One of the joys of summer (apart from the school year ending, of course) is the opportunity to walk back through the past nine months and thank God for His blessings, for they are many.
Academically, we saw students at every level work hard, embracing the curricular challenges presented within each new grade and seeking to understand what our teachers so passionately attempted to present and inculcate. Our new Upper School Lyceum presentations from faculty contributed to the weekly intellectual stimulation, as did the many Grammar School field trips and educational festivals highlighting different aspects of our world. We witnessed the manifestation of fruit from our academic endeavors at each Recitation (Grammar and Upper School), by the expression of creative projects hanging on the walls, in the conversations and discussions engaged in in the classrooms (and, I’m told, at dinner tables everywhere), and through our Upper School Thesis presentations – all culminating in our Senior Commencement at the end of the year, in which we graduated 10 students we loved very much.
Artistically, we witnessed the deeper establishment of our music program with our new 4th-6th grade Orchestra joining our dynamic 4th-8th grade Choir for two wonderful Schola Cantorum concerts. We studied many and varied forms of visual art, and learned some of the history of each along the way. We dedicated a full two days to our Upper School Shakespeare Festival, extending our love for the Bard down into our Grammar school in partnership with Montana Shakespeare in the Parks and their Montana Shakes! week-long program in which over 40 of our 3rd-6th graders participated. Our Upper School students participated in our first-ever Film Festival and studied three stunning films from Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Decalogue project. And, we took a big step in our Drama program, producing a custom version of the theatrical favorite, Meet Me in St. Louis, complete with rousing song and dance numbers performed in front of record attendance numbers – our first foray into the wonderful world of the onstage musical.
Athletically, it was a banner year of spirit and accomplishment: we saw continued improvement at all four levels of our volleyball program, turned in our best JV basketball record to date of 10-3, and won our third state championship in five years in Ultimate Frisbee. Most importantly, we saw the beginnings of an actual fan base – of students K-12 (and their families) attending and cheering on our Griffin teams because they were our own. Our new line of Griffin Gear helped unify our look, and Spirit Days and our new Contio Spiritus pep rallies each month gave expression to our newly-cultivated school spirit.
Of course, if we’re talking spirit, there were our traditional feasts for Reformation/All Saints’ Day, Advent, and Easter, as well as yet another beautiful morning for Field Day, all of which added to the fun. We installed the first elements of our new Grammar playground (with more still to come), our 3rd-6th graders took history on parade, our 7th-12th graders learned about etiquette (and looked great doing so) at Protocol, and we loved hosting our elders for Grandparents’ Day. Finally, our Upper School house system competed – athletically, dramatically, academically, and musically – throughout the year, and we were all reminded of – maybe even surprised by! – the unity fostered by the houses when we retired them for summer at our year-end closing awards ceremony, where we celebrated each other’s accomplishments and cried a tear or two at a powerful slide show summarizing 2016-17.
Administratively, we celebrated our freedom to educate students the way we do during School Choice Week, welcomed dozens of school leaders from other parts of Montana interested in what we were doing, and secured another five-year accreditation from our accrediting body of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools. We improved systems (most significantly being online registration), welcomed new Board members, and attempted to lead humbly and with care for each and every student and family. We sought to own our shortcomings and failures, asked forgiveness and took responsibility for what we could or needed to, and worked to view issues as opportunities to get better. Most importantly, we sought God’s Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, and remain ever-grateful for what we discern to be His gracious response to us.
Thanks be to God…for 2016-17, and for everything.
During last week’s Board meeting for the month of May, our Education Team proposed the following class offerings/changes for consideration for adoption in the 2017-18 school year. The stated purpose of these changes was to address a number of issues in our current academic schedule, many of which have come to our attention through multiple conversations with students, parents, and teachers in ongoing discussions on how to improve what we do at Petra.
