Confession is a difficult thing. We talk to our kids about the importance of confessing our faults and failures, yet how often do we conceal that which brings us shame?
In the Scripture, Jesus calls for confessions of our shortcomings, and in his own aptly named book, St. Augustine summarizes multiple iterations of familiar ones for us by way of his own life and writing.
I’m thankful that God’s grace and mercy are waiting for us when we confess, and because of this assurance, I have a particular confession I need to make. It is this:
I know what you’re thinking, and I don’t blame you. How could I? As someone who teaches “truth, goodness, and beauty” and leads your kids in singing hymns like “This Is My Father’s World,” how is it possible to live with myself?
The question is valid, and the honest answer is that it’s been difficult. I’ve rationalized (“I’m too busy”); I’ve made excuses (“There are too many people”); I’ve lived in fear (“I don’t want to end up on the news having died one of any number of unnatural deaths in Yellowstone”). I’m not trying to justify myself here, but I suppose that I am, and I’m sorry for that. Forgive me.
So, with Fall Break upon us later this week, I’m going through Yellowstone on Saturday. I’m shelving my self-important sense that someone might need me and letting go of my introvert inhibitions that paralyze my park intentions. Instead, I’m going to enjoy as much of God’s handiwork as I can with my family, as well as take plenty of pictures (but only from a safe and reasonable distance from wildlife and other natural phenomena).
These are my Fall Break plans, and I want you to know about them so you can hold me accountable. My wife and daughters (God bless them) are cautiously hopeful and looking forward to helping me take this big step. I confess I’m nervous, but it will be alright.
Who knows? Perhaps my step of faith might inspire you and your family to take one of your own?
Enjoy Fall Break.
One thing I tell our faculty and staff during Orientation is that our goal by the end of the time is to be 80% on the same page of what we need to know for the year.
I’m not trying to give us permission to slack; the reality is just that there’s only so much we can do without school beginning and students and parents being on campus with us.
Sometimes 80% has to be good enough.
This is especially true at the beginning of 2019-20 – our 24th school year – as there are plenty of new challenges facing us right off the bat:
– As you’ll discover (if you somehow haven’t already), Cottonwood Road is a mess thanks to the road-widening taking place, and none of us really knows how the construction will impact drop-off and pick-up. Will families be excessively late? Frustrated? Angry? Ask me on Friday and I’m sure I’ll know more.
– In addition to any immediate impact the construction might have, we’re unsure as to the long-term implications as well since learning that the city’s current plans do not include a left-turn lane into Petra from Cottonwood. We’ve met with city planners and suggested an alternative that would make a left-turn lane possible, as well as begun and encouraged Petra families to join us in a letter-writing campaign to the City Commissioners (I’m also attending their next meeting on Monday, September 9), but no one knows yet what access is going to look like yet.
– We have a new Portal system we’ve been working on since May, and while its launch to currently-enrolled families has largely been a success, there are still bugs we’re tracking down. As you might imagine, the jury’s still out as to how our school community will utilize this new technology, but we’re hopeful. (Friends and alumni of Petra who do not have students enrolled, we hope you’ll join up, as we plan to eventually run all communication through it.)
– This past spring, our Board of Directors decided it was time to start charging admission for junior varsity and varsity athletic events (we’ve done this for tournaments all the way down to 5th grade in the past, but weekly for regular season games will be new). We’re going to need a little more help on this (not to mention some adjustment to our plan with regard to the sports field venue), so we’ll see what happens on Friday, when we host Billings Christian on both our sports field and in our gym. (Note: we will have season passes available; details coming this week.)
– If you’ve followed along in the Board packets of the past few months, you may know that we have a few new policies and practices in place as well: to better facilitate student connection and relational courtesy, we’re asking students to stay off all electronics in the academic wings from 8 a.m.-3:45 p.m. unless expressly approved by a teacher; we’re also grouping Secondary locker assignments by house rather than by grade to continue helping our students to think of themselves and others as Petra community members rather than just as *fill-in-the-blank* graders.
– Schedules. Every student and faculty member has one, and while we think we have them all coordinated via the Portal and transition bells, as well as across all the classrooms and public space, the only way to know for sure is (you guessed it), to run through the day and week and take notes.
These are just a few of the areas I can think of, which, for better or worse, being on 80% of the same page on our first day is going to have to be enough. This is especially true for staff and families new to Petra (though let’s not assume that we who have been here for a while couldn’t benefit from giving and receiving some additional grace as well).
In thinking about starting the school year, a verse I’ve occasionally prayed for all of us is Ephesians 5:21: “Submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
As we come together tomorrow, I hope this verse will describe our relationships – that we believe the best in one another, that we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with one another, and that we talk to and not about one another – not because we have to (though we do) if we have hope of this experiment working, but because this is what Jesus calls and empowers us to do.
Let’s be 100% for that!
(Note: If you have any good stories from our first day this year, please share them with me. And, of course, if there’s something you think I can do to make things better, let me know as well.)
As headmaster of a school accredited by the Association of Classical and Christian Schools, I serve once a year on an ACCS accrediting team that visits one of a number of schools seeking ACCS accreditation or accreditation renewal.
The process involves an extensive evaluation of a school’s self-study, two full days of onsite observation, meetings with the school’s board, administrative leadership, and individual faculty and students, and then culminates in the writing of a report that commends, recommends, or points out discrepancies between the school’s performance and the rigorous ACCS standards.
Petra went through this renewal process in 2017 and will do so again in 2021 for our third five-year renewal. While it’s a tremendous amount of work for a school and takes almost a year to complete before the on-site visit, it’s also a very helpful process that yields much fruit, not only from the preparation of the school’s self-study, but also (and especially) in the interaction with members of the visiting accrediting team, each of whom is a headmaster, principal, or other administrative leader at another ACCS school.
Upon returning from the trip, I’ll say this: classical Christian education is alive and well. I could comment on dozens of aspects of why I’m encouraged with the state of the classical Christian movement, but let me narrow it down to three: people, place, and pedagogy.
Like any institution, a school is not a living entity itself, but a collection of committed people who make it up and give it life. One would have to look far and wide to find a group of people more dedicated to an increasingly counter-cultural movement than those involved with classical Christian education, but I found a number of such folks in the Portland area:
– the 11th grader who recognizes the devotion of her parents in sending her as the third of ten (ten!) children in her family to attend the school
– the grandmother who volunteers at the school four hours a day – everyday – despite the fact that her grandchildren no longer attend
– the retiring 70-year-old elementary principal whose passion for the school fuels her 60-hour work weeks
– the uber-successful business executive whose love for the school manifests itself in tears when answering the question, “Why are you involved?”
These examples are just from St. Stephens; I met plenty of others at the other schools, including teachers and administration members with their own stories of sacrifice in doing what they do in the name of classical Christian education. Like our faculty at Petra, these caring, educated, hard-working staff don’t make a lot of money to fully compensate them for their efforts, but that doesn’t stop them from giving their best.
St. Stephens meets in two different church buildings 20 minutes apart as they look for land to build and re-locate to one place their growing school; Veritas and Cedar Tree each are on their own campuses, but both meet in a configuration of portable modulars while they raise funds to build central spaces that will meet their need for all-school assemblies and community meetings.
However, the mentality of each of these schools is hardly one of “making due”; rather, they make the most of their places, filling and using every square foot of space as needed in order to carry out their mission. Students and staff rotate classrooms, books line both permanent and makeshift shelves, athletic facilities are rented and scheduled, and student drop-off and pick-up would be more of a challenge than it is if it weren’t for the patience of parents. In the midst of it all (whether in the outside landscaping or the bulletin boards on the walls), there is an effort made at excellence and beauty.
“Pedagogy” – a fancy word for “method or practice of teaching” – counts for much in educational circles, but no more so than in classical Christian schools. One of my favorite “pedagogical” moments of my trip was Cedar Tree’s morning matins, held outside – rain or shine – at the beginning of each day. As school leaders are currently raising funds to build an enclosed building large enough to hold their school and begin the day, the entire K-12 student body and staff line the sidewalks around their “quad” to read Scripture, pray, and sing, a portion of which I happened to catch in the video below:
It was gratifying to see familiar practices like matins and prayer, memory and recitation, discussion and debate, thesis preparation and presentation (just to name a few) in these schools so different from (and yet so similar to) Petra. To see students, teachers, parents, and board members in Oregon committed to so many of the same goals and objectives that we are here in Montana was a welcome encouragement I wanted to bring back to share with our folks for our remaining five weeks of school.
