I just finished one of the saddest books I’ve read in a while. The title is Educated, a memoir by a woman now in her early thirties named Tara Westover detailing her life growing up in eastern Idaho with little to no attention given to her (and her six siblings’) education.
Math, science, history, English grammar? She was taught nothing beyond basic money-counting and how to read. She had never heard of the Holocaust nor the Civil Rights movement. She was not aware of modern philosophers like Kant, Descartes, or Hume (let alone the ancients like Plato or Aristotle) and their influence on the world.
Saddest of all, her parents’ survivalist Mormon faith painted a portrait of God more consistent with her father’s temper than the loving-kindness (or “hesed” in Hebrew) that is the defining characteristic of the Christian God.
While there is some redemption to her story (got into Brigham Young University, earned a PhD from Cambridge, speaking at MSU’s convocation later this month), it is a lot to stomach, particularly as a father and as an educator. Tara’s story is not the way it’s supposed to be.
As we are just weeks away from another school year at Petra Academy, Educated reminds me of the importance of taking nothing for granted with our students. While I do not know any parents as against formal education as Tara’s were, let me encourage all of us to check ourselves and any subtle attitudes we might bring into a new school year. Some examples:
– I’ll be the first to confess I wish tuition was not something families had to deal with, but I’m glad for the teachers it enables to be in our classrooms.
– I wish we didn’t have to ask for Campus Work Day helpers or volunteers to drive for field trips and activities, but I’m glad for the facility and events we have that require them.
– Sure, it’d be nice to not worry about security every day, but I’m glad for the trust and confidence parents place in us that we won’t compromise safety for convenience.
Those are just a few “hassles” I find myself thinking of for which I’m also somehow thankful. Every parent has his or her own list, and you’re always welcome to send me your own versions as you come upon them across the year, but maybe offer a positive with a negative?
This school year, let’s work hard together to take nothing for granted at Petra. May our students see in and learn from us a genuine appreciation for each other and for the One making their education possible. All is gift (including even Cottonwood Road, the closure of which is a royal mess, but at least it’s keeping the big trailer trucks from making the west lane potholes worse)!
As we bid adieu to June and welcome July and the 243rd anniversary of American Independence, an anecdote comes to mind.
Perhaps you’ve heard of what Ben Franklin, upon exiting the Constitutional Convention, was asked as to what sort of government the delegates had created. His answer: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Franklin’s pithy response captures plenty in its brevity, for while the formation of a democratic republic required the consent of the people then, it requires (present tense) the continued participation of its citizenry to keep it together now.
Last summer, I read the first volume of Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1835 collection of observations from the Frenchman’s visit to America. In it, he wrote:
“In my opinion, all the reasons which tend to maintain a democratic republic in the United States fall into three categories. The first is the peculiar and accidental position in which Providence has placed the Americans; the second comes from their laws; the third derives from their usages and customs.” (p. 323)
Indeed, as a nation, our republic has been granted much by God, not the least of which was the vision of those classically-educated Founders who rightly saw the need for good laws to govern it. It is from this foundation that we should seek independence in our usages and customs – not from what we don’t want to do, but for all our Creator does want us to do.
This freedom – this true independence – is a goal of classical Christian education, not only for our students, but also for our republic. May God so help us keep it, here and now.
Happy Independence Day!
With just three weeks of school to go, many of us eagerly anticipate summer and the change of pace it brings. But summer often brings other kinds of changes, too, and this can be especially true for members of our staff.
Thankfully, Proverbs 19:21 reminds us that, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” Transition can be scary, but we can be confident the Lord is not wringing his hands about what is going on; rather, he is very much in the midst of the changes, guiding our plans according to his will.
With this reassurance in mind, I’d like to tell you about what’s on the horizon for five of our staff and ask you to pray for them and for our school in the midst of their upcoming transitions. We love and wish them only the best as they seek God’s purpose in their future endeavors.
Secondary Humanities/Latin teacher Thomas Banks is in the process of packing his bags for a move east to North Carolina, where he will wed his bride-to-be, Angelina Stafford, after having taught 10th grade Humanities and Secondary Latin for nine years at Petra. Our seniors have asked Thomas to give the commencement address at graduation this year, so we look forward to hearing from him before he heads out in June.
