As we prepare for the start of our re-enrollment period on February 15, we invite you and your family to consider anew your Petra expedition as a journey of pilgrimage.
In certain ways, this excursion will call you and yours to abandon the safety of the familiar, to leave the comfort of what you know in order to seek God’s presence in places you didn’t know existed. But as with any pilgrimage, this is a communal journey. We will travel this road together, fellow pilgrims on the same path.
In our 20+ years as a school, we have walked this land many times before, and using our experience and judgment, we’ve chosen our course through a time-tested curriculum that will be our companion along the way. Our route will follow some of the well-traveled paths, as well as some lesser known trails. At a few points we will settle down for a while to talk with the locals and get to know them and the way they see the world.
It is crucial that you remember the point of this pilgrimage is not an efficient rushing to the end, but to cultivate an attentive awareness that will transform us as we journey. Both ways of traveling will reach the journey’s end, but those who travel the second way will arrive with deeper knowledge, greater wisdom, and truer virtue.
In addition to a good map, we need to have a clear goal. Since we are a school, your students will certainly need to learn the facts and information of the books we read to complete various assignments, projects, papers, final exams, etc. But this is not the main goal. The best journeys are not the ones where we collect stamps in our passports, buy some souvenirs, and fill our Instagram feed with travel photos. Merely accumulating facts and passing tests is not the same as actually learning humanities, math, science, language, art, music; remaining unchanged by one’s study is not education, and change takes work.
The central goal of our course – of our pilgrimage – is to become obedient, faithful humans, who know Christ and imitate and enjoy him forever. It is entirely possible to graduate and fail to accomplish this ultimate goal, for the end of this journey is not a place but a person. What we seek is to know Christ and all his ways, to gain more intimate fellowship with our Lord, who walks with us through every part of the journey.
But we aren’t trailblazers or explorers. Rather, we are walking a well-worn path of pilgrimage and discipleship, a path traveled and worn smooth by many men and women who lived, prospered, and died long before we were born. They wrote most of the books we’ll read. They are not only our teachers, but our grandfathers and grandmothers, our uncles, our aunts, our siblings. They are our people, and as we travel, we will read of their own journeys along this same path. Their words will give us courage and hope in difficult times, and our voice will rise with theirs to give thanks at the journey’s end.
We invite you to join us not just for another year, but for classical Christian education’s long haul. Indeed, the journey is challenging, but the destination is second to none in terms of preparing students to live purposeful, godly lives.
Our Secondary students enjoyed Petra’s first ever Poetry Slam, an element of the House artistic competition. Students spent several weeks looking at the Fruit of the Spirit as described in Galatians 5:22 and were challenged to write a poem that reflected one or all of the virtues listed. Nineteen students took up the challenge and then presented before the student body, with two of our Humanities teachers scoring their efforts both in writing and presentation. Below are our 4th and 5th place poems.
Once in a land that was far, far away,
there happened a story, that is still told today.
It warns you of sin and toils of vice
and tell you how to do things that are nice.
Sounds cheesy, I know, but don’t let your eyes roll,
for there is much danger in no self-control.
There lived a man in the city of Sol,
whose unfortunate name was Abaddon Joel.
His parents didn’t love him from the day he was born,
so he was often left alone and forlorn.
No one was there to teach him good things,
like how to tie shoes, or how a bee stings.
But one thing that was never taught to Joel
was how to practice self-control.
Being alone to himself all day long,
he wasn’t like other boys, fast and strong.
He was more of the squishy sort, and by no means an athlete,
but rather enjoyed eating many a sweet.
His face would be stuffed to the brim with taffy,
after a few years, he became quite a fatty.
And nothing could be done for Abaddon Joel,
for alas, the man had no self-control.
Every day passed and he only swelled,
he could no longer fit the place that he dwelled.
Nor could he see his toes anymore
or walk up the stairs, much less to the store.
His stomach would rumble and tumble and roar,
but the idiot would only eat more and more.
Until his guts burst at the seams
as he persisted eating creams.
His insides then popped with a bang!
And as his intestines flew, the air rang
with the lesson that must stay in your soul,
for God’s sake, have a little self-control.
Otherwise if you do not,
and please don’t let this be an afterthought,
Control your will and avoid this sin,
and do a favor for that poor intestine.
Trembling hand holds steady flame —
The frozen flowers of haemetichue fall
Calmly, grey-haired savant ambles near,
Firmly grips shaking shoulder with a hand
While the other
Dusts the table top.
