People often consider education to be a philosophically and spiritually neutral enterprise. They suppose that all schools are alike and that both teachers and textbooks are devoid of bias, opinion, or propaganda. As a result, very few parents give even a second thought to the schools their children attend. They are content with what is free, and, as long as their children are happy and successful, they remain blissfully ignorant of their school’s curriculum, philosophy, and culture. But the fact is: every school is different.
Some establish and maintain a culture of discipline, order, integrity and respect; while others struggle to maintain order, restrain bullies, or curb outbursts. Some schools adopt philosophies that emphasize socialization at the expense of academic achievement; some even see achievement and competition as destructive to socialization. Such schools often de-emphasize grades or even replace them with teacher comments and student portfolios. We believe good schools embrace objective grading and competition
to motivate measurable achievement.
All schools choose curricular materials that are rooted in their philosophies. For example, the very common “spiral curriculum” is used by schools holding the philosophy that education involves exposing children to a variety of experiences and information. This approach is based on the belief that a student can only learn what he is interested in (called “Authentic Learning”), so it “shoots” a wide range of material at the student hoping something will interest him. And, since interests change over time, this approach often “shoots” the same or similar material at the student for a few brief lessons each year (called the “Unit Approach”) before the teacher “reloads” with a totally new and unrelated subject (for example, fractions may be covered in a single unit each fall in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades followed by another but unrelated unit on geometric shapes or calculating surface areas). The result is that the student never learns to use the material because he doesn’t get the opportunity to apply it over an extended period of time.
Philosophies also govern classroom practices. Such teaching techniques as “collaborative learning,” “cooperative learning,” “discovery learning,” “learning stations,” and “whole-language” grew out of socialist agendas. In the early 20th century, John Dewey opened a Laboratory School in Chicago with the purpose “to produce socialists instead of capitalists, collectivists instead of individualists.” He further sought to “de-emphasize literary skills in favor of the development of social skills” (socialization). Though contemporary teachers may not share his socialist ideals, nevertheless, many of the techniques Dewey pioneered remain in
vogue in most American classrooms.
Dewey’s progressive educational philosophies and techniques have dominated American education for the last half century. The results are bemoaned by all. Test scores are down and costs are up. Knowledge of history, literature, and our American heritage is down while political correctness is up. Morality and its Christian foundations are down while relativism is up. It is the advent of such attitudes that has given rise to the “Classical Education” movement especially among Christians in America.
Classical education is not a longing for the “good-old-days,” but it does build on tried and true educational philosophies, and it utilizes many tried and true teaching techniques. The curriculum is content centered rather than driven by the interests of teachers or students. Teachers focus on and measure individual achievement against an objective standard rather than group progress. Information is delivered incrementally (rather than in a spiral or unit approach) so students learn to use and build on what they learn. Rather than allowing students to select whatever reading material that interests them, quality and challenging literature is carefully chosen for the students to develop character and inculcate virtue. History is emphasized, patriotism is celebrated, and faith is foundational throughout. Classical educators believe that memorization is good training for the mind and a thorough and immediate command of the facts is more important than merely knowing where to look them up.
We at Martin Luther Grammar School seek to put into practice the ideals of Classical education by utilizing curricular materials consistent with those ideals. These include:
- Spalding Reading—a program of explicit and intensive phonics
- Shurley Grammar—a program that takes students through parts of speech (nouns, verbs, direct objects, etc.), to sentence and paragraph structure, to coherent essay composition
- Saxon Math—a program of incremental (rather than spiral) math instruction
- Veritas History—a chronological study of World and American, secular and sacred history
- Small Catechism—a systematic study of Christian doctrine rooted in the Reformation principles of “Sola Scriptura,” “Sola Gratia,” and “Sola Fide.”
- In addition—our students sing, recite facts of geography and science, memorize poetry, and enjoy sharing what they have learned.
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