Third Annual Faith in the Public Square

Smith Prep is delighted to announce that Professor Louis Markos will be the speaker at our third annual Faith in the Public Square event, to be held at 6:30 PM on Thursday, March 16th, at our Longwood campus.

Preparing our students to live faithfully and virtuously in the wider culture is one of our most important goals at Smith Prep. With that aim in mind, we held the inaugural Faith in the Public Square event in 2015. It was our desire to provide our students and families with the opportunity to hear and interact with a distinguished Christian scholar on the question of faithfulness in the midst of a secular culture. In 2015, Dr. Chad Brand spoke to us about the place of faith in the political arena. In 2016, we were honored to hear from the president of Reformation Bible College, Dr. Stephen Nichols, about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

This year’s speaker, Dr. Louis Markos, is the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities at Houston Baptist University, where he has taught courses in ancient, medieval, and modern literature. Dr. Markos has also written and taught extensively on the work of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

For his Faith in the Public Square lecture, Dr. Markos will be addressing the topic of his 2007 book, From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics. The work addresses a number of key questions that get at the heart of a classical, Christian vision for education. Here are some of those questions as Dr. Markos sees them:

Can the basic tenets and chief embodiments of both Christianity and humanism be combined in a way that will pay homage both to the glory of God and the dignity of man, the truths of Christ and the wisdom of the ancients? What business does a Christian have devoting time and energy to reading works written by pagans who lacked the light of the Christian, or even the Jewish, revelation? Are not all the really important answers to be found in the Bible and the Sacred Tradition? Have not the pagan writers of the ancient world been so superseded by Christianity as to be irrelevant as sources of wisdom in the life of the believer?

Please join us to hear from Dr. Markos about how we might approach such questions wisely and faithfully.

The evening will begin with a dinner at 6:30. Dinner will be followed by Dr. Markos’ lecture and a question and answer time. We encourage everyone to join us for dinner, but you may come for only the lecture. If you are planning to join us for any part of the evening, we would ask that you RSVP so that we can plan accordingly. Please call or email the office to let us know if you will be joining us.

While the evening is especially designed for Smith Prep students and families, we do welcome anyone from the community to join us. Please feel free to spread the word among your family, friends, and churches.

Seven Reasons to Choose Smith Prep

Our Headmaster, Mr. Michael Phillips, discusses the qualities that set Smith Prep apart.

You can find dozens of schools representing various philosophies of education throughout central Florida. Daily we hear of schools offering the newest and greatest technologies and the next best thing in education. Some schools advertise their niche programs enticing families with a narrowly focused curriculum and skill development in a particular area of interest. Other schools might include fine art programs, enrichment programs, athletics programs, and anything else that can catch the interest of students or families looking for a change. Some of these schools are good programs serving students and families well. With registration opening in less than a month why would a family choose Smith Prep over other organizations and institutions offering educational opportunities for their student?

1. We are a Christian School within the Reformed Tradition

Smith Prep is unapologetically a Christian school within the reformed tradition. What makes us a Christian school is not only that we require students to take a Bible class each year or because we pray together during opening and closing assemblies. Rather, it is because the faculty and staff are committed to the Lordship of Jesus over every discipline. Literature, history, science, and all the academic disciplines are taught in light of the biblical narrative of God’s redemptive purposes.

Furthermore, the conviction that all human beings are created in God’s Image directs our educational endeavors. We recognize the dignity and significance of each human being, and the aim of our education is to cultivate in each students a well-ordered love for all that is true, good, and beautiful. In this way we seek to establish a community of virtuous scholars who are advancing God’s kingdom in their community and throughout the world.

Throughout their course of studies at Smith Prep our students are catechized using the Westminster Shorter Catechism and they carefully read and study the Old Testament and the New Testament. Our Upper School also students formally study biblical theology, systematic theology, and apologetics.

2. We are a Classical School

Smith Prep offers a truly classical education. Most people rightly recognize that a classical paradigm of education is a challenging and academically rigorous path. Many also recognize the use of the trivium—Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric—to provide the structure of a classical education. Yet, many people are unable to articulate just how a classical program differs from any other educational paradigm.

Classical education is about the moral, intellectual, and spiritual formation of students. It seeks to shape or cultivate a disposition to the world that is animated by well-ordered loves. While other forms of education promote self-discovery, Smith Prep seeks to cultivate Christian virtue and fit the soul to God. G.K. Chesterton once said, “Education is not a subject, nor does it deal in subjects. It is instead a transfer of a way of life.” This way of life is modeled by our faculty and staff, demonstrated in our curriculum choices, and re-enforced through our yearly trips and activities.

