A Vision for Classical Education
Andrew Kern is the director of The CiRCE Institute in Charlotte, North Carolina. CiRCE’s purpose is to “promote and support classical education in the school and in the home,”a mission it accomplishes through teacher training, writing workshops, conference speaking, and an annual CiRCE conference. After hearing Andrew Kern speak at the Classical Christian Home Educators Conference in Roseville, California, we wanted to introduce our readers to Mr. Kern’s work and vision.
TOS: What is your personal experience with classical education?
KERN: I was not classically educated, but my mother read to us the Scriptures, especially the Proverbs. That put the issue of wisdom front and center in my mind. After high school, I read whatever I could get my hands on. In 1993, after reading various books on literature and classical education, I decided that I had to start a school. So, in my arrogance and shortsightedness, I presented my ideas to some folks in Green Bay; that fall we had a school called Providence Academy.
I realized I’d better get a degree (I didn’t even have a BA at the time). So I contacted Dr. Gene Edward Veith, a professor at Concordia University whose works on literature I had been reading and who was only an hour and a half away, and I got my degree there. So, I was [spending] 60 or 70 hours at the school teaching and 20-25 hours at the college. This was not a prudent way to live.
I worked with Providence Academy for about a year and a half. But, as I said, I was pretty impressed with myself. Other people were less impressed with me; I tended to offend people with my arrogance, and after a year and a half, I had to resign my position because I had hurt so many people in the school.
The Lord had given me an opportunity to do what He created me to do, and I thought I had thrown it away. But then Dr. Veith called and asked me, “Can you help me write a book about classical education?”So the Lord took my ashheap life and restored it.
That book sold enough copies that people started contacting me to do conferences. Also, a school in Boise, Idaho, hired me as the Director of Classical Instruction. I worked with that school for four years, and I was also working with a homeschool co-op in the afternoon. The fifth year we were in Idaho, I made the homeschool coop my full-time thing. After those five years, we moved to Charlotte and began CiRCE Institute.
TOS: You urge homeschooling parents not to put themselves under “the lash”of someone else’s expectations, which results in being anxiety-driven, but instead to teach from a position of rest. How is this done?
KERN: I think that it begins with accepting reality. I am very much in favor of working hard, especially the kids working hard, and I am very much in favor of diligence. What I am not in favor of is turning diligence into anxiety or needing to be anxious in order to be diligent. What the Lord calls us to is love. If we want to go to Duke, Yale, or Harvard because the Lord has called us, then we won’t go feeling anxiety, which is all wrapped up in ego. When we are so consumed by ego that we need to get into the best colleges, … when we want our kids to make us look really good, that is just not right.
TOS: How would you go about choosing a college with a discerning eye for the classically educated student?
KERN: When you look at a college, you look at the person who is going to the college. What is his nature? his character? his gifts and abilities? his calling? his vocation? And, given all that, what is his purpose? And based on these things, you pick a college that is going to help you, because the college is the servant, not the master.
TOS: You have recently published The Lost Tools of Writing curriculum. Can you describe the material for us?
KERN: Two things I would emphasize are the content and the mode of instruction. The program is structured according to the nature of the way a child learns, which is to see particulars or types or examples and then compare them with each other, then understand the concept and imitate it. And so each module (invention, arrangement, and elocution) works through that sequence.
You have three problems when you write: you need something to say, you need to order it correctly, and you need to express it appropriately. This teaches all three parts in an objective way.
The tools for coming up with ideas (invention) are key questions or topics. If you can get those key questions down, it will make you a better thinker, not just a better writer. Also, the teacher who teaches this program will become a better thinker by asking these questions and by learning how to ask them.
In the arrangement section, where you structure things, it is also objective. You teach the structure of a persuasive essay, piece by piece, working from an incredibly boring, tedious, simple essay to a very elaborate, complex, persuasive essay that actually involves refutation and narrative.
And when you get to elocution, to the expression, it is not just about feeling right; it is objective. Modern writing is all about getting a person to turn the page. But your goal is to absorb a person in a thought or in the beauty of expression or the turn of a phrase. Yes, you should also write plot well enough that they would want to turn the page, but great writing is beautiful; it is contemplative. These are the things we are promoting in our students’ minds: holding on to an idea and thinking about it. We discipline them, we teach them to write clearly. We do all the things that a modern program does, but we take them further because of the way we teach them the tools of expression and the discipline of expressing oneself with decorum and with grace.
TOS: Do you have any final words of encouragement for our readers?
KERN: REST—both spiritually and physically. When life becomes anxiety ridden, you need to ask yourself, why? If you have a biblical love for your children, combined with faith in the Lord, you will be driven by love and not by anxiety. Your goal is not to be a factory worker checking off lists. Your goal is to be a gardener, weeding and tending and cultivating the soil and the plants. Our children are living souls, not mechanical devices.
TOS: Andrew, thank you for that needed reminder, and thank you so much for sharing with us.