By Dr. John DePoe, Dean of Upper School Academics
It’s not uncommon for someone to come up to me and ask, “How are things going at school today?” Most of the time I answer, “Things are great,” or when I’m in a droll mood, “We didn’t lose a single student today.” But the question is truly an invitation to reflect on foundational questions about the nature of a successful school. After all, in order for me to give an assessment of how the school is doing today requires me to have a standard by which I can say that the school is doing well or not. Ultimately, the state of our school, I believe, is measured by the transformative learning experiences that are taking place in the lives of our students. I should note that in conversations with other educators it is apparent that this is not a standard shared by all schools as they are quick to affirm that things are going well because the school’s finances are secure, the school’s enrollment is up, there is a new academic program, or the quality of their faculty is distinguished in some peculiar way. Of course, I agree that, all things considered, these are often things I want to say of KPA too, but they are not standards that show that the school is running well. At KPA, we choose to assess the quality of the school by the students.
How should we assess the quality of the students? To this end, I would like to adapt an analogy given by C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, book III, chapter 1, when explaining the nature of morality. Lewis writes that morality establishes rules that govern human behavior similar to the rules that a fleet of ships must follow to sail on a voyage together in formation. First, you need rules that prescribe how the ships should avoid crashing into one another. Second, each ship must be maintained well to ensure it remains seaworthy and runs well. Third and finally, the fleet must know its destination. Without all three elements the fleet will not have a successful voyage. Lewis also suggests the analogy could be followed using a band instead of a fleet – the musicians must know how to play with each other, their own instruments need to be properly tuned, and they must all know what piece of music they are trying to play together. Sound morality, likewise, must address these three aspects: (1) how humans ought to behave fairly with one another, (2) how humans ought to treat themselves, and (3) to what purpose or end humans ought to direct the overall course of their lives.
I believe that we can adapt these three aspects of morality to assess whether our students are fulfilling the education we are trying to impart at KPA. Here are the three questions I am constantly asking myself about our students:
- What are our students learning about how to they relate to others?
- What are our students learning about themselves?
- What are our students learning about the ultimate purposes of human life?
To have a rightly-oriented education, we must answer all three questions correctly. Two out of three just won’t cut it. A fleet of ships that knows how to maintain the vessels and keep them afloat is no use if they are all headed in the wrong direction. A band that knows when to play each part of a song that is right for the occasion will go over badly if every instrument is out of tune. Each of the three parts are so deeply interrelated with the success of the others that a failure on a single point is likely to infect the other two with errors as well.
In two forthcoming posts I would like to explore how KPA is answering these three questions in our distinctive Christian, University-Model™, classical education. As members of the KPA community read these posts, let me invite all of you to join me in asking how you are partnering with us in answering these questions as we educate our students.