classical education


Living in a Circle

He was called the gadfly of Athens for good reason, pestering 5th century Greeks with endless questions. Ultimately, the Athenians shut him up by giving him hemlock to drink, ostensibly for polluting the minds of Athenian youth. But his quest for wisdom remains and is embodied in anyone who admits ignorance in order to find truth.

Imagine Socrates having a conversation with a college student on the campus of a contemporary American university. Author Peter Kreeft envisions just this scenario in The Best Things in Life. Here we pick up in the middle of a conversation between Socrates and college student Peter Pragma (Pragma – get it?):

Socrates: What do you need money for?

Peter: Everything! Everything I want costs money.

Socrates: For instance?

Peter: Do you know how much it costs to raise a family nowadays?

Socrates: And what would you say is the largest expense in raising a family nowadays?

Peter: Probably sending the kids to college.

Socrates: I see. Let’s review what you have said. You are reading this book to study for your exam, so that you can pass it and your course, to graduate and get a degree, to get a good job, to make a lot of money, to raise a family and send your children to college.

Peter: Right.

Socrates: And why will they go to college?

Peter: Same reason I’m here. To get good jobs, of course.

Socrates: So they can send their children to college?

Peter: Yes.

Socrates: Have you ever heard the expression “arguing in a circle”?

Peter: No, I never took logic.

Socrates: Really? I never would have guessed it.

Peter: You’re teasing me.

Socrates: Really?

Peter: I’m a practical man. I don’t care about logic, just life.

Socrates: Then perhaps we should call what you are doing “living in a circle.” Have you ever asked yourself a terrifying question? What is the whole circle there for?

Kreeft, through the voice of Socrates, is exposing a great flaw of modern thinking about education: pragmatism. A pragmatic philosophy of education puts people on the hamster wheel of passing tests to pass classes to get degrees to get jobs to make money to have children who will start the vicious cycle all over again.

There is certainly a practical dimension to education. We need jobs that will pay bills, and our children need them also. But something we need more than jobs and money is an answer to Socrates’ question: “What is the whole circle there for?” And that is precisely what classical Christian education brings to the table.

The wealth of wisdom bequeathed to us from the Great Tradition and a robust Christian worldview show us the way. And when children are immersed in the wisdom and virtue and worldview-shaping influences of the Great Conversation, under the tutelage of godly teachers committed to Christian truth, then our children learn not just skills that will get them jobs and money but receive eternal gifts that surpass these things beyond measure.

“What is the whole circle there for?” We strive to take this question into account every day as we educate children at Regents Academy. We are glad to partner with you to do so.


Music and Memorization: Tried-and-True Methods

Recently the Imaginative Conservative published an article titled “How Music and Memorization Can Save Our Failing Schools.” The article, by Annie Holmquist, suggests that tried-and-true methods such as rote learning are a big part of the cure for what is ailing contemporary education. Indeed, classical Christian education goes “back to the future,” with its rediscovery of practices used for centuries but largely abandoned in most contemporary settings. Holmquist’s article is well worth your time.

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How Music and Memorization Can Save Our Failing Schools

By Annie Holmquist

We all want the best for our kids. Because of this desire, it’s quite discouraging to see when efforts to boost progress in reading, math, and other subjects flatline in schools across the country.

On the other hand, this perpetual stagnation causes us to sit up and notice when a school manages to boost its achievement in dramatic fashion.

Such is the case with Feversham Primary Academy in Great Britain. According to The Guardian, Feversham was a failure a few years ago. Achievement was low and seemed unlikely to improve given that many students hail from disadvantaged backgrounds or are English Language Learners.

But as The Guardian explains, the school began using the “Kodály approach, which involves teaching children to learn, subconsciously at first, through playing musical games.” By teaching these musical games and encouraging memorization of classic works such as Shakespeare, the school has experienced the following change:

Seven years ago Feversham was in special measures and making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Today it is rated ‘good’ by Ofsted and is in the top 10% nationally for pupil progress in reading, writing and maths, according to the most recent data. In 2011, the school was 3.2 percentage points behind the national average in English. This year 74% of its pupils achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, against a national average of 53%. It is 7.1 points above the average for reading and 3.4 above for writing. In maths, the school was 2.4 points behind the national average in 2011 and is now 6.5 above it. Its results for disadvantaged pupils are well above average.

