the year than our spring show.
2) It’s our first (but hopefully not last!) show created in-house by/for Petra, as it was written and co-directed by one of our very own students. This has been one of my goals as a drama director/teacher from the beginning.
Buy your tickets now and come out in November for the world premiere of Le Noir d’Arthur!
My oldest daughter, a freshman studying elementary education at Montana State University, was assigned to read The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession for her EDU101 Teaching and Learning class. Making application from my previous post, I picked it up and read it over the weekend.
Plodding through 175 years of American education felt excruciating at times, not because of the research and writing (which were excellent), but because of the history and heartache chronicled (and experienced particularly by teachers).
As author Dana Goldstein summarized on page 261,
When American policy makers require every public school to use the same strategies – typically without confirming if their favored approaches are actually effective for kids – they reduce the discretion of the most motivated teachers, whose contributions to the profession should be scaled up, not shut down or ignored.
This is an age-old problem in American education reform. Our system is highly decentralized in terms of curriculum, organization, funding, and student demographics and needs, yet we have expected local schools to implement one-size-fits-all reform agendas imposed from above.
Since political reality suggests we aren’t likely to drastically centralize our education system anytime soon, perhaps it is time to look not just to nationally prominent politicians or philanthropists or social scientists to improve schools, but also to teachers themselves.”
Goldstein’s epilogue, “Lessons from History for Improving Teaching Today,” surprisingly then read as if from the playbook of an independent school. Let me share just five (there are plenty more) of her key observations/recommendations for public school improvement, with a sentence or two from me (as a headmaster of an independent school) as to why I agree:
1) Teacher pay matters. Most parents I talk with find it hard to believe that teacher salaries – public or private – are as low as they are (the median annual public school teacher salary in Bozeman is approximately $45,000; Petra’s is around $31,000). Even if one believed the lie that “teachers only work nine months out of the year,” it’s amazing how little schools – public and especially independent – are able to financially compensate those who invest so much in shaping our children.
2) Teaching communities should be able to choose their own curricula, assessments, and teacher evaluation practices. As we like to say at Petra, teachers don’t just handle our curriculum; they are our curriculum. Few care as much about what kids are learning as teachers and administrators accountable to local parents rather than state and/or federal politicians and mandates.
3) Long-serving “star” teachers often come from low-income backgrounds, graduate from non-elite colleges, and are people of faith. Mission – not pedigree – is what makes the best teachers. While training and education are important (and we believe in both), the degree that most qualifies a teacher to be in the classroom is the degree to which he or she is committed to the mission of our school. Interestingly (especially for a secular book), Goldstein remarks that people of faith make better teachers, which we would say is a result of being created in the “imago dei,” or “image of God,” who is the ultimate Teacher.
4) Tests should be returned to their role as educational diagnostic tools, not educational funding metrics. Thankfully, this one is (finally) getting some notice as leading education researchers (not to mention any teacher worth his salt) will tell you that, as Goldstein writes, “…the most authentic use of achievement tests is to diagnose what students know and can do so teachers can better target instruction toward them.” I’ve written on this before, so for Petra’s particular take on testing, click here.
5) Be real about the limitations of the public system. And, I would add, any systems (including independent ones) that try too hard or are depended on too much to somehow replace the family or the Church. “We consistently expect teachers and schools to close achievement gaps and panic when they fail to do so,” wrote Goldstein, “but we do not provide families with the full range of social supports children need to thrive.” This can be just as true of independent schools as public ones, yet we must ideally function only “in loco parentis” – “in the place of” (not “in place of”) parents.
Some issues are no respecter of schools, public or independent. Kudos to Dana Goldstein for writing a book The New York Times called “meticulously fair and disarmingly balanced,” as well as to Montana State University for including it in their freshman education curriculum.