All of these proposals were researched among other Association of Classical and Christian Schools and carefully considered over many months by our administrative and teaching staff. Both our administration faculty and our teachers agreed that these proposals were the best solutions to these academic issues, and on the heels of much good and honest discussion at the Board meeting last Tuesday, I’m pleased to report that each of the proposals passed. They are:
Problem: For the past several years, our Humanities teachers have noticed a lack of Biblical knowledge in the secondary, especially among (but not limited to) transfer students.
Solution: Add a 2x/week Old Testament class in 7th grade and an 2x/week New Testament class in the 8th grade. These classes will survey the canon of Scripture, study the thematic and doctrinal unity of Scripture, and develop students’ abilities to read, understand, and apply Scripture to their own lives and their studies.
Problem: Due to the amount of material to be covered in our Humanities classes, writing instruction in the Secondary has not been systematic or comprehensive. As a result, several students continue to struggle with issues of crafting arguments, arrangement, style, and writing process.
Solution: Change 9th grade Material Logic class to a Classical Composition class.
Note: Currently, Material Logic consists of a review of 8th grade Formal Logic, followed by a series of essay assignments on apologetics issues. These essays focused primarily on argumentation, but not the other aspects of writing. The curriculum for Classical Composition will shore up students’ logic skills by training them not only in crafting logically sound arguments, but also expressing them in the most persuasive way.
11th Grade Course Load
Problem: For several years, students have remarked about how much more difficult the junior year workload is compared to the sophomore workload. This is due primarily to the relative ease of the 10th grade classes compared with the 11th grade classes, especially Rhetoric, Trigonometry, and Chemistry.
Solution: Implementing the previously-approved math tracking program (see Board packet from April 2017) in the 11th grade year will alleviate the homework load for juniors in the standard math track, who will take Algebra II instead of Trigonometry. Another needed solution is to switch when Biology and Chemistry are offering, moving Chemistry to 10th grade and Biology to 11h grade.
Note: Other ACCS schools (i.e. The Oaks and Ambrose specifically) offer Chemistry in 10th grade, and the prerequisite math for Chemistry is basic Algebra, which all students will have taken by 10th grade.
Dual Enrollment for Computer Science II
Problem: The students of our first Computer Science class missed the dual enrollment opportunity provided for this year’s Computer Science class. And the current dual enrollment students are very excited about computer programming and eager to continue growing in their knowledge of this subject.
Solution: Offer Computer Science II as a dual enrollment class for all students who have taken Computer Science I. All of next year’s juniors and seniors will be eligible for this class and its dual enrollment opportunity through Montana State University.
12th Grade Course Offering
Problem: Our current senior class offerings require students to choose between Physics/Calculus and Economics/Government classes. The math/science track is demanding, but so is the econ/govt track, which requires students to do Humanities-style reading and discussion in addition to their normal Humanities and Aesthetics reading. The following changes to our senior class offerings address several issues.
Streamline Rhetoric II as a 2x/week class – At the recommendation of Ginny Owens, our Rhetoric teacher, the senior thesis project could be taught in a 2x/week class. This focuses all the instruction and student work on the researching, planning, writing, preparation, and delivery of the senior thesis, the capstone project of a Petra Academy education.
Offer Civics as a 3x/week class – Civics is an important class for all students to take, especially as it helps shore up their knowledge of 19th and 20th century American history. Civics will be offered the same period as Rhetoric II, on the days Rhetoric II does not meet.
Move Aesthetics material into Humanities 12 – Due to several overlaps in content between Humanities 12 and Aesthetics, it makes good sense to combine these into the same class. Making Civics a required class also allows us to move some of the Humanities 12 political philosophy materials into Civics. This eliminates any unnecessary redundancy among these three classes.
Add Survey of Mathematics class to help seniors shore up math skills – This was addressed (and approved) in the math tracking proposal, but it is extremely important for seniors to take a math class. First, math is a subject worth studying for its own beauty, but also for the way it trains our minds to think and reason. Second, most colleges and universities require students to take math classes, so seniors need at least to shore up their math skills their 12th grade year. This Survey of Mathematics course reviews important concepts from Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry.