Such increases are quite impressive and appear to mirror the forty percent achievement gains another British school experienced after incorporating Shakespeare into lesson plans.

So why is it that these simple techniques appear to produce such stellar results?

The answer to that question may be found in what music and memorization appear to do the brain. Research suggests that exposing children to music fosters brain development and boosts their “vocabulary and reading ability.” Likewise, memorization “exercises” a child’s brain, training children to pay attention while also laying a foundation upon which they can build future facts and insights.

These components are core elements of classical education. In the grade school years, also known as the grammar stage, classical education capitalizes on the love children have for rote learning, using songs and rhymes to instill historical dates, scientific facts, and famous literature in their brains. When they move beyond these years, they find they have a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips from which they can draw, make connections, and spin off new thoughts.

The funny thing is, while this common-sense approach to early childhood education was standard practice for centuries, it has been abandoned in recent years. Shunning rote learning, we have instead told young children to draw on their own (limited) experience or feelings when completing school assignments.

Classical education methods of music and rote learning have been experiencing a revival in many home and private schools in recent years and have enjoyed a good deal of success. The dramatic turnaround in the Feversham school suggests the success of these methods is not limited to those of a “privileged” status.

Is it time we ask ourselves if modern schools have been too hasty in tossing out the rote learning methods of music and memorization?


Monk Day

Thursday, November 29, was Monk Day for the 7th and 8th graders, who recently studied the Rule of St. Benedict and medieval monasticism. They interspersed periods of prayer and Bible reading with work and study, in imitation of medieval monks. Several of the students dressed in monk attire. All the students practiced copying and illuminating Scripture passages. The students also did extensive work on the school campus — raking, building above ground flower beds, spreading mulch, and moving dirt.

Pictured below are the monks: solemn, working, and gleeful. It was a great day!


Like a Rose

It is clear that the Liberal Arts—classically understood to be the study of grammar, logic, and rhetoric—has become passé in the modern context. Part of the reason, it is claimed, is that the study of these arts is not directly related to any particular marketable skill; there is no quantifyable payoff for mastering these disciplines, no price tag on them. Many employers are ready and willing to purchase a person’s skill or knowledge in medicine, mechanics, engineering, or accounting, to name a few—there is a price tag on these disciplines. But, ironically, the value of the Liberal Arts lies precisely in their intransitive nature; that is, “the effects of studying these arts stays within the individual and perfects the faculties of the mind and spirit” (Marguerite McGlinn). They cannot be purchased in the job market, for no amount of currency is worthy of them.

In her wonderful book, The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric, Sister Miriam Joseph likens the study of the Liberal Arts to the blooming of a rose.

In true liberal education…the essential activity of the student is to relate the facts learned into a unified, organic whole, to assimilate them as…the rose assimilates food from the soil and increases in size, vitality, and beauty. […] The utilitarian or servile arts enable one to be a servant—of another person, of the state, of a corporation, or of a business—and to earn a living. The liberal arts, in contrast, teach one how to live; they train the faculties and bring them to perfection; they enable a person to rise above his material environment to live an intellectual, a rational, and therefore a free life in gaining truth.

The teacher of the Liberal Arts, then, is like a rose gardener, carefully pruning and producing conditions conducive to growth. Yet, the analogy can’t be pressed beyond this point, since the rose gardener is actually a rose himself, steadily being cultivated by the Liberal Arts.

May the classical understanding of the value of the Liberal Arts be redeemed in our day to the glory of God.


Why Parents Should Attend the ACCS Conference June 21-23

Regents Academy is a member of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools (ACCS). This organization is a great partner for our school as we seek to provide an excellent classical Christian education for our children. The ACCS national conference is in Dallas this year on June 21-23. Most of the staff and board are attending, but it will be a great conference for parents also.

I want to encourage all Regents parents to consider going. I promise: you will not regret it!

