Slaying the dragon

fantasy-dragonby Michelle Graves, Logic Humanities teacher

There is a dragon in education that will steal your child’s treasure. John Mays, science teacher and Novare textbook publisher, calls it the “Cram-Pass-Forget” dragon. At conferences of classical Christian education Mr. Mays sports a campaign button with the red circle-and-slash symbol obliterating those three words.

He starts his talk with a thought experiment: would your children pass a review test in November, say, over the previous school year’s material? Are they mastering subjects or settling for the sad cycle of cram, pass, then forget?

How can we get to the better threesome of “Learn-Master-Retain”? Mr. Mays outlines the principles for mastery-based pedagogy. We slay the dragon by avoiding superfluous content and busy work and by reviewing 30-40% of the time in subject, on and off campus.

On campus this means assignments supporting specific learning objectives. We should focus deeply on the core content, reviewing and rehearsing regularly. Assessments need to be cumulative, drawing randomly from prior chapters and quizzes. Grades should reflect learning that has been internalized, not just effort.

At home there will be constant drilling with lists, formulas, facts, vocabulary, flashcards, explanations. 30-40% of the time in subject! You might have a child who is impatient with review. “I already know that,” he claims. But we are learning to master and retain, beyond the test, beyond year end.

The goal is that your children be caught up in their own cycles of excellence. They enjoy what they are good at. They are good at what they enjoy. We are training children to enjoy mastery learning itself. This can be a joyful way of life that extends into adulthood and eternity. Mays reminds us that expecting mastery doesn’t require being mean. You are the child’s advocate and can say truly, “I’m on your side.” We don’t reserve our affection, waiting for them to measure up. Rather, we provide a loving, friendly environment. We are eager to help children succeed.

Our example as parents and teachers is very important, of course. Do we hold ourselves to these high standards for mastery? Do we take short-cuts that ultimately cost us our joy in learning or work? The Lord is eager to help us raise these children to be His good and faithful servants. Not dragon bait.

God’s Grace Required


runningby Dawn Floyd, Third Grade Teacher

Before joining the faculty at TCS, I had the opportunity to serve as a leader of a national homeschool program in the area.  Part of my role was to speak to parents who were considering homeschooling as the education choice for their students. I would often begin with the question of “What has made you decide to consider homeschooling at this time?” This question would lead to great conversations about the faith perspective of the family, their frustration with the current school environment, the uniqueness of their child, and ultimately, their reasoning for determining that homeschooling was best.  I would inform them that in the great state of Texas there are very few state requirements that govern homeschooling. This lack of governing would be freeing for some and fear inducing for others. In Texas, you are responsible for your child’s education should you choose to homeschool. It is in this knowledge that the fear and doubt would reside.

Parents would wonder if they had what it takes to teach their child the necessary academic and social skills to attend college or simply survive as an adult. They were concerned because they wanted to be assured of the future for their children and they were aware of their own limitations. I believe they were also concerned because there is a continuing national narrative that indicates that parents are not equipped to teach their own children. The number of parents who indicate that “I could never homeschool” is astounding. When asked why, their answers vary but mostly center around the theme of “I am unqualified.”

If you are feeling unqualified or afraid as you begin this academic year, let me encourage you with these two reminders. The first is “If it were easy, everyone would do it.” My mother had many poignant parenting phrases she used often in rearing me and my brothers. Although I grew up in an economically disadvantaged environment, beginning in third grade, I had the opportunity to attend the gifted class at my elementary school. The school had been recently desegregated and I missed attending class with my friends. My new classes seemed to be more challenging than my friend’s classes and when I complained to my mother she responded with her wisdom of “if it were easy, everyone would do it.” I’m not sure this wisdom satisfied my young frustration but it has encouraged me on my homeschooling journey. I have had many friends indicate that they don’t understand why we homeschool or that the schools aren’t that bad or they remind me that I graduated from public school and survived.  They attempt to encourage me by giving me their emotional permission to stop homeschooling and do what everyone else does—send them to the experts at the local school. If I’m honest, there are the really hard days that I do wish for a magic school bus to take my children away for a few hours but I know that I cannot give up completely.

We are called to run a challenging marathon, not a sprint. I have a great friend who ran her first marathon in celebration of her 50th birthday. She informed me that I was mile number sixteen for her. When she was running mile sixteen she would reminisce about our friendship and pray for me so that she would remain encouraged and focused on getting to the next mile. This verse in Galatians reminds us that when we are frustrated and fearful and want to give up on this homeschooling journey that it is not God who distracts us but the enemy.

Galatians 5:7-8 says: You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. We need to remember that this journey is not easy but it is absolutely worth it. This is also a journey that requires God’s grace and the support of others. When we want to give up it is usually because we have forgotten that we are not alone in this endeavor.  We cannot accomplish God’s will for our lives without His amazing grace and Holy Spirit to sustain us. It doesn’t mean that we won’t have challenging days but if we can remember to rejoice, pray, and trust we can continue to run on.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Philippians 4:4-7: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. These verses remind me to stop worrying because God is near. The Almighty is concerned for me and the situations that I am anxious about, if I will trust Him. In every situation, I can submit my concerns to the Father and He will trade my worry for His peace. Isn’t that amazing?! When we started TCS last year I was worried that I had not adequately prepared my children for the rigor of the curriculum, that they would not make friends, and that the students in my class would hate me. Yes, I was full of fear and doubt. But I was quickly encouraged to remember this verse of exhortation. Was the transition to TCS community challenging for our family? Yes it was, but God’s Grace was sufficient. Were there moments when I wondered if I had really heard from God because surely if He loved me then Latin would have been easier? Indeed, but God’s Grace is sufficient and He does not vacillate.

As a homeschool family you have chosen to do the difficult but best thing. It would be much easier to simply drop your children off at the local school and pray for the best.  You would not be alone in that choice and would likely be applauded for that decision.  Homeschooling is not the easy choice. When your children do not listen, obey, or remember anything you just taught them, it is not easy. When Latin is tough and Math is overwhelming, you can begin to think that you are not ready for this race. Let me remind you that you are not alone. You are part of a community that wants you to be successful and is in the race with you. The support built into this model of collaboration at TCS is such a blessing. I encourage you to take advantage of opportunities to connect with other families so that you have support when you are feeling overwhelmed. I encourage you to utilize the resources within the TCS faculty to help you with your academic questions. I encourage you to be a beacon of light for some family that is feeling lost or disheartened.

Trinity Classical School is what is best for us but it is not always easy. I guess if it were, everyone would do it.

The Impact of Great Books

Great Booksby Dr. John Scholl, Academic Dean and Rhetoric School Director

I recently attended the Annual Conference of the Society for Classical Learning (SCL), amidst the beautiful setting of Stone Mountain, Georgia. The conference was  encouraging, inspirational, and challenging. In this article, I would like to share some of the reflections I had about the value of reading Great Books.

The first plenary speaker was Cherie Harder; she kicked off the conference with a speech entitled “Why Read Stories? Connecting Great Books and the Good Life.” Her argument was simple: reading great books prepares you to live a good life. While fiction novels are often seen as the accoutrements of relaxation, Harder argued that the so-called “Great Books” are productive not so much for mental and physical relaxation as for training readers in wisdom. Great Books, she argued, prepare us for unexpected decisions, give us visions of courage, shine a light on injustice (consider Uncle Tom’s Cabin), and help readers to develop empathy for others.

This is high praise for the Great Books. Can they really do so much good work? During high school and college, I was particularly drawn to some of the great authors of the English language: Dickens, Conan Doyle, and Tolkien. However, it was not a quest for virtue that drove me through their books; it was simply the desire to while away a few pleasant hours. These books were fun. (Yes, ninth graders, I did read Dickens for fun; David Copperfield and Our Mutual Friend are two of my favorite books.) I certainly did not expect that such books were training me for unexpected decisions. To be sure, if I should find a piece of jewelry that gives me the power to rule the world, I now know what to do. But who finds themselves at such a crossroads?

Sometimes, it is easy for me to undervalue the impact of stories as teaching tools. But Harder made an important point: the greatest teacher in history, Jesus, taught largely through stories. This is amazing! Educators are continually speaking about the importance of discussion; if the students are talking, then they will learn better. Jesus did that; he ran group discussions with the disciples. But he also talked, quite a bit actually (consult a red-letter Bible), and telling stories was one of the most heavily-used weapons in his pedagogical arsenal.

I could easily get sidetracked here and talk about teaching strategies and Jesus’ teaching, but I want to return to the main point: Great Books teach us how to live good lives. In response to Harder’s speech, I asked myself a question: Has a Great Book informed, directly and specifically, a decision that I have made? To be clear, I do not think that Harder’s argument relies upon such a direct connection. I can learn about courage from Frodo and the gang and apply that to my life, without ever having to face Black Riders. Nonetheless, I ask myself the question as an interesting test case for the value of Great Books.

One of my favorite passages in all of literature comes from The Horse and his Boy by C.S. Lewis. The hero, Shasta, is having a moment of self-pity, bemoaning a life of misfortune, when he enters into a conversation with an unknown protagonist.

“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.

“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.

“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.

“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and—”

“There was only one: but he was swift of foot.”

“How do you know?”

“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”

“It was I.”

“But what for?”

“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but their own.”

“Who are you?” asked Shasta.

“Myself,” said the voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook…

Lewis does an incredible job communicating the extent of God’s care for us. But this scene has affected me in an unexpected way. Aslan’s words, “I tell no one any story but their own,” speak to my busybody tendencies. Sometimes, I want to know what God is doing in someone else’s life and why, and then this scene comes to mind, reminding me to stay focused on what God is doing with me. This is one example of how a great story has taught me to live a good life.

Latin: One Girl’s Sad Story

latinby Dr. Lindsey Scholl, Logic Academic Director and Latin teacher

Sometimes I feel like a one-stringed instrument when it comes to sharing my particular slice of vision at TCS. Mr. Anderson talks about partnering with parents, the Christ-centered nature of the school, student responsibility, goodness, beauty, truth, and all those good things. I talk about Latin.

Admittedly, I have wormed my own way into this role. I certainly uphold the other aspects of the school, most especially its Christ-centered nature. Despite what it may appear to some, I try to make my commitment to and enjoyment of Christ more obvious than my attachment to Latin. But that does not remove the fact that the Latin program is one of my great joys when I think of TCS. The irony here is that I’m not the sharpest Latin knife in the drawer. There are others among our staff and co-teachers who could take down a passage of Cicero while I’m still trying to find the verb. That fact makes me so happy: Latin scholars, one and all, please come to TCS! Just as long as Mr. Anderson lets me give all the talks on why Latin is so important.

In order to convey just why I’m so excited about Latin, I need to give you some of my background. I was raised as a Christian in a Christian home in a middle-sized town in the Midwest. I went to a Bible-believing church and a solid public school. I was taught to read the Bible, own my faith, write persuasive essays, and find ‘x’ in an equation. I also read a great deal of medieval historical fiction. Through my reading and other whispered hints, I learned that there was a language out there that traveled from the roots of my faith, through the castles and cathedrals of medieval Europe, contributed substantially to the making of America as a country, and even held its own through various Industrial Revolutions of the modern era. Not only did this language carry with it centuries of theology, literature, and history, it could also help me with the periodic table. That language was neither French nor Spanish, the two languages offered at my school.

When I went to undergraduate, I eventually became a history major. I learned how important it was to know not just that an event happened, but how it had been considered and preserved through the centuries. My adviser, God bless him, told me over and over how important Latin was for understanding not only Western Civilization, but also several major facets of Church history. But my undergraduate did not offer Latin, so I took French, which I had taken in high school.

It was not until my Master’s program in medieval history that I blissfully heard my professor tell me I had to take Latin. Oh what joy! To be forced into learning something I had wanted to learn since high school! To finally get to know, in intimate detail, that great transmitter of ideas, that great cable that connects the sign that hung over Jesus’ head at the crucifixion, to Constantine, to the Book of Kells, to the Crusades, to monks and nuns, to the Protestant Reformation, to the American Revolution, to me in the Midwest. Basically, I was now able to learn what a great majority of my predecessors already knew and used. I was able to learn Latin.

There are many reasons to learn Latin that I can’t go into here. There are also several objections. Why not focus on the here and now and learn Spanish? Doesn’t Greek do the same thing Latin does? What about eastern cultures? There is weight to each one of these objections. If I could, I’d have TCS teach all languages well, but that is impossible. We are a classical school. If we could require students to become fluent in Greek, Mandarin, Spanish, and Latin, we’d be a power-house linguistic school.

Co-teachers, as summer begins, I want to thank you for all your hard work this year. Your support of our Latin program is critical. It may be a while before you see the fruits of the study in your students’ lives. Yet you will see it. You will see it when they can guess at the meaning of an anatomy term before ever having come across it. You’ll see it when their eyes light up as they see the connection between ‘professor’ and ‘professional.’ You’ll see it when they patiently examine the lineage of an idea, rather than accept it whole-cloth. You’ll see it when they confidently wade into reading Julius Caesar in the original language, seeing in his words the origins of their own.

Be encouraged. The fruit is coming. Latin may not make them better Christians, but it will make them more careful, informed thinkers. And what more can one ask of a school?

Lessons from teachers like Mrs. Brown


by Jasmine Holmes, 5th Grade Humanities teacher

My fourth grade teacher’s name was Mrs. Brown.

There are a lot of things I remember about her, from the flowing skirts she used to wear to the upsweep of her dark hair to the brilliant way she taught me to identify any and every preposition (a tool I still use in my classroom). But, most of all, I remember that Mrs. Brown was very kind to me during an extremely stressful time in my little nine-year-old life.

The summer after fourth grade, my family moved to Oxford so that my dad could continue his studies. A move to England and the switch to homeschooling brought on waves of elementary-level angst, but even as I acted out, Mrs. Brown proved a loving, patient teacher. Years later, when my dad preached at her church one Sunday, she found me in the crowd, grabbed my hands, and asked me how I was.

Mrs. Brown sits over a decade in my past, and her face is hazy in my memory, but I can still feel those unfailingly kind hands in mine.

Teachers have such an opportunity to show Christ’s tender care for their students. Look at the relationship between Paul and his beloved brothers and sisters in the faith:

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:3-6)

As we bid farewell to our students and teachers this summer, we can learn a few lessons from Paul… and Mrs. Brown.

Remembrance and Thanksgiving

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy…

Student, what is your favorite thing about your teacher? How does she help you learn? How does he challenge you? How does she make you smile? Teacher, what are some of the unique ways that specific students bless you? How has God uniquely gifted them?

So often in the melee of the classroom thanksgiving and remembrance is lost. In this last quarter of school, I encourage you to recapture it.

Prayer and Partnership

…because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

Most of us pray at the beginning of each class day after Bible, but how often do we think to pray throughout the day? The Lord has blessed us with a beautiful educational partnership, but beyond that, because of the unique nature of our Christian school, he has blessed us to be partners and co-laborers in gospel endeavors, and he has given us the powerful tool of prayer to take full advantage of this partnership.

Encouragement and Cherishing

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

How beautiful this promise is! As we near the finish line of this school year, we are dealing with all kinds of academic, personal, and spiritual growth. Whether our students find themselves stressed about moving to another country or moving to another grade, they need encouragement to persevere. The Lord is at work, and even in the midst of life’s biggest stresses and upsets, kind words and gentle hands can be a reminder of this truth.

This summer I once again face a huge move away from my beloved Republic of Texas. No longer the pouting student, I am now the teacher leaving her precious school. As I consider the kind of memories I hope I’m able to leave my students, memories of Mrs. Brown’s kindness flood my mind and the truth of Paul’s deep love for the brethren warms my heart. I hope we’re able to echo both during this final quarter.

When They Learn to Talk Back

backTalkingBoyby Neil Anderson, TCS Head of School

I remember being anxious for my first child to talk back to me. I began talking to her in-utero, carrying on endless one-sided conversations throughout her first years of life. When her speech became fluid, those first few years of two-sided conversation were everything I hoped they would be—blessed.

Now I have multiple children that can talk back to me and conversations with them are my favorite conversations in the world. But… they have also acquired the skill of back talk, which is something altogether different. I assume they learned it from your children…

Back talk is a phenomenon displayed in children upon their realization that something other than pure acquiescence is an option for them. They tip-toe into this option, cautiously at first, testing the waters with a cute smirk that says, “I’m just kidding, I really still respect you.” And if their early back talk flirtations are not met with the anticipated parental wrathful-eye, they walk confidently through this door at a young age. Now here we are, with nine-year-old fluent back talkers. How did this happened, and what are we to do?

Step one: Realize that you, too, possess this skill. You began to work on the craft when you were nine and you actually still use it. Your children are a product of you and your spouse. They are imitators of you, for better or for worse. They are not just following your exemplary moral behavior—they are being discipled in all your ways. You probably back talk your heavenly Father at times (in word and deed). You speak poorly to your spouse and to the store clerk who is not meeting your needs, and maybe you still back talk your earthly parents from time to time. Realizing that you have taught your child this behavior is a great first step in dealing with it.

Step two: Care about back talk for the right reasons. We are not the football coach that demands a boisterous “Yes, sir!” because “You’ll respect me or you’ll empty out your locker!” Having our children’s respect is not about having efficient chore minions or simply the pleasantness of unchallenged authority. If the offense of their disrespect ends at us, our discipline will be an unfruitful enterprise. This sort of discipline would be illogical and untenable ultimately because of step one above. We train our children to respect us, obey us, speak submissively to us, because we desperately want them to learn to fear the Lord. We want respect, submission, and suppression of personal autonomy to be familiar for them as they come to terms with their relationship with Jesus.

Step three: Rein it in. This issue is on my mind from personal experiences in my home, from my dealings with students on a daily basis at TCS, and from some recent conversations with some of you. The issue is trending, if you will. I happened to be around a couple TCS students over spring break that showed an unusual amount of respect for their parents. The main thing that struck me is how instinctively they said “yes,sir/yes, ma’am” to adults (many of you know I am a big fan of this southern tradition). This is something we disciplined into our children early and haven’t been so firm on as of late.

I believe it is good for the community to challenge each other in this regard. Not in a parental comparison sort of way, but as a healthy instigation to each other. The reality is, much of the back talk we are experiencing in our older students is stemming from the need to “rein it in.” We’ve just gotten sloppy with our expectations. It can be tiresome to remain firm in our discipline.

Not only is it tiresome, but we are enjoying how our children are maturing and, if you are like me, we enjoy witty banter, teasing, and more mature talk back and forth with our older children. This is healthy and necessary, but not at the expense of blurred lines and carelessness in our children’s habits of respect.

I realize these bad habits can grow slowly and subtly. There is one aspect of this I want to put on your radar (this is especially important for dads). Commonly, children will grow in their back-talk freedoms with mom in ways that they won’t with dad. In so many of our TCS scenarios, mom is schooling most of the day and dad is at work. Slow and subtle habits are growing in ways that dad might not realize and would be appalled to know. I don’t know about you, but I back talked my mom in ways I never would have dared to with my dad. This is an area you should check in on with your spouse and follow up on with your kids. There are implications from this that translate into the classroom as well.

Rein it in, mindful of steps one and two. Disrespect and the perceived glory of personal autonomy are enemies of a thriving relationship with Jesus. Don’t allow your children to talk back to you or any other authority figure. If it has gotten out of control in your home, work to rein it in through steady expectations, consistent consequences, and a regular pointing to Jesus as the reason.

Realize that I am speak formulaically, because I know we all like a good list. But we are tending a garden, not working an assembly line. So just make sure you are watering the discipline plant and pulling the smart-aleck weeds.

Redeeming the Time

by Mary White, TCS Grammar Academic Director


“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Redeeming the Time

This past week I found myself unexpectedly snowbound in Memphis, Tennessee. I had traveled to the city with my family on a quick trip to introduce my high school daughter to Rhodes College. Ice and snow took the quick out of our trip, but the cold weather gave us warm family time. I am thankful for that. The winter storm also gave me a gentle reminder not to let the tyranny of the urgent keep me from spending time on who or what is truly important. Put another way, it gave me a look at time and how I am spending it.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, ““The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.” Time is a commodity which we can’t save. Not using it well then becomes as much of a problem as using it badly. However, the choices for time are vast and varied, and, in many cases, don’t feel like choices at all. How do we sort out what is important and what is not? As Christians, we thankfully can turn to the Lord and His word for those answers. The story of Mary and Martha as told in Luke 10:38-42 is one starting place.

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (ESV).

This makes so much sense and sounds so good. However, the execution is a bit harder. How do we sit at Jesus’ feet when bills need to be paid, work deadlines need to be met, meals need to be prepared, children need to be home-schooled, and errands need to be run? The answer may be as simple and as profound as a daily quiet time.

Sarah Young’s daily devotional book Jesus Calling directly addresses this issue on February 10. It is not a good use of time for me to attempt to paraphrase what she has written so well. So, I am including her short devotional here in its entirety.

“Trust me enough to spend ample time with Me, pushing back the demands of the day. Refuse to feel guilty about something that is so pleasing to Me, the King of the universe. Because I am omnipotent, I am able to bend time and events in your favor. You will find that you can accomplish more in less time, after you have given yourself to Me in rich communion. Also, as you align yourself with My perspective, you can sort out what is important and what is not.

Don’t fall in the trap of being constantly on the go. Many, many things people do in My Name have no value in My kingdom. To avoid doing meaningless works, stay in continual communication with Me. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.” ― Sarah Young, Jesus Calling

This takes care of the present and future. However, what about the past?  There is no doubt that time, in the form of past lessons learned, can be a great teacher. The early modern American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “The years teach much the days never know.” However, these lessons learned can be painful and even damaging when sin is involved. In William Shakespeare’s play Richard II, a character laments, “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.” All of us have probably felt this type of regret in some way. Can past time be redeemed?

Thankfully, when any needed repentance is present, the answer is “yes.” Joel 2:25a  reads, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten” (ESV).

With that hope in our hearts and the Lord on our side, we can spend the time we are given today and everyday prayerfully and joyfully. Let us begin.