From Our Academic Dean

Dear friends,

Nothing is free, except for God’s love and grace. Beyond that, everything comes with a cost.

When Gabe and I were discussing educational choices for our kids back in 2010, Sam, our now-fifth-grader, was enrolled at a North Denver preschool. Space in the pre-k class for the next year was limited, and in order to secure him a spot, I was required to take on a lot of responsibility and leadership in the school. And even then, the question remained: What about kindergarten and beyond? Our neighborhood schools were not an option as they consistently rank poorly, and I had been told to not even attempt to choice into the most desirable schools in our district. Everyone wanted spots there, so the chances were slim.

That's when Gabe said we should start looking for a private school. I was speechless. My view of private school at the time was very limited, and I assumed it would be out of our reach financially. But Gabe reassured me. We would make it work, he said. His parents had put him in private school, and if they had made it work, so could we.  

Around the same time, a friend invited me to an open house for a new Christian classical school that was opening up in the neighborhood. After hearing about the vision and mission of the school and meeting some of its founding families, I knew that if I would be required to spend my time and invest in a school wherever our kids attended, I would rather do that for a Christian school where truth, beauty, and virtue would be held up to my kids every day.    

And the rest, they say, is history. Well, sort of.

Our kids have been continuously enrolled at ACA since then, and as of last year, we have outspent the entire cost of Gabe’s college education. That can be a sobering fact to think about. Friends with children enrolled at public school often look at me in disbelief and ask how can we afford -- and can continue to afford year after year -- private school. But at the end of the day, how can we not afford to send them to ACA?  

Further, how can we afford to have our kids spend the majority of their waking hours in an environment that is opposed to the truth of the Gospel?

How can we afford to put our kids in the public school system that consistently produces students who are not prepared for college or life?

How can we afford to have our kids in a system that holds them to ever decreasing standards?

How can we subject our kids to sub-par curricula that are not worthy of their time and energy?

Education always comes with a cost, and even public education is not free. Recently I was talking with a Christian mom whose kids are enrolled in a public school. Because of this, she does not work outside of the home and instead spends many hours a week volunteering at her kids’ school. More importantly, she said she needs to have the emotional energy to debrief with her kids every night, to help them process and make sense of all that they see, learn, and experience at their school. To me, that seems like the more expensive choice in many ways.

As a parent and teacher at ACA, I love the richness of our curriculum, that our kids study real history and not social studies, that they read the great classics of literature and not third-rate books that advance the popular political or ideological agenda of the day. And, included in this rich tapestry of learning, my kids are constantly being pointed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the real source of truth, beauty, and virtue. To me, that is worth every penny. And then some.

Amanda Rodriguez
Dean of Academics

From Our Board Chair

Dear Fellow ACA Parents,

In this season of thankfulness and celebration, I have been reflecting on the good work of parenting. It is a calling that comes with both great costs and great joys.

God reminds us through His word that our children are a blessing, and He leads by example as a loving and thoughtful Father to us. Because we're created in the image of God, the gift of parenting includes bearing the weight of many responsibilities -- from providing life-giving support to our infant children, to bringing them up in the wisdom and instruction of the Lord as they grow older, to preparing them for independence and influence in their latest years. These responsibilities most strongly influenced the early conversations my wife Brady and I had about how we should educate our boys, Waverly and Jensen. Three central themes emerged from our conversations:

1) How do we ensure that our boys are having their worldview comprehensively shaped by biblical precepts, and that they are growing spiritually?

2) How do we provide and model contexts where the Gospel is demonstrated and proclaimed, particularly to the unbelieving world around us?

3) How do we best fulfill our responsibility for stewarding our boys’ intellects, ensuring that they are effectively challenged and growing academically?

We concluded that the environment at ACA is one where children are consistently and continually pointed to the truth of God’s word and encouraged to live in light of that truth.  When we hear faculty and staff speak to our boys, we see significant alignment between what they hear at ACA and what they hear from us at home about who Christ is and who they are in light of Christ.  Further, when we considered the people with whom our boys would spend more of their waking hours during school than they would with us, getting to know the competent and loving faculty at ACA instilled a confidence that Gospel-centric living is being modeled for students every day.

