Because life is a series of edits

Posts Tagged ‘classical Christian education’

On Accreditation and Statism in Education

In Books on January 21, 2012 at 1:53 pm

I (Craig) have been revisiting a few previously-read books on classical Christian education to apply their counsel to current situations. The process has been helpful for the sake of thinking through some of these aforementioned "opportunities".

For instance, I recently received the following email from one of our Veritas parents:

"My daughter has just finished another semester at Veritas. We know she is getting a very good education, and we are pleased with her performance. She is learning how to study and prepare, to be a success when she attends college. It is never too early to create good study skills and habits.

However, I am curious about the state accreditation status of Veritas Classical. I am sure the process is a long, drawn-out procedure, but to be honest, I am a little nervous. Am I correct in saying, if a student does not attend a state accredited high school, the only way for them to be accepted to a state college or university, is based solely on their ACT scores?

I am also interested in the accreditation status because there is a grant program available for schools. Perhaps you have heard of the Box Tops program. This program has probably existed for 20 years. Many of the foods we use come with Box Tops, and once collected, the boxtops are sent in, and the school receives money. I would be happy to assist with this program, but the school MUST be state accredited to receive the funds. I have saved these coupons for three years and hopefully, one day Veritas, will be able to benefit from them.

I have not heard of any specific details indicating that VCA is indeed making a consorted effort to continue their pursuit of accreditation. Would you please be specific and give me some concrete details about this matter?"

Rather than email back, I thought a conversation might be more helpful, so I picked up the phone and called. We had a pleasant discussion about her concerns and our philosophy concerning accreditation. Indeed, I said, there are no specific details because there are no specific plans to pursue state authorization or endorsement. Curricularly speaking, we actually exceed the state's academic requirements; financially speaking, we don't want money with strings attached.

Simply put, with regard to accreditation, we don't need or want it.

Douglas Wilson, in his books, Repairing the Ruins and The Case for Classical Christian Education, elaborates on what I mean:

"We have been told, both directly and subliminally, that state accreditation is to education what the FDA stamp of approval is to food quality, i.e. the guarantee of rigorous scrutiny by knowledgeable experts. But the reason we are having all this debate over education in the first place is that the whole country pretty much agrees that our state-certified and accredited schools are usually pretty poor.

Nevertheless, parents still have a deep faith that accreditation means something because it ought to mean something. And so they come to inquire about possible enrollment at a private school, and one of their first questions concerns whether or not the school is accredited – even though the reason they have come to apply is that they are thoroughly unhappy with the school they are leaving, which has been accredited for a hundred years."

In revisiting some of Wilson's thoughts, I noticed another of his answers that fleshed out more of my perspective on the question of school choice – a hot topic here in Oklahoma, and the subject of the "Restoring American Exceptionalism" (terrible title) Town Hall I'm attending on Tuesday. After tweeting yesterday that "Restoring American Exceptionalism is not my goal, but I'm for school choice and will be attending Tuesday,' I realized I should probably have clarified what I meant when I used the phrase "school choice".

For me, "school choice" has little to do with charter schools and vouchers, but simply local (read: parental) control and no government (city, state, or federal) involved. Again, Wilson writes in The Case for Classical Christian Education:

"At the root, the problem with charter schools and vouchers is not difficult to understand. I've written elsewhere that the theological case against such programs should actually be grounded in the prohibition against stealing. When the government taxes us in order to perform the duties assigned to the civil government by God, Christians clearly can have no consistent ethical objection (Romans 13:1-7). But if the government adopts responsibilities that God never assigned and begins massive redistribution of wealth accordingly, this creates an ethical problem…

…Parents who want charter schools and vouchers are asking, in effect, for others to pay higher taxes to fund their children's education – and the whole thing becomes simply 'food stamps for the brain.' A citizenry may be taxed in order to fund those activities that God requires of the civil magistrate, but secularist education is not one of these activities…If conservative Christian parents join this parade by seeking a piece of the action, we are demonstrating that we do not understand how our nation has drifted into its current idolatrous statism. As I put it elsewhere, 'until we learn to fight statism by refusing to accept benefits, our hypocrisy will be evident.'"

While I don't agree with everything Wilson says or writes, it's been helpful revisiting his (and others') books that address these ideas in a way that goes beyond (for now) my instincts and common sense. Much to ponder and process as we continue to shape the future of education.

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Show Me the Money

In Educators on December 2, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Over the past several months, I (Craig) have had multiple meetings with my Administrative Team and our Veritas Board concerning income, expenses, and next year's tuition rates. I've also had a few parents ask me when we're going to post our rates for next year.

I've only got one answer: when we're sure they're right.

Back in October, as we began budgeting for next school year, I happened to mention via email our process to my former Head of School, Jim Marsh, at Westminster Christian Academy, a college prep Christian school of 900 students in St. Louis. A long-time administrator, Jim is both a hero and a mentor in my role as Head of School (because of our shared titles, he calls me his "peer," which is more than humorous – I'm no Jim Marsh). He wrote:

"The tuition/true cost of education issue is difficult to get one's head around. There are those (Bruce Lockerbie and Paideia and organizations like Independent School Management) who would say to determine what it costs to provide excellence in fulfilling your mission and set the tuition at that cost. Then, raise money to provide tuition relief for those who cannot afford the tuition.

However, the value proposition is of critical importance in an age when parents are asking the question: 'Is it worth it? Is it worth the financial sacrifice?' The brutal fact is that it costs money to provide an excellent Christian education, but establishing a tuition level at that per student cost might be more than the market will bear. So, we look around and assess the financial condition of our families and determine what the price point should be."

Jim's balanced perspective describes exactly where we are at Veritas Classical Academy. Over the past month-and-a-half, my Administrative Team (all of whom are Veritas parents) have tried to get a better handle on what it costs "to provide an exceptional classical Christian education to the Oklahoma City metro." It's been hard work, but I'm proud of the way our team has drilled down to depths of detail we've not operationally been at before.

At the same time (and with counsel from our Board, all of whom are also Veritas parents), we've wrestled with the realities of these costs and asked ourselves what seems reasonable to expect tuition to cover and what should we plan to cover through more intentional fundraising. In doing this, we're seeking God to lead us to the right numbers, and to provide for them as well.

We think we're almost there…but not yet. Rest assured, tuition rates are coming (and soon), but as Head of School, I want to make sure they're right (and not just out). We don't want to overcharge our families; at the same time, we don't want to be the best blended model school in Oklahoma to go out of business.

Survey Reminds Us That We’re in This Together

In Educators on November 29, 2011 at 9:48 pm

Back in early September, our Parent Partnership Association conducted a short survey asking how our parents were feeling about the start of the year. Here are a few results from the 32 parents who answered the survey (a 20% response rate):

Please choose which description best encompasses your feelings about Home Days with your children these first two weeks?
Weeping and gnashing of teeth and about to give up 0% 0
Some tears, but I see glimmers of hope 15.6% 5
It's going okay, but not as well as I had hoped 12.5% 4
It's going well, although we have challenges 56.3% 18
Challenges? What challenges? 15.6% 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What topic would be most helpful for additional parent training?
Schedule management with school work 24.1% 7
Schedule management with extra commitments 6.9% 2
Food and household management 13.8% 4
Parenting tips for character/discipline challenges 31% 9
Grade specific homework assistance 24.1% 7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One open-ended question we asked on the survey was, "How would you define Home Day success?" The answers varied:

  • "If my student finishes homework by 1 or 2 p.m."
  • "Every assignment completed."
  • "Children connect with God in midst of their problems and enjoyable times."
  • "Finishing our work with everyone happy and having good attitudes."
  • "My student taking responsibility for knowing what needs to be accomplished and the best way to accomplish it with parental support."

In case you were wondering, we have good and bad days at the Dunham home. The blended model is work – for students, for parents, for the Head of School and his spouse.

The Well-Blown Mind: An Introduction

In Thought on August 30, 2011 at 5:44 am

Down on the Farm In spring of 2005, Craig and I and our four little girls were in the midst of a major life transition. We were moving from Colorado Springs, where we'd lived for a dozen years while Craig was on staff with The Navigators, to St. Louis, where Craig was was about to begin seminary. In the two-month interim (intentional for the sake of decompressing from the former and preparing for the latter), we lived in a farm house in rural Illinois. During this time we read a lot of books and watched a lot of corn grow. And Craig shot a lot of raccoons.

It was during this stint that we spent a week in Oklahoma, visiting my parents in Owasso and also seeing some old friends in Norman. These friends had recently helped start an interesting school called Veritas Classical Academy. The school was finishing up its first year, and we arrived just in time for the end-of-year roller skating party.

With kids who were then 6, 4, 3, and 18 months, we didn’t really enjoy the skating so much (even today, roller skating comes in at a very strong 2 on a fun scale of 0-10 for our family), but we did enjoy finding out more about the school – a blended model classical Christian school in which the kids only attended twice each week and were homeschooled the rest of the week. To a mom planning to homeschool her four daughters, this sounded pretty awesome to me.

I remember drilling my friend, Julie, about the school the rest of our time in Norman. I think my questions included (but were not limited to):

  • Help me understand what you mean by classical education?
  • Douglas who?
  • Dorothy who?
  • Veritas Press what?
  • And you just gathered a group of people together to start reading books together and suddenly you had a school?

Apparently it wasn’t quite as easy as that. Still, I was curious. When we left Oklahoma at the end of that week, I was sure of two things: 1) I wanted to know more about classical education; but 2) there was no way on the planet I was going to attempt to start something similar in St. Louis.

Instead, we returned to the farm and I hopped on Amazon and ordered what, at the time, I thought was the Bible of classical education: The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. I also got a copy of Susan's book for parents called The Well-Educated Mind. The epic volumes arrived. I began reading the former; Craig, the latter.

We might as well have been reading The Well-Blown Mind. Craig became depressed by all the books he felt he should have read but never had; I became depressed that what I was doing with our 6-year-old wasn’t cutting the classical education mustard.

It was a watershed moment for both of us, but neither Craig nor I had any idea at the time of how it might shape our family's future – either generally in educating our girls at the time or specifically in moving to Oklahoma six years later to lead the very school we had just visited.

A lot can happen in six years, and a lot did…

(Picture: Megan and girls on the farm in May 2005.)