We are not alone in our efforts to train our students in truth, goodness, and beauty! As we head into the month of May and run across the finish line of the 2018-19 school year, may we consider these schools’ examples even as we remind ourselves of our own mission at Petra Academy:
As a classical school, music is important to us – a “muse” whose presence and inspiration we trace throughout history as both source and soundtrack for so much of humanity’s existence.
Likewise, as a Christian school seeking to train students to worship God, we resonate with Martin Luther’s claim that, next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world for such a purpose.
All year, our Secondary staff and students have been considering classical music and its variety, ideas, melodies, and study through four different Lyceum messages (1, 2, 3, 4) written and presented by Humanities teacher Ginny Owens.
As part of this study, choir director Heidi Hornung selected and led our Secondary Choir in rehearsals of a chorale (a musical composition consisting of or resembling a harmonized version of a simple, stately hymn tune) written by Johann Sebastian Bach. Here’s how it turned out (from last week’s Spring Schola Cantorum performance):
In addition to the night’s musical offerings (clips of which you can watch at our Petra Academy Vimeo channel), we displayed art created by students in our Secondary Houses in consideration of Christ’s death and resurrection. The pieces were beautiful and thoughtful reflections to help prepare us for Good Friday and Easter later this week.
Turns out that art, as with all created gifts, is for God’s sake, not its own – which means it’s for the sake and blessing of others, too. That means that Christian artists, students and adults, should offer God (and their neighbor) the best works of art possible. Skill, craftsmanship, beauty, clarity, balance, and other timeless elements are to be studied and practiced to produce an almost endless variety of quality artistic works…It’s all about imitating Him, our Father, as beloved children.”
Giving of ourselves on behalf of others – this is what we at Petra seek to do through music and art, because this is what God has done for us through Jesus. Reminding us of this Gospel truth in audio and visual forms is the highest calling that music and art – musicians and artists – can fulfill.
A “dramaturg” is someone whose expertise is in the literary composition and thematic elements of a play. This person works closely with the director to help in understanding the context and the major themes of the play, ensuring that the director’s vision doesn’t lose any of the author’s intention. Here is some dramaturgical insight from Humanities teacher, Ginny Owens, who teaches A Midsummer Night’s Dream as part of our 8th grade curriculum:
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an easy play to enjoy: between the young lovers striving for satisfactory marriages, the fairies who intervene (benevolently intended, though comically enacted), the hilarious play-within-a-play, and the play’s smart and self-conscious pivot between fantasy and reality, it offers just about everything we look for in a good comedy. Its title derives from a common legend that a young woman could dream, on midsummer’s night, of the man she would marry.
While the collision between the human world and the fairy world offers whimsy unique in the Shakespearean canon, its treatment of love – its struggles, its power, its danger, its elusiveness, its changeability – is a tale told time and time again. Because really, at its core, this play examines love, specifically why we love.
Shakespeare alerts us to this focus in the opening scene, where characters talk of marriage, love, and the moon, known for its nightly transformations, its inconstant phases, and its mythical ability to inspire lunacy. And so this play, funny and innocent at first glance, is after something deeper: it explores the fickleness of the human heart, how easily our hearts are led by what we see, how easily our love is directed by physical attraction.
Human love is, after all, vulnerable. We think that because it’s love, it’s supposed to be firm, and of course no one enters into love expecting his or her heart to change. And yet Shakespeare pulls back the veil and lets us see how prone to change our affections truly can be. The play’s fascination with the line between fantasy and reality (maximized by the uproariously obtuse Mechanicals) comes to a point in Theseus’ insightful line, “The madman, the poet, and the lover are of imagination all compact,” because they all see what isn’t there, but act as if what they see is real. Love sometimes makes no sense, but is it supposed to? Without this capacity, how would married love weather the decades following the glow of youthful beauty?
And so the play’s fascination with dream constantly forces us to ask what is real. How do we know? Can we trust our senses? Is love anchored in the eyes or, as Helena suggests, in the mind? The play’s interest in the moon’s changeability seems to suggest that love that alters each night can’t possibly be real – even if what is perceived through the eyes and thought to be beautifully attractive inspires seemingly eternal love.
Of course, this kind of intermittently committed affection might recall to us the fair-weather relationships that can so often characterize high school relationships – hence the setting of our play, Athens Academy, a space that brilliantly illuminates the tenuousness of the romantic affection and loyalty we see in Shakespeare’s characters. High schoolers that are avidly messaging each other and “into each other” in September, when the year is fresh and spirits are high, might have cooled by December, and suddenly what was once attractive is commonplace or even undesired.