Offer Spanish III in 12th grade – The above changes result in an empty period. Spanish III is the best class offering for this slot, as it enables students to take one more language class with the emphasis on grammar review, cultural study, and conversation.
These proposed adjustments and additions are organized together in our tentative Secondary schedules and Electiva listings.
As Headmaster, I’m grateful to be leading a school committed to the ancient pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty with a willingness to work for improvement in doing so. Thank you to our Petra Board, faculty and staff, and parents and students for helping to propel us forward in our mission, striving to awaken love and wonder in our students for the flourishing of humanity and the renown of Jesus the Christ.
Contrary to popular belief (or at least that of my 8th grade Logic class), I’m not old enough to have been around in 1968 when Olympic marathon runner John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania cramped up while running due to the high altitude of Mexico City. I didn’t see Akhwari, at the 19 km point of the 42 km race, get jostled by the other runners and fall badly, wounding his knee and dislocating that joint (not to mention hitting his shoulder hard against the pavement).
Akhwari finished last among the 57 competitors who completed the race (75 had started) in 3:25:27 (winner Mamo Wolde of Ethiopia, finished in 2:20:26) when the sun had already set and there were only a few thousand people left in the stadium. When interviewed later and asked why he continued running, Akhwari said this: “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”
Inspiring, isn’t it? What a beautiful and powerful picture of human determination that brings to mind Paul’s words of spiritual illustration in 1 Corinthians 9:25-27:
Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
With only four weeks of school left, it’s tempting for students, parents, and faculty alike to want to let down in the name of “close enough,” as if stopping short of the finish line is somehow the same as running through it. With this in mind, here are three practical ways to help us finish the race:
1) Consider who’s watching. It may feel like we’re in the stands watching our kids round this final corner, but the truth is we’re on the track as well and our kids are running right beside us. Will they see us turn the corner or cut it as we get closer to the finish line? Make no mistake: whatever we do will be the example they’ll follow (not to mention the justification they’ll use), not only at the end of this particular school year, but with each one still to follow.
2) Cling to liturgies. Routines and regimens have gotten us this far; now is not the time to throw these to the spring breeze. Bath times and bedtimes, homework hours and habits – these structures from the past eight months are able to stand yet one more, but we must trust them enough to continue implementing them with our kids. Don’t forget the importance of Sabbath worship and rest each week, either; as parents, we need both as much as our kids do.
3) Check our words. “For out of the abundance of his heart, the mouth speaks,” Jesus says in Luke 6:45; the question is, “what abundance is in our heart?” It’s true for adults as well as for our kids: when we’re tired, our words can betray in an instant what we’ve tried for so long to build across the school year. Are our words filled with truth, goodness, and beauty concerning ourselves and others, or are we sabotaging the good work of God with our speech?
As you lean into this next month, know that we as a faculty and staff pray daily for our Petra community in our 8 a.m. staff meeting. Please join us as we pray and plod across the finish line together, so that when Saturday, June 3rd comes around, we can look back with no regrets, embracing the truth that we were meant not just to start the year, but to finish it as well.
…and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1b)
Good morning, students. And good morning to each of our parents, and especially to our very special guests, our grandparents.
We are thrilled to have you here for Recitation and Grandparents’ Day. While I’ve not met all of you, I have met many of you, and it’s my privilege to welcome you to Petra today.
As we begin our recitation this morning and prepare to enjoy the rest of the day we have planned, I’m reminded of these words in Deuteronomy 32:7:
Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations;
ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you.
Grandparents, with this verse in mind (and if I could be so bold), could I share two things that we – the younger generations – need from you today?
First, we need you to remember your days of old. You are the eldest among us and have lived in a world that we have not. Your grandchildren don’t need you to be hip or cool; they need you to be wonderfully old-fashioned as they “consider the years of many generations” – years that look very different from the ones in which they are growing up. As the poet John Donne wrote, “No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace, as I have seen in one autumnal face.” Your age is a gift – to you and to your grandkids – and I would ask that you embrace it as such, even as you make a present of it to them.
