Rockbridge Academy Blog
Every year, Rockbridge Academy hosts a summer’s worth of camps to give students an opportunity to see school friends and wonder at God’s creation as they meet it face-to-face. For the first time, these camps are being held at our own campus, where the campers started by helping build a garden and competing in their own Olympics. I interviewed Mrs. Elizabeth Mackes, a third grade teacher who led Going to Seed and Creatures of the Air & Sea, Mrs. Melanie Kaiss, the Grammar PE teacher who led Olympics and Soccer, and Claire Mackes, a Rockbridge alumna who assisted as a camp counselor.
How does your camp fit into a classical education?
Mrs. Mackes: “Classical education allows the student to learn in an environment guided by the teacher. The beauty of summer camp is that instead of a classroom lesson on plants with a focus on seeds, we don't stop with looking at the seed. We don't stop with examining seedlings. Instead, we designed and planted three 3x6 foot garden beds, ate seeds (popcorn), and collected rolly-pollies.”
Mrs. Kaiss: “Discover Summer is meant to be an extension of Rockbridge Academy's classroom learning where the students are getting to explore deeply and "discover" the wonders of God's world— a many-faceted, infinitely imaginative world. My camps help students explore the wonder of their bodies and the myriad ways God has made it to be used.”
Why is wonder important for the classically-educated, Christian student?
Claire Mackes: “God made creation extremely functional and pragmatic, yet also beautiful and detailed in ways that may seem to us to be unnecessary. To see creation and not wonder at it is to see the work of God as a true artist and scientist and not praise him for it. It would be out of place and dishonoring. We should naturally wonder at creation and this wonder should lead us into praise and love of our Creator.”
Mrs. Kaiss: “Wonder is important in education for the simple reason that it is the most God-like thing we can do. God has given us the Bible to explain his plan of salvation and to teach us much about His character and His love for us. But by creating the world and placing us in it, we discover a God who is wholly uncontainable, with infinite imagination and unlimited creativity.”
Mrs. Mackes: “When you see the detailed attention God gives to his creation, when you understand the incredible inter-workings of the food chain, and marvel at the way plants and people trade Oxygen and Carbon-Dioxide. You cannot help but marvel at the way God attended to our needs so efficiently. When you see a moth wing, an owl wing, a goose wing, a wild turkey wing, a foot of an owl and one from a wild turkey, it is impossible not to appreciate the artistry and beauty God places in the most humble places in our world.”
How have students experienced wonder during camp?
Mrs. Kaiss: “The wonder comes when students’ hard work, perseverance, and reliance on God’s help turns them from ‘I can’t do this’ to ‘Hey, maybe I can.’”
Mrs. Mackes: “Every day there was something. I think a good example is in a video I received after the creatures camp ended. Two brothers were out having crabs at a restaurant. One brother, a rising first grader, was in the video, mallet in one hand and rather mangled crab in front of him, asking where exactly he might find the anus of a crab, because we had seen the fish and the lobster and discussed that every creature that eats must have the ability to eliminate waste. The way he connected those conversations and his specimen and explained to his mother the problem a crab would have if he did not have a way to eliminate waste was a beautiful example of wonder, recall, logic, and inquiry.”
What’s significant about having a permanent garden and campus?
Mrs. Kaiss: “Who doesn't want to have a home? Our own campus gives us a sense of our own place. And, wow, what a great place! The advantage has been in a bevy of gifts we have not had in the past like playing fields, a playground, a beautiful gym, and indoor bathrooms. God has graciously provided all we needed over 25 years, so no complaints here. But, oh how this campus feels like the promised land!”
Claire Mackes: “Having a permanent garden means that the students can watch and wonder at every step of gardening. They place the tiny seeds and give them water. They watch the small sprouts begin to shoot up while continuing to tend the garden. They can observe the amazing diversity of the plants that grow. And they can eventually enjoy the produce, fully understanding where it came from. At the end, they’ve practiced patience, and they learn how to care for God’s creation and enjoy its fruit.”