With a huff leans down and whispers
What this tongue can recite quite capably —
What my ear recognizes almost as a well-known
Tale known only well by two.
His voice sounds like a tuning radio —
And I tune him out. Amidst the
Vainly prescribed dull humming,
The blood-red tongue demands I pay it mind.
The steady flicker–that composed chide —
Is new to me, though I had long before
Taken to memory the script and
Listened to the words.
I hear the pepper-bearded man, but with
Renewed heart at last. Grasping
Steady flame with even hand,
I start my task anew.
Our Secondary students enjoyed Petra’s first ever Poetry Slam, an element of our House artistic competition. Students spent several weeks looking at the Fruit of the Spirit as described in Galatians 5:22 and were challenged to write a poem that reflected one or all of the virtues listed. Nineteen students took up the challenge and then presented before the student body, with two of our Humanities teachers scoring their efforts both in writing and presentation. Below are our 2nd and 3rd place poems.
Far back in the woods is a pond,
in a meadow of trees tall and old.
It ripples like glass and it shines as you pass,
it sparkles like gems set in gold.
In summer the meadow glows green,
with the songs of birds borne on the breeze.
The fish in the ponds swim so carelessly on,
and the warm sun shifts bright through the trees.
In fall the meadow is filled
with the colors of thousands of leaves.
Wind carries them down spiraling toward the ground,
drifting gently with grandeur and ease.
In winter the meadow is white,
with the ice glistening clear on the pond.
The barren trees shudder with snow that they bear,
that then tumbles on down through the fog.
In spring the great meadow revives,
as the life gently blooms ‘mongst the woods.
The blossoms fold gently from trees young and old
in this heaven of beautiful goods.
If ever you do find this place,
tucked far back in the woods and the hills,
come quickly and find me and show me the way,
to a home far from toils and ills.
He walked along and saw all he could see.
Within a hall of pictures, paintings, art.
They all held symbols of what he could be;
a man of God, or a man of his own heart.
One held an image of another man.
Whose vice was that he loved his looks too much.
To sit, to stare and watch, his only plan.
The viewer’s thought was how can art be such.
He walked along and saw another still.
Of man and wife whose house was filled with gold.
They would not stop and share a single bill.
The filled their days with all that could be sold.
The viewer’s heart was sad from what he saw.
Each man’s love was only for himself.
He thought that art should fill the eyes with awe.
So on he walked and muttered to himself.
Until he saw a painting of a girl.
She sat in rags covered with filth and mud.
Her hand stretched out beginning to uncurl.
A smile on her face began to bud.
Another man stood by and gave a gift.
He gave the little girl a little doll.
The critic’s prior thoughts began to shift.
His soul was not dejected after all.
He saw joy and love in many different forms.
But the last painting of the girl and toy.
Was a reflection of a truer form.
For all carry in their hearts love and joy.
So he took both and shared them all around.
But knew to question each of them in turn.
For it is our maker both be bound.
So ask if God is whom our hearts all yearn.
A distinctive of many classical schools is the incorporation of a House system, a program designed to develop community, camaraderie, and healthy competition within the student body. At Petra, that is the purpose of our eight houses: Avilion, Bedivere, Enid, Excalibur, Galahad, Gawain, Nimue, and Pendragon. These groups of students are integrated across the grades, incorporating 7th-12th grade students in each house, while also making each house co-ed. Students then have the opportunity to interact with other students that they don’t normally see during the day.
The houses compete for the House Cup through a series of fun competitions that challenge their athletic, artistic, academic, and dramatic skills in traditional and non-traditional activities such as relay races, paper plane building contests, and medieval games of skill and chance. The benefit of students engaging in these light-hearted competitions is that it gives them an opportunity to encourage one another.
Most recently, our Secondary students enjoyed Petra’s first ever Poetry Slam, an element of the artistic competition. Students spent several weeks looking at the Fruit of the Spirit as described in Galatians 5:22-23 and were challenged to write a poem that reflected one or all of the virtues listed. Nineteen students took up the challenge and then presented before the student body, with two of our Humanities teachers scoring their efforts both in writing and presentation.
The winning poem was “Love” by 11th grader Maya Moody, a villanelle poem describing the work of the Holy Spirit in restoration. The particular style of poem that she wrote has a notoriously difficult structure to follow, which gave her just enough of an edge to win the competition (we’ll post the 2nd-5th place entries later this week):
In fullest love the godhead hovering
With brightness cov’ring nothingness in light.