Second, we need you to play show and tell with us! As we encourage our students to “ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you,” we need your actions and stories to align. Model for them virtue and explain to them the good ways things used to be; show them how to live – with humility, with gratitude, and with the interests of others before your own – and then call them – repeatedly if necessary (and it will be necessary!) – to imitate you as you imitate Christ.
The challenge of what we in classical education call “mimesis” or “imitation” is enormous, of course, and you’re not going to get it right every time. But, if you’re brave enough to try and God blesses the attempt, the good news, according to philosopher Andy Rooney, is this: “Elephants and grandchildren never forget.”
The presence of a grandparent confirms that parents were, indeed, little once, too, and that people who are little can grow to be big, can become parents, and one day even have grandchildren of their own. So often we think of grandparents as belonging to the past; but in this important way, grandparents, for young children, belong to the future.
I am so grateful for your presence, support, and encouragement of our young students and in the life of our school. You have dropped off and picked up in a pinch, attended events and offered homework help, and many of you have sacrificially and financially supported our vision of seeing students prepared to live purposeful, godly lives.
(The following is Mr. Dunham’s Resurrection Feast message; the pictures are from the Feast itself.)
Back when Little Mr. Dunham was a boy of about 5 – quite a bit shorter, quite a bit skinnier, still wearing a suit and tie – he got it into his head that he was not loved by his parents. Now this had something to do with the fact that Little Mr. Dunham kept getting into trouble (particularly with his father, who was trying to help him obey), but Little Mr. Dunham was sure that the problem was his parents’ – not his – and he was tired of feeling so unloved.
One day, Little Mr. Dunham declared to his parents that he was planning to run away, but he wasn’t going to just do it any old way; he was going to leave in style. He found a red handkerchief and laid it flat on the floor. Then he grabbed some snacks out of the pantry (Little Mr. Dunham loved snacks!) and carefully placed them in the handkerchief before tying the handkerchief to the end of a stick. He then picked up the stick, put it over his shoulder, announced to his mother that he was leaving, and walked out the door.
Now you might remember that Little Mr. Dunham grew up on a farm, so there were a lot of places he could have gone that day. You also might remember that Little Mr. Dunham was only five and trips take a while when you have short legs, so what seemed like hours walking was really only five minutes down the gravel road. But that’s what Little Mr. Dunham did: he walked to the end of the driveway and down the gravel road until he saw a smelly, dirty, empty hog shed in the middle of a field (his father was a hog farmer) and walked over to it. He took the stick from his shoulder, unpacked his handkerchief, pulled out some snacks, and then waited…and waited…and waited…for at least 20 minutes.
All of a sudden, he looked up. There was his mother, who had walked down the road after him and was now standing in the door of the hog shed.
“Are you ready to come home?” she asked. With his lip trembling, Little Mr. Dunham nodded his head, dropped his snack, and started to cry. “I’m sorry I ran away, Mom, and I’m sorry that I didn’t believe you loved me,” he said, jumping into her arms. Then he said, “And I’m really glad you came after me.” His mother hugged him, and together they gathered up the handkerchief and stick and walked back up the gravel road toward home.
Sometimes we run away to see who will come after us. Now I’m not telling you to run away to find out, so don’t, but think about it: if you ran away and ended up in a smelly, dirty hog shed with nothing more than a handkerchief of snacks to eat, who would eventually come after you? For sure, you would have a parent come after you; I’m almost certain your teachers would, too; and probably at least one or two (if not more) friends would show up asking if you were ready to come home. That’s because they love you and care for you and want the very best for you.
Believe it or not, coming home from the hog shed is what we celebrate at Easter. In the Bible, Jesus tells three parables about finding three lost things: a sheep, a coin, and a son. Let me just read you the first one:
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’
So he told them this parable: ‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.'”