Office Manager Karen DeGroot has served in our Petra office for 12 years and is one of the few staff who has worked with all three headmasters at two different locations (Discovery Drive and Classical Way campuses). A mother of three Petra graduates, Karen is looking forward to spending more time with her husband, Tad, as well as being able to more fully enjoy her hobbies and interests when she retires from Petra later this summer.
5th grade teacher Kate Gannon is planning a move to Salt Lake City this summer, where she will be pursuing further training in the field of special education. Kate started at Petra as a long-term maternity substitute before becoming our 5th grade teacher for two years, and while she is looking forward to the next chapter, she says the transition is a bittersweet one as she leaves Bozeman and Petra.
Pre-K teacher Joan Kempf is looking forward to watching her daughter, Hannah, walk across our graduation stage later this month, and with that an end to her time teaching at Petra. Joan has taught Pre-K at Petra for five years and is looking forward to a new challenge in moving from Pre-K to possibly working with MSU college students as she pursues helping them personally prepare for the future.
Secondary Spanish teacher Giuliana Rodriguez is taking a break from teaching to pursue new career options to allow her to invest more time for her art after 13 years of language education (including running her own Spanish tutoring business out of her home). Just last week, Mrs. Rodriguez took and passed her citizenship test and is soon to become an official U.S. citizen. We are glad to have had her teach Spanish to our Secondary students for the past two years.
As I tell staff and families in the midst of transitions like these, roles change but relationships don’t have to; yes, such anticipated departures will be bittersweet, but that’s exactly how we want them to be (after all, who cries over a place and people you won’t be sad to leave?).
To honor these departing staff, we’re planning two special gatherings: the first is an after-school reception on Wednesday, May 22, from 3:30-4:30 p.m. in the Cafeteria, during which parents and students are invited to come and go to say thank you and goodbye; the second is as part of our Final Assembly on Friday, May 31, from 10:30 a.m.-noon in our Petra Performance Hall, during which we’ll honor these departing staff in front of the entire student body.
We’re grateful for the contributions each of these staff members has made and encourage you to express your own gratitude, either by attending the reception or by writing a note or email (you can click their names to email them directly). We’re in the process of hiring for their roles for next year and are encouraged with the progress we’ve made (more to come on that), but as you might imagine, they are big shoes to fill!
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.
This year, my assembled team was asked to visit St. Stephens Academy, a K-12 school on two campuses in Beaverton, OR. After the intensive work of the two-and-a-half day visit, the team and I also visited two other schools (Veritas Classical Christian School and Cedar Tree Classical Christian School) in the area, as well as George Fox University, a Christian liberal arts university twenty miles outside of Portland.
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 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.
In “Art for Whose Sake?” in the spring issue of The Classical Difference, Tom Garfield writes,
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.
In recent months, we’ve offered a few posts here in our Scholar’s Forum having to do with the impact and opportunity of Petra Academy’s particular brand of classical Christian education.
In January, we introduced you to Petra senior Valerie Lewis and the significant impact that her time at Petra has had on her life (Educational Freedom). In February, I recounted a conversation with a mom weary of the cultural tension she felt in sending her kids to a classical Christian school (Preaching What We Need to Hear).
As we open up enrollment and finish the month of March, I’d like to combine an interesting 2017 study by the Barna Research Group (What Parents Look for in Christian Schools) with a few takeaways from Association of Classical and Christian School president, David Goodwin. Whether you’re a current or prospective Petra parent, I trust you’ll find yourself somewhere in the study.
THE GOALS OF EDUCATION
One question we always ask parents (current and prospective) during enrollment season is, “What are your education goals for your kids?” Barna posed a similar question and received familiar answers:
When it comes to what they consider to be the goals or ultimate purpose of education, parents of both current ACSI (Association of Christian Schools International) students and prospective students want more for their children than a list of accomplishments or path to wealth. Parents clearly think of schools as meeting a complex range of student and family needs. Of course, that includes academic subjects. It also includes other ways of developing and nurturing children.
Barna asked these parents to choose the top five purposes of education. For both groups of parents, the most selected goal of education is to instill strong principles and values (current: 69%, prospective: 53%).”
