Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Portrait of a Graduate

Over the years Veritas has developed three major documents, called ‘purpose and outcome statements’, that provide direction for the Board, administration and staff. The most central of these is our mission statement, which emphasizes our understanding of the educational program of our school—to cultivate wisdom, virtue and godliness. The other of the trio of guiding statements are our Portrait of a Graduate and our Characteristics of Teaching Excellence. The Portrait is a detailed set of descriptors that guide our work both in and out of the classroom. I would like to take the opportunity in the next few issues of Verbatim to explain the elements of the Portrait and why it is so important to what we, in partnership with parents, are trying to do at Veritas.

It should be said up front that our Portrait constitutes our ultimate aim, our ideal. We don’t believe that we will achieve a complete version of this Portrait in every, or even in any single, graduate. We are very aware that though we will have great responsibility and opportunities with students, we are not the only influences in their lives. Family, church, and even peers all play roles in shaping young people. But having a clear goal is vital to success, and, if we don’t absolutely achieve our goal with every student, we will, by the grace of God, be able to get as close as we can. We are also very conscious that, as one teacher put it, these ideal characteristics are not 100% contagious. They must be modeled by the adults in our school, and even explicitly taught.

It should also be understood that having this portrait is not unique to Veritas. All schools have some kind of graduate in mind as they plan their activities, shape what is taught and how, encourage or discourage certain thoughts and attitudes. Their picture might be implicit, and has likely never been drawn up with any consistency or consciousness. The staff may never have thought of its school program in this light, but it is there nevertheless. Since this is the case, wisdom requires that we at Veritas consciously work toward a common goal. We begin our description of an ideal graduate with a general statement:We aim to graduate young men and women who reason precisely and articulate persuasively, who are capable of evaluating their range of experience in the light of Scripture, and who doso with eagerness and in joyful submission to God.

This statement is loaded with implications. In our weekly discussions as teachers we didn’t get past the first few words for a couple of weeks. What does it mean to “reason precisely"? How do we, as classroom teachers, make sure this is happening on a daily basis, in an age-appropriate way? How do we train students toward persuasiveness in their communication while encouraging them to avoid manipulating their audience? These questions, and many others like them, have occupied our discussions. The picture that emerges when looking closely at our Portrait is one in which we aim to help students to think carefully and biblically, and to speak and write forcefully and truthfully. We are very concerned with not only their academic and intellectual growth but with who they are.  

How do we know, then, when the Portrait has begun to take hold? For each major category we have sub-points that provide specific descriptors that illustrate or provide examples of what more concrete behaviors ought to flow from the general principles. For the first statement they are as follows:
·         demonstrate godly discernment in all their dealings with the world
·         speak and write persuasively and wisely in any situation
·         submit joyfully and eagerly to the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all things

The common elements of these—godly discernment, wisdom, joyful submission to Christ, the recognition of his Lordship over all creation—drive us back to our mission to “cultivate wisdom, virtue and godliness.”

We are acutely aware that the successful implementation of our Portrait of a Graduate is completely dependent on the grace of God. We know that these characteristics can’t be manufactured in our students. We can’t turn a handle and crank out identical Portrait products without flaw or defect. Just because we have a document that explicitly states our aims, and just because we talk about them continually, does not mean that it will happen. Like everything else in education, the Portrait has to be modeled and we, as teachers and staff, know that we are very imperfect models of what we’re trying to help those in our classes grow to be. Teachers, in particular, need to incarnate the virtues they want to see in their students. These things have to be lived out in front of them consistently, joyfully and patiently. Success may take many years to reveal itself, and so we can only do what we know to be good and pray that God will bring the fruit.

As I mentioned above, every school, whether it acknowledges it or not, has some kind of image in mind of the sort of person it is seeking to develop. This is inevitable, since it is what education is. Veritas' Portrait of a Graduate is our attempt to provide clear guidance for all of us as to how the mission of classical, Christ-centered education should be revealed in the lives of our graduates. It sets a very high bar for all of us—parents, teachers, and students alike. But we believe that, through the outworking of Christ in us and not because of our own efforts, we can all grow toward being people that are becoming more wise, godly and virtuous, all to the glory of God.