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May 07, 2009

Clapham School’s Classical Christian Students: What a Crew!

Clapham School 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.

But Clapham isn't about just exceptional intellectual growth; wisdom, love of neighbor, service, and good habits generally compose a key aspect of the entire educational experience. Clapham students learn character lessons in organic encounters with each other and their teachers. Interestingly, while they all strive for excellence in what they do, they cheer for one another when any of them achieve spectacular. So it's not all about themselves--rather, they are taught to lift each other up, allegedly a Christian virtue the last time I checked.

What does Reynolds, a Centurion from the recently graduated fifth class, think of heading up this school on the outskirts of Chicago? Serving as Head of School for such an interesting educational experiment may seem a long way from being Vice President for ServiceMaster for this Northwestern M.B.A. However, Reynolds spent part of his business career in management consulting and led a technology start-up in New York and London. So starting big projects is nothing new to him.

"We have so many exceptional resources here that help us immensely," says Reynolds, whose enthusiasm for his children's school is infectious. "The parents are all on board, which is important for this model, because the home environment and school environment need to be compatible for maximum learning and development. The faculty and staff have a devotion to each child's growth like none I've ever seen before at other schools. Our donors have helped us tremendously as we've gotten through these first few years, and the community here in Wheaton, especially the College Church, has been so receptive. It's definitely been a community effort, led by God."

And the students?

"They surprise us every day with their God-given gifts," said Reynolds. "They are just wonderful, really inspirational to the adults here. This effort just shows what young people can do with gifted teachers who give them a feast of the good, the true, and the beautiful to reflect upon daily."

For more information about this exciting Christian educational experiment taking root in Wheaton, Illinois, check out their website at www.claphamschool.com, or contact Reynolds directly at the following address:

Clapham School
P.O. Box 209
Wheaton, IL 60187-0209
(630) 547-5125

(Image © Clapham School)

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Jason Taylor

As it happens that is the method I would use.

Greenwood Press offers a line of materials quite useful for the purpose


Rachel Coleman


Fun is not the main goal of this type of education, but it's a delightful byproduct.

And while Reynolds doesn't explicitly say this, I would wager he's with me in feeling that this sort of work (educating your own children, in the fear and admonition of the Lord, to be thinkers and people of excellence) is the only job out there that's worth what it demands from you.

Diane Singer

Thanks for posting this. As a teacher, parent, and grandparent, I appreciate what they are doing for their children and, as a result, for our nation's future.

Kimberly Dawes

The Charlotte Mason educational movement has mushroomed since Susan Schaeffer Macaulay wrote For the Children's Sake. It is wonderful to hear of another school implementing some of Charlotte Mason's ideas. I commend ChildlightUSA.org, the website of a consortium of public, private, and home school teachers, university professors, and parents. They are developing curriculum to make Charlotte Mason's ideas more accessible to schools and homeschools everywhere.

Love Clapham

Seems like a good initiative.

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