We adopted the classical model for homeschooling our five children a number of years ago for many reasons - the study of the good, the true, and the beautiful; the study and discussion of the Great Books; the chronological study of history; the study of classical languages; the gentle and flexible rigor of the model; and the application of a biblical worldview to all of our studies and to all of history, to name a few. Now our oldest is fourteen, and the reality of the college years is on the visible horizon! If God has put college in the future for our children, and it seems at this point that He has, then how can we be sure that we are preparing them for success? What qualities are important to colleges in their incoming students? What preparation is expected? What words of wisdom would they offer as we look into the process of college applications?
We sent these questions to representatives of five different colleges, and we got some very interesting answers. We received helpful responses from Dr. David Whalen, Dean of Faculty at Hillsdale College; Dr. David Noe, Assistant Professor of Classics at Patrick Henry College; Terry Stollar, Director of Admissions and Development at Gutenberg College; Dr. Roy Atwood, President of New St. Andrews College; and Rosemary Harty, Director of Communications at St. Johns College. Each school has a unique vision, varying expectations, and widely divergent views about faith and truth. But, there is much in the way of expectations and advice that they all have in common.
A Teachable Spirit and a Strong Work Ethic
At the top of the list of qualities they think are important for incoming freshmen is a teachable spirit and a willingness to work hard. Dr. Noe says, "We are looking for students who have a strong work ethic…a teachable disposition, one willing to take direction. A high opinion of oneself that is unwarranted is the greatest impediment to successful learning." Dr. Atwood writes, "We seek students who have a teachable spirit and know how to work hard with joy." Mr. Whalen wants students with "an intellectual hunger, a sincere desire to study for its own sake, not just jump through academic hoops. Students need to be alive to the wonder of the created order…." I love this; one of the things about classical Christian education is this delightful emphasis on the worship of a God of wonder, a God of order.
Reading, Writing, and Thinking about the Great Books
Also high on the list of what these schools expect is an interest in reading, discussing, and writing about ideas. All these schools will expect their students to be eager to read the great works and to write about them. At these colleges, students are not expected to sit back and watch the professor; instead, they are highly engaged in discussion, exploration, and discovery. St. Johns is an extreme example. Rosemary Harty writes that St. Johns students are "directors of their own education. Their teachers will be a hundred plus great books, from Plato and Aristotle to de Tocqueville, Twain and Einstein…. We call our faculty members 'tutors.' Their role is to be model learners."
It is a little different at Patrick Henry College. Students have a little less freedom but are still expected to be greatly engaged in writing and discussion of the Great Books. Dr. Noe writes, "The best preparation for succeeding at PHC is one in which the student does not shy away from difficult subjects, reads the Classics, and learns to write with precision and accuracy…. In addition, students should follow the advice of Pliny to read, not many works, but a few important works carefully. In other words, carefully reading Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Herodotus' Histories, four or five of Plato's Dialogues, Virgil's Aeneid, and a few of Cicero's speeches is far better preparation than any one hundred titles, fiction or non-fiction, from the last fifty years."
At Gutenberg College, Terry Stollar says, "The best preparation…is to read voraciously and discuss good and great literature." Students have "an interactive education where they can read works and then talk about what they learned with others who long to do the same…Gutenberg offers a unique program that encourages them to learn and to ask deep-seated, scary questions without flinching. At Gutenberg, we feel Truth can stand up to tough scrutiny."
Goodness, Truth, and Beauty
Also common to these classical and Great Books schools is an expectation that students will have a keen interest in what is good, true, and beautiful. Mr. Whalen writes "…students should also have a well-cultivated and encouraged love of good, beautiful, and true things, so that their education does not become the mere acquisition of data or the mastery of information."
"Students should give careful attention to being well-rounded Christians who delight in truth, goodness and beauty, and not be myopic eggheads," according to Dr. Atwood.
[Editor's Note: Next week our writers will address how you can better prepare for your student's next level of education.]
John and Diane Wheeler live in beautiful El Dorado County, California where they home educate their five children. To contact them about this piece, please email Wheeler@TheHomeschoolMagazine.com.
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