I found myself in a class entitled simply “Aristotle” in my first year of graduate school. I didn’t want to be there; I had looked for ANY other class that might tie into my master’s program. But, I was studying rhetoric – the art of persuasion, and Aristotle had literally written the book “On Rhetoric,” an ancient Greek treatise on the art of persuasion, so I knew I had no choice. Dr. Johnstone taught the class; the man looked like Aristotle.
The class discussions, the professor, the reading – all of it baffled me. Try as I did, I could not make sense of what we were talking about. Dr. Johnstone spoke on ethics and asked questions about how what we were reading might apply to living a virtuous life. I looked in my book to see if pages were missing in the material I had read. My goal for each three-hour class was to offer one insightful comment. I never did.
When it came time to write a paper on what we were learning, I was in trouble. My writing skills were decent, so I hoped to slide by on my “rhetoric” alone. I turned in my paper and waited. A few days later, Dr. Johnstone asked me to stop by his office. He handed back my paper, and over my typed words he had written one comment: “One cannot write intelligibly about that which one does not understand.” I might not have understood Aristotle, but I understood that the “one” to which he was referring was me.
I felt frustrated because I had never been taught how to interact with and evaluate the ideas in a book the way Dr. Johnstone was asking me to do. I didn’t know the questions to ask myself as I read to check not only for my understanding, but also for my own thoughts on what I was reading. I knew the grammatical rules of writing well enough to put together interesting sentences, but lacked the broad vocabulary necessary to express my thoughts with any precision or nuance.
I had been blessed with a good education, but I wished I had been given tools to more fully understand, wrestle with, and articulate what I had learned.
Abiding Savior Academy: The Beginning
Fast forward many years. My oldest son Ben was finishing up kindergarten at Abiding Savior’s Train Up a Child Preschool and Kindergarten. His teacher, Mrs. Tibbetts, who also had a granddaughter in Ben’s class, asked where we were sending Ben to first grade. She wondered if we were interested in pursuing continued education at Abiding. Several other families expressed interest as well, and we began to meet and discuss what that might be. God’s hand brought us in contact with a group of educators well-versed in an approach known as Classical Christian education. Collectively, we all knew this is the educational model we wanted at Abiding Savior.
We wanted our children in their earlier years to be steeped in memorizing facts, poems, historical timelines, Bible verses – not like robots, but like kids who love to sing songs and make up silly rhymes. We wanted them learning cursive and reading out of textbooks and good, old-fashioned classic books that have stood the test of time. We wanted them to have a broader understanding of language by learning Latin — not just for English, but for so many other languages that derive from Latin roots. And we wanted them learning these things within the culture of Abiding Savior, in which honor and respect for the Lord and for each other blanketed everything they do.
Abiding Savior Academy: Where We Are
That was what we knew when we started. As our children moved into middle school, they have started to learn how to ask the questions I had never learned how to ask when I sat with Aristotle in graduate school. They are memorizing and discussing the meanings of poems like “Journey of the Magi” by T.S. Eliot and “If” by Rudyard Kipling. These students are reading John Locke’s Social Contract and explaining to their mothers (at least mine are) the way his views on government helped shape America, and how those views compare to Jesus’ teachings.
Abiding Savior Academy High School: Where We’re Headed
And now, the same class that began the Academy in 2013 as first graders has the opportunity to be the first class at Abiding Savior Academy High School. They will continue on, still learning to ask hard questions, and still digging into classic pieces of literature that will stick with them for life. But they will also turn their focus more toward expressing themselves and their ideas well.
It can be scary to embark on something new and unknown that feels untested. But Classical Christian education is not untested; by its definition, the value of what our students are learning has stood the test of time. The skills they are developing—asking hard questions, thinking critically through complex problems, expressing ideas with clarity and persuasion—are less “test-able” in the traditional multiple-choice format. However, like the classical material they learn from, these essential skills will stand the test of time. And what’s even more valuable? The character they develop as they are steeped in the culture of Abiding Savior, in which they continue to learn honor and respect for the Lord and for each other.