Now the truth is, there are no righteous persons; we all need to repent – that is, turn from – our sin – that selfishness inside of us that makes us think only about us. But what happens a lot of times in life is we get lost – like a sheep that wanders off – because all we think about is ourselves. We think we know best, our feelings get hurt and we get mad at the world, and we want what we want and don’t care what it takes to get it. So we run away – maybe not physically all the time, but emotionally, as we tell ourselves that no one loves or cares about us, which makes us mad or sad or both. So, we feel sorry for ourselves, and like Little Mr. Dunham, we decide to run away – but we’re secretly always wondering and hoping that someone is going to come after us and bring us home.
Well, I have good news. Jesus loves us and came after us to bring us home. But not only did he come after us, he died in our place to satisfy God’s anger at our disobedience. But not only did he die in our place, God resurrected him – he brought him back to life! – so that we, too, can have hope that we can live forever with God.
This is what we celebrate with our Resurrection Feast: God made a way for you and me to be with him forever, and Jesus has walked that way and come after us. All we have to do is say that we’re sorry for disobeying, come out of the nasty hog shed of our sin, jump in his arms, and trust that he will walk us all the way home. This is what Little Mr. Dunham did when he was a boy, and this is what Big Mr. Dunham still tries to do in response to God’s love each day. And this is what we pray for you – that you will know you are loved, and that when you tell yourself you are not and try to run away, you wouldn’t get too far before you look up from the smelly, dirty hog shed of your sin and see Jesus there ready to forgive you and walk you home.
“Not everything that can be counted counts,
and not everything that counts can be counted.”
As is true of many schools in our state and nation, we at Petra Academy administer annual standardized tests. Our 1st-5th grade students will take their CTP tests and our 6th-9th graders will do the same. (We don’t test our 10th-12th graders in the spring since our sophomores take the PSAT in the fall, our juniors take the SAT in the fall and the ACT in the spring, and our seniors are graduating.)
But there’s a difference; we test because we can, not because we must. This is unfortunately not the case for a majority of American schools. Education in the United States has been preoccupied with standardized testing this past century, but especially so during the past 15 years. From President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” in 2002 to President Obama’s “Race to the Top” in 2009, we have not lacked for modernity’s attempts to measure educational success by filling in bubbles (nor, thankfully, have we lacked for the humorous critique of it, either).
There’s little conceptually wrong with testing; assessment is a good thing, which is why we test our students every year. For us, good uses of testing include identifying general areas of instruction that need improvement, as well as facilitating school/home interaction as to any academic strengths and weaknesses in students that we can discern. But while we take test results seriously, we do not take them so seriously that they blind us to the bigger picture of our vision of students equipped to live purposeful, godly lives fulfilled.
Most of what you hear or read about testing is negative, and rightly so due to the unintended consequence of schools choosing to “teach to the test” for the sake of maintaining government funding. In addition, the modernist mentality of “all success must be measurable” can be limiting in evaluating what a student has learned and not just what he or she can regurgitate. Indeed, test scores can be a helpful measure of past and/or current realities, but they are often poor predictors of true success.
Here are just a few things that testing does not help us evaluate about a student’s experience across a school year:
– Leadership potential and growth
– Enjoyment of spontaneous creativity
– Value of actively engaging with community
– Risk-taking and innovation
– Empathy and compassion
– Ability to ask deep questions
– Reception of constructive criticism
– Integrity and humility
– Desire for truth, goodness, and beauty
– Collaboration with others
– Overall love of learning
The list could go on and on, but the point is this: testing provides some insight into a student’s academic experience, but not all of it.
Of course, on the flip side of the testing question is the concern that children shouldn’t be made to test for reasons of pressure creating or contributing to existing test anxiety. Some argue that standardized testing (and its results, particularly if they’re not what the parent hoped for) might work against a child’s self-esteem and confidence and therefore should not be used.
To that I say this: we must not forget that the only real way students build confidence is to attempt, struggle through, and overcome challenges before them. The lie is that education is easy; the truth is that learning – or at least the kind which goes beyond mere regurgitation of information and shapes character formation – is difficult. When it comes to helping our students deal with testing anxieties, the key for us as parents is not to over-emphasize perfect test results, but to help students shoot for improved ones, praising the effort involved to do so.
