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Your Brain Is Not a Computer

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Teaching is nothing without learning.

If a teacher teaches but students don't learn, there's no teaching.  The students might be bad, they might be lazy, the teacher might typically be effective -- but if the students aren't learning, as a class, then teaching isn't being done. In one ear and out the other, as the metaphor goes. Sometimes, it never even gets in the first ear.

Last year, as ACA's teachers studied Gregory's The Seven Laws of Teaching, The Law of Review stood out as perhaps the most crucial law of all: "Review, review, review: reproduce the old, deepen its impression with new thought, link it with added meanings, find new applications, correct any false views, and complete the true."

That's one of the best places where true teaching happens.  In the review.

Past generations understood the importance of repetition and review. They were the generations of catechisms and widespread classical education. Today, we are the generation of the quick-fix conferences.  We never read a book, and we definitely don't memorize, not with Siri. Fly in a big-name motivational speaker, get tickets to the show, take notes, and you're set.

But that's not the way the brain works, not the way it remembers and learns, whether you live in the 1800s or the 2100s. The brain works by hearing something many times, forgetting it many times, and then finally learning it. People never learn the first time. Only computers do that.

So let's remember this as we consider the way our children are learning or as we help them with their homework.  For example:

  • In upper school or high school, when your kids bring home a tough Omnibus reading, they're not supposed to get it all the first time. Do you think your child is a computer? But they are supposed to begin to get the general ideas and the bigger details with second or third readings.  So encourage them to practice reading quickly 2-3 times instead of slowly and carefully just once -- though slow reading has its place elsewhere. The key to reading comprehension is not always speed; it is usually repetition.
  • In middle school or logic-stage math, your kids are generally supposed to mess up badly on their first time through a new speed drill. No problem. The only problem comes when they don't correct their mistakes and quit doing any more speed drills. Do you suppose anyone in the world thinks a multiplication table makes sense the first time? Or as my mother once said when I jumped a creek with a horse and fell off and crunched my nose, "Get right back out there."
  • In Kindergarten when your kids are wrestling with phonograms and struggling to sound out words, do you expect them to remember how to pronounce "The" after telling them once? Look at that word! Its pronunciation makes no sense at all. No, you sit with them, night after night, and say over and over, "T-H-E says thuh." Night after night, they crash their brains over crazy English syntax, the only possible way they can learn.
  • And in preschool, children learn by listening, and listening, and listening, to the same story, the same story, the same story, and by asking you to sing the same song, Daddy, the same song Daddy, the same song, Daddy.
And we roll our eyes and smile kindly at their needs, and then we go out to the car dealership for the seventh time, finally comfortable enough -- knowledgeable enough -- to put down an offer.

Memory, Drama, and Loving What You Learn

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From ACA's Curriculum Director, Elizabeth Jones: --------------------------------------------

Thud, thud, thud. The marching can be heard from down the hall. As I approach the vibrating classroom, stories leak out through the cracks in the door. I can't help but peek through the window to find a single girl admonishing her parading classmates:

“Go forth, go forth, Lars Porsena,—

Go forth, beloved of Heaven! Go, and return in glory

To Clusium’s royal dome, And hang round Nurscia’s altars The golden shields of Rome!”

As she finishes with a flourish, the next student in line jumps forward, and the story continues.  But I continue down the hallway.

Within just a few steps, I am thrust forward from ancient Rome into the early days of the American Revolution where a similar classroom scene unfolds -- but this time, with Paul Revere and his horse.

Peering through the glass I see not just one student, but the entire class parading around the room with these familiar words:

"Listen my children and you shall hear Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five . . . ."

I chant silently along with this fragment recalled from my own elementary school days, a pleasant reminder of the value of good rhythm for aiding in long-term memory.  Yet the chanting has just begun.  Little do I know, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has more to say. 130 lines to be precise. And this class knows every one of them! Certainly a student falters here and there, having not yet mastered the next line. But his peers are a great support as they pretend to mount their steeds and set their eyes to the tower of the Old North Church off in the corner of the room, using physical cues to aid their memory.

And in all of this I am reminded of ACA's wonderful purpose.  In classical education, we see students' work come alive through robust and challenging poems, songs, rhymes, and sound-offs that both teach the material and wedge it deep into the heart and mind. Among energetic peers, classmates learn to lead with passion, develop a quick memory, and become creative students -- some of whom are already adding the perfect motion to make a tricky section memorable.  And in the other subjects -- mathematics, the sciences, geography, music, Latin, language arts, and the rest -- it is clear that there is real life and joy in the middle of all of them.

I never cease to be amazed at the mind’s capacity for memory and at the exuberance brought to life through the telling and retelling of a story in the classroom. At ACA, our students are learning to climb mountains, conquer giants, succeed in meeting an outrageous goal, and do it all with zeal.  These are skills for life.  In the end, our students will know a good deal of mathematics, poetry, world history, and science, and they'll be able to really understand them, not as disconnected subjects with tests to pass, but as that which is universally true and beautiful, for the glory of God and the good of all people.

-------------------------- Elizabeth Jones is Curriculum Director and Art instructor at Augustine Classical Academy. She and husband Jason have three children at ACA  (Sean, Piper, and Martyn) and Elizabeth was one of the school's founders in 2010.

Teacher Development Readings

As I mentioned last week, we're launching a long-term Master Teacher Development Program for our teachers which aims to provide measurable and varied educational goals, encouraging all ACA teachers to reach hearts and minds, develop their own love of learning, and become influencers of educational culture in their own ways. One small part of this development program is our monthly staff development meetings.  Each of these sessions kicks off with a one-hour discussion of a book pertaining to education and culture.  Last year, we studied John Milton Gregory's The Seven Laws of Teaching and Jacques Barzun's Teacher in America, gleaning valuable teaching strategies and delving deeper into classical ideology.  But at root, we were constantly asking this question: "How do these ideas come out our fingertips in the classroom?"

This fall, we will discuss C. S. Lewis' An Experiment in Criticism, beginning in October. In this short booklet, we will explore a variety of questions such as:

  • How should we approach art?
  • What preconceived ideas are we bringing to the table that might inhibit our understanding of a piece of literature?
  • What is the author or artist actually trying to tell us? Are we getting in the way of that?
  • Do we have a duty of charity toward any author or artist whose works we might encounter?
And of course: "How do all these questions affect the way we teach our students at ACA?"

If you're interested in exploring these questions, I'd like to invite you to join us for these three fall discussion sessions as we take the book in three short chunks.  Each meeting is from 9:30 - 10:30 AM on the second Friday of each month: October 14, November 11, and December 9.  You can purchase An Experiment in Criticism here, and you can access our reading schedule here.

I continue to be grateful for God's faithfulness to Augustine Classical Academy and for the eagerness its teachers have to pursue their own excellence for the glory of God and the good of all people.

Our Master Teacher Development Program

I'd like to share with you a bit of what our teachers will be covering in our monthly staff development meetings this academic year. We meet the second Friday of each month to discuss educational ideas, study books corporately, and take practical steps toward high quality classroom and facility-wide instruction. These meetings are an excellent time for us to build both skills and relationships, and I'm pleased with the plans for our year ahead. Specifically, we've begun a Master Teacher Development Program, partnering with the Association of Classical and Christian Schools, to informally initiate the process of school accreditation and teacher certification. This development program has three stages each teacher will progress through:

  • An Apprentice Teacher
  • A Journeyman Teacher
  • A Master Teacher

And though all of our teachers are already well beyond an "apprentice" phase as it is typically understood, this and other stages involve a number of stimulating rubrics: 1) reading requirements, 2) regular classroom observations, 3) ongoing educational conference attendance, and 3) one-on-one development meetings with administration.

Further, under each stage, we'll be aiming for three goals:

  • Our teachers should actively embody specific Christian virtues
  • Our teachers should actively exemplify classical teaching practices
  • Our teachers should possess and gain knowledge of classical education in their main content area

This is a lengthy but beautiful process of teaching development that I'm eager to oversee in the coming years at ACA. We are already blessed by high quality teaching, and we want to further ensure that each and every year, our teachers are reaching hearts and minds, developing their own love of learning, and becoming influencers of educational culture in their own ways.

If you have any questions about this program, I'd love to share more over a meeting.  You can also find out more about the Association of Classical and Christian Schools here on their website.

All Life Is Education

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Mark Twain once quipped, "Education [is] the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty."

With that, welcome to the 2016-17 school year!

Just kidding.  Let me try again and find someone who's not Mark Twain:

"All of life is a constant education."

That was Eleanor Roosevelt, and that's more our style.  In fact, she hits the nail on the head.  If all life is education, then Preschool-12th Grade is just warming up the truck, revving the engine, and muscling through neighborhood streets in low gear. After that, there are still endless mountain roads to get to.

So it's just the beginning, but it's still a time of tremendous importance -- whether starting Preschool or Kindergarten or 10th Grade. Frankly, it's a little scary, too.  Scary and wonderful, and a lot in between. But it is all just the beginning, as Roosevelt implies, and it is all redemptive through the merciful hands of God.  The warm-up phase is long, but we're preparing them today for that big day later -- Commencement -- a beginning, not the ending -- the day when real independence and real self-learning begins.

During In-Service training this past week, teachers have discussed ways to even better understand who our children uniquely are at this important moment in their lives, how to recognize their changes and growth from last year, and how to continue to give them both knowledge and open eyes for the future.  We are eager to teach them how to learn and how to see -- but why?  Because when they leave ACA and spread their wings in a few years, we want them to fly further and dig deeper, not to close their minds and fall to the ground.  We want them to be ambassadors for life-long education who are full of thanks for God's unreasonable gifts to us.

Welcome to the new chapter of your child's story.  It's a real page-turner, and our teachers are eager to begin with you.

What Does Your Child Need to Hear?

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We are given many unshakeable truths in life, but few guarantees.  The book of Proverbs is like this, and if we're not careful, it can seem to contradict itself: "Answer a fool according to his folly." (Proverbs 26:4)

"Do not answer a fool according to his folly." (Proverbs 26:5)

Great job, Solomon.  Doug Wilson puts it this way:

The book of Proverbs does not give us head-for-head commitments and promises. They are proverbs. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and sometimes you wind up in Congress banning light bulbs for the rest of us. But as a general rule, hard work leads to wealth, and laziness to poverty, only not in every instance.

If we wrote a book of educational proverbs, we could make a couple like this:

"Straight A's are deceptive, and he who lays off his homework will find peace."

"He who does not study diligently will come to poverty."

Both are true, and that's the beauty of it.  But here's the rub: which truth do each of our different children need to hear?

$10K in 20 Days Challenge

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From our Board of Directors, May 6 Dear ACA Families:

As we look forward to the end of another successful school year, we thank God for tremendous gifts this year: a talented and devoted staff, two locations that have proven to be great learning environments, marketing efforts that are helping boost enrollment (we will welcome at least 14 new Grammar School students next year!), more robust Parent Council and Board of Directors teams, and a strong community of families who support ACA's mission to help our students know, love, and practice what is true, good, and beautiful, for the good of all people and to the glory of God.

To help support all of this good work, we fundraise, and to date, we've raised $90,000 of our $175,000 goal for The Augustine Campaign, which supports operating expenses (teacher salaries and rent), classroom resources, and financial assistance. The Board continues to meet with prospective donors and seek out grant support--and as we wind down the year, we have a donor who is willing to give $10K in a matching donation if we can raise $10K by the last day of school: Thursday, May 26.

We're calling it the "$10K in 20 Days" Challenge.

