Sunday, April 20, 2008

Great Books High Schools

Winslow Homer's Country Schoolroom

This June my daughter will be graduating from Trinity School at Meadow View in Falls Church, Virginia. This is a "great books" high school. I sent my daughter here in 8th grade on the basis of the reading list. I have not been disappointed. I can vouch that she has read all of the listed material. From 9th grade on, history and literature are combined in a 2-hour daily seminar called Humane Letters. Books are read and discussed. When my daughter came home from her first day of Humane Letters in 9th grade, she was ecstatic: "I can't believe it. You sit around and drink coffee with your friends and talk about a book!" Not that my daughter is an avid reader or a zealous student.

Mostly, I wanted my daughter to go to Trinity for reason of the 11th grade reading list on the Greeks, including Aristotle and Plato. As in most Great Books schools, there is only one curriculum and no electives.

In Humane Letters, the students discuss the readings in class in the Socratic dialogue method, in which the teacher poses questions. They also write essays on each major reading. Essay writing is a major concern at Trinity--and the children are taught a very rigorous method of writing essays starting in grade 8, with the approach becoming more complicated and abstract in progression with the grade.

Trinity is a Christian school, and Catholic and Protestant doctrine is taught for each faith. The New and Old Testaments are also taught. I told my daughter early on that I could not let her go to a school in which God--the Creator and basis of all knowledge--is banned. She has always attended small Catholic or Christian schools that were intellectually rigorous and were not certified. (With Mr. Obama as President, such schools would be banned.)

Winslow Homer's Blackboard

Like many smaller Christian or non-Diocesan Catholic schools, Trinity plant and equipment is not the greatest, but the school's class size is very small (girls and boys are taught in separate classes), and each student receives all the attention and help they could possibly need.

I think my daughter has received a very good education at all of these uncertified schools. At Trinity, I am overjoyed with the struggles she has gone through to write her essays over the last years. I remember at one point, I nearly started laughing out loud at her determination to get the thesis of an essay right--not because she was in any way comical, but because I felt such joy at her ability to take ideas seriously and fight for the truth. The willingness to struggle to find the truth is what Trinity has given her.

The Great Books high school curriculum can be replicated in many environments. I hope that many more schools such as Trinity are founded all over the country. The small school with a rigorous and challenging curriculum with dedicated teachers--that's the ticket to bringing our educational system back to life, I believe, and ending the demoralizing de-schooling trends that have cut our children short.

Trinity has shown me that young people are very capable of understanding profound ideas and taking them seriously. I also believe that before young people start studying every other culture in the world they should have a thorough understanding of their own. This gives a solid basis for a child to enter college where more often than not, attacking Western civilization is the "politically correct" norm.

A fair number of graduates from Trinity at Meadow View go on to service our country, entering the Naval Academy, West Point, the Coast Guard Academy, Virginia Military Institute, and going through college on ROTC scholarships. My daughter will be entering the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing in the fall.


Books said...

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sloandaughter said...

I went to a liberal arts college circa 1986-1990. The message from day 1 was clear: reject - or at best, criticize - the western canon. As an excitable young woman, I ate message this up and threw myself into women's studies courses; eventually graduating with a dual degree in English and women's studies.

In the spring of my senior year I took an SAT-type test for English that (I think) had something to do with allowing one to skip certain prerequisites in graduate school. The test provided excerpts from various classical texts; asked the student to identify the text and the author; then asked a variety of interpretive questions about the material.

In that fateful hour and a half, as I worked my way through the test, I realized to my growing dismay that I knew none of the answers to the questions. None of them! So this is the sum total of my education, I thought. I've gone to school for 4 years; learned a bit about how to write; read a host of twentieth-century feminist writers, such as Adrienne Rich and bell hooks [sic] -- yet learned nothing of what I am "supposed" to know.

What an opportunity I missed. To this day I wish I had attended St. John's College, which is based around a great books curriculum.

Point being: We should make sure our children know the western canon before we willy-nilly teach them to criticize it -- or throw it away -- in the name of political correctness. What a heritage we steal from them if we do.

-- Sam

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