Monday, March 28, 2011

Sapiens et Eloquens Pietas

The following will appear in the upcoming issue of Verbatim, Veritas School's newsletter. Readers of this blog get an exclusive preview.

For Veritas’s recent Benefit Dinner I was asked to speak briefly about the ‘heart’ of Veritas, or what is at the core of our school’s mission. What follows is a somewhat expanded version of those comments, as I took the opportunity to introduce the unique calling of classical, Christian education.

The mission of Veritas is to cultivate wisdom, virtue and godliness in our students, families, staff and communities through an excellent classical, Christian education. An essential part of fulfilling this is to instill, by God’s grace, what the German Reformation educator Johann Sturm called sapiens et eloquens pietas—wise and eloquent piety—a joyful, humble, firmly-held faith in Christ that uses the best education to raise up wise, virtuous, God-fearing and God-loving people. To accomplish this, classical, Christian educators draw on the deep and lasting, that which has stood the test of time in literature, the arts, the sciences, and mathematics. We use these to cultivate students who think clearly and biblically, speak and write eloquently and truthfully, and do all of this to the glory of God.

The result of this emphasis contrasts sharply with what is seen in other kinds of schools. For example, in a recent Washington Post article, a member of the Rhodes Scholarship selection committee lamented “a specialization that would have been unthinkably narrow just a generation ago. As a result, high-achieving students seem less able to grapple with issues that require them to think across disciplines or reflect on difficult questions about what matters and why.” The committee, she writes, is looking for students who “wonder, students who are reading widely” and yet what they are seeing are students who “have given very little thought to matters beyond their…area of study.” A classical, Christian education, instead, enables students to think in an integrated way, and to evaluate their learning and their world by a higher, all-encompassing standard.

All of our students take all subjects, and so they are able to participate in the wide range of experiences that come with being made in the image of God. All students K-12 take music each year. All take art; all are in four years of foreign language in high school, four years of math, history, English, etc. They are not forced to specialize at this age, or declare what sort of career path they want to take. Rather, they are free to learn and develop a broad range of abilities and talents.

Classical education, then, is not merely about earning a living, but is about learning how to live. Proverbs 3:14 tells us that wisdom is “better than gold” and more precious than jewels, that “nothing you desire can compare with her.” In Proverbs 8:10-11 wisdom herself calls out, reminding us to “take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her”. We desire, through our curriculum and through our school culture, to encourage our students to value wisdom above the things the world has to offer. This is a critical part of our ‘portrait of a graduate’, our blueprint so to speak, of what we want our graduates to be like.

And while our graduates are extraordinarily well-prepared for college—our SATs are third-highest in the Portland area (well over 300 points above the state average) and 100% of our graduates typically go on to four-year colleges and universities—it is not college admissions or test scores that we chiefly value. These things are tremendous blessings, of course, but they are a consequence of classical, Christian education, not the purpose of it. Our over-arching mission is to see our students grow in loving and serving Christ because of, their education at Veritas.

The scriptures clearly teach that a man will harvest what he sows. We will all have to eat at some point in the future what we have planted today. The desire of the staff and board of Veritas School is to help parents plant firmly and deeply, in excellent soil, beside living water, so that there will be a good and abundant harvest—that is, a godly, wise and eloquent generation—that grows up to glorify and love God and to plant well in their turn.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Top Ten Books on Teaching

Here's a list of my top ten books on teaching I shared at our annual teaching conference last summer. I'll be adding a list of books on education later. (Click here for information on 2011 Teaching Conference:

The Seven Laws of Teaching—John Milton Gregory.  Gregory’s Seven Laws of Teaching is one of the best books I’ve ever read on the practice of teaching.

 The Art of TeachingGilbert Highet. In this 1950 classic, Highet explores the methods of teaching as an art, not a science, drawing on his experience as a student and tutor in Oxford and Columbia.

The Great Didactic— Johann Amos Comenius.  The 17th-century Protestant leader makes the case for a reform of the schools based on nature and the understanding of the nature of children.

Vittorino da Feltre and Other Humanist Educators—Woodward, trans. Contains essays by four leading Renaissance humanists defending the new learning.

On Christian Doctrine, Book IV— Augustine. Augustine addresses the importance of teachers being able to ‘teach, delight, and persuade.’

