Back in the heady days of my youth, many things were much better than they are today. The cartoons were Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. The news was only 30 minutes each day, and we had Classical Rock instead of the musical chaos of current “pop” music. These Classic Rock groups were geniuses. They made money without utter coherent thoughts. One of my favorite groups was Van Halen. They wrote a song that went, I believe, to number one on the pop charts called “Jump.” This was on the famous 1984 album. (Note, the thoughtful reference to Orwell—like I said, geniuses.) The song’s lyrics focused on the word “jump”. The context is rather vague. One has to think hard to find a deeper meaning, and these fellows racked in millions.
Now, of course, Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth were, as best I can tell, not geniuses. Eddie might have been a genius guitarist, but no one will be listening to “Jump” 50 years from now. I am translating Van Halen’s lyrics into Latin, but this is just for my enjoyment…and with the level of repetitiveness, I might be able to do it without learning much Latin.
Still, that word sort of sticks with you. Jump! I wanted to focus this post on whether those considering “jumping” into the rigors of classical Christian education should “Go ahead and jump” or not. Here are three great principles for making that decision:
Principle 1: Know Your Why
Who (or What) Do You Love about Classical Christian Education? Everything you do should have an underlying “why” and this “why” should be shared with the whole family. You’re likely considering jumping into classical Christian education for a reason. Generally, classical Christian education is more rigorous than most other forms of education. This rigor might be the very thing that is attracting you as a parent because you want your child to be prepared for God’s calling and to be useful in that calling.
Great classical Christian schools are not only about rigor. They run on love and on stirring up the interest of the student. In The Seven Laws of Teaching, John Milton Gregory advocates that teachers should be aiming to move students toward what he calls “secondary passive attention”. This type of attention occurs when a teacher makes the lesson so fascinating that the student is enchanted by learning. When teachers inspire this sort of love, one can understand why classical Christian students are willing to work so hard.
Rigor for the sake of rigor will be tolerated by some students, but it will harden others. Rigor in an environment of love and fascination will lead to incredible accomplishments.
As a parent, you need to know the teacher(s) that are going to be partnering with you. Are they rigorous? So far so good. But are they also teachers who love the subject matter so much that they will naturally “infect” the students with this love?
One final note on this point: the older the student, the more necessary it is to have a level of buy-in from the student. In high school, a student can dig their heels in and fight in ways that might make the transition difficult or impossible. Your “why” shouldn’t just be for the parent. It needs to be a conversation with the students to take ownership of why they are in classical education too. Listen to their concerns, dreams, and interests as you contemplate your “why” together.
Principle 2: Know Your Student’s Work Ethic
Many parents think that the most important factor in making the transition to classical Christian education is a child’s academic abilities. These parents often come in for an interview and, after playing coy for a minute or two, say something like, “Billy is gifted, so we think classical education would be a good fit for him.” Of course, intellectual ability is helpful in just about every area of life. It is not, however, the most important factor in succeeding in a rigorous classical Christian environment.
Work ethic is more important than ability because most students in classical Christian education aren’t gifted. They only look gifted because schools keep running more slowly. Recently,
I had a student transfer from another school. At that school, he was far and above the top student in his grade academically. When he started classical Christian education, he realized that he was not at the top of the class. He was, as he described, “in the middle of the pack.” What happened next was the important part. He worked. In fact, he worked so much that his parents and I had to help him gear down.
If your child is of normal abilities and he or she has a good work ethic, they are going to thrive in classical Christian education almost all the time. This assumes that they are sufficiently bought in on the “why” and willing to try their best.
Principle 3: Set Expectations to Match Your Environment
Finally, after looking at your motivation and your child, you need to take into account the speed of the environment and set your expectations accordingly. Some schools run faster than others. In a recent post on “The Veritas Difference”, I pointed out that when we were making pacing decisions, we did not look at other schools; we looked back at what students could do historically. This means that Veritas Press and schools that run at its pace are running a little bit faster than other classical schools.
This speed can be a positive in the long run. For students that are raised in it, they tend to soar through college. Many of them have no idea how fast they are going compared to their peers. Recently, a parent shared this conversation with me concerning her seventh-grade son’s interaction with his friends on a community football team:
CCE Student: “What books are you reading in school?”
Other Player: “What do you mean?”
CCE Student: “Like books. You know.”
Other Player: “We don’t read books in school. What are you reading.”
CCE Student: “The Odyssey…”
He was flabbergasted because he figured that they might be reading stuff like he was.
That the first venture into classical Christian education can be bumpy for a while.
The transferring student, however gifted, will likely be entering an environment that is moving faster than they are used to. This can feel scary and overwhelming. My advice is simply to expect this challenge and to widen the student’s margins for the first couple of quarters by narrowing afterschool commitments. You might want to diminish extracurriculars like sports for a time, but note that this sometimes is so demotivating to a student that it is unwise.
Cut back on what you can and have a time of getting used to the pace. If the first two principles above are in line: knowing your why and knowing your student’s work ethic, then this ramping up time will be limited and before you know it, the rigor felt at the beginning will be much more manageable because their academic “muscles” are stronger. And soon, they’ll have more time on their hands for extracurriculars, and some Classics and classic rock scholar might try to convince them:
Marturus satis es, saltare totem noctem.
(You’re old enough to dance the night away!)
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