The breath ignites the formless man to life.
The sovereign unseen hand uncovering
The promised sons amid the starry night
The Holy Ghost restoring men from strife.
To fall from high for man’s discovering
With white-hot feathers on incarnate light
The breath ignites the formless man to life.
With snap and crack the hearts of men recovering
The flames baptizing them in burning white
The Holy Ghost restoring men from strife.
When uncouth Hebrew mouths are uttering
In foreign tongues the power of his might
The breath ignites the formless man to life.
The spirit o’er his church is hovering
With beating wings to fan the faithful light
The Holy Ghost restoring men from strife
The breath ignites the formless man to life.
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.
Let me share with you a recent conversation I had with Charlie, one of our kindergarteners, upon her return from Thanksgiving:
Me: “Charlie, what happened?”
Charlie (with arm in a sling): “I broke my arm.”
Me: “How did you do that?”
Charlie (in complete seriousness): “I was trying to fly.”
While I am sorry for the outcome of Charlie’s failed attempt, I love her spirit! This kindergartener’s response is representative of so many Petra Academy students, teachers, and families “trying to fly” as part of the classical Christian education movement growing throughout our country and world.
Now in our 22nd year, Petra is a leader within this movement, preparing students to live purposeful, godly lives. We strive to awaken love and wonder in our students for the flourishing of humanity and the renown of Jesus the Christ. We teach students “trying to fly,” and it’s a joy and privilege to do so.
Would you help us? This year, we have planned for charitable giving to account for $155,000 (11% of our annual operating budget). The good news: we’ve already raised $64,721 – 42% of our goal!
To stay on target and meet our budget for the 2017-18 school year, we need to raise $30,000 in year-end giving by December 31, as well as $39,000 as part of our annual spring play sponsorships by February 28. Here are two ways you can help us stay on track:
1) Make a year-end donation by December 31. No gift is too small, and all are tax-deductible.
2) Provide a sponsorship and/or an item for our spring play silent auction for our spring play (Little Women) by February 15 (note: if you respond with a check by the end of December, you will receive a tax deduction for 2017 as well).
As 2017 draws to a close, please consider a financial gift to Petra Academy. As I know you agree, the more we can help students who are “trying to fly,” the better! Thanks for your prayerful consideration of our needs.
PS: To give, make a check payable to Petra Academy and mail to 4720 Classical Way, Bozeman, MT, 59718. All gifts are tax-deductible, and you will receive a tax receipt in January.
PPS: If you have questions about Petra or other ways to support our school, please call me at 406-582-8165.
“TRYING TO FLY” HIGHLIGHTS FROM 1ST SEMESTER
Senior Elsa Bentz wrote and directed our first-ever fall play this November. Premiering to full houses both nights, Le Noir d’Arthur was a powerful retelling of the King Arthur legend in a 1940’s noir setting and allowed us to involve even more students on stage in the fall as well as in our traditional spring play.
Our new soccer team debuted this season as a co-ed club team comprised of 7th-10th graders (and one 11th grader) who had never before played together. It could have been a long and difficult season with the potential to squelch any initial enthusiasm because of a bad start, but the team went 10-3 in their first year and exceeded expectations of all involved (including members of the opposite teams and their coaches).
We have kids “trying to fly” in our classrooms every day – students for whom mathematics, or science, or Latin, or the humanities does not come easily. But neither they nor their teachers (like 3rd grade teacher Sabrina Moody, pictured above) are giving up; instead, they’re leaning into their studies and learning along the lines of the ancient trivium – to observe with humility, think with reason, and articulate with charity.
Since the dawn of its existence, theater has been a communal event – born of a community, brought to life by members of the community, and participated in by the entire community.
The last element of participation is a vital one, and one in which we may all partake. Not all of us were cut out to be actors, directors, stage managers, or set designers, but when it comes to theater, we all have a part to play! This part is the part of the audience, without which even the grandest of Shakespeare’s plays are nothing but a group of splendidly dressed, crazy men who ardently believe that they are someone else, delivering their lines to empty space. The audience is one of the most vital elements of any theater production because without the playgoers, the play itself is meaningless. Without the audience who would hear the story waiting to be told?
To be the audience means to enter into the stories, the passions, and the lives unfolding on the stage. The audience rejoices and weeps with the characters and becomes acquainted with the tenderest feelings of these scripted souls. On that stage, fantasy and reality meet and become one, and it is there that we learn to know ourselves better than before with the aid of the villains, heroes, and star-crossed lovers of the play. Theater is a place of give and take; the audience gives the characters purpose, and the characters teach the audience to reflect upon their own actions and hearts.