When it came to weighing the options for an academically rigorous environment, we were pretty well sold when, at both a recitation and a classroom visit, we heard students demonstrating their Latin skills and (here’s the clincher) seeing them classify sentences using English terms that I’m not sure I ever knew.  While these skills are impressive in their own right, to us they were illustrative of a curriculum that holds students to high yet attainable standards while clearly developing the fundamental skills to equip them for lives of learning.

I share our family’s perspective because my prayer is that you are encouraged to consider the ways in which your own family has been blessed by this amazing community at ACA. As you recount those blessings, I also pray that you pause to consider how you might contribute financially to the continued health and growth of ACA. It is true that our investments of time, talent, and treasure bespeak our loves, and I hope that you will consider joining us as we seek to apply our love of ACA in our investments. As you’re likely aware, ourend-of-year fund raising campaign is in full swing, and we endeavor to maximize those contributions by meeting our goal of raising at least $25,000, which will be matched by a generous donor. 

I want each of you to know how grateful I am that you are part of our incredible community. May this Christmas season bring quiet moments to soak in the indescribable wonder of God’s grace in sending His son Jesus, as well as loud moments of celebrating His coming with exceeding joy. May you form precious memories with family and friends through it all, and may you ring in the new year with hopeful expectation of what God is doing in your life and in the life of Augustine Classical Academy.
With Most Sincere Gratitude,
Justin F. Riley
Chair, ACA Board of Directors

Education is Never Neutral

Education is never neutral.

This is an incredibly important reminder for me as a parent. Everything speaks, and everything that speaks has to stand somewhere -- it has to believe something. Thankfully, classical Christian education is not neutral, teaching children the glory of knowledge and of God. But public, charter, and private schools also speak. They also stand somewhere with a set of beliefs. What are they saying to this generation of students?

Let’s remember the important goals we share for our children. Let's remember the non-negotiables. Education is a battleground for their hearts and minds. Our goals for them are high academic achievement and faithful hearts. If we ascribe to the myth of neutrality, those goals are lost.

This Christmas season, remember our children's minds and hearts. ACA's vision for education is high and good, and it takes continued robust funding. 

Our 2017 Matching Grant Drive is a wonderful way to help. To educate the next generation of children for the glory of God and the good of all people, we need tangible gifts from people just like you. Join me in praying about ways we can each give back to ACA. No gift is too small.

Grace, peace, and blessings to you and your children.

Nate Ahern

Beyond Letter Grades and Lesson Plans

Learning and teaching are about the in-between parts.

"She's so intelligent," says a father or mother wistfully. "If only she'd do her homework." 

Or, "He's so smart, despite his illegible handwriting. Well, thank goodness for keyboarding classes!"

Or another: "His hair is always a mess, and he smells, but my! what a genius."

From a different angle, I remember with great fondness certain university classes or lectures in which the speaker was doing his best impression of Ben Stein in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," relying heavily on PowerPoint, and not at all heavily on vocal inflection. The content of the lectures was good, very substantive, but it was all I could do to stay awake. "He's such an acclaimed professor," I said to myself wistfully. "If only he'd make this interesting."

In short, good teachers and good students focus on the in-between parts: they don't just execute tasks, they fully embody their roles.

For teachers, this means they do not download information onto their students hard drives, straight-faced. They do not stand in front of the classroom and read straight from the textbook. They do not focus exclusively on their lesson plans and their handouts, and they do not use their voices like sedatives, or like clubs, as though their audience is hostile. Instead, they teach the in-between parts of a subject: they communicate information to minds that they know also come with hearts. They require verbatim memorization of textbook terms, but they first make those terms come to life, because all terms represent magical realities. They use lesson plans and handouts with great joy, because they know God is a God of order, and that therefore their students need order. They discipline with love, whether with lines or reprimands or office visits, because they know that God disciplines those he loves, and because they love their students as human beings made in the image of God, and who are being refined by fire and water for excellence.

