Our Classical Pedagogy
Covenant Christian Academy (CCA) offers a distinctly Classical K-12 student experience. Based on the ancient model of the Trivium, where students progress from Grammar (where education is primarily focused on rote memory) to Logic (where it is focused on narrative and the relationships between information), to Rhetoric (where it is focused on the formation and delivery of arguments), our pedagogy is molded to the developmental needs of our students as they grow. It also prepares them excellently for participation in the modern academic and professional worlds, by requiring them to read vital canonical works, undergo formal instruction in Logic and Rhetoric, and frequently participate in discussion-style classrooms.
At CCA, Classical education does not mean an arbitrary affection for the ancient. It means education that makes use of repeatable structures to foster intellectual development. For example, Rhetoric School students learn early on how to formulate paragraphs and arguments according to fixed structures, and are then given the opportunity to adapt these structures to particular assignments. Like a basketball player so practiced at free throws that a perfect shot becomes muscle memory, our Rhetoric School students become so practiced at using hooks, narrative introductions, concessions and refutations in their essays that such gestures become instinctive. More than a certain collection of texts or a pedagogical vocabulary, this notion that structures create excellence is at the core of what it means to be Classical, and CCA’s curriculum design reflects this unique and rigorous application of ancient ideas.
Logic & Rhetoric Instruction
Two of the most distinctive examples of our unique Classical identity are our formal Logic and Rhetoric courses and our emphasis on the discussion-style classroom. In the Seventh and Eighth, and Ninth and Twelfth Grades respectively, students attend classes in Formal and Informal Logic, Introduction to Rhetoric, and Senior Thesis–an applied rhetoric and academic research course. The seventh and eighth grade students learn informal logic, which is focussed on the content of any idea, and formal logic, which is concerned with whether evidence truly supports a conclusion. There are practical steps within the subjects, such as the creation of a syllogism, the defining of terms, and the identification of faulty reasoning.
In Rhetoric classes, students in grades 9-12 learn the skills of creating and presenting a persuasive argument. Students study the creation, content, and ordering of great speeches, and they learn how to craft and present arguments that appeal to reason, emotion, and the environment of their audience. At this level, students are responsible to come up with their own ideas and interpretations of texts. In their other classes, they must present and defend a stance. This can take the form of revising an hypothesis in the sciences, defending a certain reading of a character in literature, or the understanding of scriptural interpretation in Bible class. Throughout the rest of their Upper School experience, especially in humanities classrooms, the critical thinking and argumentation skills students acquire in these courses are reinforced and tested in discussion-style classrooms held around conference tables, where teachers emphasize activity-based learning, student leadership, and rigorous conversation.
The Latin curriculum serves as a microcosm of Covenant Christian Academy’s classical mode of pedagogy which begins with memorized forms and culminates in literary analyses of primary texts. In Latin I and II students learn the grammar, syntax and core vocabulary of the language as they develop their ability to translate increasingly difficult Latin passages. Moreover, students contextualize the Latin language as they gain an overview of ancient Roman culture, history, and classical mythology. In Latin III students progress to mastering the most complex structures of Latin syntax and read authentic selections from authors such as Ovid, Cicero, and Catullus. At this time students also begin to discuss the works literarily as they analyze content and rhetorical devices. Finally in Latin IV, students read substantial selections from Caesar’s Gallic War and Vergil’s Aeneid in Latin, as well as the majority of those works in English. Students also practice reading Latin at sight, analyzing literary devices, and explore themes and essential question about ancient Roman history and values.
Science & Math Instruction
At CCA, science and mathematics are every bit as central to our classical mode of education as are the humanities. In these subject areas, learning progresses from a focus on basic truths and observations, to the development of logic and higher quantitative skills, to deeper thinking and analysis. In Science, the process of the scientific method is emphasized and used as a means of testing and drawing conclusions and of thinking critically. Conversation-based classrooms are used to deepen our understanding of scientific and mathematical principles.
Throughout the Upper School, but especially in grades 9-12, students learn by using a Socratic dialogue where questions and responses are formed by students and the students track the scope and power of their verbal observations. Students do active reading of original sources where they take notes or write reflections in order to form ideas about the reading. In class, students take turns asking discussion-launching questions called “First Fives”; they then write for five minutes on a question before beginning the discussion. Students use classically modeled “tracking tools” to map specific kinds of responses that their colleagues make during the discussion; this helps to keep them on track and focus their conversation on specific learning goals. In the end CCA students become adept at conducting civil, intellectual conversations that demonstrate generosity, humility, passion, clear use of evidence, and attention to detail. It is safe to say that sophisticated discourse like this has become a lost art among many adolescents today; we are pleased that students invite each other into these conversations at CCA.
After six years of instruction in Logic, Rhetoric, Latin, Bible, Science, Mathematics and the Humanities (from ancient to modern) our students have a strong foundation in the ideas that have shaped our world and how those ideas can be engaged in our present moment. The products of this modern-minded Classical pedagogy are balanced, informed, and thoughtful students for whom excellence is an instinct. We’re proud of our Classical identity, and our highly competitive graduates are proof that nothing gives modern students a better edge than our fresh interpretation of ancient educational practice.