SCHOOLS: by Joseph PoprzecznyNews Weekly
Rediscovering the lost tools of learning
, April 28, 2012
When setting out to establish a truly independent school, be ready to embark on a venture equivalent to climbing Mount Everest. During this ordeal, be prepared to encounter mountains of rules and regulation at nearly every turn and having to endure long drawn-out negotiations.
What’s therefore needed is the patience of a Job and the determination of mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary.
Clearly, Stephen Hurworth, foundation principal of Australia’s pioneering classical Christian school, has such attributes, because his budding Perth-based St Augustine’s Classical Christian College is now four years old.
Some years ago he concluded that primary and secondary education was a standardised pre-packaged product.
“My wife Catherine and I were looking for an alternative to conventional schooling, because we believed that the Western elite-class worldview was fundamentally flawed and that much of the curriculum was a vehicle for promoting political correctness,” he says.
“We looked at traditional high-fee Ivy League-style schools as well as independent Christian ones and concluded that the former had largely lost sight of their classical and orthodox Trinitarian roots, while the latter were largely pietistic and reactionary in character with a low academic standard.”
With Australia’s government being so highly centralised, its educational sector is similarly so. Centralism means uniformity and, ultimately, control from Canberra by a handful of bureaucrats.
Crucial to the aims of the current Labor Government is curriculum control via a single, or national, curriculum to ensure the moulding of the minds of future generations towards a politically correct and exclusively secularist outlook.
This explains why the Government’s much-touted National Curriculum’s history curriculum is devoid of all but the most disparaging references to Christianity.
Stephen Hurworth originally graduated in history and English from Cape Town University, then in 1991 studied theology at Sydney’s Anglican Moore College, before returning to South Africa.
In 1994 he re-settled in Australia and, until 2007, taught at various institutions. All this time he was carefully assessing all aspects of schooling in Australia, while observing that in the United States and internationally the number of classical Christian schools was steadily increasing.
Coincidentally, in 2007 Perth Marist Brother Luke Saker released his research findings that showed that Catholic education was failing to attain goals set for it in the 19th century. His 12-page study, Are Catholic Schools Catholic? A Deepening Crisis, based on comprehensive surveys of Catholic tertiary students, concluded: “If Catholic schools are primarily about the Catholic education of their students, then it would appear that Catholic schools are not living up to their mandate, to be Catholic.”
St Augustine’s Classical Christian College was launched in 2008 as a private home-tutoring institution with Mr Hurworth’s daughter and a friend’s daughter the first two students.
He recalls: “I and a part-time teacher were the staff. But we quickly received inquiries and several families joined, boosting numbers to 20 students.
“Money remains an issue because outside the state and private systems there’s no (government) subsidy. Students receive four days’ teaching by tutors on rented premises. Tuition stands at about $6,000 annually.”
However, St Augustine’s shouldn’t be viewed as a Christian institution catering solely to a particular denomination. It is a classical Christian college, occupying a separate unique niche, a model that’s now emerging across the world, even in Asia.
St Augustine’s 30-strong student body is taught a comprehensive range of subjects within an over-arching classical Christian milieu.
Mr Hurworth says that this isn’t a new educational philosophy. Rather, it aims to help students “rediscover the lost tools of learning”.
Those words are borrowed from the renowned English poet, playwright, essayist, Christian humanist and author of crime fiction, Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), who long argued for the restoration of education to past standards of excellence.
St Augustine’s utilises the time-tested trivium (Latin for “the three roads”) teaching approach in which students advance through the study of grammar (up to Year 6), logic (Years 7-9), and rhetoric (Years 10-12).
The study of grammar includes chanting, drills, songs, jingles and verse, with emphasis on memorisation.
The study of logic encourages youngsters to seek explanations for things and introduces them to formal logic, logical fallacies and reasoning skills .
More mature students, when studying rhetoric, are taught how to speak and write and communicate effectively with clarity and lucidity.
In medieval times, the trivium provided the foundation of a liberal arts education.
Dorothy Sayers argued that secular-oriented education taught children “everything but how to learn”. She consequently advocated the adoption of a “modified version of the medieval scholastic curriculum”.
Mr Hurworth is planning to expand his institution to accommodate about 100 students. “We’ve had a lot of parents knocking on our door,” he says.
