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Veritas Vox Episode 5 | The History of Classical Education's Revival (part 1)

Veritas Vox Episode 5 | The History of Classical Education's Revival (part 1)

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Is a degree in education actually necessary or useful? Are classically educated students more likely to keep their Christian faith into adulthood? Are homeschool and private Christian school graduates actually able to think for themselves?

Tune in to hear David Goodwin (President of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools) discuss these questions and more with Marlin Detweiler! Plus, David will give you the inside scoop about Good Soil - a survey that compares and reveals how public schooled, private schooled, and homeschooled students hold up in the world as adults.

Episode Transcription

Note: This transcription may vary from the words used in the original episode.

Marlin Detweiler:

Hello again. This is Marlin Detweiler with Veritas Press. This is our podcast called Veritas Vox. And we have today with us David Goodwin, who is the president of ACCS, which stands for the Association of Classical and Christian Schools.

I had the pleasure of being one of the founding board members of ACCS and served on that board for 22 years. David, how many years did we overlap as board members before you took the staff position of President?

David Goodwin:

You know, I'd have to think about that for a little bit, but it seems like it was maybe five years or so.

Marlin Detweiler:

It was at least 5 years. It was we had some wonderful times working together. If you could tell us a little bit about ACCS in general and what your role has you doing for them?

David Goodwin:

Well, during those years that I was on the board as head of school of the Ambrose School in Boise, and you were on the board, I think you were part of the process of recruiting me to ACCS originally. And so I came on board largely to fulfill a bit of a strategic plan that yourself, Marlin, and the board worked out when I was there.

So you were pretty deeply involved in those years of the advancement of the ACCS. We were going at the time from a pretty strong organization of a couple of hundred schools then to around 200 in the membership or to 230. We're now at about 410. And the blessing of the growth has largely been through startups.

So we've had a lot of startups come in, but that was part of the strategic plan that you helped us launch back in… what was that 2014 or something like that?

Marlin Detweiler:

That that could be. I certainly was involved in it. But you're giving me more credit than I deserve. But you have really done some wonderful work. Tell us a little bit about the things that you have accomplished in the time frame, from taking over in the executive role.

David Goodwin:

Well, you know, as an executive of a membership organization, really, it's a bit of a shepherding role, more than an accomplishment role. It's been great to work with the schools I've been able to get to. I think probably my proudest accomplishment is I've gotten to go to over 100 of the schools. Personally, I know there's some out there I haven't gotten to, but that's been a joy.

Just, you know, when you move from the school world into the administrative world, you lose touch with students a lot of times. And now I get to be in classrooms with students all over the country. It's been quite, quite gratifying.

Marlin Detweiler:

As you you've had a background that's beyond education, give us a little bit of that background and how that has helped you in your role that you have now.

David Goodwin:

I started my career…I got a masters in business administration that started my career working for Hewlett-Packard back in the nineties. And I worked in marketing and eventually in business relationships and some strategic marketing work. And so when I came into the classical Christian realm in about 2003 and took on the Ambrose school as a project, I guess you could say, I used a lot of those skills to build it up, and then I was able to bring those with me here to the ACCS.

Marlin Detweiler:

You don't have a background in education?

David Goodwin:

Not other than the school of hard knocks. You know, I made my share of mistakes and hard lessons trying to run a school. Certainly, you learn a lot.

Marlin Detweiler:

Absolutely. Well, I think that's telling. And in my observation and personal experience, not having a background in education myself, that is common for many of the people that we know that have been involved in starting schools, sometimes running schools and certainly being board members on schools. Why do you think that is in classical Christian education?

David Goodwin:

Well, that's a great question, Marlin. And I think a lot of it is because those who are formally trained in education have a lot of skills, but they also have some baggage they bring with them. Because the Dewey and Progressive model is so ubiquitous in the public school system and then consequently in the Christian school system and in a lot of the ancillary accreditation and in other areas that it's really hard to escape the presumptions and the assumptions that come with being immersed in that.

So I think a lot of us came to classical education and said, “Hey, not only does this look different, but it's very different.” And so we learned how to do it without the trappings of being in the educational establishment.

