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University model, classical education emerging anew as schooling alternatives

DALLAS (BP)–The newest approaches to Christian education are some of the oldest — increased parental involvement and a return to classical education.

A parent-based method known as University Model School began a decade ago in Arlington, Texas, while the renewed emphasis on classical education comes out of Moscow, Idaho, with adherents throughout Texas.

University Model School (UMS) integrates desirable attributes of traditional schooling and homeschooling, emphasizing academic standards, character-driven student activities, a strong work ethic, with more time for parents and other adults to mentor their children — all at about half the cost of a traditional private education.

“The immediate goal is quality, cost-effective, college-preparatory education accomplished in a way that gives parents more time for imparting the faith and values they hold precious,” explained Southern Baptist John Turner Jr., author of “Character Driven College Preparation” and dean of character education at Grace Preparatory School in Arlington.

A pastor of Southern Baptist churches since 1981, Turner received his master of divinity degree from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in California and a doctorate from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. He described the ultimate goal of UMS as “producing wholesome, competent men and women of character who make a positive difference in the next generation.”

In addition to the initial Arlington campus, UMS schools have begun in Denton, Fort Worth, Lubbock, Lucas, Marble Falls, Waxahachie and Wylie, Texas, with four other schools located in Georgia, Missouri, North Carolina and Kansas. Elementary students typically attend Tuesday and Thursday classes led by qualified professional educators, then study for those classes at home on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays under the guidance and supervision of their parents.

When the students reach the seventh grade, the class schedule shifts to Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and study is completed at home on Tuesdays and Thursdays. As children progress through the grades, the role of the parent changes from that of a primary teacher to a co-instructor and study guide. In athletics and fine arts, the parent serves as a coach or active supporter.

The test school for the university model, Grace Preparatory Academy in Arlington, has grown from its original 186 students to more than 635 in 10 years. Hundreds more are on a waiting list to be admitted. The majority of those graduating receive college scholarship offers.

“Some students take only one or two classes a semester and receive the rest of their instruction at home,” Turner said. “Others take a full load of five or six courses a semester and will graduate with a diploma that is commanding greater and greater respect among the nation’s universities because of the college-simulated training it represents.”

Turner believes all approaches to education are strengthened when parents are meaningfully involved, but he is quick to say that the university model absolutely depends upon such participation.

“To lay the responsibility for America’s educational crisis only on the schools is to fail to understand the issues,” Turner said. “Even in the best of school situations, teachers and administrators must work with children who are products of home environments that both precede them and extend beyond their scopes of supervision. Parents are the ones responsible for preparing their children to show, at the very least, reasonable respect for authority and basic consideration of others so that, once in school, their instruction can be accomplished in an ordered environment conducive to learning.”

Because schools reflect homes, Turner finds that “University-Model Schools are accessing the most powerful known single influence for reforming education in America — meaningfully involved parents.”

Proposed solutions to America’s educational problems typically recommend more time in class, removing students even further from the teachers they need most, Turner said, referring to parents. “University-Model Schools are not only empowering and ’employing’ parents in their teaching paradigm, they are also demonstrating the positive differences made when parents know that they are built into the learning process — needed, wanted and expected.” More information about the UMS approach can be accessed at www.universitymodelschool.org.

Another crusader for an educational reformation is Douglas Wilson, one of the founders of Logos School in Idaho. In order to be Christ-centered, Christian education must be more than a baptized secularism, Wilson notes in his book, “Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning.”

Life in the western world, including the theological and intellectual history, laws and social customs, has grown out of the heritage of the ancient Hebrews, Greeks and Romans, Wilson observes. As the gospel spread throughout the ancient classical world, the early Christians developed a teaching method which revolved around what were called the Seven Liberal Arts, he explains.

The first three of these Seven Liberal Arts were called the Trivium and comprised the means by which students were given the “tools of learning.” Adoption of the Trivium as a method of instruction is essential to the formation of a classical school. The first part, grammar, concerns the particulars of any given subject. Logic is the second and deals with the reasoning which ties all the various particulars together. Rhetoric is then used to teach the students how to express what they have learned in a polished and effective way.

The Trivium is a teaching model that seeks to tailor the curriculum subject matter to a child’s cognitive development. Concrete thinking and memorization of the facts of the subjects are the focus of elementary school, analytical thinking and understanding of the subjects begin in middle school while abstract thinking and articulation of the subjects are emphasized in high school.

Classical Christian education also is characterized by exposure to the history, art and culture of Western Civilization, including Latin and Greek, reading of the great books of Western Civilization and the Christian tradition through the study of philosophy and literature and the development of a biblical worldview with “theology in its proper place as the Queen of the Sciences.”

“From the chanting grammar of the elementary students, to the logic class in junior high, to the inventive rhetoric and study of literature by the high school students, the various stages of the Trivium are thoughtfully lined up with the abilities and desires of the students,” Wilson writes.

Many classical schools have emerged out of Wilson’s model, including 18 in Texas that are listed by the Association of Christian and Classical Schools.

To fulfill the biblical requirements of parental responsibility, parents must “know what and how their children are being taught” either by homeschooling or by constant involvement in a private Christian school, Wilson states. In his view, homeschooling, while clearly better than public school, should be second choice to a good Christian school. Nevertheless, Wilson and coauthors Wes Callihan and Douglas Jones explain the application of a classical education in the homeschool environment in a book that can be viewed online at www.canonpress.org/pages/pdf%20pgs/classed.pdf.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://bpnews.net. Photo titles: ONE ALTERNATIVE and SCHOOL-PARENT PARTNERSHIP.

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter