Fiddling While Rome Learns
“Making sense of a chaotic world…”
While we experience a global pandemic, it’s a fitting time to discuss this topic. Chances are you’ve read other posts over the past several weeks that have attempted to do this: make sense of a chaotic world. Maybe some of them have turned out to help, and maybe some have increased your anxiety (for me, most often the latter). This topic has always seemed to be at the forefront of my mind (and presumably, yours since you’re reading this), and it’s been there long before COVID-19.
Within the last few months, and with each passing day, everything in the world began to look different. The impact of COVID-19 on education specifically, has brought the world to re-evaluate what we previously understood education to be. Zoom, webinars, blackboard, remote meetings; while these are not new, they were certainly not the norm for everyone. Now, a remote classroom is currently the only type of classroom. It’s all new and uncertain, which can feel chaotic.
Nevertheless, as I’ve personally attempted to make sense of our chaotic world, I’ve realized how the chaos highlights the importance of education and specifically a classical education. Living in a chaotic world highlights classical education’s most basic principles of science and art – and the relationship between the two.
I’m not a trained educator, and I’m by no means an expert in classical education. However, I am a product of it. I have distinct memories of my first run-in with classical education: a nervous little second grader, crying at the dining room table while attempting to memorize Bible verses, poems, and the Gettysburg Address for Friday tests. This first exposure to the ground-rules of knowledge, grammar, mathematics, music, logic; while difficult, provided a foundation for my continued growth.
Fast-forward two decades: I’ve earned a degree in Middle East Studies, I’ve completed my military service, and I’ve begun a career in a start-up company. As I’ve reflected on my experiences, what I see now is that the world has always been new, uncertain, and truly chaotic. But, my foundation in the basic principles of classical education enabled me to navigate it.
I’ve come to understand life and vocations as the continual balancing of the science and art sitting at the heart of classical education. Science provides the structures in which art can be created. Art is the way in which we choose to make sense of newness and uncertainty in the world.
My second-grade tears were the result of the struggle to learn the science: the basic elements of a word, musical notes in a scale, the construction of a sentence, the timeline of our history and those who came before us, the ways they constructed their sentences. This basic understanding of science, the structures, the processes, the laws, was my foundation. Within these frameworks, I could then create the art: the thoughts, the arguments, the ideas.
From my classical education came the ability to learn the structure of the problem and create a solution: learn the science and create the art.
It didn’t end in second grade. Through college I learned philosophy, history, politics, and music. With an inter-disciplinary approach, I crafted a thesis linking them all into an understanding of how hip-hop shapes cultures in the Middle East through similar mechanisms as it did in the Bronx, NY. Through my military career, I learned the effective range of weapons, how to structure a command, and use a radio. With an understanding of these capabilities, I crafted plans and performed actions I hoped were adaptable and flexible enough to withstand an ever-changing situation. Through my transition into a civilian career, I learned a new business lexicon, how to use productivity tools, and the form and function of my company’s product. With collaboration across our teams, I helped craft unique solutions to drive scalability and efficiency throughout the company. I’m humbled by the knowledge that this process will continue as the world presents new and uncertain challenges.
This balance between science and art shapes the way we perceive our world and grow in our vocations. Because the world will always feel chaotic, the need to learn new disciplines, structures, and science will always remain. It is with those building blocks of knowledge that we can create ideas, solve problems, and produce the art that will help us make sense of what is new and uncertain.
Classical education builds a foundation of knowledge and shows a rich history of ideas. Most importantly though, it teaches the process of life-long learning through a continual balancing of both science and art. And that is how we make sense of a chaotic world.
Learn the science. Create the art. Repeat.
A Peek in the Classroom - Kindergarten
By Mrs. Bohot
On any given day at Memorial Lutheran School, it is not uncommon to hear students chanting their phonograms, rapping their math facts, reciting Bible verses, or singing about the continents in the kindergarten classroom. This is an age of discovery and excitement where students eagerly learn about a variety of subjects. In kindergarten at MLS, we work to build a strong foundation for our children as they begin their educational journey through elementary school. We recognize their abilities and excitement for learning and teach in a way that helps them to grow in their knowledge and build their confidence as life-long learners.