Mrs. Mackes: “At Evergreen, we have only to step out the door, and we are in God’s classroom. This year, of all years, it is the greatest asset we have! In a year that it is scary to be in a closed classroom of people, what a tremendous blessing to be able to walk outside and teach almost any subject at a safe distance in fresh air!
During my many years at Rockbridge Academy, I’m often asked what curriculum we use for science, history, math, or Bible. While we provide many resources to our teachers and have a few typical textbooks for occasional student use, for the most part we use original sources. An original or primary source is evidence from the past. For example, diaries, letters, constitutions, wills, naturalization papers, treaties, and military papers are all primary source documents. A secondary source is developed from primary sources. It tries to make sense of the past and can be very helpful, but our bias is to encourage our students to go ad fontes. Ad fontes is the Latin phrase which means “to the sources.”
Even the average man or woman on the street can see the benefit of going ad fontes. A more common paraphrase of this idea nowadays is when you hear folks say they got their information “straight from the horse’s mouth.” This indicates that their knowledge is from the highest authority. We say this to make the point that our source can personally verify the fact in question because they were there. In our court system, we get after truth by excluding hearsay from witnesses and desire only what they themselves have witnessed or experienced.
Of course, there are weaknesses with original source documents. An original or primary source is likely biased in one direction on the issue at hand. The identity of the author may even be in question. Often in our school selections the author is usually no longer alive so they can’t be questioned further to verify what was meant. Semantic range often changes over time, and older writings can be difficult to read and even more difficult to understand. So why not just give the student the Reader’s Digest version of the facts and move along?
What some consider a weakness about ad fontes, we consider a strength. Primary source documents must be evaluated within their context, compared with other evidence from the time period, and students must think and reason out their conclusions. Sounds like a dialectic or logic exercise, right? Right! So what does this have to do my third grader? Well, grammar school students gather facts in preparation for later learning. A well-informed foundation in history makes research and evaluation of original sources easier and more familiar. As grammar students grow and are able to read to learn, they learn about The Histories by Herodotus who tells of Demosthenes the great orator (384-322 BC). Later when they read Patrick Henry’s moving “Give me liberty or give me death” speech, it makes sense that the founding fathers called Henry the Demosthenes of his age. Fourth graders memorize the Nicene Creed, and read excerpts from Augustine’s Confessions and Marco Polo’s The Travels. Fifth graders read from Poor Richard's Almanack by Benjamin Franklin and memorize the Mayflower Compact, the famous beginning to the Declaration of Independence, and the Preamble to the Constitution. Sixth graders read from the Constitution, the Monroe Doctrine, refer frequently to its amendments, memorize the Gettysburg Address, and read MLK’s I Have a Dream speech. In Latin, these students translate from Livy the Younger’s letters. The gift of reading original source documents gives the flavor of the times, which not only enlivens the facts but gives emotional insight into the zeitgeist of the times being studied.
While going ad fontes gives a foundation for the past, the greatest original source document to read, re-read, memorize, and meditate on is, of course, the Bible. This text builds a foundation for all our lives. Our first graders begin to read from the translated ancient text during this trimester. Second graders read from it with help from their teachers. Third graders read from it daily as a class. Fourth through sixth graders read from it daily, either as a group or individually. While we teach older students about Bible dictionaries and commentaries, we try to keep the main thing the main thing.
As your child’s primary educator, you can reinforce this love for first things by reading original source documents together or even going to visit some of the most famous. The Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are a Metro ride away in our National Archives. There is a floor in the Bible Museum that traces the history of the Bible ad fontes. A day trip for your family may help you develop more of an appreciation for a curriculum that is filled with original source documents, especially that most authoritative document of all.
