“I was talking to a co-worker about the complexity of our times today, and I mentioned the Cold War, and they had no idea what I was referring to,” lamented my 20-year-old this week.
I remember my first visit to a classical Christian school. I had never heard the term “classical,” but my husband and I were intrigued as we thought about how we wanted our children to spend most of the waking hours of their next 12 years of life. As we arrived at the school for a tour, we overheard a small group of young high school kids deeply engaged in a theological discussion. We were astounded at their level of casual conversation and their application to current events. “That is what we want our children to be able to do,” my husband said.
Indeed, both the practical and substantive benefits of a classical Christian education are what many want and say we need. In his book, The Global Achievement Gap, Tony Wagner, senior research fellow at The Learning Policy Initiative and the first Innovation Education Fellow at Harvard’s Technology & Entrepreneurship Center, advocates teaching and using seven survival skills that remarkably align with the benefits of a classical Christian education. Derived from interviews with many of America’s top business leaders and observations in hundreds of classrooms, the former teacher tells how he has noticed a vast difference between what is happening in education and what we need:
Here at Habersham, we often ask: Who will your child become? We believe a robust, serious-minded liberal arts education and an authentic, serious-minded focus on Christ are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they only work together. So who are our children becoming? Do they possess these survival skills amidst our chaotic world? What evidence do we have that classical Christian education (CCE) is actually working?
If only stories counted. There’s loads of anecdotal feedback. Across all spectrums of academic, arts, and athletics life, people regularly tell us how our alumni and students stand out. College professors write to us about how remarkable our alumni are. Business owners tell us. Sports officials tell us. But beyond re-telling these stories, how do we know?
THE NOTRE DAME STUDY
Enter Notre Dame University and the Association of Classical Christian Schools. Challenged by a donor wondering what evidence there was to substantiate our claims of the spiritual influence of CCE, Head of The Wilberforce School in Princeton, NJ, Howe Whitman (cousin of our own Mrs. Carin Hining), asked David Goodwin, president of the Association of Classical Christian Schools that very question.
As David Goodwin explains in Classical Difference magazine:
Our search led to an expansive study done by the University of Notre Dame on behalf of Cardus, a foundation that tracks the outcome of five school segments of alumni, aged 23-44…We looked at the 85 or so pages of questions asked by Notre Dame. They asked about beliefs and attitudes, priorities, and practices, on a wide array of topics. So many, in fact, that we had to group them. As we saw the data unfold, seven groupings emerged: outlook on life, academic preparation, Christian commitment, Christian life, conservative and traditional, independent thought, and cultural influence.
We contacted the researcher at the University of Notre Dame Sociology Department and asked if he would conduct the same survey but using ACCS alumni as a proxy for classical Christian education. He said he could but that to get a valid sample, he would need around 3,000 names. When we got him just over 2,500 random alumni names he started to work…
In the winter of 2019, the results of our study arrived, by happenstance, during our ACCS annual board meeting. We opened them. The differences were pronounced. I wish each of you could have been there as we went slide by slide through them, taken aback by the results.
Perhaps the most pronounced finding is just how pronounced the differences are. The study compares classical schools to five other educational categories: evangelical schools, religious homeschools, Catholic schools, private preparatory schools, and public schools.
OUTLOOK ON LIFE
When considered as a whole, the first category, outlook on life, is a broad and significant one, expressing in a sense how well-adjusted and content CCE graduates are, regardless of circumstances. Here, CCE alumni show they have a clear sense of direction, strong sense of gratitude, understanding of God’s plan (even in suffering), a healthy sense of trust in others, and close friendships. In fact, nearly 90% of the alumni reported more close friends than the median, and 86% are goal-oriented, compared to 65% at the next highest category, evangelical schools.
As a movement, the resurgence of classical Christian education began about 30 years ago. There is much we are still learning about its recovery and that we are still learning as schools. We know we have centuries of proven history from the past, but to know how effective the recovery has been over the last 30 years is meaningful.
Of course, the results are generic in a sense (they aren’t based specifically on Habersham students), but they reflect a cross-section of students all educated with a firm commitment to Christ’s preeminence in all things, rich Socratic discussion, and a robust study of the ideas (science, philosophy, theology, history, literature) that flow from reading the great books. As CCE continues to grow, results of studies such as this Notre Dame one, will continue to help us pinpoint our results, and hopefully, will allow more Christians to see the value of this once lost educational paradigm.
As Americans around the country now wrestle with a significant confluence of historical, moral, and scientific questions, now more than ever, this paradigm is needed.
“A classical education is centered in the idea that there is objective truth, both physical and metaphysical,” says Habersham Dean of Faculty & Academics, Jacquie Miller. “A classical educator arms a student to seek the truth, by nurturing curiosity and honing the skill and discipline needed to read widely, listen carefully, think analytically, and discuss from the perspective of dialectic, knowing that each of our lenses allow us to see but a sliver of the whole.”
Miller continues, “Classical education roots a student’s understanding in the context of the story of mankind with an emphasis on history that reveals over time the foundation on which his life is positioned. It teaches him to understand the ideas behind the decisions made in the past, and to evaluate the merit of ideas according to the fruit they bore when lived out. The classically educated student is thus prepared to accept or reject the ideas that pass for currency in his own time.”
Habersham exists for such a time as this.
Stay tuned for detailed survey results on the next categories – academic preparation and Christian life and commitment.
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