News from Trinity Christian School
Part 2: On Learning & Love
Written by Mark Brians, 7th & 10th Humanities Teacher
In an earlier piece on the TCS 'Engaging Minds' blog, I discussed the significant differences between the Classical Christian Tradition and the International Baccalaureate Program. In that article I identified three core concepts which form our Classical Christian pedagogy. They are as follows: That humans are primarily affective beings, driven by loves and formed by competing visions of the good life; That “excellence in education” (academic, extracurricular, and moral), at its core, is about the cultivation of deep virtue engendered by rightly ordered loves (or, ordo amoris, as Augustine puts it); and that this cultivation of human excellence must be rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and draw upon the richness of the human past.
In what follows I address myself to the first of those three concepts I listed above; namely the affective nature of the human person. It should be noted, however, that while each of these concepts carries a kind of uniqueness, they remain deeply interwoven. Much like the Persons of the Trinity, it may be helpful to think of them as distinct-but-not-separate, as mutually sustaining, or (to use a fancy theological phrase) as perichoretic.
What Do We Mean by Affective?
It has been said, and perhaps falsely attributed to Antoine de Saint-Exupery, that if you want to build a boat, you ought not to spend your time lecturing on the importance of maritime traffic, debating tariff and port regulations, nor drumming-up people to cut down wood. That, rather, your time would be best spent instilling in them an incurable yearning for the vastness of the sea. For teaching in them a burning desire for seafaring would do far more to shape their activity and production —would do more to accomplish the goal— than countless hours spent otherwise.
There is no secret here. Countless anecdotes could be given, from our disparate experiences on the playground, of parenting, from our witness of political rallies, or having given board room presentations, all in defense of this truth. Humans are affective, driven primarily by longings and desires for a certain vision of the “good life.”
By no means do we suggest that humans are only affective. Humans perform a host of things that have a hand in shaping and forming us —we think, we reason, we labor, we produce, we play, we celebrate, we communicate, we dream, we joke, we debate, etc. None of these things are being called into question as things that shape human life. What is being suggested, however, is that back behind all of these human functions, on a pre-rational level, is a heart that was shaped by God in His own Image to love and enjoy Him forever.
The Fall of our race in the garden did not alter the fact that we were designed to love, and for the sake of Love Himself, and that we long to experience love. Rather, the Fall bent our loving; so that we neither know what to love nor how to love properly.
Classical Christian education concerns itself foundationally with the tuning of human loves and passions towards a vision of human flourishing marked chiefly by a deep and superabundant peace individually and socially.
Affectivity and Educational Philosophy
Every pedagogy is grounded in a central question: what does it mean to be human? An institution’s answer to that one question will inform every aspect of instruction, from things as central as benchmarks and school culture to things as seemingly auxiliary as room décor.
Our classical pedagogy is therefore rooted in the understanding that humans, while capable of many kinds of activity, are foundationally affective creatures. Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain thus suggest that “before learning can begin there must be an education in love.”
The classical Christian school is not merely a place for children to get “tooled” for the job market (although that is a good thing that happens along the way), it is a network (of parents, and faculty, and administrators, and students, and coaches, etc.) who work in the formation of rightly ordered loves.
Finding the Difference between Classical Christian Education and the IB Program: Part 1
Written by Mark Brians, 7th and 10th Grade Humanities Teacher
My alma mater, Kaiser High School, has an amazing International Baccalaureate (IB) program and I am close with some people who either teach in such programs or whose children are (or have been) a part of this kind of learning. Both in conversations with these people, as well as with others whom I encounter in the field of education, some questions arise regarding the relationship between the classical tradition and the IB program. At the outset, it is easy to reduce both pedagogies, the Classical Christian Model and the IB Program, to various exterior methodologies (one teaches Latin, the other modern languages; one has a capstone project, the other a ‘thesis,' etc.). But this sort of surface-level review fails to assess the deep and fundamental differences in theory which distinguish the programs from one another at their core.
What follows is the first of four installments, where I hope to be of service by outlining in three major headings the underlying differences between the IB programs and the Classical Christian tradition.
Before I begin, however, allow me to say that I have a healthy respect for the IB program and for those who teach it. Doubtless, it is a rigorous curriculum that produces high-achieving students who have been given an education that situates them for relative success in college and the global economy.
Indeed, even in some of the desired goals of the IB program, I think we can find commonality with our Classical Tradition. Both pedagogies desire to foster human beings who can engage meaningfully with various cultures across the globe, who have genuine concern for their neighbors, and who can emerge as meaningful voices in our rapidly changing culture. But while we may agree on these things, there remains a fundamental difference not only as to how to achieve these desired ends, but how to define these desired ends, what the purpose of these desired ends is, and what idea of “success” is being used to measure learning outcomes.