Marlin Detweiler:

I know early on the first school that we were involved in starting was the Geneva School, and that was 1992 when it was started. And I remember initially thinking that a degree in education was a bad thing for a teacher candidate, that it was going to be counterproductive. And in some senses I think it was. But I've also come to appreciate some of the very practical aspects that they've learned in terms of classroom management and maintaining grade books and communication and that sort of thing.

And it's become a bit of a challenge keeping that balance. Have you seen that develop in the last, say, ten years beyond where my early experiences were with of being involved in school management?

David Goodwin:

Well, that's a great question, too. By the way, that was Geneva– in Orlando, Florida, right?

Marlin Detweiler:

That's right. Yeah. 1992 was Geneva. And then in what was it, 2000? No, ‘96 Veritas Academy in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Yeah, when we moved there.

David Goodwin:

Right. And so those were the years when this movement was driven by passion. I think a lot of people saw the value of it and passion still has a pretty big role in it. But one of the to the point of your question, I think you're exactly right that while the Dewey and trappings of popular education can be a problem, they are also, in some sense being trained in the fundamentals of how to do classroom education. Is a good thing.

How do you get one without the other? Well, the simple solution is not that simple, which is you build a parallel system. So that's what the ACCS has been about since, I don't know, you were on the board, so maybe you remember the first year we accredited schools, but I think that was probably 1999 or somewhere in there maybe.

Marlin Detweiler:

Sounds about right. I don't remember when accreditation first started. My memories are about the early years of there being a very small board and a lot of interest in classical ed.

David Goodwin:

Right. And that was what was fueling the movement, I think, early on. But now we're to the point where we call our CADE initiative, which stands for Certification, Accreditation, Diploma authorization and Endorsements, which are basically a bunch of administrative systems we're building to be uniquely classical, because one of the things I've seen of there, all the schools I visited in the last few years, is that it's a struggle to keep the school on vision when everything around you is pushing against the vision.

So we want to build a system that is very uniquely classical and very helpful to schools to help them grow and become the school that they envision.

Marlin Detweiler:

Vision, drift, now that you mention it, I think is one of the great concerns for a school succeeding and maintaining its success. What thoughts do you have for schools that might be listening? What thoughts do you have for people in the homeschool community who might learn from these concerns? There would be ways to know when it's happening and what to do about it.

David Goodwin:

Well, yeah, that's another good question. You know, I think what I see the most often is that the boards of the schools, because they tend to rotate, can tend to lose the vision eventually. It's there at some kind of superficial level in the mission statement and in some of the founding documents. But those don't often get reviewed and boards often have a three year term or something. And so every few years you've got a whole different board.

And one of the things that's kind of anathema to classical education is forgetting the past, right? Forgetting where you came from and who you are. And that's something that progressives told us was irrelevant. You know, where we came from and who we are wasn't something that they cared about.

They cared about where they were going, right? That's the nature of progress. And so we're kind of the antithesis of that. And I think our boards a lot of times can lose sight of that because they change. So I would say the best thing you can do is recruit board members who have shown a particular interest in the classical model before they ever get to your board. And they've read all the books and they are passionate about it. That can be really hard to find. Sometimes you have to cultivate them, but you certainly don't want to bring somebody on the board and then try and see if they can figure it out. It's one who is, you know, Marlin, it's one of those things that I think George Grant calls it “the calling”. Right. Do you see it? If you see it, you're called to it.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, I haven't heard him say that, but that actually sounds like it's very true and worth repeating. Let me change subjects for just a moment here. Within ACCS, you were involved in getting a survey to happen. I'm not even sure the right language for it. The survey is called Good Soil: A Comparative Review. How did it happen? What was the ACCS’s involvement, your involvement in that survey?

I'll ask follow up questions and about what it set out to do and that sort of thing. But stay on those for the beginning and then I'll get into I'm intrigued by the results of the survey and I'll mention why in a few minutes too.

David Goodwin:

Yes, well, I'll credit Hal Whitman up at the Wilberforce School in Princeton for calling me up one day and saying, Hey, we've got all these great SAT score surveys that you guys do that tell how well our students do academically. But I've got a lot of people who want to know how did they do spiritually and how do they do in life?