As I look forward to this last week of school in 2018, I know there will be many expressions of love given and many will take the form of gift giving. I’ve been on the receiving end of many sweet gifts over my 18 Christmases at Rockbridge. Some were huge memory makers for my family. One year, I got an overnight trip with my husband and kids to ICE. Most years, I got gift cards for a new hairdo or “teacher shoes” or dinners out, and Starbucks or Bean Rush cards. I do love my coffee! Favorite gifts are always handmade ornaments that adorn my tree each year still! I love to hang them and reminisce. I would be inconsiderate to ignore the many ways parents give to the school all year long–not just at Christmas, and not just financially. I’ve been the grateful recipient of free babysitting, meals for my once large family, grading, and one of my favorites: a prayer for me each Monday morning for the entire school year written out in their child’s communication book for me to read. This mom had placed a scripture reference and then a prayer about Mrs. Hollidge that demonstrated real care for my well-being spiritually. That meant a great deal to me.
This past week, I saw moms with younger siblings in tow, sitting in the front of classrooms at lunch reading to their child and their classmates so the teacher could do yet another class prep, grade another set of papers, or do a little gift project for you! I see kindergarten parents helping with Race Reading or driving to The Nutcracker, 6th grade parents volunteering to drive to Ford’s Theatre, and 5th grade parents taking a trip with their child’s class to Mount Vernon. The list goes on. Our school is so blessed to have parents who deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow Christ, the God of giving.
The Lord Jesus came to give. We often refer to that fact as we give temporal gifts during this season. "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto you” (John 14:27) is one way Jesus spoke about His giving. His gift was His peace and He teaches us much about Himself in this one sentence. He teaches us that His peace comes from Himself. This peace He gives belongs to Him, and it is His to give away. It also tells us that His peace is different from the gifts the world gives to their children and one another. As the great American preacher and theologian, Jonathan Edwards, tells us in his sermon on this text:
The peace of the Christian infinitely differs from that of the worldling, in that it is unfailing and eternal peace. That peace, which carnal men have in the things of the world, is according to the foundation upon which it is built, of short continuance like the comfort of a dream, 1 John 2:17; 1 Cor. 7:31. These things, the best and most durable of them, are like bubbles on the face of the water. They vanish in a moment, Hos. 10:7. But the foundation of the Christian’s peace is everlasting. It is what no time, no change, can destroy. It will remain when the body dies. It will remain when the mountains depart and the hills shall be removed, and when the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll.
As we traverse this broken world as pilgrims looking for a better country, He goes with us and gives us His peace, a peace that passes human understanding and never changes.
Two thousand years ago, an army from heaven praising God and announcing peace joined the angel announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem. Unto you is born this Giving God of Peace, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas!
Latin is an important yet strange distinctive of a classical education. Why do classically educated students learn Latin, and why do they learn Latin in the grammar school?
The many benefits of Latin are documented. However, the main reason to study Latin, like any other language, is to be able to interact with those speaking that language. “But Latin is dead,” you say. “No one actually speaks Latin anymore.” Although Latin is not a commonly spoken language, there are writings in Latin in almost every field of study or interest. In fact, they can be found on six of the seven continents. Specifically, many of the writings that are foundational to Western Civilization and to that of the Christian church are found in Latin. Our goal at Rockbridge Academy is that our students be able to interact in the original language with some of these foundational Latin documents and authors. Our 9th grade students spend time reading and interacting with Cicero, Livy, Ovid, and Caesar, while our 10th grade students read from Vergil’s Aeneid and the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible.