Fundamentally, we can arrange these differences into three major categories: 1] the nature of humanity and the purpose of education; 2] the nature of excellence and how it is measured; 3] the centrality of the Faith. I trace a brief sketch of these three differences below. I hope to address each of these categories in greater depth in later posts. For now, I offer a summary.
If we are in the business of educating humans, it would seem that the first two things we ought to understand are humans and education. While this may seem a trivial pursuit or at least a questioning of the obvious, it is neither obvious nor trivial, for it gets right to the heart of the difference that we are trying to uncover.
Now, humans do a lot of things. We think, we relate, we build, we invent, we love, we worship, we make war, and many other things unique to our race which separate us from the animals. The question here is not “what do humans do?” in general, but rather, “what is it that defines humans before we do anything else?”
Central to the IB Program is the concept of humanity as producer. This is to say, under the IB paradigm, humans are primarily oriented around what they produce (thought, goods, and services, organizations, finance, treaties, etc.). An example of this belief about the nature of humanity is manifest in the term the IB Programs use when referring to their students, as “learners” and “thinkers.” Thus, the primary purpose of the IB Program is to shape its “learners” into productive participants for the global market. If humans are fundamentally producers, a good education would be one that makes them more productive and more peaceable, insofar as peace makes humans more productive.
The Classical Christian Tradition differs here profoundly. While we do not deny that humans are producers, we do not believe that production as such is the definitive character of our being. Rather, we believe that humans are first and foremost affective (emotional) creatures, driven and defined primarily by what we love, desire, and adore. Everything we do is undeniably intentional, aimed at a certain goal; pursuing a particular vision of human flourishing. We may produce, we may think, we may cook, but when we do so, we do it guided and informed by loves and longings.
If, as we come to understand it in the Classical Tradition, humans are primarily affective creatures, then the purpose of education is to shape and form human loves towards the pursuit of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. Education, then, is about far more than “getting students to learn” or “preparing them for the real world.” It is instead about leading them to love learning, to love the things they learn, and to engage the world as not only a necessary accident of human production but imaginatively in the pursuit of the Good, the True and the Beautiful.
Tune in next week for Part 2!
TCS Speech & Debate December Tournament
Written by Dr. Halcomb, photos by students Lenya & Kaley
On Saturday, December 16th, the TCS Speech & Debate team came out in full force for the tournament hosted by and at McKinley High School. We registered 29 participants and, in addition to representing TCS with an utterly professional look, our students put on display superior speaking and debating skills. The level of decorum that most of our students exhibited, especially the newly minted JVers, was impressive. I was and am proud of this crew!
I sat in on sessions in which all the Honors (i.e. Varsity) debaters participated. We had one pair challenging last year’s state champions and, in my estimation, they did very well. Another team, in terms of winning more ballots, actually defeated the aforementioned champs and, as I watched them in action, I was blessed to see all the hard work they’ve put in thus far earn them victory. Another team I watched simply blew their opponents out of the water by relying on sound logic, argumentation, and evidence. On the one hand, it was difficult to witness because I felt a bit sorry for the other team but, on the other hand, it was affirming to see all the hours they had put in resulting in a “W.”
It was fun, too, to get to know the students outside of the typical school setting. While we were waiting for the ballots to get tallied, we played numerous card games and even managed to squeeze in some video games. We have some great teenagers among us and I’m thrilled to be in a role that allows me to challenge them, encourage them, and, hopefully, shape them in positive ways.
At the end of the day, it was a joy to see TCS receive 14 awards. In Junior Varsity Debate the following pairs all won awards: Jason Aviles & Melynda Bretz, Kaley Nellans & Brandon Lawrence, and Jackson Henry & Micah Litsey. In Varsity Policy Debate, team captain, Kai Glorioso, and his teammate, Lauren Baker, also received an award. In Beginner Public Forum the following pairs took home awards, too: Tanner Tamaye & Lauren Kanoho and Kaila Baker & Grace Klein. In the speech category of Original Oratory, the team captain, Lenya Goda, scored an award, as did Samuel Gilbert.
While there were a number of TCS teams that didn’t earn certificates, many of them still posted points for our school. In other words, even if they didn’t win the majority of ballots last Saturday, any points they did earn went toward our school’s win percentage. Thus, it was truly a team effort that earned us our first-ever Debate trophy! Go Lions! I’m grateful to have been a part of that. The trophy (included in the accompanying photo) reads: “McKinley High School Debate Tournament | December 16, 2017 | Highest Percentage of Wins.”
Come January, as we head into the second half of the season, we’ll keep working hard, sharpening our skills, bettering our attitudes, and focusing our vision. Most importantly, we’ll keep reminding ourselves that in any loss or victory, our aim to be better speakers, presenters, and thinkers has one telos: bringing glory to the God of the Bible, the one in whose image and likeness we were made. That’s a truth we all need to be reminded of during this Advent season. Gloria in excelsis Deo!