Monthly Archives: July 2019

Why Teacher Instruction?

There is a variety of ways that students can learn. Schools may choose one or more of these, and the choice matters.

The traditional arrangement assumes that teachers have a greater mastery of the material, and a way to impart that knowledge or skill as students work to learn it. The subject matter is considered beneficial to all students, often by helping them learn even more beneficial things later. Teachers bring students into contact with a body of knowledge that exists outside themselves, knowledge that has proven to be a blessing for generations of people, and will certainly help young scholars today. The manner of learning can vary, but the teachers are in charge of bringing each group of students into contact with the material, and even deciding which parts of the material should receive the greatest emphasis.

A more recently developed arrangement puts students in the driver’s seat, while teachers assume the role of a guide or coach. Direct instruction is discouraged. Students decide which courses and subjects are best for themselves based on their own interests, and have freedom to do or study as they see the need. This arrangement prioritizes the interests and inclinations of students above all else, even when they are biased against something as a result of knowing little about it.

A third arrangement puts teachers in the role of managers, while a universal curriculum assumes the role of the teacher. Students progress independently through a sequence of materials that takes them incrementally from the beginning of their education to the end. Teachers don’t need subject mastery and they can handle a much larger group of students, because they only need to help students maintain their momentum through the prearranged curriculum. It makes a school less expensive to operate, and can be an advantage for busy parents in a homeschool setting. While it does impart the knowledge contained in the program, this arrangement loses the personal touch that students will miss without a teacher actively sharing the knowledge and skills that students may need, and actively differentiating based on students’ prior experience, personalities, and gifts. It’s not easy to add or remove things from the curriculum.

Of these three teaching arrangements, Columbia uses the first. It’s not the easiest for our teachers or the least expensive, but with small class sizes it provides the best learning opportunities for the widest variety of students.


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Why Uniforms?

A uniform is a strict dress code. Sometimes it’s so strict that everyone must wear exactly identical articles of clothing. The dress code is not so strict at Columbia, but it allows the student body to dress in a uniform way, so that they have a consistent, comparable, and pleasing appearance.

With a uniform dress code, families are better able to ensure that their students are prepared for school every day. It simplifies shopping for school clothes and also simplifies the process of getting ready for school each morning.

From the students’ point of view, wearing uniforms helps remind them of their vocation as students. Military and police uniforms do the same thing for the men and women in those vocations. It gives the group a deeper sense of community and identity, fostering cooperation and mutual support. Like a band dressed to play a concert or professionals dressed to work in a downtown office building, students dressed to learn will find it easier to do so, and will find that they perform at a higher level.

Instead of being distracted by comparisons between “haves” and “have nots,” and between the “ins” and the “outs,” students can spend more precious time focused on their studies. Even young children tend to worry about fitting in. These worries can detract greatly from their focus and their contentment. A uniform dress code helps to avoid those problems.

The requirement of wearing uniforms is an advantage for parents and students because it means less stress at home and better focus at school.

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Why Latin?

According to legend, the Latin language was adopted by the people of Rome around the time the city was founded (753 B.C.). It was named for the surrounding region. The people of that city went on to dominate the whole Italian peninsula and establish an empire on the three continents surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. The influence of this empire brought the Latin language to the the whole world. When the empire declined and disappeared by around A.D. 500, the Latin language was preserved by scholars and missionaries like the Irish monk Columba. They preserved the light of classical history and civilization through several centuries when it had crumbled and morphed into feudal kingdoms. Then in the Renaissance, students of history made a special effort to revive the learning that had been lost. Latin once again flourished, now used in schools, government, and religious settings. As in the Roman Empire, people in various places had their own languages and customs, but the Latin language was a way they could all communicate.

Classical schools teach Latin or sometimes Greek. They can also teach other languages. Languages like Spanish are taught as an elective to acquaint students with foreign culture and perhaps enable students to become fluent speakers, readers, and writers. When they are offered, those language courses are optional. They are a way that students can specialize their education, because so many languages are spoken in the world, and different students will want to pursue their particular interests. That’s entirely and completely different from the reason classical schools teach Latin or Greek.

When a classical school teaches Latin, students learn about the classical heritage of western civilization. They can join in the great conversation between some of the best minds in history. But more importantly, students learn the nuts and bolts of language itself. It’s easier to develop a mastery of language using Latin than using English or another modern language. English is a moving target, and its rules are chaotic in comparison to Latin. Students who are native English speakers have learned it naturally, and naturally presume to know it well without understanding how it works. Studying the stable grammar of Latin allows a scholar to set aside that presumption along with the frustration of constantly-changing inconsistencies.

Practically speaking, most English vocabulary comes from words borrowed originally from Latin, so familiarity with one Latin word produces a deeper understanding of many English words. Latin also helps with certain foreign languages of the present day, such as Spanish and French. Latin itself is still used worldwide for terminology in the fields of science, medicine, law, and theology.

When a student understands how language works in general, this understanding gives the ability to think in disciplined ways and communicate those thoughts effectively. It enhances the understanding of what is heard or read in the work of others. It helps to distinguish between sense and nonsense. Coupled with logic, an understanding of language allows the student to more easily and more beautifully express things worth saying. Even math and science are fundamentally based on an understanding of language.

The study of Latin or Greek is not considered a specialized option at a classical school. It’s part of the core curriculum. This is a great advantage and blessing for parents and students, even though many people may still misunderstand its purpose and underestimate its value.