I mean, what's the bigger picture here? And I said, “Oh, yeah, but you're talking a really tough thing to survey. I don't think we're going to be able to do that.” And he said, “Well, let's see if we can try.” So how? And I went on a hunt around the country for various scholars and academics who had done similar research.

So see if we could find some kind of credible source or place to go. And we went through about three or four and then we landed upon a study that the University of Notre Dame had done previously surrounding five different types of schools. It was sponsored originally, we didn't have any direct tie to it, but it was originally sponsored by the Cardus Institute out of Canada.

And it was a tracking survey. It was some 86 pages long, so it was a pretty exhaustive survey. We did not have any input into the survey because it had been through a tracking survey for those who don't know runs every three or four years just to see how things are comparing.

And so this seemed to be a good opportunity. We linked forces with Notre Dame. The professor there, who had been the lead researcher on it, agreed to run the same survey with our students so we could compare the data. And so the downside is we couldn't ask any question we wanted to. But the upside, I guess, is that when you've got 86 pages of questions, you're probably going to find something worth knowing, right?

Marlin Detweiler:

You get more credit for objectivity in it if you don't get to influence the process.

David Goodwin:

Exactly. Exactly. And so the other thing you said is, “boy, we're going to need a lot of…” because, you know, these surveys, they I know this is going to seem strange or odd to two people, but sometimes you get between 300 and 600 respondents of the full survey's all you need to get a statistical validity, but you have to draw that randomly from a large segment.

So you can't just cherry-pick people. So the next challenge we had was finding thousands and thousands of graduates of classical Christian schools, and that took us about a year, year and a half to find enough names that we could just give them to the researchers, and they could select at random without cherry picking. So we had, I don't know, 3,000 or 4,000 names we gave them.

And they were able then to run the survey in a scientifically valid way. And that's where Good Soil came from. Now, the part that ACCS has contributed besides the money to rerun the survey, was that we took all of the questions because the survey was so massive when Cardus had reported on it, they didn't really draw. They just kind of shotgun.

There was like stuff about church attendance up against, stuff about life and career choices and you know, how many influencers they knew. I mean, it was a massive survey. So what we did is we looked and grouped the survey questions into, I think it was six or seven groupings.

And those covered areas like academic preparedness, Christian walk, Christian worldview, aspects like that, and those six or seven groups became the Good Soil study.

Marlin Detweiler:

Okay. So what you set out to do, make sure I'm turning a question into a clarifying answer because I think you've really answered it already. But what you set out to do was to see how graduates of classical Christian schools that were connected to ACCS were doing as young adults in relation to several different categories against several different population segments.

What were those segments that classically educated kids were compared to?

David Goodwin:

Well, we used the segments that were already existing from the Carter survey. So one was public schools, obviously. Then there were preparatory schools. So these are independent private schools, largely in the preparatory sector, people who live in the north, certain parts of the country, northeast and in the south. These are well-known schools. The average tuition at these schools, according to the government, is about $21,000 a year. So they're pretty pricey places. The third were evangelical Christian schools. And then those are what you would consider like ACSI schools, schools that are associated with the ACCS.

Marlin Detweiler:

The Association of Christian Schools is the largest Christian school organization.

David Goodwin:

Right and right. They have thousands and thousands of members. So that was one group, the evangelical Christian group. The homeschoolers were another one that are in it. And for any of people who are listening to this, you may be homeschoolers. I think it would be interesting some of the data that we got out of the homeschool side was very interesting.

It varied from one side to the other, but it had some stuff that surprised us. We didn't expect to see it.

Marlin Detweiler:

Interesting. Well, you want to unpack that a little bit before you do that, though, let me just make an observation from my vantage point at Veritas. You know, if kids are in a school, you tend to have a bell curve of we'll call it the normal bell curve for being in a classical Christian school and in the homeschool world, I find that there are people the bell curve is probably a little flatter in the middle. It's not quite as high. In the end, it's a little bit higher where people who are doing an exceptional job are on one end and people who are doing short, so, shall we say, not so exceptional. A job, a poor job on the other end, you find them a little bit more spread out about what did you observe in your home school responses?