Oberon’s vindictive prank on Titania unwittingly reveals the potential shallowness of young love: how easily young people can assign their love based on appearance and then abandon previously supposedly stalwart affection and relocate that affection onto a new recipient, how easily their loyalty can shift, and with it their “undying affection,” based on what – or whom – they see. And Shakespeare does not allow us to blame just the magical intervention for this altered affection: we must remember that prior to the action’s start, Demetrius and Helena had been a couple; he had pursued her just as ardently as he is now pursuing Hermia.
But lest we think that Shakespeare is indicting only adolescent love, we must realize that the only character who seems to see most clearly through the love-sight-transformation is Bottom, the most ridiculously myopic, fatuous character on the stage. Perhaps the truth is plain, but adults just aren’t often very good at recognizing it. Because this is what Shakespeare is good at: taking plain truth about the human condition and packaging it so that it can’t be ignored. That’s why we still read him and bring his plays to life on countless stages across the globe (ha ha) 400 years later.
Shakespeare’s work is relatably powerful because it pinpoints irreducible elements of humanity that characterize life, no matter the century or country in which one lives. People are the same, really, whether they lived in the 1590s or the 1900s or the 2000s. (And this play was funny and relatable in 1595 even without social media, Tinder, The Bachelor – how much more now?). We like to think that we outgrow the shallowness of stereotypical teenage love, but Shakespeare seems to suggest otherwise.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the adults are as willing as the young people to accept the rapidly transformed love that concludes the action. The question is, are we?
(Purchase tickets now for one of four performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7 p.m., March 28-30, and also on that Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m.)
After last month’s Elementary Recitation, an uncle of one of our students found me afterward in the Atrium. After brief introductions (and with his niece’s not-quite-school-aged sibling riding on his shoulders), he told me how much he enjoyed seeing our young students recite what they were learning and how impressed he was with our school.
“When I think of my own schooling years, I shake my head,” he said, doing exactly what he described. Then he looked me in the eye and said, “But I see the progress of humanity here.”
– the untruth of fragility (what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker)
– the untruth of emotional reasoning (always trust your feelings)
– the untruth of “us versus them” (life is a battle between good people and evil people)
The authors examine how these untruths have played out at universities in the past five years, leading to campuses and students increasingly marked by intimidation, violence, witch hunts, polarization, anxiety, and depression. Some of this, they say, is due to paranoid parenting and a decline of child’s play at younger ages; some has to do with a “bureaucracy of safetyism” and an unhealthy pursuit of justice without proper proportionality. Whatever the combination, the result is all too familiar:
In 2017, 58% of college students said it is ‘important to be part of a campus community where I am not exposed to intolerant and offensive ideas.’ This statement was endorsed by 63% of very liberal students, but it’s a view that is not confined to the left; almost half of very conservative students (45%) endorsed that statement, too. (pgs. 48-49)
After a multitude of case studies and insights to convincingly illustrate their points, the authors offer practical suggestions for kids, universities, and societies to try to deal with and address the untruths. They recommend letting kids take more risks, as well as learn the basics of cognitive behavioral therapy so they can rightly deal with poor self-esteem; they call colleges and universities to endorse the Chicago Statement on free speech and academic freedom and to establish a practice of not responding to public outrage when pressure hits the fan; they suggest societies hold social media companies’ feet to the flames by tweaking algorithms to contribute less to echo chambering and lessen the negative effects of device use.
