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News & Media

Principal’s Address

Posted on by Classical School

Urban Myths

I find the concept of “urban myths’ very interesting. These are stories and statements that are told and retold – without any sort of substantiation. They are frequently told by people with little or no actual experience with the situation they are commenting upon. As a person who is new to the school, I’m paying special attention to comments from people who opine about things being a certain way – either in “Classical Schools” or schools with “the Core Knowledge curriculum.” In some of these cases, they have been spoken by people who should know better.

The one I’ve heard that is most preposterous is that in Core Knowledge Schools, the faculty doesn’t care about the children – only the curriculum. It is true that in a Core Knowledge School, we ensure that our teachers maintain a schedule for instruction in order to complete the teaching of the concepts for that grade level and content area by the school year’s end. Our teachers not only know what it is they have to teach, but they are also spot on regarding what parts of the curriculum take more time to teach and which do not in order to have the proper pacing.

For those of us who either serve in or have children in a Core Knowledge School we want to know that our children are making progress and that they know certain things by various grade levels. We want a curriculum that is clearly articulated and that the “fluff” seen in some schools is not done here. Our course is True North and we know what we need to do and the speed at which to do it in order for our children to be where they are supposed to be by year’s end. We do believe that “every instructional minute matters,” and we do not apologize for that.

Noted educator, Robert J. Marazano, as well as Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe originally out of Harvard, speak of educational activities that are “hands on” but not “minds on”! I love that description. Sometimes in schools teachers will spend inordinate amounts of time doing a “hands on” activity when the concepts to be learned from that activity could be taught better and in a more timely fashion using direct instruction. I remember discussing this with a teacher when I was a K-8 school superintendent in Illinois. For three days, the teacher would have the students engaged in the construction of their own Lincoln Log cabin with Play-do. I do not want to insult any architects, but this just didn’t seem like an area of expertise that we needed second graders honing. Marzano would ask “what are the concepts being taught?” by this activity. These sorts of projects are frequently “showy” or “cute.” It is easy to love them as parents or  grandparents but do we really have that much time in our 185 days to spend engaged in a similar manner repeatedly? In a Core Knowledge school, we think not. We are passionate about having our students master all those things that learned people should know.

Pardon the pun but to our “Core” we believe that there is a body of “stuff” that every learned person heading off to university should know. The high-achieving students and families that I had the pleasure of working with in four foreign nations were not distracted by this. They understood that education is different than entertainment and our families and faculty knew this. Our eyes were set for the golden ball – getting their child into their first choice university and weall knew the limited time we had.

Here is where the Urban Myth comes in. There are people who will repeat a belief that teachers and administrators in Core Knowledge Schools are only concerned with the curriculum. I can tell you that nothing is further from the truth. The passionate teachers we have on our Classical School faculty are every bit as concerned about your child as teachers anywhere. We believe that we can have clearly detailed high educational expectations and care deeply about our children while being nurturing and supportive! When did those two concepts become mutually exclusive?

In fact I would challenge others to tell me how one can be supportive and nurturing and “trade off” teaching children what learned people should know. In schools following a loosely constructed curriculum with poorly articulated standards – with numerous gaps in knowledge and the repetitious teaching of concepts – how can they be truly caring? Isn’t caring – whether as a parent or an educator – ensuring that we give our children the knowledge and tools to be successful when they leave our schools or homes? For me a laser-like focus is exactly what they need. This focus fosters the love of learning for learning sake while also helping them to succeed in gaining a seat in their first-choice university upon completion of high school.

At Classical we have nine school virtues that are woven throughout our curriculum and reinforced in the real discourse of day-to-day school life and not in silly made-up scenarios. These virtues – Citizenship, Courage, Compassion, Cooperation Integrity, Perseverance, Responsibility, Respect, and Stewardship – when added to a first-rate rigorous education, enable all of us to help guide students who will be responsible, good, and learned people who will be leaders throughout their lives in whatever they choose to pursue. We are so proud to be part of the Appleton Area School District – a district that provides a vast array of learning options for families in Appleton through great neighborhood schools and 14 charter schools that reach and teach “Every Child – Every Day!”

This is what we do at Classical School… and we are darn proud of it!

~Dr. Bernard Mitchell

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