The simple reason we are studying Latin in the grammar school is the same reason that we study math and reading in the grammar school. While the children are younger and their brains are ready to soak up and memorize, we train them in the basics or “grammar” of various subjects. The math they learn in grammar school prepares them for the algebra, economics, and calculus we hope they will study later. The Latin they study prepares them for reading foundational texts in their original languages. Just as the math our students learn in grammar school prepares them for chemistry and physics as well as math classes and for daily life skills such as balancing a checkbook, calculating a tip at a restaurant, or following and adjusting a recipe, the study of Latin also gives our students transferrable skills. The students gain deeper understanding and insight into the grammar of their own language, English, as they learn to translate between the two languages. The hundreds of Latin words the students learn give them knowledge of the roots of many Romance language-derived words in English. Certainly the study of Latin would be beneficial to subsequent language acquisition. For example, one speaks Latin without even knowing it when he asks the druggist for vitamins or asks the doctor questions about disease. The focus on detail and the use of context and basic reasoning skills that are developed and strengthened in Latin are skills that transfer into almost every other class and area of life. The upper grammar students receive training in basic reasoning skills that strengthen the logic skills of the developing dialectic student. The attention to context and application of reason skills based on a context are foundational to the study of literature and Biblical hermeneutics.
Nevertheless, asking your children to work at a subject you never took yourself can be intimidating. Denise Hollidge remembers, “It was hard for me to start out at Rockbridge with two of my four children already behind in learning Latin—a subject I knew nothing about. However, they all benefited, and my youngest children had the easiest time with Latin because they started younger.” Pastor and teacher Brian Lee says, “Not only is Latin easier to learn at this age, but it makes learning other subjects easier…Because Latin is more orderly and precise than English, it also prepares the mind for the next phases of learning: logic and rhetoric, or argumentation.” While you may feel inadequate to assist, you can give practical help in Latin to your grammar student by reviewing vocabulary lists with them. Most importantly, you can be positive about the idea and model enthusiasm about learning something new together as a family. Learning Latin together is a daily way of reminding ourselves that understanding the workings of language aids us all in worshipping the Word of God Incarnate. Learning Latin is an act of faith.
“Memory is the scribe of the soul,” says Aristotle, and though this scribe called ‘memory’ stores up the bits and pieces of what makes up our lives, memorization has fallen on hard times. Memorization is the activity of the mind to learn something so well that it can be written or recited without thinking. While memorizing Latin verb conjugations or a poem may not seem like an important or valuable achievement, it is training your child’s brain to remember better and creating a reservoir of beauty upon which to reflect. Information that is memorized, rather than crammed for a data dump on the next day’s test, is retrievable and useful for the future.
Recently, a mom reached out to me with these questions: “Why memorize? Why memorize the Bible? And why memorize math facts?” That question took me right back to my son’s first grade poetry recitation. I stood in the back of the room wincing with pain every time he made a mistake. Inside, my heart was breaking for him, and I, too, asked, “Why does he have to memorize this poem? This is really hard!” But today, this same boy--a man in his junior year at college--is getting the benefits of those mental workouts from his days as a Rockbridge grammar student. Just knowing his math facts, history dates, English parts of speech, or patterns for writing a logical argument leave lots of room in his brain to learn new things. If foundational information is memorized, your child can retrieve it easily and move on to more challenging and complex ideas rather than looking everything up.
Even more important is the memorization of scripture. At Rockbridge, kindergarteners memorize a verse each week and the 6th graders memorize an entire letter of the New Testament over the course of the school year! Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Victorian England's best-known Baptist minister, reminds us that, “The Bible in the memory is better than the Bible in the book case.” The reasons for this are given to us all over scripture, but to consider one, the Psalmist in chapter 119:11 tells us that the young man can keep his life pure by “storing up [God’s] word in [his] heart, that [he] might not sin against [God].” That alone is sufficient reason to memorize the scriptures. I am sixty-one, and I memorized that scripture when I was 15. It has blessed me over and over again, along with many others.
There are many reasons to memorize, and your children know the value of it. I asked a few kindergarteners why we memorize in school and here are a few of their answers. Claire Gannett: “We memorize important stuff like a penny is worth one cent, a nickel is worth five cents…” etc. Tomi Adgebite: “Memorizing means to remember something.” MJ Bailey: “That’s how we learn stuff from the Bible.” The Apostle James reminds us that, “the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”
Aristotle may not be able to testify to what a blessing it is to have the truly important inscribed on the soul of your child, but the simple Christian knows.