I think the problem is that we already overmanage the lives of young adults rather than that we are not offering them enough bubble wrap. I take issue with the notion that young adults are incapable of making choices or acting independently. It is clearly true that they aren’t very good at it, but that is because we failed to help them learn how to seize the reins and do it themselves much earlier – in primary and middle school – and doesn’t mean that we should still be choosing and acting for them after high school.” (pg. 76)
But what specifically should students choose and act upon? Sasse understands the need for ancient wisdom to inform modern what-to-dos, invoking Dorothy Sayers, a matron saint of classical Christian education in America:
In arguably the most important essay on education written in the last century, English author Dorothy Sayers railed against the power of educational ‘specialists’ who act like the rest of us couldn’t or shouldn’t fully own our own process of learning. Education, she argued in 1948 in ‘The Lost Tools of Learning,’ is inherently about the goals of lives well lived; it is about the good, the true, and the beautiful.” (pg. 78)
Sasse then channels writings of the Greeks, Puritans, and Founding Fathers for a better way forward, elaborating on what the aforementioned transcendentals translate to:
America…was founded deliberately, by people with strong ideas about heaven and hell, about rights and responsibilities, about public and private – and about the kind of society that would promote virtuous living and serious thinking…The correctly American answer has always been for the state to stand down, for people to pursue their dreams and to seek ultimate meaning outside of politics, and for citizens to sort through their arguments and debates in a liberal, open public square by persuasion, not by either forced or prohibited speech.” (pgs. 207-208; 223-224)
To get at these strong ideas, students have to accept the challenge to read and discuss them. This is why our Petra reading list in the hands of our capable teachers is second to none when it comes to promoting virtuous living and serious thinking. And this is why our students win supposed “non-humanities” competitions and awards; if people are involved, the humanities pertain!
I don’t know all that our student’s uncle was thinking when he claimed to see “the progress of humanity” at Petra. I’m guessing he caught a glimpse of how young students learning to handle prose and poetry in a monthly recitation might, across the years, prepare those same students to stand before (and sometimes against) one another in healthy dialogue and debate as to the greater good later. Since that’s rarely done much anymore, perhaps I better understand his wistful surprise.
As the folk saying goes, “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.”
Surely this is what “the progress of humanity” requires…and always has.
A poem a day keeps the doctor away! All triteness aside, it may well be true that this variation on the old adage instructs well concerning our need for daily literary consumption of poetic language.
Our 3rd grade class currently engages in this practice, immersed in a unit featuring Knock at a Star, an anthology of poems for children. The eager squeak of opening desks gives proof of their delight for the daily readings!
As our Petra 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.
We realize that this articulation includes not just the more-often valued prose writings, but poetic expression as well.
How does this happen? Since children learn so well through imitation, from the earliest years at Petra, we read poetry. Beginning with nursery rhymes, fingerplays, chants, and songs in the pres-school and kindergarten years, progressing to classic poems for reading or memorizing in the 1st through 6th grades, then delving into the epic classics in the upper grades, we seek to provide children with a rich diet of poetic language that they may delight their ears and strengthen their hearts for meanings given symbolically, metaphorically, and rhythmically through words.
Ultimately, by training children to enjoy and write poetry – thus developing the capacity for poetic language – we go far to awaken love and wonder for God’s creation, our fellow man, and yes, for God’s word, the Bible. One of my favorites, Psalm 19, states:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech/ night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
This psalm proclaims God’s creation, the “work of his hands” as being rooted in speech and words, and it is written, not surprisingly, as a poem.
So, there is a place for adding to this great symphony of poetic expression. Why not share a poem a day? You can start and return often to Psalms, and go on to many lovely anthologies and classics available at our public library or school library. Read with expression, read with delight, and read for the sake of truth and beauty. It just may be the start of a wonderful new state of spirit and health for you and your family.
Here are some poems to delight the poetic palate written by members of our third grade class. Bon appetit!
“Seasons” by Maggie Koenen When it is winter foxes dive for food in the snow,
When it is winter bears go into caves and sleep,
When it is winter snowmen appear and snow blows.
When it is spring apple blossoms glow in the morning light,
When it is spring green grass grows,
When it is spring baby animals are born.
When it is summer animals like to take a dive,
When it is summer you don’t need to wear shoes on soft green grass,
When it is summer birds gather at the feeder.
When it is summer it is the perfect season for climbing trees.
When it is fall leaves drift to the ground,
When it is fall everything turns red, brown, orange, pink, and yellow,
When it is fall the earth is beautiful.
“A Playdate” by Isabella Evans I’m excited when it’s the day
And nervous at the same time,
But when he or she comes we
Do what we do.
“Poem to Make you Smile” by Elijah Glover I like teddy bears
Ones from the gift shop
There are fuzzy black or brown
Big or small
Simple ones and complex ones
Happy dappy teddy bears.
“First Day” by Kendall Cote Sometimes on the first day of school
I am really shy
Maybe too much–
I don’t even want to say “Hi”
I feel so lost
I don’t know what to say
But then I say at least “Hey”.
