There Is No “L” in STEM:
How a Classical School Develops Leaders and Thinkers
As every parent knows, there is a great deal of buzz these days surrounding STEM education under the larger umbrella of “college and career readiness.” Why our schools have not been preparing students very well for either college or careers over the last several decades—despite “innovation” in the form of fad after fad (many of them relying heavily on technology)—is a subject not brought up in polite company. Nonetheless, we are assured that Every Child Left Behind a Screen is the new silver bullet for educational “excellence.”
There are many questionable assumptions built into this career-first approach to education. For starters, it is far from established that the best way to study either mathematics or science is with a job in mind or by introducing technology as soon as possible. How has giving calculators to students as early as the second and third grade honed the mental math skills of the nation’s youth? Consider the last time you relied a clerk in a fast-food restaurant or coffee shop to make change with real money.
The larger concern, though, is what becomes of our children and our society when we view students as merely cogs in a large impersonal wheel. The deliberate narrowing of our aims of education leads straight to a narrowing of human excellence. A career-driven education (or training, really) fails to develop educated leaders and thinkers, the kind our nation badly needs. Whatever modern innovations may strike our fancy, those in charge of schools should keep in mind certain permanent realities about the nature of human beings and their education.
The future of this state and this nation will be largely determined by the power and creativity of the human mind. Jobs do not make the human mind. The human mind makes jobs.
The human mind is largely the product of education. The education that trains the human mind first and foremost inevitably creates leaders and thinkers. The education that corrals young people into careers before their minds have been formed produces only technicians and job-fillers performing below their potential and little able to rise in the ranks of any career or profession.
The current chorus of “college and career readiness” is the siren calling youth to specific, predetermined careers but not to become leaders and thinkers. For example, some states require programs that compel high-school students to choose “pathways” in specific careers, such as engineering. Colorado is considering such programs. Where is the pathway that invites a young person to become a judge, a military officer, a professor of history, a writer, or an entrepreneur? Furthermore, does an entrepreneur, even one in the tech industry, not struggle as much with human problems as with technical problems in building an organization?
In whatever walk of life people choose, they must be guided by thought lest they act rashly. Their thought must be informed by action to gain insights into human nature and achievement. The best education in thought and action is the deliberate study of the greatest thinkers and actors of the past. The most original thinkers in history have been those who have mastered the thoughts of the past: who have admitted themselves to be dwarves standing atop the shoulders of giants. The greatest statesmen have been those who followed in the footsteps of previous heroes.
A traditional, liberal education—called these days a classical education—engages young minds with the greatest leaders and thinkers of the past. The curriculum immerses the student in the written word, logic, rhetoric, moral and political philosophy, and the histories of great leaders. Students must engage in Socratic discussion requiring them to formulate and express logical arguments in speech and in writing. Students in a classical school encounter arguments, documents, philosophical positions, and examples of leadership not normally explored until college, if even then.
A thorough study of the sciences teaches one to observe, to understand, to live and thrive in, and often to wonder at, the natural world. A thorough study of the human arts—of English and literature and history and government—teaches one to live and thrive in the human world and, when called upon, to lead. Both courses of study are essential to human flourishing and necessarily support each other. Both are taught well in any classical school worth its salt.
And, yes, the graduates of classical schools go on to get “good jobs” and often make their own jobs. The mind trained on the classics will prove to be an agent of clarity and conviction in a confusing world. The reader of Cicero will not fail to make his point in a modern business meeting. The student of political philosophy who has learned to reason from first principles will not falter in writing her organization’s compelling mission statement. The student of oratory who cut his rhetorical teeth on Patrick Henry will manage to make Power Point exciting—or even be so bold as to speak to, nay inspire, an audience without it.
– Dr Terrence O. Moore – Founding Principal of Ascent Classical Academy of Douglas County
A recently released report from CREDO at Stanford University looks at the effects of charter public schools associated with a charter management organization (CMO), a relationship used with Ascent Classical Academies and the recently approved charter school in Douglas County.
The findings show that charter schools partnered with a non-profit CMO using proven models demonstrate improved education outcomes for children. The study also concludes that CMOs that maintain more direct control over school operations post higher gains than contracting out services to external third-party vendors. CMOs show their strongest effect with traditionally underserved populations, that include minorities and children living in poverty.
The High-Level Summary of CREDO Findings
1. On the whole, the analyses in this study show attending a charter school that is part of a larger network of schools is associated with improved educational outcomes for students. The history of CREDO’s research work has shown steady and consistent, even if gradual, improvement in charter school network performance. It is reasonable to expect current policies to result in continued improvement. However, there is still room for charter school authorizers to accelerate the rate of improvement by ensuring only the finest of charter school organizations are given the privilege of expanding their services to multiple schools.
2. The management arrangements of the network provider influence the typical gains that students make. Schools that contract with external vendors for much or all of the school operations post lower results than network operators that maintain direct control over their operations.
3. Charter school operators that hold non-profit status post significantly higher student academic gains than those with a for-profit orientation. For-profit operators have results that are at best equal to the comparison traditional public school students (reading) or worse (math).
4. Charter organizations have their strongest effects with traditionally underserved populations such as black and Hispanic students. This finding is consistent with previous CREDO research that shows minority students and students in poverty have the strongest gains from attending charter schools. Encouraging expansion of networks with a proven track records of success with these students has a strong likelihood of improving the quality of educational outcomes across the nation.
5. The effectiveness of charter school organizations varies across states. Several factors can contribute to these differences. One of the most obvious factors is differences in state policies around charter school practices and authorizing. While studies such as this can identify differences, there is a strong need for more qualitative research around state practices which lead to better out outcomes for students.
Thomas Jefferson, in proposing a course of study for the state of Virginia, wrote this of Latin:
I thank on my knees, him who directed my early education, for having put into my possession this rich source of delight, and I would not exchange it for anything which I could then have acquired, & have not since acquired.”
Time Magazine published a piece several years ago about the benefits of classical teaching methods and “old-fashion” skills like penmanship and learning multiplication tables, as many schools today are abandoning these basics.
The article begins with the perspective of a teacher who was told to teach students Greek and Latin root words and approach instruction that emphasized “rote memorization” (the word “memorization” is seldomly used in education these days without the disparaging use of “rote” attached to it), much to her chagrin. To her surprise, learning roots opened a new door and her students eagerly made connections and associations among words in the English language. By expanding their knowledge of our language, they were more effectively able to practice high-level thinking skills.
The article continues talking about the benefits of drilling and memorizing math facts to improve “automacity,” allowing students to more easily engage in higher levels of math.
The basics of traditional education include handwriting, argumentation (at Ascent Classical Academy we call this rhetoric and spend an entire year on this in the 9th grade), and reading aloud, are included in the basics of a classical, liberal arts education. We ground our students in basic knowledge to include knowing facts, figures, dates, people, and places (in classical education this is known as the Grammar phase), believing a quality education needs a strong foundation to allow students to access higher level skills.
If you’re interested in an excellent education for your child, complete a confidential and non-binding Expression of Interest today, to support our charter application and to stay connected to our progress to replicate a classical, liberal arts school in Douglas County.
The Founders of America believed a liberal arts education is that worthy of free people. Free people must have a broad education in the World of Man, including history and literature, the World of Nature, to include math and the natural sciences, and the intersection of the two, or arts and music.
Only with a keen understanding, wide exposure and knowledge of the world we live in, and the experiences of those before us, can we truly be prepared to address the challenges of our time and the future.
Liz Coleman, previous president at Bennington College, gave an excellent TED Talk on liberal arts education and why we need it more than ever in a climate that calls for more specialization to prepare kids to be workforce ready.