3. We invite our students to the study of Western Civilization and teach them Latin

We introduce our students to the works that have contributed to the Great Conversation that is the Western tradition. Western civilization has a rich heritage of art, architecture, music, literature, and philosophy. The events, people, and ideas it encompasses have formed us and shaped our communities. To know ourselves, to provide an accurate critique of who we are and what we believe, to make informed decisions, and to make personal and informative adjustments in the way we see and respond to the world around us, it is imperative that we engage with the voices of the past that have shaped our present culture.

Latin allows our students to plumb the depths of our heritage. Our students begin Latin studies in 1st grade. In fact, we teach English grammar through Latin studies. Latin serves as the next step that follows on phonics. Once English students know how to read Latin, it will serve to strengthen their ease of reading and retention of reading content. Further, Latin accounts for nearly a third of our English words and provides the root words for nearly all technical vocabulary in the modern sciences. Additionally, Latin is the source language for law, government, logic, and theology. Studying Latin is an indispensable tool that will strengthen a student’s ability to think critically and inform their future participation in society. There are about a half a dozen other reasons we study Latin that you can find here, here, and here.

4. We are a hybrid program with qualified instructors

Over twenty years ago Smith Prep began as a tutoring service for homeschooling families. While we have become a fully accredited private school, we continue to embraces a blended paradigm. Smith Prep combines the best parts of a traditional homeschooling experience with that of a classical private school education. Our school partners with parents to provide a rich educational experience for each student.

Gifted and qualified teachers, who know and love their subject, work with students instructing, encouraging, and engaging them weekly. Students work at home with their parents on the remaining days. This allows for more personalized attention and serves to strengthen an already robust philosophy of classical education. This partnership enables students to flourish beyond what could typically be achieved in a traditional five-day-a-week program.

5. We are an accredited school that offering college dual enrollment credits

For over twenty years Smith Prep has enjoyed its partnership with the Trinity School and most recently Veritas Academy. These fully accredited schools have come alongside our students and have provided them with guidance, diplomas, accredited transcripts, and graduation ceremonies. This past year Smith Prep has begun a permanent merger with Veritas Academy of Central Florida, a fully accredited private school. We expect the merger to be completed before this school year (2016-17) is completed.

Being an accredited school gives our school both a higher level of accountability as well as college and university accessibility. It provides nationally recognized credentials and certifies our professional standards. Accreditation assures our families that we are indeed meeting college and states standards.

Given our high standards and quality of instructors we are able to offer dual enrollment classes at our campus through Palm Beach Atlantic University. This provides our students the benefit of continuing their studies at Smith Prep while earning college credits.

6. We are cultivating students of the highest academic quality

Christian classical schools have a proven track record of practical results. SAT scores in Reading, Math, and Writing are over 100 points higher than the national average and 50 points higher than the average independent and religious private school. ACT scores are on average five to seven points higher than the national average in English, Math, Reading, Science, and Composition.

While Smith Prep has not been keeping track of its students statistics until relatively recently, we have seen this trend to be true in our student’s test scores and college enrollment. Last year we had our first student accepted to Air Force Academy and past students have gone on to attend Harvard, Cornell, Baylor, Covenant College, Texas A&M, the University of Florida, Belmont University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Stetson University, New College, and many other fine colleges and universities. Smith Preparatory students are well trained and suited to engage our culture and society.

7. We offer a unique education in Central Florida

There are simply no programs in Central Florida offering the blend of educational benefits available at Smith Preparatory Academy! There are no private schools, hybrid programs, or co-ops in or around Orlando that match Smith Prep’s distinctive culture and commitment to academic excellence. Smith Prep has a tried and proven record. We have served the greater Orlando area since 1995, and as we move forward we are looking forward to many more years serving this community.

For all those looking for alternatives in education I would encourage you to take a closer look at Smith Preparatory Academy. There are several informational meetings coming up. Make an appointment, visit the school, come and talk with our faculty and staff. For those of you who have been attending Smith Preparatory Academy keep up the hard work. I promise, it will pay off!

Why Study Latin

This post is authored by our High School Latin teacher, Mr. William Eggleston. You can learn more about Mr. Eggleston at our Faculty and Staff page. 

eggleston_william-1-grayscale“What do you teach?”

“I … uh … teach Latin.”

We all recognize this stage of small talk whenever we meet someone new. Almost without fail, I can guess which of two responses are coming next. If the person I’m speaking was in school before the 70’s I get, “Ah, Amo, Amas, Amat! I think that’s all I remember from my two years in it.” For those that were in school after the 70’s, I get, “Hmmm, do you get many students in that? Why would they take it?”  

