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.

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