For students, this means they do not measure their intelligence by a letter grade, but by their faithfulness in all duties, including regular homework. They do not think certain subjects are more important than others, as though poor handwriting and bad grammar are excusable as long as they "get the right answer." They do not think that personal habits, particularly personal hygiene, are irrelevant as long as they are math and science whizzes. Instead, they study with a sense of responsibility, knowing that simple obedience to a duty is part of learning, even if they already know the concept. They know that a job half done is a job not done, and so they do not accept poor penmanship or incomplete sentences, even if they nail the correct answer every time. They take pride in their appearance, since they know that etiquette and hygiene within the classroom are expressions of love, and of the golden rule.

Good teachers and students know that there is a deeper right than being right, and so they live and act with a healthy pride, and a great deal of thankfulness. They accept nothing less than excellence and the best they can possibly do -- and then they fill in everything in between: doing the right thing when nobody's looking, obeying simply and without questions, and loving their neighbors as themselves.

And as always, God will take care of the rest. 

Aim High, and Get There

Humans are quick-fix oriented by nature, and we live in a quick-fix culture. We want a formula to plug our problem into, and then we'll solve for success. With just the right program, you can turn the Achievement Crank. In fact, instead of being counter-cultural, this is sometimes exactly what we do with classical Christian education (CCE). We see it as a vending machine. Put in your tuition payments, and out bumps a well-educated kid.

Success? Sometimes, it's more like a mangled kid caught in the gears. They somehow turn out hating whatever we've taught them.

So here are some quick reminders about what CCE isn't, and a few reminders about what it is, and what we should keep doing.

What CCE isn't, and doesn't:

1) CCE didn't die on the cross for your kids' sins. It's an excellent method, and a great gift from God, but it doesn't create saints. (The work of the Holy Spirit does.) If we put classical education in the place of Christ and his Church, we'll produce the opposite of what we want.

2) CCE shouldn't be educational syncretism. Classical education is time-tested, which means it doesn't need much tweaking. It must teach today's student, not yesterday's, but it must not have flavors of other educational models. To tweak Chesterton, "Classical education has not been tried and found wanting; it has occasionally been found difficult and left untried." Let's go whole-hog, long-term, without looking to the right or to the left.

3) CCE isn't a Preschool-12th thing. It's a life pursuit. Because it aims to shape hearts and create life-long learners, we should think of CCE in terms of paideia, as a life culture. This means thinking about classical Christian colleges, and about our own classical pursuits as adults.

And few good reminders:

1) Shape your child's affections. Nothing competes with love. "You are what you love," says James K. A. Smith, and this goes for CCE. Do our kids love it? If they don't, it's pretty useless. Help shape their affections by lots of prayer, laughter, and light hearts. 

2) Aim high. Christian art and culture today is not up to par. Nonchristians produce better music and movies, and they've got a monopoly on cultural influence. This is because Christians are content with mediocre academic goals, mediocre colleges, and mediocre careers. We can do better. Set high goals for your kids for God's glory, and for cultural transformation.

3) Get there. Goals are nothing without follow-through. Robert P. George has said, "There is nothing so successful as success." Christ said, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." Aim high -- and then require your kids to get there, by hook or by crook. They can do it.

Why Classical Must Be Essentially Christian

Augustine Classical Academy has, and remains committed to, a classical and a Christian approach to education. One can find schools that are classical and one can find schools that are Christian, but why do we insist on holding to both of these ideals in the same institution? 

One of the most powerful and alluring features of classical education is its integrated approach to learning. It recognizes that the world is not a disparate set of individual categories, but that everything is connected to everything else. History cannot and should not be understood apart from literature and science and math and ethics. Life is vibrantly integral; it is an interconnected whole. Classical education recognizes this about the world and adopts an approach to learning that embraces this sort of world. But such a view of the world comes from somewhere. A randomly generated universe gives us no reason to expect that anything is connected to anything else. But if we live in a created universe -- created by a Person who has done so with great intentionality, then we can reasonably expect to find a world where everything is connected to everything else. Science and history and math and morality and beauty all held together by a God who designed it that way. But such design requires a commitment to thinking about the world as one who believes in a God like this. Without this “religious” component to education, we lose one of Classical education’s greatest strengths.  