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Why Logic?

Logic defines the way things relate to each other. In a classical school, students begin every subject by memorizing facts. The facts are the subject’s grammar. When a student has learned them well enough, the next thing is to learn the subject’s logic. How are the facts related? How can they be distinguished or combined?

Logic can also be generalized more abstractly. The rules that govern how things relate to each other may be described in a symbolic way, similar to mathematics. Logic is often learned this way in connection with subjects like geometry or computer programming. The more traditional way for classical schools is to study logic as a part of language. At Columbia, we can become acquainted with using logic in fifth and sixth grade through computer exercises and puzzles, but we begin to study categorical logic in earnest at the seventh and eighth grade levels by learning to recognize the forms of valid reasoning.

The aim of learning logic in a classical school is to develop the ability to craft a coherent essay or present a speech for some purpose. This is the art of rhetoric, and the application of logic in such a presentation is called dialectic. More generally, the knowledge of logic gives scholars the ability to think correctly about their observations and what they read or hear from others. This has wide application to science and every kind of art.

It may seem that everyone already knows how to think correctly, but that’s not so. Logic allows the thinker to say something more useful than, “I disagree with what that person has said” or “I feel like the truth is….” Instead of simply expressing an opinion or a feeling, the logic student can express reasoning by giving statements that are supported in valid, objective ways. Instead of saying, “I disagree with that,” logic allows the student to say something like, “Your statement is based on an unsupported premise. You haven’t made the case for what you are saying.” Or, “Your reasoning is not valid, because your premises do not lead to the conclusion you are making.” Or on the other hand, “I accept your conclusion because you have supported it with true premises and valid reasoning.”

Parents and schools ought to teach the logic of every subject because it allows students to understand the relationship between basic facts. They ought to teach logic as its own subject when students are ready to think more abstractly, because the study of logic allows students to recognize the difference between a coherently-supported statement and an unsupported opinion or statement of feeling, and also to support their own statements when writing or speaking.

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Why Classical?

Classical schools teach the liberal arts, which developed in the early years of western history, in the civilizations that produced some of the oldest achievements still widely recognized and used today.

During the decline of Rome, the liberal arts were adopted and adapted by the great Christian teachers that shaped the civilization of the Middle Ages. Following the lead of the ancient masters, they emphasized lofty ideals that make humans the creatures that we are. Our minds were given to contemplate thoughts that transcend earthly life and inspire us to greatness in our character.

The transcendent ideals of goodness, truth, and beauty were recognized by Aristotle (330 B.C.), but also exemplified by Jesus Christ in fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures. These ideals are the constant aim of classical education, meant to give young scholars an opportunity to become the best human beings that their personal gifts allow.

To understand the word liberal, one must recall that slavery was a blotch on history throughout the world before the time of America. (That’s what made the Declaration of Independence so revolutionary. It declared the fact self-evident that “all men [i.e. people] are created equal.”) A liberal education in a slave world was an education for free people (līberī in Latin). Slaves were not allowed to receive it; they had a limited, servile education. It was understood that a free citizen should be able to think independently and be informed about a wide variety of things. Think of Maximus in Gladiator. His liberal arts education (among other things) set him apart from the other gladiators, and allowed him to quickly prove himself their superior. In most places before America, free women were second-class citizens. Free girls did not receive the same education as their male counterparts. But since the 19th Century, the liberal arts were improved here by the expectation that girls and boys both deserve a liberal education. Girls, boys, human beings of every age and race are līberī.

The term liberal arts is plural because there are seven. The first three are language-oriented, and the last four take in the study of Creation. At the elementary and middle-school level the emphasis is on the first three, called the trivium, meaning “triple way” or “threefold way.” Higher level education places greater emphasis on the last four, the quadrivium.

The trivium contains three areas of study that are subjects and also stages of learning within any subject. They are called grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Grammar is about memorizing the facts, the building blocks – the practice of young children. Logic teaches the relationships between them and nuances of meaning – the delight of middle-grade students. Rhetoric studies the art of self-expression – the intent of middle to high school students.

The quadrivium traditionally includes mathematics, geometry, astronomy, and music. Today these areas branch into all parts of science and technical artistry. While the trivium absorbs most of the effort for beginning scholars, the quadrivium takes the front seat at higher grade levels.

Parents and schools should use the classical approach to education because it provides an excellent way to prepare young minds to meet the widest variety of possible future circumstances, using God’s gifts to the fullest. Our whole community benefits from classical Lutheran education because Christian civilization must be taught, and that’s exactly what classical Lutheran education does.

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Ever Wondered Why CLS Teaches Latin? Here You Go.

Last month I read David Epstein’s new book, Range, thinking that it might be a good explanation of the advantages that a liberal arts (classical) education can provide to young scholars. It did not disappoint. But if you don’t want to read the whole book yet, you might take a look at this article Epstein published on The Guardian.

There is a planned post for the Columbia Lutheran School blog site explaining the advantages of late specialization, but if you want to see the research behind that idea, please read Epstein. Also, when it comes to teaching Latin, keep in mind that it’s not taught at classical schools in the tradition of a foreign language elective where students can specialize in the hope of someday visiting a certain exotic land. Learning Latin is all about the general-purpose mastery of language in general, together with the opportunity to benefit more deeply from the great conversation of western civilization. There are many exotic lands from the past that you can visit with a trip to the library, and visiting those places allows you to understand the wider world of the present day. The study of Latin can be your introduction.

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