Our upcoming show, Le Noir d’Arthur, is just like any other play. It is written about the legendary King Arthur and his knights and, like other plays, it has a lesson to teach. It exists to keep the legend alive while giving life to the characters and the stories of the knights of the Round Table. But it also invites the audience to sympathize with and see themselves reflected in the characters, which we hope you’ll do by joining us this Friday and Saturday night at 7 pm for the theatrical debut of Le Noir d’Arthur!
All reserved seating is sold out and general admission tickets are going fast. Buy your tickets now!
(The following is Mr. Dunham’s message given at our first-ever Fall Season JV and Varsity Athletic Dinner on Friday, October 27. Team portraits by Ashley Dawn Photography.)
You may not realize it, but Socrates was a sports fan. After all, it was he who said, “No citizen has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” As we seek to train you to be upstanding citizens, we do so mindful of the bodily benefits Socrates mentions as part of the mix. Not only do we see the benefits of physical training, we have known the joy of you seeing the beauty and strength of which you are capable, which does our hearts good as parents.
In addition to your accomplishments on the court and the field these past months, I hope you have recognized that in some ways your effort has been and will be its own reward. You have been pushed by caring coaches and you have pushed yourselves and each other not just physically, but emotionally, intellectually, and even spiritually. This is proper and good, for as Socrates said, it’s a shame for us to grow old without experiencing any of this, lest we replace true competition with only its digital counterparts. (Thankfully, once you have played the games – of soccer, of volleyball – there’s no comparison to their video versions.)
Each of you accomplished much this season. I say this because each of your teams accomplished much this season. In this, our inaugural soccer season and under the leadership of Coaches Ashley and Wilmington, we not only showed up and competed, we won – 10 of 13 games! – by way of play that was beyond expectations for a first-year, co-ed, broad age combination of student-athletes. You learned your roles and played them well, deferring to strengths and protecting weaknesses, which is what a true team – in sport or otherwise – does. You were both surprising and inspiring, not to mention a whole lot of fun to watch, and we honor you for your efforts.
Our junior varsity volleyball team rose to the occasion this year as well, going 7-3 and improving almost every game. As you know, junior varsity players, JV in any sport requires flexibility, as in addition to practicing as a team, you never know when you’re going to be on the receiving end of the practice serves and spikes from the varsity. You rarely get as much glory or time on JV, and yet because of your attitudes this year, you became better as you worked hard and earned your place in our program. Along the way, you went 7-3 and earned the respect of those you played, as well as those varsity players you played against.
And now to our varsity volleyball team, a team that has won my respect for the way you have worked to improve, play together, and play for one another. When I first met you, few overhand serves were flying (let alone getting past the net), but together and with Coach Iversen working with you in new and strange ways – wall sitting, running with basketballs over your heads, and serving and spiking at you until you didn’t know to do anything different but bump, set, and spike it back – we as parents saw you blossom into a capable and fun volleyball team to watch. You came close – oh, so close! – to a .500 season, going 6-8, but more significantly you recorded our first varsity volleyball wins ever – and six of them to boot, one for every year that you, our seniors, went without.
All of our student-athletes have benefited from the physical training this season’s sports required, because as Paul reminds us in his words to Timothy, physical training is of some value! You’re better physically than you would have been otherwise, and you’ve tested your resolve, because sports don’t build character; they test it.
You have gotten better at ordering your loves and handling your responsibilities because you’ve had to – there are only so many hours in the day! You have learned how to handle pressure on and off the court and field. You have learned how to win humbly and how to lose graciously, how to lift one another up and how to repent from dragging one another down. You have learned how to humble yourself to take instruction, and you have learned that when you don’t, the game often does it for you. These are all important lessons – not just for soccer and volleyball – but for life, and I hope you see just how much they are and can be of great value.
Take what you have learned this fall – these years at Petra for some – and continue to train yourself to be godly, for as Paul writes, “godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Be disciplined, be humble, be hopeful, and persevere as you pursue living out the beauty and strength of which we have seen you are capable, by His grace and for His glory.
Non nobis Domine, Domine (Not unto us, O Lord, O Lord)
Non nobis Do-mi-ne (Not unto us, O Lord)
Sed nomini, sed nomini (But to Your name, but to Your name)
Tu o da gloria (May all the glory be)
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.