Silence. Sitting in Mr. Paone’s Omnibus IV class, I was sitting in silence. A most excellent silence; an exciting silence; an educational silence. The students were working their way through a section of Plato’s The Republic, a challenging read on any day – a particularly challenging study now as they worked through the ideas of virtue, justice, and education in an increasingly difficult manner. Class began with the asking of a central question; a difficult question, an abstract question and the answer could only be pulled from reading and striving to understand the meaning of the text. Hence, the silence as they worked to understand what was actually being asked through the question and then struggled to determine for themselves the answer and meaning within the dialogue of Socrates.

That silence was a beautiful glorious sound. It was the sound of young people thinking and learning. Asked to interact with a literary work in a new and difficult way, Mr. Paone and I were pleased with what was happening in the class. While they traveled slowly as it’s a new path that’s unfamiliar, still, the students were able to pull some of the important ideas from the passages covered. Sometimes there was disagreement as to interpretation; that was expected. That signaled success as it meant each person was thinking for themselves. Offers of insight were made, some were accepted, some rejected; they worked together as a group.  The highest compliment I can give this class, the 10th and 11th graders of Fortis, is that while you may have heard some complaints outside of class about the new format (it’s hard!) within the classroom they willingly responded to what was being asked of them with speed and rapidly developing skill and that everyone – let me highlight that point – EVERYONE participated. They succeeded in their task of learning something new and difficult. I wish you all could have been there to share our delight as teachers. It’s a delight that can be shared amongst us all.

While the premier tool for the teaching of virtue is, of course, the Bible, literature follows close behind. Through literature we learn to apply the virtues we learn from Bible study to everyday life and situations. It’s not enough to simply hear about the ideas of faith, hope, and love – we need to see and understand what that actually looks like in life. We need the opportunity to observe examples and determine when an action is loving and when it is not. Books play an important role by providing powerful examples of virtue development and virtuous thought and action. Tough decisions and courageous choices by characters accomplish the task of bringing lessons to life on the page. What takes that lesson from being simply a story to a personal truth for the students, however, is what happens after reading. Do the children talk about what happened in the story? Do they have the opportunity to decide for themselves that Jim acted responsibly as opposed to only being told by the author or teacher that he did? Are they asked questions that require them to decide? Do they think about, talk about, write about what they’ve read?

An opportunity to interact with literature is what takes books from being an assignment – something required – to a powerful example to be embraced by the reader. When opportunities to discuss a book are provided, students not only learn information, but they also own what they discover through thinking about the story or ideas contained within. They learn to not just accept what someone else says, but to think about it and determine for themselves what is right or true.

I reiterate the example – our little ones go from:

Was Frog a good friend in the story?  Here’s the standard; did Frog measure up? –  To

Who was a good friend in the story?   Someone measured up to the standard – who?  – To

Was anyone a good friend in the story? What’s the standard and did anyone in the story measure up?

We begin teaching the skill of analytical thinking early so that we know by the time they reach the Logic stage, they will be able to determine for themselves the virtue and quality of an action or character within the literature. They’ll know how and will continue to do so with increasingly difficult works. In Rhetoric, students will be asked to evaluate not just characters and actions, but ideas and philosophies. Whether reading Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, listening to NPR, or reading a Supreme Court decision, our students will be able to comprehend what they read, discern the actual meaning underneath the verbiage, and reconcile the offered actions and ideas with the standard of truth.

They will be able to if we teach them how. While reading, writing, math, history, science and all other subjects are tremendously important, there is no greater education we can offer our children than the ability to think based on the foundation of truth. All of those subjects listed above have multiple opinions about when , how, what, why, and who. We can argue all day about any or all of them and which are “best.” But the ability to think is universal – there is no intelligent argument against – and we are all in agreement on the foundation of God’s truth.

I’m excited about where we’re going and I hope you are, too. If I ever had any doubts about what the students of Fortis can do (which I didn’t) my experience with the Omnibus IV class would have laid them to rest.

What a joy the students of Fortis Academy are!

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