With the first group, I have fun as they recount the trouble they had learning the language and how it still comes back to them when they are writing something. We usually end the bit of conversation by lamenting that their kids didn’t take Latin but rather took Spanish or French, about which they can’t remember anything. “But we thought it would be better if they studied a language that they could use,” they add.

The younger group usually gets a list of reasons from me that run along these lines, or, if we have time, we can get academic about it.  They often smile and nod, sometimes I surprise them with a connection between Latin study and a field they are interested in. But in the end, they cite several trite reasons like this fellow, and tell me that they “Think it would be better if their children study a language they can actually … you know … use.”

Both responses show two misconceptions that I like to point out. (Let’s ignore that the “practical” uses of High School Spanish or French are often limited to knowing which pastry you ordered at Versailles Cafe and ordering the lamb with the right accent).

Tinsthe first is a failure to distinguish between deductive and inductive language study.  When a student learns French or Spanish, they are normally taught inductively, or by immersion as it is sometimes called. That’s a good method to learn modern languages that will ordinarily be spoken, but it the method is deficient in teaching you how to read the language. Latin is mostly taught deductively because it is seldom spoken and mostly read. The two different forms of instruction engage the mind differently and have different carry over effects. The question of the usefulness of a modern language and the study of Latin is a comparison of apples to oranges. Both are useful, just in different ways.

The second misconception that I try to point out is the faulty assumption that pragmatism and usefulness are knowable and desirable attributes of an education. A good portion of the educational intelligentsia believes that they can draw a 1:1 correlation from instruction to application, and they publish this belief and the proof of it in every journal of education. Parents thus tend to have too high of an estimation of an educator’s ability to know what instruction to give students to bring about the desired result. I would challenge this assumption. I have taught a variety of subjects throughout my career, from Math to Literature to Science, and the connections that different students make from one subject to another constantly astound me. Most educators wouldn’t recommend a course of Latin, Classical Philosophy, and Humanities to a student who was interested in science today, but that is how we got Bacon, Galileo, and  Newton. The benefits of any one bit of instruction are impossible to exhaustively map to a result, therefore people who have the same or very similar instruction can turn out so differently. My twin and I were taught the same things by the same people, but I became fascinated with philosophy and language, while he became a dentist.

So I don’t look merely for direct and measurable benefits from a subject. Abstract thought is taught in the reading of Shakespeare as much as in Calculus, logical thought is taught by Latin and Geometry. Which one is more likely to cause a student to be a good abstract or logical thinker? I don’t know, and neither does any other teacher. But what I noticed is that I became a better reader, thinker, and writer when I began to study Latin, and I see the same in my students. If you asked me to measure the effect or draw the connecting lines, I wouldn’t be able to. But I do know that it will benefit them in a myriad of real although often intangible  ways.

Great Books and Classical Education

Today, a new semester begins at Smith Prep. Coinciding as it does with the start of a new year, the beginning of our second semester is a fine time to reevaluate our work and reexamine our purpose. Our hope for faculty and students alike, refreshed by our time away, is that we resume our places in the classroom with a renewed desire and commitment to cultivate the life of the mind and to seek the face of God.

Among the most important means at our disposal for the cultivation of the life of the mind is the reading of Great Books. This semester, for example, our students will encounter the works of Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, Dante and Dickens. We turn to these Great Books not because they are infallible or sacred; they are not. Indeed, at Smith Prep we prefer to speak of the “Great Conversation” rather than the “Great Books.” But these books, integral to the Great Conversation, are important to us because they have proven themselves to be indispensable to the life of mind and the heart. If we engage them with mind and heart, both will be enlarged and enriched. They are books whose depth and quality leave us better off for having wrestled with them.

In his recent discussion of the value of Great Books, “Winged Words: The Importance of Reading & Discussing Great Books,” Peter Kalkavage of St. John’s College had this to say:

Reading great books is vital for anyone who wishes to become a liberally educated human being. There is a great need these days—there has been for a long time now—for academic programs devoted to liberal education. Such programs are sprouting all over the nation, many of them at Christian colleges and universities. But an overwhelming trend toward the non-liberal persists. All too often we confuse education with professional training, genuine understanding with know-how, and learning with achievement on tests and with measurable results. The professions are, to be sure, necessary and noble—necessary because they minister to the demands, needs, and wellbeing of everyday life, noble because they inspire lives of achievement, service, and self-sacrifice. But human life is not co-extensive with professional life. There are also the lives we lead apart from our jobs and professions, the lives we lead in so far as we are human beings. It is this life, human life insofar as it is human, that liberal education seeks to cultivate and perfect.

