Todd Wedel, Academic Dean

Todd Wedel, Academic Dean

At The Academy of Classical Christian Studies, we find ourselves beset by numerous challenges, both within and without. One of the great challenges to education in our country, and which thus places some measure of pressure on us, is the adoption of the Common Core standards.

In an earlier series of posts (1 and 2), I wrote about our stance with respect to the Common Core standards as they relate to our vision and mission. As these standards are increasingly adopted (as mandated) by state schools, both public and charter, what becomes increasingly clear is that there is an underlying vision of and value for education of which the standards are but an embodied form. Just as The Academy has our Expectations video as a vision of Classical Christian education, so the Council of the Great City Schools (an advocacy group for Common Core) has a video as a vision of what Common Core standards are and will do.

Before I address the content, it is useful to examine the metaphors presented in and structuring each message. Metaphors are powerful; they structure how we think about, view, and process the world. In many ways, they are more foundational than whatever logical constructs we form and construe. So the metaphor is the “why” that informs the “how” and “what” of the education presented in each respective video.

Common Core
On the part of Common Core, the driving metaphor is the staircase. The metaphor is sterile, industrial. The students’ relationship to their education is something to be climbed, conquered, overcome, to arrive at the top.

For much of the video, there is no human interaction; we are presented with the solitary student driving and driven onward, occasionally helped up or cast down by a mechanical arm. The only student interaction is that of competition (the student who had an “A” in literature in one location finds that he has a “C” in another; his corresponding student smugly holds her “B” in triumph).

Teachers and parents are named (as a part of a concession that standards aren’t education) only as significant in helping students to reach the standards. There is no real distinction drawn between the two groups, nor between them and any others who might help. Parents and teachers are merely auxiliary to the individual student’s advancement.

Even the accomplishment, where several students have arrived at graduation, contains no true element of community beyond the celebration of reaching the top step; each goes on to pursue his or her own individual goal in the global economy.

The metaphor reveals much. Before the question of the why, how, and what of education, it provides a vision of what essentially is the base nature of humanity:

  • We are inherently solitary creatures, divorced from any clear connection, each an island unto himself.
  • We are inescapably competitive creatures, driven and being driven to cast ourselves ever forward in the pursuit of overcoming obstacles to attain a better future than our fellows.
  • We are indisputably primarily economic creatures, all relationships private and public, institutional and interpersonal, framed in the pursuit and maintenance of wealth.
  • We are, indeed, creatures, given no nature, spiritual or otherwise, beyond the physical, with no telos (end) beyond this life.

This is the “factory model” of education.

On the part of The Academy, the driving metaphor is the tree. The metaphor is organic, living. Education is something cultivated, not by the student (at least not at first) but for the student by his or her parents, something in which the student is cultivated and grown.

It is the student who is absent from the video as an individual and never central even metaphorically as the tree. We watch as the parents plant and water seeds, watch over and care for, and with luxury of time and peace, let growth happen and rejoice in it. The student grows, as all living things do, gaining height and stature, rooted and grounded securely.

The tree exists not in isolation but in a field and among hills, eventually one among a forest. The tree, then, exists not to rise and overcome but to thrive, grow in and give life. The student’s life, from foundation to fulfillment, is not human by human agency; life grows, the growth aided, shaped, formed, and directed by, with, and among others.

Just as with Common Core, the metaphor reveals much about our vision for education:

  • We are inherently creatures of community, born, growing, living among others, shaped by and shaping them.
  • We are inescapably complementary creatures, none the ultimate nor solitary, each in need of others to give and in need of others to give unto.
  • We are indisputably primarily moral creatures, given life to grow in something beyond knowledge or what knowledge might allow us to attain.
  • We are, indeed, more than creatures. We have a nature, and growth must follow that nature to some end beyond growth itself. The telos (end) must be found beyond and underneath and behind. The tree is no “mere” tree.

This is education as discipleship.

Metaphors form our vision and inform our expectations and means. In my next post, I’ll examine more closely the content (what is said and shown) in each to draw out how the metaphors (“why”) have formed to very different models (“how” and “what”) of education.