A Positive Approach to Technology

“Today, there’s a new elite schooled in an entirely reconstituted classical education…. [These students] stuck on the dark side of the new media digital divide will be as out of luck and out of touch as those who cursed Johannes Gutenberg as an agent of the devil when that first printed Bible came off the press in 1452.”

— Richard Rapaport, Edutopia.org.

According to progressives, the ferocious pace of technological advance changes all the rules. They believe that an education holding to old traditions is worse than useless; it’s negligent. Success in the modern world requires a “new literacy;” students need new skills, new tools, and new norms.

Are the progressives right? Will classically trained students be as out of luck in the new world as those who cursed Johannes Gutenberg? Of course not! Our students cannot only survive the digital age, they can lead it. Well- prepared students can bridge any divide, but we must keep our wits about us!

But keeping our wits is difficult. Modern technology frightens us, especially as we see it motion- blurred by rapid change. It’s like watching a bullet train speed past our platform. Even if we wanted to get on, we couldn’t catch hold now–not without having our arm ripped off. So why even try?

Thankfully, things aren’t that bad. Yes, our gadgets evolve at breakneck speed, but humans haven’t changed since Adam’s lips first touched the apple in Eve’s hand. Men’s tools may change constantly, but the purposes for which they create those tools never change. Man will always be man, and a classical education’s cardinal goal is to train humans to be good humans, not good gadget operators.

This principle directs our approach to teaching in the digital age. Change is constant, but so is the virtue required to survive it. The greatest challenge our students face in the digital age is not acquiring basic technical skills. Any student with a modest amount of self-determination– and who can read–can teach himself these skills in a long afternoon. No, the greatest challenge our students face
is acquiring wisdom. After all, even if I can type at 400 words per minute, what good is that? The critical question is “What will I type that quickly?” Will it be a ceaseless stream of narcissistic drivel (in 140-character chunks), or will it be something of weight and consequence? From this perspective, classical educators do not need to change anything in order to prepare their students for the digital age. We’re already preparing them. If the rapid change of technology requires anything of us, it requires wise decisions based on stable principles. And cultivation of wisdom is the very soul of our education.

Yet wisdom is not merely apprehending timeless principles; it is also willing and acting according to them in concrete circumstances. We cannot, therefore, ignore advances in technology. Specifically, we cannot shun the Internet. More than any other advance, the Internet is pervasively altering our modes of communication. Man’s nature hasn’t changed, but the Internet is a constantly changing space in which man acts. We can call it the “virtual world” or the “digital world,” but whatever its name, it’s a new and distinct circumstance that warrants the attention of prudence.

On the positive side, the Internet grants us unprecedented access to each other and the archived corpus of human writing, and this access is growing all the time, but this is only the beginning. Take for example the humble search tool. Never before have men been able so quickly and precisely to search the contents of the great human library. Oh, without a doubt, danger lurks in this tool. Google can indeed make us dumb; Socrates condemned books for the same reason. The Internet can become “an elixir not of memory, but of reminding,” offering “the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom.” But, like books, the Internet can also make us much wiser. Our choices make the difference. As with the Great Books themselves, we should plunder the Egyptians.

On the negative side, because the Internet is a new and changing space, we cannot simply assume that students growing up in the digital world will “just know” how to live in it well, any more than we can assume that students growing up in the real world will “just know” how to live in it well. Yes, mere exposure teaches them to manipulate the tools of the digital world, but not how to do so wisely. They might be able to fix a computer, but they don’t know how to behave on Facebook, or search responsibly, or how to handle the Internet’s dangerous mix of freedom and anonymity. It’s like knowing how to work a car’s gas pedal without knowing wise driving habits. Simple experience can teach the former; another person must teach the latter. Which, incidentally, was Socrates’ point about books as well.

Free men–virtuous men–must be others-focused, not self-focused, and this is what Christian classical education cultivates in our students’ hearts. But students need practice in order to learn virtue, and we cannot depend on our students to draw the connection between virtue in the real world and virtue in the digital world. We need to provide guidance and opportunities for them to practice. That means using technology, particularly the Internet, in our curriculum. Of course, this will also help our students reap the great benefits of wise use of the Internet.

Please understand me! I am not arguing for touch- typing classes in the second grade or for a computer lab at every school. Nor am I arguing for integrating Facebook into your class. I’m simply arguing against absolute negation of technology and arguing for a considered, realistic, and positive approach to using technology in our schools. It is a part of our world, and we cannot ignore it, nor should we want to, since there is so much good to be gained from it.