Although it is not a college campus, Smith Prep is one of the “academic programs devoted to liberal education” that Kalkavage describes. Our view of classical education assumes the task of forming the whole person–not only the mind, but also the heart and the soul. It also assumes the importance of a community of learning. When we read together and discuss our reading in class, we become just such a community. And together, the books we read and our conversations about them, provide a context for the education of heart, mind, and soul.

As we begin the new year and the new semester, then, let us be encouraged in our reading, as students, teachers, and parents, by this reminder of the potential of a great book.

Great books do the following: they initiate us into the founding texts and ideas of our civilization; they aid our self-knowledge and help us to cultivate our freedom by making us critically aware of alternatives to our accustomed opinions and prejudices. Great books put our adult, professional lives in the context of human life as a whole and invite reflection on the limits of our professional knowledge. The winged words of great books fly into our souls and inspire imagination as well as critical thought regarding the deepest, most important questions of human life; they educate our feelings and desires and therefore have a powerful role to play in our moral education. In particular, they help to cultivate a taste and admiration for nobility—an intelligent appreciation of all things great, beautiful, rich in detail, and intelligently composed. Reading and discussing great books also prompts and refines our inner discourse, the conversation we have with ourselves. It thus shapes our character and our lives. And finally, some great books, the ones we most admire and love, are like ever-reliable friends who always have wise and wonderful things to say, and with whom we wrestle gladly and profitably. Thanks to these books especially, for several hours we feel no boredom, we forget every pain, and we fear neither poverty nor death.

We encourage you to read the rest of Kalkavage’s essay.

Spring 2017 Electives

Smith Prep offers an array of challenging semester-long elective courses designed to prepare students to live wisely and faithfully in the midst of a culture that is often inhospitable to the Christian faith.

These courses count half a high school credit and are conducted in a seminar style that emphasizes careful reading and vigorous discussion.

In the 2017 Spring semester, Smith Prep will be offering two such courses: Christian Ethics and The Life and Thought of Augustine.

Christian Ethics will meet on Mondays from 11:45 to 1:00 and it will be taught by Mr. Sacasas. This class is designed to help students think biblically about both the moral dimensions of everyday life and the more extraordinary ethical problems that we face in the 21st century.

The Life and Thought of Augustine will meet on Wednesdays from 2:20 to 3:35 and it will be taught by Mr. Phillips. The course will explore Augustine’s classic texts including the Confessions, The City of God, On Christian Doctrine, and On the Trinity with a view to better understanding our own moment of cultural confusion and learning how we should navigate the tensions of living as both citizens of the City of God and the City of Man.

Contact the office for cost and enrollment information. Email or call 407.260.0157.

Education In An Age of Distraction

Writing in the journal First Things, Joseph Claire examines one the chief obstacles to both our intellectual and spiritual lives: a perpetual state of digitally induced distraction. Observing the ubiquitous glow emanating from digital devices during a chapel service at his university, “distracted people distracting themselves during a sacred act,” Claire can’t shake the feeling that he is witnessing “the foretaste of some looming spiritual crisis.”

It is tempting to dismiss Claire’s concern as hyperbolic, but we should take a moment to consider the matter more closely. Claire takes the problem of distraction seriously because he understands the value of attention. Attention is, as Claire recognizes, a precious and limited resource. “It is that part of our soul we give to the world around us,” he eloquently notes, “the gateway to the self.”

Even more significantly, it is also a part of the soul that is essential to our communion with God. Claire cites the French philosopher Simone Weil who wrote, “The habit of attention is the substance of prayer.”

Elsewhere, Weil went so far as to say that “the key to a Christian conception of studies is the realization that prayer consists of attention.” Prayer, she believed, was “the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable toward God.”

When we think about our present crisis of attention, we naturally think about the devices whose use has undoubtedly made a habit of the state distraction. But we cannot place all the blame on our devices. “There is something in our soul that loathes true attention much more violently than flesh loathes fatigue,” Weil wrote decades before the first smartphone was manufactured.

Writing in the 17th century, the polymath Blaise Pascal also diagnosed our penchant for distraction, or what he called diversion, as a spiritual malaise that was endemic to the fallen human condition. “What people want,” Pascal insists, “is not the easy peaceful life that allows us to think of our unhappy condition, nor the dangers of war, nor the burdens of office, but the agitation that takes our mind off it and diverts us.” “Nothing could be more wretched,” Pascal added, “than to be intolerably depressed as soon as one is reduced to introspection with no means of diversion.”