While it may seem there are differences between prospective and current parents’ views, they are not so much qualitative as quantitative ones; both sets of parents want similar things, but the ordering and value of their priorities is not the same. For instance:
Prospective parents are more focused on objectives related to personal achievement and social skills like ‘practical life skills’ (51% compared to 31%), ‘increased opportunities in life’ (45% compared to 29%), and a ‘fulfilling career’ (38% compared to 22%). On the other hand, parents of current students place a higher priority on spiritual goals and a lower value on personal achievement…In addition to instilling strong principles and values, a majority of parents of current students place a high priority on five goals that include ‘love for God and other people’ (65% compared to 33%), the ‘ability to apply their knowledge’ (referred to as wisdom) (60% compared to 47%), ‘faithfulness and obedience to God’ (54% compared to 21%) and ‘leadership skills’ (52% compared to 46%).
Some parents may be vocal about STEM, sports, or AP electives. And some may care about these things. But, we should not take our eyes off what they really want the most.”
WHAT PARENTS WANT WHEN CHOOSING A SCHOOL
It’s no surprise that what Barna learned about what parents most want when choosing a school had to do with safety and staff:
Most parents are looking for a school that aligns with their general ideas about education—what a school should do. However, parents’ specific priorities when it comes to choosing a school seem to reveal another side to what they value in an education—what a school should be like.
Safety’s first. Next come quality teachers, academic excellence, and character development. Barna asked parents to rate 23 characteristics of a school from ‘essential’ to ‘nice to have’ to ‘not necessary.'”
Safety is at the top. This could be physical (building security). But, these days, it’s often the safety of their child’s feelings within the community…And genuine love cares for the souls of the students; it’s not simply a synonym for niceness. Parents can perceive the genuine love of a school as they interact with it.
There’s no substitute for good teachers. If your school values caring teachers who are accessible, it will be noticed.”
Regardless of whether you’re a current or prospective Petra parent, do these findings resonate with you? Are these some of the reasons you’re at Petra…or are thinking about being so? I’d love to hear your thoughts and interact with you if you’d care to email me.
In my next post, I’ll share some revealing findings from a survey conducted among our 7th-12th graders just before Spring Break. I think you’ll find it encouraging from a student point of view.
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.)
A few months ago, a Petra mom and I were discussing this article about classical education and the home when she started to tear up. When I asked her what was wrong, her response was genuine and heartfelt:
“I read that article and thought, ‘Great! Here are just more ways I’m failing as a parent,'” she shared. “As if what we do with our kids at Petra isn’t weird enough. It feels like we’re preparing them for a world that isn’t going to want them, and then what?”
Handing her a box of Kleenex, I asked a few more questions. Did something happen in her kids’ classes? Were her children struggling with what they were learning? She reassured me her concern was cultural, not academic.
“I know my kids are getting the best education at Petra, no question,” she said. “But the more we hold to the tenets of classical Christian education, the wider the gap seems to get between us and the world in which we have to live. I’m just weary of the tension.”
I could relate to her feelings of uncertainty, as very few of us at Petra (including your friendly neighborhood Headmaster) were educated classically. But somewhere along the line, we happened to taste this particular educational elixir, determined it to be good, true, and beautiful, and are attempting to drink the classical Kool-Aid to the dregs.
It would probably be a whole lot easier if we didn’t. But (and this was the question I eventually posed to the mom), what’s the alternative? Homeschooling? Perhaps for some, but not many do it well in breadth and depth. Unschooling? Depends on your definition (as well as your threshold for ambiguity). Online? Maybe for the information, but there’s little real relationship that goes beyond the screen. Government schooling? For many (and for many different reasons), that dog just won’t hunt.
We both agreed: nothing compares to a classical Christian education as the third institution alongside family and Church to form a child’s mental and moral frame. But if done well, nothing’s as challenging either, which is why we often begin to have doubts, particularly if left alone with them.
Maybe, like the mom mentioned above, you’re tired…or afraid…or both. Maybe all of this is new to you, and you want reassurance from other parents further down the road that the path you (and they) are on is for your kids’ best.