Norms and Nobility—David Hicks. Extraordinarily thought-provoking.  Hicks defends the classical view of the school as a ‘normative, not a utilitarian’ institution’.

Checking for Understanding—Fisher, Frey. The  authors give very practical suggestions for implementing formative assessment in the classroom.

The Art and Science of Teaching—Robert J. Marzano.  Subtitled ‘A Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction’, this book addresses such questions as ‘What will I do to help students effectively interact with new knowledge?’

Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by DesignTomlinson and McTighe.
“Backward planning” for units and differentiating classroom instruction are addressed.

Teaching with the Brain in Mind—Eric Jensen. Jensen explains the workings of the brain and how teachers can use this knowledge to help students learn.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Veritas Choir on YouTube

Veritas School's choir singing Baba Yetu is now at over 95,600 views on YouTube.

Keep in mind that this was our entire high school at the time (2008), not just our Concert Choir. In my humble opinion our choirs have only become better since this video was recorded.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Forming a Classical, Christ-centered Community

In his video series for parents, ‘The Case for Kids’ Paul David Tripp describes the family as a theological community, a sociological community, and a redemptive community. And while I agree with him that “there’s no better place to teach God’s way of love than the family”, it is also true that a Christ-centered school, in support of these families, ought to attend to these things, as well.

As a ‘theological community , the school helps students to interpret their world rightly. It presents them with a view of reality that corresponds with the way things really are: God is the creator and sustainer of all things, and we were created to worship him. This is one of chief goals of any true education, and any schooling that gives another view—or says that such views are unimportant—is slowly indoctrinating its students into a lie. A Christ-centered school will present students with the reality that they are created as worshipping beings, that they cannot help but worship something, and that their duty is to learn to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. An educational philosophy that integrates theological truth in all subjects, from mathematics to literature, will strengthen this conviction in students that their view of God applies to all of life, not just to ‘religion’.

While the fundamental theological truth of God’s existence and character undergirds the classical, Christian school, it is also true that a school is a community where all of us need to learn to love our neighbor. Love must be worked out in the day-to-day, including the inevitable struggles we have with one another. In this, a school is no different from other communities, whether the family or the world at large. In any place where nearly three hundred human beings interact all day long in a relatively small area there will be conflict. Even if we all share the same goal of helping our students grow in wisdom, virtue and godliness, disagreements will arise. We must remember that we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. Sometimes this means being willing to speak the truth in love, even when difficult. Sometimes it may mean choosing to cover a transgression—even a multitude of them!—with the love and mercy we as forgiven sinners have been shown. But in all cases we must keep in mind that as we love and serve Christ we must also love those around us, as well. An example of this in practice is our protocol program. Secondary students learn not just which fork to use at formal dinners, but, more importantly, to consider others first. The whole purpose of manners, they are taught, is to put others at ease, not to show off.

All of this sounds wonderful, and it has been a great blessing to have witnessed our theological and sociological community act in Christ-honoring ways over the years. Veritas is a place characterized by a desire to understand and worship God rightly, and to treat others with love. But, of course, none of us do these things perfectly, and some of us (speaking for myself) struggle to do them at all. We all fall far short of loving God with all our hearts and minds, and our neighbors as ourselves. Our community, as well intentioned as it is, often seems to be a collection of selfish and fallen creatures.

God be praised, he has not left us in this condition. Tripp reminds us that a family, and by extension a school, should also be a redemptive community. There is hope for us. But this hope is not found in the political or philosophical systems of the world, but in the redemption found in the person of Christ alone. One of the things we hope classical education teaches our students is the futility of the world’s wisdom. We read great books and discuss great ideas, but we do it in a way that “takes every thought captive”. Whatever they promise, the false gods of the ancients, just like the false gods of our contemporaries, ultimately fail. They cannot do otherwise. Only in the grace of God is found a redemption that is true and lasting.

Classical, Christian schools are uniquely formed to support parents in encouraging their children to love God, look at the world in ways that agree with God’s ways, to learn to love others, and to depend on the grace of God to do all of this. Veritas is committed in its mission to the cultivation of wisdom, virtue, and godliness. The goals of classical education—emphasizing grammar, logic, and rhetoric in all subjects, encouraging every student to develop a love for learning and to live up to his or her academic potential, and providing an orderly atmosphere conducive to these goals—are meant to assist parents in this most important of tasks, the raising of their children to the praise and honor of God.