Part of a realistic approach, however, means carefully counting the cost. I do not believe we should go on a shopping spree like progressive educators who hope that owning fancier gizmos will resolve their snowballing failure. Instead, we need to weigh our educational goals, our teachers’ time, and our school’s budget against the cost of buying technology. Sacrifices must be made, and I firmly believe in sacrificing flashy hardware over precious time in class or salary dollars.

Ironically, many educators overlook the most significant costs of technology: time and training. Even if your institution can afford a fleet of new computers, you must consider the time it will require to secure and maintain them. More importantly, you must weigh the cost of initial and ongoing training, especially for your teachers. If you neglect training, any money you spend will be wasted. If your teachers do not know how to use technology virtuously, how can they train the students to do so?

Practically, however, many institutions can avoid large investments in hardware. Most of your students already have their own computers or have access to one at home. So you don’t need to buy computers. Instead, when it’s time to teach responsible search skills, have students bring their own devices to class, or use only one computer (perhaps the teacher ’s or a student volunteer ’s) and do small group tutorials. A teacher who knows what he or she is doing, both with the technology and with the assignment, is more effective than one laptop per child.

Clearly, the most important factor is teachers who know what they are doing. Administrators, we need to train our teachers, and, teachers, it’s time to stop excusing your refusal to learn by complaining about technology’s harmful effects. You must lead by example. Show your students how to be excellent students and learn to use the tools virtuously yourselves. Only then will you be able to teach your students to do the same.

Finally, if we think creatively, we can find ways to kill many birds with one stone. Our teachers need training and so do our students. It makes sense to bring these two together. Again, you do not need a computer lab. Instead, recruit a tech savvy parent to offer after school workshops and advertise them as BYOC: Bring Your Own Computer. The basic skills can be taught in hours, so a few weekend courses can accomplish a lot, and the conversations you can have about technology’s role in our lives will be invaluable.

The good news is that a classical education will prepare students to lead in the digital age. Indeed, a good classical education meets students’ greatest need: the need for wisdom. Yet we cannot assume that our current curriculum is sufficient. If we believe in practicing virtue in all areas of life, we must practice it in the digital world as well. Incorporating technology into our curriculum does not require us to give up our principles. On the contrary, it is our unique principles that compel us to incorporate technology wisely.

Helping Students with Disabilities Thrive in Classical Christian Schools, Part II

How disability benefits the classical Christian school. Distinguishing between stumbling blocks and caving to culture. Myths and mysteries of student support. Staying in charge of your program. Understanding Language Development—With a Speech Therapist if possible. Understanding Physical Development– With a PT or OT if possible. Understanding Dyslexia intervention – With A Reading Specialist if possible. Improving Reading Instruction for Everyone. Nurturing Emotional Development. Observations on How Adoption Impacts Learning

Leslie Collins

Leslie and her husband, Dave have been working in classical and Christian education since 1995. Leslie was the founding headmistress of Rockbridge Academy in Millersville, Maryland and was privileged to briefly serve in Kailua, Hawaii as Trinity Christian School transitioned to a classical model. She is currently the Head of School at Covenant Academy in northwest Houston. Leslie and Dave have four children and one adorable granddaughter. Leslie holds a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling from The Master’s University and a Bachelor of Science in Special Education from the University of Maryland.

The How of Reading Instruction in a Classical Education

Teacher preparation and knowledge are fundamental to student reading achievement. In this session, we will discuss why a systematic phonetic approach to reading instruction is classical, brain-based and effective. We will address the importance of phonemic awareness, language and vocabulary development and best practices for reading instruction. Practical strategies for providing support in the grammar school classroom will be shared. Participants will be able to apply their knowledge of reading development into effective instructional practices as well as assessment tools.

Jessica Gombert

Jessica Gombert is in her 16th year as the grammar school headmaster at the Geneva School of Boerne. She holds a MA in Education and has been involved in many aspects of education for 30 years. Teaching experiences include special education, kindergarten, adult classes for Region 20 Alternative Certification program and student teacher supervision at University of Texas at San Antonio. She has a passion for teaching students to become lifelong learners, mentoring teachers and for classical and Christian education. She is currently writing children’s readers to supplement the phonics curriculum.

Melissa Siller

Melissa Siller has spent the last 20 years in various areas of education, including assessment item writing, classroom teaching, teaching pre-service teachers in field based teacher education, and is currently in her 8th year as the reading specialist at the Geneva School of Boerne. In addition, she is an adjunct faculty member in Trinity University's Department of Education. Her research focuses on teacher education, brain-based teaching practices, curriculum and inquiry as well as beginning in-service teacher induction support. She earned her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Helping Students with Disabilities Thrive in Classical Christian Schools, Part I

How disability benefits the classical Christian school. Distinguishing between stumbling blocks and caving to culture. Myths and mysteries of student support. Staying in charge of your program. Understanding Language Development—With a Speech Therapist if possible. Understanding Physical Development– With a PT or OT if possible. Understanding Dyslexia intervention – With A Reading Specialist if possible. Improving Reading Instruction for Everyone. Nurturing Emotional Development. Observations on How Adoption Impacts Learning

Leslie Collins

Leslie and her husband, Dave have been working in classical and Christian education since 1995. Leslie was the founding headmistress of Rockbridge Academy in Millersville, Maryland and was privileged to briefly serve in Kailua, Hawaii as Trinity Christian School transitioned to a classical model. She is currently the Head of School at Covenant Academy in northwest Houston. Leslie and Dave have four children and one adorable granddaughter. Leslie holds a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling from The Master’s University and a Bachelor of Science in Special Education from the University of Maryland.

Strength in Diversity

This workshop will help you understand how diversity in your student body, faculty, staff, and administration makes you a better and stronger school. This session will highlight how experience with diversity helps students to develop better cultural competence and ultimately better results in their work. This presentation will also include a brief review of the theology of diversity.

Peter Vandebrake

Peter Vande Brake attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan (BA 1988) where he was an All-American decathlete and philosophy major. He attended seminary at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia (M.Div. 1992) and then did his doctoral work at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan (Ph.D. 2000). He taught, coached, and was headmaster at North Hills Classical Academy from 1996-2010. He worked at The Potter’s House in Grand Rapids, Michigan from 2010-2019 as a teacher, coach, curriculum director, and high school principal. He is a leadership consultant for the CiRCE Institute and the Director of the Upper School at The Geneva School in Orlando. He is married and has two daughters.

Alfonso Clark

Alfonso "Alf" Clark has spent a combined 20 years working in public and private education. With Alf’s educational, personal, and professional experience, he brings a unique approach to better understanding the need for diversity in leadership and gives the tools and support for successful implementation. Alf attended Grand Valley State University where he played basketball and majored in Psychology-Special Education with endorsements in Emotional and Cognitive Impairment and a Minor in Elementary Education, with an emphasis in conflict management. He received his Master’s in Educational Leadership at Cornerstone University, with his master’s thesis titled “Cultivating Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Leadership: Moving Beyond Awareness”. He is the principal at The Potter’s House High School in Wyoming, Michigan where he has taught, coached and administered for the last 14 years. He lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with his wife of 24 years and 7 wonderful children.

Panel Q&A on Christian Classical Education for the World

Chris Perrin

Christopher Perrin, MDiv, PhD, is the CEO with Classical Academic Press, and a national leader, author, and speaker for the renewal of classical education. He serves as a consultant to classical Christian schools, classical charter schools, and schools converting to the classical model. He is the director of the Alcuin Fellowship, former co-chair of the Society for Classical Learning, an adjunct professor with the honor's program at Messiah College, and previously served for ten years as a classical school headmaster.

Robyn Burlew

Robyn has served as Head of Upper School at Veritas School in Richmond, Virginia, for six years, after serving for fifteen years as a teacher and administrator at Covenant Christian Academy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. She has a B.A. in Biology from Houghton College and a M.Ed. in Integrated Curriculum and Instruction from Covenant College. She enjoys spending time with her three adult daughters and a son-in-law, all of whom live in Richmond. Robyn's leisure time is filled with kayaking, gardening, two golden retrievers, and piano playing. She is a member of Redeemer Anglican Church in Richmond.

Ravi Jain

Robyn has served as Head of Upper School at Veritas School in Richmond, Virginia, for six years, after serving for fifteen years as a teacher and administrator at Covenant Christian Academy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. She has a B.A. in Biology from Houghton College and a M.Ed. in Integrated Curriculum and Instruction from Covenant College. She enjoys spending time with her three adult daughters and a son-in-law, all of whom live in Richmond. Robyn's leisure time is filled with kayaking, gardening, two golden retrievers, and piano playing. She is a member of Redeemer Anglican Church in Richmond.

Brian WIlliams

Dr. Brian A. Williams is Dean of the Templeton Honors College and Assistant Professor of Ethics & Liberal Studies at Eastern University in Pennsylvania. Previously, he was Lecturer in Theology and Christian Ethics at the University of Oxford and Director of Oxford Conversations, a collection of interviews with influential Christian academics and scholars. He holds an MPhil and DPhil in Christian Ethics from the University of Oxford, an MA and ThM in Systematic and Historical Theology, and a BA in Biblical Studies. Currently, he is an Alcuin Fellow and a Research Fellow with the Institute of Classical Education. Dr. Williams is the author of The Potter’s Rib: The History, Theology, and Practice of Mentoring for Pastoral Formation.

Karen Elliot

Karen has served with the Rafiki Foundation since 1990, including twelve years on the mission field, most of that time in Jos, Nigeria. Upon returning to the U.S., she became the Director of Africa Operations for the Rafiki Home Office and was responsible for managing the ChildCare and Education Programs. She served at the Home Office for ten years before being named Rafiki's Executive Director in January of 2012. Karen was born in Houston, Texas and prior to joining Rafiki, she was in commercial banking in Houston, TX where she maintained multimillion-dollar loan portfolios for small businesses and managed the bank's credit division. She holds a BBA degree in finance/accounting from Southern Methodist University (and also a music minor), and earned her Masters degree in education from University of Texas at Arlington. Karen is a member of St. Andrews Chapel in Sanford, FL and was for many years a teaching leader for Bible Study Fellowship while in Texas and in Africa. Karen views herself as simply a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ who desires to help others come to know God and become lifelong disciples of him and learners of all he has created.

Living in the Constellation of the Canon

For my doctoral work, I took a journey into the lived experience of African American students reading Great Books. In this workshop I invite others to experience the journey. The research question that guided my study was “What are the lived experiences of African American students reading Great Books literature?” especially when including African American thinkers like Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Marva Collins, Anna Julia Cooper, Gloria Ladson-Billings, James Baldwin, and others. Years ago, I taught a Great Books literature class for six years at a small Classical Christian School school in Southern Maryland. Twenty-two African American students came through, and five of those students were able to participate in this study where we all met around a table, just as we did years ago for the Great Books class. These former students and I went away for a weekend retreat to engage in conversation about their lived experience. The students had started out struggling with embracing and internalizing the books, but progressed to transformative insights—the experience of reading the literature deeply affected their lives as adults. 

As a culminating event, the participants created and performed a play, entitled “The Table,” which provided a visual representation of their lived experiences reading Great Books literature. The play was performed at St. John’s College during President’s Day weekend and Frederick Douglass’ birthday. This experience has been a guiding light for me as I move forward as an educator of primarily African American students in the school I help lead.

ANika Prather

Dr. Anika Prather has earned her B.A. from Howard University in elementary education and graduate degrees in education from New York University and Howard University. She has a Masters in liberal arts from St. John’s College and in 2017 completed her PhD in curriculum and instruction from the University of Maryland, College Park with a focus on literacy education. She has served as a teacher, director of education and the Head of School for public and Christian schools. Currently she is the founder of The Living Water School (www.thelwschool.org). The inspiration for starting this school comes from her three creative and curious kids. Anika lives in Maryland with her husband Damon (an engineer and business manager for the school), 2 sons (Dillon-10/Destin-9), 1 daughter (Day-6) and way too many pets. Anika also enjoys urban farming and raises angora rabbits and spins yarn from their wool for her hobby of crocheting and knitting and a few herbs and veggies. Her inspirations in life are her grandmother (who taught her to crochet and garden), her mom (who led her to faith in Jesus Christ and introduced her to classical education), and Marva Collins and Anna Julia Cooper (whose lives and work serve as North Stars for her work in education).

Christian Classical Education: For Every Nation, Tribe and Tongue

Many have asked, “Why are people outside of Europe and America embracing Christian classical education? Isn’t it an inherently Western form of education?” Mr. Ravi Jain reveals how those practicing Christian classical education beyond the Western world are inspired to do so because it is the inheritance of the historic Christian Church—an inheritance for every nation, tribe, and tongue to receive.

Ravi Jain

Ravi Jain has taught calculus and physics at The Geneva School in Orlando, Florida since 2003. He has largely focused on understanding the role of math and science in a classical Christian curriculum, developing a unique integrated math and physics course: “The Scientific Revolution.” Students study and read the works of Kepler, Galileo, Pascal, and Newton in the course. He received a BA in Political Science from Davidson College in North Carolina, where he studied both the natural sciences and the humanities. Before teaching at The Geneva School, Mr. Jain taught math through AP calculus at Seminole Presbyterian School in Tampa, Florida and worked as an associate pastor while completing a master’s degree from Reformed Theological Seminary. He also earned a graduate certificate in mathematics from the University of Central Florida. He is the co-author of The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education. *Adapted from The Geneva School website

A Testimony: Implementing Classical Christian Education Internationally

This panel is reserved for leaders in the Dallas/Fort Worth area to make regional plans and discuss DFW issues in Classical Christian Education.

Eric Cook

Eric Cook is from Lexington, Kentucky, but worked in schools in Ohio and Virginia before joining Covenant Classical School in 2009. Eric earned a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Social Studies Education from Transylvania University, and a master’s degree in Instructional Leadership from Northern Kentucky University. He has taught history, political science, psychology and philosophy in public schools, and served as an assistant principal for several years. In 2006, Eric felt called to join the classical Christian school movement and became the Middle and Upper School Head at Faith Christian School in Roanoke, Virginia. In addition to his leadership roles, Eric taught apologetics, theology, philosophy of religion, and served as thesis director.

Jeff Hendricks

Jeff Hendricks is the Head of School at Providence Christian School. He joined Providence in 2005, first teaching algebra, and then middle school English and history before being appointed head of middle school in 2014. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Gordon College and a master’s degree from the University of Dallas. His wife Jessica is also an educator. The couple has three children, the oldest of which currently attends Providence.

Robert Littlejohn

Dr. Robert Littlejohn has served as Head of School at The Covenant School in Dallas Texas since April of 2018. Previously he served as Head of School at Trinity Academy in Raleigh, North Carolina, Vice President for Academic Affairs at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, GA and as Director of Distance Learning for a consortium of Private and State Colleges and Universities in Minnesota. As a Ph.D. Biologist (Washington State University), he has authored two College Biology Laboratory texts and has published 26 reports of original research in refereed journals in the fields of Ecology, Plant Physiology, Biochemistry, and Science Educational Theory. He is coauthor with Charles T. Evans of Wisdom and Eloquence: a Christian Paradigm for Classical Learning, published by Crossway Books. He was founding Headmaster for New Covenant Schools in Virginia, founding Executive Director for the Society for Classical Learning, and a founding board member for the American School of Lyon, France. He is a Certified Facilitator of Appreciative Inquiry™, a former Accreditation Reviewer for the Higher Learning Commission and Advance_Ed, and a consultant to colleges and schools across the nation.

Classical Education as Preparation for a Changing World

It is a given that all students will face an ever-changing world. Their career options will change, technology will change, educational opportunities will change, etc. This seminar makes the case that a classical education is the best possible preparation students can have for thriving in this world of change, disruption, and uncertainty. Many people in the 21st century assume that the value of education is based on the practical preparation it provides.

For millennia, however, the tradition of classical education has understood its purpose as the cultivation of whole human beings, not just their specialized, technical preparation for a particular job or function in society. This cultivation of lifelong learners who are equipped to live wise and virtuous lives is precisely the kind of education that best will enable students to adapt and thrive as they navigate all the changes that they will face. In our current context of disruption and uncertainty, this is a message that parents, students, donors, and some of us need to hear.

David Diener

Dr. David Diener holds a BA in Philosophy and Ancient Languages from Wheaton College as well as an MA in Philosophy, an MS in History and Philosophy of Education, and a dual PhD in Philosophy and Philosophy of Education from Indiana University. In addition to working as a high-end custom trim carpenter for an Amish company and living as a missionary for three years in Bogotá, Colombia, he has taught at The Stony Brook School and Taylor University and has served as Head of Upper Schools at Covenant Classical School in Fort Worth, TX, and Head of School at Grace Academy in Georgetown, TX. He currently works at Hillsdale College where he is the Headmaster of Hillsdale Academy and a Lecturing Professor of Education. He also is an Alcuin Fellow, serves on the Board of Directors for the Society for Classical Learning and the Board of Academic Advisors for the Classic Learning Test, and offers consulting services through Classical Academic Press. He is the author of Plato: The Great Philosopher-Educator and serves as the series editor for Classical Academic Press’ series Giants in the History of Education. The Dieners have four wonderful children and are passionate about classical Christian education and the impact it can have on the church, our society, and the world.