“My Mom” by Ezra Penland My mom is one who work and helps
At night she cleans dishes and gets laundry
At morning she get the clothes for school
She drives, she cooks,
She’s how our family hooks.
“Keeva and Deer” by Aiden O’Dwyer Deer come to our yard every night.
They eat grass, until Keeva comes.
“Bark!” she says,
And the deer run away, saying,
“Panic and run! Panic and run!”
I want to believe it’s happening – for real, this time.
None of this “get your hopes up, only to be crushed by another 6-8 inches of snow” stuff.
Spring. I want spring. And I want spring to stick around.
“April is the cruelest month,” wrote T.S. Eliot, “breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”
It has certainly at times felt that way – dead, dull – but I saw green grass today, and the memory and desire of past spring and summers came to mind and heart. It’s coming; it just takes a while.
My impatience is not unique to me, nor to the situation of waiting for the seasons to change. As parents, we all can be impatient with our kids – waiting for them to “get it,” wanting them to grow. But think of from where they’ve come, even just this year. Today, I marvel at our 1st graders, now reading; at our 4th graders, now working new maths; at our 9th graders, now well-versed in the various types of energy; at our 12th graders, just weeks away from presenting the fruits of their year-long thesis research and writing.
Today, I remember Pre-Kers once having to learn the basics of being in school, now walking in lines and holding doors for each other with the best of them; I recall seeing 6th graders start the year as our oldest grammar students, now almost ready to become our youngest upper students; and I notice how our 11th graders have studied the greatest of works by Dante and others, and are beginning to think not just about next year as seniors, but beyond next year as graduates.
Spring’s rain stirs dull roots – cleansing them, giving them something to channel, providing what’s needed to grow. The rain can be cold, is always wet, and often interrupts what we think God’s sovereign weather patterns should be. But there is always purpose in it – even when it’s late (or what we consider late) – at least that’s what the Scriptures tell us (Leviticus 26:4, Deuteronomy 14:11, Deuteronomy 28:13, Job 5:10). And growth (eventually) comes with it.
Spring. I want spring, even if it takes more rain and snow to get there.
May April not be so cruel after all.
“O Father, you are sovereign in all the worlds you made Your mighty word was spoken and light and life obeyed Your voice commands the seasons and bounds the ocean’s shore Sets stars within their courses and stills the tempests’ roar”
“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.
The following four-minute video debuted at Parent Orientation, with the text taken from Mr. Dunham’s “One-of-a-Kind and of One Mind” address to parents.
There isn’t one parent here who doesn’t want the fruits of classical Christian education listed in the video for your child:
We are of one mind here, which is why we are here. As Petra parents:
– we’re finished with academic education that doesn’t contribute to a student’s physical, emotional, and spiritual experience;
– we’re done with curriculum that does not teach the biblical story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation, tying all subjects together and giving them meaning;
-we’re through fighting trial-and-error educational progressivism, test-driven curricula, and no particular moral end in mind.
Instead, we’re of one mind in pursuing this one-of-a-kind classical Christian education as our desired means to the best of ends for our kids. We intend for them to engage with the best books, impassioned teachers, and most beautiful school culture possible.
Prior to the school year’s start, our staff invested good and profitable time learning and preparing to cultivate in our students four key faculties of flourishing, as presented by Academic Dean Sam Koenen:
1) Attentiveness. We become what we behold because we are worshiping beings. 2 Corinthians 3:18 describes this reality: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” We want to call our kids to study with rigor, defined as “being able to pay close and extended attention to that which is studied.”
2) Memory. The ability of students to access what they have learned in the past so they know how to live in the present is crucial to their success. Memory has always been an essential attribute of God’s people (consider the theme of Deuteronomy: “remember, remember, remember”), and is therefore an important element of our curriculum and pedagogy.
3) Imitation. We are made in the image of God and are called to act as he does – in imitation of the truth, goodness, and beauty of his word and his work in the world. How do students learn this at school? Through our teachers, who do not just handle our curriculum; they are our curriculum.
4) Harmony. Helping students recognize and resolve discord in their character is important for helping them do the same in resolving discord in the world. To learn to love and live at peace with God, man, and themselves is how human flourishing happens.
Ours is a one-of-a-kind education, and we want to be of one mind concerning it. We invite you to get informed, to stay involved, and to pray for our little school as we seek to instill these four characteristics in your students – not only for themselves, but for the flourishing of humanity and the renown of Jesus the Christ.