In addition to studying the Bible, students are exposed to the history of ancient Greece and Rome, the Byzantine Empire, medieval history and the Renaissance. Latin is on the curriculum, as are the standard disciplines of mathematics and the sciences.
Mr Hurworth says: “Most parents don’t realise that Australian teachers are now almost all trained in postmodernist universities where the implicit assumption is that Western civilisation is invariably bad.
“Classically Christian-educated students regularly outperform students from other school systems and curriculum types in North America’s schooling sectors.
“Our middle-school students work with materials generally only encountered at a university undergraduate level. For example, in Year 7, students begin reading the great books of Western civilisation and wrestle with many of the great questions of life that are usually relegated to universities.
“St Augustine’s is also committed to the development of independent thinking within the framework of orthodox Trinitarian faith, particularly with regard to the areas of political, economic and religious liberty.
“As students learn the unsurpassed richness of Western civilisation they become more aware of the strengths of their own past and are less likely to disparage their heritage. Colleges like St Augustine’s could become part of an entirely new sector of completely private education, and this could be a key part of cultural renewal in the face of aggressive secularism in Australia.
“Our classical music stream is already attracting interest with a number of parents attracted to the integration of classical music into the curriculum by explaining its roots in Christian Europe and its corresponding transcendent qualities.
“Interestingly. this type of education is particularly popular with Chinese and others with an East Asian background who appreciate Western civilisation more than do many Westerners.”
He expects that the annual fee for the expanded St Augustine’s will be between $8,000 and $12,000.
About 150 classical and Christian schools exist across North America, many of them, like St Augustine’s, also members of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools (www.accsedu.org).
Mr Hurworth comments: “I don’t want to be seen to be too critical of the existing system in that there are many good things being done in Australia’s Ivy League-style, Catholic and independent schools and in some state schools. Here in Western Australia we have a Coalition Government that’s allowed a remarkable degree of independence to state schools, which is to be welcomed.
“But in general terms we’re dealing with a worldview that looks to government experts and bureaucrats for solutions to problems that, in our view, are more transcendent and to do with the belief systems that the post-Christian, post-modern West has adopted.
“With the triumph of radical egalitarianism over liberty in the educational ‘cultural wars’ — a key feature of outcomes-based education — it has become more difficult to defend, for example, the cause of individual excellence.
“Thus, a long-time teaching friend remarked to me recently that it was almost impossible to fail students, and an increasingly nebulous reporting and assessment system has let down many students.
“This leaves them unprepared for the world of business, which still operates on the basis that employees must be able to perform tasks to high standards.”
Joseph Poprzeczny is a published historian, based in Perth, and has taught history at three Australian universities.
Christianity ignored in Canberra’s national curriculum
The draft modern history curriculum is 30 pages long. Christianity is simply never mentioned, at least not explicitly.
The English philosopher Roger Scruton took the word oikophobia and gave it a new meaning. Oikophobia literally means fear of one’s own home, but Scruton nicely adapted it to mean “the repudiation of inheritance and home”, the contemptuous rejection of everything that one’s parents and grandparents respected, fed by the vanity of a new and supposedly enlightened way of looking at the world.
The name of Christianity is particularly odious to those oikophobes for whom the hope of a multinational and God-free world stands in the place of the dream of a promised land. For such people Christianity has brought more misery than relief, more gloom than joy, more war than peace, more hatred than love.
And — let us be honest — they can produce evidence to support all those opinions.
But against that — if they are honest — they will have to acknowledge that all the evil deeds done by men professing themselves Christian have been counterbalanced by all the good things that have been done in the name of Christ.
The systematic care of the poor, the relief of prisoners, the establishment of hospitals, schools and universities, the self-sacrificing saintliness of many clergy, active resistance to the bullying of civil authorities, the amelioration and ultimately the prohibition of slavery, and the improvement of the lot of women (yes, that too) ... all these things have emerged within a society that has been predominantly Christian.
Yet the draft curriculum in history avoids all of this. It is almost completely silent on the whole matter of Christianity.
David Daintree is president of the Sydney-based Campion College Australia. This is an extract from his contribution to The National Curriculum: A Critique, published by the Institute of Public Affairs (Melbourne) and the Mannkal Economic Education Foundation (Perth).