Philosophy of Education

This speech about our Philosophy of Education was delivered by our Headmaster, Michael S. Phillips, at convocation in August of 2017.

Smith Preparatory Academy offers a truly classical Christian education. Most people rightly recognize that a classical paradigm of education is a difficult path and academically rigorous. Some people recognize the use of the trivium—Grammer, Dialectic, and Rhetoric—to provide the structure of a classical education. Yet, many people are unable to articulate just how a classical school differs from any other educational paradigms.

Classical Christian education is about the formation of a student. It seeks to shape or cultivate a disposition to the world that is truly lovely. While other forms of education promote self-discovery, Smith Prep seeks to cultivate Christian virtue. 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 are faculty and staff, demonstrated in our curriculum choices, and re-enforced through our yearly trips, activities, lecture series, and the varying opportunities provided to our students and families.

Smith Preparatory Academy’s educational philosophy recognizes that our students are more than minds. Each student also has body and a classical education seeks to shape the whole person. We not merely interested in transfer of content or some kind of information download. We want to mold our students, developing a disposition toward the world that is distinctly Christian.

In keeping with this philosophy Smith Preparatory Academy strive to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the Christian faith, the value of being truly human, and a context to both evaluate and live in this world as Christians. We are educating more than the mind but also the character and temperament of our students.

It is about how we become more human (and therefore more free, in the truest sense of the word.)…Too often we have not been educating our humanity. We have been educating ourselves for doing rather than for being. We live in an excessively activist civilization, in which contemplation and interiority are often despised and suppressed in favor of mere action and reaction. The task before us is not only to renew the foundations of education, but to rediscover our own relationship to Being (the secret of childhood), and our place in a cosmos that is beautiful in the Word.[1]

We are cultivating a respect for the value of the individual, and the experience of a faith community, lived out through liturgy, prayer, and service. Smith Preparatory Academy instructs, encourages, and inspires students to be academically minded, thinking Christians, who live consistently under the authority of God’s word correctly interpreting and responding correctly to God’s created order. I do not simply mean that we impart only a proper understanding of an idea or the acknowledgment of propositional claims and presuppositions that undergird our values. It is the whole disposition of our students that we strive to educate. We might actually say that we are training Christian sensibilities.

To educated our humanity we are not only to be in possession of good and useful information but we must developed a temperament and a wherewithal to engage this world in a manner that is transformative and in keeping with the moral order of the universe. Until recently, with the advent of late modernity, it was largely accepted in academia that there is a certain order ingrained within creation that elicits a particularly correct response. There are indeed objectively true, good, and beautiful things and the educated person objectively recognizes those things that are true, good, and beautiful. C.S. Lewis commenting on this digression of modern education:

“Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it—believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence, or our contempt.”[2]

Aristotle argued that education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought.[3] Plato said something similar:

“…who would see most clearly whatever was amiss in ill-made works of man or ill-grown works of nature, and with a just distaste would blame and hate the ugly even from his earliest years and would give delighted praise to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it, so that he becomes a man of gentle heart. All this before he is of an age to reason; so that when Reason at length comes to him, then, bred as he has been, he will hold out his hands in welcome and recognize her because of the affinity he bears to her.”[4]

Lewis argues that the a student, “must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likable, disgusting, and hateful.”[5] Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, that ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind and degree of love which is appropriate to it.[6] In other words, virtue is defined by rightly order loves and these loves are directed specifically toward the entire cosmos.

God created this world and the human being. We attend to our children and students to align their sensibilities with the grain of the universe. We are seeking to awaken the fullness of our humanity as God created it to be. Irenaeus has said that “The glory of God is a human being fully alive; and to be alive consists in beholding God.” The classical Christian educator fits the soul to God and the world that he has made.

Lewis commenting on modern education argues that that modern education “produces what may be called Men without Chests. “The Chest—Magnanimity—Sentiment,” says Lewis, “these are the indispensable liaison offers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man.”[7] Smith Preparatory Academy seeks to produce students who at the core of their being can discern good and evil.

In a recent article by Lindsey Brigham Knott she reminds the classical teacher that there is more at stake in Classical education than truth, there is also goodness and beauty. Knott begins her article speaking of a fine tuned city without “any trace of color, sound, or scent; no music, no laughter, no gardens, no paintings, [and] no feasts [to] fill its symmetric architecture.” She then asks a penetrating question, “Would such a land be habitable?”

It is true that many classical schools and classical curriculum emphasize propositional truth claims and the consequences of ideas. Indeed, the importance of teaching truth cannot be overstated. However, the tending of mind to the exclusion of the whole person undercuts the very notion of a truly classical education and fails to take into consideration the world in which we live. Knott suggests that we need more than to teach truth. She argues:

“But to teach truth alone is to usher students into a world of firm foundations, pure proportion, and stately symmetry with no color or sound or scent—the world of the fable above. This world lacks all that makes the truth homey and habitable, lovely and lovable; little wonder that students tire of it, poke fun at it, seek to move out of it. It cannot be home for their souls, for it lacks goodness and beauty.”

Might this be the reason that when our students leave for college many abandon the first principles they had been taught by their parents? Could it be that reading the right books, attending the right school, participating in the right bible studies, and hearing the truth daily might not be enough to truly ground a student and equip them to live consistently within this world?

Stratford Caldecott, in Beauty for Truth’s Sake, argues that truth never stands alone. Rather, according to the classical tradition, the triad of truth, goodness, and beauty are found in everything that exists. This is true because God who is the source of truth, goodness, and beauty has created everything that exists. Caldecott says:

Everything, in other words, is true, good, and beautiful in some degree or in some respect. All that exists—because it gives itself, because it means something—is a kind of “light.” It reveals is own nature and at the some time as aspect of that which give rise to it. Beauty is the radiance of the true and the good, and it is what attracts us to both.[8]

Cultivating the affections, for Caldecott, becomes in some measure more important than the cultivation of the mind. To see beauty in creation and to experience its penetrating effects necessarily draw us to fully embrace those things that are truly true and truly good. It was this concept that led Socrates to argue that the “object of education is to teach us to love what is beautiful.”

Smith Preparatory Academy’s educational paradigm demands that we hold together truth, goodness, and beauty. It is not enough to teach about flowers; we need to smell the flowers. Teachers and parents must constantly be looking to the artistry of creation and the creativity of stories. Our children should be exposed to the wonderful sensations our world offers. We must looking for opportunities to sing, dance, and play, with each subject. We must also look for those times to be quiet, still, and contemplative. We are directing more than our students minds we are instilling in them tastes and sensibilities that will last a lifetime.

Smith Preparatory Academy is offering a human education. It is an education that enliven students to colors, textures, aromas, sounds, and tastes of creation. Students should experience the glory of creation and recognize the rot of its curse. Classical Christian education is a formative education that trains sensibilities inciting pleasure when appropriate and a distaste of those things that are awful. The goal of a classical education is to shape students, molding a discerning disposition toward the world. It is an education that unveils the true for students but also goodness and beauty. May God help us in this endeavor.