David Goodwin:

I’ll come back to homeschooling. I’ll just go over the last group and then we'll go to that. The last group was a Catholic. The Catholic school system is obviously even bigger than the ACSI set. So you had the Catholic diocese schools or basically all their schools, the prep schools, the public schools, the evangelical Christian schools in the home schools where the five so the home schools tracked most closely the ACCS of the schools with a few exceptions.

For example, and I really don't want this to be in any way a negative on homeschooling. I'm just reporting the data as we got it. It didn't come through our survey. But one of the interesting things was homeschoolers are as likely to access college as ACCS’s grads. And those two groups are really high, but they don't finish as often. They were not as frequently– they did not complete college. So I think that, you know, there is a few little nuggets in there that just came through the data that we brought in from the national survey.

Marlin Detweiler:

Was the homeschool segment, a specialty segment within homeschooling focused on classical education in the homeschool? Or was it it was a broader group of homesschool?

David Goodwin:

Yeah, it was broad. I mean, again, the you mentioned the fact that we had no influence on the survey as being one validator of the results. The other validator is we did not conduct a survey with the other five. That was all done by Cardus and Notre Dame. So those segments are scientifically studied through the survey techniques that Notre Dame prescribed.

So yeah, the homeschoolers were not picked from any particular group. It was just the broad group of homeschoolers.

Marlin Detweiler:

Interesting. And tell me what the most notable results are. I know there are several, but I'm curious to hear what the ones are that you think were most notable as the survey wound up and you were able to analyze the data?

David Goodwin:

Well, when we first saw the data, it was interesting. The data came in on a day we had a national board meeting. And so our board wanted to see it, of course. And at the time we didn't have really an expectation of any sort. We were just going to see what came in and the different the biggest story in the survey was the difference between classical Christian graduates and everybody else.

The bar charts are pretty greatly different. I as I told you, I worked in the marketing arena in the in the secular world. And part of my job for about five of those years was doing market research around the world on various things. And so I was pretty accustomed to how quantitative research worked. And you usually don't see it especially in a survey of this size with this many respondents, you don't see such big distinctions between one group and another. So probably the biggest thing about the survey that struck me was just how big the differences were.

Marlin Detweiler:

Well, what were some of those areas where the differences were? If there were big differences, where were they? Were they all positive? Were there some that were surprising but negative? What did you observe?

David Goodwin:

Well, boy, it's such a big survey that I have to dust the cobwebs off here to remember, it's been a couple of years since I was deeply into it. But, you know, there were some areas that were really interesting. One of them to me was the percent of students who had close friends as adults. So the survey was uniquely studying people 23 to 43 or 42, I think.

So it's studying post-college alumni and where most the number of close friends hovered, you know, between I think it was two and three, four, you know, really close friends ACCS was I guess seven or something like that. So it was way higher, which was an interesting thing. It put us in the 90th percentile relative to the other school types.

And they were all clustered around the same numbers. So obviously, friendship is not something you normally would think would come out of a school experience. But I think what we saw in that just a little bit of data was that students who grow up in close contact with one another are talking about important and deep things like the great books and you know, all of the work that you good work you do there at Veritas and like Omnibus that kind of thing engenders, sort of a desire in life to cultivate good friendships and deep friendships.

So that showed up in the survey. That was pretty interesting.

Marlin Detweiler:

But one of the things that stood out for me was how the kids did in going through college with regard to keeping and growing their faith compared to the others. Yeah. Are you able to comment on that?

David Goodwin:

Yeah. I mean, that was the original thing we set out to look at is what are their Christian lives look like? Christian life and Christian practice were two of the elements in the survey and in Christian life, things like the frequency of religious service attendance. That was something we thought, you know, obviously that's an easy measure to see.

And so more than three times a month, there were three groups that stood out from the crowd. Obviously, you had the homeschoolers and the ACSI based sort of general Christian schoolers, and they sat at a bit this– I think it was about the 65th percentile. So ACCS grads were in the 90th percentile on that. So there was a much higher rate of church attendance.

