Scholé, ad fontes, and virtue key pathways to classical education

Mrs. Hillary Short
JH Classical Academy is a proud member of the Society For Classical Learning (SCL). Mrs. Friess and I attended the annual SCL conference in person last week in the beautiful and historic Charleston, South Carolina. This year’s conference focused on eudaemonia, Greek for “human flourishing.”
Why is classical Christian education so effective at promoting eudaemonia in our current age? The simple answer is that it provides people with a robustly full education rooted in virtue formation. Tim Goodwin, teacher of a course conference entitled “Parent Teacher Conferences: Making the Most of our Interactions with Parents,” put it this way: “Classical Christian Education has a profound impact in that it allows us to pause, think, and reflect on whether or not we are joining God in His restorative, redemptive work on Earth.” In sum, classical Christian education seeks not to create a set of hoops through which students are asked to systematically jump, but rather it nurtures the whole person. This in turn cultivates a strong foundation for eudaemonia.

Given that eudaemonia is the goal, how do we as educators implement the best practices in our schools to accomplish this goal? Three themes from the conference serve to answer this question: Scholé, Ad Fontes, and Virtue. 
First, let’s examine scholé. Introduced at the conference by mainstage speaker and co-founder of Classical Academic Press, Chris Perrin, the Greek word scholé (pronounced “skoal-ay”) means “undistracted time to study that which is most worthwhile.” Different from pure leisure or pure toil, scholé means uninterrupted and focused time to pursue learning, which most often begins with wonder. Perhaps scholé looks like listening to the scripture-inspired piano music of SCL conference worship leader Stanton Lanier, reading a rich piece of literature, not because it was assigned but for its own sake, painting, or learning a new language. As parents and as educators  we ought to nourish our souls and cultivate more eudaemonia in our homes and classrooms by practicing the counter-cultural habit of scholé. After all, one of our foremost jobs is to cultivate the minds of our children. This important goal can easily be buried in all of the daily tasks surrounding it. I challenge us all to dedicate time to scholé. We will be richer for it.
Next let us turn to the concept of ad fontesAd fontes comes to us from the Latin for “to the sources,” and it indicates a reaching back through time in the content matter we learn so that we can understand the full context of what is being examined. This may mean beginning with grammatical structure as a first step in examining a line of Shakespeare, or looking back to the ideological roots of an idea much earlier than it appears on the historical timeline. A wonderful example of this was given by Aaron Howard, Professor of Ethics and Reconciliation at Lipscomb University and Founder and CEO of As One Christian Diversity. Dr. Howard specializes in the theology and ethics of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He gave a moving talk on MLK at the conference, in which he highlighted the classical education of the great civil rights leader and how his favorite work was that of Plato, who gave wide-reaching context to the human condition. This is the practice of ad fontes. We create a fuller comprehension of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when we include a reaching back to his ideological formation, and in that case it extends all the way to Plato.
Scholé and ad fontes are not effectively practiced without virtue. The theme of virtue wove itself throughout the SCL conference. One instance that stood out was offered by Andrew D. Graham, Senior Counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom. He noted the virtue of “intellectual hospitality.” What an incredible goal for our students as they enter the conversations of this time, and of those past: the ability to have such sure critical thinking that they can, without danger, host the ideas of another - that they could entertain, turn over, and examine foreign and potentially deeply flawed concepts, holding them in context of the ideologies permeating our society. This points to the gem of classical Christian education: that we could equip our children with the tools they need to navigate the world, rather than erring on either extreme of insulating them from it or exposing them to it without mental or virtuous tools to discern it.  C.S. Lewis wrote that we are like children content to make mud pies in the slum because we know not what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. Classical Christian education provides the antidote to this conundrum. It ignites wonder, and through scholéad fontes, and virtue we find ourselves exposed to great ideas, and thus further moved toward eudaemonia. I know I speak for the entirety of our faculty and staff in saying it is a great privilege to partner with you toward that end. Now, go enjoy some scholé
Mrs. Hillary T. Short, M.Ed.
Dean of Faculty, Lower School

Mountain Range


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