Good lessons result from hard circumstances.
I sparred with a friend a few times in high school. He was a talented boxer. He had a way of teaching me. As we moved around the ring, he would say, “Get your hands up.” He wanted me to block punches thrown at my head. A little later he would remind me, “Get your hands up.” I thought I had them up. He would then move on to a more convincing method. He would zing a left hook off my cheek, and says, “Get your hands up!”
As 2020 has come to an end and our first semester of this wildly unique school year concludes as well, I wanted to reflect on a few things that I have learned during this challenging year.
The Value of a Mission-Crazy Faculty
Classical Christian schools are ridiculously successful, as the recent Good Soil Report points out. This is not because of funding, facilities, or even philosophy. The biggest secret of the success that classical education has is that the faculty members at classical Christian schools are wildly committed to their mission.
As we were starting up in September, Bruce Etter, my Academic Dean, and I called each faculty member to make sure that they were comfortable with the Covid plans that we had in place. We were in the midst of a pandemic. We knew from data that adults like administrators, staff members, and teachers were the most at risk. I did not know what the outcome of the calls would be.
We had just made their work so much harder rearranging their rooms, and wrecking their schedules. Would they be bitter? Would they be angry? Would they quit? The year hung in the balance. I remember calling Bruce asking him how his calls had gone. His responses mirrored what I heard. He said, “If this were the Black Death, they would still show up to teach!”
It has been inspiring to lead people so committed to teaching that they would simply say, “Let’s go!” during a pandemic. The foundational motivation for each teacher at Veritas is a love of Christ and the deep, abiding commitment to the mission of our school. At the beginning of the pandemic, I charged the teachers with “making this our finest hour.” I have led Veritas for 24 years. I have never seen anything like this last year. The tears, the sweat, the uncertainty, the disruptions, and still they just keep moving forward. Kudos to each of our incredible faculty members!
The Power and Limitations of Online Education
I have a complicated relationship with online education. There are things that I love about online schooling. I grew up in a small town of just 80 people. There is not going to be a classical school in that town any time soon. My brother’s children can get an Internet connection and benefit from online education--and some of that online education is even classical.
But I also have concerns with online education becoming the norm, because online schools or classes are not in a physical location. I want institutions in communities in the real world that will have administrators and teachers who live in those communities and inspire families who would not otherwise enroll to begin the glorious adventure called classical Christian education. A mature community loves others enough to build local institutions. This is not always possible, but one of the reasons that I love living in Lancaster is because it is possible here.
First, let me admit that I am so thankful that Covid hit in 2020 instead of 2010. I don’t think that the technology existed in 2010 to provide any real education during the frantic days of the shutdown in March and April. I am so glad that we were able to retool, restart (in one week!), and provide strong service for our families during this time. It is a great skill to have, and I hope that our school can profitably use this tool in the future.
The Irreplaceable Joy of Face-to-Face Learning
Also, however, the pandemic revealed some of the limits of online schooling. For almost all students, the face to face interaction with classmates is so important. I don’t think I ever felt such happiness as our middle schoolers exhibited during the first week of in-person instruction in the fall. They were giddy to see each other. The joy was palpable.
I will add that for almost all people, there is a limit to what can be done online. For many, screen time ends up being exhausting, and the learning mediated through the Internet and devices is different and not as deep as it is in an in-person classroom. I want to be measured with this comment because some students really thrive online, but online education compared to live education seems to me to be something like an email to a friend as compared to an incarnate conversation with a friend. They convey the same information, but they are substantively different.
The Critical Need for Grace and Charity...and Experts
As Head of School, this past year has been challenging. There were times when I have had to make decisions knowing that my decision is not going to please everyone. I have been so blessed by the encouraging notes that many of you have sent me. They mean so much.
Thank you for your grace and charity with me, with my teachers, and with each other in 2020. I hope that our community’s attitude has blessed you too. I hope that our children have learned some good lessons from us, ones that they can use when the winds and waves of future challenges buffet them.
While all of us have needed much grace and mercy in 2020, there are three critical groups of people whose expertise was crucial in 2020. They represent the fields of technology, law, and medicine.
Without Pam Carlson, Bruce Etter, and Ginny Miller, we could not have functioned with all of the variations of online schooling that we have provided since March 13.
Second, I have relied on Randy Wenger, our legal counsel. His advice has been prudent, sound, and he has, more than once, kept me from acting rashly.
Finally, our medical team has been stellar. Chief among them is Hannah Barry. Her work for Veritas this year has been the stuff of legend. Also, especially in the early days of the pandemic, Dr. Susan Mellinger was so critical.
I will add Jonathan Daughtrey to this list, although I could have put him in each category. As many of you have noticed, Jonathan and I balance each other. I have never appreciated that balancing more than during this year. Our school has been blessed by these experts and their sound advice.
We have many challenges facing us in the upcoming months. These challenges will come from Covid and from other places, but at the end of 2020 and the dawn of 2021, it seemed like a great time to take stock of this year and reflect on what we have learned.
If you're ready to join this passionate, unique community of classical Christian educators, students, and parents, we invite you to take the next step by visiting us in person to see for yourself what a remarkable place Veritas Academy is. Schedule your tour today by clicking here, and see how your child can thrive at Veritas Academy in 2021 and beyond!