The survey was interesting because it's looked at you could really see as a researcher, you could see that they had spanned a lot of different areas. So one would be kind of outcomes. What were the outcomes? Another was attitudes. So one of the attitudes that a lot of these alumni had that really stood out was to a question and said, “I have an obligation to regularly practice spiritual disciplines.” So it's a sort of an attitude questions, “What do you believe that this is true?” ACCS graduates were about 20 points higher than the next highest which was homeschool in that case on that question.

Marlin Detweiler:

But let's let's pursue that a little bit too what within a classical education, would you attribute that difference?

David Goodwin:

Well, I think that one of the things that classical schools emphasize a lot is liturgy and catechism. They memorize a lot of the great psalms, the great works of historical poetry. This kind of work kind of cultivates in young children and then eventually in middle school and high school children, an expectation that spiritual practices that we use on a daily basis, even prayer, need to remain with you throughout life.

It's a richer experience, I think, in a classical school. I think all Christian schools, all evangelical Christian schools are going to do prayer and chapel. I think it's the classical Christian schools that take it to the classroom. And every day there is recitation and discussion about these spiritual practices. And that's why they become more relevant to students.

Marlin Detweiler:

So I have another idea to have you consider on that too, and that is and this is not true of all practices in classical Christian education. It is true in what we've done at Veritas, and I think it's true in many ACCS schools, and that's the idea that they're addressing things from the past that are good and bad, that they're not shying away from reading tough things.

Sometimes those tough things might be familiar and congruent with a classical Christian worldview. Sometimes they might be antithetical. So reading Mein Kampf would clearly be antithetical. But it gives it's a sense of really understanding the historic context and not brushing over it. And they're having to interact with these things and establish a foundation at a time where they're still in a K-12 world.

They're coached more by teachers than they are in a collegiate setting or beyond. And I wonder what you think about that really being impactful for building a deep and strong foundation that can't be shaken as easily?

David Goodwin:

Well, I think that that's clearly true. I think it showed up in many places. And one of them was the one you just referred to. But if you look at the index on independent thought, independent thinkers, as you pointed out, if you're reading Mein Kampf in a Christian school, at least the classical Christian schools I've been to, they have a clear understanding of the wrong in it, but they're willing to engage the ideas with a certain independence, and they're willing to go through the work and give credit where credit's due.

And I think that, in all the works of this, sort of the secular destruction of our country and our Western civilization from Voltaire to all the way through to Marcuse and the French, the Frankfurt School folks, that whole stream of thought that carries through the 19th and 20th centuries is part of what we read.

We don't stick strictly to Scripture. And that's why you see, if you look at independent thought, that's one of the strongest distinctions. Homeschoolers are the next highest group to classical Christian schoolers, but we're at about 30, 30 points over the median and they're at about 20. So if you go to public school, for example, your independent thought is negative ten.

So you can kind of get the picture there.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, I wish you had been able– I understand why, but I wish you'd been able to distinguish educational pedagogy types, specifically classical Christian education, the homeschool community, from what I observe and from what I seek to help create, I believe we would see a lot of congruence between the classical education in home schools and what we see in classical schools.

When we set out to do this interview, we didn't know if it was going to be one session or two. And we've come up on about a 30-minute mark, and so we're going to turn this into two sessions. I hope you, our audience will come back and join David and me. We'll be talking about more things related to ACCS.

There's an exciting thing coming up that we will introduce in the second episode, and we'll start with learning what other initiatives ACCS has planned. David, thank you so much for joining us today. We'll see you again real soon.

David Goodwin:

Hey, mind if I could just interject real quick? If people want to know more about the survey, it's available online at ClassicalDifference.org and it's called Good Soil, so you can find it in there.

Marlin Detweiler:

Thank you so much. I actually meant to say that because when I go looking for it, that's where I go get it. And knowing how to get it is helpful. It's it's a good read. It will really, I think, provide the objectivity that we didn't have back in 1992 when we were out there pitching a classical Christian school in Orlando, talking about what could be.

Now we can look back and say, this is what is and it really is what we thought it would be. In fact, maybe even better. Thank you so much, David. We will see you soon.