Singing the praises

keys_treble_clef_music_notes_74359_2560x1440by Brandon Pafford, Choir Director

Greetings from the TCS Choir Director! Teaching choir is a fascinating position with many challenges and rewards and I am honored and blessed to teach at TCS. I love working with the students on the aspect of music making. In my first TCS blog post, I’d like to share a little about myself as well as what I am trying to achieve at TCS.

My journey as a pianist began under the tutelage of my piano teacher-mother. I vaguely remember being given a choice to either do dishes or practice piano after supper. In our house of mostly boys (Dad, two brothers, and myself), Dad made it a rule whoever cooked does not do the dishes… I remembered in high school I enjoyed making music at the piano, and took that skill to college. Then I earned an undergraduate and Masters in Piano Performance and a Masters in Accompanying and Chamber Music, and soon I was working as a musician in Houston.

So where does children’s music fit into that, you ask? I asked the Lord the same question when I kept bumping into Neil Anderson around Bethel (my church). The topic of TCS needing music in their curriculum came up each time. I told the Lord, “All I know is piano, theory, music history; not teaching music to children.” But you know the Lord, always stretching and wanting us to go places seemingly foreign for His purposes and not ours.

The blessings were immediate. I experienced satisfaction and fulfillment through tough lessons and students, as well as the Lord’s guiding presence. I realized I had retained a lot through my parents’ years of teaching children’s music at church, experience which I believed the Lord instilled in me from their instruction over my entire childhood.

So my background, albeit void of traditional music education, was preparing me for Trinity. Besides my history, I have specifically trained in a method called Kodàly. Basically, a Hungarian composer sought to make the whole country improve music literacy so that every student could read music when they graduated from traditional schooling. He used the folks songs passed down from generations to instruct students in singing, reading, and creating music. Due to poverty, musical instruments were not as readily incorporated, as in other more prominent European countries. I have found this same method engages students in music.

Think about it: where did you learn “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “London Bridge is Falling Down,” “Ring-around the Rosie,” etc.? Through “classic” folk repertoire, children learn and enjoy music. At TCS I like to take this a step further to traditional Christian folklore, such as “The Wise Man Built His House,” “Deep and Wide,” “I am a C-H, etc. There are literally thousands of folk songs that simplify music to the basics of tuneful singing, rhythm/beat development, and—probably the most important aspect—love of music. You’ve heard those waiters in the restaurant trying to sing “Happy Birthday” haven’t you? They never can quite stay on pitch. Hopefully every TCS student by graduation can not only stay on pitch but also read music.

So those are the basics—but for what? What then do we do with that? I’ve tried to wrestle with this and ask the Lord how to take it a step further. I have two main objectives.The first is that music making through choir or singing is to glorify God. The Psalms are saturated with praising/glorifying God through singing (Psalm 13:6, 18:49, 96:1, 104:33). Scripture clearly tells us to sing. I saw a quote on another music teacher’s window that proclaimed, “Music is what feelings sound like.” It is my prayer that TCS students can learn to sing well in order to express their feelings and grow closer to their Creator.

 

The second aspect was actually made clearer in last quarter’s morning assembly passage, Romans 12. Of course v. 16 stands out to me because of the musical term “harmony,” but I also hear the theme of “discipline yourself to be selfless.” The word “choir,” derived from Latin chorus, has the meaning of “uttering the same thing simultaneously.” I love the vowel ooo. For some reason a true unison and perfect intonation is achieved. There is something moving when 50+ 3rd graders do that on a single pitch. Why not direct that to the Lord for His glory?

It is my goal at TCS to discipline and teach the students to “live in harmony with one another” through music making to praise and glorify God. I understand if choir is not everyone’s favorite part of TCS. I understand it can be difficult to love and enjoy music when I make them sing silly songs like “Mrs Murphy’s Chowder” (for pitch tuning), or say tah and ti-ti (for rhythmic literacy) or singing solfège hand signs every lesson (do re mi fa sol la ti do for music literacy and pitch recognition). But the overarching goal is for the Lord.

I hope that gives you insight to choir if you’ve never known what really goes on. I also hope you  see the importance of music. I didn’t even mention the studies that say musical training results in improved cognitive skills, higher paying jobs, and literal growth of the size of the brain. That can be another blog entry.

My prayer for your TCS student is to enjoy music and use it to glorify the Lord.

Great Expectations

fish-high-expectationsby Sarah Pfannenschmidt, Logic School Humanities teacher

While in Dallas at the ACCU conference last summer, I had the privilege of listening to Classical educators Douglas and Nancy Wilson give a session entitled, ‘High Expectations.’ I’m not sure what appealed more: the chance to hear the Wilsons speak or the possibility of defining what ‘high expectations’ means.

There’s something about Christian Classical education that seems to foster high expectations and require their articulation in a set of standards. Here at TCS, we certainly expect a great deal from our students. Anyone who browses through our academic schedule (rigorous!) or read our dress code policy (extensive!) would confirm this. Yet in a world that increasingly trumpets that there is no absolute truth, these expectations-turned-standards are both inspiring and daunting. I confess that as a teacher, I often wonder if my expectations for my students are appropriate. For example, I remember the terror my third graders shot at me when I challenged them to memorize chemistry definitions or parse Latin nouns. Their reactions were sufficient to make me paranoid as a first-year teacher. I couldn’t help asking, “Am I expecting too much of these kids?”

It was, therefore, immensely reassuring to hear the Wilsons explain that high standards are supposed to be “hard for” students to achieve, but not be “hard on” them. What’s the difference? The design of high standards is to train our students to 1) recognize the value of hard work, 2) develop self-respect, and 3) learn to thrive in the obedience that liberates. Consider God’s righteous and perfect law, which is the highest of all standards. His expectation is that we will demonstrate Christ in all we do, whether it be washing dishes or teaching Latin. We are enabled to do so because Christ has already met the standards on our behalf. Truly, this is good news! We are allowed to fail because Christ did not. God’s high standards remain, but now we have Christ in us completing the good work that he started. He is the reason we can and should have higher expectations for others and ourselves.

At TCS, we desire that our students will experience the freedom that Christ gives us to live a life of excellence. How do we motivate and help our students develop a desire to meet our high expectations?

First, a warning: Our students will not be equipped or enabled to meet our high expectations if we do not model them first. Let us not do as the Pharisees, who would “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves [were] not willing to move them with their finger.”

Rather than condemn others to uphold an impossible standard, the Wilsons suggested three ways in which we can promote a culture of high expectations:

1)   Show gratitude: be thankful for high expectations! Too often we are not held accountable, and then we are left to fight persistent sins that flourished in consequence.  Be grateful that someone cares enough to ask more of us.

2)   Choose cheerfulness: demonstrate joy in all things, especially the high standards. After all, the Psalmist declared, “The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul.” That’s certainly something to be cheerful about!

3)   Acknowledge that hard work is hard: It’s okay to admit that our standards are high. After all, they’re high because our expectations are high, and these are high because we care. Our students also need to know that we feel the burn. Sometimes I encourage my students by telling them, “I understand. [This task or concept] is hard for me too, but together we’ll get there.” They’ll respect us more if they know that the challenge is there for us as well.

In the end, be encouraged that having high expectations for your students does not make you (as my niece would say), “big mean meany-heads.” What is does make us is a people, freed by Christ, to give our all in every task. Let us therefore “press on toward the goal” with joy!

The Imago Dei

imagodeiby Liz Crystal, Pre-K teacher

When I first started working at TCS, little did I know how the Lord would write the topic of imago Dei (the image of God) on my heart over that first semester. The imago Dei points out the reality that humans are made in the image of God. As I began serving at Trinity, I was given the opportunity to experience the imago Dei at an eye level. Little hands, little feet, and the amazing hearts of the students at TCS have pointed me to Jesus. Somehow these frail creatures are marked with the dignity of the Creator! No matter what we have done or what sin may be in our lives, we are created by God.

The ability to act, to love, to think all come from somewhere. The imago Dei says that somehow we resemble His likeness in form and structure. This is apparent in the lives of Pre-K students.  As I see their hearts, their curiosity, their minds thinking, and their desire to be alive, I realize I am face to face with the imago Dei. God has given them the instinct to explore this world and to find out about Him. Four and five year olds have a lot of wise things to say.

“God is in 3 persons. I know it’s true. My dad told me.”

“I forgive you.”

“When I grow up I’m going to all the countries to tell people about Jesus.”

“Today I am thankful for… God, His Holy Word, and…Hawaii.”

These are His children. The Creator of the universe has stooped low to breathe life into us, and what a privilege to sense Christ being formed in these children.

One afternoon on the playground, it seemed the Lord blessed us with His presence in a special way. As the winds swept through the grounds, one child remarked “I feel like I am getting a massage on my head!” I agreed. I began to sense God’s love for her and for all the children there. In that moment, I was more awakened to God’s love for His people as His inheritance.  The Lord has blessed us to have the privilege of caring for these children and it has made made me realize in a more tangible way how much the Lord must love His people. These creatures made in His image belong to Him. In a smaller way, the Lord has entrusted us with these little ones for a time at TCS.

As one of the primer teachers, I share in the joy of experiencing this together and I know our eyes are opened to the beauty of the imago Dei each time we enter into the classroom world of TCS!

Observations and an invitation

You-Are-Invited1

by Kyle Bryant, Director of the upcoming TCS Heights Campus

My first few weeks at Trinity Classical School have been many things—informative, encouraging, challenging, and life-giving. There is so much to learn, understand, and implement that sometimes it feels overwhelming. But through all of that, I still walk through the halls of TCS thinking, “This exists?” What a gift from the Lord! So, while I have much to learn, I am grateful to be a part of TCS.

For those whom I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting, my name is Kyle Bryant, and I am the campus director for the soon-to-be Heights campus. In many ways, I am a stranger to classical education, having grown up in the public school system. But after seeing the godly fruit of classical Christian education over the past few years, I decided that this was something worth pursuing wholeheartedly for our children and future generations. That’s why I am here at TCS: to pursue planting a TCS campus in the Heights. So I will be immersed in TCS this school year, learning, growing, and planning.

Because we are seeking to replicate what TCS does so well, I have had my eyes and ears open these first few weeks of school. I have found that there is a genuine love for God’s word at TCS, which is a direct result of God’s blessing and grace. We continually ask for humility in how we pursue education, and God has responded by creating a culture where his word is read and cherished. I am convinced that this will also help us become better learners (and educators) because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. All of these begin with truth, and truth comes to us from God in his Word.

That’s why we rightly place God’s word at the beginning of each campus day. If we want our students to learn any truth, we need to start with the truth, because we believe that all truth is God’s truth. So, during morning assembly this quarter, students are memorizing Psalm 46. “The Lord is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” They are also memorizing sound-off questions like “Who made me?” (God!) and “Why did God make all things?” (For his own glory!). These exercises, while appearing routine at times, help sow deep truths into the hearts of our kids. When the Psalmist invites us to “Come, behold the works of the Lord,” he is beckoning us to learn about God and his ways. For how can we behold that which we do not know? God made the earth, moon, and stars, and it is he who governs their motion. He made the mountains and the seas and all the creatures that inhabit them. So when we come to behold the works of the Lord, we come to learn math, astronomy, biology, botany, and poetry, for all of these were spoken into existence. In other words, learning about God and learning about math, science, and reading go hand in hand. All of life (and all of learning) are under the lordship of Jesus Christ, so we teach our kids to that end. But it does not stop there.

We as adults need these truths just as well. We need to believe them like children, too. For to such belong the Kingdom of God. Therefore when our kids say “The Lord is our refuge and strength,” we should remember that, yes, God is our refuge and our strength. He is present, to help us in trouble. And the invitation to come and behold the works of the Lord is for us, too. In our daily lives, the Lord proclaims his glory in many ways. Every sunrise is a reminder of God’s kindness. Every rainbow a remembrance of his covenant. And every at-home lesson is a testament to the Lord’s faithfulness through generations. “Therefore we will not fear when the earth gives way.” Our God is a faithful God, and he gives us things like sunrises, flowers, and at-home lessons to remind us of that glorious truth. May we receive it like our kids.

 

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.