Please help ACA finish the year strong! Share this race-to-the-finish with friends, family, and other supporters of ACA's mission. To contribute, go to augustineclassical.org/giving and click "Make a Donation."  Or send checks to:

Augustine Classical Academy 480 South Kipling Street Lakewood, CO 802236

Thanks for all you do to make our school a remarkable place. May God continue to bless our students as they pursue truth, academic excellence, and a life of service for Christ's kingdom.

The Board of Directors

Mothers and Mother's Day

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Woman. Wife. Mother.

In the morning of the world, God looked at Adam—the man he’d just made, sinless, greater than Gilgamesh, Achilles, Solomon, Alexander, Caesar, or Alfred—and said, “Not good.” This near-perfect creation, fashioned after the likeness of God himself, was bad news.

Adam was alone.

So God broke Adam. He split him in two, separating him from himself, and with that rib he made Eve—Woman. Wife. Mother. Then he put Adam back together—“and the two became one flesh.” The alone-Adam, the broken-Adam, the incomplete-Adam, was now Whole, and the first song in Scripture records his jubilation:

This now is bone of my bone And flesh of my flesh: She shall be called Woman Because she was taken out of man.

A great mystery. An Adam without an Eve was a non-Adam. A non-Man. A not-Good. God broke the not-good, introduced Woman, and there was rest.

Woman: life-giver. Eve gave life to her Adam, she gave life to her sons, and she transferred that deep magic to all women since. Wives give life to their husbands, and mothers give life to their children. Woman is the garden that nourishes the seed, the gardener that tends the tree, and the harvester that rejoices in the ripened fruit. But like the ultimate Gardener and Life-giver, she gives herself up. She gives her body to her husband and children—making love, making babies, making food, making dirty clothes clean, making plans, making beds, making children sleep (while she doesn’t), making toddlers tinkle, making stories, making soccer stars, making college grads, making godly children, making a strong husband—making it all out of her own body.

A wife and mother dies a lot. Every day. And her deaths bring her family life.

Plodders Always Win

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"I wonder what the Puritans would have been able to do with a word processor?"

This is a regular question from an acquaintance of mine, and it comes from the well-known fact that the Puritans were remarkably productive people.  They lived in the 16th and 17th centuries, a time at which technology was at a minimum, yet almost to a man, they were astoundingly prolific.  Choose a Puritan writer at random, and his complete works will probably take up most of a bookshelf -- all accomplished with just a quill pen. And with a word processor?

The point is that they didn't need one.  They had something better: order and diligence.  Today, we like to run the numbers and find a "solution" for things, and we're very interested in the latest science that proves there's finally a quick remedy to such-and-such an old difficulty.  But the Puritans knew something we've forgotten: one of the only silver bullets you'll ever find is diligence.  They knew the importance of order and routine.  They plodded.  Their progress was slow, but it was an everyday-progress.  They were creatures of habit -- and far from becoming inhuman machines, they produced some of the most creative, insightful studies on mankind, culture, and God.

Segue to education.  If you take a diligent, methodical student in a crummy public school and compare him to an unstructured student in a top-rated classical Christian school, put your bets on the public schooler.  The classical schooler may have bright flashes of occasional brilliance, but without the habits of daily faithfulness in seeing little jobs through to the end, he won't succeed.  The plodders always win.  The tortoise beats the hare.  The quill pens in steady hands outstrip the distracted fingers on a keyboard.

Let's give our kids good, steady, unromantic routine.  Or as Solomon said, "Seest thou a man diligent in his business?  He shall stand before kings" (Prov. 22:29).

Great Books on Classical Education

Though classical education's modern-day resurgence is still relatively new, its overall history is long, rich, and varied.  Standing on the shoulders of this tradition, the last two generations have given us a wealth of ideas for thinking about classical education, and for improving our own lives and minds alongside those of our children. Below are a list of wonderful and engaging books that ACA recommends as essential reading for parents pursuing classical Christian education over the long term. In the spirit of staying ever-engaged for our kids, join me in tasting and re-tasting these delicious feasts. (Publishing blurbs included.)

The Case for Classical Christian Education by Douglas Wilson.  In this greatly expanded treatment of a topic he first dealt with in Rediscovering the Lost Tools of Learning, Wilson proposes an alternative to government-operated schools by advocating a return to classical Christian education with its discipline, hard work, and learning geared to a child's developmental stages.

Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton is one of the most brilliant books of apologetics in the English language. Chesterton wrote Orthodoxy in 1908 in response to a challenge from one of his readers to state his creed. Rarely has any challenge been more gloriously and chivalrously met. This is early Chesterton at his best: sparkling paradoxes, breathtaking wordplay, trenchant argument and blinding logic. The reader is treated to a witty and insightful work, that illustrates how reasonable orthodoxy really is, despite the attacks of its critics. The book also provides a spiritual autobiography, as Chesterton employs his own discovery of orthodox Christianity in order to defend its beauty and its sanity against modern secular schools of philosophy. The book manages to intellectually challenge the reader, while still appealing to a child-like sense of awe at the world around us.

The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. Have you lost the art of reading for pleasure? Are there books you know you should read but haven’t because they seem too daunting? In The Well-Educated Mind, Bauer provides a welcome and encouraging antidote to the distractions of our age, electronic and otherwise . . . The Well-Educated Mind reassures those readers who worry that they read too slowly or with below-average comprehension. If you can understand a daily newspaper, there’s no reason you can’t read and enjoy Shakespeare’s sonnets or Jane Eyre. But no one should attempt to read the “Great Books” without a guide and a plan . . .

Norms and Nobility is a provocative reappraisal of classical education that offers a workable program for contemporary school reform. David Hicks contends that the classical tradition promotes a spirit of inquiry that is concerned with the development of style and conscience, which makes it an effective and meaningful form of education. Dismissing notions that classical education is elitist and irrelevant, Hicks argues that the classical tradition can meet the needs of our increasingly technological society as well as serve as a feasible model for mass education.

For over thirty years The God Who Is There by Francis Schaeffer has been the landmark book that changed the way the church sees the world. In Schaeffer's remarkable analysis, we learn where the clashing ideas about God, science, history and art came from and where they are going . . . The God Who Is There demonstrates how historic Christianity can fearlessly confront the competing philosophies of the world. The God who has always been there continues to provide the anchor of truth and the power of love to meet the world's deepest problems.

In Climbing Parnassus, winner of the 2005 Paideia Prize, Tracy Lee Simmons presents a defense and vindication of the formative power of Greek and Latin. His persuasive witness to the unique, now all-but-forgotten advantages of study in and of the classical languages constitutes a bracing reminder of the genuine aims of a truly liberal education.

In the classic The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis sets out to persuade his audience of the importance and relevance of universal values such as courage and honor in contemporary society. Both astonishing and prophetic, The Abolition of Man is one of the most debated of Lewis’s extraordinary works.

Wisdom and Eloquence: A Christian Paradigm for Classical Learning by Robert Littlejohn and Charles T. Evans. To succeed in the world today, students need an education that equips them to recognize current trends, to be creative and flexible to respond to changing circumstances, to demonstrate sound judgment to work for society's good, and to gain the ability to communicate persuasively.

The Paideia of God by Douglas Wilson. And, you fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). In this passage, Paul requires Christian fathers to provide their children with a "paideia of the Lord." To the ancient world, the boundaries of paideia were much wider than the boundaries of what we understand as education. Far more is involved in paideia than taking the kids to church, having an occasional time of devotions in the home, or even providing the kids with a Christian curriculum. In the ancient world, the paideia was all-encompassing and involved nothing less than the enculturation of the future citizen. He was enculturated when he was instructed in the classroom, but the process was also occurring when he walked along the streets of his city to and from school. The idea of paideia was central to the ancient classical mind, and Paul's instruction here consequently had profound ramifications.