For anyone needing a bit of hope for the future of the human race, I commend to you the classical Christian school movement. I had the opportunity to engage with one such school last week in Wheaton, Illinois: the Clapham School. You got it: the founding parents named their school for William Wilberforce's Clapham Saints. After just three years, their enrollment is flourishing, offering Christian parents a great opportunity to help build their children's minds and character for Christ.
Doug Reynolds, father of three and an international businessman-turned-Christian educator, serves as Head of School. He and his wife, Julie, came back from an overseas assignment in London wanting to combine Christian worldview, the classical education model, and the educational philosophy of 19th-century British educator Charlotte Mason.
Mason is a favorite of homeschooling proponents, but schools like Clapham are able to distill the essence of Mason's joyful approach to learning in small group settings, as well. In this method, young children, while taught obedience, are also considered people and respected as such. As a result, challenging material, while always age-appropriate, is encouraged. In short, their minds can handle it.
I got a first taste of this phenomenon by just observing one class of second graders at Clapham last Thursday morning. First, it's a nice treat to have the whole class stand to greet you cheerily with "Good morning, Mr. Reed!" One by one, each student got before his or her fellows and spoke with interest about a subject they researched for this part of class. The first little girl presenting her material had the presence of a British Member of Parliament, discussing her research in a relaxed but highly competent way. The other students asked her compelling questions, and a great little colloquy had begun.
When it was my turn in another class to lead a discussion on abolitionist John Brown, I got halfway through and only then realized to myself, "These are third graders, and I'm going to be discussing complex themes like violence in the name of morality!" How would this go? But they ate it up, including Ellie, a bright, fun young lady whose mental machinery was written on her face as she grappled with John Brown's complicated nature. But they seemed to enjoy it just because they love to learn something new. The questions were magnificent, worthy of a college class sometimes.