Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Educational Philosophy Statement

I promised to post something on education, and since I couldn't find anything short and pithy, I decided to post this template for a philosphy statement for a (hypothetical) Classical Christian school. NB: This blogging software is messing with my endnote references; behavior seems to vary by browser, but the hypertext links are not working for me ... you can just scroll to the bottom of the post to see the notes.

Covenant Classical School

Statement of Philosophy

The founders of Covenant Classical School are committed to providing an education that is overridingly Christian. This is based upon our understanding that the Scriptures mandate [1] [1] Christian education for all covenant children[2] [2] The following paragraphs serve as a brief overview of the educational philosophy.

It is Christian. We believe that Christ holds all things together and in Him all things cohere.[3][3] We hold to an historical, reformed understanding of what it means to be “Christian.”[4][4] We believe that Christ has revealed to us the invisible nature of the triune God. Since we are now “in Christ”, His love, humility and self-sacrifice should characterize all that we do and teach in a Christian school. Looking to the Scripture as the authority in all things, including educational methodology, we find that God chose to reveal Himself to us primarily through story. He has given us the history of His own creation and providence. Christ Himself also made use of parables for instruction. In fact, it is the coherence of God’s story that serves as the integration point for all truth. At Covenant Classical School we will emphasize the essential unity of God’s truth even as we explore the diversity of His truths, making heavy use of stories (both factual and fictional.[5][5]

It is Covenantal. We believe that God has called out a people for Himself, and has intended from the beginning to demonstrate His covenant faithfulness to all peoples.[6][6] We believe that Christian parents are commanded by God to educate their covenant children, preparing them to live lives that “Glorify God” and to “enjoy Him forever.”[7][7] This is another area where the notion of story is involved. One way of understanding the Bible is as the history of God’s redemptive actions on behalf of His chosen people.[8][8] At Covenant Classical School we will highlight God’s faithfulness throughout history with special emphasis on the history of God’s people, both in the Bible and in the life and growth of the Church.

It is Classical in approach. It follows the methodology of the trivium, seeking to identify appropriate analogies of grammar, dialectic and rhetoric in all subjects and to teach all subjects in a manner consistent with the appropriate stage.[9][9] It does so recognizing that the essence of a Christian education is to equip covenant children to think Christianly about all things and to have a reforming impact on our culture. This means that it must be tool-oriented, not [exclusively] content-oriented.[10][10] It also carries forward the classical idea of wisdom and virtue achieved through the pursuit of truth, beauty and goodness. However, this concept of wisdom and virtue is not Hellenistic (and pagan) or gnostic,[11][11] but rather it is understood in the context of Christ’s statement that “If you abide in My word, you are disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”[12][12] As we Christians make use of classical educational methodology, we are “plundering the Egyptians.”[13][13] We are equipping students with the tools for a life-long love of learning.

And finally, it is focused on the child. This may sound obvious, but it needs to be emphasized. Jesus tells us that we must “become as little children.”[14][14] Children have a natural sense of awe and wonder, which is all too often stifled rather than encouraged. At Covenant Classical School this sense of wonder will be nurtured, especially in the early years, through nature studies, picture studies, “living books”, biographies, etc.[15][15] Learning begins by being fun. This does not mean that it is not also hard work, only that the satisfaction of learning makes the effort worthwhile. The education will be rich and rewarding, but not rushed or rigorous for the sake of rigor alone. It will be “Life Prep” not merely “College Prep.”[16][16]

Of course, the real key is not philosophy or even curriculum, but gifted and committed teachers, who will “consider not only their own interests, but also the interests of [the students]”[17][17] and model Christ-likeness in all that they do.

[1][1] Among other places, this mandate can be found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9,

“O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the frames of your houses and on your gates.”

The New Testament reinforces this message in Ephesians 6:4, which requires that fathers bring up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”.

[2][2] The term “covenant child” is used to denote any child born into a Christian family and implies a covenantal understanding of the Scriptures and of God’s dealing with man. He has called His people out of Egypt and has promised His faithfulness to a thousand generations. By faith therefore we claim God’s promises on behalf of our children. By faith we baptize them as infants, marking them with the sign and seal of the covenant. Education, then, is the way we bring them up in the nourishment and admonition of the Lord in prayerful expectation that God will honor His promises and awaken saving faith in them.

[3][3] “Christ is the image of the invisible God … All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things and in Him all things consist.” – Colossians 1: 15-17.

[4][4] This understanding is consistent with the great ecumenical creeds of Christendom (Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds) and such documents as the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Belgic Confession or the Heidelberg Catechism. The great rallying cries of the Reformation, Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, and Sola Gratia [Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone] are also key to this understanding.

[5][5] Charlotte Mason, a late 19th century British educator, understood the importance of exposing even very young children to what she called “living books.” By this she meant not only the Bible, but also the great works of literature and history that pique the child’s interest in the world God made. She correctly pointed out that a child’s imagination is much more readily engaged by material that is interesting and well-written, even if it is (for the time being) above their own reading level. She also pointed out that teaching through stories, including well-written narrative histories, for instance, is much more effective than treating history as a dry set of facts. She dismissed the then-newly-introduced restricted vocabulary readers as “twaddle” and much of the mechanistic, rote-memory educational activities as mere busy-work.

