“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” — Aristotle
When Classical students graduate after eighth grade, many face a decade of further education—and some even more. While I hope they retain all of the knowledge they acquire here, surely as they walk across the stage at their high school or college graduations at least some will have difficulty remembering one or two of the wonderful Greek myths they learned in 2nd grade language arts or the details of Gregor Mendel’s experiments in genetics they learned in 7th grade science.
Thus we at Classical have a double responsibility to our students and parents: not only must we give students the base of knowledge on which they will spend the rest of their lives building, but we must ensure that they have the skills and the desire to spend the rest of their lives seeking more knowledge. The best way we know how to encourage the lifelong pursuit of knowledge is to foster a habit that will help Classical School graduates in every area of their lives, no matter what secondary education they receive or vocation they eventually pursue—the habit of excellence. In 1999 Classical School’s founders sought to provide each student with a just and excellent educational foundation. We remain committed to that mission, and we’re proud that Classical students spend their time here practicing the skills that lead to excellence.
It’s better to think of excellence as a habit than as a characteristic because though every student is capable of doing excellent work, what qualifies as excellent differs from student to student. Imagine two students, one of whom does all of his homework and studies diligently every night and earns the most difficult 80 he’s ever gotten, and the other of whom does the minimum required to pull out a 90 but is capable of much harder study and much higher grades. The first student has probably done excellent work but the second has definitely not, despite the fact that he earned a grade one letter higher than his classmate. It’s our duty to recognize which students are truly reaching their potentials and push those who could work harder. The release of grades provides a good opportunity to talk to students about excellence (even if we don’t use that exact word as we speak to them). Now is a great time to set high expectations by talking about the importance of always doing one’s best—because we develop by striving to reach our full potential.
The full potential discussion is helpful and healthy, and it’s a good one to repeat. As parents and teachers, we should expect students to do their best work. Often, however, parents and teachers confuse this discussion with the ‘better grades’ discussion. It is typically counterproductive to select an exact grade as a particular student’s ‘excellence level’. It is possible for a student to be doing excellent work—working at his highest potential and doing his most diligent study—without getting top grades in every subject all the time; the selection of an ‘excellence grade’ is arbitrary, and it’s likely to distress students (especially young ones), which will only make it more difficult for them to work to their full potential. Our students have the potential to do truly excellent work, but they’ll achieve their potentials not by striving for an arbitrary number but by setting the goal of excellence in all they do and practicing the skills—laying the foundation–that will lead to achieving this goal. For young children striving for excellence is hard work and a process that requires many years of repetition within a rigorous content- and skill-rich curriculum. Please continue to guide and encourage your children as they learn and grow.
Third quarter report cards will go home on Thursday, April 7th. If you have concerns or questions regarding your children’s grades or academic progress, please feel free to contact me.