Or maybe you’re married to the mom mentioned above, and you’re wondering how to counsel…or console…or both. Maybe all this is new to you as well, and you’re wondering if what’s best for your kids (and your spouse) is worth it or might be found somewhere else.
As we continue through the school year to the beginning of re-enrollment, now is as good a time as any for our upcoming Adventure Awaits celebration. We – all of us – need to be encouraged, inspired, and reassured in a way that reminds us why, at some point in the past, we thought the history and tradition of a classical and Christian education made the most sense for our kids.
We need to rub shoulders with others who are a few steps further down the road than we are in their decision. We need to welcome potential new parents who are a few steps behind where we might be and need to hear from us. After all, as the itinerant Irish preacher Bono says, “Sometimes you preach what you need to hear.” Indeed, for their sake…and for ours.
If you’ve yet to purchase tickets for yourself and others you would invite, please do so even this week. Spots are going fast and we don’t want you or anyone you might want to invite to miss this opportunity. I promise you three things about Adventure Awaits: 1) it will be fun; 2) it will be inspiring; and 3) you’ll be glad you came.
And, during these cold February days, if you’re feeling at all like the Petra mom above, please reach out as she did, either to a fellow parent, a teacher, a staff member, or even me. What we’re trying to do as a counter-cultural educational movement is not hard; it’s impossible! The saving grace is that we have the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and each other, all of whom I believe will make the difference – for the good of our kids and the desperate world into which we’ll send them.
See you Thursday, February 28, from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Adventure Awaits!
With over a hundred million sets of eyes making up its viewership, one could argue that the Super Bowl wins the Lombardi Trophy as the sports event champion of commercialization. But is there more to the spectacle than meets the eyes?
In his book, Desiring the Kingdom (as well as its more user-friendly version, You Are What You Love), Calvin College professor James K.A. Smith has written much about the significance of modern cultural liturgies, including those of professional American football.
In his commentary for The Washington Post in 2017, Smith wrote about the “spectacular display of America’s ‘God and country’ obsession,” identifying so many of the liturgies within a game of the National Football League (NFL) for what they truly are: worship.
I recalled Smith’s observations last night while watching the second half of the Super Bowl. In the cathedral of Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the devoted disciples practiced their faith, with all the sights and rites, smells and bells of a worldwide religion.
There were signs, symbols, and sacraments that all had their place in this praise of the pigskin. Historical narratives – incorporating heroes of the past and the miracles they performed – were told and retold in an oral tradition of talent’s tale.
The pre-game and halftime shows set the stage for the eventual procession of the Lombardi Trophy through rows of parishioners to the altar, as carried by its priests, Vince Wilfork, Emmitt Smith (note the sacramental gloves), and Joe Namath.
After a brief presentation from Roger Goodell, Nuncio of the NFL, the evening finally culminated in the communion of the saints (minus the Saints), with the Brady one himself taking his place as the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) as prophesied:
The GOAT charged furiously at the ram and struck him, breaking off both his horns. Now the ram was helpless, and the GOAT knocked him down and trampled him. No one could rescue the ram from the GOAT’s power.” (Daniel 8:7, NLT)
Okay, okay, so the Scripture reference to Brady is definitely tongue-in-cheek, but it’s not hard to see the elements of worship in the rest, is it? Some critics might suggest a “reading into” of these elements that just happen to make up the biggest game of the year, but two questions we should ask are: 1) Why do these elements happen to make up the biggest game of the year? and 2) What does that mean?
Teaching and training students to ask and answer questions like these are at the heart of what we are trying to do at Petra. Even as we consider the NFL and those who worship at its altar on Sundays, we want to help students go deeper in understanding their own loves as well, learning to rightly evaluate and order them as St. Augustine exhorts us to do:
…living a just and holy life requires one to be capable of an objective and impartial evaluation of things: to love things, that is to say, in the right order, so that you do not love what is not to be loved, or fail to love what is to be loved, or have a greater love for what should be loved less, or an equal love for things that should be loved less or more, or a lesser or greater love for things that should be loved equally.” (On Christian Doctrine, I.27-28)
But helping students do this requires thinking differently. As Smith wrote in You Are What You Love,
What if, instead of starting from the assumption that human beings are thinking things, we started from the conviction that human beings are first and foremost lovers? What if you are defined not by what you know but by what you desire?” (pg. 7)
The Super Bowl as just another football game?