The grammar stage of classical education provides a strong foundation for our kindergarten students. At this stage of learning, students soak up and gather an abundance of knowledge. They are always learning and exploring and retain much of what they learn. At MLS, we provide instruction that utilizes this stage of development in each of our students.
Reading is a critical skill at the kindergarten level. Our Writing Road to Reading curriculum uses a comprehensive approach that incorporates phonics, writing, reading, and spelling altogether. Students learn a variety of phonograms—sounds that make up words. They put these phonograms together to form words to read and spell. Students practice writing these phonograms and words at the same time they are learning them, and they use the phonograms to decode words as they read. This thorough approach to reading development uses a variety of skills—reading, writing, and spelling—to help establish both oral and written forms of communication. This approach builds a strong foundation from the beginning, doing more than just teaching a child to read, but helping to develop spelling and writing skills at the same time. Students are also introduced to a variety of literature. As they are read aloud, students discover different types of stories and identify the type of story being read. They use a variety of mental actions to be active listeners and readers as they comprehend each story that is read to them.
In Saxon Math, students learn a variety of math skills through the use of manipulatives and math strategies. They acquire a wealth of math facts using strategies, songs, and rhymes. Learning math facts through songs and rhyme helps to make it fun for the students, but it also develops confidence in their math abilities. However, students do not just memorize math facts, they are discovering the concepts of addition and subtraction through the use of manipulatives and math strategies at the same time. Most importantly, once they learn a skill, students continue to use it all year, never losing the skill once it has been learned.
Science is always a favorite among the students. In Elemental Science, students are introduced to a variety of sciences—chemistry, geology, botany, physics, meteorology, and zoology. They learn through labs and experimentation as well as instruction and exploration. They love the hands-on approach as they discover the world around them, and they develop an appreciation of God’s handiwork as they learn about the intricate details of the sciences.
History and geography are also taught in kindergarten to give students an opportunity to delve further in the study of their world and their country. Students learn about the history of the United States by learning about influential people in our history from Christopher Columbus to Martin Luther King, Jr. They focus on familiar subjects like American symbols and presidents and learn about the history behind them. In geography, students learn the continents of the world and the names of our fifty states through songs, and they also identify them on maps.
In religion class, students learn the rich history of the Bible beginning with the account of creation and ending with John’s account of heaven in Revelation. Religion is taught with a Christ-centered focus, incorporating both law and gospel to give students a thorough understanding of our sinful human nature and our need for Christ’s salvation. This is illustrated through every lesson. Lessons are not only chronological but also follow significant events of the church year, such as Christmas and Easter, so students understand the history as they experience the different seasons of the church year. Daily chapel also provides students consistent opportunities to confess their faith each day through liturgy and through song. The rich language of the liturgy and hymns is an ideal model for young children as they learn to express their faith daily. Using Luther’s Small Catechism, students learn about the 10 Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, Baptism, Holy Communion, and the Office of the Keys to better understand the basis of their faith. Students memorize Bible verses that support the catechism focus each week.
At MLS, students also have the opportunity to attend additional classes with other teachers. Music instruction involves learning a variety of music skills and songs. Students also have several opportunities to perform during the school year at church services and concerts. PE is taught twice a week and students experience a variety of different sports and physical skills. Students also have art class twice a week where they learn different techniques and occasionally study an artist’s work. Students also have a chance to visit the library once a week where they check out books and listen to a story read aloud.
MLS offers a comprehensive classical program that recognizes the developmental strengths of a child at each stage of learning. Instruction at the grammar level introduces students to a wealth of knowledge to help them establish a strong foundation as they prepare for the next stage of learning. It is a joy to watch these young students discover and learn!