Excellence in Lutheran Education

In the comments section of Pastor Rossow’s recent post about President Harrison’s taking questions directly from the microphones at a district convention, Pastor Scheer notified me that the comments section was steering toward matters of Lutheran education, and as it would happen, that’s why he asked me to write for the Brothers of John the Steadfast in the first place.

Specifically, many Lutherans want their parochial schools not simply to duplicate the work of public schools but actually to excel at education and catechesis. This is the work to which the Lord has called me, as the associate pastor of a congregation which also provides a school for preschoolers through eighth grade. As it turns out, this desire is not unique to Lutheran parents; the parents of public school students are increasingly dissatisfied with the education their children receive. Many Lutheran schools are taking steps to meet this challenge by reviewing their curricula and pedagogy, and I would like to introduce this broad topic by sharing how our school has done this.

Trinity Lutheran School of Cheyenne, Wyoming has been in continuous operation since 1892. During that time, we have served our city by providing Christian education to thousands of students. In fact, I have enjoyed meeting people in the city who ask which parish I serve and then recount to me their time at our school many years ago. As it turns out, we have many distinguished alumni. Up until about five years ago, the educational model was similar to that of the public schools with some theology added. The circuit visitor, who was acting as headmaster during a pastoral vacancy, began the process of moving Trinity from the former model — what one could arguably call progressive education — to a classical model. (The definition of classical education, how it relates to Lutheran theology, and what it looks like in practice are matters so broad they will require their own posts to explain in sufficient detail, but the definitive starting point to find more information would be the Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, an organization actively promoting this model for Lutheran schools.)

I am quite new to many things: pastoral ministry, Lutheran education, classical education, and living at elevations that require special baking instructions. But I do see the effect of this model of education, and the difference is striking. From the students’ perspective, our curriculum is challenging, and classrooms are orderly. I sat in on our Pre-Kindergarten teacher as she taught a 30-minute lesson. A whole class of four-year-olds sat on the carpet the entire time without getting up or running around. They were learning phonograms (which sounds letters and combinations of letters make within a word), and I was amazed at what these children were capable of doing. Not only did the class know the names of the letters and which sounds they make, they could explain which sound a certain vowel would make in the middle of a syllable, or what sound a vowel would never make at the end of a word. Actually, I learned some things I never knew before. I taught a lesson in history to Grades 4-7; not only were they learning about World War II, but they were learning about the rise of Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao Zedong and the connection between the Weimar Republic, the Treaty of Versailles, and the post-war German economy to bring about the rise of Adolf Hitler. Last week, I was greeted by my upper grades (4-7) class with the Nicene Creed, which they had memorized in Latin — we begin each class with it, but to my delight they have now committed it to memory. In chapel we use the offices of the church — matins, vespers, morning prayer, and evening prayer. They also hear homilies from our pastors and sing and memorize hymns from the hymnal. Our students do work hard, but as a result they become capable thinkers and well-catechized.

I share all this for two reasons. Firstly, this is but one example of a Lutheran school committed to excellence in education. It is by no means the only example, and interest in a classical model for Lutheran education is growing. In fact, all the primary schools of the Wyoming District now use this model. Secondly, it is my hope that more people learn about the benefits of a classical education and seek to learn more about it. CCLE has more recommendations and resources for those interested here.

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