Our goal should be to help students lean into and learn to stand up under stress rather than run away or hide from it. Stress is both a part of life and an important formation tool God uses in the lives of people (think of all the stress He intentionally brought upon those He chose to use in the Bible). We should help students respond with faithfulness as they take hold of the task at hand, for as James 1 speaks specifically to spiritual growth, the principle applies to growth that is of an educational nature as well.
So we test our Grammar and Logic School students and take seriously the results. But we try to help them – and you, our parents – understand that the ultimate goal of assessment is not to pass the test and then fail life.
That would just not be very smart at all.
As you may or may not be aware, ten days ago, Petra Academy welcomed three headmasters representing the Association of Classical and Christian Schools as part of our 5-year accreditation inspection. The primary purpose of this two-and-a-half day on-site visit was to verify our self-study (which was a year in the making and culminated in over a thousand pages of written documentation covering every policy and practice we have) to determine the accuracy of it reflecting the school’s programs and ministry.
The objectives for the accreditation on-site visit were for the committee to provide for the ACCS Board a final report that addresses every aspect of our school’s program, ensure that our self-study was objective and accurate, and evaluate whether our school was in violation of any ACCS standard, which are quite stringent. We also benefited by having three headmasters far more experienced than myself bring an outside perspective and provide commendations of our strengths and recommendations on ways we might improve.
The good news? By God’s grace and the dedicated work of our faculty and staff, we came through our accreditation visit with flying colors. I won’t go into the details (though I’m happy to speak more with you about them as you have questions), but suffice it to say that the committee found no discrepancies between what we said we are doing and what we are actually doing, and they have unanimously and enthusiastically recommended us to the ACCS Board for another 5-year re-accreditation.
I share this with you not to pat ourselves on the back, but simply to say that, while we are not a perfect school, we are a progressing one – made up of flawed people passionately committed to excellence in classical Christian education, for the flourishing of humanity and the renown of Jesus the Christ as our mission states. Thank you for supporting our little school, and thank you for your prayers on our behalf as we labor to see every student at Petra Academy grow up to live a purposeful, godly life.
When our girls were younger and we were invited to another family’s house for dinner, Megan and I made it a point not to give them the “be on your best behavior” talk before getting out of the minivan. The reason? We didn’t want to suggest that there should be a difference between how they acted with us and how they acted when they were with others.
Last week, I shared this story with our secondary students while telling them about our upcoming Association of Classical and Christian Schools accreditation visit this Wednesday and Thursday. To be sure, I said, the visit is an important one, as our next 5-year accreditation is on the line. But (as I also said), I wasn’t asking the students to “be on their best behavior” or pretend to be something they – we – aren’t, because who they – we – are will be enough.
It will be enough because of what God has done and is doing in our midst as a community. As Headmaster, I’m aware of plenty of faults and flaws (including our/my own) at Petra, not to mention a variety of broken hearts and hard situations (many of them having little to do with the school) within our little community. As a school with 211 students from 140 families, it can sometimes seem that we have more issues than National Geographic, which isn’t true (National Geographic has been around for a long time), but the challenges weigh heavily nonetheless.
That’s when I find myself most grateful for the first phrase of our mission statement (“Recognizing our need for God’s grace…”), as well as the fact that an increasing number in our community are choosing to embrace and function by our relational covenant (“believe the best in one another, stand shoulder to shoulder, talk to and not about one another”). It’s never easy to admit falling short, but it’s easier to talk about when it’s for the purpose of improving.
The Scriptures remind us that God blesses such attempts: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16) Perhaps like you, I’m grateful for this promise of progress.
As I’ve said plenty of times before, we’re not a perfect school, but we are a progressing one that seeks and acts to improve and get better. I believe this week’s upcoming accreditation visit will prove this out, and I’m glad for the committee to get to know us (warts and all), so they might see God’s grace at work in the midst of our great need for it.