Secondly, classical education aims at the formation of human beings. It recognizes that education is formation. This is why ACA doesn’t simply exist to teach students to know truth, virtue and beauty, but to train students to love and practice these things as well.

The ideas of Truth, Virtue and Beauty require some basis in reality. They must to come from somewhere. Without some norm for these things, truth becomes nonsensical, goodness a matter of preference and beauty simply a matter of taste. Schools that attempt to divorce truth, goodness, and beauty from some objective standard are left without the most powerful and anchoring idea in all of education: the Why. Why does 2+2=4? Why does a triangle have to have 3 sides? Why is human cellular structure so complex? Why is it heroic when Bilbo deceives Thorin?  Why is it wrong to cheat on my spelling test? Christianity -- and importantly the whole view of the world which Christianity provides -- unapologetically answers all of these questions. Secular educational models (like what is found in all public schools and many private institutions) are left without any way to root what is taught in the classroom to anything outside of current social norms, or what seems to work. In other words, the transcendent is lost, and there is nothing to anchor life in outside of ourselves. Such an approach to education tends to turn all of society inward, producing a general drift towards rootlessness, triviality, and rampant individualism.

A Christian education is free to anchor the formation of our students in a transcendent view of the world. A world where there are actual things like truth, goodness and beauty. A Christian education is free to anchor this education in the beauty of grace: a God who is not only there, but who loves and redeems His people. The label Christian in classical Christian Education provides the overarching context for everything we teach, while classical provides the delivery method. We want our students to know, love, and practice truth, beauty, and goodness because we want our students to know, love, and obey the God has created those things and revealed them to the world. 

Brian Brown is a founding Board member of Augustine Classical Academy, where all three of his children are enrolled, and planting pastor at Trinity Church Denver in Golden.

5 Ways to Totally Not Work While You Study

Kids, I'd like to share with you some quick and easy keys to success. Gone are the days of hard work. That's right! By simply using these simple formulas every day, you'll be happy, your parents will be happy, you'll get straight A's, and there will be scholarships waiting for you at Harvard and Yale.

In short, here are the 5 ways to study in school and at home . . . and totally not work at all!

1. Zone out in class. There's no need to listen to what the teacher says, because you'll be able to figure it out when you get home. You'll also be able to look it up on the internet, because Wikipedia is your BFF. Never do today what you can put off till late tonight.

2. Always ask the teacher, "Will this be on the test?" This question is the mark of educational maturity. If the teacher doesn't explicitly say it will be, don't study it. Don't worry if you have a rude surprise during the exam with an unexpected question; you can always get your parents to coax a grade increase out of the teacher.

3. When your teacher gives you terms to memorize, don't. You're not a caveman. However, you need to feel as though you're memorizing them, so be sure to spend your precious and limited study time by getting ready to memorize without actually memorizing. Cut out index vocab cards that you have no intention of ever using. Convince yourself that "you memorize by writing things down," so just keep copying down the same old terms so you can pretend you're engaging your brain. Success is all about self-confidence.

4. Study with as many distractions as possible. Not only will this make homework a joy for you, but it will prevent you from doing any work. For example, your bed, archaically recognized as a place reserved for sleeping, is your best choice. However, you can also study downstairs in the living room where your parents are watching TV shows. Don't forget to bring your smartphone with you so that you can text for absolutely no reason at all. If the TV isn't on, utilize your earbuds or your Monster Beats by Dr. Dre headphones. As you write your essay on the evolution of modern psychology, this environment will force you to avoid the traditional rules of grammar and composition, allowing you to write from your heart. With luck, your teacher will have no idea what you're saying.

5. Shut your bedroom door by 8:00 PM, but do not begin homework until 10:00 PM, preferably 12:00 AM. You need space to FaceTime your friends, watch clips on YouTube, and visit interesting websites. By the time you begin studying, you'll be able to doze onto your math book every 90 seconds. This is known as double-tasking, a universal virtue. You are getting much-needed rest and following in the noble footsteps of Einstein. It is a high and lonely destiny! 

In summary, remember that at the end of the day, you're your own hero. When the going gets tough, there's always someone besides yourself that you can blame! Kiddo, you need to learn how to make your own kind of music and sing your own special song.


