Classical education reframes school to teach students how to think, equipping them with tools for a life of flourishing. Students learn through time-tested methods that have been the staples of Western culture and the Church since the second century. Socratic teaching, debate, subject integration, and written and oral defense all provide the mental exercise to cultivate powerful minds to think well. Students see the big picture by studying history, philosophy, literature, art, theology, Latin, logic and rhetoric, math, and science. Classical education emphasizes cultivating wisdom rather than teaching facts and skills.
There is a tried and true tradition in education known as the trivium. It starts by teaching grammar, helping students understand the fundamentals and basic elements of what they're studying. Then students learn logic, piecing together the basics to form a structure that is definable and operates with purpose. The final stage is rhetoric, the manipulation and exercise of the logic and grammar the students have learned to enable human flourishing.
The class is working at a feverish pace. A few students are tying up some other projects from the year. One is building a small drone. His frame appears to be a little heavy, so he is starting a reprint on one of the 3D printers in the room. His rotors and blades are laying next to another project he finished with his class earlier in the year.
Many history courses are wrapping-up their Contemporary American History sections outlining recent conflicts. These courses are covering the background, political players, and repercussions of war and social conflicts. Where student's pencils feverishly take notes on the history in preparing for the test, Hillcrest's history class is in debate mode, unveiling the result of Hillcrest's educational approach.
Junior John Vall confidently walked to the podium where the day before three other students stood in sequence to present their case for addressing the Vietnam war. John's speech followed suit with the structure of the other students'; an explanation of the conflict, recounting how Vietnam grew to have the conflict that threatened more than their small island. From there, John outlined a solution he researched the political players at the time were considering. His points were clear and decisive, a winsome solution that would convince most. However, when John finished his lecture the teacher opened up a five minute debate session. John's friends in the class quickly attacked his reasoning, pulling out facts from other conflicts in history that stood in opposition to John's solution. John patiently heard their concerns, noting their points before outlining how they were misguided in how this conflict would unfold.
This is the rhetoric aspect of Hillcrest's educational approach. The goal is to teach students how to learn, guiding them to build reasoned ideas that are founded in truth. From there the students work to build a logical defense for their ideas. This history lesson wasn't just about the Vietnam war, it was a discipline in having civil discourse and friendly debate, something the world is struggling to do. It may be because the world hasn't been educated in how to have a civilized discussion. Teaching students how to learn and have dialogue is one of the many significant outcomes of a Hillcrest education.
Hillcrest advances a team to State for the fifth time in six years, and looks to continue that streak with the underclassmen getting a taste of competing in the final region round, building a hunger for the young Comets to continue the tradition of Hillcrest's academic excellence in the academic competition.
One man lowered his newspaper, raising an eyebrow at what the young woman in the hijab volleyed to Molly in response to her question. "I am a Muslim. What religion are you?" the young Somali woman asked. "I am a Christian," Molly said matter of factly. A young man within earshot of the conversation pulled his headphones down, seeming to take notice of the unusual conversation between the Christian and the Muslim that started to define beliefs in the world's oldest religious conflict.
When the bell rang and Hillcrest students ventured down the halls to the Chapel they kept walking and ventured down the sidewalk to the Comet Cafe. Inside they found Mr. Garvin, Hillcrest's Chapel Coordinator, shouting out numbers and pointing students to tables. Students plopped backpacks beside their chairs, flipping pages in their Bibles to John 15, as the senior leaders welcomed them to their huddle time, a monthly happening at Hillcrest Academy.
What if we rethought college plans for students who are undecided. Instead of encouraging students to explore a college setting, helping them find a church in the process, what if we directed students to find a church, and then choose a college.
Hillcrest's interim-president last year was first called into church ministry when Harland Helland glided up the stairs at Hillcrest to pull Joel Egge and a couple of his friends to Minot, North Dakota. The group of friends found a college in the area and helped plant a church that is now thriving, serving the community with a Christian day school. The church of the Lutheran Brethren hold a number of stories like this, and in looking to the future Hillcrest is finding significance in stories of the past.
Last Friday, Fifth Act Church Planting advocate Ryan Nilsen visited a Hillcrest chapel. He wasn't there to meet with Hillcrest's full student body. Instead he was waiting to gather with the twenty-plus students who are a part of Hillcrest's Evangelism Club, calling the group to consider an alternative view as they look to complete their general studies in college.
Nilsen encouraged the group to consider joining a church planting initiative, serving by being hands and feet in the communities surrounding the various churches that are working to reach their communities. The Evangelism Club is studying how to do outreach, preparing themselves with conversation tools that they will exercise on the light rail and in coffee shops in the Minneapolis area in March and April.
Nilsen fielded questions from the group as they envisioned what it might be like to be in New York City, Chicago, or other large communities for the sake of the Gospel and on mission to plan churches to impact local communities. Nilsen was impressed to hear that the school had such a vibrant club that was meeting to be equipped to share the Gospel through conversational evangelism.
As the group continues to meet there is an encouraging momentum that is building. Students are looking at their college experience as a mission endeavor, and the training they're receiving in the Evangelism club is equipping to engage their world now, and preparing them for their mission fields in the future that for some will involve planting churches in large cities to the glory of God.
If you aren’t familiar with the term “Gen-Z,” you need to get acquainted. This is the newest, up and coming group of young people in our midst--those just turning 18 years of age and younger. Like every generation before them, they have qualities that make them distinct, fraught with unique challenges but housing enormous potential for impacting their world for good.
With many of Hillcrest's faculty holding certified teaching licenses, and a number of others holding advanced degrees, Hillcrest has embarked on an initiative to certify all of their teachers on a national banner.
The Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) is certifying Hillcrest's faculty in a process that has involved the group engaging in over 20 hours of ongoing group training. The Hillcrest faculty applied for certification by submitting credentials and transcripts from their teaching experience and past schools of study to warrant acceptance into the national certification. After ACSI granted passage into their program, the Hillcrest staff began engaging in the specialized training components from ACSI that narrow the focus and provide unique benchmarks that align with Hillcrest's overall mission.
The teaching and training sessions included studies into the development patterns of a student, marking a special way of seeing the students from a growth mindset. It also included guided study into the design and structure of the classroom, ensuring that the full picture of Scripture comes through in the academic and character training inside Hillcrest's classrooms.
The program focused on enhancing Bible-based schools to reflect a grace-based approach to their instruction. Special resources showed how Christian schools are markedly different from secular schools in their approach, namely in the way the school approaches the student, specific subject matter, and the student's family in a way that reflects the design of God revealed in the Bible.
The training sessions spilled over into the dormitory staff for a series on grace-based training and correction. Special seminars by Paul David Tripp opened conversations in small groups that reflect the nature of Hillcrest to treat each student as made in the image of Christ, finding helpful ways to guide students to live lives that reflect God's image as they grow in their knowledge and dependence on Christ.
Through the entire training project the staff and faculty were led to consider how they bring in the entire story of Scripture through their classroom, helping students see their identity as an image bearer of God, understanding that their image and the world around them has been marred by sin, that Jesus Christ has redeemed their image and and the world, and that there is a future redemption for all of mankind and creation in Christ Jesus.
The faculty spent a significant amount of time in reading groups as they worked to create foundations for the capstone of Hillcrest's year-long professional development and national certification initiative, a thesis on the philosophy of Christian education. The comprehensive papers will be submitted by each faculty member to describe how their unique classroom training engages the values and marks a difference in how they approach their subject matter from a distinctly Christian perspective versus a secular explanation of mankind and the universe.