[6][6] This is evident in the original curse of the serpent (Genesis 3:15), the promise to Abraham that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3), in Isaiah’s call to Israel to be “a light to the Gentiles” and “My salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6) in John’s declaration of God’s love for the world (John 3:16), in Paul’s declaration of God’s sovereign, predestining love (Ephesians 1:7-12; Romans 8:28-35; etc.) and many other places.

[7][7] From the answer to the first question of the Westminster Catechism, “What is the chief end of man?”.

[8][8] Very often God uses a history lesson to remind His peoples of His faithfulness. For a few examples, see Deuteronomy 5:23-33, Joshua 24:1-26, Job 38 – 42, Nehemiah 9, I Corinthians 10:1-13, and Hebrews 11 among many others. Note also the failure of God’s people to keep this history alive in Judges 2:10 – “another generation arose after them [i.e. the faithful ones who had followed Joshua] who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel. God is identifying failure to learn a history lesson as a root cause of unfaithfulness.

[9][9] This understanding of the trivium is best explained in the book Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning by Douglas Wilson and in Dorothy Sayers’ essay “The Lost Tools of Learning” which is contained in its appendix. It refers to an approach to education that served western culture and Christendom well for over 1500 years before it was discarded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

[10][10] Content-oriented education is very popular. It is easy to measure (thus ensuring “accountability” through standardized testing), and can easily be used to impress friends, acquaintances and college admissions committees. The real reason for using the “great books” of antiquity, however, has to do with equipping the students to participate in what Mortimer Adler referred to as “the great conversation.” This requires more than just reading selections and commentaries from an anthology. In today’s politically-correct world, this often boils down to teaching the currently popular answers to the currently popular questions, perhaps bolstered by the deconstruction of an ancient expert. Questioning the reigning dogma is discouraged. But as students use the tools of dialectic and rhetoric to engage these ideas that have shaped western culture, they are equipped to engage the culture as it exists today. This emulates the classical Liberal Arts education, which was literally an education designed to equip students with the skills and methods necessary to exercise their civic responsibilities as free citizens. This is what Douglas Wilson and Dorothy Sayers mean by “Tools of Learning.”

[11][11] Many in the Christian community react to the term “classical” because of its roots in Hellenistic paganism. In one sense, this is exactly the correct response. The Greek philosophers (e.g. Aristotle and Plato) had a thoroughly pagan worldview antithetical to the Bible. To them, the goal of education was to attain the perfection of the ideal man, essentially by their own achievements. One of the most strikingly anti-biblical aspects of this philosophy was the dualism that elevated the abstract “ideal” above the real material world that God made. This dualism contributed to and underlay many early variations of Gnostic heresy addressed in I John and elsewhere in both the scriptures and the writings of early church fathers.

[12][12] John 8:31-32.

[13][13] Exodus 12:36. As Augustine said in On Christian Doctrine,

“If those who are called philosophers, and especially Platonists, have said aught that is true and in harmony with our faith, we are not to shrink from it, but to claim it for our own use from those who have unlawful possession of it .”

It is in this sense that we are “plundering the Egyptians” when we employ a classical approach to education. But as Wes Callihan has observed, if our plan involves plundering the Egyptians, that requires us to know where they keep their “gold”. As such, a classical Christian education will involve studying the “classics” from a Christian perspective, not merely rejecting them as works of unbelievers.

[14][14] Matthew 18:2-5.

[15][15] Many of these ideas are also taken from Charlotte Mason. It is worth noting that her approach to education was aimed primarily at students in what we would call Kindergarten through 3rd grade. Afterwards, her students would enter a more “traditional” (at that time) classical education. At Covenant classical School we see a natural correlation between the Grammar stage and Charlotte Mason methodology. Some of the more obvious “child-like” aspects of the latter will be phased out in the upper Grammar school (4th-6th grades), but the overall emphasis on engaging the students’ interests will be a continuing emphasis at all levels.

[16][16] When considering school options, especially “high school” options, many Christian parents give inordinate emphasis to “College Prep” curricula. In our concern to provide our children with all the advantages that “education” can provide, we often miss the fact that true education extends far beyond the bounds of “formal” education. A classical education at the primary and secondary level prepares a student for a lifetime of education. Furthermore, it is eminently practical in that it prepares the student to think about things Christianly and to make wise choices. It also inculcates both the value of hard work and the satisfaction of accomplishment. With respect to college, this kind of preparation is a far more effective guarantee of success at college than is a traditional “College Prep” approach. In fact, a common manifestation of this traditional approach is one made up of anthologies and excerpts, encouraging students to dabble in a little of everything and tie it all up with politically correct “research” papers. This may teach manipulation, but does little to stimulate a deep engagement with the ideas themselves. Furthermore, we should not presume that college is the automatic “next step” for every child. It is crucial that parents discern (and help their children to discern) God’s calling for their lives. Whatever it may be, they will certainly be better equipped to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever” if they begin with a solid classical education at the primary and secondary school level. The church and the world certainly need theologians and cultural thought-leaders who have read and appreciate Beowulf, but the same is true for engineers, mechanics, plumbers, nurses and (perhaps especially) housewives.

[17][17] Philippians 2:3-11. See also Romans 12:1, I Thessalonians 2:1-9, James 3:1.

1 comment:

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