Writing in a similar vein, the 20th century American novelist, Walker Percy, described what he called the “diverted self” as follows: “In a free and affluent society, the self is free to divert itself endlessly from itself.  It works in order to enjoy the diversions that the fruit of one’s labor can purchase.”  For the diverted self, Percy concluded, “The pursuit of happiness becomes the pursuit of diversion.”

While the problem of distraction is amplified by the power and ubiquity of our digital devices, it is at root a spiritual problem. It is one symptom of an age-old problem: disordered desires. “We attend to what we want, what we need, what we find interesting, attractive, and so on,” Clair observes, “Thus the problem is less about distraction than about desire. Our dwindling capacity for attention reveals our fractured worlds of desire—hyper-temporary, dazzled by light and color, summoned by restlessness rather than meaning.” Echoing Augustine, Claire writes, “We have lost our ability to give our attention to the right things, in the right amount, at the right time.”

Education, then, especially insofar as it aims at moral and spiritual as well as intellectual formation, must set for itself the task of cultivating in students the habits of deep and patient attentiveness. It must take up the challenge of combatting the forces of distraction that define our cultural milieu. And those institutions, like Smith Prep, that provide a communal context for the work of education must become places whose structures and rhythms sustain the habits of attentiveness that are so important to both the intellectual and spiritual life.

As Claire concludes, “Our capacity for attention is a matter of Christian conviction and witness …. [O]rdering our attention and overcoming our addiction to distraction has everything to do with our ability to recognize Christ in one another and to learn what it means to be the body of Christ, a people formed by habits of good attention, giving and exchanging the gifts of attention in a world of distraction.”

Media Literacy and Moral Formation

Derek Thompson of The Atlantic recently appeared on NPR’s Here and Now to discuss the importance of media literacy. Thompson impressed upon the audience the importance of media literacy in the digital age. He urged listeners to examine the provenance or source of the information they encounter. He also cited an article that appeared in US News & World Report about teaching high schoolers how to critically evaluate online information. The article, drawing on the advice of teachers, presented three keys: 1. Teach teens to question the source, 2. Help students identify credible sources, and 3. Give students regular opportunities to practice vetting information.

At Smith Prep, we spend a good deal of time doing something like what Thompson recommended. In fact, we believe that among the most important skills teachers can impart to students is the ability to discern the credible from the incredible and the serious from the frivolous.

But we mustn’t fall into the trap of believing that this is simply a problem of the intellect to be solved with a few pointers and a handful of strategies. There is a moral dimension to the problem as well because desire and virtue bear upon knowing and understanding. Thompson himself alludes to this moral dimension, but he speaks of it mostly in the language of cognitive psychology–it is the problem of confirmation bias. This is a useful but too narrow way of understanding the problem. However we frame it though, the key is this: We must learn to question more than our sources, we must also question ourselves.

There are three questions to consider when evaluating information. The first two are of the standard sort: 1. Who wrote this? and 2. Why should I trust them?

The third question, however, gets at the moral dimension: 3. Do I want this to be true?

This question is intended as a diagnostic tool used to reveal our biases and sympathies. There are three possible answers: yes, no, and I don’t care. In each case, a challenge to discernment is entailed. If I want something to be true, and there may be various reasons for this, then I need to do my best to reposition myself as a skeptical critic. If I do not want something to be true, then I need to do my best to reposition myself as a sympathetic advocate. A measure of humility and courage are required in each case.

If I do not care, then there is another sort of problem to overcome. In this case, I may be led astray by a lack of care. I may believe what I first encounter because I am not sufficiently motivated to press further. Whereas it is something like passion or pride that we must guard against when we want to believe or disbelieve a claim, apathy is the problem here.

In ethics, the critical question is not, as it is often assumed to be, “What is the right thing to do?” Rather, the critical question is this: “Why should someone desire to learn what is right and then do it?”

Likewise with the problem of information literacy. It is one thing to be presented with a set of skills and strategies to make us more discerning and critical. It is another, more important thing, to care about the truth at all, to care more about the truth than about being right.

In short, the business of teaching media literacy or critical thinking amounts to a kind of moral education.

Welcome to the SPA Blog

Smith Prep’s blog aims to be a source of reliable information, encouragement, and wisdom for our families and the wider community of those interested in classical Christian education.

Follow along to learn more about what is going on at Smith Prep and about the classical tradition of Christian education. We will be posting reflections and commentary from our own faculty and staff as well as discussions of contemporary and classic essays and articles that shed light on our work of teaching and learning.