I’m also glad for the chance to learn from other headmasters carrying on good classical Christian education work around the country (after all, there aren’t a lot of ACCS schools here in Montana). I trust parents will take the initiative to greet our guests on Wednesday and Thursday, rolling out the Montana welcome wagon and letting them know we’re glad they’re here.
Thanks for being at Petra, and thanks for including and enabling our family to be so as well. I’m grateful to lead our imperfect but improving school and look forward to what we all will learn from this week.
Just three more days until the curtain opens on Petra’s production of Meet Me in St. Louis and the critics* are loving it! One reviewer wrote:
Meet Me in St. Louis is filled with some of the best actors. These actors take you right into the Smiths’ living room in 1904…The cast has been so great from the first day to the day of performance. This play is filled with great dancers and singers…
Indeed, she (more or less) hit the nail on the head: the cast has been hard at work for the past two months crafting a brilliant performance that highlights more than just the superb acting talents of our students, but their dance and singing abilities as well.
Another reviewer was impressed by the ambitiousness of the production and the amount of work that the student actors put into a performance. I was especially happy to read what this particular reviewer attributed to being part of the students’ success:
Meet Me in St. Louis is a great opportunity for the secondary kids to learn what goes into performing. Performing in a play is a lot [of work], but these students have great attitudes and perseverance.
This year’s production includes more than just student actors, though; the set construction, costuming, stage management, and running lights and sound has been and is handled largely by students. We even have student choreography and piano accompaniment provided by our kids.
Yet another reviewer was surprised to hear how many seats were still open and wrote:
Meet Me in St. Louis is a musical [treat] that expresses laughter, sorrow, and romance. With all the hard work the students have put in – from just beginning to memorize their lines, to putting on an amazing performance – this is a play that the whole family will enjoy…If you and your family are looking for a fun and exciting night at Petra Academy, I highly encourage this play…
So what are you waiting for? Get your tickets today to come see Meet Me in St. Louis! Performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7 p.m., with an additional Saturday matinee at 2 p.m.
(*Critical reviews supplied by fifth graders Anya Bentz and Auna Flohr, and third grader Ava Flohr, all of whom have seen the majority of the rehearsal process from the first weeks and still want to come watch the show. Thanks, ladies!)
Perhaps you read the news last month of the demise of the Pioneer Cabin Tree, the great Sequoia “tunnel tree” in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, 90 miles east of Sacramento. When I read the story, I found myself wondering why the tree’s collapse seemed so surprising to so many: take a tree and cut out two-thirds of its trunk, and what does one expect will happen when high rains and floodwaters come?
We shouldn’t miss the metaphor as it relates to education. Up until the end of the 19th century, the “trunk” of an American student’s tutelage was the teaching of humility and character, logic and reason, writing and rhetoric – all with a particular moral end in mind. This was the education of our first Presidents and many of those who laid and built upon the early foundations of our nation.
Today, however, our school systems have reduced learning to a pragmatic pursuit of a job. Progressives like John Dewey and others essentially cut out the heart of true education – of “paideia,” the raising and enculturation of a moral and ethical civilization – opting instead for a gutted tourist stop along the way to employment.
Granted, one can argue that a good education is always useful, but it is also true that a useful education is not always good. Henry T. Edmondson III, writing in his book John Dewey and the Decline of American Education, clarifies:
Aristotle criticizes the education of the Spartans precisely because their education was directed only toward ‘necessary and useful things,’ with little regard for what is ‘noble.’ In this light, it is notable that although historians grant the Spartans the respect they are due for their martial discipline, the same historians also note that the Spartans left no philosophical, literary, or political legacy, unlike their Athenian rivals.