Tell that to someone who loves it.
(Valerie Lewis is a senior at Petra Academy and recently spoke at a capitol briefing in Helena as part of National School Choice Week, January 21-25, 2019. The following is the manuscript of her message.)
When I first began attending Petra Academy, I was an angry eleven-year-old determined not to like her new school. I was infuriated at my mom for forcing me to leave my friends and move away from the small town I had lived in for my entire life. The thought of going to a school where I had to wear a uniform, recite long paragraphs, and study Latin made me utterly disgusted. And, being the dramatic sixth grader that I was, I constantly told my mom that she was “ruining my life,” that I would “never forgive her,” and that, “as soon as I became a high schooler, I would go to public school like a normal kid.”
Standing here today, I cannot be more happy to admit how wrong I was six-and-a-half years ago. I cannot express how grateful I am that my mom chose to send me to the school that she did and how hard she worked in order to make this happen, but I can confidently say that I am a better person because of the education I have received.
One of the reasons I began to enjoy my school was that I did not feel like a statistic or another face in the crowd. I have personally witnessed that every student is listened to, and has a chance to speak and contribute to class discussions. I know all of the seventh through twelfth graders by name, and students in the older grades are encouraged to talk to and become friends with those who are younger. It has truly been a welcoming environment that I have not been able to find anywhere else.
Beyond the benefits of its environment, my school has given me an education many can only dream of. I have read and now own an entire bookshelf of western classics and have been taught by some of the most brilliant and caring teachers I wish everyone had the opportunity to know. My teachers have challenged me daily and have taught me many things that still, and always will, amaze me. They are willing to help and answer questions no matter how busy they are, which is something I appreciate more than words can say.
My education has helped me to have a new outlook on the world, and has given me a desire to learn more. I now truly understand how incredibly fortunate I am to have been given all of these opportunities.
I could continue talking about the benefits I have experienced through my education at a private school; however, I cannot ignore the fact that for most families, attending one is a financial impossibility. This reality could not be more true for my family. My mom has certainly never had, nor now has the means to pay for my full tuition. But, for almost seven years, I have been incredibly blessed to receive financial aid. Every year I have received two scholarships, one from my school directly, and one from ACE Scholarships. These have significantly decreased the amount my mom has had to pay and have ultimately made private school a possibility for me.
As I mentioned before, my time at Petra has changed me more than I could ever have imagined. When I first began, I did not want to be there, but by the end of every year, attending another school the following fall was no longer a thought in my mind. However, at the end of my sophomore year, a few weeks before finals, my mom and I were incredibly worried that I would not be able to return. After my mom had filled out the financial information needed to apply for a scholarship, there was a mistake. Somehow her income was recorded to be almost $20,000 more than what it actually was, and she was sent an email that I would not be receiving the previous scholarship amount from my school.
The night that she opened this email, I was working late on a Biology lab report. I remember walking into the kitchen to find my mom crying. She explained to me that we had not received enough scholarship money and that I might not be able to finish my last two years of high school at Petra. I remember lying awake the entire night and going to school the next day constantly on the verge of tears. I could not imagine the possibility of leaving and did not know what I would do if I had to. Thankfully, my mom was able to find the problem in the processing of the application and everything was sorted out.
As I start my last semester of high school, and begin to prepare for college and my future professional career, I want to express how important I now believe it is that parents be able to send their children to the school of their choice. I do not know what my life would be like if I had not been able to attend a private school, but I am fairly certain that I would not be as motivated, hardworking, and goal-oriented as Petra has taught me to be. Petra Academy is an incredibly challenging school, but it has helped me to think critically and wisely about everything.
I believe that all kids should be allowed to have the same opportunities that I have had, regardless of their financial or family background. I am sure that there are countless parents who are just like my mom – parents who desire to send their children to a school like Petra, but simply cannot afford to do so. I wonder how life might be different for the children of these parents if they could have the opportunity and the freedom of attending the school and education of their choice. I sincerely hope that more will be done to aid parents who seek to provide their children with the type of education they feel best meet the needs of their children and family, and I hope that in the future, more and more kids will be able to experience all that I have.