I had a chance to join our 8th Grade scholars on our inaugural trip to Washington D.C. It was an amazing trip to get to know our soon to be graduating 8th graders and share a week of deep rich American history. From Mt. Vernon to Monticello, the monuments and museums we did it all. What surprised me was the amount of screen time kids had during their bus rides or downtime. The moment there was a lull the phones came out and games or social media became the collective attention grabber. Kids didn’t interact or talk. We actually had to limit their phones to get attention to have the discussions that helped teach the importance of what we were experiencing.
Classical education is about what is Good, True and Beautiful. Early in their education at Leman Academy, scholars begin reading deep rich literature. We point out the values and virtues found in these books as a way to get our scholars to identify with what is right and what is wrong in the stories from the past. We take time to make the deep connections from the advancements in science to great works or art and music. We teach the art of debate, the power of Latin to expand word usage and vocabulary. At Leman, we are exposing our scholars to the deep philosophies and ideas that stand the test of time. From Aristotle and Plato to the Enlightenment to Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson and on to the atrocities of the Great World Wars, scholars are Leman Academy is exposed to the rich banquet of ideas that is the Western World.
We can trace back the Classical Education pedagogy that we practice at Leman back to the 12th Century. In Paris, at the Augustinian Abby of Saint-Victor, the Hellenic heritage which was preserved by through the dark ages by the Byzantine and Islamic empires found a resurgence. Hugh of Saint Victor proposed a radical educational idea that blended the religious teachings of the time with the study of the natural world. “Learn everything!”, Hugh believed “later you will see that nothing is superfluous”. University sprang up through Europe including the University of Paris in 1170. The idea of the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and Socratic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy) filled the classrooms of higher learning.
Just like the time of Aristotle and Plato, today, more prosperity allows people to start thinking, exploring and asking the big questions of life. Those big questions are what we focus on in our schools. Today we are in a time of transition, a time of great advancements, a time of abundance. These periods have happened before in human history. Confucius and Aristotle lived within a 100 year period, other peaks in idea formation occurred during the time of Caesar, Cicero, Mark Anthony and the Stoics. The Age of Enlightenment and the Renaissance are all periods that created big new ideas of government, science, arts, and mathematics. These big ideas ultimately lead to the formation of the United States of America and the idea that is individual rights.
What we fight against in our schools and what I fight against in my own home the amount of screen time our kids are exposed to. I’m a Generation X, the kids in our schools are Generation Z. These Gen Z students grew up in a post 9/11 world. They’ve lived with terrorism and watched their parents struggle with economic uncertainty. Gen Z is digital native, the device in their pocket has more computing power and quicker access to information than all the libraries I frequented or Funk and Wagnall encyclopedias I had growing up combined. The instantaneous aspect of information is opening these kids minds.
But with great information access comes great responsibility. What skills are we arming these scholars with to think critically? How do they know real from fake? How do parents build up a strong sense of self in their children in a sea of likes, selfies and click bait? These are realities and we are never going to put the genie back in the bottle. Our role is to work alongside of you and equip our scholars with balance, we must teach them to think. Our aim is to slow them down to appreciate what is Good, True and Beautiful.
This message isn’t about telling you what to do as a parent, that’s your role. Dr. Leman teaches that the Parent is the primary educator in a child’s life. In the mission statement of our school, we intentionally detail out that ‘…we purpose to partner with supportive parents.’ We as your school of choice, are in this together. I’m a Dad and I’ve wrestled in my own family on how much is too much. We’ve tried, unsuccessfully to restrict accounts and limit time. So please don’t take this message as any sort of judgment. Please take it as a blueprint of what we are trying to do while we have your scholars for the 6 hours each day from August to May.
Stretching a six-year-old to 13-year-olds attention to read a novel isn’t easy. Our teachers are patient and work hard to make learning interesting and fun. We held an all-day seminar with our Professional Development team entitled, “Why”. In the training, we covered the big ‘why’s’ of life. Why did our teachers choose the profession? Why are we here as a school? Why now and Why Here? It was powerful. The training had a few new teachers (3 years in the classroom) and a few 35+ year veterans. What these teachers see and where their heart is for your scholar was eye-opening for me. In our short history, we listened to our teachers and slowed down our curriculum pacing to allow them to go deeper and deeper into their subjects. We helped them break some patterns of ‘rush through and prep for the test’. We discussed the importance that we have as a school in setting up our scholars for success as leaders, employees, bosses, military members or Moms and Dads.
I covered with the group a yearlong project that I’ve been informally taking on. The project started with a question to Dr. Leman as to what his goal is for a graduating 8th Grader. Without missing a beat, he told me he wants them to be aware of others. Ahh, the Golden Rule. I branched out the questioning to our leadership team, our teachers and staff and our parents. I didn’t get one response that mentioned the mechanics of a 5 paragraph essay or the ability to solve an equation involving the Pythagorean theorem. The answers to what the goal of our school’s education process should be ranged from to teach our kids to think critically to be able to work well in a group. I heard a lot of responses that tied back to preparing our kids to be virtuous (kind, patient, persistent, courageous, honest). In the end, all these answers were exactly what I wanted for my kids. In the end, I learned that we are on the right track. We can and will always work to get better but the choice of focusing on what is Good, True and Beautiful is the foundation from which everything we do is built.
To continue your education on the power of our new technologies and digitally connected society, I would point you to a great lecture I heard and shared with our team from Stanford University’s, Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders. This discussion is from Tristan Harris and it’s entitled, Time Well Spent. Harris is an inside, inside player in Silicone Valley. Listen to his story as a part of the Gmail team. He explains how billions of people use Gmail daily and how he started asking the big ‘Why’ question about the ethical impacts of all these tech products. This interview will enlighten you and scare you, it did it for me.
From the ‘we should have seen this coming’ file:
Individuals empowered to screen out material that does not conform to their existing preferences may form virtual cliques, insulate themselves from opposing points of view, and reinforce their biases. Internet users can seek out interactions with like-minded individuals who have similar values, and thus become less likely to trust important decisions to people whose values differ from their own.”
Van Alstyne and Brynjolfsson dubbed this fracturing of the online community Cyberbalkanization. Ominously, they warned that “the loss of shared experiences and values may be harmful to the structure of democratic societies as well as decentralized organizations.”