Here we have a paradox: In making utility the chief goal of education, we sacrifice much of its usefulness. A merely utilitarian education is largely ineffectual precisely because it does not seek to make a student good, or at least to teach him what is good, or even to provide him with those principles that guide good behavior – all of which qualities are essential aspects of true utility. (p. 80)
What’s a solution? Edmondson references Plato:
Plato explains that the central thrust of education must be to cultivate intellectual and moral virtue because ‘virtue…would be a certain health, beauty, and good condition of the soul’; without an education directed to the soul, the student will be left with ‘vice’ which is a ‘sickness, ugliness and weakness’ of the soul. (p. 82)
When was the last time “the central thrust of education to cultivate intellectual and moral virtue” was the discussion at the local, state, or national levels concerning our country’s education departments? When was the last time truth, goodness, and beauty (instead of just how our student(s) did on the latest test) was the topic at our own kitchen tables?
Later this week, re-enrollment opens exclusively for current Petra families. Obviously, we would love for 100% of our student body to re-enroll for next year. What will be your family’s parameters for deciding whether to return in 2017-18? Here are four I sometimes hear from parents, along with a few thoughts for rumination:
1) Grades. One consideration may be whether a student is making A’s (straight or otherwise), but let’s avoid setting up that idol – in our kids’ hearts or in our own – as a goal for their education. So many student issues (now and later) stem from a preoccupation with grades, and I find that nine times out of ten, when a student is so preoccupied, it is because her parents are as well. Grades can be a motivator, sure, as well as a means to evaluate some degree of mastery, yes, but (to paraphrase Mark 8:36), “…what does it profit a student to gain straight A’s and forfeit his soul?” After all, in the words of author Walker Percy, “You can get all A’s and still flunk life.”
2) Workload. Another consideration is workload. As a parent, none of us enjoys seeing our kids struggle, but nothing teaches students perseverance and work ethic more than having to get over a high bar (and Petra’s is one of the highest at every grade). If there is an epidemic in 21st-century parenting, it is giving into the temptation and tendency to intervene rather than coach, to teach to avoid struggle rather than lean into and work through it. And yet, those who trust the process and persevere (even and at times with tears) eventually join the ranks of those who take great satisfaction in having worked hard to accomplish something great. To graduate from Petra is not easy, but I have yet to meet an alumnus who regrets having done the work to do so.
3) Impact on family life. A third re-enrollment consideration is the impact on family life, for as I tell interested parents on our Tours on Thursdays, if we’re not being impacted at home, something’s wrong. Classical Christian education is not something to be compartmentalized and left at school over the weekend. It comes home with our students on a daily basis in the form of questions and answers about what is true, good, and beautiful; it makes observations about our lifestyles and calls into question our liturgies. Because so few of us were raised with classical Christian education as children ourselves, it pushes us as parents to humbly learn alongside our students all the things we were never taught, reinforcing or retarding a love of learning in our students, depending on our attitudes.
4) Cost. A final consideration is financial: can we afford to send our student(s) to Petra? Petra is not cheap (though I’m also told by parents with private education experience elsewhere that Petra is a “steal,” particularly in a place like Bozeman), and while we in Montana have a choice of where to send our kids to school, we certainly do not have financial incentive to choose apart from the “free” government school system we all support with our tax dollars (I wrote about this at some length here). Sometimes it’s hard not to just give in and give up our kids to a school that we’re already paying for, telling ourselves we’ll deal with whatever comes up morally, emotionally, or spiritually with our student(s), all the while hoping for the best academically.
But perhaps a better question is this: can we afford not to send our student(s) to Petra? Where else in Bozeman are elementary, middle school, and high school students intentionally and unapologetically taught virtue and character by learning the basics of language (ancient and modern), reading the greatest books of literature, searching the lessons and ideas of history and philosophy, engaging in the mysteries of the sciences and mathematics, training in logical thinking and rhetorical expression, and participating in athletics and the making of art (dramatic, visual, or musical) – and all with and from a classical Christian worldview modeled and delivered by a caring faculty and staff?
When re-enrollment opens later this week, I hope you’ll give thought to these four considerations. Make no mistake: we want your family excited about the benefits of classical Christian education and back at Petra next year. We also want you to rest assured that, after 21 years, we know who we are and want to be as a school, and this identity – this trunk of our tree – is one we have no intention of hollowing out. Our mission:
We invite you to join us as part of it again next year.