Talking about Your Kids

When it comes to education and parenting, communication is key.

It's also hard.

Parent-Teacher conferences (and other conversations about your kids' success), like any good thing, can potentially become a problem. Put another way, there's a ditch on both sides of the road. On the one hand, you might dread conferences because you don't want to hear all the negatives. On the other hand, you might love conferences as an ego-stroking opportunity, living vicariously through the success of your child. In either case, we need some healthy balance as parents. Here's what we should remember:

First, God holds our children in the palm of his hand. He loves them like a perfect father, and he will not forsake them.

Second, we should take long views. Where our children are now is not where they will be later. Children develop, and the struggles they face today will not last forever. Likewise, the ease they have with academics or social interactions today may not be the same ease in future years. We should encourage and prepare them for the future by thinking long-term. Put another way, look at the video of your child's life, not the daily snapshot.

Third, remember that education is difficult by nature. Training hurts. If it didn't, there would be no progress. As you speak frankly with your teachers, and as they speak frankly about your children, remember that education is the right kind of pain, the right kind of work. All children struggle academically and socially on some level, and this is a normal part of the wonderful and arduous journey that education is.

Fourth, know that ACA loves your children. Love involves both praise and correction, and your teachers want what is best for your child. This means that they will speak honestly with you, and it means that you can speak honestly with them. We are all God's children, all part of the single body of Christ, and this should give us confidence as we partner in educating our children for his glory.

Perseverance and St. Patrick's Day

A look back at last month's St. Patrick's Day:

On this day in 461 AD, tradition holds that Saint Patrick died, who we celebrate with beer and any old green thing. (Americans like traditions pregnant with substance.) Many of us also know that Saint Patrick was a British Christian missionary to Ireland. In his Confessions, he said this:

“I pray to God to give me perseverance and to deign that I be a faithful witness to Him to the end of my life for my God.” 

Well said, good Saint Patrick. Persevere. Be faithful to the end. This truth could be applied to any number of lessons, hopefully without watering down the first original meaning, and so I'd like to make quick applications to just a couple things, first generally and then specifically.

In a general sense, we can apply this to education. Saint Patrick reminds us that whatever our calling is, we can't treat it like there's an Easy Button somewhere. In the case of education, we must not treat it like we're searching for a formula. A rigorous, liberal, gospel-centered education is not finding the right equation, solving for the right variable, and plugging in values. We do not insert the perfect teacher or perfect school and compute straight-A students. Instead, we are faithful every day in the little things. We know ahead of time that education is difficult by nature. Like Saint Patrick, we work hard, and we are diligent through all the expected gnarly parts. 

Further, in a specific sense, I'd like to apply Saint Patrick to our Speech & Debate students yesterday. To prepare for the meet, ACA students had to work hard for an extended period of time. They had to be diligent and strong to press through the exquisite difficulty of memorization, and of the unnerving task of public competition. They could not wing it even if they wanted to. Additionally, they were persevering through one of life's most difficult studies: speaking in front of a large group of people. They had no guarantees of success or an award. But as difficult a task as it is, speaking is one of the most fundamental aspects of humanity. It is a metaphor for our personality and our virtue.

Look at it this way. Our students are speaking all the time. (We parents, too.) Speaking isn't just for speech meets. Our words and our actions say something 24-7. The way we make breakfast for our kids, say goodbye for the day to our families, the way we write emails, the way we prioritize time with family vs. friends, the music we listen to, the movies we watch -- all of these things speak. The speak loudly about ourselves, they speak loudly to our friends and acquaintances, and they speak loudly to our children. What we do, as well as what we say, speaks.

So the question is, what's our tone of voice like? How persuasive are we? Are we saying the right things?

This is why we train our students to speak well publicly, both because it is an exhibition of virtue, and because it is a metaphor for life. Christ was the Word made flesh, and in a sense, so are we. Christians are People of the Word, the People Who Speak. Saint Patrick and all wise men and women of history knew this, and they knew that any good thing takes faithfulness and long years of perseverance.

Fortunately, we have a good role model: Christ, who was faithful all the way to death, showed us how.