College or trade school? Technology or books? STEM or STEAM? What exactly do today’s children need to succeed at the next stage of life? Of course, these are important questions. We all want our children to be happy, prepared to live independent lives, gainfully employed, off our payroll. So what does this look like? These days, with the ever-evolving global economy, can we even know? Perhaps not, but I believe two important factors arise from the question.
Pascal Was All the Rage Once
First, to best prepare children for life, we need to think more broadly. In 1989, I took a course called AP Pascal. From my distant recall, this was some form of computer science class. Such courses actually have much to teach us in the form of logical thinking, but from what I understand Pascal as a computer programming language is mostly dead. What I gleaned from this very foreign, very challenging course in terms of its practical intent, I never actually used, as I became a writer and educator and sadly, never studied science again. But what it may have taught me from a logical thinking perspective, well, that’s probably up for debate too. The point though, is that seeing the value of learning beyond the practical is important. This is where the true meaning is. This is where life-long learning can be found.
Envision Experience, an organization dedicated to providing innovative tools, techniques, and real-world experiences that facilitate critical thinking as students discover their passions and explore career opportunities, recently wrote about the enigmatic 21st century skills all students should be developing. They wrote: Hanover Research recently analyzed *six major educational frameworks designed to improve the development of 21st century skills. While each framework has a slightly different list of critical 21st century skills, all agree on four critical areas for development:
- Creativity and imagination
- Critical thinking
- Problem solving
- Collaboration and teamwork
Our students study the liberal arts, a pursuit often relegated as impractical in today’s technology age. But as many experts are now discovering (see this Washington Post article as one example), it’s the thinking and problem-solving and creativity, in whatever discipline students study or art or vocation they pursue, that is most needed.
In all subjects, from the youngest four-year-olds to the seniors, Habersham emphasizes thinking, problem-solving, creativity, ingenuity – all the skills needed to be inventive, whether in science, math, the arts, or humanities. We teach students how to learn, and give them the tools of learning, so they retain their love of learning. We are determined to develop students able to navigate the complex waters of the 21st century and inspire others in their wake. And we utilize the time-honored tradition of Classical education and an unapologetic commitment to the truth of Christ to carry out this vision.
Andy Griffith Got It Wrong Once
Which brings me to my second point. We absolutely all need our children to have jobs and earn a living, but is that all? Doesn’t it seem that’s what society so often says to us? As parents, don’t we struggle with living on the foundation of our children’s identity? It makes us feel good when our children achieve. We scroll through the social media posts of children’s accomplishments – the honor roll and the mvp and the points and the accolades, but is that what matters most? Hard-earned achievement is certainly something to be celebrated, but I also think we must work hard to make sure it is not the only thing or the most important thing. Our children know when we act like we love them because of their achievement. They wonder, consciously or unconsciously: What happens when I am no longer the best?
One of my favorite Andy Griffith episodes features a time when Opie unwittingly earned all As on his report card. Apparently, this was quite an unusual feat for Opie, so when Mrs. Crump handed him that card with all those As, he ran straight home to tell his pop. For the next week, Andy tells everyone in town about Opie’s report card. He brags and brags about how smart his boy is. He buys Opie a new bike because he is so proud of him. Problem was, the morning after Mrs. Crump handed out the report cards, she discovered she had simply made an error, and Opie did not, in fact, earn all As at all. For several days, as pride for Opie swells in the town and with Andy and Aunt Bee, Opie agonizes over how to tell his dad that he isn’t actually that smart and he hadn’t actually earned the As. Of course, in classic Andy style, he realized his mistakes, and because of his relationship with Opie, love is restored. But the episode is always a good reminder to me of how easy it is to inadvertently show our children conditional love. And this struggle is equally challenging for teachers.
In my life, so far, nothing has left me more on my knees in prayer than experiencing my children leave the house and move on to college. For so long, life felt like this constant push, a race, to make sure they had all they needed, every opportunity to be their very best and pursue every – thing. To make sure we had done all we could to share Christ with them. And this is not a knock on well-rounded children. We loved watching ours play both on the court and on the stage and in the art studio. But what I find myself so surprised by is that I no longer care nearly as much about making sure they have all the opportunities. Whether they are janitors or CEOs, I just want to know, that when life gets hard (which it is) they know, that they know, that they know – who they are in Christ. That they are seeking who Christ called them to be. That they know who will be there when the people around them fail them.
Alumni Know It All – Well, Once
I was talking to Habersham alumna Ashlyn Burnsed ‘17 today (look for a future feature), and she described how often her professors ask her where she went to high school. She said they recognize she is different because of how she completes her work or her attitude or how engaged she is. In fact, in another conversation today, Professor Bill Norton described her as: “simply extraordinary on every dimension, not just her academic excellence, but her work ethic and attitude and competencies…”
As a parent, I am enormously grateful for the Habersham teachers who left such an indelible mark on our boys. They never experienced anything but classical education, taught by fallible, but deeply committed Christian teachers who cared for them. They’ll never know what it would be like to grow taught in any other way, so in many ways, it may take time for them to fully appreciate their education, but I see it every time we are together, and in almost every conversation. What they talk about, what they care about – their education made a difference. As theologian GK Chesteron said, “Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.” I am grateful for the soul that Habersham passed on.
Alumna Grace Miller ‘19, Stanford University, had this to say about her Habersham experience: “Teaching someone to find a derivative or write an essay is straightforward. Teaching someone to lead, to follow, to give everything, to take everything, to do what it takes, to sing in the silence, to fall flat on their face, to keep trying, to love people completely, and to never settle, is difficult. Habersham didn’t just teach me eleventh grade math, it taught me who I am and why.”
Christ in All Things – Always
To see ALL learning – on the field, off the field, in the classroom, at the lunch table, on the court, on the stage, in science, in math, in art, in humanities, in conversation, in lectures, in practice, in the hall, on the trip – to see it all through the prism of Christ is how we teach more fully. The 15,120 hours our children spend in school are invaluable times of learning, and we take them seriously. At Habersham, we see the purpose of education differently. So in the end, the “or”questions tend to set up false dichotomies. So often the answer is “and,” not “or.” Thus, Habersham is a place where we study all the liberal arts and let children explore, restore, and live. It is a place where invention meets tradition. And where we are always asking: Who will your child become?
Angie Copetillo is the Chief Communications Officer and Head of School Emeritus. She was the founding Head of School when Habersham was started in 2012. She earned a graduate certificate in School Leadership & Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and School of Business and is a proud graduate of the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism.