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Classical Christian Science: Competency Plus Virtue

March 07, 2024
By Robyn Kennedy, Upper School Science Teacher

"Science is the search for the truth.” 
– Linus Pauling, founder of Quantum Chemistry & Molecular Biology

Imagine a medical student memorizing cardiovascular system pathology for his licensing exam. Picture a pilot polishing up her landing skills in an aircraft simulator. Think of a teenage boy playing a car-racing video game.  When does the medical student learn compassion for his patients? How does the pilot train for the courage that gives her a steady hand? Which game module teaches the adolescent driver good judgment? All three scenarios present a person who has trained for hours, weeks, or even years honing the skills necessary for their vocation; yet all three are missing elements essential to their roles. In contrast, a classical Christian education seeks to develop the whole person from competency to relationship to virtue. At Rockbridge, science classes are no exception.

Consider a scientist who has completed all the necessary education to be a leader in her field. She is familiar with cutting-edge research, and she has the analytical skills to design and build solutions. But in which class did she learn to appreciate the complexity of real-world problems? What research did she do on the ethics of her specialty? How much training has she had on written and oral communication to experts and decision-makers in the broader world? Modern scientists are trained to be competent, but lack preparation in interpersonal skills and moral character.

Science knowledge has exploded in the last century. The reflex response in education has been to cram more technical skills into the science classroom. In contrast, a liberal arts education is larger than the mere transmission of technical information. Modern classical science aims to combine practical knowledge with transformation of the social and personal aspects of a student’s character. As a classical Christian school, Rockbridge Academy pursues this transformation in light of biblical truths which develop the student as a bearer of the imago Dei.

In the dialectic years, students cultivate disciplined mental habits through systematic training in logic and Latin. As they move into rhetoric science, the focus shifts to developing habits in both computational and analogical thinking. While memorization and repetition are important, we eschew any method that limits learning to regurgitation of facts and algorithms in order to pass a test.  Robust learning must be held in tension with contemplation, wonder, rest, and connection to the narrative of science, the story through which we see God’s incredible creation.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others as more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
– Philippians 2:3-4

The prevailing secular model for bright students seeking to make an impact on the world is a laser-like focus on areas of self-interest: grades, accolades, and individual accomplishments. As Rockbridge students build a foundation of scientific competency, we seek to create an environment which is truth-seeking for the benefit of the whole, not advantage-seeking for the benefit of the one. Rhetorical skills in speaking and writing are developed and used to teach and mentor others. Students are encouraged to ask questions about science and faith as they practice thinking deeply and putting difficult thoughts into words. They are led to see their developing abilities in the light of humility and stewardship: the humility of seeking truth rather than seeking rewards, and stewardship of the earth as we partner with God to be redeemers of culture and creation.

Foremost, our goal for the students at Rockbridge Academy is to guide their journey into full personhood. From the early days of grammar school until the final year of rhetoric, science students are encouraged to order their loves as they seek knowledge. We worship the Creator and have confidence in Him alone. We learn with boldness and purpose, not with fear of an unknown future. Our posture toward truth is one of awe as we see the Creator’s fingerprints on all of creation. We pray for students to leave these halls with every part of their education integrated into a whole, harmonious person: able to fulfill God’s call as stewards of creation, liberated in the freedom of Christ.


Robyn Kennedy has a degree in chemical engineering and a background in manufacturing and data acquisition systems. She teaches upper school science at Rockbridge Academy. Her husband is a retired Navy captain, and she and her family have served our country for many years at duty stations all over the world and around the country. She has four children and three of them are currently students at Rockbridge Academy.