Upside Down Education?

My children are spread out from ages 24 to 6, as I currently write this post. With children of varying ages, my wife and I often think, “What do we want for each child?” Each child is different; they are all uniquely made in the image of God. So we must want something different for each? Actually, the answer is no. In one word, parents want their children to be happy. Do the education that most children receive from grade school to high school prepare them for happiness?

Education today, is upside down. High schools teach to the test, focus on skill based, and ultimately have become focused on technological utilization.

Ozark Catholic Academy (OCA) struggles to balance all three key aspects of forming the whole person: the mind, body, and soul.

Peter Crawford in his essay, “Education Right Side Up” published in Humanum discusses the misunderstanding of education in most schools, whether they are classical, private, traditional public, or charter. If you choose not to dive into the essay, below are a few quotations that stand out with a bit of my own reflections.

“Education is about the acquisition of knowledge not for its own sake, but because it opens the door to power.” I do not exactly know how to comment on this utilitarian implementation of education today…

“Finally, the modifier “classical” is often just a code word for “safe” and wholesome, with good books and a Latin requirement.” Ozark Catholic Academy does not call its curriculum “Classical” because there are too many different understandings or definitions of the term. As OCA strives to form our students minds, body and soul, the term liberal education is a more truthful reflection of what we are trying to accomplish. We form our students so that they may be free young men and women when they graduate from OCA.

“The fundamental soil of education is culture and community.” Potential families and students hear these two terms from me often, yet I often do not receive follow up questions. If the heart of OCA or every Catholic school is the Eucharist, culture and community are what direct the faculty and students toward the center. Classrooms are not institutional for conveying facts and skills, but places of relationships and mentoring that actively create and sustain a unique culture and community. Wherever your children attend school, ask yourself how would you describe its culture and community?

“…the vast majority of questions I have received from prospective parents revolve around curricular questions and are generally never about the culture of the school.”

“This means that the first question we should ask is not about book lists, but about how one builds a human community.” OCA focuses on friendships and what does it mean to have authentic friendship. The “real” world is not about navigating your way through the halls of large buildings with another 3,000 students, but rather how to build relationships with your spouse, children, and co-workers. Large public and even private schools are creating cohorts or using the house system, so students and faculty can build some kind of community, but for what end? Friendship is not about transactions; it is about walking side by side with those closest around us toward the same goals. In our professional lives, it is for the success of our business and for our families it is about being in the arms of Christ.

“Though we may be tempted to blame emotional imbalances on puberty and fluctuations of hormones, we must help our children develop stalwart hearts that can withstand the attacks that are bound to arise as they reach adulthood.” Our second year families are given Grit by Angela Duckworth. Solid formation is necessary for our children not to acquiesce to society’s immediate whims, particularly from what they receive through social media. OCA does not hide students from the world, but rather truly embraces the scripture that we are lambs but should be as cunning as wolves. Guiding our students through worldly experiences grounds them for the practice of prudence. As our seniors graduate in May, it is less than three months that most of them will be on their own in college.

“Conventionally, schools tend to reduce intellectual formation to an encyclopedic dimension. Classes focus primarily on factoids and computation.”

“Classical academies provide richer courses of study than their conventional counterparts. Their students read better literature, study classical languages, and, if they are fortunate, many even develop as mathematical thinkers rather than mere computational experts.”

“…we begin to see the glimmer of formation—not just knowledge acquisition, but the cultivation of understanding—that is possible with a deep curriculum.” OCA does not offer the plethora or cafeteria variety of course electives, but rather chooses its courses carefully. If someone asks, “Describe the curriculum of OCA in one word?” Deep.

“But take away the vibrant community, the virtue of humility, or the love of the teacher, and the classics alone may be insufficient to form the minds, hearts and bodies of our young.” Docilitas is one of the words of our school motto. It can be defined as to be open to learning something new. When a potential teacher is applying to OCA, we are looking for depth and expertise in content, and classroom relations, but a teacher but be a person of docilitas. A classroom full of children with iPads in their hands all filled with the best age appropriate writings fiction and non-fiction, will not form students minds, bodies and souls. Teachers, living out their faith through professional excellence will form our children.

“Education is a formation in reality.”

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