Recently ACCS listed some benefits for parents who attend:

  • Insight into the differences of the classical classroom;
  • Encouragement by seeing the “big picture” vision of the classical movement: i.e., we are not alone in this endeavor and we are not crazy. This reinforces the commitment to a classical and Christian education;
  • Answers to questions parents are either reluctant to ask or don’t know how to ask;
  • Better understanding ofthe parental role in the education process, the distinct advantages of a classical and Christian education, the Trivium and the important differences of each stage, and the need for a rigorous program of study.

If you are interested in attending or want more information, please see me. You can also visit the ACCS website at accsedu.org. We would love for a group of parents to accompany us on the trip!


Learning Can Be Fun?

Among my many duties at Regents Academy, I teach the junior and senior Omnibus course each afternoon. I enjoy it immensely because I love being in the classroom with students, and I love literature and ideas. This year we are studying the Medieval millennium and its many worldviews and impacts. Augustine, Boethius, Dante, Machiavelli – the authors we are reading are an honor roll of some of the most influential thinkers of Western civilization.

The timeline of events, personalities, and history in our class this year has paralleled the 4th grade class’s study of history as they, too, have focused on the years from the close of the Ancient period to the opening of the Renaissance. Mrs. Katrina Terrell, the 4th grade teacher, and I decided to seize the opportunity of our two classes studying much of the same material and bring them together to work side-by-side on some projects.

First, at the end of last semester my class studied the Crusades by reading a firsthand account written by Geoffrey de Villehardouin, a general in the Fourth Crusade. The 4th grade class also studied the Crusades, so the juniors and seniors prepared brief presentations to share what they knew with the 4th graders. They were delighted to discover that their younger schoolmates knew much of the same material and had eager minds to take in new information. Afterward, the 4th graders were allowed to ask questions of the high schoolers: “What is Omnibus?” “What science do you take?” “Do you drive to school?”

Also, we decided to team up the classes for a Medieval Feast. Boy oh boy, what a great time! Parents decorated the Great Room as a banquet hall and prepared authentic Medieval food for the students to eat with their fingers in authentic Medieval style. There was a castle cake and a stained-glass window with a knight fighting a dragon. The students came in costume and presented entertainments. And the students worked together in young-old teams to give presentations on various facets of life in Medieval times. Then after the feast they went outside to play games together.

One of the real blessings of the whole event was the preparation for it, when the juniors and seniors teamed up with 4th grades to prepare their presentations. They were like big brothers and sisters (at their best), leading their younger schoolmates and encouraging them to contribute to the presentations. It was a real delight to see them busily and happily at work side-by-side, laughing and discussing Medieval monks, scholars, soldiers, ladies, artists, pilgrims, and lords.

As I reflect on our classes’ partnership, Mrs. Terrell and I really are very thankful. Groundwork laid in the grammar school is reinforced and built up on the secondary school; ideas and events come around again, and students are allowed to build on what they know. Regents students really do love each other. Seeing the older students working with the younger students is a treasure. Class events like the Medieval feast are memories that students take with them forever. They will remember the day they dressed up in costumes, ate strange food, and feasted in Medieval style with the big kids.

And then, too, I am reminded that at our school, school really is about learning, and learning can be fun. Sounds revolutionary, eh?


2012 Medusa Mythology Exam

This year Regents Academy students in 6th-12th grades have the opportunity to compete in the Medusa Mythology Exam.

The exam is open to public, private, and home-school students. The theme for this year’s test is “Malicious Monsters and Monstrous Mortals.” It is a 50-question, multiple choice, 40-minute test that will be administered the last week of March. The fee is $3, and registrations are due by the end of January. Top achievers are eligible for cash awards.

For more information you can check out www.medusaexam.org. The sign-up sheet for Regents students is on the extracurricular board in the back hallway.


What … Me? … Latin?

Something very new for most parents whose children begin at a classical school is Latin. Why do we teach Latin? Why should students learn Latin? And most importantly, how can our children succeed at Latin?

Cheryl Lowe at Memoria Press offers some excellent insight in response to this last question. Let me recommend to you her article “Four Principles of Latin Study.” These are principles to guide a Latin program, but they are also useful for parents who want to help their children succeed at learning this essential language.

Please follow the link and read her helpful article.